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   It had to be a joke. Hick town. Piece of shit school. Nothing here came close to California. It was all gone. That sweet citrus air. The crisp waves of billowing sea water. Billy Hargrove decided anywhere was better than here. Hawkins, Indiana was a pit. Especially while an office aid with horrid breath prattled on across the counter. He couldn’t even fake the charm this morning.

   “Here are your classes, Mr. Hargrove. We tend to pair all our transfers with a student. Make your first day easier.”

   “Don’t bother.” Billy clutched an old messenger bag in one hand, snatching his class list to his chest. The secretary pretended not to hear him when the office door opened. A bubble of pink gum popped and Billy grew stunned.

   “Ah, here she is. Ms. Harper, this is William Hargrove-"

   "Billy."

   "-the new transfer. He’ll shadow you this morning.”

   “Camille,” her lips lifted in greeting. Hair flicked behind her shoulder when she adjusted her sweater. All dark locks and huge green, hazel eyes. They took a beat to stare. Billy knew instantly the circle this girl was in. Picture perfect. Pretty in pink. Prissy thing. Oh, but, she was a fox. His eyes drew to the tiny beauty mark under her right eye. That voice was lush even for a seventeen year old with such a sweet face. But, those eyes. “Let’s see it, transfer.”

   “Huh?” Billy lost his thought when her hand came up to pluck the schedule from his fingers.

   “I’ve got it from here, Ms. Kruger.”

   “Harper. Hargrove. Har har. Perfect fit,” the woman laughed at her joke and Camille looped one arm in Billy’s to get this boy to move his ass. She wouldn’t let him make her late.

   “Good one, Ms. Kruger.” That sweet princess smile dropped the moment they turned the corner so she pulled from him when he fell in stride. Billy was barely two inches taller than her. This girl glided like a ballerina. It was infuriating. Almost. “Shame I didn’t find you earlier, I could have warned you to keep a distance. That woman doesn’t know her way around a bottle of mouthwash.” Camille popped another bubble and peered up at him, lax. “We have first period together. English with Strode.” Billy found his charm again.

   “Lucky for you.” He remarked, earning the slightest huff of amusement. Barely audible. Students peered at them both, fascinated with the new boy. Sizing him up. He carried himself higher in response and grew annoyed when his thoughts lingered on Max probably stuck with awkward introductions as well.

   “Looks like I’ll also be seeing you in...hm, third period: study hall, lunch, and fourth period: chemistry. Huh...” Those bright eyes lifted and he gave a scoff, grumbling.

   “Everything else was full.”

   “This way,” she turned the corner and peered up to meet Nancy’s eyes. She’d pulled from Steve and given a slight wave that was acknowledged in turn.  Camille passed her and ignored everyone’s staring before she knocked one knuckle to metal. “Your locker. Lucky boy, you didn’t get a broken one.” She leaned against the wall and gave him a moment to stuff books away. “Where did you transfer from?” Camille watched him suck in his cheeks. Jaw clenched. Oh, he was pretty.

   “California.” He cocked his head and she caught the slightest dusting of freckles in the light. “Dad decides to uproot the family to the land of manure.”

   “You get used to that.” That silent amusement twitched.

   “Don’t bet on it.” He smacked the door shut, smooth now. “You the queen bee around here?”

   “What’s it to you?”  She walked along, gliding still.

   “Every school has their royalty.” Billy remarked and she changed the subject without breaking stride. A sort of challenge danced between them.

   “This way. Mrs. Strode is easy enough. Just nod a lot when she eyes you and pretend to take notes. You have Gym next. Down the hall all the way to the end, take a left, you’ll find it. Big room with basketball hoops and sweaty boys. Can’t miss it.” Miss Priss liked her dry humor, he noted. "I can meet you and show you where to go after. Keep up and don’t make me late. We clear, transfer?” She tilted her head to one side and Billy studied her.

   “Crystal.” He drew out the syllables and she smirked, turning to go off with another flick of lavish hair.

   “Welcome to Hawkins, Billy Hargrove.”

** ** ** **

   “How did you get the best job in school?” Carol leaned over the lunch table hours later.

   “Carol,” Camille sighed with no joy and pulled from her conversation with Heather next to her.

   “Showing that fine ass around?”

   “Aren’t you still with Tommy? Thought he was ass enough.” Camille earned a snicker from Heather so Carol stood taller.

   “Some of us are trying to eat,” Steve Harrington appeared from nothing and Carol shot him a look, going around him and bumping into Nancy on the way off.

   “Still bitter,” Camille remarked, sitting back.

   “She needs to get over herself. Anyways, I have to drop something off, see you in chem. New lab partners coming. I think I got Robin.” Heather hurried to go with a wave goodbye.

   “Can I sit?” Steve waited for a nod and Nancy joined him.

   “You two going to Tina’s Halloween party?” Orange flyers where littered all over the school.

   “Wouldn’t miss it. Didn’t that guy jump off the roof last year and land in the koi pond?” Steve shook his head

   “Rumor had it, he ate one of those fish on a bet.” Camille joked, eyes flicked across the way to see Tina giving Billy an invitation. Flirting.

   “So, the new guy.” Nancy began.

   "Asshole." Steve was quick to remark. "I have gym with the guy."

   “Rough and tumble sort.” Camille bit into an apple slice and shrugged. Year later and it was strange. Being friends again. Or, trying to. Suppose tragedy brings people together.

   “Steve and I are going tonight. To the Holland’s.” Nancy began. “You’re welcome again.”

   “Not sure I can do it tonight. Last time...and that house.” Camille paused, inhaling. “And my parents are going to be home together for the first time in weeks. They’ll want to do something.”

   “Dad still working late at Hawkins lab?” Nancy pretended to be blasé about it.

   “That and all the trips. He’s a wanted man, I guess. Mom is absorbed into her fashion thing. But, she loves it and I can’t knock her wanting to work again.”

   “What exactly does your dad do there these days?”

   “Never talks about it so I stopped asking. Big shot scientists. Can’t be bothered. Making the town a better place, always late to dinner. Whatever.” Camille’s eyes lifted. “Why the interest in my Dad lately?”

   “Just all that stuff last year. A lot happened. Fingers were pointed.”

   “They pointed wrong, I heard. Not like my dad would ever be involved in these weird conspiracies. He’s painfully normal.”

   “He could secretly be a Terminator, Cam,” Steve laughed and Nancy dropped it when Camille reached over to smack her friend.

   “Real funny.” She stood with her tray. “He says he helps people. He’s wanted to help people his whole life. I’ve heard every speech possible about it. But, whatever tests they’re running, they can’t exactly flash that all over the news. Small town labs, you know, they’re nothing. They’re glorified electric companies.”

   “They certainly can’t flash it.” Nancy tried to smile.

   “Tell Mrs. Holland I’m thinking about her.”

   “I will.” Nancy gave a nod, resting back while Camille dumped her trash out and couldn’t spot Billy when the bell rang. Huffing, she rolled her eyes and marched out, turning to sneak down the hallway and open a back door to a set of stone steps. Her assigned shadow was leaning into them, hurrying to snuff out a smoke.

   “Easy, beach boy, it’s me. You’re making me late for chem.”

   “Broke Princess’s rule, huh. How’d you find me so quick?”

   “Know the type. All the smokers who think they’re slick slip out this door. It’s the spot. Come on.” She cocked her head and he slipped in.

   “Tell me about that Steve Harrington guy. More royalty.”

   “Making new friends already. How sweet is that.” She picked up the pace when the bell rang again. “Steve, the hair, Harrington. Probably the most popular boy in school. Even after last year.”

   “Hearing a lot about last year.” Billy pretended not to care. Nothing exciting in manure land. So he thought.

   “Little boy went missing, it was a whole big thing. Thought he died but they found him. Thankfully.”

   “Girl went missing too in our class.”

   “Barb. They...haven’t found her.” Camille averted her eyes and he dropped that subject. “Steve ruled the school with the rest of us. Certain things went down and our group split. High school drama and all. Not very interesting. Why the questions, don’t you hate this place? Trying to be the new hair guy with those darling curls?”

   “Just like to know what I’m up against.”

   “Rough and tumble and in need of a new challenge. Noted. Hurry up.” Camille rushed into class with Billy unbothered behind her.

   “Ah, Ms. Harper and you brought the new transfer, how nice. Take the last two seats in back. You’ll be lab partners.” Mrs. West gestured, a younger teacher than his others here. Lovely, Camille turned her eyes to Billy and he looked utterly smug. “Billy Hargrove just transferred from California. See to it, class, that he feels welcomed.”

   “So far, so good, teach.” He turned up the charm with a wink and earned several girls sitting forward in response before he sauntered down to join Camille at a high table they would share. Pretty and aggravating, Camille decided. Billy eyed her again while the teacher began and she pulled a notebook out. Sleeves shifted up and he noticed a scar, small and round just an inch or so under her wrist. Looked like a burn. Hazel eyes lifted to see his blue ones and there was...nothing. Nothing there that he’d gotten from every other girl at this school admiring his ass in tight jeans. Billy took note to himself: a stone fox.

** ** **

   “How was school, honey?” Noah Harper locked the attic door behind him and Camille pretended she wasn’t trying to see into it. His eyes were intent until the lock clicked.

   “Fine. Had to show another new guy around.” She eyed the attic again. The only forbidden room in their huge house. “We still on for dinner with mom?”

   “About that...” He saw her shoulders drop. “Something came up and they need me tonight.”

   “You promised.” She batted her eyes.

   “I know and I’ll make it up to you.” He kissed her head. “Did you take your pills?”

   “Yes.”

   “New dose is helping, I’m sure.”

   “Less nosebleeds.” Camille shrugged, averting her eyes before she turned to go down the steps.

   “Camille, honey, I promise that we’ll get dinner next time.”

   “I know,” she faked a smile. “I get it.”

   “You are...everything to me. I love you and I’m sorry I haven’t been around the last year. You are so important. Trust that.” He came to her, tucking hair aside.

   “I love you, dad.” She let herself brighten. Just a little. Noah watched her turn to go off. Her mother was currently in her own studio, light filled the room while she mulled over a drawing and turned to pin pieces of fabric to a bodice on a stand.

   “Bow or no bow, darling?” Rosemary, a women growing more beautiful with age, mused and Camille considered it.

   “Bow.” She plopped into a cushioned chair.

   “Talked to your father, did you?” She watched her daughter nod with a pout. “We can still have our dinner and watch whatever romantic movie we wish.”

   “I know. I just...never see him anymore. It’s worse.”

   “It’ll get better again, they’re short staffed after those accidents. Your father was lucky to be out of town.”

   “He’s always out of town.” Camille tried not to whine. “I see Edna more than I see you two.”

   “We certainly have kept her busy with this house. She adores you.” The maid practically raised her.

   “I just miss my parents.”

   “We just want you to have a better life than us. That’s all any parent wishes for. We work hard and can only teach so much. You’ll understand when you grow older.” Rosemary kissed her daughter’s hair. “How was school? I heard talk of a new student. A boy?”

   “Yes...”

   “A cute boy?”

   “Gorgeous and bad news for certain.” Camille crossed her arms.

   “So you like him?”

   “Every girl liked him and he loved that.” She stood up. Billy was a bad boy drawn to royalty. “Going to get my homework out of the way.”

   “Pasta tonight?”

   “Yes, of course.” Camille hurried off, eyeing that attic down the long hallway before she continued on.

** ** **

   Camille didn’t speak to Billy much that next day. He sat behind her in English and resisted the urge to tug on loose locks of bouncy hair when she shifted in her seat. Study hall was similar, she sat alone with a book on Latin; completely absorbed. Smart and popular. An entire compact package. He could have wrapped her in a pretty, pink ribbon. The thought was enticing. Camille wasn’t the rich bitch she used to be. Well, still working on that but progress lingered between every little conversation with Nancy. Frankly, it was nice to be rid of Tommy and Carol in their group. She took note often of Steve and Nancy huddling together to whisper these days and stopping when she or Heather walked up.

   “Happy Halloween, Cam.” Heather never grew out of her sweet face. Doe eyes to match.

   “It is indeed. Want to come over and get ready for Tina’s party? My mom seemed excited about it and it’ll break her heart if we don’t let her fuss.”

   “Your house is a mansion, I wouldn’t miss it.” Heather laughed to herself.

   “I’ll drive you,” Camille cocked her head when they got outside. Billy’s blue Camaro whizzed loudly out of the parking lot. They caught sight of a little redhead in the passenger seat. “Didn’t know he had a sister.”

   “Stepsister, I guess. Seemed pretty short about that. She’s the same age as Nancy’s brother.”  The two friends got into Camille’s little grey car to speed off. “Are you going out for gymnastics again this year?”

   “Ah, not sure. Might tutor instead, they’ve been asking me.”

   “Thinking I’ll stay with cheer-leading. I’m so jealous of your brain.” Heather huffed to herself.

   “Okay, weird.” Camille laughed and turned a corner.

   “I’m serious. You’re somehow beautiful and you absorb books like a sponge absorbs water. And you’re different… Nicer.”

   “Okay, rude...but true.” She’d admitted and Heather smiled.

   “Good different like happier. Relaxed. You and Nancy are talking again. We never thought we’d see that day. Every since…you know.”

   “I grew tits early and started dressing better and dropped my two friends. Yeah. Lesson learned.”

   “It’s just better now. Never too late I guess even for Queen Bee.”

   “Too sappy for your own good,” Camille peered over when they passed the Loch Nora sign and pulled up to her house. Lavish and cared for. Cold on occasion when they weren’t throwing the usual holiday party. “Taking your son out tonight, Edna?” Camille stopped the housekeeper on the way out. She was only in her twenties when she came to their family to look after this house and, admittedly, the daughter within whose parents were never around.

   “Yes, he’s so excited. Wanted to be the Terminator this year.” She laughed. “Goodnight, Milly.”

   “Night,” Camille looped her arm in Heather’s and led her inside where her mother was waiting.

** ** **

   Music boomed, vibrating Tina’s house while every teen inside danced about. Many wandered the grounds with red cups full of stolen booze. Spotting Nancy and Steve, Camille crossed with Heather behind her. Two drinks down into her stomach. Working on the third.

   “Aw, couples costume. I have to say I’m impressed.” Camille watched Nancy smile with dull eyes.

   “Madonna,” Steve eyed Heather, “best one yet.”

   “Damn, I knew I’d have competition.” Heather giggled and pulled Nancy off to get a drink.

   “She okay?” Camille asked after a beat and Steve rubbed his head.

   “Not sure, she’s been acting weird ever since...ah,” Steve stopped himself. “You know it’s been a year and the dinner, I think...it brought some stuff up.”

   “Keep an eye on her, something’s off. Something’s been off...with you both.”

   “We’ll be fine. Relax.” Steve ran a hand into his locks and Camille gave him a nod, passing to go outside and escape the pounding music. That’s where she saw Billy again. Clad in even tighter jeans and a leather jacket with no shirt. Fingerless gloves. Terminator, she amused herself. Currently, he was hoisted upside down over the keg, easily beating Steve’s held record, while admirers around him cheered and counted. He spotted her and winked even in his position, causing her to roll her eyes and drink from her own cup.

   “Yeah!” He got upright and sprayed beer, earning more drunk cheers. Tommy was an eager lackey, egging him on and nearly shoved up his ass. “That’s how you do it, Hawkins!” He puffed a cigarette as the wild crowds hurried back to join the dancing.

   “The new keg king!” Tommy bellowed and Billy paid him no mind, crossing toward Camille leaning near the doorway. Eyes narrowing and deliberate, he stalked like a lion and she was undaunted.

   “You’re fitting in.” She commented so he blew smoke the other way. “Nice costume.”

   “And you are, ah, some kind of witch.” He gestured with his hands.

   “Stevie Nicks.” She chuckled. “As in: Fleetwood Mac. But, honestly, you’re not wrong.”

   “Think you meant, bitch. Hey, Harper.” Tommy leaned over Billy’s shoulder, wasted. “Still flying lower with Steve and Miss Perfect?”

   “Oh, Tommy. Don’t be like that,” Camille smiled with red lips splitting wide. An expression that cut. “Glad to see you and Carol still going so strong.” She stepped forward, craning her neck to see him behind Billy. A true predator. Slow and calculating. Billy couldn’t help but leer. She acted like he wasn’t even there between them. Princess played up a pout. “Do you remember when you two had that little break and you wrote me that...dirty...nasty...filthy letter. Spelling and grammar problems aside, it was…vividly detailed. Billy, you should have been around for that.” She gave his shoulder a pat and shivers ran his spine, amusement flickered his own expression. “Tommy, here, is quite the writer. I still have it, thinking of getting a chic frame. Something classy.” She gulped the rest of her cup. “Maybe, I ought to get together with Carol. Compare notes sometime. I’m sure she’d adore that.” Camille gave Tommy’s cheek a light smack and pressed her empty cup toward him until he took it. “Enjoy the party, boys. Queen’s gotta buzz.”

   “Stay away from that one,” Tommy scoffed, pushing at Billy next to him who only smiled. “Daddy’s girl. Spoiled nightmare. Total bitch.” Billy inhaled smoke again and flicked ashes in Tommy’s direction to get him off his back.

   “Rough and tumble girl.” He’d muttered more so to himself. Camille crossed to get another drink when Tommy came in boasting about their new keg king.

   “Eat it, Harrington!” Another boy joined in. Chants of Billy’s name died down when the two teens sized each other up. Steve yanked his sunglasses away. Instant disdain. Nancy rolled her eyes and turned to get away from them, crossing to the bowl of punch.

   “What’s in this one?” She leaned over to grab a cup.

   “Pure fuel!” The drunk boy on Camille’s other side donned a toga and stumbled.

   “Rat poison.” Camille was flat, sipping. "And I was so hoping for gasoline, we had rat poison at the last party." Nancy was already dunking her cup in to gulp.

   “Whoa, slow down.” Camille touched her wrist. Nancy went in for another and Steve hurried over when Camille gave him a look.

   “Take it easy, Nance. Hey...” He put his arm out and she scoffed at him, wiping the punch from her cheek.

   “We’re just being stupid teenagers for the night. Wasn’t that the deal?” She was already intoxicated after three full cups. Ruefully, she moved beyond her friends and went to join the dancing with a fourth cup.

   “I told you.” Camille pushed at Steve so he went after her. “What the hell?” She'd uttered under her breath, turning to almost run into Billy Hargrove’s bare chest. He enjoyed it a little too much.

   “Scare you?”

   “Second day in the manure fields of Hawkins and you are the new keg king. Your majesty.” She gave a mocking curtsy and shifted around him to lean against an empty doorway. The air smelled of booze and weed. Billy trailed after to light up another smoke. Intrigued, he puffed and offered it to her. A clear test. Intoxicated, Camille took it and dragged slowly, blowing air aside. “Afraid I only smoke on the rare drunken social occasion.” She offered it back with two fingers only for him to wrap his lips around it, blue eyes lingering when he inhaled. “You think you’re slick, don’t you?” Her hand pulled from him and he ghosted a smile with smoke edging between his teeth around the cigarette. Billy leaned into her space.

   “You really think I can’t get a read on you, Harpy?” He was pleasantly drunk too.

   “Harpy? That’s a new one.” Did she like it? Perhaps. “And, yes, actually. I do.”

   “Got used to all these country boys tripping over themselves. Worker bee drones. But, you know they don’t stand a chance and you love it.” He pressed his palm to the door frame behind her to shift closer. Cologne invaded her senses above the smoke. Ashes flicked. He dragged once more and snuffed it into the wall after. “They all fall down. Can’t read the queen.”

   “And you think you’re quick enough on your feet, Billy?” She watched that dear, charming smile cross his face. Hard not to melt at that. Camille trailed her eyes down his sharpened expression. His voice hushed.

   “I think that you want to find out.” He leaned into her, eyelashes fluttering. Barely inches from those full, red lips; Billy heard her utter and touch his chest.

   “Shit.” Camille came out from him to see Nancy trying to get back into the punch bowl. Billy stilled to lean out too, irritation twitched his brow. Almost had her.

   “Nancy, stop, put it down.” Steve tried to wrestle the cup from her and Nancy was accidentally splashed with a full drink. Staining her white costume.  The party stilled briefly to see the scuffle.

   “What the hell?” Nancy slapped the cup down and hurried away. Camille forgot Billy in front of her and crossed after with Steve behind her. Nancy stumbled down a hallway and tripped with her friend barely catching her.

   “Come on, I got you.”

   “I don’t need your help,” Nancy pushed off and poked her shoulder. “You can’t just...just pretend to be my friend again because you feel sorry for Barb and I.”

   “Nancy...it isn’t like that. I lost her too.” Camille stood taller. Steve drew forward as if to get between them.

   “Where were you, then? Huh? Bullshitting with...with all your cool new people. Stuffing fingers down your throat because Carol said to." It only happened twice. "Buying another cool outfit, oh, so p-popular. Impress your asshole friends. We...We killed Barb.”

   “Nancy, stop.” Steve tried to get her into the bathroom.

   “She needed us. She was always there for us and we weren’t there!” Nancy jerked away and spun on her heel to shut herself into the bathroom. Steve paused to see the girl behind him.

   “I deserved that.”

   “She drank too much. She didn’t mean it,” Steve touched her arm. “And no, you didn’t. You and I...we made some shitty choices.”

   “People were hurt because of them.” Camille offered.

   “We can do better. We are.” Steve nodded. “I need to check on her.”

   “Of course,” Camille turned and went back into the main room. Jonathan Byers crossed to see her. “Didn’t think you’d come.”

   “I didn’t either.” Jonathan stuffed his hands into his pockets. “She okay?”

   “I’m not sure anymore. Something's been… You guys are friends now, yeah?”

   “Friends, I, uh, yes. We...We’re friends.” He’d stammered.

   “Look. Have you noticed anything...off?”

   “Off?” Jonathan shrugged awkwardly. “No, just-”

   “The anniversary. Sure. Look, Jonathan, she likes you. She trusts you. Can you just...keep an eye on her?” She crossed her arms and there was a beat. “We weren’t ever friends and I was...not great to you.”

   “You let your friend smash my camera.”

   “You used that camera to take pictures of a girl undressing without her consent.” She pressed in an even tone and Jonathan dropped his head to nod. “We’re all stupid ass teenagers, right?”

   “Guess so,” Jonathan relaxed when she smiled slightly at him. Steve came barging out to pass them, leaving.

   “That isn’t good. Hey, I’m...too drunk to drive. Can you get Nancy home? She’s...not well.”

   “Yeah,” Jonathan moved to pass her. “Stay safe.”

   “You too...” She watched him go off, dropping her arms. Killed Barb. Nancy’s words. They haunted Camille the rest of that night.

** ** **

   Camille stared at her chemistry book in study hall the next day, day dreaming while she doodled along her notebook. Killed Barb. Did Nancy believe that? Did they know more about that night? Those words flashed high like stage lights across her brain. A textbook slapped down across the way and Billy Hargrove was looking at her with those intent eyes. Pleased she jumped in shock, he suppressed a laugh when the librarian hushed him.

   “Don’t think she likes me.” He muttered, still entertained.

   “Can’t imagine why.” Camille sat back, annoyed. “What?”

   “You’re avoiding me, Harpy.” He cocked his head and plopped down across from her. In the corner, they tried to stay hushed. Classic music played on low and Billy groaned to himself. “Not my fault that Strode paired us together for the project.” Camille shut her chem book and stuffed it away.

   “Easy project, we pick a book from the list. Read it. Collaborate in a paper.”

   “Pick one and sum it up for me.” He earned a silent laugh when she turned from him to peer outside at the crisp, grey day.

   “Oh no, Billy boy, you’re going to at the very least skim the book and happily contribute to our paper. You can come to my place after school today, we’ll work on it. After you drop your sister off, I guess.”

   “Max is my stepsister.” He corrected while she jotted her address down and slipped it into his hands.

   “Be there or face my perfect student wrath.”

   “Spitfire, I like it.” He leaned forward, arms crossing over the table. “You live in the rich neighborhood. Mommy and daddy going to be okay when I roll up to see their precious daughter? Oh, can’t forget the maid checking in all hours of the day.”

   “They’re both out on business and the housekeeper is off today actually.”

   “So, you’re inviting me to a big, empty house in the ritzy part of town...” He had far too many ideas.

   “To work...on a project. There’s free take-out of our choosing in the deal if you show. And that sweet face will show.” She barely spared him a glance, clearly distracted still. Billy worked to catch her gaze.

   “Worried about college when dearest dad can buy you any single one you want?”

   “No, I just like to be the best.” She leaned forward too with a sly grin. “I enjoy school and I’m not planning on staying in a fancy house in Hawkins, Indiana with a husband I’ll never see. Especially when there is a whole world out there waiting for me to explore it.”

   “Manure ain’t good enough for you now?”

   “Very funny. Hawkins is too small for me. And I have a good brain that I like to put to use. I'm wasted here.” She shrugged. “No crime in that and daddy didn’t buy me everything, I saved for my own car. Now, I think you should use study hall to...study. That chem quiz Friday is going to kick your ass.”

   “No use, I’m screwed.” He looked away and changed the subject. “What kind of take-out?”

   “Possibly a large cheese pizza.” She quirked her lips while he rubbed his jaw.

   “Hard bargain. Throw green peppers on half the pizza and I want a grand tour of your castle. You can put the royal stinger away for one night.”

   “You’re just trying to waste time, Hargrove,” her eyes narrowed. Billy bit his bottom lip, entertained with a nod. Another heart melting expression when he gave her those big, blue eyes. “Deal.” She reached out and he curled his fingers around her hand to shake it.

   "You won't regret this," his other hand covered hers to draw it out.

   "Already am." She produced that honeyed smile a final time. Billy stood with his bag gripped tight, sliding around the table to lean next to her ear.

   “I stand by what I said at the party. Just so we’re clear.” Slipping off, he disappeared behind a row of bookshelves. Camille suppressed another grin and went back to her notebook, shading in the petals of a sunflower. She imagined it in a field flooded by sunlight getting kissed by the wind. The smile broke through at the mere thought.

Chapter Text

   Camille waited barely twenty five minutes after she got home before that Camaro was racing down her street. Billy eyed the house and didn’t hide his awe. Sprinklers turned on to water the pristine grass while he smacked his door shut and fixed a curl back into place. A neighbor watering her roses stopped to stare so he winked. Adrenaline pumped and set him on edge, face heating before he pushed the doorbell. She answered in a baggy sweater that fell from one shoulder and tight acid wash jeans.

   “Find the place all right?”

   “Had some trouble picking the mansions apart on the street.” He earned a scoff when she locked the door.

   “Shoes.”

   “You’re kidding.” Billy stepped out of his boots and she reached to take his messenger bag, dropping it upon a nearby chair.

   “You wanted the tour. Main hall,” she slid open two doors. “Living room.”

   “Shit.” The radio played as they went, hurrying off. “Kitchen, dining room.” She gestured to a glass door. “Back deck... Work out room.”

   “Of course you have a pool too.”

   “And hot tub.” Her remark pooled heat into his stomach. She'd said so casually like she didn't have ideas. Not like his. “Anyways, coat closet...first bathroom. Main staircase...this way.” Billy looked around at the art. Few photos of the little family framed the walls. He saw her grinning and toothy as a child into the camera. “No comments.”

   “Just looking.” Blue eyes lingered on her face.

   “We have a rec room in the basement. You’d love it. Couches. Games. Another TV. Best stereo in the house. But, here...second bathroom. Dad’s office. Mom’s studio. Master bedroom...guest room...and at the end: Me. No, you can’t see in my room. We’ll see how the project goes first when we actually start the paper.”

   “I get it, you need to judge my performance before you commit.” Billy stepped closer and she laughed. He was game.

   “Exactly that.” Camille noticed it then. A welt just peeking out of his hairline. “What happened to your head?”

   “Nothing.”

   “You were bleeding. It’s dried.”

   “You missed a room,” Billy lifted a hand to the sore spot and turned from her. “Attic. Hiding something?”

   “Never been in there,” she shrugged.

   “You’ve never been in there?”

   “Off limits. Dad keeps his work stuff in there, I guess”

   “He a spy or some shit?”

   “Scientist.” Camille came to his side and repeated herself. “You’re bleeding. Let me look at that.”

   “Drop it.”

   “Billy-”

   “Just fucking drop it, I said!” Billy raised his voice and she reeled back in surprise. His shoulders sank down and he shook his head, nonchalant by force. “It’s stupid, I was in a hurry to get to your damn tour and hit my head.” Immediately, the heat turned off. That damn charm. He wore it like an oversized suit to hide under.

   “Sure...” Camille cleared her throat. “But, I can’t have Hawkins' new Keg King bleeding on the grand tour. So, suck it up for two minutes.” Billy gave her a hard look and went into the bathroom, sitting down while she pulled a sterile wipe from a huge first aid kit.

   “You came prepared.”

   “I was into dancing and gymnastics, I get roughed up…"

   He bit his tongue at that.

   "This might sting.” Billy turned to stone and didn’t flinch by force when she drew the pad against his hairline. She hissed a little at the welt, gently shifting locks of hair to clean it up. “Nasty bruise coming. But, I think your hair will be fine.” He gave a comedic sigh of relief but stilled when her free hand drew up his chin to angle his face so she could finish. Crystal eyes blinked several times and he said nothing until she slipped from him. Perfume turned him to putty. Stole every move he could have possibly used on her. Seemed unfair. And what's worse was her acting oblivious. “Come on, I’ll order us a pizza while you look over the book list.” Breath heaved to enter his lungs and he swayed up to his feet to follow her out.

** ** **

   “Ugh,” Billy slumped back into a chair. "Pick a different one." An empty pizza box sat between them.

   “I already read it, you just need to skim. This is basically a free A plus for you and you're complaining."

    "Guess." He glanced at her. Glowing and unworried like a rosy pink firework. Felt like it was about to go off in his face.

   "Face it, Billy, you just hit the jackpot.” Camille laughed openly at him. She wasn't wrong there. “The Scarlet Letter. Easy read.” Deft fingers flicked through pages of the assignment and idly turned a TV channel to some martial arts flick. A character expertly spun under another to dodge a fist before they whirled their leg up, knocking their foe in the head. Camille lost her next thought and didn’t hear Billy whine about the paper, eyes wider and intent on the swift fighting.

   “Whoa...hey. You’re, uh...” Billy was stuffing a pile of napkins toward her and Camille snapped back. Blood tricked from her nose.

   “Shit, not now,” she jerked up, grabbing the ball of papers from him to cover it. Billy was a little stunned when she raced into a nearby bathroom. Really not his idea of how this day was supposed to go. A headache pulsed at the front of her brain. “Ugh.” Camille pinched napkins down and huffed, sniffing before she washed her nose with soap. Fuck and in front of the damn keg king too. She opened the door and he was there, reaching for the handle. Not a shy boy at all. Billy dropped his arm and tilted his head in question. Eyes narrowed so she explained. “I have this thing and I just get these dumb, little chronic nosebleeds. Happened ever since I was little. Think it might be worse, I must be lucky.”

   “You dying?” He roused a giggle from her lips.

   “No, not dying. I think. Just a stupid health thing. Never had that great an immune system when I was younger. I take pills for it.” She shrugged. “I’m better at hiding it when I’m at school. Few close friends know.”

   “So, I’m a close friend now."

   "Didn't mean it like that."

   "Yet, you opened your mouth and said it to my face. Can't take it back. We bled together, Harpy.” Here he was, trapping her into another door frame. Teasing and dramatic. Completely charged and aware. Insufferable.

   “Not sure it works that way but, cute that you do,” Camille poked his chest and went around him. Cute. Queen Bee was quick on feet as well. He couldn't fathom it. “Read the book, Hargrove. Really impress me.”

   “What I heard is that I have a chance?” Billy smirked to himself and packed his bag while she dug into a bookcase.

   “Hm. Take my copy and we’ll meet Saturday.” She handed him the novel when he looked her up and down. Not once did she try to make a move.

   “My house this time. Dad’ll be out with Susan. If you’re not afraid of my side of town.”

   “I've seen Hawkins from all angles, babe. I want a tour.” She batted her lashes, craning to get closer to his face.

   “You got it,” Billy tore a page from his notebook to scribble his address. “Two o’clock.”

   “I’ll be there,” she led him to the door and opened it. “See you at school.” Big eyes with nothing again. Billy lingered to study her face before relenting. He could try the slow approach. Camille waited until he got into his car to shut the door, locking it. Billy watched each light go off within the house until she was upstairs. Licking his lips, he chuckled openly to himself before starting the vehicle to speed home.

   Billy gave it his best to skim the damn book that night, debating it before he fell into bed. Flicking the novel open, a single light in his room illuminated the pages while he stretched out atop the covers. Billy ended up reading until his eyes hurt. He fell asleep like that, book pressed open against his chest.

   The school bell was more irritating than usual that morning, Camille rubbed her head when a body slipped into the desk behind her. Fingers tugged once at a silken piece of hair and her head whipped, hand smacking at his.

   “What?” She hissed through teeth at his grin.

   “I skimmed it,” Billy leaned forward so she turned to face the chalkboard.

   “What’s the main character’s name?”

   “Ah, Fester or something.”

   “I’m impressed.” Camille tried not to laugh.

   “I got it?”

   “No, you’re totally wrong but the thought was there,” she turned to peer over her shoulder, winking. A touch of fire swelled there in the depths. “Keep skimming, Billy.”

   “I intend to.” He muttered when she faced the front again. His tone sent her all aflutter. “You’re not taking language classes and I see you with a different language book every time we meet. The hell?”

   “Some of us collect hobbies.” Camille shrugged, sorting through her bag for a pencil when the second bell rang. The headache didn’t get better with each passing class. She tried harder to focus and sniffled on blood during chemistry. Billy furrowed his brow and looked up from the worksheet in front of him. He knew he failed that damn quiz. Another thing to please his dear old dad. Partners talked around them, filling in the blanks from textbooks. Without speaking, Camille got up and paced to the front of the class to whisper to their teacher. She left the room and didn’t come back for ten minutes. Billy fiddled with his earring and watched her fidget when she did return.

   “Stop staring,” she’d uttered after another five and Billy’s eyes snapped aside.

   “Acting weird, queenie.”

   “Stupid headache,” she snuck a pill and gulped from a water bottle in her bag. The rest of the day was desperately slow. Camille rolled down the windows of her car and inhaled dry air, heaving a breath before she sped out of the parking lot. Billy watched her go when Max came around on a skateboard.

   “Ah, ah...backseat.”

   “Another girl.” His stepsister scoffed and Billy was too distracted to get annoyed.

   “Hey, Billy. Movie starts at six.” A pretty girl approached so his grin crept wide.

   “Tammy,” he cocked his head so she’d get in. “We have time to kill.” Max could only roll her eyes in the backseat.

** ** **

   “You mom said you weren’t feeling well, don’t push the exercise tonight,” Noah walked in on his daughter following a peppy dance instructor on TV.

   “Just a headache, I’m feeling better.” She lied, smiling as she did so.

   “Nosebleeds?”

   “No,” came a second. Camille wasn’t sure why. “Hey, I’m going to Billy’s house Saturday, we have this paper we need to do.”

   “Billy?”

   “New boy, you remember."

   "New boy?" The details of her teenage existence always escaped him.

   "Strode paired us, I can’t be rid of him.” She turned the TV down and continued stretching, following the movements with ease. Noah took note.

   “This a new video?”

   “I go through them so quick, I got most of them down without the video,” Camille was too focused.

   "See if Edna can find you some more to keep you entertained." He'd offered.

   "Sure," she gave a shrug. Always nice to keep busy with them gone. “I won’t be out too late.”

   “You know to-”

   “Call and check in if it runs later, yes, dad. Promise.” Camille grew amused. “I’ll be here awhile longer. Goodnight.”

   “Goodnight, honey.”

Chapter Text

   Camille pulled up to a smaller house the next day, parking behind Billy’s Camaro out front. She climbed a few stone steps and knocked three times, backpack clutched over one shoulder. The redhead from the other day pulled open the door and Camille smiled.

   “Hi, I’m-”

   “Camille. I’m Max.” She’d nodded. “You’re popular, the kids in my grade talk.”

   “Right, you’re in Mike’s group.”

   “Thought I was,” the younger girl shrugged and stepped back to let her in. “Billy! A girl!” She echoed.

   “Give me a damn minute, Max!” He’d bellowed at the other end of the house.

   “Like Hawkins so far?”

   “It’s not so bad, I guess.” Max tucked hair behind her ear. “What’s up with Mike and them? You know his sister, right?”

   “We don’t hang out like we used to.”

   “It’s like one moment you’re friends, the next, they start acting all weird and secretive.”

   “Hate to break it to you, that’s been my entire high school experience.” Camille offered a sobered grin and cocked her head. Mike and his friends were acting off as well. She’d definitely missed something. “Give it time. People come to their senses. Not always.”

   “Got that right.”

   “Hey,” Billy came around the corner, buttoning up a shirt that was half tucked and leaving the top three open.

   “Thought the girl last night was your project partner, that’s what you told Neil.” Max relished the awkward beat that followed.

   “You met my stepsister. Mad Max. She was just leaving. Beat it.” He pressed his teeth, eyebrows lifting because he couldn’t say much else with high school royalty in front of him. “Goodbye, Max.”

   “Whatever,” she picked up her skateboard and left out the door.

   “Nice to meet you, Max.”

   “Same here.” The door shut and Camille lifted her lips.

   “I like her.”

   “Take her.” Billy was colder, rubbing his head.

   “So...what girl? I’m not naive, I know you’re making rounds. The ladies love to gush about you.”

   “Not all good things, I’m sure. But, that’s part of the appeal.” Billy shifted, hands on his hips before he gestured. “Drop your bag wherever. Take your shoes off or don’t. I could care less.”

   “Still get the tour?” She set her backpack on the couch.

   “Shithole living room. Ugly kitchen. Garage.” Billy gestured. “My least favorite place: the family dining room.” She followed him down the hall. “Bathroom. Basement. No secret attic. No pool. Dad and Susan… Closet. Max. And me. Not much to it.” He opened his bedroom. A small space that was intimately his. Smelled warm like his cologne. “I skimmed more of the book.”

   “Main character’s name?”

   “Hester.” He set his hands out. “Do I get my medal now?”

   “Mmm, the bare minimum. Only way to my heart.” She entered the space. “Love the posters. Classy.” Bands and scantily clad women. Her eyes drew to a stereo smashed in the corner and kicked off to the side. “What happened there?” Billy almost lied but she was so soft about it like she already knew.

   “I failed the chemistry quiz and fucked up a math test.” He was matter a fact. “Dad found out. He always does. Likes to keep tabs.” Camille clasped her hands with the slightest nod.

   “And your head the other day.”

   “His important lessons in respect usually go over it. Not always. Aim gets better with age.” Billy was hard and sarcastic, opening his window to light a smoke.

   “And this has been going on a long time.”

   “Does it matter?” His eyes lowered. She didn’t hesitate.

   “Yes.”

   “He’s an asshole. Most parents are.” Billy picked up the book and set his cigarette in an ashtray upon the windowsill. “I didn’t like it. The ending.”

   “You actually read it?” She chuckled but sobered when he met her eyes. “Why specifically?”

   “All that shit and planning to run away only for the poor fucker to just die in her arms. Felt like a waste. Pissed me off."

   "Think so?"

   "And this chick didn’t really spit in anyone’s face for the hell she went through. That shit just seemed unfair.” He shrugged and Camille was amused again. Billy offered it and lingered when she closed the distance to take it. Fingers brushed and the book dropped. Instead his head lowered to touch hers. Camille inhaled and he didn’t try to kiss her. It was peculiar, the way he closed his eyes and breathed her in. His usual manner of seduction went over her. Every single time. Not sure if it was by force or not. Billy had to know now. He’d be lying if it didn’t jar him to bits. Foreheads touched and his lips opened. “I want you.” Shivers sparked out from her spine to cover her body in heat. His husky voice reverberated and Camille had to come up for air before she drowned in him.

   “Typical bad boy. Huh? You bat your pretty eyes and drag slowly on smoke. It usually works on us.”

   “You’re all perfect posture and angels singing. When was the last time you relaxed? Let those angels scream it out for a few beats?” He was so fucking close and she didn't leave his space.

   “Been awhile.”

   “I can fix that.” His head tilted. He was so certain too.

   “You only want me now because I’m teen royalty to you and our school. Pretty Knight on a conquest. Have to claim the queen. It’s your favorite brand, I can tell. You can’t get enough.”

   “What does any of it matter?” Billy read her with ease. “Not like we both don’t have flings. I know about you, Harper.”

   “I know… I can’t.” Her whisper sent him reeling back, head lifting. “Year ago, maybe. I can’t do relationships. Even flings. I don't do sex. Not right now.” Those blue eyes flickered at her face. “And Billy, if you must know, I don’t ever date boys from my own school. Personal Queen Bee Code. They should have told you that about me. Rival schools are fair game.” Rejection was an old friend but not from his romantic pursuits. “I was all about your shit a year before. Things change. It’s me. I’m...complicated.” He realized all at once that her angels never sang. Neither did his.

   “I’m not?” He hitched a quick breath.

   “No, you absolutely are. But, that isn’t the problem here. Color yourself surprised.”

   “First time in my life I’ve heard that.” Not being the problem.

   “Look, Billy, I can be a friend. But, that’s all I got in me right now. If that isn’t okay with you...tough. It’s not you or what they say at school. I’m just not in a place to be that with you or anyone at the moment.” She frowned, hands running her stomach before they crossed.

   “I can get used to tough.” He relented. “I don’t know how to be a friend.”

   “Maybe not.” Her head cocked, eyes lifting to his again. “But, what a time to be alive and try it though.” She could have left right at that moment. Yet, she didn't.

   “What exactly do they say about me at school?”

   “Steve has a lot to say. Might want to back down there.” She peered aside.

   “Still waiting to see this mighty King Steve I hear about. Harrington turned bitch but there’s something there.”

   “Will bringing out the worst in someone else make you feel better?” She asked when he returned to finish the end of his smoke. Camille read him to filth. “Fight Steve. Fuck me. High school’s a game. You’re a great player. I knew that quickly.” Billy’s eyes snapped to her again. “Look. You don’t have to tell me what goes on in this house. But, if you...or Max…need a place to get away once in awhile. Lots of school projects to come, I’m sure… I have absent parents and room to spare. Consider it an act of friendship since you’re new to that.”

   “Care about Max already?”

   “Why don’t you?”

   “We’re not close.” Billy was tense.

   “Hawkins in a small place. Guess you have time to work on that.” Her judgment set him on edge. “She’ll get older. Start seeing more. Might be nice to have someone standing with or between her and an angry stepfather.”

   “Not like I had that.” He shot back, standing taller. Felt too personal to say that. Guess they're passed it already.

   “Might feel good to give it to someone else. Not to say it's obligatory. Basic kindness. But, what do I know? I’m the rich bitch. Ever notice we’re the first to go in scary movies? Shitty thing too. Bitches and sluts. Your brand. Easy to be rid of. We all move on.” Camille dropped her arms. “C’mere.” Her hand extended and Billy raised an eyebrow. “Just, trust me. We’re trying something. No funny ideas or I walk.”

   “What happened to your perfect student wrath?”

   “Fuck it, it’ll take two seconds to write the paper. Just...” She waited until he observed her and took her hand. A slow, sparking beat pulsed between them. Skin slid against skin. Billy let her lead him to the bed and was surprised when she got atop the covers on her back and tugged him to get in next to her.

   “And this is…?”

   “Two possible friends. Two complicated fuck-ups with angels that wail. Just...enjoying each other’s company. Nothing sexual. Can you manage that?”

   “Not sure anymore,” he mumbled, eyes on the ceiling. “This isn’t like foreplay to you, is it?”

   “In your dreams, beach boy,” she laughed, hand slipping from his so she could adjust and clasp her fingers upon her stomach. Hair splayed around their crowns while they relaxed, she turned her head and peered at him. Something about this all amused her.

   “What?” He caught her expression.

   “Last year, before the whole mess...I was so absorbed in my own shit. Blinded. I don’t know, it’s like I’m awake for the first time in my life.” Camille blinked at him. “Does that make sense?”

   “No. Not at all,” he was laughing and she followed. Billy fiddled with the tiny silver pendant around his neck on a long chain. She’d not seen him without it. “All I see is red still.”

   “Gotta get out, enjoy the night sky for once.” Camille sighed, eyes back on the ceiling. “Saint Christopher. Your necklace.”

   “Yeah.” Billy was near silent, hesitating. “Was my mom’s. All I have of hers.”

   “No pictures?”

   “Not anymore, dad made sure.” Billy cleared his throat. Debated it.

   “What happened to her?”

   “They fought. Got bad. Got worse. One day, she just...didn’t come back… She didn’t come back for me.” His tone grew thick at the correction.

   “I’m sorry, Billy.” Camille offered slowly.

   “Maybe I’ll wake up another day.” He gave a bitter laugh.

   “I hope that you do.” It was cruel. How soft she was against him. “Saint Christopher. Martyr. Protector of travelers, right?”

   “Think so. Guess she liked all that shit. Even made it my middle name.”

   “William Christopher Hargrove.” She mused. “Not terrible. My middle name sounds like some hippie shit.”

   “Hate my fucking first name.” Billy smirked, distant. “Now you have to tell me your hippie ass middle name.”

   “Sage.” Camille rolled her eyes when he laughed at her. “Shut up. It’s worse because my mother’s name is Rosemary.” His laughter hitched again, hand touching his lips. “Sage was my grandmother’s name. She also picked Rosemary. Real funny.”

   “Fucking is actually,” he quieted himself and gave a lengthy sigh. “Never done this before. Whatever it is,” Billy observed then. Camille chewed on her bottom lip, gaze flickering before she gave a shrug.

   “Kinda like it.” She turned again. His advances were small candles compared to the fireworks she set off. Like it was nothing. “What’s California like?”

   “Better,” he was frank. “The air. The beach. The food.”

   “Truly the beach boy type. Hard to picture.”

   “Long, long time ago,” his fingers drummed along his stomach. “Don’t fuck my image here.”

   “Wouldn’t dream of it but, you have to do one thing.”

   “What’s that?” He peered over.

   “Say, cowabunga dude, in your best surfer accent,” she gave a bright smile that resonated before he was laughing again. They pushed at each other when her hand touched the warm skin of his arm. It stayed there.

   “You’re something else, Camille.” It was the first he’d really offered her name in that velvet tone. “You know that?”

   “I get that a lot these days. Queen Bee changing up the hive. School can’t stand it. Can’t read me anymore. I don’t want them to either.” She admitted.

   “Drives you mad that I’m skimming the pages, huh?”

   “If you say so.” She changed the subject. “I’ve never been to the ocean or seen a real beach. I’d like to. My parents were never ones for trips. Not with me, at least. I barely really left Hawkins… Never left the state for sure. You...You ever feel like everyone around you is lying most days? Like something isn’t just off, it was missing the whole time and you didn’t see it.”

   “What would they hide from you?”

   “That’s it, I have no idea. Nothing ever happens in Hawkins. Not until last year.” Camille huffed and shook her head. “So, tell me about your fake project partner last night?”

   “Jealous?”

   “Skipping the question much?” She rolled over and crossed her arms to lean on them so she could meet his eyes. “Friends talk about girls and boys.”

   “I am not your damn girlfriend.”

   “Not with that attitude.” She teased. “Come on, who?”

   “Tammy Foreman.”

   “Oh? She’s pretty. We did gymnastics together the last two years. Great routines but she never could stick the landing.”

   “She did last night.” Billy chuckled when she smacked his arm. “What? That was on you.”

   “I know that. Ass.” Camille rolled her eyes, disbelieving that this was her day. Pillow talk with the new keg king.

   “So, did that shithead really write you a nasty letter?”

   “Tommy? Oh, yeah, he wanted me bad. I’ll let you read it next time you’re at my place. It’s certainly...something to behold.”

   “Already a next time?” Billy mused, blue eyes alight at her.

   “Easy,” she turned to fall against her back again.

   “What’s your dad hiding in that attic?” He wondered aloud.

   “Hell if I knew.”

   “Ever thought of picking the lock?”

   “He’ll kill me,” Camille joked. “Yes. A lot though.”

   “I could pick it.” Came the offer. “Friends or whatever.”

   “I’ll think about it,” she shook her head. Billy looked at her face again when she was distracted. This was almost too intimate and they barely touched. “Have anymore dates coming up?”

   “Like to play things as I go.”

   “Ah. Sure… Smooth keg king, always lands the girl.” Not always.

   “Took time to perfect the method. Timing and all.”

   “Hm, method. I’m sure that did take careful practice. Alright, I'll bite. Tell me about your first time.” Camille turned her neck and studied his profile. The slight twitch of his lips didn’t quite reach his eyes. Billy shifted around to see her after a beat, lips curling further with more amusement.

   “I told you about Tammy. So, you first, Harpy.” His brow quirked. "In detail."

   “Not fair.”

   “Hm, is it? Have to give to get, sweetheart.” He earned a long sigh before Camille propped her arm up to rest her chin there. Billy wasn’t letting down so she caved.

   “I was fifteen.” She huffed, eyes rolling when triumph crossed his expression, causing him to twist and mirror her position. Blue eyes direct, he gave a nod so she continued. “He was not.”

   “What? Seventeen? Eighteen? Catch the attention of a senior?” Billy watched her exhale again before she mumbled. “Huh?”

   “He was twenty.” She saw him sober up at that. “College boy in a frat. Gorgeous. Charming. He had a method too. Met him at a new years party. He was visiting the family for winter break. Well off family. I was a friend of his little sister at the time, she moved for college in New York. No one knew about us though and I...I loved it. He told me I was beautiful and mature for my age. Turns out there’s another word for what he was. We were together for months.” Dark brows twitched up and she gave a sort of half smile, sparkling eyes lowered to his chest.

   “Shit.” Was the only sentiment Billy could offer but it resonated even still.

   “A big pile of it, yeah. We kissed at that party and...I kept seeing him. He’d invite me to big college parties and show me off to his friends. We’d go upstairs and...admittedly, he was okay with his hands. Quick everywhere else.” Camille smiled again with a scoff. “After the first time, he said...tell me you love me. And I did. I realize now that he never really said it back. He just wanted me to validate that he’d taken something of mine. That it would always belong to him somehow and I couldn’t take it back... And that wasn’t the half of it.”

   “How’d it end?” He almost took that back when her eyes snapped up to his again.

   “I...I asked him to use a condom and he spun that bullshit, ‘oh babygirl, it just doesn’t feel as good’ crap every single time. ‘Oh babygirl, it won’t fit. Don’t you trust me?’ Excuses. But, I was stupid and I was so mature and dating a college boy. Real badass. Until, something changed and...I was late. I knew instantly. I fucking knew. He reeled back so fast, I thought he might get whiplash. And I made the choice for us...to take care of it. I never asked for money. All I wanted was a ride. Just...support. I was terrified and too fucking young.”

   “He go with you?” Billy knew the answer.

   “I never saw him again. I wish I’d told him to eat shit at least. Left that in a lengthy voicemail later. But, I was so scared and upset...I started walking. I looked like shit and...ruined my shoes after a good thirty minutes. So, I’m determined and a car pulls up along side me. Barbara Holland pokes her head out and asks if I’m okay. You know her story by now.”

   “Yeah. Wheeler’s missing friend.”

   “They were both my friends once until I decided I wanted to be popular and dropped them. Was a real bitch and here Barb was...she just got her permit. I didn’t even have mine. So, I get in and I just...cried. I’ve never cried like that. Not in my life. She doesn’t say much of anything, just nodded occasionally and drove me to the clinic. Walked in and sat there. Waited till it was done. Drove me home...this girl that had every right to let me walk was there for me. So, I get out. Say thank you. Barb gets out...knowing when we get back to school that nothing is really going to change. We drifted…”

   Billy watched her trace a line into his blanket. A melancholy washed over her skin. Camille went on in an even tone.

   “…She came around the car and hugged me so tight. I wish every day that I’d said something more. But, I didn’t. She took my secret with her and I felt it linger in the air at school but we never...acknowledged it. Just slight nods in passing. You’re actually the first person I’ve told since Barb.” Camille stopped to sniffle and blinked several times to still anything else. “My parents can never know. No one can.” They locked eyes and she waited for him to share. Billy fell against his back, arm behind his head.

   “I was fifteen too. She was the most popular girl in our school and she was also the girlfriend of our school’s star quarterback. Both seniors. Older than me. He was a real dick. You know the type.”

   “I do.” Camille smirked when he did before he looked at the ceiling.

   “They were hot and cold. Drama and all, always breaking up. So, she decides she wants to make him jealous and sets her eyes on me for the first time. Hargrove trash. Ate that shit up. We’re at this party and she’s never paid me any mind. Always stuck her nose up. Prissy thing. But, I don’t know, something changed. She’s handing me drink after drink. Smiling. Next thing, we’re upstairs and she’s tugging my pants open. Gets into my lap and starts bouncing like a wild animal. I was fucking wasted, I didn’t try to push her off. She bragged about it after and I sucked up the attention from that. All these girls wanted me. Word got around quick, which she wanted too.”

   “Of course, she did. So, it worked?”

   “Too well. Quarterback and his band of merry assholes dragged me to the field and beat the living shit out of me. I laughed in his face the entire time about it too. I already had her. I was hot shit now. Fight got worse and I managed one good kick. Snapped his knee cap like a twig. Bye bye dick scholarship. Couldn’t even blame me for it. She got what she wanted. A fucking place next to his hospital bed. Dad started plans to move after that. Moved me schools first but, fuck, it’s all red. It never stopped, it just got worse.”

   “Billy, she...” Camille searched for the words. “Got you drunk...and forced you to…”

   “Yeah.” He admitted, swallowing a hard lump in his throat. "Was a real clingy bitch. Half my size and left bruises all over me. Smacked me awake when I closed my eyes because I was shit hammered. Not even sure I got off fully. And I laughed in that fucker's face like it was my idea."

   “That’s awful.”

   “I consider myself lucky.” Billy shrugged. “Put a rubber on me first.” He smiled again, all that Hargrove charm fluttering back. It grew infectious and she followed, falling back next to him. Billy didn’t want to see it that way. So, he reframed. It was just easier.

   “How can that many shitty people gravitate toward us at once?”

   “Hell if I knew.”

   “Can I tell you a secret?”

   “Hm?”

   “I don’t feel like working on the paper today.” She whispered. He chuckled at that.

   “Couldn’t tell.” Billy paused. Remembered. “Head still bothering you?”

   “Little.” Came her confession. Camille sighed and tipped her head toward his shoulder. Billy fell silent and she didn’t mind. This moment was unlike anything he’d experienced before. Deliberate and lacking in forced bullshit. Nice. Peaceful. Almost too easy. He realized the terrifying reality that he’d made a friend in Hawkins. Like he'd fallen into a trap she set. Not a challenge or fling. Not fully. Didn't lessen how bad he wanted to have her. They didn’t speak until the pull of sleep threatened. For the first time, the world seemed a little less red.

** ** **

   Max flipped her skateboard and caught it with ease when their mother’s car pulled up. Susan smiled and grabbed a bag of groceries from the back seat.

   “Hey, Mom.”

   “With your friends again?”

   “Yeah, Billy had a girl over for some project.” Max shrugged and reached for the second bag to help her mother in the house.

   “A girl?” Susan cleared her throat while she unpacked the food into the fridge. She knew what that usually meant. “Are they still here?”

   “Not sure, her backpack is still here but, his door’s open.” Max wandered down the hall and stopped in her tracks. Her stepbrother was breathing softly, wheezing tiny snores while the Harper girl lie burrowed in his side. Both clothed and atop the covers. Her head pressed to his bicep. “Weird...” Susan crept behind Max to see and smiled at the unexpected scene.

   “Come on, we’ll let them rest. I’ll start dinner before Neil gets home.” Susan whispered and left the door a few inches open before she ushered Max off. An hour or so later, the scent of food roused Billy as a hand shook his shoulder.

   “The fuck, Max?” He jerked to see her standing over him. She shrunk back when he rubbed his eyes. “Hell’re you in my room?” Sleep covered his voice.

   “Dad’s almost home and dinner’s ready. Might want to wake your girlfriend.”

   “She’s not my fucking-” Billy realized Camille was sound asleep next to him. “Shit. Harpy, rise and shine.” He gave her arm a pat and she moaned. “Scram, Max. Stay out of my damn room. Don't make me say it again.” He pointed so she rolled her eyes, leaving.

   “Billy? What are we… Hell, we fell asleep.”

   “Paper isn’t magically done, is it?” He got up to stretch and she followed, joining him at the mirror to fix her hair into place.

   “I should get going. We’ll work on it in study hall. Easy.” She put her shoes on and noticed Billy peeking outside. Neil wasn’t around yet.

   “C’mon.” He cocked his head so she followed.

   “Billy, who’s your friend?” Susan was readily waiting with a bright smile and Billy exhaled, annoyed in an instant. As if he’d been caught doing something actually dirty. Camille came to her.

   “Camille Harper, we share a few classes. Sorry, I stayed here late.” The teen reached out to shake her hand.

   “No, it’s nice to see Billy in...good company. Would your parents let you stay for dinner?”

   “Christ, Susan, she’s-”

   “You both haven’t eaten yet.”

   “I couldn’t impose.” Camille smiled sweeter.

   “Nonsense, we have more than enough. Meatloaf night.” Susan shook her head.

   “Yippee.” Billy muttered to himself and both women ignored him. Max had that smug look on her face so he narrowed his eyes to glare until she moved to set the table.

   “Ah, sure, I’d like that. Thank you. May I use your phone to call my parents, Mrs. Hargrove?”

   “Of course, and call me Susan.” She pointed. Camille went around Billy, eyes locking so she could go check in at home.

   “Why did you do that?” Billy hissed.

   “Your father is coming home.” Susan whispered, wiping down the counter. “Might be nice to have another person...a sweet girl, sitting at the table during the conversation.” She was protecting him. Drawing it out before Neil could tear into him tonight. How the fuck could he see it that way? All it did was give Neil more fuel to burn him with. Billy set his jaw and Camille returned.

   “May I help with anything?” She was cut off by the door opening. Billy shrunk behind her. For the first time, she saw his eyes change. Neil Hargrove stepped in with a steely expression.

   “You’re early,” Susan smiled and let him kiss her cheek. “How was work?”

   “Fine,” he spotted Camille, “and who is this?”

   “She’s-”

   “I was asking Billy.” He cut over his wife. Eyes glued to his son. Magnifying glasses held over burning ants.

   “Camille. We have a paper due.” Billy’s gaze hit the floor so Camille stood taller and marched up to Neil with purpose.

   “Camille Harper, Billy and I are classmates.” She reached out and he seemed surprised but shook her hand.

   “Firm grip, you could teach my son something.” He remarked.

   “Dinner’s ready,” Susan came between them to set the dish on the table. Neil turned on a sort of routine. Father and provider with company around.

   “Allow me.” He held out a chair for Camille before Billy could take it, forcing his son to sit by her so Neil could put himself near him at the head of the table. Max sat across from them with Susan at the other head.

   “Have you always lived in Hawkins?” Susan scooped up plates.

   “Thank you...and yes. All my life.” Camille shifted in her seat and eyed Billy. “Billy tells me you moved from California, must have been beautiful.” She took a bite. “This is delicious.”

   “You’re sweet.”

   “Thanks, Mom.” Max added. Billy caught his father’s eyes and sat straight.

   “Thank you, Susan.” He was quiet.

   “Where do you live, Camille?” Neil cut into his food and Billy barely touched his plate. Like he had to force it.

   “Loch Nora.” Camille met his eyes and didn’t let down.

   “They give out the full size candy bars at Halloween.” Max added and Camille smirked at her.

   “You should see the houses at Christmas time. Everyone drives down to see them and we hand out hot chocolates and cider. My family decorates but we’re Jewish so it’s more for the parties.”

   “Jews,” Neil scoffed; gave a tight smile. “Huh. That’s nice.” Billy cleared his throat when Camille’s eyes drew wider.

   “Neil.” Susan cut in, careful as she could.

   “And your parents, what do they do?” He peered at Billy and took a bite of food.

   “My father is a scientist up at Hawkins lab. Mom is a fashion designer.” She replied, sipping water. “Harper Sixx.”

   “Your mother is Rosemary Harper?” Susan cut in and Camille nodded. “Her stuff is lovely, I wore one of her blouses on our first date. Didn’t I, Neil?”

   “Sure did.” His eyes were on his plate now.

   “She’ll be excited to hear that. She did more high fashion and runway when she first began. Celebrities and all. But, she wanted to start seeing her stuff on all women. Think she’s happier with that.” Camille sat back and peered at Max. “I’m jealous, I see you skateboarding all the time around school. I was on one once and broke my arm when I was ten.”

   “I rode into a thorn bush a few years back and got stuck,” Max smiled this time, relaxing.

   “So, what project are you two working on? A paper?” Neil spoke over Max before she could go on. “Can’t write one yourself, Billy?”

   “It’s a collaborative thing for class, two minds equals more ideas.” Camille cut in and felt Billy nudge her thigh under the table. “Large book report but, I’m optimistic, we picked a good one.”

   “Which one?”

   “The Scarlet Letter,” Billy prodded at a piece of meat.

   “Little advanced for you.”

   “Billy actually finished the novel before I did.” Camille gripped her knife and fork on the table. Billy’s leg touched her own again in warning.

   “Sometimes I forget you can read anything outside of Playboy. Or was it Playgirl?” Neil pointed at Billy with his knife and laughed at his own joke, he nudged his son’s shoulder until he forced a tight grin. Eyes watery. Camille felt herself tremble. That headache pounded and then it released completely when a photo jerked from the wall to crash into the floor. Neil whipped around and cursed, standing. “Piece of shit,” he mumbled, going to shut the window beyond it. “Damn wind blew it off the wall.” Camille was dazed and Billy jerked to force a napkin against her nose.

   “Jesus, Harpy. Again?” He pulled her to focus and her hand covered his. Eyes locked, pupils dilated. She felt his fingers shake.

   “Are you okay, dear?” Susan offered another napkin. Max was silent and wide eyed.

   “Yes, sorry, I have this thing. I get them easily. Pardon me.” She held the paper and quirked her brow to save Billy more embarrassment.

   “Yeah,” Billy pulled her to her feet and guided her off. Didn’t think too much of it. Camille shot one last look at Neil and wished that photo crashed into his head. They shut the bathroom door. “Can’t keep doing this, yeah?”

   “Nosebleeds are a Camille Harper special,” she joked, angling her face up. “Your stepmom seemed nice.”

   “She chose him.” Billy was tense. "Just fucking makes it worse when she tries to help." Trembling. Susan tried to defuse the tension. Tried.

   “Sometimes you don’t know a person until they’re already drowning you.” She whispered. He wet a rag and without asking, moved the tissue to wipe her nose. Camille let him, eyes flickering over his while he stared at her lips and edged the rag over them. His thumb came up to trace them before she ran her tongue there. Oh, did he fucking want her.

   “Better?” She watched him nod. “I should go.” Billy was silent again, eyes on his feet before he sniffled and nodded once more. “Walk me out?” She went first and clasped her hands. “Mrs. Hargrove, dinner was great but my parents will want me home. Thank you.”

   “Come over anytime, hon.”

   “Yes. Bye, Max. I’ll see you around.”

   “Sure,” Max lifted her lips.

   “Mr. Hargrove, thank you for having me in your house.” She pushed her hand out with a hard look and dared him to refuse. Tightly, he shook it. They’re all better than you, you son of a bitch. Billy watched this girl stand up to his father without fear, challenging him somehow. It was the hottest thing he’d ever seen.

   “Maybe my son’s grades will go up with you...around him.”

   “Credit would be all his.” She smiled her sweetest smile and picked up her backpack. “Billy.” The teen peered at his dad, watched him fume, and purposefully crossed in front to follow Camille out. “My house for next time? Yes, I said next time, keep the excitement down.” She offered, earning a silent scoff of agreement. Hands shifted and she pulled a pen from her backpack, grabbing for his hand to write her number along his wrist. “Need anything, call. Now you.”

   “Forgot your book inside,” he remarked, inking his number into her arm next.

   “Ah, get it to me tomorrow.” Camille lingered when his hand didn’t release her wrist. Slowly, she came up and didn’t kiss him. She did something far worse. Arms slipped around his shoulders, shifting his hair aside when she hugged him. Brief. Not long enough. Nothing else could be done or said. “Take care, I’ll see you at school. I liked it...the talking and all. Felt needed.” He lifted his hands but she slipped away too quick. “Goodnight, Billy.” Camille turned and he watched her get into her car to drive off. One friend. In fucking Hawkins. Didn't seem too bad.

** ** **

   Camille observed Steve at lunch the next day, seated two tables away from Nancy. Sighing, she approached Nancy first while she packed up to go.

   “Hey.”

   “Hi.” Nancy looked ashamed. “Steve told me I said some stuff to you at the party. I don’t really remember it. But, I’m sorry.”

   “Nance-”

   “No, it was gross. I tossed that in your face.”

   “We all say shitty things,” Camille shrugged, “are you and Steve done?”

   “I’m not sure anymore. Maybe.” She watched her friend sit. Friend. “Last year...I think it messed me up. I love Steve, I do, but...”

   “You’re not in love with him?”

   “I thought I was. It’s not fair. I care about him and I hurt him because I couldn't....” Nancy sighed. “A lot happened and it changed me.”

   “What really happened to Barb, Nancy?” Camille pushed the words out and her lip trembled. “I missed something and it’s eating you.”

   “I’m going to make it right.” Nancy got up in a hurry to go.

   “Nancy,” Camille stood in a huff. But, she was gone. Annoyed, she marched over to Steve and plopped down, appetite gone. “You know something.”

   “About what?”

   “Barb, last year, all of it. You know."

    "Cam-"

    "You've been my friend as long as Nancy has. Two rich kids with absent parents make perfect wingmen. And you're lying to my face, Steve. Why are you and Nancy lying? Does Jonathan know too? That why they’re acting weird?” Camille watched Steve frown, sympathetic to her anger. “She’s dead. Isn’t she? She’s not coming back, what happened to my friend?” Camille smacked the table and above her, the light fizzled, crackling before glass broke and rained down. Gasps echoed. She and Steve jumped under the table to avoid sparks. Every light followed and teachers began to usher kids out in the chaos.

   “You’re bleeding.” Steve grabbed Camille’s shoulder and her head just burned beyond any belief.

   “Ah,” she pushed from him and slid away to go. Lights erupted all over. Students cried out while the power blew. Camille was racing down the hallway when the fire alarm went off then cut. She fussed with her locker and grew enraged when it didn’t budge. “Piece of shit!” She gave one pound and it jerked open. Breathing heavily, she stuffed items in her bag and whipped around as a hand grabbed her shoulder.

   “What’s the matter, Queen Bee? Get scared?”

   “Fuck off, Tommy.” She hissed, pushing him hard to go.

   “Hey, you bitch,” he grabbed her arm and jerked. Camille felt her body lose control. She dodged under his arm and spun once, leg gliding out to kick him in the head. Tommy lost his footing when his nose busted, dropping. Fists up, she blinked and stared down at her hands. “My nose, what the fuck, you stupid slut!” Camille looked up to see Billy Hargrove stunned at the end of the hallway. He took one confused step, eyes unblinking. Behind him, students raced out the doors as teachers ushered them. Frantic, Camille turned and sprinted the other direction. He caught up with her once she got out the back door.

   “What the fuck was that Karate Kid shit?” He snatched for her wrist.

   “Not now, Billy, I have to go home.” She was crying, bloodying her sleeve to wipe her nose. Camille pushed at him to let go and he tossed his hands out.

   “Camille! The fuck?” He yelled but she was already getting into her car to speed away. She didn’t get pulled over by some miracle.

   “Mom!” She echoed to her house once inside. “Mama!” Camille dropped her bag and fell to her knees on the stairs. Sobs ripped from her while her head burned. Hands grasped her shoulders.

   “Milly, what’s happened?” Her housekeeper shook her, gasping when she saw her bloodied nose.

   “I don’t know! I don’t know! It hurts,” she wailed, inconsolable. "Make it stop!" Edna heaved her up the steps and got her into the guest room. Camille’s sob subsided when pills were shoved into her hands.

   “Drink up, there we go. You need to rest, I’ll call your parents.” Edna cleaned her face and helped her undress. “Lie down there. Good. Go to sleep, Camille.”

   “But-”

   “Sink.” The harsh tone caught Camille, frosting her spine.

   “What...did you say?” She fell back in a daze.

   “I said, sleep, honey.” Edna watched the pills work quick and shuffled down the hallway after locking the door. She picked up the phone to dial.

   “Harper.”

   “Sir, she’s getting worse. It’s happening again. Same as when she was younger.” There was a beat and sigh.

   “I’ll be home in twenty.”

** ** **

   “Power goes nuts, half day is nice.” Steve remarked, leaning against his car while students dispersed and Heather nodded next to him.

   “I called Camille’s house, her mother said she was sick. I’ll grab her homework tomorrow if they don’t cancel it.” They stopped talking when Billy Hargrove marched up, poking Steve in the shoulder.

   “What the fuck was that?”

   “Man, not now. Any other day but, I’m not in the mood for you today, got it?”

   “What the fuck happened to her? Harper?”

   “She gets dizzy, I don’t know. She doesn’t talk about it. The hell do you care?” Steve turned with Heather. I don't, Billy almost said. Sick curiosity was ending him. “Go away, Hargrove. Bad enough I have to deal with you in gym.” Billy pushed past him to go to his car.

   “Max, get in now!” He raged so she scrambled. Billy slammed the door and sped off, too many questions rang. Better to just toss them aside and see all in red.

Chapter Text

   “Feeling any better?” Rosemary hurried over when Camille came into the kitchen in her pajamas. She, Edna, and Noah all stopped talking the second she appeared in the doorway. Not unsettling at all.

   “Yes.” Camille held herself when her mother kissed her head.

   “I’ll speak to a doctor and they’ll fix your dose. Do not worry about it, honey.” Noah came to his feet. “You should rest.”

   “I’m fine now.”

   “We need you healthy.” He was more matter-a-fact than a comfort. There was a knock and Edna moved out to see to the door. Camille held at least a hundred questions back before the housekeeper returned.

   “For you, Milly.”

   “Oh?” Camille saw Nancy there with Jonathan Byers behind her. A dozen more questions came up.

   “Can we talk?” Nancy uttered, obviously bothered. Jonathan shoved his hands in his pockets.

   “Yes...” Camille pulled a hoodie over her nightclothes when the cold chilled her flesh and slipped on shoes to go out without telling her parents. “What is going on?”

   “Can I trust you?”

   “Nancy, you’re freaking me out.” She hesitated but got into the back seat while Jonathan took the wheel and her friend huffed, buckling up. “We lied to you.”

   “Shocker! Who could have predicted this?” Camille was hard as Jonathan drove them off.

   “I know, I know. But, I'm serious. Something happened last year. Something huge.” Nancy turned to see her friend. “You’re kind of apart of it. You deserve to know. But, I need your help, Camille. I need you. We’ll tell you everything.”

   “What do you need from me?”

   “We need you to spy on your dad.” Nancy pressed then and Camille laughed out loud at her.

   “Okay, fun's gone! Jonathan, pull over. I’m done.”

   “We can’t until you know everything.” Jonathan turned down a forest path and went up the hill. They got to a view that overlooked Hawkins. Small lights dotted the little town. He parked and they both turned.

   “Nancy.”

   “Barb is dead.” Nancy teared up, arms crossing over the seat. Jonathan produced a photo, ripped apart and taped back together. Camille was shaking but she took it. Barb sat on a diving board. Alone. Behind her was a twisted sort of man. A creature with no face. “That was taken the night she disappeared. Steve’s party.”

   “I didn’t go.” Camille traced the outline of her lost friend. She didn't go because they were there.

   “That thing took her. It took my brother too.” Jonathan offered, frowning. “It tried to kill us. It’s...not from here. We can tell you everything but, please...keep an open mind.” Camille was slowly going mad, eyes lifted.

   “I’m listening.”

** ** **

   “I’m not hungry!” Billy called when there was a knock so he cranked up his music. Max cracked his door open. “Go away, shitbird.”

   “What happened at the high school today?”

   “Fuck if I know, leave me alone,” he kicked his backpack aside.

   “Why are you such an asshole?” She blurted, touching her lips as if to stop it when he grew livid.

   “Why did your fucking mother have to toss herself on my dad, huh?! Answer that, Max!” Billy growled. “Leave me alone.” She glared and shut the door. It was an hour before his father’s angry steps vibrated the floors. Billy wanted to hide. His door bashed open and Neil stalked in.

   “What?” Billy stood up, fists tight as if to brace himself.

   “Was that girl with you again?”

   "Which one? I see lots of girls." Billy played dumb and shrunk when Neil advanced. "She's nothing to me, dad. Went home sick today before they canceled classes. Power blew. We’re classmates, I have to see her. She tutors and shit.”

   “I don’t want my pussy of a son associating with little whores like her, you embarrass me enough. You know the type of person she is, you know to avoid them. Some people are just better separated and I don't like repeating myself. Bad enough I have to see you tart up like some queer before you go chase them.”

   “Well, dad, what am I: a queer or a pussy chaser?!” Billy shot back sarcastically, unable to stop it, and Neil grabbed him by his shirt with two iron fists. The teen slammed into the wall, head throbbing before he was slapped. Spots exploded in his eyes.

   “Neil,” Susan appeared like a tiny mouse in the doorway. Billy jerked around and Neil slammed him into the shelves this time. His son froze, eyes lifting as if he could escape the moment. “Please.”

   “Not until this little shit learns his place! You disrespect my house. You chase filthy little...sluts.” Neil growled and Billy grew petrified, eyes glazed over. “You stay away from that girl. There are certain people I will not have near my house and that girl is one of them. I teach you nothing? Say, yes.” Billy’s lip trembled. "What was that?"

   “Yes, sir.” He scratched. Neil yanked to push him away roughly and Billy stumbled, falling to the floor. Susan just watched, she appeared sorry. Terrified.

   “You both-”

   “Oh, fuck off, Susan.” Billy jabbed as if to egg his dad on when this became too damn much. Neil came to a skidding stop, whirling before one steel toed shoe knocked into Billy’s stomach.

   “Neil!” Susan called to stop him. Billy hacked for air, lungs gave an unpleasant spasm. Clear vomit hit the floor along with blood from his lip.

   “What do you say?” Neil tore a hand into dirty blond curls.

   “I’m...” Billy heaved too hard to get his breath back. It burned. Drool fell down his bloodied mouth. Eyes bloodshot and wet. “I’m sorry, Susan.”

   “Neil, stop. Please.” Another well placed smack stung and Neil was crossing to go out, pushing Susan along before the door slammed. Billy climbed into bed and pulled his legs up so he was a ball. Quiet sobs hitched. Max curled up in her room too. Staring at the wall she and Billy shared. She brought her legs to her chest and tucked her own head down to cry.

** ** **

   “Drive me home.” Camille shoved the picture back. “This is-”

   “It’s real. All of it.”

   “You’re talking about other dimensions and little magic girls. This is some sci-fi conspiracy shit, Nancy. This isn't you. Drive me home.” Camille pressed. “And you think my dad knows, what the fuck, Nance? My father is literally the epitome of mild mannered scientist. He fits every stereotype for god’s sake. It's annoying. He can’t even kill spiders in our house. He makes mom do it. He’s studied his whole life to-”

   “Just keep an open mind. Watch him. You know something's been off. You know it. They must hide things from you, Cam.” The old nickname made Camille softer. “They’re never home. Search and you’ll find something. Anything.”

   “This is crazy. And Mike’s group knows. Chief Hopper. Joyce Byers. Steve?! What am I-?”

   “Please, just try and if you don’t find anything you can shove it back in my face.” Nancy promised. “Jonathan and I are going into the lab. We’re taking them down. For Barb and Will and El and everyone else they hurt.”

   “And this Eleven girl?”

   “They stole her and used her as a test subject. There were others. She disappeared. Mike...they cared about her and he’s been broken up about it. That’s why he’s acting out. Promise me that you’ll be careful and just...keep an eye out.” Camille thought of the attic room. “What is it?”

   “There’s a...” She stopped, sighing. Sanity was long overrated. “Fine. I’ll play.”

   “Don’t tell anyone in your house. Not even Edna. It’s not safe.” Jonathan offered as they drove home. Camille observed all the dead farms on the way. This town was losing it.

   “I got it.” Camille rubbed her eyes. “This is heavy. I’ll...keep an open mind.” Something more was off. Something inside her. That feeling fed too much. “I’ll see you guys later.”

   “Camille...thank you.” Nancy reached to touch her hand. Camille could only nod.

   “Where did you go?” Noah appeared the moment she came inside.

   “They might cancel school tomorrow. Have to redo wiring and clean up half of it after the power went haywire. Nancy and Jonathan are...having some relationship problems. Teenage stuff. You know? Glad that I'm single.”

   "As am I, honey," he'd joked, touching her shoulders. “Take it easy tomorrow. We’ll all be out. You call if you get worse again. Promise me.”

   “Promise.”

   “There’s my girl. I love you.”

   “I love you, daddy.” She came to hug him, eyes on the family photo behind him. Camille suppressed tears. Held him tighter.

   “Take these before you go to bed. Different dose. I’ll bring you a new bottle later on with instructions.”

   “Thank you.” Camille climbed the stairs, numb. She locked her door and went into the bathroom, seating herself on the tub. Slowly, she uncurled her fist to see the little blue capsules. Cheeks sucked in. A frown etched her face with anger. Splashes sounded when they dropped into the toilet. Camille flushed them down and got up to see herself in the mirror. Hands gripped the sink. Free. She huffed out and lifted her eyes. Red rimmed and tired. “Fuck.” Another bright idea popped into her brain. A horrible, bright idea. She found her voice at last and made the decision. “Hope you’re up for this.”

** ** **

   “Hello?” Max picked up the phone when it rang early that next morning.

   “Max? Hi, um, is Billy there? It’s Camille.”

   “Yeah, he’s here.” There was shuffling and a huff.

   “Harpy?” Billy was flat.

   “Hi, ah, um-” Camille twisted the phone cord in hand.

   "Waiting."

   “So...they canceled the rest of this week. Guess the building is a little totaled. Catch up will be hell but, ah, I wanted to know if you could come over.”

   “I have a date later."

   "Cancel it." She shrugged. "You'll have other dates. You're the Keg King. Come over here instead."

   "Why?”

   “Um, oh, just the...the paper. Get a head start, Strode will want it first thing Monday. She’ll be looking for immaculate work since we got time off. You want the grade, help earn it.” Camille lied and it was silent so she played his game. Voice changing. "My house is empty." Billy inhaled through his nose.

   “Fine.”

   “Right, I’ll-” the line went dead, “-see you.” It was ten minutes before Billy tore into her driveway. She opened the door and saw his face, gasping.

   “Pretty, huh?” He snuffed out a smoke and came in. No use making up a fake fight story. She knew him. That already grated. A nasty red welt marred his cheek and his bottom lip was cut, swollen still.

   “He-”

   “So, the damn paper. Huh.”

   “I lied.” Camille shut the door and picked up a long essay stapled together. “I got up and did the paper. It’s good, we’ll get an A.”

   “I read the book for you...for nothing.” He quirked one brow. "And I cancelled a date."

   “Yes...um, shoes. I need a favor.” She pointed and Billy rolled his eyes. Boots slipped off and his coat plopped to the couch. He tossed his arms out and let them drop.

   "Queen needs a favor."

   "Great thing about favors is paying them back." Camille didn't hesitate and his eyes snapped to her own.

   “Well, you got me here and now you have my full attention.” Billy fell against a chair, arms up over the back. His legs spread and he observed her. She ignored the idea he obviously had. “What favor?” He noticed her fidget. “What’s wrong with you?”

   “I’m not sure anymore.” Camille stepped toward him, summoned the courage. "I just...I need... Ugh, this is crazy. It's crazy and you're going to think I'm crazy."

   "Too late but, I'm in the boat with you. So, talk."

   "It's a small thing."

   "What," Billy eyed her, "do you need from me?"

   “I need you to help me pick the lock on the attic.” Billy’s chest heaved when he laughed, pain vibrated up his side so he held his ribs.

   “Fuck, Harper, I thought you had something difficult. Fine, I'll bite now. Better be good.” He swayed on his feet to follow her upstairs.

   “Housekeeper won’t be in until Thursday and my parents are occupied until...I never know anymore. We have plenty of time.” Camille led him to the door.

   “Why break daddy’s rules today?” Billy dropped to one knee and dug for his keys, pulling two silver tools from it.

   “Because I don’t know who to trust anymore,” she confessed and he stopped to see her eyes again. They cast and burned.

   "So, you trust me."

   "Shocking. ...I guess I don't find you to be a very good liar." Camille admitted. Somehow that was comforting. He seemed to accept such an answer. “Do it. Show me how.”

   “Not much to it, watch.” Billy jimmied the lock and Camille was intent. She sniffled on what may have been a thin trail of blood. “And...shit...okay, your dad knows what he’s doing. But...I got it.” The door popped open and she gazed up the stairs. “Princess, first.”

   “I feel like if I go up the stairs, everything is going to change and I...” Tears welled. Didn’t fall. “I can’t come back.”

   “Already awake, remember? Now move your pretty ass before you kill the rest of my social life.” He’d gestured.

   "You don't have to stay."

   "And miss out on daddy's top secret project? Fuck, no. I cancelled a date. You're stuck with me." Billy was intrigued now. Camille looked at his hand so he offered it. Fingers clasped and she followed the steps up with Billy behind her. Her breath puffed when they reached the top. It was...nothing. A metal desk and lamp. Books. Loads of file cabinets. Small TV and VCR. “So, your dad is boring. Got it. Hope this was worth it.” He watched her step forward, releasing him. Light came into the room from an oculus above them.

   “Thought it would be a suitcase full of cash or a long lost sister.” Camille remarked. "Guess I get to rub it in Nancy's face. To think that I really believed for a moment."

   "Believed what?"

   "It's stupid. Just a bunch of lab shit. I was just paranoid, I mean this is..." She yanked and a file cabinet didn’t budge.

   "Your dad doesn't ever let you in." Billy observed. "Locks the door with fancy shit. And he locks the cabinets. The hell?"

   “Sounds like a person with something to hide... Let me try.” Camille sighed at herself. Billy handed his lockpick over.

   “So, you just-”

   “Got it,” she popped the drawer open and gave them back like it was nothing. “Quick learner.”

   “Right...” He watched her sift through files. All marked with dates and three little numbers. 006.

   “What the hell is all this?” Camille opened them up along the metal desk. A picture fell out and Billy picked it up, recalling the photos along the house.

   “The fuck...” He gave a funny look then turned it. “Is that you?” A skinny child. Shaved head. Hospital gown. Distinct beauty mark. Standing awkward and squinting at the camera. Her arm was raised to block the flash. Three numbers etched her skin. 006. Camille looked down at her own arm. The tiny burn that must have melted those numbers away. The scar twitched.

   “This is me. All of it.” She heaved, snapping files open to absorb information. “My childhood...was complicated. Spotty. They kept me inside. I was a sickly kid. So I thought...” She read blurbs as she went and Billy was frozen. “Meds. Electroshock. Fuck. My whole life...he told me how important I was. But, to who?” Camille read onward, world crumbling. She recognized her own damn father’s handwriting in some of these.

   “...Six shows no special signs. Nothing… Termination possible….”

   “Six rouses no reaction yet when prodded into emotional state. Further tests on file….”

   “Today, we hit a breakthrough… Must develop reading skills. Six learned English and writing in four days. Has the advanced vocabulary and grammar of an adult at four years old. Made to read...what the hell...surpassed every reading, writing, and recollection test. Photographic memory proven. Muscle memory pending. Must investigate further.” Camille was ripping through files and Billy shook his head.

   “Harpy...”

   “Quiet,” she hissed. “Six, deemed the most average, will participate in the assimilation and repression study. Dosage adjusts. Repression is possible.”

   “Camille.”

   “No!” She whipped around this time, fingers shaking. He met her eyes and froze. “...Dr. Harper and his wife have agreed to...to…” Camille felt herself sink. “Edna Mathias will serve on staff. Six will do what none of them are ready for. Subject will be introduced to the outside. Must be wiped clean first. Abilities controlled…  Stimulation is key. Subject will return at the right time for further testing. Possible age eighteen. Can these subjects function in the outer world? ...Controlled…suppressed… Can they be forced to adapt? ...Spies… Oh, god. Oh, my fucking god.” Camille was teetering, ripping up tapes to shove one into the TV.

   “What...is this?” Billy watched her fall to her knees before the screen. A little girl at the table. Rocking. A huge book in front of her.

   “Six, solve the equation.” She watched a too small child do perfect calculus. Camille went for more tapes. A younger Noah Harper bonding with her. Running tests while she cried and cried. An older man named Brenner joined them. These men trained her. Groomed her. She saw herself speak foreign languages. Copy intricate dance moves. She was a dancing money. Mimicking everything. A twittering mockingbird. Billy lurched forward and turned it off.

   “Hey!” She pushed at him so he ripped her up.

   “Camille, what the fuck is this?!” Her head tipped forward to his chest when she broke. A scream wailed and Billy watched the glass window vibrate. A single crack drew down it. Camille sniffled blood again and swallowed.

   “They lied. They lied...” She was sobbing at full blast. “Don’t you get it...? This is me, all of it is me. Everything. My life. It's the experiment! I'm the experiment!” Camille pushed from him. “Fake adoption papers… A test subject. My life...it’s all a fucking lie! They crafted it like paper dolls. Fashioned it to fit their ideals so I'd...” Her lungs ached. “They stole me...and gave me to...” Camille ripped for more information. Until she saw two names. “Adam King...Status: Deceased. Judith King...Status: Unstable. Current location...Dayton, Ohio.”

   “Camille, you got to explain this shit to me.” Billy’s hands were on her again. “You’re tell me that your rich lab rat father...stole a fucking kid and... You're right, this is crazy.”

   “Hawkins Lab. They took me. They did. Six… I think they took others.” Eleven.

   “This fucking town,” Billy rubbed his eyes.

   “I can’t tell you...everything. Things happened last year and we...were all were lied to. Something awful happened in that lab and it’s rotting Hawkins.” Camille was in a hurry to put everything back. Perfect like it was never touched. She slammed the file cabinet and Billy grasped her hands to slow her.

   “This...is unreal. And you think...you have some kind of ability. This isn’t a fucking movie."

   “One way to find out.” Her face cracked with a smile that jarred him. He knew the game wasn't over. "Another favor?"

   “Fuck.”

** ** **

   “Max!” Billy was calling while Camille waited by his car. “Come outside. Bring your skateboard.”

   “Billy, not now!”

   “Max, I swear to god!” He bellowed again and she growled to herself, tearing outside.

   “What?!” Her anger faded when she saw Camille’s eyes. “Do you know? They said you did now.”

   “How do you know? How much did they-”

   “You know who. And not enough. They're-”

   “You’re hanging out with them again?” Billy was tense.

   "Not like they want me around either!"

   “Hey, both of you need to chill because I'm already mid-breakdown. Max, I need a weird favor. Show me a skateboard trick.” Camille touched Billy’s chest.

   “Uh, why?”

   “Curiosity.”

   “Why am I the only one outside this loop?” Billy got between them and Max grabbed her board.

   “Just...relax.” Camille sniffled. “It’s not safe. Just go with it.”

   “Fucking damn it, Camille.” He’d mumbled, rubbing his eyes. His fault for pursuing a fox.

   “Do a trick. Your choice.”

   “Okay...” Max wheeled herself down the street and back up, she ollied then landed with ease.

   “Now, let me try.” Camille came forward, that same intent expression on her face.

   “Um, why?”

   “Because I’m going insane and I want an audience for it.” The older teen took the board and set it down. Testing, she put one foot on it and pumped herself forward. Billy and Max watched in awe as she repeated the same move and kicked the board up to catch it.

   “Shit, Harper...”

   “I thought you didn’t skateboard.” Max gestured.

   “...I don’t.” Camille breathed heavily, eyes landing on Billy to confirm her fears. “Max, thank you this has been helpful. Billy, we gotta go.”

   “Where?” He whined this time, exhausted with questions.

   “Now! Max, if you see Mike and them...tell them to find Nancy and Jonathan. Tell them I said they were right. Billy, get in, what are you still standing there for? Favor isn't over, beach boy.” She ushered him off. Max watched the Harper girl practically kidnap her brother. They sped away and Camille was quick.

   “Dayton, Ohio. I need you to take me there. To the address on file. Few hours tops at your speed.” Camille yanked a map from his dash.

   “Fuck that. I’m taking you home and I’m waking up from whatever trip this is. And I'm going to go get laid.” No more queen bees for him.

   "Your lay can wait. You saw it. You already know too much. I'm not letting you go."

   "What the fuck does that mean?" He sped still.

   “Billy, I can’t explain everything. Just know that this might be my only chance for answers and I need you. Okay? I fucking need your help. Hard to say, but...yes, I trust you and not many others right now. There. God, I'm sick. That lab sat there...and those children. And Barb. Fuck, I’m...an idiot.”

   “You’re telling me there’s a whole big, magical fucking conspiracy in manure land?”

   “Something in that direction. Might be exciting for you. I'll owe you a million favors. I...I want to meet this Judith woman, she knows something.” Camille begged. “My life...never added up. You know what I would give to put the pieces together for the first time? To know the full truth. My parents...lied to me. My life. It’s all fake. It was doctored and written out before I could...live it. I have to go. I’ll drive myself if you don’t take me. I'll fucking hitchhike. Frankly, I don’t want to do this alone. You saw that room. Billy, I need you.” Couldn't let him out of sight now that he knew.

   “Harper,” Billy stopped at a light and rubbed his head. He looked into her eyes. Pleading. It broke him. “God fucking damn it.” He made a U turn and sped the other direction, grumbling. "Only going because I don't even want to get laid anymore."

   “Thank you, Billy.” She offered.

   “Long drive ahead. Start talking.”

   “I...I can’t tell you all about last year. But, my friends went through an ordeal and I fucking missed it.” Camille held herself. “Nancy found out something about Barb going missing last year. Something to do with Hawkins Lab. She asked me to spy on my dad. He keeps everything about his work private. That lab did something horrible and it has to stop.”

   “You think there are five more little shits with...with...powers walking about?”

   “I don’t know, I just know they stole kids and tortured them for sick experiments. I know the parents of those kids never made it out either.”

   “The lights.” Billy recalled. “Let me wrap my head around this and I will collect on those favors.”

   “Ditto and I expect nothing less.” She agreed. “Stop at a payphone, I need to lie to my lying god damn father. Can I have a cigarette?” Billy peered at her, lips lifting.

   “Help yourself.”

** ** **

   “This can’t be it.” Billy looked up at the building.

   “It’s the right address.” The grey sky threatened to darken above. Camille read the sign. “This is basically an old folks home...a fancy ass psych ward.”

   “How are we supposed to get in?”

   “Follow my lead,” Camille marched inside the sliding doors. Not a plan in sight. A receptionist looked up at them. “I’m looking for a Judith King. I’m her niece. This is my...brother.” She smiled bright and the lady didn’t look impressed, clicking into the computer. Billy tried not to make a face at that.

   “Name?”

   “Uh, Carrie.” She’d lied.

   “Not on the list. No visit.”

   “Miss, we drove all this way...we go to college and can’t ever come see her but took the day to make up for that.”

   “Shame. Sorry, kid, you’re not on the list.” She continued. Billy loosened his coat and eyed Camille when she turned to go around the corner.

   “Wait, uh, Carrie, that was pathetic.” Billy muttered as they went back down the hall.

   "You think I don't know that? I'm frazzled. What do you suggest?"

   “Follow my lead.” He swaggered forward and leaned down back at the desk, arms crossing. “Hi there.” That Billy Hargrove charm oozed out with a devilish smile. The young woman stilled to meet his eyes. “Look, ah, Miss…?”

   “Maria.”

   “Maria.” Billy drawled, licking his lips. “I know you’re just following the rules.” He pulled a cherry candy from the nearby dish and set it between his teeth. Camille crossed her arms to flush. “But, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could make an exception. Just once.” Deft fingers tucked hair behind her ear. “Come on...” He uttered in that velvet tone. “Do it for me. I admit...I’m ashamed. I haven’t seen my dear Aunt. I have to make it up to her and I need your help, Maria. Just a few moments and we’ll be out of your pretty hair. Scout’s honor to behave. Cross my heart.” Fingers drew an X over his chest, the shirt button opened. “Hope to live.”

   "I don't know."

   "Maria..." That sing-song tone hooked her. Billy was intent, swaying and lax. "It'll be our little secret."

   “Well, okay, just this once,” she whispered.

   “Maria. You are a gem...I won't soon forget it.” Billy winked and she giggled. Camille tried not to roll her eyes. Billy took two visitor passes and pressed them to his lips. “Appreciate it, dollface.” His eyebrows lifted. Smug when he peered again at Camille so she followed him.

   “Take the elevator to four. An orderly will show you to her.” Maria called and Billy winked at Camille this time. Her lips twitched, eyes averting because she loathed him.

   “Yeah, yeah, don’t push it.” She could have kissed this stupid boy right there.

   “Push it? You kidnapped me into some...weird manure land conspiracy.”

   “That I did.” They went up. The orderly gestured and Camille felt her hands shake.

   “Judy...there are two kids here to see you.” He showed them into a small room. A woman rocked and watched the television. Ballet played before her. She had the same dark hair save for early flashes of silver. The same green, hazel eyes. Face shape down to that damn beauty mark. Billy felt his stomach dip. The woman didn’t look up, transfixed on the TV before her.

   “Judith?” Camille tried.

   “She hasn’t spoken since she arrived,” the man replied. "About seventeen years ago."

   “Sir, we...um...we weren’t there for, you know, the incident. We were so young. Can you tell me what exactly happened? Our parents don’t like to talk about it.” Camille managed.

   “Ah, well, Judith suffered some sort of head trauma. She and her husband were in a terrible car accident, I think. Adam, the husband, he died on impact. And so did their unborn baby at the hospital. Awful thing. She was almost to the full nine months.”

   “Unborn baby.” Camille pressed her lips together. Billy stuffed his hands into his pockets.

   “Yes. She came to us catatonic. The generosity of an old friend paid her way. Nice couple.”

   “A nice...couple.”

   “Judy, here, she doesn’t do much. She sure likes to watch the ballet. Classical stuff calms her down. She liked to crochet dolls. Little ballerinas. Church choir kids who visit sure love them. She’s probably trying to communicate in some way. You know, with her lost daughter.”

   “Daughter?” Billy lifted his eyes from Camille’s stiffening back.

   “Yes, they were having a little girl.” He smiled. “Judith doesn’t get many visitors. Except for the woman. About every other month. Comes and gives her fresh flowers. Talks to her a few hours. You see?” Camille turned her eyes to a vase of wilting sunflowers. Her world snapped apart.

   “Thank you...for telling us. Can we have a moment alone?” Camille forced a grin and the man shut the door. Billy reached out to touch her shoulder and she flinched. “No...no.” She knelt down. “Judith?” She tried. “Judy, look at me. Now.” Nothing. “Mom.” The word tore. Her rocking stopped. “Mommy, I’m sorry.” Camille took her hand and eyes landed on her own. For just a beat, Judy saw her. A tiny Star of David hung from her neck. Billy lingered back as if he would break the moment like glass. “My name is Camille. I’m your daughter. I’m your little girl. I’m sorry. They did this to you. I can’t fix it.” Camille wept softly in her mother’s lap. The woman lifted a frail hand to touch soft locks of hair, petting her. Not enough registered. “She knows me. She does. Mom?” Judith reached into her robe pocket for a limp doll. A ballet dancer. She offered it and then she was gone again. Rocking.

   “Camille, we have to go.” Billy had to break the glass.

   “No, she knows me.” Camille clutched the ballerina close. Billy grasped her shoulders to bring her up. “No, no...she knows me. Wait. Wait...I can get through. I can fix it. I have to. Mom... Mom, I love you.” A tear rolled down Judy’s cheek. She just rocked with wide eyes. Camille felt herself flutter and tumble. Her mother was gone. Her identity was gone. Billy got her out of there and walked her to the elevator. He ignored Maria on the way to the door and pressed Camille into his car. She rocked too now, curling up with the toy in hand. Billy turned on the car and she broke. A scream stifling into the yarn and stuffing. The price to put these lost fragments together was high. Not even thinking, Billy had his arms around her to stop it. She cried and squirmed. He squeezed her tighter until she was raw. “Please, just take me back. Please, Billy.” He pulled off his brown bomber jacket and let her burrow under it. Air conditioning dried her red, splotched face. Camille wept most of the way home and Billy just let her without a word.

** ** **

   They parked in front of her place and Camille didn’t move. She stared at that huge, pretty house. Numb. Billy unbuckled and turned when she followed.

   "You think...they were running? The car accident?" Camille swallowed.

   "If they were running with you, it means they gave a shit." It meant they loved her.

   "You believe it, don't you? You believe now."

   "Like I have a choice." He'd exhaled, sobering.

   “Do not say anything about this.” She warned with hard eyes.

   “Who can I tell?” He scoffed. “Don’t tell them what you know either. These people. The damn maid. You play Queen Bee and stay out of their shit.”

   “I trusted her. I trusted them. It’s all red now.” Camille trembled and slid closer to Billy next to her.

   “Camille.” He felt her invade his space. His jacket fell from her torso. Faltering on the spot, she seemed intoxicated and offered the words he wanted since she popped that pretty pink bubble.

   “I want...to try something.” Camille ran her hands up his chest and he inhaled deeper. Skin fizzled upon contact. Palms cupped his face, ran back into curls. He didn’t try to touch her, he just stared at her face. Head cocked back and she kissed his neck. Light like a butterfly’s wings. Her lips edged and he grew aroused. Hands lifted to touch her wrists so she came up to see his face. Eyes looked deep into his. Sparkling. “I want you.” Her voice was hoarse. She didn't try to kiss his lips. “I want you. Billy.” She gave a sort of whine against him, forehead on his. He could have laid her back and made her feel good. Slid his hands under her sweater. Let her caress him. Completed the chase at last. But, he didn’t. Any other day but not this one. Not this fucking day. He saw a bloodied fox clamped tight within the sharp teeth of a vicious jackal. He didn't want to be that jackal. Didn't want to pick her from his teeth later as if it was the only way to recall her taste. For once. Billy felt his own flesh pulse. He pulled her wrists back and exhaled her out of his skin, eyes lifting to see her own well up.

   “You only want me now,” Billy Hargrove smashed the glass this time, “because you hate yourself.” Camille sat back. Eyes flickering over his face. A sort of grim acceptance seeped into her expression. She inhaled. Became stone. Became the queen bee. Only because it was all she could do now. Camille got out and smacked the door shut. She didn’t look back at him. Billy watched each light flicker on and off as she moved through that house again. Utterly alone. He didn’t leave. He just sat in his car and pulled his jacket back into his lap. Upstairs, Camille wandered like a ghost, shifting into her parent’s medicine cabinet. She stole a bottle they wouldn’t notice and went to her room. Pills stuffed down her throat like a kid with candy. She didn’t stop, not until the room spun. Not until there was a knock upon her window. The bottle dropped and scattered her treats all over. Lulling, Camille fell back against the front of her bed and looked once more at the doll smashed in her fist. It was all gone and she didn’t care.

Chapter Text

   Pounding. Her world was hard vibrations. Nothing more.

   Billy tried to leave. Tried.

   “Camille!” He busted the lock on her window. Climbed a story to get to it through the thorny rose vines along the side of her house. Hair framed her head with a dark halo. He dragged her half aware body into the bathroom, knocking bottles over when he heaved her into the tub. Cold water sprayed and fingers went into her throat. “Come on!” She gagged. Vomit burned around the digits so he choked her again. Free hand tight into silky locks. Whole and half dissolved pills came up in chunks of puke and bile. Shower water sprayed them away. “That’s it. Fucking god damn it, Camille!” One of her hands came up to grip the side of the tub, feeling around as if to swat at him. Dainty fingers curled into his jacket, tugging blindly. “Little more. Fuck!” She heaved for air with blood shot eyes, head tipping to touch the porcelain.

   “Billy...”

   “What the fuck are you doing!” He screamed in her face. Shaking her. Billy swept wet hair from her cheeks. His voice got smaller, cracking with genuine confusion. He finally sounded like a teenager. “You stupid bitch, what the fuck did you do?” She realized he was crying. Barely there tears slipped down. Furious. Scared. “Don’t ever do that again! What were you thinking?!” He cupped her face and roughly let her go. Camille threw up again down her front and he stole a glass to offer tap water. "Drink it!" Heaving still, she gulped with two shaken hands on the glass.

   “I wanted it to stop.” Her voice was near gone.

   “You think dying will stop it?!” He raged, jerking the shower head to pull the cold spray over her face. "Wake up, Camille!" She coughed and sputtered, pushing at his soaked chest. Camille looked like a wet rat when he was done. Tiny. He turned off the water and dropped a whole pile of towels on her. “Get up!”

   “Fuck you.”

   “Fuck me?” He yanked her out. “Stand up!”

   “No!” She played up a brat, dragging along with him.

   “Stand up, Camille!” Billy forced her against the counter, rubbing her down roughly with towels. He had to wedge her there with his body while she pushed at his chest. Fingers dug into her arms, faces too close. He hissed this time. “Take your fucking clothes off.”

   “You first, dick!” She seethed, tearing from him with one big push. Mascara and eyeshadow had streaked down her cheeks. He tore his shirt open and tossed it at her head. Camille threw the towels aside and yanked everything off down to her underwear. Billy growled to himself and followed until he was in tight briefs. They swayed together, breathing heavily. Manic. Billy grew livid, tone low and even to spit through emotions.

   “I’m not going to fuck you.”

   “I hate you.” She broke apart.

   “You think I fucking like you right now?” He gestured with both hands. The light caught his silver pendant. “You come into my life and drudge up all this shit.”

   “You pursued me. I was just a challenge to you at first. A notch in your bedpost. New hive for Billy Hargrove, why not find the queen bee and try to fuck her.” She pushed at his chest and fingers clamped around her arms. They struggled, stumbling until they were falling into bed. Her chest rose and fell. Heat filled his body. He held her wrists into place and she watched his eyes. Bodies pressed together. Shuddering. Pulsing. Breathing deep. His thigh edged up between her legs. Camille was hard intent on his eyes. Billy tore himself off her, sitting up on his knees and she followed, holding herself up too. They watched each other, calming. Coming down from this high. They didn't speak until it was a little less red. Camille looked at his face and fell back, laughter erupted from her chest. Fleeting. Billy, unable to stop himself, let his own echo. They'd both officially lost it. Yet, they had each other. Comfort was horrifying. “It’s...It’s just all bullshit. It doesn't ever end. What's worse...people like us don't really want it to end.” He fucks her, it's all over. The chase. That hit too hard. She wiped her eyes and he sobered first.

   “Get under the damn covers.” He yanked them back. “Be quiet. Still pissed at you. Not leaving until I know you won't stuff more pills. You think that's an escape from this?" Camille quivered, head lowering before she did as she was told.

   “The fucking sunflowers.” She wheezed, rolling to face the window instead. “My mother… Every single time I’ve been sick. Every recital. Competition. Every single time. She places a big vase of sunflowers on my dresser. Do you think she feels shame? Gives them to Judith and talks about me? She stole her daughter.”

   “Fucked up.”

   “I’m fucked up.” Camille let him cover her before she whispered. “Don’t leave.”

   “Wasn’t planning to.” He fell behind her. “Yet. Have this new friend who's an idiot I have to watch. Pills, Camille, Jesus Christ. I tore my shit up climbing to your damn window too.”

   “You could have left when I shut that door. Know what self destruction looks like?”

   “Something like that,” he agreed. There was an awkward beat.

   “I’m not going to fuck you either.” She began, defiant.

   “So, we agree.”

   “Yes, we do.” She was hard. Billy hesitated, teeth pressed before he was lax.

   “I’m going to take you out first.” He came to her ear. “Saturday. Around eight. Put on a dress and we’ll go to the damn movies. Something that’ll make us forget the bullshit.”

   “You’ll pick me up and hold the door.” She rolled over to face him. “I want a flower too."

   "A red rose?"

   "No, I hate red roses. I want a peony. Pink one.”

   “You think I know what the fuck a peony is?”

   “Now you get to go find out.” She uttered and Billy turned off the lamp behind him. “You’ll buy the tickets and I’ll get the popcorn.”

   “Fine.” He was harsh.

   “Fine!” Camille shot back. They stared in the dim moonlight. “You have to hold my hand during the movie. Not the whole thing. Maybe the credits.”

   “After it, I’m taking you to the corner diner. Twenty four hour shithole. You’ll get a milkshake. Strawberry.”

   “I like chocolate.”

   “I don’t give a shit.” He pressed his teeth.

   “You have to share your fries.” She ordered then and he relented.

   “It’s a fucking date, Camille.”

   “I’ll fucking see you then, Billy.” They glared. Softening each edge. “I don’t hate you.”

   “Maybe I don’t hate you either.”

   “Fine.”

   “Fine.” They repeated. She puffed and studied him, rolling around to see the night sky.

   “I’m going to find out everything. Every dirty, awful thing they’ve done.” Camille admitted. “I have to pretend first. I can do that. I’ll be queen bee Camille and they’ll have to live with it.”

   “Can’t do that if you stuff yourself with more pills.” Billy remarked, quieter, and she turned back around so she could face him.

   “They give me pills for that...medical thing. What if those suppress me? What happens when the cuffs come off?” Camille uttered and he watched her eyes.

   “Stick around and find out for yourself.” He offered, something dangerous in his tone. It made her smirk. "Now, shut your mouth and go to sleep."

   “Goodnight.” Camille faced the window one last time and he scooted closer. Body heat warmed them up. She reached down for the doll on the floor to hold it close to her heart. Eyes closed and Billy draped one arm around her. He was tense as first. Stiff and shaken. Still furious. Still scared too. Camille slowly slipped her hand over his and he thought to jerk away. Shifted in a sudden, confused motion like he might. When he didn't, she felt him sigh and relax into her. Wordless, they fell together.

** ** **

   Camille sat at the head of the table. Grin and bear it. Her parents made time for her. Finally. These people. These liars.

   “Thankfully the school will be back Monday.” Rosemary cut into an omelet.

   “Hm, I miss it.” Camille admitted.

   “We see you’re feeling better.” Noah added.

   “Yeah, I feel...great. Renewed.” Her teeth showed. Edna swept in the next room, coming out with a bright smile that Camille mirrored. The housekeeper turned her head to move on. That smile faded. Melting in an instant. “Do you really have to work today? What do they hog you for?”

   “Chasing each and every breakthrough as hard as the last is what knowledge is built from.” He’d replied so she didn’t falter.

   “Thought it was built on children.” Camille blinked. Noah stilled, eyes lifting. She didn't bow. “The budding new minds of generations after you.”

   “I would say that both are equally important. Legacy is everything. You have to keep the cycle going."

   “What if the cycle never worked?” She uttered, softer. “What if you’re just too mad to give it up?”

   “Let’s hope it never comes to that,” he laughed and then she followed. Rosemary joined, sipping water. Her family.

   What if the cycle had a cost? Who decides who pays it? She wanted to say.

   “We know we’ve disappointed you.” Noah was heartfelt. At last.

   “Disappointed? No. Never.” Camille sobered up. “You were good parents.” Were.

   “We push your limits. I know. It’s all for your benefit. To grow up better.” To be the best.

   “Maybe, I am just Camille.”

   “Just Camille. Oh, no,” Noah chuckled again. “You are everything to us. Always remember that.”

   “I will.” She dropped her eyes, silverware glinting in the light. “I was thinking of going to the library today. Is that okay, dad?” Dad. She drank water in gulps.

   “Of course, honey.”

   “Nancy is picking me up. I should head out soon.”

   “We’ll be right here when you get home tonight.” Her dad spoke. Like it was a promise. Camille didn’t kiss either of them. Just fixed her makeup and flicked hair aside to put on a coat. She had avoided her friends until Friday morning. Jonathan was with Nancy yet again. Camille didn’t comment on that. She shut the door and slid in back while they looked expectantly.

   “You said you found something. Did you bring it?” Nancy began when they drove off.

   “I couldn’t bring the files. My dad will know. But, I do have something else.” Camille frowned.

   “What was it?” Jonathan began, turning the corner.

   “Me.”

** ** **

   “We should go to Hopper,” Nancy shook her head.

   “Feels like it’s all repeating itself.” Jonathan agreed. “Will and...you now.”

   “Drop me here,” Camille shifted. “Just promise me you’ll destroy that place.”

   “I will,” Nancy grabbed her hand. “Camille. Whatever is happening to you. We can help.”

   “I need to figure it out first.” She flashed her scar. “Six.”

   “Eleven, she had a tattoo.”

   “And you say she disappeared into this...this...”

   “Upside down. They thought so.” Jonathan finished. “You think you’re like her?”

   “Pills will wear off, I haven’t been taking them for awhile. Whatever was slipping in is now flooding. If I don’t die or hemorrhage...I’ll have a complete answer.” Camille sat back again and Nancy let her go. “I have to push through.”

   “I’m so sorry.” She’d offered, unsure why.

   “So am I.” Camille returned it. “I’ll be fine.”

   “If they find out-”

   “I know. I’ll stop by the police then I’ll swing by your place later...if you’re still there. Plan this out before you jump on it. If you’re gone, I’ll know you made your move.” Camille got out. “Be careful.”

   “You too.” They drove away and she peered up at the library when someone called her name.

   “Steve,” she regarded him.

   “Hey, uh, was that Nancy and Jonathan?” He’d raced across the street to her.

   “...Yes.” She admitted and his shoulders fell. “Are you and Nancy still…?”

   “I just figured we’d find our way back, you know?” He followed her into the library.

   “Do you want to be with her?” Camille walked aisles of shelves, hands stuffed into her pockets.

   “I mean, yes, of course. I do.” Steve trailed like a puppy. “What should I do?”

   “You could try flowers.” Camille shrugged, pulling books down.

   “Um, so what’s that about?” Steve read titles.

   “Steve, I’m kind of going through something and...” Camille looked behind him and pulled him further into the shelves. “Nancy, she told me about last year.”

   “...What?”

   “Can you keep a couple more secrets?” She heaved books about telekinesis, unexplained mysteries, and photographic memories to the front. Marissa eyed her behind the desk.

   “New subjects, even for you, Ms. Harper.”

   “I’m...writing a story for school. Sci-fi type. Need ideas.”

   “Oh? Sound’s fun. I love a good mystery.”

   “You have no idea.” Camille stuffed her bag full and turned to Steve. “You have your car. Can I catch a ride? We can stop by Nancy’s house later, see if she’s around. She has a lot on her plate right now. I'll help you pick out flowers.”

   “Thank you, Camille...” He closed his eyes, relieved. “Explain this...on the way.”

   “I have time. But, first, I need to see Chief Hopper.”

** *** **

   “Wait here.” Camille got out, ignoring an awed Steve.

   “You can’t just leave me hanging after that story, Camille!” He went silent as the door shut behind her. Flo looked up when Camille came in.

   "Ms. Harper, what brings you here?"

   “Is the Chief in?”

   “What is this regarding?” Flo asked and Jim came out of his office in a huff. “Hop-”

   “I know, I know, I’m going to see Joyce right now.”

   “Hop, this girl-”

   “Chief Hopper, I need to speak with you.”

   “Ms. Harper, I’m afraid there’s a line.” He breezed past her. "Tell your popular friends to quit doing donuts around the cop cars, it gets old."

   “Really, well I can think of ten...maybe eleven...reasons you should take a moment to speak with me.” Camille crossed her arms when he skidded to a stop and peered at her. She split a smile at him. Jim eyed Flo and pointed Camille toward his office.

   “Call Joyce, tell her I’ll be on the way.” Jim locked his door and Camille leaned against his desk. “Well?”

   “Funny how pieces come together, Chief Hopper. Hearing a lot. Sounds like you were quite the hero. Did you know?”

   “Know about what?”

   “Mm, I think you knew.” Camille was still smiling. It set him on edge. A teen with fire inside her. “You know my dad is part of it.”

   “What do you know?”

   “Everything.” She stood taller. “Maybe a few things you don’t.” Camille fixed his typewriter so it was facing them. Concentrated. She thought of those broken lights. She thought of her mother rocking. Rage was white hot. Then it was red. Tap. Tap. Tap. Blood traced a thin line down to her lip. Jim Hopper’s jaw about hit the floor. The keys moved on their own. 006. “Want to talk to me now?”

   “You have five minutes.”

   “They stole me. The lab. My parents, they're a part of it. They were...given me. My dad has a whole study of my life in our attic. I found it after..." Camille offered her arm so he took her hand to eye the scar.

   "You got out, how?"

   "It was part of the experiment to...suppress me. I’ve lost it, Chief. ...I can...recall things. Skills. See them and know how they work. Mimic them. They drugged me to repress it as part of the study. To see if I could be controlled and still function. I’m a mockingbird in a cage. They’ll want me back soon, I know it and I need people I can trust. You were a big part of this. Here we thought you could care less about Hawkins. Used to be an easy gig. Drunk farmers, raccoons, and idiot teens. I need help, Chief Hopper. Please. If something happens to me, they can’t get away with it.”

   “We made a deal. I’m sure your little friends told you that.”

   “We were just kids.” Camille’s eyes watered and guilt pooled within him. He thought of El at home crying.

   “I can protect you but, you can’t make waves.” Jim touched her shoulder to comfort her.

   “I found my mother. They destroyed her.”

   “These people are serious, Camille. They take care of loose ends and you might be the biggest one if you’re not careful.”

   “I stopped the drugs they’ve been feeding me and something is awake inside me.” She whispered, trembling. “I feel it everywhere. I can’t stop it. I don’t want to.”

   “You have to go home. Smile. Wait. Who knows about this? Just those involved in last year?”

   “Maybe...someone else.” Her eyes turned. “They don’t know all of it. They mostly just know...about me.”

   “Keep them quiet.” Jim was at her level. “I’ll take care of this. Go straight home.” He guided her out so she thanked him quietly and went to Steve’s car.

   “I’m losing it, Cam.”

   “You’re not the only one,” she watched him start up the vehicle. “Thanks. I’ll help you with Nancy now. Come on, I’m not sure she’ll be near home long. That girl has a fire under her.”

   “Don’t I know it?” Steve pulled away.

** ** **

   “I’m sorry. I love you.” Steve recited with roses in hand while he drove. “What the hell am I sorry for?”

   “She’s sorry for taking her grief out on you and you’re sorry for not hearing her out better,” Camille shrugged. Always each other's wingman since they were still playing in sandboxes with absent parents. “You just need to communicate if you want her back, it’ll come to you. You’re a good guy, Steve, you just...maybe you wanted this to be over before she did.”

   “That’s a bad thing? It was awful, I want to move on. And it's repeating itself. I hate it.”

   “What if Nancy isn’t ready to let go yet? You can’t force that. She was wrong too though. Just talk to her. Last time you didn’t, we did a really fucked up thing. The spray paint. We didn’t stop Tommy.” They parked. “If she isn’t here then we’ll have to try later.” Camille got out and Steve came around the car. “I’ll wait.”

   “No pressure.” He huffed. Little Dustin Henderson, annoyed, was on his way from the door.

   “Steve, are those for Mr or Mrs. Wheeler?”

   “No...” Steve had the flowers snatched from him. The kid stuffed them in the mailbox.

   “Good.”

   “Hey, what the hell? Hey!”

   “Nancy isn’t home.”

   “We missed her.” Camille reclined into the car and Dustin turned to see her.

   “Oh...you’re here too?”

   “Nancy told Mike before she left and he told you, yeah?” She shrugged.

   "Lost contact with Mike a bit ago too. Something's up. You in?"

   "All in... You got so big, Dusty. Last time I saw you, Nancy and I dressed like elves for your D&D campaign.”

   “I’m up to speed on...most all that. Max had some weird stuff to say. Who’d a thought Hawkins High royalty is one of them?

   “Guess I’m in the freak circle.”

   “Not the worst place you can be,” Dustin was genuine as he watched her nod.

   “Where is Nancy?” Steve gestured to the house.

   “Raising hell probably,” Camille shrugged.

   “Doesn’t matter, we have bigger problems than your love life.” Dustin opened the car door and Steve looked at Camille, hopeless. She rolled with the punches. “Do you still have that bat? The one with the nails.”

   “Why?”

   “I’ll explain on the way.” Dustin Henderson kidnapped the King and Queen of Hawkins High School. “We’ll need one of the X-Men too, I guess. Get in Harper, explain this some more to me.”

   “Yes, m’lord.” She giggled aloud, reeling back to when she and Nancy were younger. “Hey, no, back seat.” The kid huffed at her and got in so she followed. “Steve, come on.” Unable to stop them, he slid back inside and started the vehicle.

** ** **

   The sky grew dim when Camille hurried from the phone booth.

   “They think I’m at Heather’s. She always covers for me,” she got in when Steve started the car again. “So this...lizard thing...”

   “I’ve told you both a hundred times, it is not a lizard.” Dustin groaned.

   “You think it’s that...that demo-”

   “Demogorgon. Similar to the thing from last year, yeah. The face opened with teeth...and it ate my cat.” They pulled up to the Henderson house and Steve got the bat from his trunk. Camille held a flashlight out to the locked cellar door outside.

   “I don’t hear shit.” Steve remarked.

   “He’s in there.” Dustin pointed.

   “And we just...smash it.” Camille looked up.

   “Hopefully.” They watched Steve poke the metal door with his bat before smacking it harder. Nothing.

   “All right, listen, kid. I swear, if this is some sort of late Halloween prank...you’re dead.” Steve began.

   “It’s not.”

   “All right?”

   “It’s not a prank.”

   “You got a key for this thing?” Steve went on and Dustin offered it to Camille. “Slow.”

   “Got it,” she unlocked the chain and yanked the door up. They braced for the monster. Nothing.

   “He must be further down,” Dustin watched on as Camille shifted the light around. “I’ll stay up here, in case he tries to escape.” The two teens looked at him in disbelief.

   “Stay with him.” Steve began.

   “You are not going alone,” Camille shook her head and followed him down the steps. Nothing still. Steve found a better light and they were awed. He poked a pile of slime on the floor and lifted it with the bat. “That…looks like skin. This thing is growing. Fast it looks.”

   “Get down here,” Steve called up the steps and Dustin raced to them.

   “Oh, shit...” They looked to a giant hole in the wall. “Oh, shit!”

   “Looks like your demo-friend molted and ran.” Camille watched the skin drop to the floor.

   “No way…” Dustin groaned.

   “What next, Dusty?” Camille turned her gaze to the boys behind her.

   “I have an idea, we might die.”

   “Lovely, let’s hear it.” Camille grew flat and Steve’s head snapped to her expression.

   “Can you guys meet me at Bradley’s Big Buy tomorrow? About one? My mom leaves for work.” Dustin smiled and both teens groaned.

   “I have a date tomorrow night. Do not make me late.” Camille turned to go up the steps.

   “With who?” Steve chuckled and she peered down, cheeks pink. “Hargrove? That asshole? Come on, Camille, that guy’s wanted in your pants since day one. It’s all trophies to him.”

   “Max’s brother? That guy? Camille,” Dustin joined in. “He’s awful.”

   “Can’t explain why. It just happened.” Camille rolled her eyes. “You don’t know him. Or me.”

   “And maybe you don’t either. You’re a pretty girl he wants and he’s...” Dustin paused. Kid was smart. “He’s not a good guy.”

   “Bradley’s Big Buy. Tomorrow.” Camille turned and didn’t say anymore. Didn't deny it either. She went upstairs and Dustin shot Steve a look.

   “Seriously?”

   “She’s...going through something, might want to let it play out.” Steve whispered. Dustin would never understand these dumb teenagers.

** ** **

   “We’re here...” They arrived to an empty lot beyond the forest. A sort of junkyard covered in busted cars and an old bus.

   “I just bankrolled three buckets of raw meat for this.” Camille tossed her gloves aside. A trail of beef bits stretched behind them.

   “It’ll do,” Steve walked on. “Good call.” Dustin looked proud and Camille smiled at him.

   “This better work.”

   “The others will be here soon. They have to be,” he added while Steve dumped a pile of raw meat at the center.

   “I said medium-well!” Lucas called across the way, getting off his bike with Max next to him.

   “Guess we’re waiting for Dart now.” Camille debated her own sanity and pushed the rusty bus door open while greetings were exchanged. Lucas and Dustin went off to the side so Max crossed the field. “In the party now?”

   “Yeah, I guess so.” She shrugged, brightening. “You too, I see.”

   “They haven’t heard from Will, Mike, or Hopper.” Steve came in behind them.

   “Nothing from Nancy and Jonathan too.” Camille agreed.

   “Kid was right. Something’s up.”

   “We need to blockade the bus. Stay safe. Sun will start going in an hour.” Camille thought of Billy again and frowned. “Max, follow me. We’ll gather scraps. Steve, get the rest of the supplies, finish the fire trap.”

   “Weird town.” Max remarked once they got outside into the grass.

   “You’re telling me. I’m supposed to be worried about colleges and prom and being a senior next year. And...I’m monster hunting. My life is in shambles and I’m mildly relieved. Just...knowing, I guess. Also, I might be a lab freak.”

   “My skateboard. You...see things and copy it.”

   “Simply speaking. Maybe I always knew...I just really found it easy, knowing how things work and come together. People are more complicated though. Still working on the believing?”

   “I’m coming around,” Max helped her pile metal scraps and sheets in front of the bus. “Never said sorry...that dinner. My stepdad.”

   “It is not your fault. It never will be.” Camille stopped to turn. Max paused and nodded. “Max, I...I know some stuff. About Neil. About Billy. And you know what? Honestly, I only see one side to Billy. I get flickers of the rest. He's hurting. We're all hurting. The side that flirts and hides...and uses his charm to get what he wants out of people. That isn’t all I see, granted, but I can’t...make excuses for him. I’m a pretty face to him. You see everything. It’s like a...horrible cycle, isn’t it? It tumbles down to you. To anyone in his way, I'm sure.”

   “My stepdad got worse and then Billy did. Mostly after the move.”

   “What happens to Billy is awful and it never should have happened...and I don’t experience what you do. But, what happens to him is no excuse for what I’m sure trickles down toward you. You know that? His job is to be your brother. That’s all. And he has a lot of anger. I’ve started to wonder where he puts it these last few days.” She touched Max’s chin. “You can’t change him and he can’t change Neil. Do not ever waste your energy on changing another person. Someone wants to change, they will. It’s not on you. You can tell them the difficult truth and it's on them what they do with it.”

   “You learn that the hard way?”

   “Like most things when it comes to people.” Camille touched her stomach and turned on her heel to press a large sheet of metal to the bus. “People who don’t change; they complete the cycle and they end up alone. It’s tragic but, people who work to escape it. We have each other. Not all is forgiven but...it'll always matter, you know? Be proud of that if you can.” Max gave a nod, lips lifting. Dustin and Lucas peered at them across the way and Max turned, immediately they went back to work. “They like you, by the way.”

   “What do I do?”

   “Pretend not to notice, of course, it drive boys crazy.” Camille muttered and Max snickered.

   "Even my brother?"

   "Especially your brother." Camille gave a soft scoff. "But, he has girls lining up to hop into that Camaro with him."

   "Not really since you guys started hanging out more," Max remarked and Camille stilled to see her. "He's the same jerk. But, that changed. Wanders the house in thought before he blasts his music and works out. Longest I've seen him without some girl. My stepdad keeps accusing him of seeing you. Neil says awful things about...anyone who isn't like him."

   "Huh. Believe me, I know the type." Camille turned to focus back on her task. “You know, I always wished that I had a sibling.”

   “You have a ritzy house.”

   “With a pool and rec room full of games and a great street to skateboard on. If you’re ever bored after school and need out and away from dumb boys.”

   “Not hanging out with the popular crowd?” Max added more steel to the bus.

   “No, they’re not as cool as you.” Camille grinned. Max felt herself smile as she looked up at the teen. Popular, smart, and gorgeous. Also a badass. She felt accepted with a great group of people. Camille let herself feel it as well. They worked for the next hour, securing the area and setting a trap. The sun began to set while they piled into the bus. Darkness and fog shrouded them in slow waves. Lucas went up to keep watch. Camille walked the grounds with the bat in hand to listen for anything. Owls sounded in the trees beyond them. Max joined Lucas up top.

   “Anything?” Dustin cut in.

   “Nothing yet.” She called back, going inside. “Lucas?”

   “I don’t see him.” He watched through his binoculars. The group hushed when a screeching growl sounded in the distance.

   “Uh, oh.” Camille stood with Steve and Dustin to come to the barred window. Bleak abyss ahead, a creature stepped out of the fog. “Oh, my god.” She went on, covering her lips. The beast with no face.

   “Believe me now?” Dustin spoke.

   “Ah, yeah, I think I do.” The demogorgon stepped out of the fog, clicking and hissing about. It didn’t go for the pile of meat.

   “He’s not taking the bait.” Steve shook his head. “Why isn’t he taking the bait?”

   “Maybe he’s not hungry.” Dustin tried. Steve met Camille’s eyes before he realized it.

   “Maybe he’s sick of cow.” He stood up.

   “You can’t,” she grabbed for his arm.

   “Steve, what are you doing?” Dustin came forward when Steve tossed him the lighter.

   “Just get ready.” He took the bat and opened the door.

   “Steve, no.”

   “Cam, just watch them.” He put his arm out. Instead, she picked up a metal bar, thick with a sharp end.

   “I’m not letting you or some demo-shit make me late for my date tonight.” She huffed. “Max, Lucas, come down. Something related to that thing took Barb, I’m not letting it take you too. This is my choice, Harrington. I’m going out with you. You can’t change that.”

   “Cover me?” Steve’s eyes were genuine now.

   “Always do.” She followed him out and shut the door. They crept forward into the grass while the creature clicked those horrid sounds. A lone lamp high above them offered some light. Not enough. Steve whistled for it.

   “Come on, buddy,” he eased and Camille held steady, hands tight on the makeshift staff. “Come on, dinner time. Human tastes better than cat, I promise.” His bat swung back and forth at the ready. The demogorgon was the size of a wolf, creeping out to see them

   “Steve! Camille! Watch out!” Lucas erupted atop the bus.

   “Little busy here!” Steve was intent.

   “Three o’clock!” The boy called to them. Nearby, another monster of the same size jumped up.

   “Steve, I got you, stay forward.” Camille pressed her back to his, terrified and enraged. Adrenaline pumped into needy veins. More monsters came up and around cars to circle the teens.

   “Abort!” Dustin opened the door to call them back. Demogorgons charged, separating the two friends. Steve rolled over a car, smashing one aside while Camille let go. She felt that same fire burn inside her brain, this time it flooded. Limbs gave in, she whirled the bar to wack one away and impaled another. Expertly like she'd trained for this. “Holy shit!” Steve lunged toward her next.

   “Duck!” She dropped down when Steve crashed the bat into a third before it could get her. “What was that?”

   “I may have watched some action films last night to prepare,” she heaved and kicked a monster, bringing the sharp end down while it screeched in pain.

   “Good thinking.” He admitted when even more creatures appeared. Too many. The kids called out for them to return and Steve grabbed for her. “Run!” They barely made it back, slamming the door. Steve set more metal against it to secure it. The beasts were eager and ravenous, shaking the bus from all angles.

   “Go!” Camille covered them, ushering them back while Steve swung the bat at one trying to break in. Dustin pulled out his radio to call for help and Camille fell against the side, eyes closing. She concentrated. Blood dripped from both nostrils.

   “Hey, it’s just like...” Lucas realized it. “Come on! You can do this!”

   “I don’t know how!” She growled and let it become a scream. Forces exploded out. Monsters were sent into all directions.

   “Camille?” Max shook her when she sagged down, eyes hazy.

   “Holy shit...” Dustin helped pull the teen aside. Max froze when the top of the bus gave calculated bangs. A demogorgon faced them from the opening above and she screamed. Camille grabbed for her at the same time Steve pushed them aside.

   “Out of the way!” He threatened quickly but it stopped as if it heard a call. Slowing, they all followed in a trance, running back into the trees. Camille breathed even and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Bring that out earlier next time, Harper.”

   “Gladly.” She puffed. “Where’d they go?”

   “Steve scared them off…?” Dustin followed them off the bus.

   “No...no way, they’re going somewhere.” Steve turned around to see them and Camille wrapped her arms around herself.

   “We need to get out of here.” She debated it. Billy was going to be so upset. “We need to follow them.”

Chapter Text

  “Car is too far away and…oh, shit. A payphone.” Camille raced down toward an old train stop, worn down. She slipped a coin in while the group chatted behind her. “C’mon, c’mon.”

   “Hello?” Her mother’s voice sounded on the other end.

   “Ah, mom. Sorry, I forgot to say, I got…invited to stay out later. I’m going to a movie.” Camille caught her bloodied nose and mouth in the glass.

   “Of course, don’t stay too late.”

   “Where is dad?”

   “Work, the lab stole him from us again today. Poor thing. Thought about bringing him dinner, I could sneak it to him on the first floor.”

   “Something wrong there?” Camille urged.

   “Oh, no, I’m sure. You know how they keep him busy.” Her mother paused when she scoffed.

   “Oh, I know.” Fingers gripped the phone before she found a thought. Harper Sixx. Named after Camille. Her stomach clenched unpleasantly, voice cracking when realization washed over her. Her home life was over. “Mom, I gotta go.”

   “Is something wrong?”

   “No, I’ll be home late. I just…” Camille’s voice grew thick. “Goodbye.” She smacked the receiver down and scrambled for more change, pushing it in. “Fuck, fuck fuck.”

   “Hello?”

   “Mrs. Hargrove, can I speak to Billy?” There was a scuffle before she caught the sounds of a silent struggle.

   “Yea, uh… One moment… Please, stop it,” Susan had begged. Camille heard a smack. Skin on skin. Billy gave a whimper when Neil pushed the phone into his hands.

   “It’s your greedy Jew whore. You know what to tell her. Don’t you try to come home without Maxine.” Camille heard as if Neil wanted her too. Billy sniffled into the receiver and cleared his throat. Behind her, Steve tugged but she waved him off.

   “Harpy,” he tried to sound level and she didn’t. Shaken and frantic.

   “Billy!” She made the solid attempt to breathe like it would lower her tone. “Ah, so, um…look we need to raincheck tonight. I can’t make it. Something came up and I…I have to take care of something. Important stuff. I’ll explain…later. Um, I gotta go-”

   “Whoa, wait.” He heard someone urging behind her. “Who is with you?”

   “No one. I’m sorry, I-”

   “Max is missing.” He cut in.

   “Max is missing…I,” Camille eyed Max’s fearful expression. The little girl shook her head quickly. “I’m sorry I haven’t seen her. She’s probably with Mike and them, you know?” She winced, not wanting to give him reason to be more upset.

   “She isn’t supposed to be... Okay, you’re sounding off.” He pressed. “If this about my disappearing that morning, I-”

   “No!” She squeaked and Steve pulled at her arm. “It’s not that, I just…I just…” She closed her eyes. “I started my period, whole big mess of cramps! Crime scene. Really bad stuff down there, you’ll want to steer clear. We’ll go another time! Bye, Billy!” She slammed the phone down.

   “Ew…” Came the chorus from the children behind her.

   “I hate you guys,” she rubbed her head and Steve was snickering. It earned him a punch in the shoulder. “Stuff it. I had to think of something.”

   “I think it worked. Come on, you know we’ll never reach the others by phone at this point. We’re scattered… Stupid walkie isn’t even working. We have to keep going. Crime scene.” Steve was still laughing so they continued on down the tracks. Screeching echoed in the distance, causing them to run toward it.

   “Why are we headed toward the sounds?!” Max hurried up behind them. Flashlights kept them going until they hit a cliff.

   “I don’t see them.” Dustin spoke.

   “It’s the lab,” Lucas realized. The building grew pitch black. Something was wrong. “They were going back home.” Camille’s body chilled.

   “My father is there.” She was already headed down, through dirt and thrush. The others followed after. Silence filled the space around them until they got closer.

   “Who’s there?” A familiar voice echoed.

   “Jonathan!” Camille waved her light in the air.

   “Camille?” He realized before the others came out. Nancy paced beside him.

   “Steve?”

   “Nancy?”

   “What are you doing here?” Nancy rushed forward. Camille didn’t know why, she came and hugged her. Arms lifted, unsure, before Nancy was embracing her friend back.

   “It’s just good to see you.” Camille sighed, sniffling. Her friend lifted a hand to her cheek.

   “What happened to your face? The blood, it’s exactly like-”

   “Eleven.” Lucas nodded.

   “Really true, huh.”

   “Ah, it’s been a night,” Camille huffed. “Monster hunting. Or…chasing.”

   “What are you two doing here?” Steve came up behind them with the kids.

   “We’re looking for Mike and Will.” Nancy answered and Dustin frowned.

   “They’re not in there, are they?”

   “We’re not sure.” She stopped when that horrid screeching echoed like wails. Camille came forward, freezing cold.

   “Give me a boost.”

   “That is not happening,” Steve was at her right while Jonathan fought with the gate switch.

   “Power still isn’t…” he slammed buttons and Nancy gasped, calling out.

   “It’s back!” They all stilled to watch the lights come on from the ground up. “We’ll go get them.”

   “I’m coming too.” Camille hurried to get into the car.

   “Steve, watch them.” Nancy raced after and Jonathan sped them up the hill once the gate opened. Camille felt her heart pound, ripping open the car door to get closer at the same time Hopper came out with Will limp in his arms and Mike next to him.

   “Chief Hopper!”

   “Didn’t stay home like I asked.” He let her take Will and hand him off to Jonathan. Nancy rushed to Mike, checking to see him over.

   “Come on,” Jonathan called.

   “Bob is still in there!” Jim held a rifle in hand, waiting with Joyce at the door.

   “So is my father. His office is first floor, I don’t know which one.” Camille came to Hopper. “Did you see him?”

   “No, not since those things came at us. Hey!” He grabbed her arm before she could run off. “You’ll die if you get near one, Camille.”

   “Let go! I have to see his face!” She fought, rounding the building to see into the first floor. She banged on glass, calling out for him. Broken and bloody windows. Bodies littered the floors. “Dad!” She raged at the same time a person crashed into the window at the end corner. Light poured out when the blinds fell. Bloodied and bruised, she saw him. Noah called her name and pounded. Camille felt herself slow. Everything she ever wanted to ask. Wanted to know. It all died.

   Calm for the first time since this nightmare began, Camille watched his eyes. He touched the glass, badly wounded so she put her hand where his was. Nothing. Blood smeared her fingers from her face and he cried out to get to her. Camille didn’t try to help him break the glass while something pounded at the door. Hopper was racing toward her in time to see her trace those three numbers in blood.

   006.

   Noah stepped back, face falling. Horrified at the realization. She pressed her lips and glared, readied to let him die while his daughter looked at him with betrayal in her eyes. Those eyes watched hope die too. Those eyes would be the last he ever saw. This world was bright red now. Behind him, the door crashed open at the same time Hopper grabbed her arm to jerk her away. She fought long enough to watch it happen; world in slow motion. A demogorgon lunged at the man who raised her, tearing flesh from bone. And it was done.

   “Get in the car!” Jim pushed her into his Blazer sitting out front before he went to yell at the others. Joyce waited until she saw Bob, relieved when he looked at her. Unconditional love. Monsters lunged at him from all sides and Joyce screamed. Camille watched from the car, terrified. Jim forced Joyce out of there, Mike got her into the car with Nancy and Jonathan to take off. Jim pushed his gun into Camille’s hands and sped after them.

   “The others…they’re at the gates.” She croaked, setting the weapon aside with a blank expression.

   “Let’s go!” Jim called when Camille got the door open to push the kids into the back seat. She ripped Steve in to join them. They sped away from Hawkins lab and she felt herself lose it. Camille dunked her head out the open window to vomit

   “Hey, hey. It’s okay,” Steve rubbed her back from the seat behind her. The car jerked to follow Jonathan’s and she fell back into Hopper in tears. Camille clung to him, arms winding around his bicep to let her grief out. For her real parents. For herself. For those other children like her. For a man that still might have loved her. Jim watched her unhinge and let her cling, one of her hands found his. He thought of Eleven again and squeezed it tighter. Something reassuring in it to let her know she was alive still.

   “Give her a moment,” Jim was quieter. “You stay with us, Camille. Just breathe.”

** ** **

   It took Steve and Max both to pull her off Jim and get her out of the car. Shaken and far away, Camille let them take her into the Byers’s house.

   “In here,” Jonathan offered his room and Nancy helped get her friend to lie down. She curled into a tiny ball.

   “Let her rest.” Jim came to the door.

   “She’s drained. Just like El.” Dustin added. “She needs to recharge.” Steve touched her face.

   “Hey, we got you, Cam.” He offered while Nancy petted her hair down. Camille closed her eyes and let them all fade away. It had to be an hour or so. That awful phone trilling and a crash brought her up. A headache pounded still and she groaned, shaking like a leaf. This was too much. Too fast. Hopper burst in, hand grasping for her wrist.

   “They know where we are!” He tugged and Camille jolted back to life. “Stay away from the windows!” Came the next warning before he tried to get her to hide in another room.

   “I’m fighting!” Camille pushed at his chest and he puffed. “These things…that lab. Destroyed my life and others. I’m fighting!” She caught Joyce’s eyes and the mother gave Hopper a nod. Camille took her place in the living room with Steve to usher the kids behind her.

   “Can you use this?” Jim held a rifle to Jonathan but Nancy stepped forward.

   “I can,” she took it. Anyone with weapons got them at the ready when that screeching echoed beyond the windows. Camille lifted her hands to recall these newfound forces inside her. The growling cut when a loud thud crashed. “What are they doing?” Tears threatened Camille’s eyes again so she stepped in front of Joyce and Jonathan. A hand squeezed her shoulder.

   “It’s going to be okay,” Joyce, who lost the man she loved and whose son was at risk, instead comforted a brave teenager before her. Camille reached with a trembling hand to lace their fingers. Steve and Nancy stepped forward, gun and bat in hand. Another crash smashed a dead demodog into the windows. The Party cried out, scrambling.

   “Holy shit!”

   “Is it dead?” Questions died when the door creaked, locks undoing themselves. A little girl stepped through the opening. Brave beyond her own years. Blood trickled from her nose and Camille realized it as Mike inched forward, speaking.

   “Eleven.” She watched Mike and Eleven embrace in tears.

   “I never gave up on you.” Mike began. “I called you every night. Every night for-”

   “Three hundred and fifty three days. I heard.” She breathed.

   “Why didn’t you tell me you were there? That you were okay?”

   “Because I wouldn’t let her,” Hopper admitted, coming to El to kiss her head and bring her under one arm. “Where the hell have you been?”

   “Where have you been?” She’d shot back.

   “You’ve been hiding her.” Mike realized. “You’ve been hiding her this whole time!” He pushed at Jim hard, causing the older man to spin.

   “Hey!” Jim grabbed Mike by the front. “Let’s talk. Alone.” He ushered the upset little boy away into another room. Camille watched El greet her lost loved ones. Max tried to interact but was met awkwardly.

   “Hey,” Dustin came to tug at Camille’s sleeve. “Eleven, you should meet our new friend.”

   “Well, old friend, but new to the party. You guys have something in common.” Lucas added. El observed the pretty teen, head cocking. They both looked a little worse for wear. “This is Camille.”

   “She was there too.” Nancy crossed her arms to hold herself. Eleven reached carefully toward the shaken teen before her. Camille let her take her hand and pull the sleeve up to see the scar. Her big eyes lifted in question.

   “They burned it off. I am Six.” Saying it so firm felt huge. Camille didn’t even get to explain before this little girl was hugging her. As if she knew everything already. Arms went tight around her ribs so she could press close. Camille felt herself break again, hands lifting so she could give back what this girl had just given her. Comfort. Empathy. A sister. Camille dropped to her knees and they hugged properly.

   “It…It is okay.” Eleven felt her new friend grow emotional and petted her hair. “What do you do?” Camille sniffled when little hands cupped her face to wipe tears.

   “I see things and I remember…and I mimic. Like a perfect photograph in my head.”

   “She’s like a copy cat.” Dustin explained. “And…”

   “This too.” Camille lifted her hand and a toy car came up to her palm. El’s eyes went wide before she followed, beckoning the object to her fingers next. It was the first Camille smiled so full and content in a while. She wasn’t alone in the world. Not one bit. Hands lifted so she could wipe El’s nose on her sleeve and stand.

   “Can I see him?” Eleven asked after. Joyce took her to Will in the next room. Camille came to the table to see a message. Close gate.

   “What is this?”

   “The Mind Flayer…that’s what they’re calling it. It has Will. It's using him to spy like a host.” Nancy explained. “It’s like a huge hive mind. If we destroy it…we think we can destroy all of them. But, we need to save Will too.”

   “You’ve opened this gate before, right?” Joyce came in with El to point.

   “Yes.”

   “Do you think if we got you back there, that you could close it?” The Party grouped to circle the table.

   “It’s not like it was before,” Hopper came out with Mike still upset behind him. “It’s grown. And that’s even if we get in there…that lab is crawling with those-”

   “I can do it.” El grew more confident.

   “Will is the host, if we close the gate…he’ll die.” Mike added.

   “He likes it cold…” Joyce recalled, coming to the group. “Maybe we can burn it out of him.” The plan formed all at once. The Party readied back at the cars and split again. Joyce, Nancy, and Jonathan took one car with Will while Hopper and El neared his Blazer.

   “You stay with Steve and the kids.” Jim came to Camille and she gave a solemn nod. “I’ll protect you after this. We all have to look out for each other. Stay out of sight.”

   “I let him die.” She whispered to the night air. Jim’s hand was on her shoulder again.

   “You know what that lab will do if they get you back, Camille? It wasn’t your fault, what happened.” He was honest. “You wanted to fight so you keep it up. Doing well so far.”

   “You protected Eleven. Thank you.” She lifted her gaze and bid goodbyes when the two cars sped away. “You okay?” She caught Steve’s expression.

   “I let her go.” He nodded. “She’s happy.”

   “I’m proud of you,” Camille tipped her head to his shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go inside.” She ushered Lucas, Mike, Dustin, and Max back in.

   “Why didn’t she like me?” Max whispered.

   “She’ll warm up.” Camille assured her. “I like you. Steve, what are you…?” Dustin was emptying the fridge while Steve wrapped up the dead demodog.

   “For science,” Dustin shrugged.

   “Ugh…gross. Nevermind.” Camille helped them tidy glass from the floor while the two boys stuffed the monster in the fridge. Mike’s pacing was helping no one’s nerves. As they bickered about plans, Camille went down the hall to grab the bat with nails from the floor.

   “Maybe we can draw them away from the lab to protect El and Hopper.” Max spoke when she came back to the living room, propping the bat aside.

   “And clear a path to the gate.” Mike added, encouraged.

   “Yeah, then we all die.” Steve held a rag in hand and tossed out his arms.

   “Well, that’s one point of view.”

   “Uh, no, that’s a fact,” Steve turned to Dustin. Mike was pacing around toward an X on the tunnels covering the walls.

   “This is where the Chief dug a hole…this is our way into the tunnels.”

   “That’s how they got around? Tunnels under Hawkins?” Camille shook her head and tapped her chin. “This thing hates fire.” The kids picked up on her thought.

   “We set one, the Mind Flayer would call away his army.”

   “Leaving it open for El to close the gate.”

   “Even she agrees with us, Steve, you’re outnumbered,” Dustin grinned.

   “Yeah, this is a big no.” Steve came to the middle of the floor. “I promised to keep you shitheads safe and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. We stay here.” Another sound echoed outside. Light pulled toward the windows. A charging like a car engine. Max recognized it first.

   “It’s my brother.” She pressed to the window. Billy's Camaro skidded to a stop just outside. “He’ll kill me… He’ll kill us.” Steve looked to Camille and she nodded, waving the kids to duck.

   “Steve. Get rid of him, it’s not safe.” She pressed near the door with him. “Damn it, Billy, what are you doing here?”

   “Stay here,” Steve went out alone. Billy looked amused, a fresh cigarette between his lips. Two kings faced off.

   “Am I dreaming, or is that you, Harrington?” Billy tossed his jacket over the hood of his car. Cigarette in hand when he laughed, fully unhinging himself now. He licked his lips and Steve was flat.

   “It’s me. Don’t cream your pants.” Steve watched him slam the door. They came to each other.

   “What are you doing here, amigo? “

   “I could ask you the same question... Amigo.” Steve brought himself higher. Tension etched the air. Camille listened through the crack in the door.

   “I’m looking for my stepsister. A little bird told me she was here,” Billy blew smoke in Steve’s face.

   “Huh. That’s weird. Don’t know her.”

   “Small. Redhead. Bit of a bitch.” Billy was revved up about something. Camille glared at the floor and looked to the kids, waving them down again.

   “Yeah…that’s not ringing a bell. Sorry, buddy.” Steve went on. Billy didn’t let this down. Something rattled under his skin.

   “You know. This whole situation, I don’t know, Harrington, I don't know…it’s giving me the heebie-jeebies.” Billy gestured, eyes sly and steady. Tongue slipped out over teeth.

   “Yeah? How’s that?” Steve was undaunted.

   “My thirteen-year-old sister is missing all day. Then, I find her with you…at a stranger’s house…and…you lie to me about it.” Billy almost sounded amused, that low baritone rumbled.

   “Dude. Were you dropped too much as a child or what? I don’t know what you don’t understand about what I said: She’s not here.” Steve’s shoulders rose. Billy sniffed, scratching his nose before he gestured to the window with his smoke.

   “Yeah, okay, then who is that?”

   “Get down.” Camille hissed when the four kids dropped. But, it was too late. He’d seen them.

   “Listen, man…” Steve began. “I can explain-” He hitched a breath but Billy shoved him to the ground hard. He leaned over, hand resting on his belt buckle to tower over Steve.

   “Thought I told you to plant your feet.”

   “Billy!” Camille caved, smacking the door open. He lifted his eyes to see her. Betrayed at first. Acceptance followed. That manic sort of grim acceptance she knew too well. Camille stepped out a ways and paused. He smiled with teeth and flicked his burning cigarette on Steve. Jerking, Steve swept it off, scooting backwards. “Stop it.”

   “Well, if it isn’t the girl who cried uterus!” He clapped his hands. She looked a mess. “Here with mighty King Steve. King and Queen together. Only fitting. You look rough. Poor queen bee with all the drones at her feet. Fucking idiots who thought she’d given them the time of day. Praised be her royal highness, rich girl. He do that to you? We finally getting a glimpse of the real King of Hawkins? And I thought he'd gone soft.”

   "Enough, it isn't-"

   "Enough? I'm just starting, Harpy. What, did you meet up with a friend to...try something? Hm? Poor dying drones eating themselves to taste your sweet, sweet honey. It's all you have to give people, they're nothing to you." Billy didn’t drop his gaze from her own and charged his foot into Steve’s stomach to knock the air from him. Like he was rubbing it in. The baritone seethed now. “They all fall down.”

   “Billy!” Camille didn’t think, she just rushed forward to push him off. Billy gripped her wrist and fell into the hood of his car. All dressed up for their date. “You don’t know what’s going on!"

   "Oh, I don't?" His grip grew painful, face inches from her own. "Spin me another sob story, Camille. I dare you. Spoiled rotten. Greedy little rich bitch. Lies, lies, all the fucking lies. You're just like me, bee. A user. Making the rounds."

   "Greedy?" Camille's cheeks heated. She jabbed back. "You get that from your daddy?" Billy jerked her closer, hissing. "I'm not the only mockingbird." Steve was trying to drag himself in an effort to help his friend.

   "Shut the fuck up." He shook her so Camille pushed him into his car. A dangerous smile crept over his lips; her friend vanished. The jackal and the fox. "There's my rough and tumble, girl."

   "Get the fuck out of here. This isn’t what it looks like, Billy, just go home. It isn’t safe. Get your shit together, I'll explain later. But, you need to go right now. You need to fucking leave.”

   “Not what it looks like?" Hands clamped around her wrists again. "We’ll see about that. Shall we?” He dragged her toward the house while Steve struggled to get his breath. Camille beat at his arm to let go. The door slammed open, his grip like iron. “Explain this! Oh, Lucas Sinclair. What a surprise.” Max was petrified. Billy shoved Camille aside when she pushed at him again. She tripped and toppled to the floor, eyes lifting. For a moment, he saw his mother there. Cowering. Mike and Dustin rushed to help her while he zeroed in on Max with Lucas at her side.

   “Billy, stop it!” She watched him reel further. Red.

   “I thought I told you to stay away from him.” He was vibrating with rage. Neil consumed him all at once.

   “Billy, go away,” Max stepped to him, terrified. Camille stumbled to her feet.

   "You're letting him win." She offered, softer. Billy seized up at that, fists clenched. He pressed forward into red waters.

   “You disobeyed me. And you know what happens when you disobey me.” Billy threatened. Camille finally saw him for what he was. Awful. “I break things.” Billy grabbed for Lucas to shove him back into a bookcase. Items scattered. Lucas kicked and struggled before Camille wedged to get between them, the kids behind her began to yell. Overlapping in the chaos.

   “Get off!” Lucas raged, Billy held him steady.

   “Stay away from her!”

   “Billy, he’s just a kid!” Camille was beating on him and tugging. “Let him go! He’s a child!”

   “Get off me!” Lucas brought his knee up into Billy’s crotch, stunning him. Camille pushed and Billy was thrown back by force. Hands outstretched and he hit the door. Blue eyes widened at her. The freak.

   “Get the fuck away from him!” She planted herself in front of Lucas. Billy thought of his mother again. Leaving even when he tried so hard to stand between her and Neil. Why wasn’t he enough? And Neil had finally beaten him down to size tonight.

   “Queen has more tricks... Oh, Sinclair, you’re dead!” Billy was on his feet. “You are so dead!”

   “No, you are,” Steve found his fight and whirled Billy around to land a fist into his jaw. Billy dropped like a sack of bricks into the table. He smiled with bloodied teeth, impressed and gone. Camille shoved Lucas toward his friends to protect them. Billy stumbled like a drunk on his feet.

   “I see you got some fire in you after all, huh?!” He reeled with high laughter. Blood bubbled on his tongue. “I’ve been waiting to meet this ‘King Steve’ everyone’s been telling me so much about!”

   “Get. Out.” Steve poked Billy in the chest. Undaunted, Billy paused. His eyes landed on Camille again. Looking at him like he was a monster. Fine. He swung to hit Steve, missing. Steve rushed at him, landing solid punches until they backed into the counter.

   “Get him! Kill him!” The children egged Steve to fight. Billy laughed and laughed between hits, grasping a plate to crash into Steve’s head. “Shit! Billy! Steve!”

   “Kick his ass!” Lucas called as Camille kept pushing the kids back and away. Billy stalked like a predator when Steve couldn’t recover quick enough, ripping him up to get in his face.

   “No one tells me what to do.” He smashed their heads together and threw Steve to the floor. “Whoo!” The high consumed him.

   “Billy, stop!” Max was screaming. Steve fell against the ground after trying to get up, both boys bloodied. Billy came to straddle him, unleashing years and years of repressed rage upon the King of Hawkins High. Camille lunged again, arms around Billy’s neck to stop him. Adrenaline charged. She beat on him. Pulled his hair. Teeth came down into his shoulder and he wailed, grabbing her dark locks to tear her off and shove her aside. She was gone too. Red. Red. Red. Abilities forgotten, she unleashed in turn. Fists pummeling and grabbing at him while he laid into Steve.

   "Billy!" She screamed and screamed again, tearing him to the floor with force when the pressure built. Became too much. Blood spilled from her nose against his exposed chest. Billy screamed with her like it was all they could do now. He grabbed her arms, slamming her down into the hardwood. They both cut off, eyes wide to watch each other. Burning. Fingers dug into her shoulders. Something wet hit her face when his whole body quivered. A tear squeezed from his eyes. Billy bared his teeth and she just watched his eyes, readied to be consumed. In the heat of the moment, he didn't try to strike further. Instead, he dragged to go for Steve again. Camille threw herself on his back, tugging once more. Utter mayhem sent items all over the house.

   “Look out!” Max, unable to take anymore, charged forth with a needle Joyce left behind. It stabbed into Billy’s neck at the same time Camille fell away. Breathing heavily, they all stilled. Billy stumbled to his feet while Camille pulled Steve’s bloodied form into her lap to check him out. His poor face was swollen all over. Billy hissed, blood all down his mouth and chin before he pulled the needle out.

   “The hell is this…?” He dropped it aside, stepping toward Max when the world blurred. Camille propped Steve up and leapt to stand in front of Max. “You little shit…what did you…you…?”

   “Stay away from her!” She crossed one arm over Max, backing her up. He watched her eyes, fear and anger. Hatred too. “You are just like him.” Truly disappointed, a fox tore the jackal apart instead and he let her. Realization twisted a knife into his gut. “Proud of it? I bet you that he would be.”

   “Camille.” He puffed, hand lifting to grasp her arm blindly. Tried to stay steady. Wobbling, Billy fell backwards and slipped from her, legs splayed, against the floor. Another chuckle erupted as he shifted and tried to get up with no result. Max growled and yanked up the bat while Camille went to Steve again.

   “From here on out, you’re going to leave me and my friends alone. Camille too! Neil is an asshole, but you didn’t have to be! Stay away from us! We owe you shit! I’m done! You hear me! Done! Do you understand?” She would not change him.

   “Screw…you.” Billy licked his teeth, lost. Alone. Finally, his father. Max crashed the bat between his legs and his head lifted, eyes finally showing fear.

   “Say you understand! Say it!” She screamed.

   “Oh…kay…”

   “I couldn’t hear you.”

   “I under…stand.”

   “What?”

   “I understand…” Billy’s head lulled when he lost consciousness. He saw Camille’s eyes and was gone. Max tossed the bat aside, leaving the boys awed behind her.

   “Steve, come on, stick with us.” Camille shook him while he shifted to whine.

   “Let’s get out of here,” Max dug for Billy’s skull keychain, holding the key up.

   “We can’t leave these two, help me out.” Camille got Steve into the car. He was barely conscious too, trying to flood back.

   “Tell me why we’re taking the brick shithouse also?” Dustin groaned as they dragged Billy outside. Camille grabbed Billy’s brown bomber coat and put it on to block out the cold.

   “He’ll be out for hours.” Camille shoved him into the car, buckling him before she climbed in back to help Steve. “I’ll drive.” She was ignored when Dustin got into back, squeezing on Steve’s other side. “Hey, what are you guys…? Oh, no. This is not happening.” Max took the wheel with Lucas and Mike next to her. “Wait!”

   “I got this!” Max hit the gas hard. Camille was half on Billy while he limply rocked in his seat. Steve fell toward her so she cleaned his face. Max took hard turns with Lucas shouting directions. Gas sloshed in a tank Mike was holding. Steve roused with a whine and began to panic. Dustin went to calm him until the older teen was clinging to them both.

   “Stop the car!”

   “Everyone shut up!” Max roared, hammering the gas so they jerked into a field. Steve was screaming until they yanked to a stop, skidding along the dirt.

   “We’re fine.” Max shrugged, shaking herself. “Told you guys. Zoomer.” They charged out, leaving Billy to sag in the backseat.

   “You fucking asshole,” Camille whispered in his ear, following them to get items out of the truck. Goggles and bandanas. Gloves. Flashlights. Gas. Steve was still freaking out.

   “This ends now!” He threw his hands up but, Camille was shoving gear into his arms.

   “A party member requires our assistance,” Dustin was calm. “It’s our duty to provide it.” They came to the crater. Dustin put the bat in Steve’s hand. “Keep us safe.” Steve watched them and shook his head.

   “I’ll go first.” He put on the gear and carefully dropped with Camille next. They helped the younger kids inside down a rope.

   “The hell?” Camille looked around. Damp. Floating matter. It was practically another world. Haunted.

   “Any of you little shits die down here, I’m getting blamed.” Steve took the lead, half amused. It set them somewhat as ease. Spores opened along the walls with fog. Camille edged to Steve’s right. “Come on,” they picked up the pace, “little hustle!”

   “Here!” Mike bellowed as they dropped gas cans about, pouring it all over. Vines almost came alive.

   “Get behind us,” Camille breathed easy and nodded to Steve.

   “Alright, you guys ready?” He was met with agreement and flicked a lighter open.

   “Light her up,” Dustin replied.

   “I am in such deep shit.” Steve huffed.

   “Get in line.” Camille stood taller. Steve tossed the flame forth, fire erupted before them. Vines whipped around with cries of agony.

   “Go! Let’s go!” They backtracked toward the exit. “Run!” Harrowing screams bellowed all over. Mike was thrown down when a vine grabbed his ankle. Camille stomped it, yanking him to his feet. The group charged and skidded to a stop when a single demogod leered.

   “Dart,” Dustin opened his arms. The creature stilled. “Trust me.” He went on when the group grabbed for him to stop. “Hey, Dart. Hey…it’s me, your friend, Dustin? Will you let us pass? You hungry?” Dustin dug out a candy bar from his pack. It was working. Dart didn’t try to attack them. “Good boy.” He set it down and they watched the creature instead go for it to eat. Sneaking around it, Dustin lingered after the group. “Bye, buddy.”

   “Let’s go! Let’s go!” Steve led the party back to the entrance. Roars echoed behind them.

   “The gate,” Camille gasped. “Go! Now!” They hoisted Max up the rope first. Steve and Camille got Lucas and Mike up next. The wails drew closer. Tunnels shaking when a stampede approached.

   “Shit!” Dustin called.

   “Go!” Steve pushed at Camille. Silhouettes raced in the distance. Closing in too fast.

   “No! Not without you!” She lifted her arms on the defensive and Dustin got behind them. It was too late. Her eyes watered and she took Steve’s hand. “We’re good kids.” He sighed, bat at the ready.

   “Yeah, we are.” They braced for the end when demodogs scurried and instead went around them. Frozen, Steve pulled Camille and Dustin close to him as each creature sprinted beyond the tunnel.

   “Eleven.” Mike gasped above. Dustin was heaved to the surface and Steve pushed Camille up before she reached for him. The world spun, something changed. Headlights off Billy’s Camaro burned brighter, blinding them.

   “She’s doing it,” Camille shielded her eyes. They blared and then dimmed. “What happened?”

   “We won.” Mike came forward, eyes lifting to the sky. Relieved, the teens came in for a tight embrace. Camille looked to the stars and closed her eyes, air cleansed her skin. They burrowed together. She was home.

Chapter Text

   The party came back together again in the shambles of Joyce’s yard. Thankful words and hugs were shared between them. They took soft beats to relax again. To appreciate the gifts of life and friendship.

   “Uh, who the hell is this drooling kid in the Camaro?” Hopper broke the moment when he peered into the car to see Billy with his mouth open, still passed out in back. "Was he even here before? Am I losing track of you guys already?"

   “That’s the new Keg King, Chief.” Steve began, touching his cut lip. “All hail.”

   “My stupid brother.” Max shrugged, gesturing to Camille. “Her stupid boyfriend.”

   “Not even close.” Camille decided, draping Billy’s jacket over his torso as if to tuck him in there. “He attacked us looking for Max. We kind of had to…maybe drug him. Just a little. He’ll be fine. Don't even worry.”

   “You, what?” Jim spun on his heel so Camille touched his arm.

   “Just a little bit. He is... He was a friend and he...lost it. Also, he knows…some stuff. About me.” She clasped her hands to shrug with innocence. "He won't say anything, I'll make sure."

   “Another squirrely kid I get to keep quiet.” Jim grumbled, shutting the door to leave Billy there snoring. “Hawkins lab is finished. In this town, at least.”

   “Jonathan and I made sure of that.” Nancy came forward. Joyce and Jonathan were holding Will between them, wrapped up in blankets on the steps. His friends crowded.

   “And my mother?” Camille lifted her eyes.

   “We can get you out of there.” Jim nodded but, instead she frowned. He realized it then. Camille noted he seemed truly disappointed. “You’re going back.”

   “I have to go back. I have to finish this part. My father is dead. Hawkins lab will be gone. Mostly. Gate’s closed. I’m not leaving that house until I have everything I need. I don’t think it’s safe still. Just as you said, I can’t make waves. I have to pretend. Have to go along with whatever half-baked story we have now.” She was stern. “It’s going to crush her. My mom. Fake mom. There are people out there who could come after us still. I have to play house. If I'm unaware, they might think they're safe. Experiment can continue. Just a bit longer.” Camille held herself and Hopper dropped his hand when she went around him. “I’d like to know you better, El.” The little girl reached to take her wrist, nodding. They went up the steps into the house together to begin sharing.

** ** **

   “Still asleep back there?” Camille drove Billy’s car up to a cliff overlooking Hawkins. The sun would rise soon. A brand new day. A brave new world. Max turned and nodded. Steve drove his own car behind them.

   “He’s out but…moving.” Max looked up, buckled in next to her. “Sorry.”

   “Not your fault.” Camille stopped the car and turned to get into the back. "Billy." She shook him, rousing him further. Billy hitched a moan, eyes glazed when they opened. His head and neck both ached something awful. Camille was in his blurry line of sight. Soft again. Face cleaned. She took the time to wipe drool and blood from his chin with an old t-shirt on the seat.

   "C-Cam...ille." His tongue slurred, trying to function.

   “Hey, you.” She'd eased. Steve’s car came up along side them to park. Billy saw her clearly and gave a jerk, lifting his now bound hands.

   "The fuck?" He'd mouthed.

   "Don't worry about those, sit still for a sec so we can talk. You attacked us. Do you remember everything? Don't lie.” His bright eyes darted across her face. “Nod.”

   “Yes.” The tone scratched. Eyes huge. He tried to take in the surroundings all at once, licking his lips to wet them. “Untie me.”

   “I have something to say to you first. Few things I just need you to hear.” Camille brought her legs up to the seat, arm propped by his head. Delicate fingers tucked a loose curl from his temple. “You look nice. Devil's pride nice. The cologne is to die for. You know, I had a whole outfit planned. I think you would have liked it too." She sounded wistful. "First, you’re not going to talk about anything you saw. There are people out there who will kill us. They'll come for you too if you make a mess. Nod.”

   “Camille.” Billy squirmed in the seat belt.

   “Nod.” She ordered again so he did. Max watched from the front seat.

   “Second. You’re…You are not a good person, Billy.” She saw him glance away, groaning before he tried to sit up. Her finger tipped his chin so he was looking at her eyes again. “Maybe I’m not either some days. What you’ve done is…disgusting. You disgust me. What you did tonight. Attacking Steve and…Lucas. A child. Don’t think I also didn’t notice how you targeted a young boy with dark skin. You probably didn’t realize that at all too but we did. Interesting how parents rub off on us without us realizing it until we're spitting their venom.”

   “It’s not like that. They-”

   “Not like that? I'm sure. Do you think it matters? Intentions? We notice shit. And now you know because your greedy Jew whore told you. As if I haven’t gotten that ever. Do you really want to look back and remember how your father’s words sounded coming out of you’re mouth? How they tasted? I know you, Billy. Well enough. He is awful to you and I know you’re in so much pain. But, to use that to cause pain to others. That ugly shit doesn't fly. Life is a god damn pain and there are people out there hellbent on making it worse. I'm not sure why you're fine being one of them.”

   “Please-” His eyes crushed shut, teeth clenched.

   “But, I know there is a little girl in that house that needs protection too and you could give her what your father never gave you. Do you realize that? That’s a chance you wasted.” Camille gestured to Max. “You both could spit Neil’s terrible words back in his face by being better. You think Max would let you do that alone if you tried just once to love her? Tried to be a brother. Didn't bother to try. You’re gorgeous but now…I see you. I see you for what you are.” Billy let tears fall. Just a few. Exhausted. Teetering. Torn to shreds. Utterly wounded. Camille was gentle when she wiped them. Harsh and truthful. Unworried. Explicitly tender to break through Neil's rough conditioning.

   “I-”

   “You know, I watched my father die tonight and…what’s terrifying is that I’m most upset about all the things I never got to say. The answers he took with him. The fact that there had to be something flickering in him that loved me back and it wasn’t enough. This father who chased my monsters away turned out to be one himself. He hoarded me from them to keep me all for him. I was a beloved family hamster in a wheel and I'm fucking done with it all. But, the loss of my father. I know that I’ll live. The fact that I let him die…I think I’ll forgive myself for that too. Little by little.” Camille's eyes welled and he just watched her expression. Impossibly still.

   “Billy…” Max sighed then. “I know you miss your mom. And California. And everything. You think I don’t miss it too? You think I want to see my mom cower from him? She can’t replace your mom but she can care about you. I just… I miss it all. I hate it. I hate it but, I don’t hate you. You're an asshole but, I don't hate you. I’m angry too, you know. I can’t…fix any of it.” Billy’s eyes slid to her carefully then panned to focus on Camille.

   “I know what I said. You are not a good person, Billy Hargrove. You are a bully. You’re lost. You’re abusive and too damn young and above all that shit, you are better than that. You're a fucking asshole but, I'm telling you right now that you can be better. Maybe Neil neglected that fact. But, is being him and completing the cycle the future you want? I think you just needed to hear it. From a friend. You want to waste that, it's no one's fault but your own. But, right now, the only thing I can give you is pity. Nothing else. It’s on you. Awful or not, you can still do good things. Maybe they won’t forgive you in a million years but you can still do good things despite it. Scariest thing about humans, I think. A choice like that in a world so fucking messed up. I just want to be brave and be happy again. With some help from my friends, I think I can do that. But, you know, we’re just kids still…we have a lot of time to grow and I don’t want to waste it anymore. I truly wish that you don’t either one day. People are liars and bullies…and some grow out of it. Maybe you’ll try. It’s on your shoulders and…I hated myself once and I was a damn bitch and a coward but…I think I’m going to keep trying to be more that that. I hope it works out for both of us. Goodbye, Billy. See you around school.”

   “Let’s go.” Max opened the door when Camille cut Billy’s ropes and dropped his keys in his hand.

   "That's all I had to say." Camille shrugged and slid to leave.

   “I can’t…” Billy lowered his head, near silent. “I can’t go home without Max.”

   “Steve and I will take her home. She already called to check in. Covered for you too. Because she’s a good sister. You can follow us. I just don’t think she’s safe to be with you right now. Change our mind.” Camille watched his face, those trembling lips, before she got out to get into Steve’s car. They drove back in silence. Camille opened the door to hug Max tight when Billy emerged to park. She turned to go but he stopped her quietly.

   “Camille.” He tried not to beg. Voice grounded and low. “Let me show you something before you leave.” She debated it and nodded to Steve, turning. Max raced up the steps to go in first, hurrying to see her parents in their room. Camille clasped her hands and Billy walked her down the hall in silence. Didn't try to touch her or invade her space.

   “This was for you. Had to ask the guy which one it was. Stupid thing is dying already.” A pink peony. Beginning to wilt. Two fingers offered it so she took it from him, nodding.

   "They do that when they're cut from their home." She began, eyes trained on his when she touched the soft petals to her nose and lips to inhale. "Little attention and care though, they can make it farther. You stop dragging your feet and put in the work."

   “One more thing. I lied to you.”

   “About?” She watched him lift his mattress and pull an old, tattered photo out. Tentative, he entered her space to show her. A woman in a long sundress grinning with a young boy next to her. He had a toothy smile and surfboard in hand. The beach behind them was full and gorgeous. His mother. “She’s very beautiful. You have her eyes.” Camille lifted her gaze and he nodded, voice hushed and honest. “You look happy.”

   “I was.” He took it back when she extended it out, thumb tracing the corner. Something to show them both it was obtainable. She hesitated and offered the truth with a great belief that resonated.

   “It’s possible, I think, to get there again.” Camille touched his face and Billy let his eyes close. That too soft grain of compassion heated his skin.

   “I won’t say anything.” He whispered, sighing as she slipped away from him. Too far away.

   “Take care of Max. Take care of each other. Own your shit... And tell my friend that I miss him.” Camille paused again when he pulled his saint pendant off to offer it. “I can’t. It’s your mother’s necklace.”

   “Just watch it for your friend... Until he gets back,” Billy slipped it over her head, shifting hair aside. There it was reciprocated in one tiny flicker. Hope. She stared at him so he spoke. “Goodbye, Camille.”

   “Good luck, Billy.” Camille left the house and got into Steve’s car.

   “You okay?” He touched her shoulder while she looked outside at the brightening sky.

   “Yes.” Camille exhaled. Not red. Not at all. “Let’s go.”

** ** **

   “I can’t let you do this.” Jim Hopper shook his head.

   “She was my mother once.” Camille replied. His Blazer pulled up to her house, flocked by police cars. “We can’t do anything else. I have to be oblivious. Until it’s safe again. We went over the story several times, I got this. She won't know.”

   “I’ll watch over you, all right? You need anything, you call me first.” Camille welled up and took off her seat belt to hug him. A man who also lost too much and who was trying to make things better for a girl he barely knew in truth.

   “I’d like to see El more when I can.”

   “I’ll try to make that happen.” He followed her out and up the steps.

   “Camille! Camille!” Her sobbing mother raced outside, pushing officers aside to hold her. Camille didn’t want to crumble. Yet, it happened. She needed a mother right now. “Oh, god. Oh, my god. I’m so sorry, I wasn’t there. I will be.”

   “I know… I know.” Camille cried it out, fingers scrunching up her mom’s dress. "And Daddy..."

   "Hush, I have you. I'm so sorry, baby."

   "Milly, thank god." Edna approached and Rosemary hissed.

   “You’re fired. Leave us.”

   “You cannot do that.” Edna, for the first time, looked deadly. Cold. Camille peered to meet her eyes. Sink. “Mrs. Harper, this is not over. We both know that.”

   “It is,” Rosemary led Camille into their house, rubbing her back and cooing to calm her. “You’re all mine now, my sweet. It’s over, baby. It’s all over now.”

   Camille knew better.

** ** **

   “They boarded the whole place up today,” Nancy poked at her lunch a week later. Life continued. Mostly. Camille was met with students sorry for her loss. Hawkins Lab grasped some of the blame it was owed. School picked up again. Her mother was home almost every night for dinner. Almost. Mourning her husband even still. Her own work and grief pulled. Unknowing that Camille found out the truth. She played the part. Good daughter. “And Barb’s parents…they’re holding a funeral.”

   “I’ll be there,” Camille nodded. “How’s Mike?”

   “Frustrated. Wanting to see El again. Hopper said to give it time.” Nancy smiled when Jonathan sat down and Steve joined the table with him. “Heard that you and Dustin are best buds.”

   “I keep good company.” Steve was wistful. Accepting. A good person. “Taking him to the damn Snow Ball in style.”

   “Nancy, Jonathan, and I are all volunteering for that.” Camille smiled, she ate a meal with her friends. Queen Bee again. Freak. Camille. Lunch ended and they scattered, Camille caught up with Nancy at the door. “Want to go to the movies tomorrow?” She took her hand.

   “I’d like that.” Nancy grinned this time. Friends again. Camille missed this part most. Billy barely said two words to her when school life resumed. Leaving a space between them. Not like a gaping, endless pit. More like a cool moving river. She watched him give Max rides and scurry to class.

   They minced few syllables in chemistry, he stuck his nose elsewhere and she didn’t pry. One occasion, Billy dug into his empty bag for a pencil and Camille slid one over as if it were a peace offering. His hand slipped to take it. No words followed. She only ever spoke during labs they had to do. Aloof and even. No energy to be spent and wasted. Billy took to following her lead. A new position for him. Quiet as he did. Careful not to shatter the cracked and mending glass. He avoided Max’s space at home too. Leaving the room when she entered on occasion. Distance was better for him. So he told himself. Susan found him curled up in his room on a Saturday and he didn’t bark at her for once.

   “Max left for her friends.” She began and he sniffled. Footsteps crept closer to his bed. "It's Saturday...you're not going out?"

   “Leave me alone.” He begged instead, face muffled into a pillow. Tone changed. “Don’t tell him.”

   “I won’t.” Susan reached to touch Billy’s hair. The first time she’d ever reached out for him. He whimpered so she pulled away. “I’m making breakfast now. Omelets. Green peppers. You should come eat something, Billy. I could bring you a plate.” His head lifted at that. His favorite. She went out of her way for him.

   “Okay.” He was barely audible. She was trying. He decided to try too. When it didn't bleed, Billy let himself relax.

   “Haven’t seen that pretty girl in a while.” Susan turned. “Camille was sweet.” Billy turned his eyes, sighing out before he wiped his face. “Neil…he…he can’t say much if she comes over as a tutor instead of a friend. Just a thought.”

   “I’m not like him.” Billy paused and the realization brought him to a complete halt. “I don’t want to be.”

   “Then don’t be.” She was careful.

   “What he thinks about certain people. I don’t think that. I don’t. I didn’t…know. Fuck.” Billy clenched with tears, pressing the pillow closer while he faced the wall still so she wouldn’t see him. “Do I? Dad wants me to be... But, I'm so fucking...tired. I hurt people. I hurt Camille. She... What if I’m already like him and I can’t…I can’t fix it.”

   “Do you think he ever stayed in on a Saturday and stopped to ask himself these questions?” Susan was honest at last and Billy felt his heart give a great shudder. There was a beat.

   “I’m sorry, Susan.” His simple, raw words stilled her entire world. “Bout…my dad...and me.”

   “You can give Max a ride to the Snow Ball.” She replied, earning a nod. “Thank you, Billy.”

** ** **

   “Hey, Harper!” Chief Hopper pulled up to the school before Camille could get into her car. One month later. Time didn’t heal all wounds but it was a start.

   “Am I in trouble, Chief?” She approached with a grin.

   “Maybe,” he chuckled. “Need a favor. I have an address and I need you to bring some items to it in the next two hours. I’d appreciate it.”

   “Oh, you have a mission for me?” Camille clasped her hands.

   “Your biggest one yet.” Jim beckoned her to the window. Camille raced down the road an hour later. Dressed to help at the dance. Excited, she tapped the steering wheel. Snow trickled down in little flurries, barely sticking. She thought of her mother. Holidays to be spent alone this year. Her father was buried. Rosemary still played the game of house and Camille with her. She never broke down. Not once. When would the right time emerge? Still, she was contented to be with her friends. Pulling up to a cabin, she got out and craned her next. Eleven ran down the steps in flannel with Jim behind her. They hugged and she pulled back.

   “I missed you.” Camille came to her level. “I may have brought too much.”

   “What the hell…” Jim watched her heave a whole trunk from the backseat. “Seriously?”

   “Girls like options, Jim.”

   “Yeah, we like options,” El agreed and he rubbed his face. Camille lifted her hand, teetering before the trunk came up. Eleven helped, arm out and they beamed.

   “Okay, cool it with that.” Hopper followed them back in. El opened the trunk to see clothing. Nothing she’d ever worn.

   “Old stuff. Should fit her, I was about her size at that age.” Camille smiled. “Hair first then makeup. Ready?” Eleven grinned now. Sister. A long lost sister.

   “Yes.”

** ** **

   Sparkling lights played off the winter decorations. Music echoed into the auditorium while awkward children roamed. Camille poured punch with Nancy, setting cups upon the table. Across from them, Jonathan took photos, waving at the two girls.

   “Want to come over for our Christmas dinner? The boys and Max are going to bring toys that night, play some D&D. Mom has like twenty desserts planned.”

   “We could dust off some old costumes.” Camille giggled. “I’ll convince Hopper to bring El over.”

   “How’s Rosemary?”

   “Sad. Still working by force. It’s just us now. We care for the house and…it feels normal. No one came for me. Not yet. I can’t…read her all the time.” She sighed. “Hopper offered me a place when…if things go sour. I know it’ll come out one day. I think I’m looking for something first. Something inside her. Just to see if it’s there. Can't find it in dad anymore after what I did. She knew where I came from. She knew and had a huge part in it. She tried to make amends. Even if it was sick. And if I make noise…”

   “I hope you find it. Whatever you need.” Nancy offered. Across from them, Dustin entered with a style dressed similar to Steve’s. Hair and all. “Oh, my god.”

   “Aw, can we keep him?” Camille touched her heart. “Precious thing.”

   “Ladies,” Dustin passed.

   “Hey,” Nancy spoke as he went to greet Mike and them.

   “Max,” Camille stopped to hug her. “Pants? How edgy of you.”

   “Mom did this to my hair,” she grumbled.

   “You look great. Promise. How are things?”

   “Quieter.” Max nodded, eyes brightening. “Nice.”

   “Good,” Camille gestured. “I won’t keep you, go have fun.” Max hurried away and they poured more punch. Fixed up the table. Enjoyed the night. Another song started and couples came together. Max and Lucas joined them. “Remember when it was that easy, Nance?”

   “Was it ever?”

   “I try to think it was,” she joked. “Uh, oh, check my three o’clock. Boy down. Mayday.” They watched Dustin try to ask girls to dance and get brushed off. He looked crestfallen. “I’m going in, cover me.” Camille followed Dustin to the bleachers while he sniffled. “Hey, Dusty.”

   “Cam…Camille,” he hurried to wipe his face and she sat down. The most popular girl in her school smiled at him. Other kids took note.

   “Not giving up already, are you?”

   “Ngh…no.”

   “Good, because the Dustin I know faces all frights head on. Especially when one of the party needs assistance.” She crossed her arms over her knees and nudged him with her shoulder, he brightened just a little at that. “A very wise kid taught me that after he roped me into monster hunting. I used to help babysit him.” She kissed his cheek, earning a smile and Nancy paced over.

   “Wanna dance?” She put her hand out.

   “Uh, Nance, I’m talking with Dusty here.”

   “Snooze, you lose, Cam.” Nancy took Dustin away and Camille laughed after them, shaking her head before she stood up and watched the couples move. Heels clicked while she made her way back only for Max to stop her, hand in Lucas’s.

   “By the way,” she began, “he’s outside.” Camille turned, arms crossing. “Just in case you needed that information.” Max pressed a sort of half smile and went back to the floor. Another song bloomed when she decided and headed out. Eleven appeared at the same time, nervous and looking around.

   “You look amazing,” Camille touched her shoulder. “Own it, it’s your night.” Eleven spotted Mike standing and crossed over to see him. Heading outside, the air chilled when Camille saw Joyce and Hopper waiting together.

   “Ms. Harper. Up to no good?” The Chief regarded her.

   “Me? Never.” She batted her lashes and smiled at Joyce. “They’re having fun in there.”

   “They needed it.” She agreed.

   “I hope you’re well too.”

   “Thank you, Camille. You take care.”

   “Just where are you headed?” Hopper added, lighting up a cigarette.

   “Oh, I…” The teen regarded them. “I was just…uh, going for a walk. There are way too many hairspray fumes in there. Not good for the brain. Why are you two here, huh?"

   "Just friends." Hopper was too quick.

   "Right…so…bye now and mind your business, Chief.” Camille smirked and Jim scoffed with amusement. She hurried off before they could question it further, rubbing her arms for warmth. Camille spotted that familiar blue Camaro up the hill, parked off to the side under the stars. Billy took some time to look at them, half seated on the hood with a cigarette between two fingers.

   “Look nice, do they? Finally taking the time to see them.” She watched him snap to focus on her. Blue eyes awed and looking her up and down once. Lips parted to mouth her name, too scared to offer it to the cool night air. A beat lingered.

   “Harpy. You clean up nice. Devil's pride nice.” He didn’t move an inch more so she paced around the car toward him, standing a few feet away. Pretenses lowered.

   “You feel like sharing that?” She shrugged and he flicked ashes aside, lifting his hand to offer it. No interest in going home as usual. The company was well received. Camille joined him against the hood, smoke slipped from her lips. Billy stared for a quiet moment when she instead looked up at the sky. A slight hum of contemplation sounded. She exhaled and gave a soft shudder against the cold weather. "Not a bad view from manure land. Not one bit." Billy agreed with that, eyes direct on her. Shifting, he shrugged off his jacket. That brown leather bomber she loved. Camille offered him the smoke back so he put it between his teeth and helped her into the coat. Music was still echoing soft in the distance. “You know, I got a strange call from a concerned stepmother a few days ago.”

   “What?” Smoke billowed out soft lips.

   “Had a few things to say. Good things. Hopeful things.” Camille took the cigarette again to inhale. Her nerves subsided. Billy studied her face and panned to see the stars again. “Nothing red in sight today, huh?” Silent, he agreed again, finishing the last drag before crushing it under his boot.

   “What did she tell you?” He puffed slower.

   “That you’re still angry a lot. Naturally. And sad. And quiet. Extremely quiet. That you take Max to the arcade almost every day when needed and you pick her up. That a mysterious new skateboard appeared in Max’s room…"

   "This fucking asshole ran over the old one with a Camaro."

   "I'm sure... She also mentioned that green peppers solve just about everything.” She chuckled and Billy turned his head when his lip quirked. “That you avoid Max but you don’t lash out like you used to. That Neil hasn't stopped despite it all. And when your Camaro had a recent engine problem, your sister was out there silently passing you tools to fix it. You let her do that. Progress. Always happens in small bouts if we stop to notice them. She also invited me to dinner Wednesday. Said your dad would be working late.”

   “Haven’t heard that one.” He lifted his eyes.

   “You’re having pot roast.” Susan was not his mother. But, she cared.

   “She always burns the damn edges,” he joked, softening. Camille shifted to brace her hand back and covered his.

   “I want to try something.” These syllables always brought stillness to his world. She tugged once without fear and he stood up with her. Camille guided his hands to her waist, shifting to touch his shoulders.

   “Never been to a school dance. Just hit the parties after.”

   “Smart. And it’s easy,” she watched his eyes flicker to the pendant hanging from her neck. Gentle hands clasped behind his shoulders and she swayed to the music in the distance, bringing him with her. “You haven’t lived until Hawkins High prom season starts.”

   “Think this year will hurt your chances as prom queen when we’re seniors?” He cocked his head as they turned and she shrugged. Glowing. Beautiful.

   “Ah, I guess we’ll see.” Camille watched his eyes, something connected again. Small but still there. Billy swayed closer until her head came to his collar. Two hands laced. Her arm went around his shoulders and he slipped one hand along the small of her back. The dance continued. Perfume invaded his senses so he closed his eyes. “I really did miss my friend, you know? Tell him that again for me.” Friend. Billy felt himself smile. Only slight. This amazing chance she'd offered without fear or anguish would not be wasted.

   “I’ll let him know,” he nudged his head into her own. There it was again. The pull that things might turn out fine. Or something close to it. The belief that they both deserved better here. The song ended for another and they stayed there in place. Camille inhaled and came up to see his blue eyes in the moonlight.

   “I have to get back.” She whispered against him, slipping away yet again. Cool and light. Hope filled the river that ran between them.

   “Keep the jacket.” He winked and she sucked in her cheeks, hugging it closer. “See you around, Harpy.” Camille shifted down the hill, spinning on her heel to see him as she went. Her luminous smile resonated.

   “Be kind to yourself, Billy.”

** ** **

   “How was the dance?” Rosemary busied with a new drawing when Camille came into her studio.

   “They had fun.” She stayed at the door until the older woman looked up.

   “Lawyer and I got your father’s affairs in order finally.” She went on. “We’ll be fine. I’ll try to be home as much as I can but with him gone…”

   “I get it,” Camille held Billy’s jacket around herself. "I'm sorry." The words just came, eyes welling.

   "About what, sweetie?"

   "Just..."

   "He loved you so much, you know. I love you, I always will. You and I will make it. We will be just fine. We have each other." Her mother pressed her lips. Camille felt guilt and shame pool. But, not all over Noah. He made his bed. She tried to tell herself that. The shame that this was not enough. That it never would be. That the reality of it all was too ugly and that ugliness could rub off on her. That the cycle was not broken.

   "Just...sorry." Camille would find what she needed another day. Her heart stilled. Tried to be brave. Rosemary looked at her eyes. There had to be something. Anything. She hadn’t kicked Camille out or given her to enemies in the distance who would love to study her.

   “We have a long supply of your medication as well.”

   “Oh?” Camille flushed them each day. “Good.”

   “Our party this year will likely not be happening. But, we can still do gifts and candles. Chinese for Christmas morning before my flight?”

   “Definitely… Nancy invited me over after. Almost everyone’s getting together. Heather went on some ski trip for winter break.”

   “I’ll be out around New Years time. Will you be alright here alone, Camille?”

   “I’m not alone.” Camille admitted, lips lifting because saying it with such conviction felt amazing. “I never was.” She turned without explaining to go up to her room for the night. Billy’s jacket hung over the vanity mirror. Her hand gripped a little crochet doll before she was lulled off to sleep.

   Hope made the world less red.

Chapter Text

   “Let me help you with that, Mrs. Wheeler.” Camille hurried to pull three hot pies from the oven. The sweet smells filled the house around them.

   “I think I burned this one a little.” Karen frowned.

   “No, it looks and smells amazing, I promise.”

   “And your mother doesn’t want to come? I always love her fashion trend advice, I feel like I'm ahead of the curve.”

   “She'd appreciate that. But, no, we had lunch and she had a flight to catch.” Camille helped with desserts while Nancy started the coffee pot.

   “Smile.” Jonathan flashed when the three women huddled together in front of an island full of cookies, pies, and cakes. The doorbell sounded so Mike raced by Joyce and Will helping Holly open her new toys.

   “Mike, cool it.” Karen laughed. Her house full of family and friends enjoying the winter night.

   “Sorry,” he whipped open the door to see Eleven and Hopper. “Hey.”

   “Hi,” she offered a gift and he let them in. Mike made some introductions, hand in El's. Hopper had an elaborate story set up for her adoption.

   “I’m going to get us set up!” Dustin pulled at Will who followed him into the basement to help get their game ready. Steve was sorting gifts around and the doorbell went off again.

   “I got it,” Karen paced to open it, standing taller. “Oh? You.”

   “…Mrs. Wheeler.” Billy cleared his throat and peered down at Max. Camille poked her head around the corner to see him, glittery gold eyeshadow caught the light to make her sparkle. “Just dropping my sister off.” Sister. She'd forced him to help carry her many gifts to the door. Billy saw Camille there in a red dress and realized now that Max played him.

   “Max!” Lucas smiled and stilled when he spotted Billy.

   “Let me take those,” Karen bit her lip and handed some off to Steve so he gave them to Jonathan.

   “Hargrove.” He began, hard.

   “Harrington.”

   “Santa’s head elf this year, huh.” Steve watched Karen go into the living room. Billy shot him a tense look. Lip quirking.

   “You’re the one wearing that.” Billy gestured. Steve yanked an elf hat with ears off his head.

   “I'm wearing it for the kids.” He played it cool.

   “None of us asked you to do that,” Lucas teased, beckoning for Max to come in.

   "Happy Hanukkah?" Max grinned, earning a laugh.

   "Always appreciated." Camille smiled to greet her and met Billy’s eyes.

   “Sinclair,” Billy huffed and Lucas stilled. The teen relaxed, shrugging when he was flat. No animosity toward these people trying to celebrate with each other. Billy remained outside it all. “Merry Christmas.” Lucas gave an odd look of acknowledgment and ushered Max to join their friends.

   “You really got to him. Christmas miracles do exist,” the kid muttered and Max laughed at that. Camille approached, patting Steve’s shoulder when the two boys stared. She noted they both relaxed.

   "Hope you got more than coal this year."

   "I got this one." She eased and Steve crossed his arms, following after Lucas and Max too. She opened her mouth but Karen appeared again.

   “Billy, it’s snowing out. Come in for some dessert and coffee.”

   “Ah, I couldn’t,” he was jerked forward when her arm looped into his to walk him into the kitchen. Camille cocked her head and everyone in the living room tried not to laugh.

   “Billy, hi.” Nancy clasped her hands, intrigued. “Welcome.” Karen went into the other room to grab more paper plates.

   “Why is this so weird between you two?” Camille muttered, looking entertained and Billy rubbed his neck.

   “Don’t know what you mean.”

   “Nancy, this is weird. Isn’t it weird?”

   “It is weird, Camille.” Both girls crossed their arms and Billy cursed himself.

   “You know…that night. I got the Byers’s address from her. Might of…you know. My thing.” He hissed through his teeth when she got close to him.

   “Thing?” Nancy made a face at that. "My mom?"

   “Oh, no. Billy, ew. Bad idea. Bad. I might be queen bee but Karen Wheeler is like an entire swarm of them.” Camille covered her lips. Nancy giggled across from them, pouring coffees to take them off.

   “Worked at the time.” Billy whispered and they stood straighter when Karen appeared with a piece of apple pie. “Thank you, Mrs. Wheeler.”

   “Karen, please,” she waved him off. “You’re welcome to stay.” Karen looked between the teens and hurried to help Nancy with the coffees.

   “I really shouldn’t.” He gave that smile again so Camille bit her lip. “Time to run?”

   “Oh, yeah, or you're not making it out of here alive.” Camille pushed at his back to help him escape, they both chuckled together. Stopping in the doorway, she produced a tiny package from her pocket. “You know, I figured you'd be the one dropping Max here. This is for you. Open it.” He tore the paper and saw an ornate, silver ring. Patterns pressed into the metal. “Something small,” she explained when he slipped it on his middle finger. “I had them etch a Hebrew word on the inside.”

   “What’s it mean?”

   “Trust.” They locked eyes and he pulled another small box from his pocket, looking smug when she was surprised. Camille opened it, lifting a simple golden chain bracelet from the gift. Billy pulled from his own stash to get her something she'd like.

   “It’s beautiful. Is that…?” She let him clasp it on her wrist. A single, small charm hung from it. Circular with a peony pressed at the center.

   “Now you have one that can’t die on you. And I still had to ask which damn one it was so I didn't pick the rose because you are the first girl in the history of girls to hate roses.” He joked to make light of it. Camille stepped closer, his breath hitched.

   “Thank you.” Her fingers brushed his hand and their moment was interrupted.

   “Hey, keg king,” Steve cleared his throat. The couple came apart when he pointed up. “You know the rules.” Mistletoe hung above them. It wasn't there when Billy first arrived. “Who put that there? I wonder.” Steve flashed a huge grin and left them defenseless.

   “The real King Steve, huh? Might have to thank the guy.” Billy remarked and Camille turned to face him, all pretense gone. Blue eyes burned into hazel ones. Sparkling and bright. She watched his face change. Christmas lights played soft against their faces. Camille gave the slightest nod to signal him. Forgiveness would not echo in one perfect instant but the choice to heal opened up a million beautiful possibilities unseen before.

   Billy lifted a hand, fingers grazing her face; thumb rubbing a circle into her jaw. Camille came up closer on her toes when he tilted her chin up. He thought of the Halloween party. How badly he wanted her. How that never ended for a moment. Their foreheads touched, his eyes fluttered to close and she flickered her own across his expression. One of desire and peace. All at once. Camille touched the back of his neck, pressing gently and he waited for her. Only for her. So patiently that he vibrated when her lips touched his. A sweet kiss like an exhale against cool night air. Like waves swaying upon a California beach. Billy opened his heavy eyes framed by thick lashes. Her fingers shifted into his curls before she pressed her lips up to beam.

   “Bye.” He uttered, thumb sweeping down her jawline.

   “Goodnight.” Camille opened the door and watched him get into his car. Billy peered at her waving and took off. Somewhere to watch the stars and be alone so he didn't have to return to Neil's house yet. He touched his lips and had to open the window so cold air could caress his face. A smile found him. Camille went back inside and gave Steve a smack when she rounded the corner.

   “Real funny.”

   “Hey, I didn’t bring it. I still can't stand the guy. I’m just the height man.” He pointed at Max. "More afraid of her than I dislike Hargrove." The kids all paused.

   “Busted,” Mike teased.

   “What?” Max laughed when Camille’s arms crossed, waiting for an explanation. “I…didn’t have a present for him this year.”

   "You and I are going to have a conversation." Camille replied but, the younger girl was amused.

   "I hope it ends in thank you, Max."

   “Guys! We’re ready down here. Come on!” Will grew excited.

   “Never played,” El had whispered.

   “Neither have I really. Never had a party,” Max shrugged, holding out a hand. “We could learn together?” El blinked and took her hand, smiling when Max did to follow her down. Nancy kissed Jonathan and crossed over to give Camille a cup of coffee.

   “Cream and sugar.”

   “You’re awesome.” She cocked her head. “Guess we better join them.”

   “I am not wearing the elf costume.” Steve followed them down and Camille laughed at him. Holiday music colored the air while lights twinkled. A night that was wholly beautiful.

   “Steve, the party demands it.”

** ** **

   1985. A new year came for them all. Snow coated the grounds of Hawkins, giving them a few late starts to school. Camille breezed through the hallways.

   “Think you might be overdoing it?” Nancy pressed near her locker while Camille shifted books about.

   “Yesterday, I wrote a full page in Japanese. I picked up ballet again like it was nothing last week. And I also absorbed every cool action move I could. I cannot be stopped. I need an ass to kick. It’s like my brain is overflowing. Also…not the most exciting thing but without our housekeeper, I’m cooking more for me. Food channel…super helpful. Who knew?” Excitement laced her tone.

   “And your mother?” Nancy wasn’t sure if she could call her that now.

   “I don’t think she suspects anything.” She shrugged. “And you know that El’s abilities are different from mine. But, she helped me some with the whole…moving things part. Gift for all the tutoring so far. It just feels like that little girl always belonged in my life. Like we'd been looking for each other.” Camille paused when Billy passed, backpack in hand. He winked and she stopped a grin from splitting her lips, turning aside to look back at her locker.

   “What’s happening there?”

   “I’m not sure yet. I mean, we talk more and do assignments together. I told him that I’d help him in chem. Keep his dad off him. He's a...a strict guy. We kissed at your Christmas party but…we’re friends. He has a lot to make up for and I’m…kind of content. Where we are, you know? Billy and I are friends and trying to find that footing again.”

   “But, you like him.” Nancy was matter-a-fact. "And I'm assuming the continued quiet, longing looks and the less making rounds is a signal he likes you."

   “Yes, but, I don’t…fully forgive him for that night. He’s trying, granted. Things are different. I feel it. But, it was awful. I’m working on that and, you know, Nance… I’m glad I told you…about the…” Camille touched her stomach and Nancy nodded. “I have not had a relationship since that. Many, many out of school flings aside.”

   “You want things to change but not too quickly. Odd, but I get it.” Nancy followed her down the hallway. Heather joined them when they got outside.

   “We’re all going to the diner for hot chocolates.” She offered. “Invite Steve and Jonathan…if it isn’t weird, of course. I was going to invite Robin, I owe her big for all the chem notes I borrowed.”

   “Not weird, Steve and I are friends now,” Nancy shrugged, eyes elsewhere. Billy’s jacket provided warmth to Camille in the snow. A commotion caught their attention ahead, stopping the conversation. Camille hurried forward to see it around her car. The driver’s side window smashed in. Billy was there as Max had pointed it out seconds before.

   “What the hell…” Camille pushed students to see it. A brick sat in the passenger seat.

   “Careful, the glass,” Max spoke when the teen got the door open.

   “Take anything?” Billy craned his neck.

   “I’m… No, I don’t think so.” Camille was visibly shaken. "Did anyone see anything?"

   "Saw it when I was skateboarding down to meet Billy," Max shook her head.

   “Break it up,” Mr. Clarke pushed students of all ages to go, save for her friends. “Ms. Harper, are you alright?”

   “Yes, I’m…” Camille saw numbers marked into the brick when her gloved hand picked it up. 006. She gasped and turned it down. “I don’t think they took anything.”

   “Hey, what happened?” Steve and Jonathan had joined the circle.

   “Camille, you can’t drive that.” Nancy touched her lips and pointed. A large puddle melted the snow under the car. Mr. Clarke was kind enough to look under.

   “Camille,” he agreed and got serious, “they cut your brakes.” She looked up from him to see her friend's eyes, horrified. Stuffing the brick into her backpack so no one saw it.

   “I’ll call the police.” Heather offered. “We’ll get you a tow.” Billy touched Camille’s back when she came out on shaky legs.

   “Can I have a ride?” She trembled so he gave a nod without a thought.

   “I can take Max home,” Jonathan offered. Will and the kids caught up with him. Billy didn’t refuse, peering at his sister to cock his head.

   “Stay with your friends. About an hour. Susan said she was out for some appointment today and my dad is home alone from work there.” He’d replied so quietly. Hands in his pockets. Jonathan nodded in turn. Max pressed her lips and agreed.

   “Shit,” Dustin observed the car.

   “Language.” Their teacher chided, coming back from looking the vehicle over. “Everyone, let’s clear out. We’ll get this taken care of.”

   “You okay?” Max asked first and Camille shook her head but yes found her lips.

   “Go on with Jonathan. It’s cold out.”

   “Heather is still on the phone with a tow, but Hopper’s on the way.” Nancy spoke behind her.

   “I’ll go inside to report this too. Ms. Harper, will you be alright until the Chief comes?”

   “Yes, Mr. Clarke, thank you.” Camille touched her heart, speeding in her chest. He left and she produced the brick so her friends could see it. They all gave awed expressions and she was hard. “They’re coming for me.”

** ** **

   “See anything?” Camille cocked her head as Hopper observed her car. He took the brick and had police comb the area. They got Heather to go home and Jonathan took the kids, leaving Billy, Nancy, and Steve.

   “Nothing. Any threats prior to today?”

   “Aside from my dad’s whole room of experimentation evidence and monsters from another dimension attacking us? No, sir, not a one.” Camille shrugged and came to his side, eyebrow raised. “If I’m in danger, so is El.”

   “I know that,” Jim hissed. “Try to think.”

   “Could be people left still at that place. We both knew it wasn't over. Government secret types, who knows. Our housekeeper was jaded about the firing like a switch flipped. She was one of them too. You know, she fooled me better than my own parents did. Stung. Someone to watch me like a…handler.” Camille saw Hopper peer at Billy in question. “Oh, he knows. You remember him. The sweet blue Camaro. ...Snores.”

   “The narcoleptic bully, yeah. I definitely remember.” Jim was flat, turning. Steve snorted and Billy shot him a glare. “I’ll look into the housekeeper. Don’t go anywhere alone. Where is Rosemary?”

   “She’s been on trip after trip. Probably down a bottle of wine and few pills wherever she is.” Camille shrugged. “I called her to tell her about the car, left out some details. She offered to come but I said no. So, I have a few days to myself. If our housekeeper was invested into the experiment, why would my mother get rid of her?”

   “Frankly, that’s what makes me nervous. They both know too much, why split?”

   “Unless mother wants it to be done as well. But, wouldn’t they take me?” She exhaled cold air and he pressed a thoughtful expression.

   “Plan some sleepovers.” Jim ordered and she gave a salute.

   “Yes, sir.” Camille watched as they hooked her car up. “I liked this stupid car. Damn it.”

   “Tell me about the room with his work?” Hopper stuffed his hands into his pockets.

   “Attic. Never been allowed in…things got suspicious. So, we broke in."

   "We?"

   "Yeah, Billy and I. He helped me. It's...how he knows about me too. The attic had every single detail of my existence carefully mapped.” Camille tilted her head. Jim eyed Billy again, causing the teen's eyes to shift elsewhere.

   “Will Rosemary be back Saturday?

   “No, not till Sunday night or Monday morning.” She replied.

   “I want to see it. The attic.” Jim nodded. “Six o’clock.”

   “I’ll be waiting.”

   “For now: go home, you do your homework, and do not investigate this. None of you.” Hopper scanned the teens, shifting to walk off and radio Flo. “Go.”

   “Thank you.” Camille offered, sighing. “Just when things felt calm.”

   “We’ll find whoever is behind it,” Nancy assured her. “If you need a place to stay this week, you can come to my house.”

   “Appreciate it. I'll see you later.” Camille pressed her lips and her friends left while the car was pulled away. Billy unlocked his vehicle to let her in.

   “My dad will be there.” Billy hesitated. “I’m not supposed to see you. Not in this setting.”

   "What setting is that?" Camille stared over the roof of the car and he puffed, hand on the door.

   "Friends." He'd offered the word quietly like he might be wrong, hurrying to get in so she followed.

   "I shouldn't... It'll get you into more shit."

   "No, I don't care. I'm never going to be out of the shit. But, I wanted to tell you."

   “Don’t mind to face him with you. I could tutor chem tonight.” She was softer so he drove off. Luck was on their side. Susan hurried to see Camille, having just gotten home too.

   “Neil ran back out to pick up something from the office. Max told me your car was broken into. I’m so sorry.”

   “Bit shocking.”

   “Billy, that was nice of you to stay with her.” She regarded her stepson and he gave a curt nod. “I have hot apple cider in the kitchen.”

   “May I use the restroom?” Camille hurried away when Billy gave her a light push.

   “She’s, uh…shaken up.” He broke the awkward silence between him and Susan.

   “I can imagine.” She poured two mugs. “She can stay as long as she likes tonight. Don’t worry about Neil, I’ll tell him it’s for school. If she's assigned to tutor you, then you really have no choice in the matter.” Billy lifted his eyes as if to thank her without words. “Go, get warm.” Camille appeared when he turned down the hall, two mugs in his hands.

   “Come on, Harpy, you’re trembling still.” He gestured with his chin so she got the door and shut it behind them. Billy handed her a cup and turned on music to drown out their voices. His mess of a room was a welcomed sight to Camille.

   “It has to be them. I knew it wasn’t over. Why would it be? Monsters aside. Human ones are always more persistent.” She exhaled, sipping when she sat on his bed without thinking. Billy joined her, drinking. “I don’t understand.”

   “What?” His curiosity won.

   “Why me?” She whispered after months of tearing herself apart for it all. “Why did I get out to live a lavish life and no one else did? How can I live with that?”

   “Should ask why if it wasn’t your fucking fault.” Billy said after a beat. “Hell, I sound like you now.” Camille broke to chuckle, drinking more while the steamy mug warmed her hands. Billy followed until he saw her eyes change upon meeting them. Camille set her mug aside, gaze fixed on him. She took his mug next, placing it away. “What are you doing?”

   “Thinking.”

   “Got to stare at me to do that?” They drew closer when he tried to joke and she felt herself quiver.

   “How is it you said exactly what I needed to hear?” She tried to put her demons to rest. At least for tonight.

   “Because, I…” Billy glanced aside and panned to focus on her gaze. Unyielding. He didn’t know why the urge struck him to weep. Honesty drew so raw. “We’re friends, I guess. Picked up some new skills.” Such a thought made him scoff. He chased and chased. Every trick and tease. Failed. And still found exactly what he’d needed this moment in time.

   “I want to try something.” Her usual dangerous words cut into him. Billy froze when her hands cupped his face. She came up on her knees, sinking down to kiss him. Hands tugging for his collar. More of a thank you. A thank you that turned into a I fucking care about you. He responded against her mouth, hands grasped her elbows to bring her closer. I fucking care. Sometimes I can’t stand it. I don’t want it to stop.

   Then, don’t.

   Billy drowned in her this time, fingers bunched fabric until they fell against his bed. He went for her neck, angling her jaw with one firm hand to place kisses down her skin. She sunk fingers into his hair and caressed all down his back. Nails raked over fabric. Billy felt her adjust, legs opening until he wedged between them. Heat swelled. Poured over. Drowning in fire. Breathtaking.

   Foreheads touched and he pressed himself into her. Just enough for the pressure to tip higher. Legs squeezed his hips. Friction sparked over their bodies. Admittedly, he hadn’t been with a girl in weeks. Body wasn’t into it after all that happened. Not since before their ruined almost date. Flirting aside. Couldn’t lose that charm. That reputation. Billy moaned into her, quiet and stimulated. A husky sound that made her shiver. He rocked his hips, aroused and wet through denim. One hand was under her sweater, squeezing her breast before fingers shifted the bra cup.

   “Camille,” he uttered, tongue slipping against her lips. He traced his thumb over her hard nipple, rolled it between his fingers. They rocked together. Needy and panting.

   “Almost,” she hitched a whine and he rubbed against her, mouth open on her throat. Arms squeezed him into her body. Worked up teens in need of some basic release. They grew inflamed. So close. Billy was teetering, barely undone, when the front door sounded and smacked closed. He jumped off her and Camille fixed her clothing. They scrambled so she came to the floor, tearing a book open to pretend she was studying. She laid on her stomach and crossed her legs, still heaving on air. Billy shoved a pillow in his lap and grabbed a book she tossed up at him. Footsteps shook the hardwood before Billy’s door hit the wall.

   “Good evening, Mr. Hargrove. My, what a lovely tie that is.” Camille watched him open his mouth and close it upon seeing her. My, what big teeth you have, was the tone she claimed. She nestled into the shaggy rug, grinning and he smoothed the tie out in response.

   “You again. It's...new.” He’d warned Billy to stay away. Neil smiled instead, quick like a flash. Doting dad of this fine family. “What’s all this?”

   “Tutoring. Billy's one of my assignments.” Big eyes blinked with innocence and she answered so Billy didn’t have to.

   "Figure a girl like you to have several assignments." His jab struck her.

   "I guess a girl like me enjoys keeping busy." She didn't bow. Owning it. "I'm greedy like that."

   "What's the subject?"

   "Chemistry, sir." She dared this man to step over her to get to his son. Triple dog dared him.

   “And the topic, Billy?” Tension seeped into the room.

   “Ah…just chemical bonding. Chemical reactions. Start with the basics and build it up from there.” Billy made it sound as sexual as he could. Camille gave a breathy sigh, silent and frozen. “Like, synthesis. Right, Camille?”

   “Mm hm. How astute. Ionic bonds.” Camille’s addition made Billy bite his tongue. “Covalent bonds. The real exciting stuff…big test coming. I think with my careful instruction, Billy will nail it.” Her bright smile drew calculating and Billy almost lost it there in manic laughter. It reflected in his eyes. “He passed the quiz last week.” Her bragging of him swelled more heat. Neil was the one burned.

   “Ah. Good, I suppose. Wouldn’t put it past him to cheat, I’m afraid. So, look out.” Neil watched her swallow a hard lump in her throat. Billy’s cheeks were bright pink still. Hair messed. “I’ll let you two study. See if you can bring my son’s grade up more. We’ve given up trying.” He turned and jerked the door shut. Camille let out the air she was holding and Billy’s head fell against the wall.

   “Warn me sooner before you jump my bones next time.”

   “Bold of you to assume. Next time.” Came her teasing. It shouldn't have felt this natural. Being here together. Camille slipped back up onto the bed, sitting against the wall next to him. “You can go finish if you want.”

   “I kind of, uh, already did.” Billy hitched to scoff. “Fuck.” He hurried to his feet to change his pants and underwear in a tiny walk in closet.

   “Talk more chemistry to me.” She played a flirt when he eyed her.

   “Still something else, Camille.” His remark sobered her expression. Pretense lowered again.

   “Can I stay the night with you?”

   “Might have to pretend to drive you home and sneak you back into my window.”

   “Mm, you’ve clearly done this before. Clever boy. We’ll leave early for my place before your dad realizes. Max can come also for the day if she isn’t going to friends. Hopper said six in the afternoon.” She waited until he joined her, sitting down. “Billy?”

   “Yeah?”

   “I appreciate…you’re trying. I just wanted you to know that.” They peered away from each other after a beat. Slowly, his hand lifted to curl into her own in her lap. Camille took his hand in both of hers, head tilting to his shoulder. Billy couldn’t hold it in any longer.

   “I want you.” He tried again because he fucking meant it.

   “I know.” Camille came up to see his eyes, hands tightening around his. “I want you too. But, I’m…not sure if I’m okay with it yet.”

   “You were right.” Billy sat back, eyes turned aside. Surprise flooded her. “My brand or whatever. Queen bee. I chased your skirts because of that. The more we teased. The more aloof you were to me, after every move I pulled. The more I wanted you. Call it shitty, it is. Stupid ass high school game, I think it lasts after you get out. And you had…everything I wanted, so I fucking thought. I thought if I held you, I could hold that. More shit. Parents who bought you everything and loved you. Coddling you with a big house and ballet classes and a damn hot tub. A maid and fancy parties…and perfect grades. Damn it. And…”

   “Go on,” she coaxed.

   “It’s just so fucked. Because they just needed to keep you distracted while they prodded and left. Maybe it isn’t worse than what I had but, fuck, it wasn’t really better. Was it? You and I were both fucked up and we found each other and that shit was not a mistake. And I threw it away. ...And maybe because of what happened when I was fifteen. Guys congratulated me for hot senior pussy, not even believing that she ra-…That she did what she did. I was supposed to want it. And when I see girls remotely in her circle, I want to feel in control again and that’s sick. It’s fucking sick, Camille. I wanted to chase you because I thought you were perfect queen material and I had some shit to prove. Guys like me eat that up and spit it out…” Billy grew so very quiet. So genuine. “And I don’t want that for you and I.”

   “You no longer want to consume me?”

   “No, I think I still do. That’s just it. But, I want you to ask me to do it.” He shuddered. Camille felt that hit deep.

   “Hey, you were right too. I loved being chased by the bad boy. I ignored red flags because of it. I love being wanted because I never felt…” She stopped when he met her eyes again. “Whatever this is now, I value it. Chasing routines aside. Bullshit aside. I’ll let you consume me…only when I feel I can do it back. No, this was not a mistake. I know that now too.”

   "That night we went to Ohio, you wanted me and I came so close to fucking you and being done with it." Billy admitted.

   "Why didn't you?" She would make him say it. "You said I wanted you because I hated myself and that was true. But, I'm sure you fucked your share who hated themselves. I'm sure you fuck when you hate yourself too."

   "Seeing you in pain was somehow easier to stomach than leaving you behind." Billy's words came out and managed to be tender and harsh. That hint of menacing lingered. Delicate fingers touched his jaw, turning his head so he'd look at her face.

   "I never did thank you," Camille's brow furrowed, "for saving my life." Billy never sought it. It was peculiar, how she found every moment she could to offer these tiny compassionate touches. Billy was new to being touched in a way of comfort. It flooded him with the terrifying reality that he was here. She took every single opportunity to remind him that he was fucking here. Even if it made him feel wounded. Camille didn't forgive him. Not just yet. Wanting him was another matter. She didn't lose sleep over him making it all better again. Problem was on him at the end of the day. He fucked up, the blame was all his. She'd made her point. They had a connection regardless and she wasn't letting that go just yet either. Trauma had a way of bringing lost souls to the threshold. Years of helping his abused mother branded a special talent for nurturing wounded girls that was not yet lost on him. Her fingertips hadn't left his jaw, inching up over skin. Touch with Billy Hargrove often meant getting fresh stitches plucked open. For Camille Harper, he'd risk it.

   I'm here, he thought again, chills rushed over skin.

   "Thank you, Billy." She ghosted a smirk. "For saving my life and, frankly, screaming me back into existence. It made me start fighting again. It was exactly what I needed. You gave me exactly what I needed when the time came."

   “You did trick me into being your friend,” he chuckled so she did too. Billy realized in that moment that she'd already returned the favor. Harsh and tender as her own words came after that horrid night. Tension drained again. Her hand dropped from his face toward his knee. Stayed there.

   “It’s silly. How we looked at each other as unobtainable.” Camille confessed after another beat. “This goes so far beyond that. We almost missed it.”

   “We’re idiot kids still.”

   “Yes, we are.” She came to her feet. “Come on, it’s late. Fake take me home.” Billy looked at her other hand still wrapped in his. Eyes lifted to her smile. He felt a great shudder within his chest. That night, Billy dreamed of a California beach. Those waves washing everything awful away. Wind in Camille’s hair while she turned to smile at him. It felt right to have her here. They were happy. He tried to build a home. Something obtainable.

   Just for a little while.  

Chapter Text

   “See you later tonight, Max,” Camille watched her race toward the Wheeler house. Usual meeting spot. Billy took Camille home and dropped his coat over a chair. Took his shoes off before she could wag her finger about it. “I’m starving. I think we have pancake mix. Taught myself to flip them like a pro.”

   “Of course you did.” He watched her go around the island counter and leaned there. Camille dug into a cupboard and felt his eyes on her back. Goosebumps rose.

   “You’ve been quiet.”

   “Since last night or in general?”

   “Both.” She pointed. “Grab a bowl for me, will you?” Billy helped her idly while she distracted herself. “You cook?”

   “Mom left and dad checked out. Kind of had to learn.” He replied, eyes elsewhere. She gave a nod, measuring mix out for the bowl.

   “Did we go too far last night?” Camille said then. Been awhile since she got into such heavy petting. He licked his lips and debated the correct answer. If there even was one.

   “Trying to figure that out.” He shrugged, changed the subject because he knew he wanted to go farther deep down. “Are all these new copy cat skills… Don’t they hurt you?”

   “Not as bad as the moving things. Not as bad as all the other hurt I've endured. Kind of like ripping a band-aid.” She beckoned for a spoon to stir with and Billy inhaled sharply as it moved on its own. “It varies. Big things. Little things. Since I got off that medication, it’s better. Sometimes I think I get the shakes from the withdrawals, I hope those fade. Dancing helps. Working out. Stimulation. I didn’t go out for gymnastics this year but I picked up ballet again and yoga. Cools me off. I think I'm just taking things as they come and they're...coming in fast.” Didn't he fucking know it. Billy bit his tongue, shrugging.

   “I want to see it.” He decided.

   “See what?”

   “Haven’t seen you dance and I have to see to believe.” Billy was sly now. “After breakfast. I want a show. Help you cool off.”

   “Oh, I’m sure you do, Hargrove.”

   “We have time. More interesting than TV.”

   “Gawk at the freak, huh.” She laughed, setting him at ease before pouring batter into a pan.

   “Come on, Harpy, you need an audience. I consider myself a professional.”

   “Fine. No tutu.”

   “Oh, Camille, it’s a show. We do it right. You're putting a tutu on for me. A pink one.” His tone was deliberate, rousing sparks under her skin.

   “You getting off on this, Billy?”

   “Certainly debating it.” That instant reply stilled her. “Speaking of, you owe me a reading of Tommy H’s letter.”

   “I’ll get you that sometime when you earn a reading. The dance is a big maybe.”

   “I love maybe, it’s halfway to yes.” That cocky smile crossed his face. Made him twice as insufferable.

   “That’s the most positive thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Camille turned to flip a pancake. Face bright and smug.

   “Showoff.” Billy watched her wink at him. "Dance for me."

   “Say please, beach boy.” She shrugged, turning to the stove. He was behind her in an instant, lips touched her ear.

   “Please, Camille.” His mouth grazed her skin, body pressed flush into her own when hands came to her arms. That tone lowered, beckoning her down to his level. Beckoning each ticking second to make her just a little bit more his. “You did owe me a thousand favors, I’m collecting all at once. I said that I would. I want to see Camille Harper dance. Just for me.”

   “Fine,” her eyes rolled, teeth sinking into her bottom lip. “Finish breakfast for me. Don’t burn them. I gotta dig some stuff out.”

   Billy’s full grin was answer enough

** ** **

   “I really let you talk me into this,” Camille droned, tying a pink wrap shirt over her outfit. She decided to leave her hair down.

   “And the skirt also. Don't be shy now,” Billy was enjoying this too much. They shifted workout items aside in the room before she grasped a bar to stretch. Camille caught him watching in the mirror and gave an annoyed hum. A pale tulle skirt slipped up her hips so he was pleased. “Copycat, do you even need to warm up?”

   “No, but it’s good practice and sportsmanship.” She turned, eyeing him. “Well, hit the music. No laughing.” Billy shook his head, pressed a button, and fell back into a cushioned chair.

   “You know, I enjoy gymnastics more. Rougher.” Camille assumed the first position while a soft tune swelled, body already lost in that flawless muscle memory. Something from Swan Lake billowed out. “Always worry too much about my feet with this.” Billy watched her come to her toes, body swaying and hands graceful. Like something else took control. It overcame her utterly.

   “Can’t watch it.” He winced, hand up to his eyes.

   “Hey, no, you said…” Camille broke with amusement and came up again when he relaxed to see her. “Better. Eyes front.” Arms lifted. Neck craning back while her spine curved.

   "Gladly." Billy mused. Toes came to a point in her ballet shoes and he was overcome with her. Leg lifted to spin with each floating note. Camille took up more space, made it belong to her alone. She commanded the attention with her body alone.

   “Nancy and I met in ballet classes. God, we were so young.” Her remark drew silence. Swaying, she moved like a swan gliding against cool water. Body luring him somehow. Teasing. Charged. She'd smiled to herself, a free teen lost in the fun of it all. Her knack for collecting skills and hobbies. Stimulation. Billy decided then to find her. “How am I doing?”

   “Fine.” He was barely audible. Transfixed on her body. Tempted. Blue eyes didn’t dare to blink. Camille turned her back to him, slipping and spinning along. Losing herself in full. Billy came to his feet then took a few silent steps when she closed her eyes. For a moment, he couldn’t bare to touch something so beautiful. Captivated, he lifted one hand to touch hers when it came down as she'd curved. Camille sighed into him this time. She swayed back into his chest, guiding his other hand up her hip. Billy came closer in response, lips nearing the back of her neck. Fingers grazed over her body, palms smoothing until a shiver ran her spine. She opened her eyes to watch him touch her in the mirror. Billy just explored heated flesh, eyes closed now with a peaceful expression. He felt her heart pick up, hand inching over her breast to press where it beat so hard.

   “Billy?” She hushed and he hummed in response, enthralled. Took a beat to find his voice, breath touched her jaw.

   “I want to try something.” Lips grazed her ear. It was easy now. The way he used Camille's own burning words against her to make her fall. And how she tumbled far with him. A smile ghosted her expression. Camille touched his hair, fingers sliding behind his neck to encourage him until he was kissing her skin. Her head tipped to meet him, turning around until arms slid over his shoulders. Billy opened his eyes at the same time she kissed him.

   “Consume me,” Camille uttered, stealing what breath he still had. Billy swept her from the floor, shuddering while her mouth worked up his neck. Determined, he brought her up the stairs like it was nothing. Her bedroom door was kicked open and she fell against plush covers and pillows after he pushed her down there. Eyes bordered on the possessive. Billy watched her shift in her little outfit against the bed, splayed with beautiful locks framed around her head.

   "Pretty as a picture, aren't you?" He touched his thumbs together, pointer fingers lifting like he a a director seeking the perfect shot of her. He found it. Billy crawled over her, hands taking her face to see her eyes. She gripped his wrists, gaze flickering to study his expression. Chest heaving, Camille came up when he didn’t move. Their lips barely touched but he pressed her down, hands sliding to touch her shoulders.

   “What is it?”

   “I don’t…” Brows came together. He traced light fingertips down her throat and chest, eyes lifted so she nodded and he untied her wrap. Camille shifted to get out of it. He worked the skirt down her hips next, tossing it aside. They remained steady. Fingers inched down to unbutton his shirt. He slipped one strap from her shoulder then the other. They just looked. Explored. The black leotard peeled down, inching over her breasts before he met her gaze and tugged it down rougher just to see her. His mouth found her skin again, feather soft kisses trailed a path until he could get the garment off her. Camille reached to undo her tied slippers. “Leave them on.”

   “Knew you’d get off to it,” she joked and some tension fluttered. Billy came up again to see her face. “Billy, I don’t…” She felt that same stillness he was overcome with. “I’m not…”

   “Yeah, I know.” He admitted. “I thought I was too but, I…can’t. Shit.” Relief swelled and he fell against the blankets next to her. “I just…want to be touched.” Not all sexually. His eyes watered and she felt it, clearing her throat.

   “I do too.” Camille turned to face him, hand guiding his chin to see her. “I trust you.” As if she offered the magic words, he shifted on his side. Hands took her face and he kissed her until she was on her back once more. Heated again, Billy’s lips opened over her skin. He took his time to explore her neck and thumb her nipples to hard peaks. Camille moaned, eyes clouded over until he was kissing her full breasts. She was just too soft against him.

   “We can still consume each other without going too far for your tastes.” He whispered, fingers inched into her tights. "I want to see the rest of you."

   “Yes,” she encouraged. A whine hitched when he tore her tights open. Nylon fabric ripped and slick against her thighs. It drove him wild. “Billy, I-”

   “Hey, let me make yesterday up to you. I’m not…usually like that.” He nestled atop her so her legs opened and feet remained at points still in those shoes. Camille dropped her arms to the bed when he cupped her face again. Thumb traced the swell of her bottom lip. She gave the lightest kiss along the pad. Experimentally, he slipped the digit into her mouth. Puff pink lips closed with a hum. He slid back again, tracing the slick pad over her mouth. God, she was perfect. An absolute. “You’re beautiful.” Usually a line he offered with a seductive pet name. But this…it was almost too sincere. Still in his jeans, Billy slid down her body again.

   “So are you,” she seemed to realize it. All at once. Raw and unguarded, they tried so hard to cling to this. Whatever it was. Drawing it out so it could not end. So the glass could not shatter. Billy’s hand palmed her inner thigh, fingers delicate and dancing up until she couldn’t take it. But, it was Billy who broke first. Those deft fingers stilled right against the fabric edge to her panties. She felt the way he hesitated. A breath like a growl left his throat.

   “Fucking-” Billy sounded irritated with himself. He ripped off her, hands clenching into fists on his thighs. Camille covered her breasts with one arm, lifting to see him. “I can’t fucking-”

   “Billy, look at me.” She requested and shame flushed his expression. A new look on him. They still breathed heavily, on the cusp of vibrating. Blue eyes made the journey. “You don’t have to do this.” No girl in his life has ever uttered such words.

   “No, it's... I just, I fucking know I want you. I don’t get it. I've wanted you since the day we met.” His back hunched and he covered his face, riled up and aroused and terrified. “I feel like I can’t fuck you. If I do it…” His head lifted. “I don’t want to feel about you after…the way I felt about everyone else. Just nothing. It’s nothing. I fuck people, that’s what I’ve always done but…I like you. I want to keep that.” Billy pressed his hands to the bed while she watched him. He’d emotionally mangled himself and that was finally bleeding out. Pooling over. Billy Hargrove was broken down last year and it all just flooded. Instead of lashing out like he used to, he just vibrated quietly. Waited to numb. But, it didn't happen so easily. Instead, Billy drowned in his own thoughts. Here a friend sat, watching him heal. Validating that he was still in existence. Healing in her own way with him. The least they could do together even when they wanted more. “Happy?”

   “Yes.” She decided after a beat and he stilled, eyes lifting again to see her face.

   “What?” Billy watched her search for syllables.

   “I’m happy.” Camille admitted. Simple. "I'll keep that." His eyes watered. As if she’d placed a kiss upon his trembling heart. He felt her holding him while they just looked at each other. Now that was a feeling to chase.

   “I still want to make it up to you.” He relaxed, crawling back over her. “Lie back.” Billy was intent on her again, hovering inches from her face. All flushed and heated. Blue eyes framed with thick lashes admired her body. His cheeks and lips were an obscene shade of pink. They kissed again to melt the tension. Between her legs, he found his pace when hands slid over his back. Into curls. Mouth on her breast, Billy’s fingers traced a path up the tender skin of her thighs. Over thin fabric, his thumb just barely brushed her clit. Stiff and wet. "Tell me." He coaxed. Camille heaved a cry when he finally touched her. Cherry lips sighed against her flesh, lowering until breath ghosted her thighs. "You want more, tell me." She gave a wanting little arch, hips raising to meet his fingers until he rubbed tiny circles into her.

   “Billy,” she could have wept, hair splayed all over the pillows and down her shoulders. He felt too good. The slip of his name from her tongue sent him reeling. Fingers snatched fabric aside so he could look at her. Plush and pink. Shamelessly wet. All his.

   "You let boys go down on you?" Eyes lifted when she came up on her elbows.

   "Let the brave and clumsy ones try." She sucked on her bottom lip, intrigued. "What, are you going to brag about how good your mouth is, Billy?"

   "Hm, so you've never gotten off during it. Got it." His hands cupped just under her thighs, thumbs rubbing near her opening. Taunting.

   "So certain? Why?"

   "Guys who are good don't need to brag about it." Billy's lip twitched up. Smug because he was about to eat her better than anyone who dared to try and he knew it. Frankly, so did she.

   "And what do they do instead?" She dared him, resolve melting because he spread her open. Distracted, Billy just stared at her. Halfway between intimate and vulgar. "What are you going to do about it?" His voice lowered.

   "Oh, Camille, I'm going to fuck you with my tongue. Probably, no-I'm definitely going to suck and torment that little pink bud until you're quivering harder than you are currently. This view already gave you away, you're fucking soaked and I'm going to eat you out until your prima ballerina body comes in a sloppy, writhing mess," he kissed her thigh like it was a sweet promise, "and you are going to beg for me to do it even when it's too much for you to take."

   "Thought the good ones didn't need to brag." Camille Harper blushed and that alone made him rock hard. The tip of his dick dampened against his tight jeans.

   "Brag? No, I'm stating facts." Kisses trailed on either thigh, teeth digging just enough to leave marks. He worked his fingers just along her folds so she fell into the mattress and whimpered. "What was that? Need you to speak up, Camille."

   “Please.” It was her turn to beg. He massaged her thighs and delicately parted her folds open wider with two thumbs. Camille gave a twitch and tried to be still when his breath was against her. Fingers grasped for pillows, daring to tear fabric. He tugged to pull the ruined panties down, ripping them instead when they tangled into torn nylon.

   “Wider." It sounded like a command. Camille obliged, hips wiggling. "I just want to taste you,” he rewarded the pleading, lips barely there against her. Hands curled and pressed down into her hips. His mouth opened, tongue flicking out to drag along her entrance. Back arching, Camille let him guide her legs around his shoulders. Silky ballet shoes pressed into his back. The sensation turned him on even more. Fingers massaged and spread her wider. Lips pecked all along sensitive skin, tongue dipping into her. He ignored her clit, striving to undo her completely. Mouth teasing around her folds.

   Oh, yes, did he still have plans to ruin her for any other boy. It didn't take long to unravel her either. She'd begged for him to pluck her strings. Bodies sliding like the bow of a violin to elicit sweet sounds. His mouth instead traveled over her thigh and down her calf then back up. Blissfully unaware by force. Camille held to pillows and squirmed. Billy caught sight of pink ribbons wrapped around her ankle, holding those slippers on and longed for silky ribbons bound all around her flesh. He'd tease and watch her writhe against feather covers until she was begging to be filled.

   "More," she'd squeaked when it was unbearable. He decided finally to soothe her. Billy moaned into pillowy folds, placing a lighter kiss into the wet bud until fingers were in his hair again. A curl fell into his face, eyes lifted.

   “Oh? You want something, Camille?”

   “Yes.” She managed, shaking. "Mouth." He felt himself tremble, eager to take care of her when pride sweltered. Lips closed to suckle. Obscene little sounds were felt in every nerve of her body. His attentive mouth played her, evoking moans and sighs. More silent pleas just for him. Billy was groaning and kissing her deeper. Making her his would not take long but drawing it out was too damn good. He ensured she'd remember how he felt and long for it. Cocky, that slice of possessiveness still edged his bones. Mine, he chanted in his brain until rougher lips tormented her.

   The dusting of facial hair scratched sensitive skin, pink and red swatches would remind her of these moments later on. He longed to know if she'd play with herself at the thought. Work those dainty fingers over soft pubic hair to rub her still raw clit and recall his mouth suckling it. Fingers pumping and wishing it was his cock plunging inside instead. Billy debated pushing two fingers into her all the way to the knuckle but decided, mouth only today. The slow approach still. More to come later. Months of foreplay won't be lost. His tongue was licking with more rhythm until her hips began to rock. One thumb pulled the tiny hood back, spreading her open at his mercy. Writhing, Camille’s arch became tight and rigid. He kept pressure on her until she was crying out, tugging still at dirty blond locks.

   “Yes! Yes! Billy! Don’t…Don’t stop.” The whines muffled into her palm. Tears sprang. She did lose her composure. Camille was on the verge of letting him do whatever the fuck he wanted with her. Just too good. He palmed himself and ate her. Hard and wet into his jeans. His cock twitched and a small orgasm rushed into his veins while he kept her in a state.

   “Billy,” she warned. “I’m there.” He didn’t dare let up, playing and sucking until climax was forced. Unable to squirm away, she came off the bed, legs spreading wider. Hands gripping the headboard. She cursed and cried out until the incredible high subsided. Tender kisses and laps of his tongue eased her back into the mattress. Billy pushed himself up to watch her finish. Muscles tightening and relaxing. Lips trembling and eyes rolling back to close so her lungs could catch up. Breathtaking.

   “Camille.” He curled himself into her side to hold her. Shaken hands cupped his face to kiss him, tongue slipping into his mouth. Aching and unbound, Camille pushed him onto his back to nestle into his chest. Billy lost his thought and she set him at ease.

   “Let me hold you for a bit,” Camille pressed her body into his, arms slipping under him to grip his shoulders. Light fingertips grazed her cheek, he let her head nudge under his chin. The urge to cry again swept over him. Too many damn emotions over the past few months. But, being able to lie back while a girl held him was a sensation unlike any other. Something more beautiful than the sun on the California beaches he missed still. They shared a few perfect moments. She played with his hair and kissed his collarbone.

   “I think I am too.” Came his utter at last.

   “Are, what?” She closed her eyes.

   “Here, I’m…” Billy swallowed the lump in his throat. Realized it. Happier. “I'm here.” He'd offered instead and that was felt by her even still. Syllables woke his every nerve and sent them sparking. Terrified to admit such a thing he could lose. Camille smiled and didn’t speak, a slight nod shifted. His free hand curled around her, pressing against her skull. They stayed like that. Enjoying this quiet company. Happy.

** ** **

   “Billy, a car’s pulling up!” Camille called out, setting the TV remote aside. He appeared in a fresh set of clothing from his car. Shirt left open three buttons.

   "Should I even be here?"

   "I'd like you to be." She turned to eye him. "You're in this. Be in it." Billy struggled with himself and decided to follow her lead once more. Felt like it was the best he could do. "What time is it? It isn't six yet."

   “They an hour early?”

   “Strange,” Camille paced to the door as the bell rang and grew surprised. “Nancy?”

   “Hey,” she peered behind her when Jonathan came up the steps.

   “I didn’t think you guys would come.”

   “Oh? I figured an extra set of hands would help out.” Nancy smiled and Camille narrowed her eyes. “I may…have told someone.”

   “Oh, god,” Camille was laughing. Pressing her hand to her lips when another car pulled up. Steve Harrington toting all the kids with him. He honked and called out.

   “Ah, yes, we’re here for the murder mystery party. Don't have a reservation.”

   “Sorry.” Nancy flashed that guilty smile.

   “Kids heard and basically kidnapped him,” Jonathan added. “Again.”

   “No, I suppose we’re all invested.” Camille watched the rest of the Party race up.

   “We also wanted to see your house,” Lucas pulled a magnifying glass from his bag.

   “Every kid in our grade talks about the Harper house,” Will added and Dustin swiped the glass from Lucas.

   “Consider The Party on the case.”

   “Okay, Inspector Gadget. Pipe down.” Steve was laughing. “I told you guys to be cool in front of her.”

   “They’re right about the wanting to see the house thing, kids in our grade talk about it also. You know this.” Jonathan added.

   “Hopper might bring El. She should see the attic too.” Mike came to Nancy’s side with Max behind him.

   “Can we come in, Camille?” Dustin mustered his sweetest big eyed expression and the rest of the younger kids followed.

   “We hear you have a game room.” Will noted as well.

   “Do it for Will, he needs it.” Lucas pressed his hands.

   “I suppose,” she rolled her eyes. “Shoes off. All of you.” Kids raced in to obey her.

   “Sorry,” Nancy was entertained and Camille laughed.

   “No, they are apart of it.” She shrugged. “Might need to find snacks and order pizza though.”

   “Brought my camera so we can document and put everything back without anyone suspecting.” Jonathan offered. “Give your memory a rest too.”

   “Good idea. My mother hasn’t even looked at that room. I snuck in a bit ago to make sure everything was still there.” Camille paused when Billy came around the corner to see the entire Party in the living room.

   “Jesus Christ.” He about hissed to himself.

   “Hey! Keg king. Surprise surprise." Steve crossed his arms, jabbing. "You know, you staying on the other side of the field in gym has made it my favorite class. You should have gotten kicking my ass out of your system months ago."

   "Who said I got it out of my system?" Billy inched into the broad doorway, looking annoyed as the tense party looked on.

   "Hm. So, Camille and Billy. Huh. You never thanked me. I put that mistletoe up for your sister out of the goodness of my heart. Little holiday spirit to put some demons to rest.” Steve continued and Billy's head tilted at Max.

   "For Max? She neglected that detail." A smirk twitched and she relaxed at his expression.

   "Just cause you're quieter and distant, doesn't mean we trust you. You earn it. Help our friend and drop the puffer fish routine for two damn seconds." Steve was bold when he approached, hand out. Billy exhaled out his nose, grip tight to shake it.

   "Your friend and I discovered this shit together in the first place."

   “Okay, boys, you can lower the peacock feathers, we all have the same goal right now. And we all know too much.” Camille came to the center. "We have to be a unit. We give a shit and we have no choice."

   "She's right," Mike offered. "We're in danger but she and El are in the most immediate trouble. They need us with them."

   "We have to look out for each other." Dustin encouraged. "Even if the alliance is uneasy, the party has to do what's best for everyone. We find the common goals and stick there."

   "Listen, I fucking hate these assholes and you guys hate these assholes," Billy crossed his arms, leaning into the doorway. "Done."

   "Valid point," Dustin lifted a hand, mediating between the group and Billy. "We all hate these assholes. That's good. We also should...maybe think about the people we want to protect too. But, he's got the right spirit." Billy eyed Camille's back and dropped his arms.

   "Billy wants to protect Camille," Max piped up, earning another glance. "He cares about her and she cares about us. Those lines cross. If you really cared, they'll have to." He wondered if Max thought he would protect her too. Not a chance he'd earned her trust yet.

   “Considerate of you.” Steve smirked and made himself at home on the couch, turning the TV channel. “K-I-S-S-I-N-ah!” He was laughed at by the kids when Camille smacked his arm and snatched the remote.

   “All of you, quit it. Your mission is to go order some pizzas. Money is stuck to the fridge. Beat it.” Camille pointed him out of the room.

   “Billy, got a topping of choice? Amigo.” Steve passed him.

   “Green peppers.” He resisted the urge to pound the smug teen again.

   “I heard black olives,” Steve hurried off and Camille snickered.

   “Right, who wants to see the game room?” She cocked her head so the younger kids hurried to follow her out to the basement. “Will, I think you’ll get a kick out of this.” Nancy set her bag aside and took off her coat.

   “It’s good,” she offered when Billy awkwardly stepped out of the doorway, “you being here. Helping. Keeping the secrets. Maybe don't flirt with my mom ever again.” She nodded, lips lifting so he relaxed.

   "Guess that isn't asking a lot."

   “You know, I beat up Steve about a year before you did,” Jonathan spoke when he had nothing else to say. Amusement flash in Billy’s expression.

   “Congratulations, we'll start a damn club.” He replied in the flattest tone he could. Nancy chilled his bones when she spoke next. Didn't think Wheeler had it in her.

   “Do not betray my friend. We're protective of her. She's protective of us. As you learned the hard way. I get you and Camille are closer now, just…be decent, Billy.” Nancy was intent now. Vigilant beyond any boundary. Billy’s eyes turned from her and Camille came back in.

   “Might have lost the kids to my basement.” She remarked so Nancy smiled at that.

   “You have a mini arcade down there,” she came forward. “How many times have you explored this room upstairs?”

   “Ah, just the once really. Haven’t quite been able to stomach it since that day. I only skimmed.”

   “And you’re okay with us…you know?” Jonathan asked carefully and she nodded.

   “Has to be done. Maybe it’ll help something.” Camille held herself when Steve returned.

   “Food en route.” He turned and stopped, eyeing Camille before she rolled her eyes.

   “Go ahead. We have plenty of time,” she watched him fist pump and race down to her game room next. “Really owning the babysitter role, huh.” Camille followed after so the teens behind her went as well. The Party grew perfectly at home downstairs. Steve fiddling with the stereo to start some music while the kids paired off to play different games.

   “People weren’t kidding about your place,” Will was smiling bright. Too sweet after all he went through. Camille joined him and Mike in air hockey. Two on one. Billy reeled back slowly, awkward when Steve sighed and approached him.

   “So, Hargrove…you any good at pool?” Steve shrugged and scratched his head, eyeing Billy until he was lax.

   “Pick up a cue, Harrington, find out.” Billy turned toward the table, smirking. Here among possible friends. People who hated him once. People who grew less afraid of him by the second. Time healed. Little by little. Max turned to see him, lips lifting in a way that encouraging. The Party let themselves be kids for just a little while. Forgotten the feeling. Music played while they laughed. Relaxing until the pizza came. Boxes littered the tables. Billy destroyed Steve at pool. The second time the doorbell rang, the mood changed. Everyone looked up and Camille hurried to the steps first, waving them to stay put.

   “Chief Hopper,” she opened the door and saw El come out from behind him.

   “Snuck into my car.” He remarked, lip quirking so Camille hugged her.

   “Glad you both are here. We have pizza.”

   “We?” Jim sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Oh, no. All of them?”

   “Oh, yes,” Dustin raced up first to take El’s hand and lead her back down to the group.

   “Shoes. Both of you.” Camille ordered first. “Sorry, they found out and just showed up.”

   “Of course they did,” Jim stepped in to remove his shoes.

   “Party looks out for each other.” She shrugged.

   “Your job is to be a kid. Their jobs are to be kids too.”

   “We try when he can,” she rubbed her arms, exhaling. “We’re going upstairs first, guys! Give us a moment to look before you follow. Yeah?” Her echo was met with a chorus of agreement. “How’s fatherly life been? She okay?”

   “Vocabulary is better. Talking more. We’re talking about school next year. Have more time for another student to tutor?”

   “For El, always.” Camille was touched that he even asked. “This way, Chief.”

   “You know, Camille, I think Jim is fine at this point.”

   “Jim. Sorry for being a bit of a rich snob shit back in the day.” She climbed the stairs. “Had an asshole group of friends.”

   “Not so much now.” Jim shrugged. "It’s not safe for you here.”

   “I won’t debate that with you.” Camille wiggled the door open and sighed. “After you.” Jim eyed her for a moment.

   “We don’t have to do this today. If it’s too much, we’ll stop.” His considerate words struck her.

   “You’re a good father, you know? I want to do this.” Camille paused and came to hug him. A father figure was much needed in her life. Jim rubbed her back, tried to give her what was missing currently. They shut the door behind them and went up. “Well, here it is. We need to put it all back perfectly. Don’t know if anyone will come through when I’m not in the house.” She let Jim open cabinets to search while she hung back.

   “That’s you, huh.” He held a photo up and tried not to look horrified, eyes barely flickered to her own before he set it aside. "Look like El used to."

   “Yes.” Camille scratched at her scar briefly.

   “From what El knows. Another one escaped. Number eight. Probably about your age. They met when she ran away.” Jim turned to see her.

   “Then, there’s hope more might be out there. I know some didn’t make it. They were terminated. There was talk of terminating me.” She pulled a file out to show him. “I didn’t display abilities quick enough. Took time to find out.”

   “So they really might not know the extent of what you can do.” He added while she nodded. They spent a few quiet moments shifting through papers. His presence was a comfort in truth.

   “Can…” Camille turned toward the empty steps and sighed, “…I ask you a police question?”

   “Yes.” Jim paused, file in hand to see her.

   “If…If I knew that someone was being hurt at home. Could you stop it?” The way she asked it made her truly sound like a scared child. Jim's eyes drew more alert.

   “That’s complicated, Camille.” He was honest. “Abused people and witnesses are usually too afraid to come forward. If they're young, there are rights that parents have working against them. There’s also a major matter of evidence and abusers are smarter than people think. They cover their tracks well. Can make it worse if they're not removed immediately. Authorities like a proper record of the abuse and witnesses. Sometimes even that isn’t enough… Abusers get out every single day and do worse harm."

   "I'm sure."

   "Who is being hurt, Camille?” He coaxed. "You can tell me."

   “I just want to help my friend…but, they’re too scared and if I…cause more problems for them at home. Well, that could ruin it more. They’ll just get hurt worse. I'll lose them.” Camille sniffled and turned away, lips pressing. “Billy’s dad beats him. It's bad. I know I shouldn’t tell anyone that and maybe it's betraying his trust but, I feel like I'm just standing by and not stepping in. Maybe you can just watch over him and Max too. Please. You don’t have to say anything, just…can you watch over them? It's possible that one day, he'll be ready to talk and I'll be there with him. But, he can't protect himself, he's scared. People think boys can't be abused and that kills me. I just want him to be safe.” Jim put the file down and touched her face to wipe a tear aside.

   “If you can get him to open up and to record the abuse, I might be able to do more. If Billy wants to start talking and if his stepmother and sister help, I can too. I wish just coming forward was enough for victims. It's only the start. But, I’ve seen this a lot. It’s a hard time, they’re scared into hiding and taking it. Do Max or Mrs. Hargrove get hit?”

   “Not yet, as far as I know. But, I know they’re terrified of him.” Camille pressed her lips. “I want to help but, I might make it worse. Neil is just so terrible to them and for a while, Billy was lashing out too. This isn't something tragic in Billy's past that makes him this way, this is his current horrible reality. Max too. I know that Billy did some shit awful things. I know that. But, what happens to him is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I've seen Billy drag into school with so many awful bruises and I just...let him go home knowing what's there waiting. I let my friend go home and get beaten.”

   “I’ve gotten calls of shouting there. Hargrove covers it well. The best you can do is support him and Max.”

   “Hard not to scream at this asshole. They’re the ones who have to deal with him at the end of the day though, not me. I don't want to lose him. Just…please.”

   “I’ll keep an eye on it, Camille.” Jim swiped another tear from her. The door opened and Camille hurried to wipe her face. Hopper turned back to the files when El snuck up the steps. Behind her, the party waited until Camille nodded for them to come in.

   “You okay?” Nancy was at her side.

   “Yeah, just…a lot.” She sniffled and eyed Billy. He noted Hopper observing him and felt a flash of discomfort. Out of place around the party again.

   “Kid, you want to start grabbing boxes down from the shelves?” He spoke and Billy’s gaze jumped up. “Yes, you, Swayze.”

   “I was thinking more Purple Rain, you know?” Steve remarked and came forward to help with crates when Billy finally moved in silence. He felt them watching him idly. Hyper aware that he was here. It made him too aware for comfort as well. As they set out boxes, the kids began to gently go through them.

   “Shit, she looks just like El did.” Mike lifted his eyes and El came to his right.

   “Papa…” She traced Brenner in a photograph and froze up.

   “Hey, it’s okay.” Mike comforted her before Hopper could come forward.

   “I’m fine.” El’s tone scratched and she stood to come to Camille. The teen watched them all go through her life. Awed. It felt too personal. Like they were dissecting her on a metal table under a huge, burning lamp. Deciding which bones to pick flesh and muscle from. She was a butterfly under glass with pinned wings. Camille kneeled on the floor, going through photos to distract herself.

   "Brenner," she touched her head, hissing. "I know his face. I know it, why?"

   "Close your eyes. Try to remember." El coaxed and Camille inhaled when it was silent to try it. Memories flashes. Not enough. They shuttered in her brain. A broken movie reel. She sniffled on blood and then her eyes snapped open.

   "Doctors." Camille braced herself against the floor. "When I was little and supposedly sickly...doctors made house calls. I remember him and this...blonde women. She was friends with Edna."

   "Connie." El nodded and Camille agreed.

   "That was her name. He was...gentle and still I was terrified of him. I saw him at...social events. Big time names. Dr. Martin Brenner." Camille exhaled. “You called him Papa. Why?”

   “Bad man.” Was the only sentiment El could portray and Camille understood.

   “He worked with Noah. My father. Or…the man they gave me to.” Camille closed a box. “Billy, I’m done with this one. Thank you.” Wordless, he took it and placed it back on the shelf above them. El blinked up at the teen, head cocking. Handsome boy with a striking face. Crystalline eyes. Rough and fashionable. One earring dangled when his head turned, curls shifting about.

   “Pretty.” She peered at Camille who broke a smile. Billy’s head whipped back down, bright blue eyes fixed on Eleven now.

   “Which kid is this again?”

   “El.” The young girl replied with some confidence, her tattoo was clearly visible. The other kids stilled to watch, entertained before Billy jerked his head up to see them and they snapped back to focus on their findings. Eleven lifted a tiny hand so he reached to shake it. That same amusement flashed.

   “El escaped them. This is Billy Hargrove, I guess I roped him into this too.” Camille explained. “Max’s big brother.” Billy didn’t immediately jump to say stepbrother.

   “His dad married my mom,” Max shifted to help them with another box of photos and files.

   “Still a brother?” El wondered and Max nodded, beaming.

   “Yeah. Still my dumb brother.” Her words struck him deep. “Just not by blood.”

   “Just like you. My sister. Not by blood.” The little girl peered to Camille.

   “Yes, I guess you’re right.” She smiled this time. Comforted. “Sometimes, we’re lucky and we get to make our own families.” El seemed to like that. Billy turned his eyes to the wall and reached for another box. Plastic jostled.

   “More of those damn tapes.” He sighed, setting it on the desk in front of Hopper. Harder to be up here a second time with Camille. He eyed the oculus. Still cracked up the middle.

   “Hargrove,” the Chief remembered the name. “One of my guys gave you a ticket a ways back.”

   “The one that looks like Gumby. Yeah.” Billy recalled. Something twitched painfully in his back. Neil beat him bloody with a belt over that one. Almost broke his wrist too.

   “Callahan.” Jim snuffed out a smirk. “Wasn’t paid.” Billy shifted his feet, eyes elsewhere like he was bracing to be struck. His tone was barely audible when he disconnected himself.

   “Can’t afford it…sir.” He'd spent the saved money on Camille's bracelet.

   “Sir,” Jim scoffed. “Relax, kid. Don’t worry about it.” Billy’s eyes lifted and Jim was blasé about it, busying with files like it was nothing. “Just try to drive the speed limit. Not setting a good example for your little sister. I heard all about her at the wheel of that car. Camaro is nice, you should take care of that thing. I’ll let the ticket slide. Don't get anymore of them.” Billy didn’t thank him. He didn’t know how to. Camille pressed a smile and went back to her reading. “Camille, anything over there?”

   “Barely anything about Edna. She was a handler here too but…ugh. Something’s not right. Why would they leave this here and leave me with Rosemary? Sounds like she’s not playing the game anymore or maybe she is. I wouldn't know.” Camille came to her feet. A few kids played tapes of her mimicking.

   “It says here that they wiped you.” Mike added when Will pointed it out.

   “Risked electroshock before they took you out and put you on the drugs.” Nancy frowned. “That’s awful.”

   “Perfect memory aside, I don’t remember any of this. I remember being in the hospital often as a child. I remember doctors in the house. Might have just been last minute Hawkins lab tests.” Camille shrugged and Lucas stood.

   “Maybe some stuff came up,” he showed her a page. “It says you remembered certain things still and lashed back.”

   “Must of given them hell, Cam.” Will was kind. Camille needed to hear that. Needed to know she fought it once. Meant a lot coming from Will Byers. Another fighter.

   “Wish I could unlock those memories.” Camille gave a huff. “You guys know I’ve barely left Hawkins. First time I left the state was…was when Billy and I found my mother.” Funny, the realization that her first road trip was with him.

   “Judith King.” Jim was sympathetic. “Was she mentally gone?” When Camille nodded, El spoke.

   “Mama…”

   “Yes,” Jim agreed. “Hawkins Lab dealt with the bio parents in their own way.”

   “First road trip. Messed up. That lab needed me close. Needed a big cage, a fancy place, that I could be observed in like a zoo animal. Where I was too vain, too distracted, to see it. They needed a place to study and stimulate me without question. Without me making too much noise. Sounds like I used to make lots of noise. They silenced it. They gave me everything thinking I’d want nothing beyond it. Their mistake. Right?” She held herself tighter, hands rubbed her arms. She thought of Noah and Rosemary. The lies they told so well. The lies they might have believed down the line.

   “Do you want to stop?” Jim was careful. Eyes locked to her when she shook, face certain and dangerous.

   “Never.” She’d uttered. “I need those memories back.”

   “I…I can.” El paused when everyone looked at her. “I saw Mama. I did it once. We can try.”

   “You don’t have to if it hurts you.” Camille shook her head.

   “Want to.” El stood up. “We need blindfolds.” The Party looked around. Jim eyed Camille and sighed, nodding.

   “Let’s take a break,” Mike came to El. “She’s right.” Their hands clasped.

   “Downstairs. Ten minutes. Finish the pizza while you're down there. I'll be back.” Camille turned and went to her room to find two scarves. Tried to find some peace. A shaky breath left her mouth. She gasped when Billy was there alone in the doorway. He seemed unsure of why he'd followed after her. Instinct kicked him in the ass. She noted he shut the door behind him.

   "You said something." Billy had gotten to know Camille's way of navigation in this world well. Her many ticks and twitches. Each little crack in her porcelain face. Not the compressed girl she was when they met. And they both were bad liars. "To the Chief. He was being way too fucking nice to me, it felt wrong."

   "You're not beyond receiving kindness. But, yes." She wouldn't lie about this one. "They've gotten phone calls about your house. I just...asked how I could help you." Billy's intent eyes blazed. Not in a way of rage. But they were fixed and hard regardless. He crossed into her space. Resolute. One hand took her chin when her eyes fell instead to his chest.

   "Look at me, Camille." It wasn't a request. Hazel eyes lifted to flicker and he didn't let her go. Fingers bunched up the two scarves to her chest. It wasn't often Camille felt so small. Especially not in front of a boy. But, today...she felt like she was suntanning under a damn microscope. Fox stuck in an exposed field. Watchful, hungry jackals and curious hyenas looked on. Either intrigued or licking their chops. Both of their eyes welled so he sniffled and told the hard truth of it. "You can't." Billy crushed her. "Not with my dad." Today weighed heavily and Camille let herself break in front of him. A friend. Arms latched under his, around the small of his back to pull him in so she could bury her face into his chest. If Billy wanted to fall back and be Neil, that was on him. But, this...she just wanted to protect her friend from their own monstrous jackal.

   "I'm not going to stop trying for you still." It sounded like a promise. "As far as that's concerned." Billy hesitated and cupped the back of her head, arm tight around her back and shoulder.

   "Yeah, I know." He relented, patting her spine so she could let a few emotions out. Finally. Billy let her tip over the edge. "I know you won't stop." Camille struggled to pull herself together. That nurturing, and equally possessive, instinct for shattered girls he held flicked on. Mine, he thought again. "There you go, just let it out for me now. Good." He was all positive reinforcement, voice slow and even. "Very good." Camille fully sunk into his whims for the first time. Let herself be prey. After months of fighting it. Billy saw himself holding her body in the mirror behind her. He closed his eyes and touched his lips to her hair, inhaling the scent. "Hey..." Hands tucked dark locks from her cheeks to cup her face as she calmed down enough. Thumbs wiped tears aside. Camille was crestfallen and drained. Ready to be further spent. Mine, those intent thoughts sprang even still. Billy would still follow her lead. Still chase her when she wished it. Still come and consume her. Only when she asked for it first. And she would. Billy gripped her sides to ease her back into the vanity so she'd half sit on it. Hazel eyes were numb.

   "Camille. You here?" Fingers tipped her chin only for eyes to stay down on his chest. Few light taps against her cheeks with the back of his knuckles roused nothing. "It's alright, Harpy. I got you." He hitched a sharp exhale, plucking a tissue up from a nearby box. Hips pressed between her legs, deep into her space now so he held her jaw and wiped mascara from her cheeks. "Not a fan of waterproof, huh." Billy hummed, angling her face. "Earth to Camille. Stay with me here." Her lips opened when his thumb just barely traced the swell. "There you are. Hey. Eyes up." At last, she blinked like the spell was broken and panned to focus on him. "Hm, very good, you're back. Do me a favor and stick around. You here?" The hand on her chin twitched as if to shake her back into existence. "I'm going to need some words, Camille." It was just peculiar, how he always said her full name when he decided to use it. Smooth and serious in that alluring baritone. Like it was truly important.

   "I'm here," Camille swallowed, scarves still bunched up into her hand in her lap. "Just exhausted...I have to keep going." Hawkins Lab didn't teach her the limitations her friends allowed and offered constantly. "Let's go. I'm...I'm ready."

   "Are you?"

   "I have to be. Just like ripping a band-aid." She met his glance. Still hard and trying to read her. The method she processed her pain with caught him as equally destructive as his way. Billy gave a quick inhale and shifted to let her step down, walking around him so he'd follow her to the stairs. The living room filled with her friends. “Will these do?” El nodded and sat in front of the couch. Dustin turned the TV to white noise. Droning. The Party found seats around the room. Billy took a chair near Camille when she sat next to El on the floor. “If you need to stop, get out. Okay?”

   “I’ll be fine.” El tied cloth over her eyes and Camille followed. Lights flickered. They watched the two girls lace hands, legs crossing while they sat straight and focused. Camille felt herself plunge into a dream with El’s beckoning, falling upon a black world. Water splashed around her feet.

   “El?” Her voice came from the television. El pushed her new sister’s mind to where it needed to be.

   “I’m here. It’s okay.” El spoke, blood dropped from her nose. "I have to see it." Camille turned to spot the little girl here with her.

   “Do it.” Camille urged, nodding. El pushed her backwards. Watched her fall and tumble. Down. Down. Down. She heard a harrowing tone echo. Her own voice.

   “Sink.” It vibrated.

   “I’m…here in the lab.” Camille came to her feet in the dream. They watched her cringe as if to cry in front of them.

   “Camille.” Billy gripped the cushion under him. Eyes narrowed from the kids to see his obvious worry.

   “I’m here. I’m okay.”

   “Let me see what happened. Six.” El’s lips trembled. Their hands tightened. Camille peered down to see her there with her again. “You have to show me.”

   “I don’t even know what I’m looking for.” Camille felt herself sink again, away from El into the memory. A hospital gown adorned her body. She was still a teen but they dragged her like she was that little girl. Barely five years old. El raced to find her finally amid the shouting. The cries from the memory echoed out the television. It was hard for them to just sit and listen to it.

   “El, do you see her?” Nancy spoke when Camille said nothing more.

   “Yes,” El sniffled. “They’re hurting her.” Blood was dripping down Camille’s nose now. She grew very straight and still. Unresponsive. Blank. She was in a sunken place. El came to them strapping her down. “Her papa. He has a big needle. He said…termination. He’s crying.” Camille was writhing and sobbing on the table.

   “Six, I am so sorry. All you must do is show us something. One little ounce.” Noah was shaking. “We worked so hard. This won’t hurt, it’ll be just like going to sleep.”

   “I’ll be good! I’ll be good!” She wailed. Speaking well for her age and limited education. And then she did something peculiar. Like a flip switched on. English changed to Latin. To French. To Russia. She begged in other languages as if another would break through. Noah stilled when the shock set in.

   “Where…did you hear that?”

   “A book! And...and the other scientists. Lots of books. I found them! I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.” She sniffled and shook. Noah dropped the needle and paged Brenner in a flash.

   “Sir, we found it. Her memory. It’s the key.”

   “Bring her out.” Brenner barked into the intercom. Cold. “Show us.” The scene swirled. Six rocked on her feet. Noah held her hand and brought her into a room full of scientists. They put her in sweatpants and a thin shirt. “Now, Six, do exactly as the movie.” She nodded and bent over, feet up to do a handstand like a perfect gymnast. Scientists gawked and made notes. She was their personal circus freak.

   “They’re making her copy things.” El spoke to the room again. "She's too young."

   “Copycat.” Dustin muttered and Lucas nudged him.

   “Cartwheels. Dancing.” El went on. “Papa is talking to him. Dr. Harper. They want to take her away to a home. Mrs. Harper…she wants a little girl too. There’s a woman. Edna.”

   “Housekeeper. The handler.” Hopper rubbed his chin. “El, stay on her.”

   “She looks mean.” El whispered. “She thinks she should take Six instead. Wait, it’s changing. I can’t… We went back again. Six…she’s running. The alarms. There’s a scientist chasing her. She’s almost to the door. No!”

   “El!” Mike jerked forward. Will stopped him from trying to touch her.

   “He’s hitting her. He has a gun.” El screamed this time. The gun went off. Only it blasted back into the man the second Six wailed at him. Blood splattered Camille’s little face from the shot. “The gun…went backwards into him. That terrible woman is here. Connie is holding her. She’s screaming. Father. Father.”

   “I’m going to make sure they put you away forever, Six.” Camille spoke for the first time, mirroring Edna’s words. They thought the gun was faulty. Memories flooded Camille’s brain and she screamed next. A familiar electric shock charged her to life. Lights blared and flickered in tune. The Party looked around, tension rose. Her arm burned and she remembered the sweltering heat of her numbers being erased.

   “She’s had enough!” Billy jerked forward this time, coming to grab her but Steve got his arm around him.

   “Don’t touch them yet.” He looked at Hopper so Jim hurried to stop the struggling teen.

   “Let me go!”

   “Billy…” Camille’s voice left the television. Calm. Echoing. Sensing his agony. Using the last of her strength to comfort him. “It’s going to be okay. We're here. You and I. And we're okay.” She slumped back into the couch when El tore her own blindfold off, weeping.

   “Cam…ille.” She sputtered, pulling fabric away to shake her. “Please, wake up.”

   “Back up, all of you.” Jim scooped up Camille and set her on the couch. Billy scrambled to lean over the armrest.

   “Why isn’t she waking up?” Nancy found some towels in the bathroom, wet them, and came next to Hopper to clean her friend’s face. El took another to wipe her own nose.

   “Drained.” El offered, standing with Mike’s help

   “Harpy, I swear to god,” Billy muttered, fingers sunk into the sofa.

   “Give her a moment,” Jim made them all calm down when everyone tried to speak. “Camille.” She hummed, eyes fluttered open when his hands smoothed hair aside. Gentle as he could. Relieved sighs filled the space. “Hey, don’t get up yet. Stay down for a second.”

   “You remember?” Steve came behind the couch and she blinked, nodding.

   “Ow, yeah,” she hissed and touched her forehead. “It’s coming back. Edna hated me. I bet she doesn’t even have a kid. She was all apple pie and smiles after they wiped me. Why didn’t they suspect I set the gun off? Got her father killed. Noah, he…” Camille tried to slow. “He covered for me. Experimented on me. Drugged me. There must have been outbursts. Things that broke through before they changed up my dose. He knew I developed more abilities and hid it with my mother.”

   “What they did was awful but, maybe they grew feelings? Only natural. Can’t stay disconnected for that long.” Jim replied. He’d tried it himself. “Won’t make up for it.”

   “No, but…it’s something.” She agreed, pushing up. “They took my life. Destroyed others. But, now I’m certain Edna is out there. Watching me. Waiting to take revenge because she's already waited this long for it.” Camille paused. “That Brenner guy. What ever happened to him?”

   “Demogorgon.” El was quieter, reaching to take Camille’s hand. “I can try to find Edna. Watch her.”

   “Don’t press yourself too much, it’s not safe and it drains you. This woman grew with all these experiments. She knows how we work.” Camille shook her head.

   “We can protect you. The Party.”

   “We have to look out for you too, you know?” Camille opened her arms to let the younger girl into them. “You did so well. Thank you.” She met Billy’s relieved eyes and pressed her lips at him. His hand inched but didn't dare to touch her. “I think I have more details. Let’s finish what we started, yeah?” Encouraging looks filled the room around her.

   The Party came together again, readying for another adventure ahead of them.

Chapter Text

   “Let’s see it,” Camille purred.

   “Harpy, you’re making me blush.” Billy’s chest heaved softer. “I don’t think you’re ready for it just yet.”

   “I’m ready,” she uttered, sultry. “Don’t make me beg.”

   “Kind of want you to beg.” Teeth tugged at his bottom lip. They leaned closer in response with wandering eyes.

   “Show it to me, Billy.”

   “If you insist...”

   “Okay. You two need to stop it, I am going to be sick.” A girl muttered from the next lab table to their right. Robin. Her face pinched in genuine disgust and amusement. Heather was laughing next to her, covering her lips. Camille noted they’d gotten closer over the new semester. World’s colliding still at Hawkins High. Chemistry class went on around them. Lab partners working together.

   “What…we’re just talking grades? What else could we be-"

   "What else indeed, Harper." Robin twitched one brow and Camille broke to chuckle.

   "He won't show me his damn test still. I stayed up diligently tutoring him, I deserve to know.” Camille cocked her head. Robin snickered at her finally, doodling in the corners of her paper.

   "Hm, that's what she's calling it." Billy mused while he slipped a stick of cinnamon gum into his mouth, earning a light swat at his arm. "Don't damage the goods now, Harpy." She loathed him especially today.

   “Get an A plus, Camille?” Heather looked around Robin to see Camille grin with a nod. “No surprise there.” Fingers picked up the exam and Billy huffed at it, angling still so Camille couldn't see his paper.

   “What did you get? Tell me or I'll burst.” Camille pressed. Life picked up even still. Quieter than she liked. The Party met frequently outside of school. Watching out for the others as much as they could. Billy shook his head, frowning, and her shoulder’s fell. “Oh. You studied so hard for it. It’ll be fine, we got you to passing so we'll just keep at it.”

   “I guess.” Billy flicked the paper around. “Because I got a B fucking minus. No more D letter grades.” He broke to offer a grin that illuminated his entire face and she pushed at him. "Read it and weep for me, babe."

   “Billy!” She hushed when he bounced in his seat, too happy that he’d fooled her. “That’s amazing. I’m so proud of you.” He licked his lips, cheeks heating. Those words held tight and didn’t let go. “We have to celebrate. My, uh, mom’s home tonight. We should go out to a movie. I need a night out and I think you earned one.” She was nonchalant about it.

   “A movie?” His focus shifted, hands lowering the exam to the table.

   “Yes. A movie." Camille's sly eyes flicked to him. "You know, moving pictures. Big screen. Popcorn.”

   “On this specific date?” He blinked. “Valentine’s Day.” Camille exhaled out her nose, leaning on her elbows to watch his face.

   “Yes, Billy, I want to go to the movies with you on Valentine’s Day. Clear enough?”

   “That sounds suspiciously like a date.”

   “Maybe it is.” Camille shrugged, going back to her paper as if she hadn’t just rocked his shit apart. “I’ll pick you up this time.”

   “Wine and dine me, I might try harder at this whole good grade thing.”

   “Seriously, you’re trying hard now and it’s paying off. You're slowly going up full letter grades. Evidence is clear. You're a dummy but, you're not dumb.” She filled in a worksheet, winking. Camille shifted to adjust her shirt sleeves up. Pink with red hearts and cherries. Billy stared at her when she didn’t look at him again. Admiring this person he’d come to value.

   “Thank you, Camille,” he’d said it so quietly, she barely heard it. Billy was writing on his own page now when Camille peered at him. She gave a nod.

   “Seven o’clock? I’ll come get you.”

   “Guess I’ll be waiting.” He flipped through his book. Camille opened her mouth to speak when their school’s intercom picked up. A high pitched sound caused every student to cover their ears. It echoed and adjusted before Camille grew cold.

   “Hey. R-The feedback was static and then even again. “It’s Camille…if you couldn’t remember my voice. You probably don’t want me calling. I waited for two hours. You damn coward.”

   “Is that you?” Heather leaned over to whisper and Camille’s eyes went wide. All her classmates had already turned to stare at her.

   “No…! No!” Camille jerked herself up like she’d become possessed and raced out. Billy almost fell from his chair in shock, unable to react.

   “Ms. Harper!” Their teacher called. The horrid message continued while Camille tore down the hallways.

   “I just had some stuff I wanted to say… It was really shitty. What you did. Not just leaving me to go to a clinic myself. Leaving me to abort our baby myself. Getting me pregnant in the first place. You are just…fucking awful. And I ignored it thinking it was love. That’s not love. Learned the hard way, I guess. But, wherever you are. Manipulating another poor girl. Fuck you. Fuck you for all of us!”

   Camille passed students who stopped to whisper. Few came out of classrooms with curious teachers. She banged on the front office door. Locked. A tape recorder sat in front of the mic with no one around.

   “Fucking eat shit. I was…I am a child. You were the adult! Can’t be an adult? You’re disgusting.” Camille heard her words echo through their entire high school. Shedding that burning spotlight upon her skin. She pressed her head to the window and wept, unable to take it before she covered her ears. “I loved you. I thought I did. Maybe I don’t know love either. But, today, a friend helped me see…just a flicker. What it could feel like. And I’m going to find it one day. I know you won’t. How could you? I don’t regret what I did and I hope one day I don’t always feel guilt and shame when I think of you. You should be ashamed, you fucked a teenager and bragged about it…”

   “…I hope you never touch another woman again, shithead. Can’t get college girls so you bat at high schoolers? One day, you’re going to meet a girl who sees you for what you are. I hope it eats you. You won’t touch me ever again. And that, I can be proud of. Just fuck you. Stay away from me. Not like that’ll be hard now. You’re twenty and you got into bed with a fifteen year old. You’re sick. Don’t spread that illness to anymore girls like you almost did with me. I see you again, I’ll destroy you. Fuck you! Just, fuck you!” Camille heard herself cry and lost it, her elbow bashed into the glass while teachers tried to tear her off. She clawed and kicked. Made a scene. Flashed her queen bee stinger. Bared her teeth. “Don’t set foot in Hawkins ever again. Have a great life.” Unable to stop the harrowing tones as it tried to loop, Camille grabbed a glass paper weight then smashed the tape and mic both to bits. When the torture ended, she sunk to the floor as her English teacher came first to hold her.

   “I had to do it, I had to!” Camille was sobbing. Body jerking with each heave. Inconsolable. She wondered what it must have been for the gate to the Upside Down to tear open and unleash hell. Something like this.

   “Shhh, it’s alright. I’ve got you, honey.” Ms. Strode always had that soft spot for students. “We’ll call your mother.”

   “Oh, my god. Margaret, wake up!” Another teacher found the office aid, passed out behind the desk. “Call the police.” Everyone rushed around while Ms. Strode got Camille to her feet. Billy was there after pushing through crowds, eyes huge when Nancy raced to catch up with him from her own classroom. Students looked at their queen fallen from grace.

   “Camille, we got you.” Nancy got around Billy and came to her other side. Billy turned to see every judgmental, shocked, and intrigued expression.

   “The fuck are you all looking at?! Show’s over, dicks!” Billy Hargrove flipped his switch and they cowered back to keep moving about their day. “Assholes.” He followed after the women when they got Camille into the empty nurse’s office.

   “Nancy, can you stay with her?” Ms. Strode got up and Billy charged in.

   “Me, too.” He didn’t ask permission. Camille was lying down, covering her face and crying hard still. Nancy held her and Billy came to her other side. Their teacher left to make some calls. They let their friend weep until she was silently gasping. Waiting for flesh to just peel off bone.

   “It was her. Edna.” Camille grew numb. “She’s trying to ruin my life all over again. But, she’s been watching me. She’s known the entire time. Bitch. Trying to get me to fucking crack.” Nancy rubbed her back to soothe her cries.

   “You can’t stay in that house. Your mother-”

   “That’s it, she hasn’t made any move at all. I don’t…get it.” Camille let Billy wipe her tears and shift long hair from her face.

   “Camille,” he realized it, “if…if this chick has been spying on you. She could know we saw your mother. In Dayton.” She lifted her eyes, stilling.

   “You know Hopper’s been watching out for her too.” Nancy spoke to calm her down.

   “She knows that we know everything. It's like she's trying to tear me down so I'm isolated and admitting it. Why didn’t she go to Rosemary or Noah? Lab never came for me.” Camille whispered.

   “Maybe she…wants to torment you first.” Nancy frowned. She watched Billy Hargrove comfort her friend and noted how it wasn’t strange anymore. Seeing him around like this. “Camille, you’re bleeding.” Nancy pulled her friend’s sleeve up. “You might need stitches.” A nasty set of cuts swelled just under her elbow. Camille hissed upon seeing it and Billy was already digging for something to stop the blood with their nurse helping in the main office.

   “I didn’t even feel that in my state.” Camille whined.

   “Hold still.” Billy helped her clean it like many of his own wounds before.

   “What am I supposed to tell her? My mother.” Camille ached and her friends paused for a brief moment. “Hawkins is a small place. Come tomorrow, the whole damn town is going to know about me. Edna wants that. She’s trying to break me.”

   “Well, as Dustin would say, when one of the Party members needs assistance: it’s our duty to provide it.” Nancy recited and Camille tried to smile. “And we will.” Billy was gentle when he wrapped her arm up.

   “Hell of a bruise coming.” He huffed, chest falling.

   “Not going to a hospital.” She brought her sleeve down. “Can you guys stay with me awhile?”

   “Not like we were planning to leave you.” Nancy pressed her head to Camille’s shoulder and rubbed her arm. Billy sat on the floor and let her hold his hand. Silent, they waited for Rosemary to appear and whisk Camille away. Ms. Strode appeared and gestured that her mother was waiting. Camille stood taller and wiped her eyes, opting to walk alone down the long hallway. Where she was gawked at by passing students. Eyes ahead, she swayed along and didn't give any of them a damn thing. Not one piece of her.

** ** **

   “Camille.” Her mother shut the door. The entire car ride was silent. Rosemary was shaken, stuffing nervous pills into her mouth. Camille didn't dare ask what they were for. Steve dropped her car off then left with Jonathan and Nancy when Rosemary wouldn’t let anyone else inside the house. “Camille, baby, talk to me. Just please.” She sat her daughter down, sounding desperate. Hands cupped Camille face, raw and splotched red. “This is because I wasn’t around enough.”

   “No, mom, I was stupid.” Camille wheezed. “I couldn’t tell you or dad.”

   “I’m so sorry, baby. You needed us. You went through that alone.” Rosemary came to hug her close, too tight. Jarring. “I’ll quit.”

   “No, fuck, mom. No. Do not do that. I’m better now. I am.” Camille forced a smile. “I made a bad choice. I learned.”

   “You never came to me. We did not teach you to lie.” She stated that with genuine confusion. As if they groomed her incorrectly.

   “I just wanted…to be perfect for you both.” Her reply was the most honest she’d been in awhile.

   “This is all Noah’s fault. He filled your head with… He couldn’t let you grow naturally. We kept a distance, thinking... I told him, I told him this had gone too far. Become too much. That we lost control in the shuffle.”

   “Mom…what are you talking about?” Camille watch her mother’s eyes. Manic. The moment flooded out. Of course, she knew exactly what it meant.

   “No, sweetie, I’m sorry. It’s just…daddy and I made mistakes too. But, I’m fixing them. I love you so much. Please…know that you can come to me. You’re my sweet girl. Mine.”

   “Mom, that…uh, you’re squeezing me. It’s okay.” Camille drew back when Rosemary let her go, speaking her syllables slower.

   “Everything is going to be okay.” She cocked her flawless head like one of the damn Stepford wives.

   “I know.”

   “I love you. I’ll keep you safe inside here. I promise.” Rosemary kissed her head.

   “I…I love you, too.” Camille gripped the couch and her mother came up. There was a moment of unsettling staring before the doorbell rang. She jumped up too quick. “I’ll be fine. I am fine. I’ll get that.”

   “Rest today. I’ll make us dinner. One of your favorites.” Her mother floated off down the hall to pour herself some brandy and Camille wiped her face. She hurried to open the front door, surprised at who was there waiting.

   “Robin? Hi.”

   “Hey, sorry, I…” Robin held out a pink backpack. “You forgot this. I snagged your assignments.”

   “Thank you, um, do you want to come in?”

   “A chance to see the new Harper house renovations? Sure.” Robin stepped into the doorway. “Changed a lot since your twelfth birthday.”

   “Yeah, wow, that was an odd day.”

   “The bouncy castle and the dancing clown that terrified all of us.”

   “You know, I have nightmares about that voice still. He had the strangest name.” Camille joked and Robin smiled at her. “Guess we didn’t see each other much after that.”

   “High school changes people. Start to discover new things about yourself.”

   “You’re almost too right about that,” Camille hung her backpack up. “Thanks for this.”

   “Yeah, I just…wanted to make sure you were okay. You know? Heather will be glad to hear it too." Robin shrugged, cheeks pink over freckles. "I also wanted to say that…what you said to that asshole was really cool.”

   “Ah, thanks. Words just came, I guess.”

   “I hope we see more of that Camille.” Robin offered, pointing with her thumb behind her. “Well, I should…”

   “Right, um, thank you again for coming, Robin. I appreciate it.” Camille paused. "I'm sorry."

   "For what?"

   "Ignoring you after my birthday party." She replied. "Glad you and Heather get along. Her parents are...strict. Girl needs more friends in her life." Robin twitched a sort of half smile at that, face softening.

   “I’ll see you around school, Cam. Don't make me split you and Hargrove up.”

   "We're not even together really."

   "You should tell him that." The teen beamed at her and moved to go outside.

   “Bye, Robin.” Camille shut the door and Rosemary was there in a flash, glass in hand.

   “Are you alright?”

   “Better, yes. Um, I had a...a kind of date tonight with Billy.”

   “Why not invite him over for dinner instead? I’d like to meet this boy you like. Your friend.”

   “Uh, I’m not sure, he-”

   “Tell him to be here at seven. I’ll make us all a chocolate cake.” Rosemary definitely hit the pills hard today. Washed them down with sips of expensive brandy. Only drank that when she was upset. Usually stayed with something white or blush otherwise. It was always how Camille could gauge her moods. By what was in her glass.

   “…Okay.” Camille waited for her to go after another awkward beat. Her breath left tight lungs so she picked up the phone to dial.

   “Hargrove.” Billy surprised her. He was never the one to answer. Neil always lied, telling her Billy was "out" before smacking the receiver down on her.

   “Billy, it’s me. My…My mother invited you to dinner. Can you come?” Her voice was shaken. Billy didn’t dare ask why over the phone. “It’s at seven. I’d really like you to be there.”

   “I’ll be there.” They both hung up and Camille plastered a smile to go help her mother cook.

   “He’s coming.”

   “Wonderful.” Rosemary moved items around. “Does he make you happy?”

   “Yes, he does. We're friends, we help each other.”

   “That’s all I wanted for you, you know.”

   “I know. I am happy. I am. You’re an…amazing mother. You know, I see women wearing your clothing and I always smile. You touched all their lives in a small way. Billy’s stepmom gushed about how she wore one of your blouses on a date. I’m proud of what you did. You did your best. Daddy did too. I know that.” Camille found something heartfelt in all this bullshit. All this pain. And I killed daddy, Camille wanted to say. She apologized for it even still. “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you, I was ashamed.” Rosemary was holding her again, shaking. Unraveling.

   “I’m proud of you, Camille. We’re going to be just fine. You became an amazing woman. Never stop. I just wish you'd come to me. Please, know that you can.” She kissed her cheeks and Camille relaxed. “Come on, let’s make something to impress this boy of yours.” Her daughter could only nod. The twinge of fear didn’t quite melt away. But, she was up for ignoring it. Camille Harper lived her entire life in a den of wolves. You don't just slink out of it when they begin to starve.

** ** **

   “You’re early,” Camille was relieved when she opened the door in a short, pink sweater dress with black tights. Billy had his shirt buttoned up higher than usual. Only one open. Frankly, that was more surprising than the flowers in hand.

   “For your mother. Moms love me.” He cocked his head so she allowed him inside. Camille kissed his cheek so she could whisper.

   “Something’s off.” She warned. “She’s…” Camille came out to listen as her mother hummed in the kitchen to music playing on their stereo. “She’s like…clingy and weird. Doped up.” Rosemary opened the door to interrupt them, removing an apron. She reminded Billy of twenty Karen Wheelers. All dolled up to the max. With Karen, you still got something genuine there. Rosemary lived her life in the artificial. Her current mental state amounted to shiny sequins popping off a campy prom dress.

   “Camille, darling, introduce me.”

   “Billy Hargrove, this is my mother, Rosemary Harper.” Camille stepped out of the way with the flowers. “Billy is my friend from class. He transferred into Hawkins last fall. Brought us these flowers.” The teen realized Billy was making a jab with them.

   “Sunflowers. How sweet? How’d you know?” She outstretched a hand and Billy took it in both of his

   “Mrs. Harper? For a moment, I thought Camille had a sister." He turned up the usual appeal. "Nice to finally meet you. My stepmom talks about your clothes all the time.”

   “A charmer. Flattery will get you everywhere in this house.” She grinned. More sparkly sequins threatened to burst. Billy remembered a red, sequined scarf his mother owned. Part of an old Halloween costume. Shiny and wild to the eye. As a kid, he'd playfully run about the house with it wrapped around his shoulders to music. Made him feel like a star. Until Neil came home to catch him one Tuesday afternoon. Knocked three baby teeth out. His mother threw the scarf away after that. Probably for the best. “Come into the dining room. Camille, go set the table for me.” Billy met Camille’s eyes, brow lifting subtly. They went in after her. “How do you like Hawkins, William?”

   “Oh, Billy is fine,” he swallowed. “Hawkins is…different.”

   “Used to be a much quieter place. Such a pity.” Rosemary sighed, bringing a dish to the table. “Chicken pot pie.”

   “It smells amazing, mom,” Camille let Billy pull out her chair before he held out one for her mother next.

   “He’s just a doll, isn’t he?” Rosemary served pieces up when Billy slipped into a seat across from Camille. Music still played and candles lit the table.

   “Thank you, Mrs. Harper.”

   “Rosemary, please.” She’d insisted, eating from her plate. Both teens waited until she swallowed to pick at their food. “Camille tells me you’re from California. You know, I dressed so many celebrities in LA. Award season was my favorite time. Sometimes I miss that. Hawkins must absolutely bore you, poor thing.”

   “Delicious,” Billy remarked, nodding. “And I thought that as well until I moved here. Met some…interesting people.”

   “Well, that’s good then. With the right people, you can make any place a home.” She sounded like fucking Glinda the Good Witch. If she snorted a great deal of coke. Billy watched her smile and paused to swallow. His lips lifted with some force. Camille nudged his foot under the table. “That’s what my Noah used to say.” Her mother was noticeably dazed.

   “I’m sorry for your loss.” Billy offered.

   “That’s appreciated, young man. I can see that you’re very important to my daughter, Billy. Glad to see her in the company of good friends who care about her.” Rosemary was still smiling. “Because if anyone dared to hurt her, oh, I do pity the next boy who crosses my baby.”

   “Mom.” Camille set her water down, eyes widening and Rosemary sat back. Collected.

   “Camille, you are beautiful and you are still so stupid. I really thought we taught you better. I can see now, we didn’t. Pity. You just never could grasp people. You never could trust your instincts.” She poured blame into Camille’s soul like gasoline. All they needed was a match.

   “Whoa…” Billy sat straighter when Rosemary’s knife tapped her plate. Camille’s jaw dropped.

   "Mom, stop."

   “If you don’t think for a second that this boy only wants what they all do… What have I taught you? Are you going to sleep with my daughter? Leave her shattered like the other did? Are you going to try to take her from me? When I finally have her all my own. Oh, no. I will not have it!” Rosemary smacked the table and stood. Camille jumped to her feet.

   “Billy, I think you should go now.” She came around the table to push at him. “Mom, what the hell is wrong with you?”

   “No, I’m not going anywhere.” Billy was tense, fists clenching. The words blurted out. “Look, I care about your daughter-”

   “Words.” Rosemary was a rubber band snapping. “Men, you’re all the same, you make messes and we clean them up. You hurt us and we lick our own wounds. You use and use and we come to our knees after. Where is my credit?! Huh, I took good care of you, I did. And you want to throw it all away by growing up. Without your mother, Camille!” Her daughter stopped and almost burst herself, remembering Judith King alone in that hospital. Rocking.

   “Mom…calm down,” Camille realized the magnitude of the grave danger she was in all at once. The boiling pot she couldn't leap out of. She had to stay in control. Told herself she was. Didn't trust her fucking instincts. Her fatal flaw with people. Camille's hand lifted to slip the knife from her mother’s fingers. “I think you need to go lie down.”

   “Oh…oh, yes. I am not myself. I think I,” Rosemary clenched with tears. “I think I drank a little too much brandy. Too many pills to relax me. I’m so sorry, I’m sorry. I wanted one good night for you. For us.”

   “I know…let’s get you in bed.” Camille looked at Billy and helped the manic woman off to her room.

   “I didn’t mean that, I’m just so scared.” She crumbled.

   “Go to sleep. We’ll be fine.” Camille tucked her into bed and hurried out, shutting the door. Billy’s hands were on her shoulders, dragging her back to the stairs.

   “You are not staying here tonight.” He was heated, voice low. “You don’t even have to come stay with me if you don’t want to. I’ll take you anywhere. I’ll take you to Harrington or the Wheeler’s or to the damn Chief, I don’t care. But, you are not staying in this house tonight. I mean it.” Camille wrapped her arms around him. Words. “Pack a bag, we’re going right now.”

   “She wasn’t always like that, since my father…something’s coming undone inside her as well.” Camille sniffled and Billy held her back this time, firm as if to reassure her. She packed a bag and wrote a quick note to let her mother know that she was safe with a friend.

   “Come on,” Billy reached for her hand without thinking to get her out of there. “Where am I taking you?” They got into his car so he pulled out of the driveway. She fazed out of existence. Her elbow burned still. That pain was the only thing keeping her attached to this world. “Camille, talk to me. You need to stay right here now. Okay?”

   “I…” She shook her head. Tried to flood back in. For him. “I don’t know. You pick.”

   “My house it is,” he inhaled. “Dad leaves before us for work tomorrow. I’ll sneak you into the window again. Can get ready at my place and I’ll take you to school... Camille. Focus here. You're fading on me.”

   “Okay...yes, okay.” Her body mellowed out. Numb even when he beckoned to snap her back. “I don’t want to cause more trouble for you at home.”

   “You couldn’t possibly.” He hitched with amusement then. Camille looked outside at the trees, lips opening when she found words to grasp.

   “You meant it, I could tell.”

   “Meant, what?”

   “You cared about me.” She turned her head and his eyes stayed on the road. Billy didn’t speak so she went for his hand, clasping it between both of hers. “Everything that happened. I want you to know that you’re making it. Doing better. You’re my friend and I care about you too. And I forgive you. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you touching my life. And just, thank you, Billy.” His chest sunk and he squeezed her hand tight. “Just needed you to know that.”

** ** **

   “Shhh, they’re sleeping,” Billy eased Camille into his bedroom window. She had one leg over when the door opened a crack and Max poked her head in without knocking.

   “You’re not as sneaky as you think,” she whispered, amused. “Saw her pass my window.” The younger girl came forward to take Camille’s other hand.

   “Keep it down,” Billy hissed, hands under Camille's arms to heave her inside. She felt his muscles flex and let her face heat. “Go shut my door.”

   “I heard about… Well, we all…” Max shuffled her feet. Camille dropped her bag and sat on Billy’s bed. “I’m sorry.” She came and wrapped her arms around Camille’s neck when she got emotional. Billy shut his window and sighed, sneaking out to grab a glass of water. His sister was kneeling on his bed, holding his friend close and petting her hair. “It’s okay.” Billy offered her the cool glass quietly so she came out from Max to drink, eyes red and tired.

   “Come on, go change.” Billy was ushering her into his little closet with her bag. Flicking the swinging light in there on. Max stood, gaze sliding from him to the floor. He didn’t try to kick her out.

   “What happened after?” She hesitated when his eyes landed on her face. “Thought her mom invited you over.”

   “I don’t know, she just…freaked out on us.” Billy shook his head. His sister looked encouraged.

   “So, you helped her leave.”

   “For tonight,” Billy ran a hand into his hair and plopped down on his bed. Max pressed her lips. “Don’t give me that look, not like I’m in your nerd party.”

   “Maybe we can start our own side party? I don’t know all the rules but I think I’ll make some of my own up.” Max shrugged. “It can be a secret too, no one will see us coming. Just think about it, maybe come up with a cool name.” Billy lifted one brow at her, lips pressing when she stood.

   “Max.” He mustered the courage. Let it flood out. “I’m sorry.” Hands clenched in his lap when she came forward, touching his face so he’d look at her expression.

   “I always wanted a big brother,” she admitted. “Nice to meet you, Billy.”

   “You too, Mad Max.” Billy let her hug him. A quick, tight squeeze he needed. One arm returned it because she needed it too.

   “Name the secret side party.” Max moved to the closet door. “Camille, I hope you feel better.” There was some quiet shuffling.

   “Thank you,” came the muffled reply. Max crept out to get back to her room and Camille appeared, drained. Billy looked up and there was a beat.

   “Hey.”

   “Hi.” She crawled behind him atop the covers. “School’s going to be a nightmare tomorrow.”

   “Figured you’d want to skip.” Billy pulled his pants and shirt off, not bothering with much else before he reclined next to her. Camille shifted in a baggy tee, curling her bare legs up. He took note of them briefly.

   “No. Queen Bee can’t back down. Right?” Camille closed her eyes and opened them. “I don’t regret anything about the choice I made. I won’t let those people scare me into thinking that I should.” He didn’t argue with that. “Sorry, we can’t go on a normal date.”

   “We’ll get there. Eventually.” Billy turned his head to see her, idly hitting the last lamp to shut off.

   “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Camille sighed, burying her face into pillows that smelled like him. Billy came up to shift so he could slip covers over them both. She scooted into him, allowed his hands to smooth up and down her back. Billy was careful of the wound on her arm, relaxing while they warmed up. Dim moonlight sunk between the curtains. Camille watched the shine of his eyes in the dark. Her arms curled between them, fingers shifting out to touch his chest.

   “Let me guess,” he purred. Hands smoothed over his skin. “You want to try something?”

   “Hm, what gives you that idea?” Camille drew closer, lips just barely brushing his.

   “We have to keep it down,” he warned, breathless before they kissed. Heated flesh pressed together. They held each other for a while there in the dark. Billy was more still as she explored him. Tracing over contours and scars. She cupped his face, thumbs smoothing along cheekbones. Following the swell of his full bottom lip before her mouth opened against his. Camille felt him get aroused against her thigh.

   “I want to touch you,” she uttered, fingers in his hair until he adjusted and reclined more on his back. One arm pulled her into him so she draped her body along his. Lips peppered over his collar and neck. Billy suppressed a moan and tilted his head back, hand finding hers. Camille traced his hip and guided him until she cupped his shaft through thin briefs. Fingers edged up and down the feel of him. "Oh." The softest little sound sent pride shooting up his body. He was well aware of what he was packing. Billy’s lips parted to sigh and he shifted her hand under the fabric. Longed so to be touched. Fingers wrapped around the shaft. They found a pace together. Pumping slow and rhythmic while her mouth was on warm skin.

   “Camille.” Billy came undone, hand sliding away so she could work him until he was hard and slick. Her thumb rubbed circles into the tip. Torturing him. Unraveling him utterly. His arm squeezed her closer when it became too much. “Fuck,” he craned his neck to bury his face into her hair, muffling his sighs into the pillows. “More.” She slowed to longer strokes, coming out to slip her tongue into his mouth. Drawing it out. Billy held himself together. Just barely.

   “Do you think about me when you’re alone?” Camille was going painfully slow, lips lingering down his chest. Turning the tables. "Doing this to yourself and thinking about fantasy queen Camille. Hm?" Billy tried not to scoff. No comment. “Have to give to get.” She recalled his own words. Tormented him with them. Fingernails scratched down his chest. Her mouth left little pink marks he’d remember tomorrow.

   “Yes, god, Camille.” His hips tried to rut in tune with her hand. “Few minutes after I met you just so we’re clear.”

   “Crystal.” She teased, slipping to run her tongue down his happy trail and all the way up to his tip. Billy gave a wanting little arch to be inside her. Fingers shifted into her hair. “This is more like it, yeah?”

   “Close,” he reached to stoke himself, eyes intent on her own until she opened her mouth when he offered his tip. She just felt too good. Swallowing him down all the way. “Better.” Camille gave a hum that vibrated his dick, plunging it further into her throat. She came up to find her pace again. Kisses and licks smeared arousal down his skin. Camille brought her bottom into the air and focused on the pace. Mouth slipping over him with ease. Fingers guided her by the hair, twisting locks from her face. Billy watched her suckle and pressed his head back. She'd ruin him for other flings too. They played together, heated, and as quiet as they could be. He felt his stomach flutter, body growing taut. Camille worked him, swirling her tongue as hands ran along his hips.

   “I’m right there,” he confessed, tapping her shoulder before fingers latched around her wrist. Billy tried to warn her again when her eyes lifted to his. She gave a sort of nod, massaging his skin to let him know it was alright. Lips opened when he let go, climax pumped in spurts along her tongue. Camille slowed to swallow in time before she could choke, lapping to finish him off. His muscles clenched and released rhythmically so she drew it out. Exquisitely. Billy gave a soft moan like honey. Camille came up on her knees, wiping her swelled lips on her hand. Splayed, he watched her tuck him back into his briefs before plopping next to him.

   “Been waiting to return the favor,” she mused, chest steady with deep breaths while he came down from the high. While he came down from her. Blue eyes darkened with clouds. “Taste you, I mean.” Billy, unable to stand it, came up to hover and took her face in one hand. Gazes flickered intently. “You don’t have to kiss me after, I get it.” As if it was a challenge, he pressed her into the bed to kiss her as obscenely as he could. Tongue slipping along lips and between teeth. Spit trailed when they parted.

   “Don’t tell me what to do.”

   “I think you like it,” Camille hushed, “just a little.”

   “What happened to not dating boys you go to school with?” Billy came up so she followed, braced on her hands. Legs opened while he sat between them.

   “Technically haven’t been able to date yet.”

   “You know what I mean. Flings were banned too.” He countered. "Friends who go down on each other is great and all, but...you want more and so do I. So, I'll ask you again. What happened to no flings for queenie?"

   “Guess the same thing happened with you moving on from one skirt to another,” she replied. “Haven’t even tried to continue the rounds. I wouldn’t blame you.”

   “Harpy is dodging the question,” he touch his ear, tilting toward her so she caved.

   “I can make exceptions.” She shifted to prop herself up on pillows. They observed each other.

   “Just admit that I make you hot already, Camille.” Billy lingered, easing forward. “We played this shit for months. Just let go. Can’t stand it anymore. Admit you got off to me. More than once. Lift up your shirt.” The command surprised her. Slowly, she shifted fabric up, baring herself to his eyes. Billy bit his lip at the sight of her, pleased. Nipples pebbled against cooler air. “Take it off.”

   “You take it off.” Camille hitched a gasp when hands eased up her sides. Cupped her breasts for good measure before the shirt slipped over her head. Fabric bunched around her shoulders.

   “You thought about it, what type of fuck I’d be.” He hummed, fingertips edging down the soft skin of her inner thighs.

   “Had a vague idea, you flaunt it well.” Camille licked her lips, teeth nipped at her bottom one so he came forward for a slow kiss. “Didn’t try hard to do it. Just happens when you’re…heated.” She gasped as he cupped her, offering a slow rub. Felt like he was out to claim something.

   “Heated like this? Admit it, Camille,” he ghosted his mouth over hers, eyes direct to hold her attention. Palm on her still in a way that was possessive. “You sat next to me in class squirming because you knew…I’d make you quake. Yes or no?”

   “Ye…s…” She grew timid so he advanced, lips closing around a nipple. Teeth tugged. Steady, he tormented the other bud. Tongue flicking up toward her neck.

   “What was that?” His thumb circled her clit through fabric, slicking it in her arousal.

   “Yes.” Camille tried not to melt but he was the sun and she’d flown far too close.

   “Thought about how I’d push a dress up over your shoulders and make you moan. Don’t have to say anything,” Billy’s fingers slipped under fabric, “it’s already written all over you. You got wet with my cock in your mouth.” Camille was rocking to meet his hand, jaw clenched before she stole a kiss. His forehead touched hers when two digits slipped into her with ease. Billy hushed her when she whined, body clenching him. “You wondered what it would feel like buried here.”

   “Billy,” came another plea. Her expression faltered, lost in euphoria. Lost in him. Drowning again in fire. He didn’t let up.

   “Camille…” He drawled in a quiet, sing-song tone that always ruined her. His free hand came to rest by her hip when he slid closer. “Just say the words.” Billy pumped slowly, thumb teasing that stiff bundle of nerves. Heat swelled. Her flesh cried out for more. She caved.

   “Yes…I…” Eyes closed and opened, lips parting to sigh. Billy had her. “Fuck it, I thought about you.”

   “So, process of elimination,” he was rubbing her more intently now, “I make you…?”

   “Hot.” Camille bit back a moan. “You make me hot. Okay…Ha…Happy? Fuck.” Her hips shifted back so he came with, thighs forcing hers apart when her back hit the wall.

   “Camille,” he chided, lips along her jaw. “I can’t make you come if you squirm like that.” Her hands found his shoulders to cling. “You want to, don’t you?” Billy was savoring every bit of this.

   “Yes,” she watched him slow and gave in, “I want to come.”

   “All you gotta do is ask me,” he smiled against her mouth, "just ask and I'll give you what you want."

   “Billy, fuck, make me come. I want it.” She recalibrated. “I want you. Let me, please.”

   “Since you asked me so sweetly.” He bent to leave a mark on her neck that she’d have to see in the morning. Fingers pumped and curved inside her, knuckle deep. Camille shuddered against him, moving to fuck herself in turn. He felt her clit twitch, muscles clamping down against him. “Come.” He coaxed. “You’re right there, just let go. Let go, Camille.” He made her feel so good. Hazel eyes closed so he took her jaw again with one free hand. “No, you stay right here. Look at me.” Billy wanted to watch her come undone. She could only mouth the words, eyes widening when orgasm raced within her veins. She rocked unsteadily into him. Thighs quivering. “There you are.” He eased, keeping her in a state for as long as he could. Lips offering only encouragement. Pride. Fingers slipped out of her, holding fabric aside to see her soaked and twitching. “Fuck, Camille.” Beautiful. She slipped down so he eased her against the mattress to nestle into his chest. Fingers danced all along her back. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” He felt her hitch to muffle a laugh into his chest.

   “It is, isn’t it?” She tucked herself into him, contented. Billy craved a cigarette but couldn’t stand to slip from her to grab one. Instead, they breathed and traced shapes into skin. “Made the exception because I like you…dummy.” Billy shook his head, thoroughly entertained. “It’s different between us, isn’t it?”

   “Yeah, think so.”

   “Feels like we’re on the same edge, terrifying as it might be.” Camille sighed, relaxing further into him. “But…it’s not lonely. Not anymore.” He could only nod, arm looped around her back. Her body breathed in tune with his. Lulling to the heartbeat pulsing under her ear.

   “Go to sleep.” He murmured into dark hair at last. Camille didn’t feel she had a choice at this point. It tugged her away. Billy held her and soothed every little twitch that dared to disturb her mind. Up until it came for him next.

Chapter Text

   The comments weren’t bad. Oh, no.

   "That's the one... Her."

   "Queen Bee. Queen Bitch."

   "Slut."

   "Wonder who the daddy was."

   "Baby killer."

   "Hargrove better watch out, she traps boys. He'll lose interest now for sure."

   "Camille, the whore, Harper."

    Those were all tragically and hilariously to be expected.

   It was the staring. Those damn eyes. The way she could walk into a room and have it hush. Teachers and students alike. Thinking those thoughts too loudly. Camille marched in. Knowing they were talking about her. Eyes lifted and moved over her body like she’d never get privacy again. Camille was used to being watched. Desired. But, this... Avoiding her face was one thing. Staring direct at her long scraped out womb was another. The attention burned. Lights scorched. No dark corners to curl up and hide away in. And how Camille tried to. She imagined layers of flesh melting away until she was muscle and bone. They would rub salt into the rawness of her wounds.

   Camille turned her nose up to all that shit. Fixed her lipstick. Flicked her hair. Blew bubbles with gum like nothing was around. She spoke up in class. Made herself more visible because she had no choice and she wanted control again. Camille burst with technicolor. Crushed them all. Swayed like a dancer down hallways. Undaunted. By force. But, undaunted nonetheless.

   Billy watched her float. Like nothing could touch her. He found himself wishing that he could float too. Camille tried to sit alone at lunch. Tried. Steve smacked a tray down across from her. Sent a message that nothing had changed. Students watched their king sit and eat, sliding an extra carton of milk over. She’d tried to skip the meal too. Nancy and Jonathan came next, adding crackers and a brownie to the lunch. Billy was on her right after, placing his green apple there. Hadn't lost interest of course. Heather ushered Robin over even and they joined. Camille let herself smile.

   “So, anyone catch Mr. Creed’s new hairpiece? A surprising color.” Steve leaned forward and Heather laughed. He attempted to make his friend feel normal again.

   “I couldn’t even take notes, I was waiting for it to crawl away.”

   “Definitely hiding something,” Jonathan piped up. Camille watched her odd group of friends joke, picking up the apple to bite into it first. Billy shot her a wink so she nudged his leg with her own.

   “I had him last year. Once he got frustrated and ran his hand into it. Flipped half the thing over and finished class like that.” She chuckled finally when they did, encouraged.

   “He’s gotta put that whole collection out of their misery.” Robin added. Camille enjoyed feeling like a teen again. For once. Steve kicked her foot under the table, flashing a smile that set her at ease. It was like this over the next week. Gluing little shards of glass back together. Trying not to slice tired fingers. Rosemary acted as if nothing happened prior. Cooped up in her studio with new designs. Work was better. Better than a daughter who refused to be a daughter. Camille stayed afloat until the ship cracked again. The perfect hive threatened to crumble in.

   Her stupid locker. Still broken. This day, she jerked it open for her chemistry book with Robin next to her, ready to walk to class. Red splashed all down her front. Covered the floor and Robin’s shoes. A bucket of blood red paint clattered, dribbling all over. Camille went into shock, hands lifting while it pooled out. Like most shitty things in her life now. Pooling out. She longed briefly to let it cover all else. Clothing ruined. The crack deepened when Carol pointed to laugh across the way. Ex-popular friends joined in around her. Tommy was cackling, racing away to catch more attention. Billy's foot came out by his locker and the boy tripped hard, smacking the floor. Students ceased their laughter.

   "Eat shit, you little bitch." Billy bared his teeth. Looking utterly feral because that was his default setting.

   "Mad someone got your slut before you did, Hargrove? You'll have to fight every quarterback in Indiana." Tommy dragged backwards but was ripped up, shoved into the lockers. Camille paid no mind.

   "Get the fuck out of here." Billy struggled with his rage and tossed Tommy the other way, arms swiping out to frighten him off. Tommy was Steve's added beefcake muscle once upon a time but he'd be a fool to challenge a fire-breathing hyena like Billy Hargrove.

   “What the hell, Carol?” Robin spoke first back down the hallway. Heather ran along to see her friends. Odd bunch they made. Camille the freak. Robin the weirdo. Baby faced Heather. Billy shoved his locker closed and pushed students to see his friend too.

   “Are you okay? Camille?” Heather was ignored. Baby killer, came some more utters and Camille stalked forth. Carol shut her mouth and cried out when a fist charged right next to her head. Its force dented the locker in. The brass knuckle punch style she'd easily picked up from Billy. Something detached inside Camille. Instead of hitting Carol and crying, she just laughed. Eyes wide. Unstable. It echoed into their school. Demanded respect and attention because this was stone fox Camille Harper here. She laughed louder. How could she not? Her entire life was fucked. It was a lie. Why hide when the cards were all on the table today? More of her friends rounded the hallway in awe.

   “Carol. I should be upset. What a clever, clever prank. How many brain cells did it take between you all? I wonder. But, you know…I’m not mad one little bit. Because I grew out of being a nasty bitch and I know you won’t for a while.” Camille was grinning. Carol looked shocked, tipping back to avoid the paint. “You don’t have to date a shitty ass guy who tries to fuck your friends when you take breaks and hate yourself, you know? Good luck with that. Been there, crawled out.” Camille jerked forward to hug Carol as tight as she could. “We’ll get through it together.” One hand took Carol's jaw. Red swatched her skin before she pushed her backwards after planting a hard, sweet kiss on her cheek. Paint swiped Camille's fingers so she reached up where there wasn’t paint on her shirt and traced an A.

   A scarlet letter.

   “Bitch! Camille, what the fuck? You lost it.” Carol looked down at herself, clothes ruined now too.

   “Bold to assume that I even had it to begin with, babe.” Camille left her, head still high. Hips swaying. Paint splattering. "Well, any of you wet dream drones have anything else to say to me? Now's the fucking time!" Arms swiped, sending spatters of red into nearby students and lockers. Instead the entire crowd parted for her in sync. Moses standing at the damn Red Sea separating it. "I thought so." She puffed, lips lifting to smile because she owned them still. "Robin, sorry about the shoes."

    "You know, I think this could be a great look actually." Robin joked instead, rolling with it because her friend was clinically insane and she adored her now.

   "Right. Now, where is Billy Hargrove? Hm? Don't be shy, sweet face." Camille commanded her drones to part further and reveal him there at the center. Billy had stopped to watch halfway toward her, eyes fixated and huge when he got a better look. "Ah, there you are." She sucked her teeth, clicking her tongue once before she came forth. "Should have smelt the smoky hairspray and warm cologne, it's still to die for." The teen dream stopped in front of him. Everyone was dead silent. Awed. Impressed. Aroused.

   Queen Bee Camille.

   “Pick me up tonight." Hands on her hips, head cocked. Flirty and unashamed. Splashed bright red. A firework bursting in his life. "Seven o'clock sharp. We are going to the god damn movies. It's a date, just so we're clear. Be prepared to hold the door for me.”

   “You’re the boss, Hester. Wear something red. Color's good on you.” Billy winked, shrugging before he too stepped aside to let her go. Unworried. Happy. Camille left a trail of footprints all down the hallway. She entered the girl’s gym showers in her clothing. Earning shocked looks when she started laughing aloud again and got under cold spray. Cleansed her skin. Red sloshed all down into the drain like the flood of a period. Her clothing was still ruined. They called her mother again to get her. Took an entire load of towels to get her out of the showers without making another mess. Camille was still laughing the whole way.

   It never ended.

** ** **

   “Camille, I’m not sure this is a good idea. You should rest. You've had a rough week.” Rosemary had frowned. Her own palms shook when she clasped them. Camille didn't notice her shaking

   “I’m peachy.” She imagined teeth peeling fuzzy peach skin away to suck the juicy fruit within. That sweetness dripping from soft, plush lips.

   “You’re different.” Rosemary couldn't get her daughter to turn around and just look at her. Not like she used to.

   “I’m different?” The teen huffed and yanked up into the tree in front of their house. Another awful prank. Hung baby dolls from branches. “You going to help me here, mother?”

   “They need me in New York again.” Rosemary resigned herself. Guilt swirled and she pressed her lips. Stared for a long moment, desperate. “Ask me to stay with you, I will.”

   “You're right. I am different.” Camille admitted, head turning. “My eyes are open.” Her mother looked truly unsettled. “Go, they need you. I can handle myself.”

   "I'm so sorry, Camille." Rosemary never said what for. First mistake. Her mother turned to go. "I left you something in the kitchen. Cheer you up. It used to." Camille never went to see what it was. Second mistake. She dumped the toys into their trash bin and prettied herself up. Wore a casual pink dress that slipped from her shoulders with cherries all over it. Small splashes of red. The Camaro howled while she applied the same red to her lips. Billy felt his heart charge when he pulled into the driveway. Finally.

   “Millionth time is the charm, huh?” Camille approached when he got out. "Devil's pride nice still?"

   "Yeah, I'd say so." Billy prettied himself as well, fitted shirt opened halfway and tucked into tight jeans. His preferred style. She smiled at him like nothing was wrong.

   "Shall we?"

   “Chariot awaits,” he cocked his head and offered a single peony from behind his back. Pink. Billy got the door for her and went around to drive them off. Let her pick the flick and he bought the tickets. The Breakfast Club. He only whined a little about it. Camille bought the snacks and they found seats up in back. More teens filled the room before the lights hushed. They took turns snagging popcorn and sips of soda. As much as he rolled his eyes prior, Billy grew invested. Every teen in sight felt it. Damn movie was too relevant. Camille leaned into him, allowing his arm behind her. Idle fingers traced the bare skin of her shoulder. The world let them be blissful teens tonight. For a little while. Third mistake. Credits rolled and he held her hand just like they discussed. Kids filtered out so Camille leaned in to kiss him, inches away before she gasped instead.

   “Hey. Robin and Heather are here. Check it out,” she noticed them down closer to the front. Giggling. Tossing pieces of popcorn while they joked and stood. Heather looped her arm into Robin’s. Grins followed.

   “Didn’t know they were actually close friends now. Lab partners or whatever.” Billy shrugged and Camille had to cover her lips. “What?”

   “Boys are so oblivious, come on. To the diner.” She tugged at his hand to go down the steps.

   "As you wish." Billy pulled her into him, earning a slight giggle. Chilly air swept and his leather jacket was already around her.

   “Camille!” Heather caught them exiting the doors, hand leaving Robin’s quicker than intended. Camille peered at the space between them, eyes lifting.

   “Heather…hi. Nice to see you both. Fine night compared to earlier, yeah?”

   “Yes. Sorry, we didn’t know you guys were up there. I would have said hi. Great movie, right?” Heather continued.

   “I loved it and so did Billy, despite the whining.” Camille joked, patting his chest. “Hey, Robin.”

   “Hey…” Cold wind passed them so Camille brought Billy’s jacket closer.

   “You got Billy to sit through that, impressive.” Heather was entertained.

   “Just wait till you see my other tricks,” Billy lit up a cigarette behind his date.

   “Okay, on that note, you guys…have a good time.” Camille kissed her friend's cheek, winking. Heather gave an honest smile, relaxing again.

   “Thanks, Camille.”

   “We’ll see you two in class, yeah.” Robin crossed her arms. “Now do the trick where you disappear, if you could.”

   “Love that one,” Billy pressed Camille’s back when she gave Heather a knowing look of encouragement. He drove her to the diner and they found a corner booth. “Large milkshake. Chocolate. Side of fries.” He told the waiter. “Well, Harpy, we covered it, didn’t we?”

   “What?”

   “We angrily laid this out in detail months ago. Hit all the important points.”

   “Hm, I think there is always room to improvise.” She purred, chin resting in her hand as she leaned over.

   “Oh, say improvise again.”

   “No,” Camille laughed when he gave that world melting smile. Food was set down. Billy snagged some fries and shifted the plate between them. She sipped and hummed blissfully. “I’m going to have that song from the movie trapped in my head for weeks.” Camille plucked up a hot fry to eat.

   “Thought it was funny us going to see that? Criminal and princess.”

   “I didn’t plan that,” she grew amused. “Didn’t know the movie would be like that. Frankly though, I’m starting to think I’m more of a basket case now.”

   “Can’t argue there,” Billy dodged a fry at that, laughing before he stole her milkshake. "Queenie is buzzing along a very fine line."

   "Suppose I feel like I have wings today." Camille gave a shrug. "Guess that I also wanted to bring up more of the wildly unhinged me who told her ex to eat shit."

   “Hey, look, I know you’re all smiles now and great. But…”

   “Disgraced bee flew too close to the sun.” Camille rolled her eyes and sat back. “I’m not faking it for you. I don't do that with or for boys, rest assured. These last two weeks have been…fucking awful. But, I’m on a date with a guy I care about and I think it’s going well.”

   “We talking B minus work?” He gaze at her closely.

   “Oh no, I think you’re on your way to a solid A plus with extra credit. Gold star work.” She joked. It was intoxicating even still. The way he smiled at her. Charming as hell. Lighter. Easy. Slow and steady, her hand came to touch his. Fingers curling. Eyes met and they stayed to enjoy the lingering beat between them. “I want to try something.”

   “You do?” Billy’s brow furrowed and she wasn’t hesitant.

   “I want to try it back at my place.” They scrambled to pay and go. Rain splattered lightly so he pulled her by the hand. Hair and clothing damp. Unable to resist, Billy yanked her into his chest. Hands on her wet face to kiss her there under rain and stars. Camille responded, pulling at him until they both laughed and continued to his car. Giggling teens on a date. Nothing to lose. So they thought. Billy sped while she slid over and placed playful, teasing kisses on his neck.

   “Harpy, I’m supposed to be setting a better example when I drive.” He’d joked, stilling to kiss her again at a red light. Hands smoothed along his thigh and they couldn’t park fast enough in her driveway. “Hey.”

   “Hm?” Camille was still in Billy's neck, palms sliding up his chest.

   “Look.” He pointed. Jim Hopper’s Blazer sat parked in front. The Chief was waiting, snuffing out a cigarette before Camille hurried out on unsteady feet.

   “Jim.” She felt a gust of cold crackle up her spine when he lifted his eyes. Rain stilled. "How long have you been here?"

   "Not long." He stared at them, clearly on a date and worked up. Camille came down fast.

   "What are you doing here, Jim?" She'd asked it quieter.

   “Camille, I think we should talk inside.” His palm was on her back to guide her forth. Camille's hand slipped from Billy's and they mourned that.

   “What happened?” She pressed, struggling to open the door.

   “Hargrove, give us a moment.”

   “No, Billy, come inside. You can say it to both of us.” Camille marched up to him while he took his hat off. A motion that appeared grave. Billy shut the door, his own flesh chilled when rain dripped from his curls. “Say it.”

   “Camille.”

   “Say it!” She barked at him, echoing in that empty house. Jim’s eyes drew to her own.

   “It’s Judith.” He crumbled her world. “I’ve been checking on her and-”

   “No, don’t you fucking…lie. Don't you lie to my face. It's fine. She's fine.” Tears welled. She got smaller. “You were supposed to protect her.”

   "I'm so sorry, I only heard a few hours ago. We've had people on her I trust. There... Something happened."

   "It's a mistake. No...No! You don't know shit. You're nothing but...a fuck up. You're just a fuck up!" She spat and he remained tender while her rage filtering out at him. "You are a liar."

   “She’s gone, Camille.” He was pushed hard at that.

   “Shut the fuck up…she didn’t… I knew they’d come for her! Another loose end to torment me with.” Camille couldn’t catch a breath, stumbling back before he took her arms. The dark secrets she kept. The life she had. The mother she never got to know. Gone. Gone. Gone. It all just fluttered. “Ngh, no!”

   “She passed, Camille. They confirmed it. I saw the certificate. Photos. Everything.”

   “How?”

   “Camille.”

   “How did she die?!” She screamed it. Echoing again. Billy pressed back into the door. His face felt impossibly hot.

   “They say she did it herself.”

   “They say…? A gentle, manic woman who never spoke and just spent her days rocking.” Camille broke. “So they killed her. They fucking killed my mother. Just to ruin me further. They know I can't mourn it. They know I saw her and they know I have to hide. Fucking, they killed us both. Again and again. Finally finished her off. It's because I found her. It's my fault.”

   “You didn't do this. There was something. Small. Carved into her arm. Three numbers.” Jim reached again to stop Camille from falling. “Hey, you have to breathe. Easy.”

   “No, she’s not… She can’t…” Camille was beating on his broad chest. “Lies! Lies! You’re a liar! A shitty, awful liar. I hate you! You fuck up! You were supposed to watch her. You...”

   “Camille,” Billy found his own voice, hands up to pull her off Chief Hopper’s towering frame. She slipped out of his jacket.

   “No, no, it isn’t true.” Camille rushed beyond them, tearing up the stairs. She saw her room empty. Kicked bedroom doors open. They pursued to stop her, forces jerked them aside. Her nose bled. “Can’t… It can’t be right.” Camille rushed down the stairs again. Nothing in the living room. She stopped in the kitchen when she saw them. The gift. To cheer her up. Confirming her worst fears. A vase of bright, freshly cut sunflowers left by her mother. An apology and a confession. She’d known. “No, no…no.” A wail tore. Shook the whole house before she lifted the entire thing to smash them. Yellow petals exploded around her feet. The doors slammed to the room when she fell to her knees. A sharp shard cut into her palm before she lost herself and dug it into skin. Eyes wide and unfocused. Three tiny numbers bled out.

   “Hey!” Jim pounded at the door, kicking it open when she relented before he tore her up from the floor. “Knock it off!” Camille dragged and wished to bring the entire house down. He held her arms tight so she bucked around and wailed again. Everything took too much of a toll on Camille. This was the last straw. Rosemary stared at her eyes earlier and knew. Knew what would come. And Camille would have to smile upon seeing her when she came home.

   Billy’s hands were on her face. He was talking too fast for her to process. He slipped away when she fell back into Jim, sobs barely subsiding because she was exhausted. Fingers gripped her forearm and Billy was tying a towel around it.

   “Go pack her a bag. She’s not well, I’m taking her home. Hurry.” Jim pulled her to her feet, half carrying her into the living room to put her on the couch. They cleaned the mess without words and got her into Jim’s car. Her cries silenced when the door shut. Billy found the silent wails of agony more horrific from outside the car.

   “Kid, I’ll handle it from here. Get yourself home.“

   “Fuck that, I’m sticking with her.” Billy edged forward. "You don't know her."

   “Billy, you helped. You did.” Jim eased. Billy didn’t jerk when a hand touched his shoulder. “What Camille needs is to process this. She needs rest.”

   “After she found her mother the first time, she stuffed herself with pills. I made her throw them up, she took so damn many. I am not…” Billy felt himself tremble. Jim understood, nodding. Watch her. “We were happy.”

   “Yeah, you’re good kids. You are. Just trying to make it better and you will. Camille needs to rest and she isn't safe to be alone in this house. Give it some time. Give her some time. Things still bad at school?”

   “Hung babies and red paint aren’t exactly welcoming.”

   “I’ll handle it. Go home. Let me take care of her, I know enough and if she's like El: her abilities could lash out. I’ll call if anything happens. All right? I'll call you first,” Jim pressed him to leave and he finally did. Billy didn’t drive home, instead he was stumbling up to another door. Bell rang and Steve Harrington looked confused.

   “Hey, man…you lost?” Steve didn’t see anyone behind him. Billy looked like utter shit. “You do know this is my house, right?”

   "Yes, asshole, I fucking know which-"

   "Okay, good talk," Steve moved to shut the door and Billy dropped the anger.

   "Wait..." Billy's foot stopped him. Steve sighed and pulled it back open.

   "Try again, pal." He waited so Billy changed his tone.

   “You got alcohol in there?”

   “Parents are gone to the weekend, uh…yeah.” Steve relented then stepped aside. “What’s going on?”

   “Start pouring first.”

** ** **

   “Camille.” El was excited until she saw her expression.

   “El, give her a moment.” Hopper guided the mute teen into their little cabin. His puffy police coat over her frame. “Pull out the couch for her.”

   “What happened?” El asked instead when Hopper got Camille into the bathroom. The door shut so he helped fix the couch into a bed. Eleven brought extra pillows and saw him locking up knives and pills. “Why?”

   “Camille is incredibly upset.” Jim explained it carefully. “Her mother. Real mother…she passed away.”

   “Gone.”

   “Yeah,” Jim swept the young girl under his arm. “We have to be careful with her. She’s hurting. Sometimes when people hurt…they take it out on themselves. She’s going to stay here a few nights while Rosemary is out.”

   “I can watch her.” El promised and Jim pressed a smile, rubbing her shoulders. Camille looked numb when she appeared. El hurried to take her hand and get her to lie down. “I’m sorry…about your mama.” Camille hated herself for the tiniest thought that maybe it was for the best. The older teen peered at her and nodded while El turned on the TV for her. Noise to fill the voids in the room. Jim pulled a chair up to unwrap her wrist. It took a moment for the little girl to realize Camille did it to herself.

   “Give us a moment,” Jim nodded so El went into her room. He cleaned the cuts and applied ointment while she reclined there. “Wanted the scar.”

   “They erased me.”

   “Six isn’t who you are, Camille.”

   “Guess I’m not really sure what I am any longer. Queen bee. Freak. Slut. Six. Baby killer. Always the fucking brands.” She paused. “Sorry, you lost your daughter.”

   “Two completely different scenarios, Camille, you’re not a bad person and I wrote the book on fucking up. No room to judge a teenage girl for making a terrifying and informed choice about her body.” Jim got up and pulled something from his coat pocket. “They sent me this with the certificate.” The tiny Star of David necklace. She let him clasp it so it could hang down low with Billy’s pendant.

   “Thank you.” She welled up and closed her eyes to still it.

   “She loved you. She did.” Jim touched her hair. "I'll let you have some space."

   "Wait," she sniffled, cracking. "Can you just hold me for a little bit?" Jim stilled, air leaving his nose before he sat back down. Awkwardly, she came up to scoot into his arms when he sat on the edge of the mattress. Jim floundered a little too, uncertain. She adjusted half in his lap. Camille pressed into him when he held her tighter, arms up against his chest. Inhaling the scent of him. Nothing like her own adopted father. Long rotting in the ground. She still closed her eyes to pretend. She wondered what her real father smelled like. Maybe something like this. Crisp. Safe. Jim rocked her when she began to shake in his arms. They melted more together. He cupped the back of her head so she lifted it to look at him. Small. Fingers smoothing idly into the fabric of his shirt as his thumb caught a single tear. "You're not a fuck up." She rasped then. Lips pressed at that.

   “Get some rest, Camille.” He offered, tucking long hair aside. She eased herself back into the mattress. El came out in her pajamas to crawl in next to Camille.

   “I can watch her,” El stated again when Camille was lulled to sleep. Jim stayed there petting her head until El took over. The little girl kissed her hair like Jim had done to her many times before to comfort her too. Hopper went to his room and left El curled into her sister. They looked peaceful.

** ** **

   “Hello?” Nancy was groggy when she received a call.

   “Hey, uh, Nancy, it’s Steven,” Steve snorted into the phone and Nancy was alert.

   “Steve? It’s late. Are you drunk?”

   “I’m the moral support, Nance.” Steve was trying to quiet someone behind him. “I have every single thing in my life...super under control.”

   “Oh, my god. Where are you?”

   “Home, near the pool. Um, Nancy, I did…something bad.” Steve slurred. “Remember how we dated for like a year? Wild. I was a shitty boyfriend.”

   “No, Steve, you really weren’t. Not at all.” Nancy was up, Jonathan lifted his eyes in question across from her.

   “Couldn’t even beat the keg king, a little girl had to step in. She’s like…way cooler than me. I think Max is the real keg king at heart.” Steve was laughing and Billy snorted, seated in a lawn chair near him. “I…am just calling…wait, why am I calling again?”

   “Camille…needs her fucking band of annoying nerds. The party. That thing…she doesn’t,” Billy hiccuped, plastered, “I’m not enough, ah, and I never will be.”

   “Billy wants to have a party.” Steve was laughing.

   “Billy? You’re drunk with Billy Hargrove?” Nancy smacked Jonathan’s shoulder to get him moving.

   "Ow!"

   “We’re coming over. Now.”

   “You’re with Jonathan, that’s hilarious.” He cackled. “Byers! He kicked my ass too!”

   “He told me!” Billy fell back, grinning.

   “Don’t go anywhere,” Nancy smacked the phone down. “Come on.” Back at Steve’s, he fell into a pool side chair.

   “She could def...definitely not even tell I’d been drinking. I’m…sneaky like a ninja.” Steve reclined back.

   “Shit is fucking wild, man. How did I get here? Look at them.” Billy watched the hundreds of stars dance in his state, lulling about.

   “You…are a fucking asshole.” Steve was swatting for him, hitting only air.

   “Yeah, I am.” They tried to high five and missed that too. “Pissed off a junior demolished you at everything you love?”

   “Beside the point. You’re like…like a real…huge asshole. But, you’re also not so bad. You know? I just…can’t fight for shit. And you somehow became friends with Camille Harper. My friend. My queen friend.” Steve was laughing again.

   “She tricked me into her intr...intricate friendship rituals.”

   “Oh, she does that shit. We all fall for it. You especially. And…you…you beat the shit out of me and then your kid sister stole your car. What the fuck was all that?”

   “What the fuck was that?” Billy agreed, head tipping. Nancy and Jonathan sped there, coming around back to see the two wasted boys.

   “Ayy! It’s Nancy! Nancy…!” Steve clapped. Billy was trying and failing to light a cigarette. They hollered in sync so she shushed them.

   “Hey, zip it! Both of you.” Nancy ordered. “What is this?”

   “If Camille were here it would be exactly…like…The Breakfast Club.” Billy started cackling and Steve joined him. “New party name, you fucking nerds.”

   “This guy is hilarious, he’s so right. So…right…”  

   “Hey, hey focus.” Nancy picked up a spray bottle for the window flowers and hit them both with water. They hissed and whipped around to avoid the cold like a pair of cats. Billy’s cigarette sizzled out so he flicked it, giving up. Jonathan covered his lips and tried not to laugh at this all. “What happened? Where is Camille?”

   “Police Chief kidnapped her mid date.” Billy had his hands up when she threatened them again with the spray bottle.

   “Why?” Jonathan stepped forward. Billy blinked as some awareness came back.

   “Bad thing… Her, fuck shit… Her mother. They got her.”

   “Her mom? Rosemary?”

   “No. One in the hospital.” Steve played with his shirt. “She didn’t make it.” Nancy lowered the bottle, realizing.

   “Oh, no… Where is Camille now?”

   “Hopper just…whiskered her away. Adopting another one probably.” Steve tried to sit up and Jonathan hurried to assist him.

   "You need a bed, come on."

   "Hey pal, I may have let you kick my ass but, you are not qualified to tuck me in." Steve dragged with him. Billy stared at the pool with a harder expression, lights fluttered on his face. Made him look almost ethereal.

   “We gotta get them inside.” Jonathan was helping poor Steve along still. Billy managed to sit up more and Nancy saw a flower in his hand. Camille had left it in the car. He stared at the petals and leaned to drop it into the pool. Water shifted with ripples. Billy watched them carefully so Nancy crossed over.

   “Billy, you’re not looking well. You need to get inside.” She and Jonathan heaved Billy to his feet next. "There we go." He stumbled and made an odd sound. Nancy realized that he was sniffling. She saw nausea sweep his expression and they hurried him into the bathroom so he could throw up. “Jonathan, water.” He rushed to find a glass. “Here…” Nancy was wiping Billy’s slack lips with a wet rag. He pressed his cheek to the seat and tried to overcome the sensation, moaning. Teeth clenched when another feeling flooded him. Nancy gave his back an awkward pat. “It’s okay.” She took the water from Jonathan and helped him drink. “Check on Steve.”

   “Got it.” Jonathan left again. Billy slipped against the wall, room spinning. Nancy squatted down barely a few feet away, arms crossed over her knees.

   “Don’t have to stay here with me, Wheeler.”

   “I know.” Nancy shrugged. Not the night she imagined. Not the person she imagined comforting. “Don’t mind it if you don’t though.”

   He blinked and didn’t say anything, eyes glazed.

   “So, Hopper’s watching her?” She saw Billy nod. “And you guys had a date tonight.”

   “I think I was decent.” His voice was quiet. Raw.

   “I bet that you were.” Nancy pressed her lips and he flickered his eyes over her face, opening up.

   “Not supposed to see her. Whole tutoring lie is only going to go so far. My dad doesn’t like it. But, I like it.” He slurred, eyes closing. “Another round with the belt when he finds out. Story of my fucking life. Maybe I deserve it, I was a shithead. I still am.” Nancy’s eyes changed.

   “He hits you. I mean…we all had some idea about it. Ah...you don’t deserve it, all right? And you don’t have to go back there, you know.”

   “All that wishful thinking. If I don’t, he’ll want someone else to hit. He’ll hunt me down. I tried to run before. Long time ago. Learned quick. I can't. Dad wins.” Billy numbed. “Didn’t want to care.”

   “You’re different. We all see it. Good different.” Nancy offered. Familiar words touched the world. “My friend changed too. Before and after your family got here. I did also and so did Jonathan and Steve. We all did stupid teenage things.”

   “Some of us did worse than others.”

   "We all hurt people." Nancy admitted, eyes flickering. "My friend died because of me and I can't take that back. I can only do better. Never let it happen to someone else."

   "She died because a monster grabbed her." Billy swallowed bile, chest heaving. "I used to be a monster too. Grabbing people. Squeezing. Laughing about it after."

   “What Camille sees in you now…it makes her happy. What Max sees in you makes her happier as well.” Nancy offered, careful. Billy lulled with an amused scoff to hide the way his tone thickened.

   “My mom didn’t see it. Why won’t my dad see it either?” Billy cringed this time, lips trembling and eyes filling to the brim.

   “It’s…going to be okay. It’s going to get better. I know how that sounds. But, not just for you alone. But, for you and Max. Camille. All of us. Because we have this…amazing group and we’re trying so hard despite everything. Even when we want to stop.”

   “I’m not…I’m not crying over my dad. He’s never…going to love me. Just, fuck him. Fuck him for me and Max and Susan…and…my mom. Fuck him! Fuck. Can’t touch anything. Can’t be touched. Fuck him. I’m crying…because…because, I…”

   “Billy, it’s okay. Just breathe.” Nancy offered him some tissue.

   “I can’t. Can’t stand to. I’m finally awake.” Billy wept, the airy syllables barely connected. “I love her.” He’d squeaked it like a mouse, fists rose to touch his head while he crumbled. Nancy stayed there with him to share the space. Let him weep. When he was calmer, she nodded to affirm that he was perfectly sane through the hurt.

   “I know you do.”

Chapter Text

   Camille still came to school. No usual pep or fire. Baggy sweaters and tight jeans. No winged eye makeup. No pink or red lipsticks. No bouncy locks of hair. She just dragged in. Eyes front. Didn’t speak. Sly gaze alight with a warning to stay the fuck away. Crowds still parted when she breezed through. Stares didn't let up. She spent lunches in the bathroom where she could be alone. Avoided friends who tried to corner her.

 

   “Can I have one?” Camille caught Carol smoking when she left the stall. Dolled up. Way more than her currently. There was a beat where she waited for Carol to get snippy.

   “You look like shit, honey bee.” Some of her pretense came down but she offered Camille one of her sticks. They lit up and smoked near the cracked window on either side of a sink.

   “Feel great. Still buzzing.” Camille blew into the cold air with a monotone voice. "Wish this was a joint."

   “We agree on something finally."

   "Ah, we used to agree on plenty, Care Bear." Smoke slipped into the cool air outside.

   "Haven't heard that nickname in months," Carol tapped ashes into the sink.

   "Honey Bee. Care Bear. God, we were such bitchy little saps, weren't we?" Camille leaned into the wall, smoke bloomed out her lips. "Did it ever bother you?"

   "What?"

   "Me taking over as Queen...over you? You're the senior."

   "No, I figured we would rule together. We did for a little while but, it was more your thing. It was more your crown. You demanded it when that other queen bitch finally fucked off to a rival school. Hated her. Your performance the other day reminded us all why we picked you. And you chose your new King too."

   "Ah, Billy was always the top contender. That Camaro rolled in like thunder and his fate was sealed." Camille sighed.

   "Please," Carol laughed, "you plucked him up first. Don't deny it. And you two had a date?"

   "Yeah. We did." Camille stared distantly at haggard paint chipping from the stalls.

   "True what they say about him?"

   "Nothing said about anyone in high school is true in my experience. Except me, I guess. We're all just faking it and tired as hell." Smoke billowed. "Between you and I, everything aside, it was the best date of my life. No bullshit. Didn't even get to finish it to tell him either."

   "Things go south?"

   "Something like that," Camille scratched her chin, arms half crossed while the cigarette burned brighter. "Found out a family friend passed away."

   "Shit." Carol debated it, eyes lowered. "Never said sorry. About your dad."

   "Ah, sometimes tragedy just happens." Camille pressed her lips. "But, I kind of freaked out on Billy, thus the hiding in bathroom stalls."

   "And he's still pursuing you, I see. Still ignoring the rest of us bringing our skirts just a little higher when we pass. Still caught up in whatever it is you guys have." Carol noted. "Hate to break it to you, honey bee, I bet he knows the date was fantastic and he's going to come back for more of you. How many guys our age come back for more than sex?"

   "Billy and I are friends, we hang out."

   "Friends, huh. And where did he learn that from?" Carol hummed, lips lifting before she blew toward the window again. "You're changing Hargrove, the entire school sees it. Maybe he's still rough and tumble as you'd say... Still an asshole, most boys are on different levels. And he might also drive the car equivalent to a few tons of rumbling sex all over town. But, he's lost in Camille Harper and just fine without a map."

   "He's changing me too, I think." Camille admitted, running her tongue over her bottom lip.

   "Hey so… The whole paint thing was Tommy.” Carol dropped her shoulders. “He’s an asshole too and I’m dating an asshole. It…wasn’t cool.”

   “I dated more assholes than I like to admit. You only have one under your belt.” Camille pressed her lips and Carol scoffed as she flicked ashes.

   “Guess I feel like I can’t do better.”

   “Well, you’re wrong. I've heard you say some dumb things, Care Bear, but I think that takes the cake. High school ends. Sooner for you than me. Whole big world outside we get to stumble blindly into. You can. Get out of Hawkins, go to college. Work. Chase something bigger.” Camille shrugged, leaning into the wall. “Just have to let that blind terror in and believe it.”

   “Right.” Carol smiled now. “Summer goals.”

   “Good start.” Camille snuffed out the smoke. “Thanks for that.”

   “You know where to find me, you need more.” Carol watched her go off, lips lifting. Camille was late to chemistry, plopping into her seat like one of the burnouts. Heather frowned and eyed Billy for some kind of explanation. He shrugged and scooted closer.

   “Hey.” He roused nothing and watched for their teacher to pass out a worksheet. Billy was used to this since she came back to class. “Still at Chief Hopper’s place?”

   “Yes.” She didn’t look up so he tried another tactic.

   “So, Max…” He licked his lips. “She’s forcing me to be in some secret party with her. Kid stuff. Wants me to name it. I got nothing, I need ideas.” Her friend was here. Camille tried to disengage. She opened her book and exhaled out her nose. Billy was casual, going over his own work while she struggled.

   “Suppose it needs some kind of epic duo angle.” Camille lifted her eyes after a minute. “Skywalkers.”

   “Pass.” He sucked in his cheeks to hide amusement.

   “It has to be just a little nerdy. Mad Max deserves the best, you know.” Camille was writing. “Batman and Robin.”

   “…Am I Batman in this scenario?”

   “I’ll let you think you are.” She didn’t falter. Billy’s hand came to touch her free one in her lap because he couldn't stop himself. Because he'd fallen in love with his friend. Because telling her such a thing was impossible. Camille stilled like she was confused, slipping away after a beat when her own heart picked up. “I’m okay. Really. I haven’t heard anything else.” Her mother was no longer suffering in this life. Perhaps, there was something better in that. Easier to reframe. He knew that well. "Nancy told me you had a little visit with Steve. New drinking buddy."

   "Hardly, I just...didn't want to go home." Billy swallowed and looked anywhere but at her. "She tell you anything else?"

   "Just that you both are quite the pair when drunk. I knew that already. Not sure if I'm ready to see it in action though."

   "Learned that Wheeler doesn't take shit from anyone. Good to know." He mused, eyeing her again before he scooted closer. "Camille."

   "Billy, you don't have to say anything. Really, you don't. At least she can't be touched and prodded anymore...and I can't lose what I never had." She placed her palms flat on the table in a way that was submissive. "I just need you guys to keep my life normal...or something next to that. I don't want to detach. I don't. But, I have to keep going, if I look back I'm lost and I can't... I can't." Camille resumed writing, pencil scratching quick along her paper. She needed to stay in control. Billy watched her shoulders drop, pencil slowing. "Thanks...for showing a girl a good time."

   "I'm going to do it again." Billy grew certain. "Show you a good time." She gave the slightest scoff to hide her amusement, drowning it out. Camille stilled to peer at the table for a lingering moment.

   "You ever feel cursed?" These words were all too familiar to the world.

   "Every damn day of my life," Billy Hargrove smiled so full and intent, head shaking, "but, not when I'm with you." He leaned in. "Hey." Hazel eyes lifted finally to catch his gaze.

   "Maybe it's better if we stop. You and me."

   "Do you care?" He inhaled sharper, braced to be hurt because she had the power to hurt him. How the hell did he let that happen?

   "No." She replied instead, seeing him go lax. Camille didn't use her power to harm him. Billy waited with a look that was easy to read. Say it. "I want to see you again."

   "Plan on it." He sat straighter, turning back to his own paper. "You and I stopping will never be better, just so we're clear."

   "You're getting better and better at that, you know?"

   "At what?"

   "Cutting the bullshit." She smiled more so to herself and he shrugged.

   “Well,” Billy tapped his pencil eraser upon the table, “Max was wondering if you wanted to come over sometime after school today. Dad and Susan are out late. Date night. Maybe four or so. Just some TV and Chinese takeout. I will also be there which is an added bonus for your benefit.” His damn charm.

   “Hopper’s kept a close eye on me. My mom flies home in two days. I’ll think about it. Tell Max that I appreciate it.” Camille looked at him directly this time. Tired eyes. Still pretty, he thought. They faced the front and didn’t speak again.

** *** ***

   Camille knew not to do it. She knew. But, the lock already clicked. Breaking into a police station was perhaps not the best idea. But, neither was Jim admitting the files were in his office. Skills picked up. She got the lock done and maneuvered her body up into the window. Jim wasn't in. Town kept him busier these days. She crept about, dropping to the floor before she got into his desk next.

   "Come on." Hands felt around, thumbing over papers. A photo slipped from a book in his desk. Little girl with bright blue eyes and blonde pigtails. Two healthy parents. A younger Jim Hopper smiling like he owned stars in the sky. Sara. Camille sighed, careful when she set it back. "El and I lost our parents. You lost your daughter. We fit." She'd mused quietly, moving again to find the file in another drawer. Footsteps from officers passed outside. Camille curled herself up on the floor and braced herself, opening the file.

   "Oh, god." She hitched like she might cry, covering her lips. Death certificate. Evidence. Photos of the room. Of her paled mother with her wrists slashed. Too desperate and violent a way to die for a women who tried every single day to communicate with her lost daughter through dance and art. Mad or not. 006 carved into flesh. Camille's own scar was hidden under a watch and Billy's glimmering bracelet. There was a peculiar picture of a pillow with a spot of blood at the center. Like someone coughed red into it. "They held it over your face...and did this to you. Bet you fought it... I'll fight for both of us now, Mom." Camille held the file close, back pressed against the desk when a lock clicked. The door opened and she froze up, eyes wide.

   "Finish the report before you leave, hand it into Flo." Jim spoke and shut the door. Camille was about to scramble, but he came around the desk and jerked so hard that he dropped his coffee cup. Her hand surged out. Unseen forces stopped it from crashing. Coffee splashed forth and reeled back in to not make a mess. "Camille...are you going to explain why you're: A) Not in sixth period. B) Breaking into my office?"

   "I'll take C, please. Forget you saw me." She flashed her teeth, sniffling blood when the coffee mug lifted high so he could take it. Jim saw what was in her arm and sighed, setting his cup aside to kneel down.

   "I kept that here for a reason. So you wouldn't see it." He slipped the papers away. "Your last memories of your mother shouldn't be this."

   "My first memories of her weren't that great either. Great for me though, I'll never forget either. Can't forget a thing." Camille didn't get up so Jim stayed there. "I guess I just...wanted to know for sure. She's not suffering anymore. I'm just trying to hold onto that."

   "Maybe you can't forget anything but, everyday...you're going to get up and survive whatever life throws at you. Until you feel you're actually living again. Time's going to keep passing and that evidence is something to hold onto. It'll get better."

   "Is it better for you?" She asked, arms around her knees.

   "You know, I think it is." Jim affirmed. "El came into my life and it felt like I finally-"

   "Woke up?" She asked, scoffing. Hopper seemed to agree with that. "Then, I barged in."

   "You were a bit of a surprise. I've known you a few years. Known the Harpers. But, I'm glad...knowing you like I do now. You and I are alike. Sorry. Both think we're in this hell alone."

   "Strange but, you might be the only one I feel who really fucking gets it. All this shit. This damn town and their prying eyes. Waiting for them to come at me with pitch forks."

   "There are good people here too who won't let that happen." Jim reached out for her hand. Fingers curled. "Let me get you back to the cabin."

   "Actually, can you drive me to pick up my car? Billy invited me over. Just some food and TV with Max. Figured I'd get my car, do my homework at your place, then go." Camille shrugged. "It might be nice to have some time out with a friend. I've been dodging them all since...it happened. You know, sometimes I wish I had the power to make people just forget me. I know how that sounds but, when people know you...it's just so exposing. Too intimate. Sometimes I can't stand it. Even for people I'm close with and care about."

   "Letting people care about you can be...harder than you think. But, it's good. Even if it hurts at times, it can be good. It means you're making it. These connections you have are so important, Camille."

   "It's just too jarring, how the tiniest things means so much. Say so much. How they burst like fireworks and you have to stop yourself from floating. Someone taking your hand to comfort you even for a second. Passing you a pencil when you don't have one without asking. Making sure you get home safe." Camille chuckled to herself. "Them not letting you spend the night in a den of jackals. Even if it's one night. They spent that time to keep you safe. And you look at this person for weeks. Months. You realize that you've loved them all this time. Since they took a singular moment to look up at the stars just because you asked them to take that beat and just watch. Hoping that they'll wake up too one day. And how they tried. Since they made the choice not to leave you behind when your life was crumbling. Or did something as simple as put their coat around you and remember that you love pink peonies. But, you don't realize it, you just watch them while their looking away. Each perfect angle of their face. Lashes and freckles. Bright eyes that always seem to find you. And they're just so beautiful, you can't... They just put your safety first. They listen and grow and you could spend an eternity growing with them because they're breathtaking. Every moment just feels worth it." Camille let out her breath, eyes searching before she found herself in one perfect motion. "I love him." Jim Hopper let himself beam when she met his eyes.

   "You have for a while, Camille."

   Billy had realized the truth in one great burst. Camille's discovery echoed slower with the passing of time. Two souls who stumbled and fell and rose higher. Hands clasped. Two souls who found each other at exactly the right moment in this world.

** *** ***

   “You think she’ll come?” Max kicked her legs, sitting on Billy’s bed while he fixed his hair in the mirror. Music turned on low for once echoed out his speakers.

   “Don’t know. She’s going through something.” He swallowed, changed the subject. “Gave it some thought. Camille had a terrible idea and I liked it.”

   “For?”

   “Dumb secret party name.” He’d muttered and she beamed.

   “Well?”

   “Batman and Robin.”

   “I want to be Batman.”

   “Not happening, I’m older. You’ll get there.” Billy scoffed at her. Weird how easy this was. How comfortable they’d become here. Used to be she could barely set foot into his room. “Robin’s important though. Looks out for Batman when he’s off doing dumb shit. Covers him.”

   “I can cover you. Robin did some dumb stuff also. Probably stole the Batmobile few times. Batman had to cover for him too.”

   “Don’t remind me.” Billy gestured with a bottle of hairspray. “We are not calling my Camaro the Batmobile.”

   “Can I have it when you’re too old to drive?”

   “Jeez, Max, how fucking old do you think I am? And, fuck no. Letting anyone even look at my Camaro is already too far.”

   “You’ll want a different car eventually,” she laughed at him. “I’ll buy it.”

   “Sure, with arcade game tokens.” Billy teased, dotting cologne on himself.

   "You really want Camille to come over." Max grinned, smug. "Acting like you're getting ready for a date." It was true.

   "Max, you'll appreciate what I do when you get to high school and realize how many of those little shits around you don't bathe." Footsteps sounded down the hallway. They both froze when Neil jerked open the door as per his usual trick to catch Billy doing something he shouldn't.

   “What’s going on?” Couldn't even appreciate them getting along. It was all about control.

   “Just talking about what food to order tonight,” Max was swift to lie.

   “Neil, we’re going to be late for the reservation.” Susan pressed her nervous smile, tugging at his arm.

   "No girls. No leaving." He pointed. "And take the fucking earring out, you look like a pansy."

   "Yes, sir." Billy dropped the dangling piece on his dresser. Neil stared for a beat and Billy shrugged. "What?"

   "I meant it. No girls. Not even your tutor. Tell her to dress appropriately when she steps into my house. Girls like her, they're sending a message dressing that way. One day, she'll learn."

   "I got it. No girls." Billy shrunk back. His dad started to turn. They were almost in the clear. Almost.

   “What the hell is that?” Neil stopped, grew colder. Billy followed his gaze to something stuffed under his pillow. Something baby pink. Max scrambled up to move when Neil yanked for it. A light shirt Camille had left over one of the nights she stayed. Well, Billy swiped it. Liked the smell of her perfume. “Well, well, well. You are still bringing whores into my house, Billy. What, are you fucking them while the family is home?” Susan came to calm him and cringed back when he pointed her away like a nosy pet.

   “Dad, no-”

   "Hope you're wrapping your shit, at least," Neil smacked the side of his head, advancing. "Hate to see the pussy offspring that my sorry son brings into the world." Billy put his arms up instinctively which was the wrong thing to do as Neil pushed him back into shelves. "Can't be a man now, Billy, you certainly won't raise one."

   "Neil, let's just go." Susan tried again.

   "I haven't brought anyone else home, not since we moved." Billy flinched when another slap twisted his body.

   "Look at this fucking coward I raised." Neil gestured in a demeaning way, ghosting a horrid smile when he peered at Max and Susan. "Can't even fight his battles."

   "It's my shirt," Max insisted. No chance because it smelled of Camille's perfume and was nowhere near her size. "I was...trying a different style, getting advise. I only hid it when you walked in because it's pink and I...didn't want you guys to see me with anything pink. You know?" The younger girl tried to laugh it off then reached for the shirt only for Neil to chuckle cruelly and hold it higher.

   "Got your sister lying for you now, Billy?" He seethed. "You corrupt everyone who gets near you. You're disgusting. I raised a disgusting, little boy. Say it, Billy. Tell them what you are."

   "Neil." Susan closed her eyes to spare Billy some embarrassment. He just stared so Neil was in his face.

   "Say it!" He slammed Billy backwards, hand forcing him to look at Susan and Max.

   "I'm..." His breath caught. Lip quivering when his vision blurred. "I'm a disgusting, little boy."

   "A disrespectful pussy. Go on, Billy." Neil released him. "Shoulders back. Say it."

   "A...A disrespectful pussy." Billy's entire body grew hot when emotion swelled up. "Sir."

   "I will not have this filth in my house." His dad shook the fabric. Billy felt his eyes well again, tried not to feel the pain. Neil Hargrove always knew the buttons to press without remorse. “And this reeks of that greedy slut. You know who I mean.” Neil had muttered a nastier slur under his breath.

   “We’re just classmates! She tutors, that's all. I didn't pick her. ...Don’t you fucking call her that. She doesn't have anything to do with this.” Billy was charging now too, unable to stop. Hands shaking.

   "Bad enough that I have to hear about her slutty exploits around town. Know that my own dipshit son keeps her company. You know she seduced an older boy, got herself knocked up. Killed the baby. Just so she could let more boys take her upstairs. Pass her around."

   "Neil, please!" Susan begged now.

   "Billy has to learn! There are people in this world you just don't associate with. It's for his benefit." Neil revved. "Don't care how old the little tramp was, I bet she asked for it. They always do and then they cry and cry when they regret it later. No responsibility for her actions. Spare me. A slut and a child killer." Billy felt himself snap, tearfully confessing the horrible truth.

   "Better to not live than be raised by people who fucking hate you!" Billy hit the wall when Neil punched him. Direct in the crescent of his eye socket. Full force. Usually Neil went with more pushes and slaps. Then, the belt. But, not today.

   “Don’t you talk back to me!”

   “Neil, stop it! Stop it please!” Susan reached for Max when the little girl scurried to avoid the fighting. Billy saw his blood spatter the ground, didn't recall hitting the floor. Bottom lip busted when he'd bitten it. Dazed, he lifted his eyes as Neil breathed over him.

   “Or maybe you like to wear this like a fucking pussy boy,” he balled the fabric up and mashed it against Billy’s face. Smothering him. “Smells like you disrespecting my word in this house.” This time felt different. Neil was bright purple. Bursting. Readied to explode. Eyes filled with genuine disgust and hatred for the boy he brought into this world. Fear coursed and Billy did something he’d never done. He scrambled up to run out, passing his frantic stepmom. Susan pushed Max aside and tried to stop Neil with her hands on sheer instinct. Another first. Not even a thought behind it. “You better run, boy! I better not catch you, Billy!” Neil smacked Susan back into the wall, not even realizing. First time he’d been physical with her.

   “Mom!” Max reeled to help her. Terrified when there was a crash in the kitchen. “Stop! Stop it!” She’d yelled this before. But, Neil really seemed like he wanted to kill him. And he did catch him halfway to the front door. Tearing at Billy’s curls and throwing him into the counter. Head smashed, blood busted from his temple and lips. Billy gave off a horrifying groan, voice crackling like dying embers. Unable to process anything else, he tried to roll over on his front. Tried to keep running. Tried.

   “You disrespect me, you get punished.” Neil jerked his belt off as Billy attempted to stand up with his hands and knees. Limbs wobbling. He didn’t get a chance to breathe before it came down. “Want your whore still? Want to keep lying and disrespecting me?” Neil was shaking like a mad bull, hand on the back of Billy’s neck to smack him down. Bright blue eyes lifted, begging.

   "Dad." The childish whimper caught, pitiful and silenced. He squirmed, face pressed to the tile and bottom up in the air.

   Stars exploded. Neil held him down like a bad dog and whipped his back full force. Didn't stop. Max realized as Billy’s legs skidded and jerked unnaturally. As his face went red with a great shudder. That he couldn’t breathe. Neil’s hand crushed his windpipe down in all that chaos. He didn’t even notice that his son was dying. Not for a second. Arms felt around the floor, fingers desperate and slowing because he was losing his fight. Max began screaming and screaming...and then she also did something she’d never done before. Red hair soared like a cape. She flung herself at them, covering as much of Billy as she could with her little body. The belt came up and Neil stilled. Finally hearing what she'd been wailing all that time.

   “He can’t breathe! He can’t breathe!” Max kept shouting, crying hard and vibrating. Slowly, Neil pulled his hand up. Billy wheezed for air and coughed. Drool and blood left his mouth. He hacked for quick breaths and Max stayed over him, arms squeezing tight. Welts bled through his tank while Billy spasmed for that desperate air. Susan was in the doorway, crying as well with her hands to her lips. Neil stumbled up, belt dropping before he took off out the front door. Headlights blared and he sped off to get away from the chaos. Billy stayed there in a state of shock, unable to lift himself up. Lips opened while he heaved and puffed.

   “Billy,” Susan was kneeling down.

   “Don’t touch! Don’t touch him!” Max was inconsolable as she hovered over her brother, swiping until her mom stilled to get a phone.

   “He needs the hospital.”

   “No…no,” Billy was hoarse. Sore. “Camille. I want Camille.”

   “He wants Camille.” Max yanked the phone and raged. “Go away! Go away! Get out!” Susan scrambled back, racing out to go find Neil in her own car. Camille couldn’t understand a word Max said on the phone. Few things came together in too quick breaths. She parked far enough around the corner and ran, pushing the ajar front door open. Poor Max was covering Billy again, one hand placed atop his head to smooth curls. Petting him to keep him alert. She coached his breathing to match her own. Camille watched his hand inch toward her. Saw the disaster left along the room. Neil's belt on the floor.

   “Oh, my god. Billy.” Camille fell on her knees in a flash. Billy’s cheek pressed to the cold tile still, bloody saliva smeared there. Disoriented, he tried to say her name and instead wheezed. “I’ll call Hopper.”

   “He said no cops." Max lifted up. "No doctors. They’ll make it worse. Neil lies. Please, just help him.”

   “Max, I need you to go find a notebook. Record everything that happened while it’s fresh. If you want to help Billy, you have to record it every single time. Remember anything else, add that. Dates if you can. He needs you to do that. You get your mother to talk too.”

   “She’s too scared.” Max whimpered so Camille took her face. “No one ever believes me.”

   “They will, you have to try. I promise. Go.” Camille eased Billy onto his side, he was now curled into the smallest ball possible. Half aware and quivering. “Billy, I’m so sorry. Do your parents have a camera?”

   “Polaroid.” Max called back.

   “Bring it to me.” Camille hushed Billy in his dazed whimpering, petting his hair because it was the only thing he seemed to respond well to. “Close your eyes.” She flashed pictures of his wounds as quick as she could. Each one. And the state of the room. The blood spattered on the wall and Neil’s belt. “Max, take these and hide them, we need to get him into the bathroom.” Camille called next. "Billy, I'm going to lift you up but, I need your help. We just need to make it down the hall."

   "Kay...Okay." He sputtered, arm winding around Camille when she strained to heave him up. Max came for his other arm. They half carried him while he moaned and closed his eyes, lulling against the tub as he was put down.

   “Billy, stay here with me. Don’t fall asleep yet.” She took his jaw carefully into her hands, tried to find his gaze. "It's your turn to stick here with me. Okay, sweet face?"

   "Yes," he'd managed in one pained hiss. Eyes tightly shutting.

   "Good, you're doing so well." Camille encouraged to gain more of a response. Billy blindly reached for a loose towel and brought it into his lap, fingers bunched up the cloth so he set his curled legs straight.

   “Ice. First aid kit.” Max was on his other side again. Billy’s bright eyes cracked open to see her while Camille cleaned his face with a sterile wipe.

   “You covered me.” He rasped. Max pressed a slight smile, eyes watery still.

   “I said that I would.” She sniffled. His neck was already splotched with purple. Billy let them take care of him, easing his shirt off to clean his back next. Camille reached for the towel he was clinging to and he balled up again.

   "Just Camille." He'd shuddered.

   "Let me get him into the shower. Go pick out some clothing...watch for your parents." Camille persuaded so Max left them alone. "Come on, the water will soothe your body some."

   "I'm disgusting," he whimpered, eyes lifted and Camille realized why he was so embarrassed. A dark stain marred the crotch of his jeans under the towel. "Fucking pissed myself. Don't even know when. I'm disgusting. I'm fucking disgusting."

   "No, no. You're not. Billy. Look at me, look here." She held his face again, thumbs smoothing. "Just focus on me. Stay with my voice. I'm going to get you clean."

   "I pissed myself." He was crying, eyes anywhere else because he felt too dirty so she let him go. Camille peered down again, attempted to find some more words.

   "That's okay." She eased. Tried to grant him some dignity. "It's okay." Camille reached for fresh towels and set them on the toilet. "I'll get you cleaned up. Billy, it's okay." Helping him out of his wet jeans, Camille realized this was her first time seeing him nude in the light. Tanned. Beautiful. Groomed and sprinkled with a trail of body hair. Skin smooth across his chest, arms, and legs. Scarred with soft welts along his back. Easier to see in florescent light in you're actually looking. Beatings that went too far. As if some of them didn't. Camille didn't stare, just watched his face for subtle twitches that showed his current mental state and displays of pain. "Can you stand?" He tried so hard to. Limbs wobbled like a collapsed marionette. Billy didn't want to ask, instead he braced one hand on the tub and his other reached for Camille's arm.

   "Ah, fuck," he got under the water, leaning into the wall now. "Can't."

   "Hang in there," Camille locked the door and pulled off her shirt. Bra went next. She leaned in to wash him after tying her hair back, half holding him up while he sagged into the tiles. Water cleansed his skin. Camille told him every little thing she was going to do before she did it so he didn't flinch as much. Praising him for doing so well in turn. She filled the space with her soothing voice to keep him aware and calm. Didn't ask him what happened because none of it was his fault. She got some of out Max on the phone but, not much. His neck confirmed her fear though. Neil almost killed him.

   "One more rinse. I'm going to tilt your head again. Good. Good job, Billy." Camille continued. There was something so enthralling about her touching him in such a non sexual way. His face was serene under the spray, droplets falling around his eyes and lips. Down his cheeks and curls. "Stay there, I'm just going to shut off the water and get towels. Can I dry you, Billy?" Camille waited for a nod. Head pounding, he managed to stand better after the shower. Camille put her bra and shirt back on, grabbing the biggest towel to wrap around his shoulders and ease him out. "Hold yourself there for a moment." Hands clutched the sink. His head lowered so he didn't have to see himself when fog left the mirror. "Good. Little longer." Fluffy towels worked down his body, soothing along sore muscles. Camille lowered and rubbed down his thighs all the way to his feet. She dried his chest and shoulders, draping the towel around him. Hands reached for a smaller one for his hair, ruffling it. "What do you like to put into your hair after the shower?"

   Billy realized she was trying to make him feel as normal as she could. God, it was comforting.

   "Two pumps." He grew too soft and picked up a bottle with shaken hands. "Root to tip. Scrunch it in after."

   "Got it." Camille eased him to the floor when he hunched over, towel now wrapped around his waist. She let him sit against her legs while she combed his hair and massaged her fingers into it with the product. Scrunched his curls up after to dry them some. Camille kissed his head for good measure. Billy let himself be babied for the first time since his mother walked out. Deft fingers applied products he liked and then first aid ointments he needed. "Let's get you some clothing, Max is probably worried."

   "Wait," Billy shifted on his knees, eyes lifting to see her own before she could stand. He did something peculiar, arms wrapped around her legs then up her hips. Billy pressed the side of his face into her lap, let himself feel utterly vulnerable. Hands came to his biceps, tracing contours of him. He laid a single kiss into her outer thigh, head lifting. One hand came to her shoulder, edging her forward so he could press his lips to hers. Camille allowed him to kiss her, soft and lengthy. Billy just wanted to breath her in for awhile.

   "They could come home soon." Camille had to warn when he nudged his head into her cheek.

   "We could hide." He sounded so small. Her lips lifted.

   "You could come with me. Back to Jim's cabin. Just pack a bag. Don't stay here tonight. Let me help. You helped me." She offered and his eyes opened. Reality washed over them. Billy averted his gaze to fiddle with her hair. Briefly, his lip trembled. That was answer enough. "Please."

   "My situation is different. He'll find me. Drag me back and do worse. Go after you and Susan and Max."

   "Jim can stop him. Put him in a cell."

   "And after when my dad gets out of that cell? Because we both know he will. Camille, just leave it."

   "We need to get you into bed." Camille managed to slip out from him, sneaking away to see Max writing. "You need to hide all that somewhere. Places you trust. The time will come. I'm certain. We just have to prepare for it."

   "Why won't he go now?"

   "It's complicated. Billy's just now learning to heal. Years of hurting...it takes time to undo all that." Camille tucked hair from her face. "I'll get him dressed and we need to get him into bed. Make sure he drinks lots of water. No beer. Eats a meal. Takes something for the headache. And cleans the wounds. They'll look worse before they get better. Can I count on you, Max?"

   "Yes, I got it. I'll cover it... I'll cover him." Max was encouraged. Camille turned with a smile to go see Billy again. She got him into something comfortable, led him to his room. Max turned on some music he liked to create a bit of noise, helped tuck him into bed. She moved to sit against the wall behind his legs. Camille eased herself at his side, fingers shifting his hair away.

   “We have to go to Hopper. He’ll believe you. He can help you too.” Camille was careful and he tried to shake his head, quivering. "Billy, I promise you can make it out of this. You have to hold on, we're here for you. Neil won't win. You'll survive him. It's possible."

   "You're wrong. Dad always wins." Billy let her curl one hand into his.

   “No, I'm not. I know how this sounds but, I want you to hear it. Don't you dare give up. Not here. I won't... Record it. Please. Just do that. Neil is getting worse.”

   “He’ll kill you.” Max offered. “He brainwashed you and made you think this is it, Billy…and it’s not. I always wanted an older brother and I finally found him and he’s fighting so hard…and I don’t want him to die.” She crumbled a little and so did he. Max placed her head on his shoulder, arm draped over his torso above the covers. Camille was petting her hair, soothing her while she shook. Billy forced his eyes elsewhere, body clenched. He gave a slight nod. The sounds of two cars pulling back into the driveway jarred them all.

   “If he sees me, he’ll take it out on you again.” Camille placed one kiss on Billy’s head then Max’s as the little girl helped sneak her out the window. Pink fabric caught her attention and she realized it. This was her fault. Billy reached out and missed trying to stop her from slipping away. “Tomorrow. School... I promise you.” Billy wasn't sure what she was promising. But, he believed her either way.

   “Don’t let them see you,” Max was quick, nodding before she closed the window. She sat in front of Billy now when the door opened. Susan somehow convinced Neil to return. He came in to see Max planted there in front of her wounded brother.

   “He knows I had to do it. He knows what happens when he disobeys me. My son can’t even be a man, I-” Neil drew quieter before he was hard again. Eyes anywhere else. “You'll never learn respect. I've tried with you. You know, my dad, he...he taught me hard lessons too. It made me the man I am today. It was for my benefit. One day, you'll understand. God, I hope you do, Billy. This is a small town, people talk. ...I see you pursuing her again…you bring any more whores home and I’ll put bars on your goddamn window.” He slammed the door. Max turned on a lamp while Billy scooted further into the wall. He wished so much to disappear into it.

   “Don’t have to stay here.” He spoke finally. Vocal cords sore.

   “I know.” She replied, pulling open the notebook to tape horrid pictures down. Max snagged a pen and began to write more. Billy watched her, fading from the aches and exhaustion. Wondered if the dark was better.

   “What are you doing there?” He asked and Mad Max just became ice.

   “Recording it.”

** ** **

   Camille stumbled up to the cabin when night covered her. Stars twinkle too politely for all the hell on this Earth. Maybe it was because they were already dead. Resting. Jim was on the dark porch in his uniform smoking when he saw the car pull up.

   "You didn't have to stay up." She thought briefly about asking for a smoke.

   "Wanted to make sure you got in safe." Jim snuffed the burning ashes out. Camille welled, not knowing where the emotion came from. How something so simple as wanting another person to be safe read so significantly like high beams. An act of true love she needed. One she wanted to give back. "Camille? You're crying."

   "Aren't I always these days?" She chuckled and wiped her eyes. Without thinking, Camille bounded forward into his arms. Jim caught her, shocked at first. "I was at Billy's...it was bad."

   "Come inside, tell me what happened." He led her in while she wiped tears away.

   "Is Billy okay?" El shot up from the couch.

   "I tried to help them. I don't know what all happened but, I found Billy on the floor...Max was over him. Neil beat the hell out of him. His neck, I don't know. I don't." Camille was sat down and Jim followed. Instantly, she was up again.  “Jim, this is getting worse. I have Max keeping some kind of record for it now but, Neil lost his shit. Max said it over the phone. Didn’t even know Billy was choking there. I can’t just…” Camille was pacing now. “And my stupid, unhinged mother is going to be home soon. I’m…I don’t know what the hell to do about any of it.”

   “Billy or Susan have to come forward. You’re giving it your all. The best we can do is support him. I'm sorry, I am. I'd go over there and pound Neil Hargrove myself, if I could. Guys like him get out if this doesn't stick. We have to make it.” Hopper sighed. As if he hadn't thought about that. Beating the shithead himself. “Come sit down.” The teen slipped into a comfy chair, legs curling up while her arms crossed. “If Billy won’t talk, the best we can do is record the evidence. Keep him as safe as we can. Camille, what you can’t do is try to save everyone yourself.” Billy. Barbara. Her parents. All those kids like her. The list went on.

   “Sometimes it’s the only time I feel I’m saving myself too.” She admitted, sniffling. Jim felt that hit hard. El came to Hopper when he beckoned. “I keep seeing it in my head. Billy slumped over with Max covering him. I can’t…stop thinking about it. And he refuses to let you help him. He refuses the hospital. I think he's giving up and I can't let him. I can't.” She rubbed the wound scarring currently on her arm. “And my mother…did she cry and fight? Did she just give in? She was helpless there and I wasn’t there for her or…or Barb. Fuck. I lived the high life and everyone else just suffered. It hurts.” El was already wrapping her arms around Camille.

   “Not your fault.” El pressed this time in her usual certain tone. “Say it.”

   “El.”

   “Say it.”

   “It’s…not my fault.” Camille relented and pressed her lips into a line. Hopper had his hands clasped, nodding.

   “Kid, believe me…trying to save everyone. Doing it alone. It just eats you. It’s impossible. You…You become this giant black hole and it just swallows everyone else. You can't give if it leaves you with nothing.” He lifted his eyes to see her agree silently. “I need you both to be safe.”

   “I’ll try. To not spend myself, I mean. But, I’m going back to see my mother when she gets home.” Camille was nodding again. “I have to finish what I started. Edna’s going to come for me. We both know that. I don’t know when. She watched me my whole life. Hated me. Never displayed it. She’s patient. But, I know she’s coming so I have the upper hand. I have the Party behind me.” She scoffed, tried harder to smile. “I just know that I have to confront this. Nowhere left to hide soon. Lab still doesn't know all I know. Neither does mother. My mom wants her daughter. Fine. Take her. For now, I’ll do what you said. I'll try.”

   “Which part?”

   “I’ll try to be a kid again.” Camille exhaled. "With help from friends, I think we can manage."

Chapter Text

   Camille glided again at the same time Billy forced himself to come to school. Spun a charming story about a fight he’d gotten into. Won. Only because he’s Billy fucking Hargrove made of liquid heat and skin like steel. Nothing more or less. Other kids loved it. Always and forever the keg king. Gym class was utter hell. He hid under clothing for the first time until wounds started to heal. Camille bubbled like a crisp glass of champagne. She imagined the bottle shattering all over the floor. Glass to walk over. Lips painted a cherry shade. Pristine and lost. No time for dead parent blues. No, she was bright and rosy red now.

   “How’s the mom today?” Billy had whispered in chemistry. She shrugged, blowing an idle lock of hair out of her face. He stopped himself from tucking it.

   “About a solid four out of ten. I don’t know. Came back from the trip as you know and acting like nothing happened. Brought me new clothing. Hugged me and I smiled like an atomic bomb. Made me model everything. Easier when I’m a babydoll. That part I can play. I haven’t seen her with wine or pills since.” She lifted her eyes. “We have dinner. Talk about school. Friends. Boys. Fashion. Smiles and all. Cherry ripe evening. And every single day since, she leaves fucking sunflowers about the house. Won't let them wilt in peace.” Camille wished she could wilt in peace too.

   “Not sure if that behavior bugs me more than the crazy switch or not.”

   “Ditto, I’m waiting for her switch to flip either way,” she rubbed her neck and faced him while they worked on a lab. Chemical reactions. A flask of liquid bubbled between them. “You’re sounding better. Your voice.”

   “Hoped you’d find it kind of sexy.” He erased something on his page and continued writing. Camille peered at his eyebrow, a slight healing scar now cut through it. Gave his look even more of an edge.

   "What's Neil been up to?"

   “Dad can’t stand to be in the same room as me still. Can’t look at me but, something’s off. Feels like he’s still keeping tabs and waiting for me to fuck up. Inviting work friends over for dinner like we’re a happy family. They'd all look right at my face and neck...and don’t dare to ask a thing. Just think I'm the fucking problem in that house.”

   “He knows he went too far. I mean, he’s always gone too far,” Camille sighed, “but, what he did to you. To Susan almost, pushing her like that. The lashing out is worse. Abusers are smart. Unfortunately."

   "Speak from experience, Camille?" Billy peered at her hands from under thick lashes. Oh, how she avoided the topic of her ex and the summer after her abortion. Billy heard rumors of that summer. Rumors that gave the young crowned Queen a promiscuous reputation.

   "He’s going to try to cover his own ass first. Make himself into a great head of house while you look like some troubled teen.” Camille finished instead. He tapped his eraser idly, fiddling with the pencil between his fingers.

   “Do you miss your dad, even though he was shitty?” Billy looked up at last and so did she, not faltering.

   “You know, when I was little...we used to get up early on Sundays. Make blueberry pancakes together. Favorite breakfast of all time. He’d smile and we’d joke. Watch cartoons. Smell was amazing. He always flipped them in the air. It was the one morning we actually got together before work consumed him. We’d pull up a stool and I’d help mix. Add all the blueberries I wanted. He never once burned them. I miss those days. Days my life felt real. The way the smell filled the house. The few moments he really felt like my dad. We did it for years after, even when I was a teen. Talk about school and...everything. I think back and I know...I know for a fact that I meant more to him. Mom too. I know that maybe there were times when he protected me from going back. Terrible as it always was. So, yes, there are times I miss him. Because he did something as simple as take the time to not burn the damn pancakes.” Camille pressed her lips up. “It’s okay to want a better dad and...to want the shitty dad you have to get better. I just, don’t want to see you hurt for hoping so hard at times.”

   “He’s never going to change. Even if I did.” Billy agreed, eyes on the bubbling chemicals when she added a bit of liquid from a dropper. They watched the colors change. “Sometimes, I think I hate my mom. Not all because dad wants me to.”

   “She left, you're angry, and you miss her.”

   “I know she had no chance getting me. I know that. I just wish I knew if she tried.”

   “For an amazing kid like you, I’m sure she did, Billy.” Camille paused when he grew still. Swallowing, Billy filled in something on his paper instead. “I want to try something.” His eyes snapped up.

   “Here?”

   “Not like that,” she snickered. Partners around them spoke between each other. “I want you to write a letter. Could be to one person or a few. Your choice. You don’t have to read it to me unless you want. Pour some stuff out. I've done projects with you, I know you're a solid writer. Just vent some. Questions you wish you asked. Thoughts you wish you shared. Write it all out and read it back.” She watched him debate it, pencil tapping his palm now. Nervous fingers always gave him away.

   “I’ll think about it.” Billy paused to see her beam. “If you will.”

   “Fair.” Camille went back to her paper. “Spring break is coming, they’re going to start the annual raging bonfires. You haven't experienced a good Hawkins spring break yet."

   "Camille, I'm from California...we know what we're doing."

   "Try something a little more intimate on for size then. Everyone drives down to the lake. Music. Alcohol. Games. What have you. We should bring our letters, should we choose to share them or not, and burn them.”

   “It’s a date.” Billy peeked up to see her quirk a smile and lick her lips to hide it.

   “Yes, it is.”

** ** **

   “I think you’re all set. Just study up each night and we’ll go over it some more next time. Feel free to ask Jim questions too. Don't be shy.” Camille was helping El organize books on a shelf. “And here, something for fun from my collection. Just some fairy tales I used to like when I was your age.”

   “How am I doing?” El turned her head, holding the book close, and Camille smiled.

   “Amazing. I promise.” She assured her. “Just keep practicing as much as you can. Read everything you get your hands on and ask lots of questions.”

   “I will,” El agreed, confident now. “When do I get to dress like you?”

   “Well,” Camille laughed, touching her lips. “I suppose you can dress however you want within reason. You just find a style that fits you best.”

   “Max says I should be me. Not Mike or Jim.”

   “She is smart to say that. I’m glad you two are close, you know?” Camille fixed a stack of practice assignments into a folder while El packed home school supplies into a drawer. “When you get older, there are...often things that drive you from the people who care about you. You think now that it could never happen but life does it. Always put them first. I didn’t and I regret it.”

   “You broke up your Party?”

   “Yes, actually, for a while I did. But, I think I’m fixing it. Making it better even.” Camille pressed her lips. “Stick with your friends, keep them close. Everything else is just white noise.”

   “I do,” El nodded once, “I will.” She looked down at the fairy tales compiled in one book, scanning the back. “Camille?”

   “Yes?”

   “You are...happy now?”

   “I,” Camille paused, “I’m trying to be.”

   “Said you did this because you were upset,” El touched her wrist, the tiny scars hidden under a watch and bracelet could still be felt.

   “Sometimes when the world beats you down, people handle it different. Some people take things out on others and some end up taking it out on themselves. It’s wrong. Both of them.”

   "Why make pain when you already have too much of it?" She'd asked it so forwardly and Camille faltered. Kid had a point.

   "Why, indeed." She sighed. "Sometimes the pain on the inside is so great, you can't touch it. You burst. And sometimes...seeing it on the outside makes it feel acknowledged. But, it doesn't always come out well."

   “The Party...they help.”

   “Yes, they do.”

   “Billy? He helps.” El watched Camille nod.

   “Yes, he does. He made some bad choices too. Horrible ones that not everyone has forgiven him for. But, you can simply try and hope for the best. The bad things that happen to us aren’t some grand scheme to help us grow...sometimes they just hurt for a long time. I guess if you can make that pain into something better. For someone else or yourself, I think that’ll always mean more. Trying. I have some great friends and we're all trying. Are you happier?”

   “Yes.” El wasn’t hesitant. “Old friends. New friends. And...a dad. A good dad. Not like Papa.” The little girl debated it. “Not by blood. But, a paper says Hopper is my dad now. Can I call him that?” Camille leaned to her level.

   “I think he’d like that very much.” She whispered, standing taller. “You have a family you made and a boy who really cares about you. People you trust who also give that back. Unconditional love.” Camille smiled and beckoned a final textbook to her fingers to set it aside. El moved the desk and table they’d pushed together back to their corners with a tilt of her head. “You’re much stronger at that than I am. I can't twist people and squeeze bladders however I want like you. I think...the kids like us. We have a sort of focus but...we develop more. Manifest abilities we may not even realize we have. My file seemed to confirm that.”

   “Practice, you’ll get better.” El put her hands behind her back and snickered when Camille shook her head, amused. “I’m a tutor too.”

   “Suppose you are.”

   “Kali,” El began gesturing to a mask on her wall. “She told me to focus on the anger and...it worked. I was stronger. But, she was...half right. I focus on people I want to protect too. Mike. Joyce. You. Jim. Max....everyone.”

   “That’s good advice.” Camille replied. “My mom said once that love and anger make passion. And with passion, you can do anything. Guess I understand that now. Just a little.”

   “Is Billy your boyfriend?”

   “Boyfriend?”

   “Same as Mike. You guys do a lot together, just like we do.” El noted. "Why isn't he your boyfriend?"

   “I...why do you ask?”

   “Steve. Max... Everyone says he is.”

   “Everyone, huh?” Camille blushed, shrugging. “It’s a little more complicated when you get older, El.”

   “I like Mike and he likes me. We are not...complicated. I think. If you like Billy and he likes you... Ask him.” El blinked. “I could ask him.”

   “Easy,” Camille was laughing, hand up. “One thing at a time.”

   “Tell him no more compromise.”

   “Compromise?”

   “It means halfway happy.” El tugged at her wrist and Camille chuckled again.

   “You’re a lot more wise than you let on, you know.” The older teen turned when there was a knock.

   “Kids are here,” Jim poked his head in the doorway. El smiled and hurried past him without another word to go meet Mike and them in Steve’s car.

   “Your girl is smart.” Camille followed Jim out to his porch. El greeted Mike with a kiss and Hopper sighed, inhaling his cigarette. “Thought you were quitting.”

   “Trying.” He shrugged, eyeing her before he put it out. She gave him that same look Flo did. “Like to smack that Wheeler kid suddenly.”

   “Hm, the protective dad emerges. They’re young. They’re good kids, all of them.” Camille watched Steve wave as the group talked out of ear shot. “Steve will drop them off at the arcade if you can get them.”

   “Don’t drink and drive,” he gestured, nodding so she smiled.

   “Definitely not.” Camille offered, leaning back against the wood railing of his cabin. “Don’t worry so much about her. She’s bright and very happy. You helped with that. Gotta trust her to find herself just a little.” Another car sped into the dirt road. Usual rumbling like a heart being electrified back to life. Billy swerved to a quick stop and Max jumped out to see her friends with Steve.

   “Hey, Camille!” She called across the way. Billy got out too. Calm and collected. Waving, Camille nodded from her conversation with Hopper. He kept a distance from the kids, not wanting Hopper to see the bruises healing. Not wanting to overstep and engage with this group further. He started to light up a quick smoke while he leaned into his car. Camille was still talking quietly to the Chief when El snuck around his car to see him. The smoke crushed under his shoe in an instant. He stared her down and she didn’t even blink. Sunlight caught his pretty face to illuminate it. Brown eyes flicked over the marks left behind. Fading slowly.

   “Got words for me, kid, or are the starry eyes just something you like to do?” He began.

   “No more compromise.” She stated like it was a fact, arms crossing. “You think she’s pretty. Camille.” Billy was a little stunned because a tiny girl just put him on full blast. “She thinks that you’re pretty too.”

   “Hm, does she now?” He grew amused, hand rubbing the back of his neck before he stood straight and tried to be aloof but it was useless. That tone lowered, pretense gone. “Why...she say something to you?” El tried not to laugh at him. Failed.

   “Make it not complicated.” El persisted. "Want Camille to be happy."

   “Can you blink or something?” Billy watched her do so and relaxed.

   “No more complicated. Tell her that. Easy.”

   “Piece of cake.” He grew sarcastic.

   “If you think that will help, okay.” El tilted her head to see him laugh openly. “Ask her.”

   “You can't be real, kid. Got a lot to learn about the world.” Billy remarked, tugging his jacket idly.

   "You have a lot to learn about your feelings for Camille." The innocent retort slapped him into another dimension.

   “Oh?" Billy licked his lips in disbelief. "Run along, double digit. I'll give it some thought. Only because it kinda feels like you’re trying to vaporize me right now.”

   “Ask her or I will...vaporize you,” El watched his eyebrow quirk, a split second where he believed her. The little girl hurried when Lucas called for her to come back over.

   “What was that?” Camille made him jump as she appeared, arms crossing.

   “That kid gives me the creeps, but she might be cooler than anyone at our school. No offense, queen bee.”

   “No, you’re...not wrong,” she joked as he dropped his shoulders. “Steve, we should get going. The others will meet us down there.”

   “I’ll drop these guys off at the arcade and see you then,” he agreed while they piled into his BMW. “Don’t forget to pick up some supplies.”

   “We got it.” She waved to Hopper when El raced up to him to say goodbye.

   “Stick with your friends, call to check in, and keep your eyes open. Yeah?” Jim paused. “And have fun, kid.”

   “I’ll see you later,” El squeezed her arms around him, quick as a flash, “dad.” Camille smiled and got into Billy’s car. Something wistful crossed her expression as Billy pulled out to get back on the road. Def Leppard flooded from the stereo while he eyed her.

   “You bring it?”

   “Finished writing it while El was working. You?”

   “Yeah, I...let Max read some of it. Against the rules, I know, but I’m used to breaking them.” He turned a corner and she smiled.

   “I think that was probably a great exception.”

   "So, tell me about these Hawkins High ragers." Billy asked then.

   "Everyone spends all their energy running around and drinking. Lots of great music. Then, we all fall over and watch fireworks together. Only time the entire school gets along. No social hierarchy. Norm for spring and summer break though." She explained, bright today.

   "What was your secret, Harpy? Taking over as Queen so young. Some girls don't until they're seniors. You were, what, a sophomore? Younger?"

   "Oh, I did a great keg stand once." Camille winked, earning a nudge from him. Billy's hand fell to her knee while he drove. Stayed there. "I just had that indescribable bitchy quality they were all looking for. Charisma too. Everyone wanted my life. Jokes on them now. No one liked the old one. She was a bully who transferred after a drunk driving, drug thing. I was a smart and well off rich girl who could also party. Small town kids were easy to please." Billy laughed at that. "Things got strange when I was dating that asshole. No one picked up on it and after...the summer before everything went down. Before Will and Barb went missing, I mean, and battle-lines were drawn. I guess I hit a peak trying to get over him. Wild child phase. Constant parties with our school and rivals. Boys and their girlfriends. I was a hot ticket item. Parents had no idea, I was just too good. I'm pretty in pink and I demand attention." She'd laughed at that. "Maybe I'm just having the slowest, most polite mental breakdown and I don't even know it. Everyone gets caught up in the glow. Most of all, me."

   "Guess I had a summer like that too. Never ended." He smirked to himself. Camille noted his thumb rubbing a circle into her. Her next exhale lingered, eyes outside.

   "Sometimes we don't let them."

** ** **

   “Camille!” Heather clapped and hugged her after she’d spiked another ball over the net. A volleyball game broke out while the sun lowered to paint the sky pink and orange. Steve’s team was demolished and Robin happily took score of that. Beers and snacks were passed as teens danced about and played. Wind blew to chill them over time. Some dared to swim in the lake. Music echoed and a huge bonfire soared with many little ones dotting the sand. Trucks pulled up with towels and chairs all over the huge space, everyone in groups to watch the stars begin to dot and ready fireworks.

   “You guys cheated,” Steve hissed over the net. Camille merely blew him a kiss. “You know it, Cam.”

   “Don’t be a sore loser, dingus.” Robin called from a high seat. “Touching the net, that’s a foul.” She laughed and added a point to Camille’s team. Heather winked up at her in response. Pink tinted her freckled face.

   “That’s it,” Steve chased Camille and Heather down the beach, laughing as they passed Nancy and Jonathan sitting around a fire roasting marshmallows. Jonathan lifted his camera to snap photos. “Wait, not the hair!” Steve was splashed with cold water and raced back to avoid it. Heather put one arm around Camille until they tripped into the dry sand, laughing.

   “Come on, I need another drink,” Camille heaved her friend up, tugging her along.

   “Hey,” Heather smiled so full and bright then took the offered cup, “I wanted to tell you something tonight.” They veered off to the side to walk. “About me.”

   “Oh?” Camille paced along the shore next to her. Wind in their clothing. The slightest misting of water echoing forth.

   “So, there’s… I sort of started seeing someone and it’s, uh, new.”

   “Naturally.” Camille watched her friend face her. “And this person is good to you?”

   “They make me laugh.” Heather’s doe eyes were still. Nervous.

   “I think that’s extremely important.” She smiled, drinking.

   “But, it’s kind of a secret right now.” Her friend shifted her stance, both hands on her cup. “They’re...I’m…”

   “Heather.” Camille was soft, nodding to give her relief. “I’ve known. Since we were fifteen, I think.”

   “That day, huh?”

   “That day, yes. That good day. I was being pathetic and crying over an asshole." Her secret ex. "And we spent the whole night talking which we always did. Carol was too sick to come over. You remember what you told me?”

   “That you deserved a kiss from someone who cared about you and wasn’t afraid to say that.”

   "The phrase you used actually was from someone who loved you." Camille corrected idly. "And wasn't afraid to say that. And you did."

   "Ah, you remember." Heather noted.

   "Good memory."

   "And you stopped crying."

   “And you gave me the sweetest kiss I’ve ever had. Just a peck. Tried to make a girl feel better. Succeeded. And it wasn’t the kiss, I know you and I were close friends, it was how you looked at me after. All fluttered and blushed.”

   “Then I gave you one more for good measure. We were emotional and I didn’t like you like that. Okay maybe once, you’re Camille Harper. But...it made me realize I wanted something else in life. It felt right.” Heather recalled, arms crossing. “It wasn’t… I just, I knew in my gut that I was different. It was like I-"

   "Woke up?" Camille pressed her lips.

   "Yes...and I...I didn’t start liking this person until...”

   “A super cool girl once told me that high school changes people. You start to discover new things about yourself. Same great girl and I once harassed a dreadful clown together at my twelfth birthday party.” Camille shrugged, entertained.

   “It’s not...allowed. People will see me different.”

   “We’re making it allowed. People will see you’re happy and some won’t be able to stand it but the people who matter will always be there. Go at a pace that works. We have your back. I want you to feel safe being yourself.” She let Heather hug her tight.

   “Camille, I’m a lesbian.” A weight lifted.

   “Mm, I’m proud of you and I love you. And there is a girl out there giving Steve shit and making you laugh. You should go join her.” Camille kissed her cheek.

   “Looks like you’re wanted too,” Heather nodded to Billy across the way, spotting them.

   “Go, have fun.” Camille drank, lifting her cup and Heather smiled before going off.

   “What was that?” Billy had crossed to her, pushing around dancing teens.

   “Emergency girl talk, we do that from time to time.” She faced him, head tilting to kiss his cheek. No reason why but the urge struck too quick to stop it. Billy turned his eyes to see her expression.

   “Guys, smile.” Jonathan snapped a shot.

   “Not another one,” Billy complained when Camille tossed her cup in a trash and wrapped her arms around his shoulders so he couldn’t escape.

   “Oh, come on, you spend all that time fixing yourself up in mirrors. Give the world something to remember how great you look, sweet face.” She teased, smiling fully with her face near his. “Jonathan, get my good side, darling.” He chuckled and snapped another photo of the two. Billy looked down at Camille, contented.

   “They’re doing the fireworks soon!” Nancy warned. Camille tugged Billy off to follow her down the path. They went up a smaller hill for a better view and sat on a log around a lone fire, dwindling. Putting some distance between them and the party. She hugged his brown jacket close, having not given it back yet, and scooted into him. The moon and stars reflected in calm, soft ripples of water and Billy took note. Teens covered the area around the lake to relax and laugh together. Smoky color bombs and sparklers already erupting here and there. 

   “Shall we?” Camille tilted her head so he pulled a folded note from his jeans. She slipped her own out to show him. "We both reading then?"

   “You first.” He was too quick so she huffed.

   “Wrote quite a few people. Bear with me.”

   “I did too.” He watched her unfold and exhale to ready herself. “Ready?”

   “Think so.” She hitched another breath, teeth on her bottom lip.

   “Well...got to start somewhere.”

   “Dear Mom and dad.” Camille read, eyes glued to the paper while they both leaned toward the flickering fire. “It’s hard for me to call you that these days. The people who raised me. The people who were perfectly all right experimenting and prodding and grooming. I let others groom me because of it. It feels wrong to say mother and father and yet, here I am. I call you Mom because I idolized you and I call you Dad because I wanted every ounce of perfection I saw within you…"

   “...I pushed to be perfect until nothing else existed. You taught me to try my hardest and to keep pushing. That I can appreciate. But, you never taught me limits. Chaotic science experiments like this aren’t supposed to have them, I guess. Unless it was a cell. I had that in a way. We have to keep pushing. Never taught me that maybe it’s okay to fuck up and maybe it’s fine to stop when your energy is gone. Instead, I spent myself and I regret that...”

   “...You both helped destroy lives. Treating good people like they were a worthy cost for knowledge and power. I hate that I might of thought that way once too. I was popular too young and I loved it. I hate that I chose perfection over being a kid and loving my friends. I hate that despite you guys developing feelings...it wasn’t enough for you to really try to save me. You loved me and drugged me and I still wasn’t worth saving, I think about that once a day..."

   "Dad, I watched you die. I let you die. I’m sorry and I’d do it again. Such a thing used to strike fear into me. But, I realized that it wasn’t my fault. You dug the hole and I spent myself too much trying to dress it up better. I’ll let you lie in it without me. Mother, I can see you cracking each day. I know there was something flickering that made you love me. I know there was an attachment. I see the guilt in you but, I don’t see you trying to make that better. Easier to gloss over. Paint it up until it’s pretty again... A Harper secret method I'm sure. My real parents ran with me and paid with their lives. You couldn't understand how much a parent could love their child. They did.”

   “...I’m tired. I’m tired of perfection and dolling myself up to hide. To be what I think other people want. I’m not a product for consumption. I'm a fucked up teenage girl trying to survive this with my peace of mind intact. And I think it’s okay that I stop. I'll try to. Long road, I'm sure. I want to be just Camille. Hell, I’ll even learn just a little bit about being Six. I feel I owe her that much. I’m trying to let go and I haven’t yet. We deserve a peace of mind that I’m willing to seek out. Just knowing that is rewarding. We deserve people around us unafraid to care and we can return that. So, thanks, but...I can never be yours again. And I can live with that and I can live with me. Or try to. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life. Also, Dad, thanks for teaching me how to not burn the stupid pancakes.”

   “Not a bad start.” Billy offered and she sighed, encouraged. “Go on.”

   “Edna... You’re as guilty as they are. For the terrible things and for helping raise me. Whatever else I did to make you hate me...I wish I could change it. We didn't ask for these abilities. I didn’t mean to do what I did. Wish I could remember better but a friend helped me get some idea. It was an accident. I was just a scared child. We all were scared children and you think we’re little monsters to be controlled and used. I bet you don’t even have a son. You cared for me and held me during nightmares. You smiled and hated me to the core. That shakes me. Almost worse than my parent’s betrayal. I had you when they weren’t around. You spent your whole life in that hatred. You taught me how to deal with my fear and how to use a damn tampon. Losing you was...the most betrayed I ever felt. I know you’re coming back for me with others. I know it. But, I hope you know I’m up for the fucking fight.” Camille huffed and was about to read another. "Billy, this next one is..."

   "It's okay." He stared until she got comfortable enough to share the syllables.

   “Robert Kline. Robbie, I called you.” She stopped and Billy was silent. Her ex. It struck him that she’s never named names. Until now. It wasn't familiar to him however. Kline? But, Camille's tight lip on the situation even to friends was noted by him often. “I said most of what I needed to you. I guess I still had a hard time letting go. I did things that summer after you that earned me a dirty reputation. Yet, I never felt as dirty as I did when I was with you. I always asked myself, why me? How does a guy like that find girls like me? I know you were looking. I fell for it all. I felt stupid every day for it. I know I made the right choice. I know it. I guess I just wanted to say finally that I’ve moved on. I’m happier. And you didn’t take anything from me. I let you believe you did but, I was wrong. You don’t own any part of me and you never did. Just needed you to know that much.” Camille sniffled and sucked in her cheeks.

   “...Adam and Judith King. I never got to know you. There isn’t a whole lot I can say and I think that’s what hurts the most. But, I can say…I know I came into this world because of love. And I know you both must have loved me so much. You died for me. I made a lot of bad choices but, I think now...mom and dad...I can say that I’m a good kid. I hope one that you could be proud of. Watch me try.” Lips trembled before she spoke. “I only have one more.”

   “Read.” He was soft. In the firelight, she could still count the barely there freckles dusting golden skin.

   “Barb,” just saying the name brought her to tears. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m sorry I left you behind. Made you and Nancy feel dispensable. It was wrong. I was so wrong. You didn’t let me go to that clinic alone and I will never repay that kindness. I hope that maybe I can take the kindness I wanted to give to you and share it with others. Just so it doesn’t go to waste. You hugged me and I didn’t say anything but, I should have. I should have told you that I missed you. That you always looked out for Nancy and I. That you were one of the best friends we ever had. But, I was scared and I let that fear overcome me. I...I don’t want to ever do that to anyone again. So, you taught me to be fearless. As much as I can, at least. It’s too late to tell you but, I love you and I miss you so much. I think about you all the time and I will never take the kindness you did to me for granted. I promise. Camille.” There was a beat before her shaken hand reached to feed the paper to the fire. They watched it glow and turn to ashes.

   “Already better than mine.” He mused, hesitating. Eyes lower to the page and Camille crossed her arms over her knees to listen. “Dad...I...” Billy stopped and looked away.

   “It’s all right.” She touched his arm.

   “No, I want to.” Billy sat up with some new found vigor. “Dad, all my life...my only question has been, why? I’ll never understand. Why you make me feel worthless. Why you beat the shit out of me and belittle me at every turn. Why you seem to hate your own son so much. Why you think you have something great to teach me in this world. I'm sure your dad did this to you. Maybe it’s all you know and you didn’t try to change it...”

   “...And, I realized...that maybe there isn’t anything to understand. You attack me because I’m there. Because I remind you of mom. Because I'm a fucking rebellious little shit. Because maybe I remind you too much of what you lost as a kid. You have to control everything until you smother it. You trapped me in your damn cycle and wanted me to thank you for it. I was lost in it for a long time and I did shitty things to people thinking it would help me fucking sleep at night. You taught me to hate myself and I hate you most for that. I even started to sound like you with no reason to hate and I’ve never felt so ugly...”

   “...You chased mom out and you got with another woman who is terrified of you. I know...it’s going to come crashing down and you’ll be alone. But, I fucking hate that this is what you wanted for me as well. I hate that time is dragging it out for us both. I won’t...forgive any of it. If that makes me shittier, I don’t care. You won’t change. But, I think I can...I’ll try despite you. And that really pisses you off and I think that’s fucking fine too. Huge pit I dug for myself but…if I end up being nothing like you one day, I think I’ll have made it out.” Billy licked his lips and read on.

   “Mom. I love you. I always will. And I resent you. I’m...sorry. I know maybe I shouldn’t. I didn’t realize it...until recently. I resent you. I’m trying to stop. He hurt you. I tried to stop him. And you left me with him. Maybe you had no chance to get me. I just wish I knew if you tried. If you tried once to contact me after that last phone call. If you started a letter you never sent. I think about you...with a new family. A new son. And I fucking resent you and I’m so sorry. No beating I got from dad will ever hurt worse...than my own mother...letting me think that I wasn’t worth trying for.” He stopped to blink several times, free hand lifting to his mouth so he could steady himself. Billy braced his elbows on his knees and Camille curled her fingers around his wrist.

   “Billy.” She eased but he sniffled hard.

   “I can keep going.” The paper flicked. “So, I resent you both. That shit ate me. I fucked up and I took it all out on people who didn’t do fuck all to me. People who got hatred for things they couldn’t control either. But, you know...being stuck in this...stupid town; I learned some new shit. I learned to stop asking why so much. Bad shit just happens. I made a friend...and then some more. Begrudgingly. I made people just a little less afraid of me. My grades are hell but better than they ever have been. I don’t sound like dad anymore. I think. I'm still a fucking asshole but, I feel little things changing around me. And I did that much without either of you.” He quivered and shifted to read more.

   “Mad Max and Susan. No two people in my life have gotten the brunt of my shit more than you both. I can spend the rest of my life...trying to fix that. You tried when I told you not to. You’re as scared of my dad as I am. You put up with all my shit...and the fact that I drank milk straight from the carton just to piss you off.” Billy ghosted a smile and tried to breathe even. “I guess what I’m saying is I’m fucking sorry. For all of it. I rampaged at you both...and your friends...for even trying with me. Trying when my own parents didn’t. I’ll try to be a kid...a brother...that you can be more proud of. If you’re not...I’ll understand.”

   “Max read that part?” Camille watched him nod. “Can I ask what she said?” Billy’s eyes welled, his tone thickened.

   “She said...I forgive you.” He pressed his lips and she beamed in response. His shoulders felt lighter. “I have more.”

   “Go ahead.”

   “Girl from when I was fifteen. Name was Chris.” His jaw tensed before he was reading again. “I still remember that awful perfume: Love’s Baby Soft. Still get sick when I catch a whiff of it. You took my hand and pushed me on the bed. Made me get hard and...moaned my name the entire time. Screamed it so other people could hear us. Guys patted me on the back for it. Not knowing that I puked for an hour after it happened. You...further destroyed my every shitty, destructive fling after. Parents fucked me up but, you mangled anything left. I looked for girls like you after just so I could take...something back. Fuck. You raped me and I had to thank you for it.”

   Billy vibrated when he said the words. Admitted them aloud for the first time.

   “They say girls can’t do it but, you did. You’ll never see anything wrong with it and neither will the fucking rest of the world. And I have to live in that shit too. Despite all that fucking mayhem...I met someone in that world that I don’t want to be fucking mangled for...” Blue eyes lifted. “I wrote...the last part to you.”

   “Me?” She sat straighter and his hands shook, fingers smoothed creases in the letter.

   “Camille… I went after you for all the wrong reasons. We both know why. People like us live for the chase. But, every shitty thing in my life and this move to fucking nowhere. Sometimes I think it’s just a little less shitty when I realize it brought me to you. You tricked me into being your damn friend.”

   “I did.”

   “And taught me how to be one in the process. I don’t think I’m too terrible at it now.”

   “Not at the moment.” She grinned.

   “We loved that damn chase too much. Spending time with someone has never been this easy.” Billy licked his lips, exhaling. “Got roped into each other’s messy as all hell lives. Trusted each other even if we didn’t have much a choice at times. Every moment I spent with you just feels...worth it and fucking that up the way I did, I’ve never felt as shitty as that. I get mad and I hurt people. I want to stop. I became my father and you had every reason to hate me for it. I fucking missed you and not...because of the stupid chase anymore. This is more than all of that. Took me too long to realize it. I got hooked on the way you’d smile and tease. The way you demanded the best out of others when they sunk. We played a good game. We did. There are a lot of reasons...I want to be better. But, I can’t lie and say you’re not one of them. I can throw the entire chase aside if it means I can just be there for you and have you there because I think we want each other. Think we needed this friendship. Whatever it is now. Camille, you barged into my life...you drudged up all this shit and I guess what I want to say is, thank you.”

   “As if you didn’t barge right into my life too,” she amused herself. “That’s beautiful.” Billy was still looking at the letter. The very end. Three words he’d held in that he so wanted to give her.

   I love you.

   Billy lifted his eyes and saw her there smiling. Smiling at him. Brighter than a star. Wind swaying her hair about. Lips and cheeks a rosy shade like a sunset. Slow and steady, he held it together and didn’t let himself offer the final truth. Fingers uncurled and his letter ignited to join her own. Both long gone. Cleansing them. Camille leaned in, lips ready to touch his. Billy cupped the back of her head, sighing into cool night air. Cinnamon gum he’d chewed earlier over the nicotine on his breath. A spark of light brought them apart before the distance could close. Fireworks soared up to crackle out against the sky. Teens cheered and looked on. Camille watched as well, looking like fine silk when she slowed to smile again. Billy merely stared at her face to see the lights echo against it. Bathing their skin in technicolor. Breath taking. She met his eyes again and leaned in to kiss him. Captured his lips in one fluid motion as a hand cupped his face.

   “Do you want to get out of here,” she asked, “go try something?” Billy was already up and taking her hand. They hurried down the sandy hill and snuck back into his car. Not going too far away, they drove into the more forested area and watched the fireworks go off as he parked upon a cliff side. Water swayed below. Camille didn’t wait for him to adjust before she was kissing him again. Lips opened, he pulled her into his body and moaned. Occasional lights glimmered across stars. They touched foreheads and she confessed. “I want you. Now.”

   “You have me,” his mouth was on her neck. Camille gripped his jacket until he shrugged it off. Billy paused only to adjust the seats when they tugged each other in back, giving them more room. In an instant, he was over her. Hands grasped desperately, tugging until clothing was peeled away. She sat up to toss her bra aside, cradling his head while he nipped at her chest. Fingers popped open the button on her jeans, hand sinking to cup her. She came up, lips on his while his shirt fell away. Needy fingers went for his pants next.

   “I want to see you,” Camille breathed, urging him to undress. They scrambled, kicking shoes and clothing into the front seats until they both were bare. For a moment, they just looked at each other. Two necklaces hung against her skin in the soft lights. Camille’s hand came to his chest, fingers shifting down over his hip. Billy let her explore, lips smoothed along his jaw. She met his eyes again to watch pleasure takeover as she palmed him. Fingers wrapping to stroke. He pulled her flush against his body just so he could hold her. Tracing hair from her face before they kissed deeply for pulsing beats.

   “Have a condom,” he murmured, digging for his wallet. Something emotional swelled within Camille at that. She helped him roll it on while they swayed together, drawing this out. Arms laid her back so he could trace kisses along her body. Down her neck. Over her nipples. Along her hips then between her legs. They squished together and played. Windows fogged over.

   “Billy!” She unfurled at his touches. Warm hands that soothed her cries. He took some time to lap and eat her, fingers pressing in to feel her clench. Billy moaned into her, hands slipping to hold her thighs open so he could consume her. Leisurely and teasing as he went. “Oh, fuck. You feel...so good.” One hand slipped up over her heart to feel it drum. She touched his hair, praising fingers cupped his jaw to stroke one thumb along his cheek. Pride swelled. Obedient, he placed a lengthy kiss into her clit, tongue rolling against it. Billy came up at her urging to claim her lips, nestling himself between her legs. “I’m ready,” she tucked hair from his face. Light fingers traced a line in her cheek so she nodded and then he did. His shaft settled along her entrance. Teasing further, he slipped slowly against her, arms winding to hold her when she grasped his shoulders.

   “You like that?” He hitched to moan as she sighed, biting into her lip to nod. One hand slid down, rubbing his tip over her until he lined himself up to press inside. Billy’s mouth fell into her neck when he pushed all the way in. They savored the moment, locking tight together. “Fuck, Camille.” He slipped out and back inside, coming up on his elbows to find a pace. “You feel so fucking amazing.”

   “Faster,” she urged as he tried to control it. “Let go. Fuck me.” They spoke between needy kisses. She held him close so he began to smack into her. Fingers dug into flesh. The car shook with them. “Just like that, oh, don’t stop.” Heavy breaths filled the air. Steam rolled over the windows further. Fireworks underscored the lovemaking. He slowed to watch her face. Alight with pleasure. A need saved just for him. And then he found his voice.

   “Want you to be on top.” He surprised her, sinking all the way in when they froze. Camille was breathing quicker, trying to slow when she searched his eyes. She thought of his first time. What that girl got into his lap and did. Trust poured out and resonated deep into her heart. She took his face so he nodded, pecking her lips. Never really given up control during past fuck sessions. Billy slipped out and they adjusted so he was against the seats. Camille crawled into his lap, arms pressed around her back. “Camille...” He offered. Like a promise. She traced fingers over his lips and claimed them, sinking down on his cock again. Camille wrapped one arm over his shoulders, allowed him to explore her neck and breasts while she picked up the pace again. He took her hips to urge her on until she was bouncing against him, rolling her body to meet his. Awed, Billy watched her and let himself be consumed in this connection they forged. “You’re so beautiful.”

   “So are you,” she offered the familiar words. They smiled. Young. Happy. Linked together. Consumed utterly. Not seeing the figure in shadows just beyond the trees. That would be saved for another day. No, here they were safe and sound. “Touch me.” Fingers slipped messily against her clit, arm tight around the small of her back to keep her going. “There...right there.” Billy kissed her neck again, nose tracing to inhale the scent of her perfume. Stunning and warm. Something crisp and floral at the same time. Name didn’t register but he recalled a swan pressed into the elegant glass bottle on her vanity.

   “Want you to come first. Just like this. Fuck,” his forehead tipped to touch her own. Trembling lips kissed with more fervor. “Almost there. I feel it. I feel you everywhere. Don’t stop, Camille. Fuck me.”

   “Billy, I’m...” She swallowed, mouth opening when her body began to teeter on the brink. Fingernails dug into his shoulders. Back arching as she fucked herself hard and fast on him. Not knowing sex could feel this fucking good. Not knowing love burned both of their tongues. Camille tipped her head back, crying out. “I’m coming. I’m there.” Billy rocked with her, rubbing her clit until she quaked over him. Orgasm shook her entire core, she kept up to ride it out so he could finish at the heated sight of her. Arms locked twitching souls as one. Teeth clenched when he climaxed, bodies jerking together until they were spent. Camille was shaking, buried her face into his neck and hair. Immersed in him. He watched the steady fireworks beyond her, arms around her back to hold her close. Nothing red in sight.

   Tears welled but didn’t fall. He sniffled so she came out to place tender kisses on his temple and cheeks. They smoothed hair from flushed faces. Eyes locked when they tried to come down from the stars. Billy shifted, still inside her, so they could lay back somewhat wrapped up in each other. She pulled his jacket over her shoulders, head tipping to his collar. One arm slipped behind his head so he could relax with her. They enjoyed the end of the fireworks together.

   “Do...” He chuckled at himself, eyes rolling. “Do you think I’m pretty?”

   “What?” Camille came up to see his face, amused. “Uh, yes.”

   “And I think you’re pretty. Coincidence.”

   “Meaning…?”

   “No more fucking compromise.” Billy replied, shrugging. Simple as that. Fingers traced down her arm. One thumb followed the curve of her breast. He just gazed at her for a moment. Blue eyes lifted. “Trying to make this shit...not complicated.” Camille realized El really did speak to him and buried her face in his jacket, laughing. “What?”

   “Nothing, I’m just...” She rose again, shifting off him to nestle into his side. “I was hoping you felt that way. So, what, are you asking me to be your girlfriend?"

   "Do you want me to be your boyfriend?" Odd, how the word felt coming out. Billy Hargrove wasn't a boyfriend. He wasn't a friend either but tried it for her. Trying this on for size didn't seem as frightening.

   "You first, sweet face."

   "Camille, I want you to be my damn girlfriend." He was not shy about it now, pushing up to capture her lips. Teasing. "Just say yes."

   "Fine, I guess I'm your damn girlfriend. Happy?" She decided in full.

   "Yes." The pretense lowered. Something genuine found them both. So easily too. "I'm happy." Billy sat up when she followed. He tied the condom off and tossed it outside before he lit up a cigarette. Blowing smoke into the cracked window. Camille caved and puffed when he offered it. She pressed his coat to her breasts and leaned next to him while they shared a smoke. Car smelled obscene like hairspray and sex.

   “Will you show me California one day?” She’d asked out of the blue as if they had a whole life and future together already. He wanted to believe in it too. “I want to see the beach. A real one and the ocean. I hear parts of the state smell like oranges. Is that true?” Billy lifted his eyes, flicking ashes with a somber expression.

   “I could take you there,” he sniffed and offered the stick to her, “one day.”

   “Good. Then, it’s a date.” Camille let him finish the last drag and snuff it out. “Can you hold me a bit longer until we have to go back?” Billy watched her eyes without speaking, coming forward to wrap her up in his arms. They stayed like that and just breathed. As if to prove that they were still here. Together. Fireworks ended but those stars held fast behind them. The couple dressed again and rolled back down to sneak into the party once more.

   Camille spotted their friends and idly reached for Billy's hand. He didn't shy from it. Fingers laced. Eyes lowered to notice the couple. King and Queen of Hawkins High School. Set out to claim something that wasn't artificial. Something obtainable. And it was beautiful.

Chapter Text

   “We need a plan of attack, Mockingbird,” Dustin tossed his hands out. “They’re killing us out there.”

   “Hey, I’m not throwing in the towel.” Steve pointed.

   “It’s pointless, they have El.” Lucas sighed.

   “What’s Camille, chopped liver?” Max pushed his arm as the group huddled.

   “Shut up, I have a plan… But, it’s going to take some careful maneuvering.” Camille spoke at the head. “Some of us won’t make it. Max and Lucas, flank left. Steve, you take Dustin and go high. Try to get the jump on them. I’m going down the line, I’ll distract them.”

   “Break.” Steve cocked his head. “Camille, before you go out there. Just wanted to say...our friendship-”

   “I know,” she touched his shoulder. “Let’s go. Cover me.” Camille poked her head out from behind a shed. Nothing. “Ready?”

   “Charge!” Another voice echoed. Kids ran all directions. Laughter echoed. Water balloons soared and splashed.

   “Dustin! No!” Steve jumped in front of the kid, getting hit in the chest before he tipped into cool grass.

   “Steve! Man down!” Dustin shook him while Steve played up a dramatic death. “He was too young!”

   “So much for King Steve,” Billy advanced and gasped when his entire head was soaked. Camille giggled behind him, dodging Nancy and Will. Wet curls drooped down before Billy was chasing her.

   “Come and get me, Keg King.” Camille about squealed when he picked her up, holding her arms down with his own. “No! Billy!” She was laughing wholeheartedly.

   “Kid, I got her.” Billy chuckled to himself when El showered Camille with water balloons. Soaking her bathing suit and cover up while she cowered into his chest. “Surrender.”

   “Never,” she sputtered and giggled. They played in her backyard, gated by a high fence and shrubbery. Sun high against clear skies.

   “That so, huh?” Billy dragged Camille back, heaving her up with strong arms and jumping into the pool with her.

   “You jerk!” She splashed him, dunking his head before she came to the edge, arms crossing. "I can't stand you."

   "I know." Billy swam behind her, hands on her sides so she turned to peck his lips. They watched the kids chase each other. Jonathan trying to stay safe on the deck and take pictures.

   “Nancy! Easy!”

   “You can’t hide behind that thing forever,” she’d teased, advancing so he put it safely aside and tried to run before water splashed him.

   “I give!” He held Will in front of him. Max picked up the biggest water balloon possible and smacked it over Mike’s head, drenching him.

   “Ah, come on!” He whined as she laughed at him.

   “Steve, jesus, get up.” Dustin was trying to drag him along the grass.

   “Can’t… I see the light. Go on...without me. Nothing can save me now.”

   “Food!” Hopper called from the barbecue. Steve skidded up to his feet and pushed everyone out of the way. The Chief came out from his conversation with Joyce while Camille dragged herself out of her pool. Billy playfully tugged her back in and got out first.

   "And they're trusting you at the pool this summer?" She came up, paddling.

   “All right,” he held a hand to her and she smirked. A force jerked him over her head with a splash. Billy came up laughing as Camille climbed up the ladder, hair flicking while she twisted water from it. He noted the way her cover up was see through and clinging. Red bathing suit standing out under it.

   "Eyes are up here, sweet face." She gestured with two fingers.

   "I know that. Just checking out the rest of you." Billy grinned when wet hair flicked in his direction before he got out to follow her.

   “Thanks for bringing that over, Jim,” Camille approached to help with plates and utensils.

   “Hasn't gotten much use in a while.”

   “Called my mom, she’s fine with this. Have to celebrate Steve graduating next week with his parents out of town too. Heather and Robin might come over later for s’mores. My mom said that soda only was her one rule.” She poked Billy in the chest while she passed him to grab a towel.

   “You figure out your summer job yet?” Joyce asked as they gave out food to the kids. The Party spread towels out all along the grass and huddled to eat. “I’d try to get any of you hired at the store but, the new mall opens soon. It’ll hurt the whole street.”

   “Library is hiring tutors. Hours are nothing though.” Camille shrugged.

   “Jonathan and I got that newspaper thing,” Nancy smiled, genuinely excited to do something she was passionate about.

   “Already got that thing at the pool.” Billy peered up when Joyce looked at him. They dressed up burgers and hot dogs, sitting around in deck chairs to eat.

   “Heather stole him before school even ended.” Camille remarked, entertained.

   “Easy gig, I’m in it for the tips.” Billy shrugged.

   “Do...lifeguards get tips?” Steve snorted.

   “They will now.”

   “Harrington, got plans?” Jim continued.

   “Depends on my dad, Chief. I have...no idea.” Steve hadn’t heard back from any colleges. “New mall opens next week, might make me a traitor but...I’m sure there’s a cool place I can look into there.” Odd that they would be splitting. Camille stood to cross and get a soda. Jim got up for a hot dog and joined her.

   “Got a question for you.” Hopper rubbed the back of his neck. “Flo is spending summer with some family. Needed vacation. You want to help fill in during the daytime?”

   “Are...you offering me a job or trying to keep a close eye on me?”

   “Uh, both.” He’d admitted. She clicked open a soda to drink, eyeing him. “Still like you to tutor El this summer. I can pay that too. You get a desk and get to tell us what to do.”

   “Sold.” She reached to shake his hand. “I want a raise.”

   “We’ll talk, kid.” He patted her shoulder and passed her to sit by Joyce again. Billy peeked at Camille and she smiled in turn. Summer was here. Felt like it could be a good one.

** ** **

   “Steve, come out and show us.”

   “No.” He was muffled.

   “Come on, it can’t be that bad. You said you were working with Robin.” Camille huffed. Nancy leaned into Jonathan and Billy reclined in a chair, flipping through some car magazine that was on the table. Steve’s house flooded with music. “Let me see, King Steve. We want to see you.”

   “More like a damn jester now. I'm graduated, my days as King are over.”

   "Could have told him that," Billy muttered so Camille pushed at his shoulder;

   “Our summer is in full swing. You have a job, we’re teens still. We’re all going to suffer dumb summer jobs.”

   “You work for Hopper.”

   “Yeah, he’s a mess still and so is that station. Flo did everything. I wish my abilities were mind reading because I’ll need that to survive it.” Camille crossed her arms. “Granted, I do like ordering those fools around. Think they're scared of me.”

   “Steve, it’s okay, the guys at my job are...real assholes.” Nancy sighed, frowning. “Come out.”

   “You can’t laugh.” Steve poked his head out and they watched expectantly before he emerged in his sailor uniform for Scoops Ahoy. New ice cream parlor in Starcourt. Everyone stayed very still as if that would help.

   “You know...it’s, uh, not bad. You’re kind of rocking the shit out of it.” She pulled the hat from his hand and put in on him. “Doesn’t mess the famous hair too bad. It’s a job. For summer.”

   “I officially hate my dad.”

   “Just work and save and keep trying at college. You have a few wait lists.” Camille offered before a flash went off and Steve tossed his hands out.

   “Oops...” Jonathan touched his lips, camera down again.

   “Come on, man. Not cool.” Steve whined. “Least Robin will be there to give me shit. She’s the best at it.”

   “How much do you want for a copy of that picture, Byers?” Billy whispered. Jonathan gave a snort at that. Steve yanked the magazine from him, smacking his shoulder.

   “No photos. No copies. Assholes.” Steve was smiling now.

   “You know, you’ll get some great tips from girls coming just to see you, right?” Camille tried to help.

   “You think girls are into this? Like a fantasy thing?”

   “Oh? Oh! Ugh, sure… It’s a fantasy to...someone.” Camille flashed her grin and Steve groaned. Billy was shaking his head behind her.

   “Sorry, we can’t all be mister perfect tan, save me I’m drowning.” Steve crossed his arms and Billy broke at the angry sailor, flashing a crooked smile.

   “You think I want to get hit on by women over forty constantly?”

   “Little bit only when they tip you. Still gross.” Steve shrugged. “You being right about the tip thing just...I don’t get it. I don't get you, Hargrove. Or your stupid smoking skull tattoo.”

   “It was a gift to me from myself.” Billy touched his arm. Pissed Neil off too. “Would you rather it be an anchor, sailor?” All of them broke to laugh, including Steve.

   “See this? Take another picture. Eat it.” He flipped them off and went back to change.

   “On that lovely   note, we gotta go. Billy’s working the afternoon at the pool and I...kind of wanted to explore Starcourt before I have that dumb rich people event tonight."

   "Those again, huh?" Nancy made a face.

   "Unfortunately, yes. Some dinner and drink thing with my mom. I said I’d go. We used to do them all the time but, since my dad...you know. Mayor Kline is going to be there and he’s...such a dick. I’ve had to go to other events with my parents and see his lot. So exhausting. But, mother has to network and show off the painted disappointment. Me.” Camille rolled her eyes. “See you guys later. Good luck with the newspaper, hope those asshole ease up. Give them hell.”

   “Can’t believe Heather’s dad is like that. Explains a lot.” Nancy remarked. “Bye.”

   “Bye, sailor Steve,” Camille flicked her fingers as if to salute.

   “Hate you.” He scoffed, coming out and fixing his hair. She tugged Billy out to go with her.

   “Ladies really still giving you trouble at the pool?”

   “Just flirty because their husbands checked out and I'm well...me. It’s nothing.” He turned his eyes when he's said that.

   “They’re flirting with a boy who isn’t eighteen yet. Even if you were... As Steve noted, still gross. Girls can be just a creepy and predatory as boys, they just get off because they look sugary sweet.” Camille remarked. "I'll show up and make them back off."

   “You would. Like to see that. Ah, tips are a nice bonus, I get what I want. More money to the stash. Get the hell out of this place one day. Somewhere my dad can’t control me.” Billy got into his car with her. She buckled and let him take her hand, finger sliding over the bracelet he’d given her for Christmas.

   “Max is recording it still?”

   “Yeah, I think he’s onto her. We caught him snooping around her room. She hid it all somewhere. Wouldn’t even tell me.” Billy started the car and realized something when he looked at the road. “Kline. You said Mayor Kline.”

   “Douche. Yeah, what of it?” Camille peered outside and lifted a hand to admire her nail polish. She looked back to his eyes nailed on her own. “What?”

   "Kline? Fucking Kline? The Mayor."

   "Oh," she blinked, "about that."

   “Guy who got you pregnant. You told me his name was Robert Kline, Camille.” Billy dropped his shoulders and her face heated.

   “Mayor’s son. One and only.” She averted her eyes, grumbling.

   “That's why you kept a tight lid on it." Billy huffed because it all made more sense. "The fucking shitty Mayor of manure land...has a shitty ass spawn who-”

   “Full disclosure.” Camille licked her lips.

   “You’re not going.” He was firm.

   “Just because we’re using candy terms now: boyfriend and girlfriend...it doesn’t mean you get to make those decisions for us or me.”

   "There is no way in hell you're showing up and smiling for those assholes."

   “Billy, I’m going. I need to act normal for my mom and this is part of it. Things going back to how they were. I am a normal girl in a normal town. I have a normal family that went through something tragic. We are a normal teenage couple.”

   “As if that’s an option. Things haven’t been normal since we walked into that attic together and you damn well know it.” Since she popped that first pink bubble of gum in the main office at school. “I don’t want you going to that shit,” he raised his voice, anger flicking across his eyes. “His fucking cradle-snatching son fucked you three ways from Sunday and your crazy mother-”

   “This is not about you, Billy! It’s not your decision! If you’re going to be an asshole about it, I’m gone. I don’t want to discuss him or this, so just leave it alone!” Camille turned to open the car and he snatched for her, missing when she slammed the door to trudge on without him.

   “Damn it, Camille! Don’t be like this.” Billy started the car and followed slowly alongside her. A fiery Hawkins couple the new king and reigning queen made. Whole school was still shocked because she was pretty in pink, cherry ripe lips Camille Harper and he was ashes to fucking ashes, dust to fucking dust, Billy Hargrove. And they were in deep. “You really want things to go back to how they were? You think that’ll ever happen?”

   “No, but I’ll pretend because I have to right now.” She crossed her arms, not looking at him while the car rolled with her steps.

   “Camille, just get back in.” He huffed at the absurdity of this.

   “No.” Camille slowed, eyes elsewhere still. “It’s not that I simply want things to be normal. I know they never will be and maybe that’s good but it also fucking sucks. It’s like my whole life was a waste. I don’t even know who I am some days and I hate it. But, this is...I don’t want to pretend, I have to if it means surviving it. Whatever is coming. Whatever Camille was before died and I feel like shit for mourning it at times because I know...it was all fucked.”

   “Okay, new Camille, get the fuck back in the car. Don’t mind to get to know you.” He watched her crack a smile, shaking her head. "I'm an okay guy these days." She paused and sighed, looking at him when the car stopped.

   “You might not understand it all, but just respect it. I’m angry too.” Arms dropped and Billy inhaled, staring ahead. He gave a curt nod, hands tight on the wheel.

   “I like new angry Camille. Really doesn’t take shit from anyone. Told the whole school to stuff it up their asses when they started to turn on queen bee. Commanding the fucking drones. You just think you’re on your damn own doing this shit and you’re not. Think I don’t know what it’s like to still be attached to parents I fucking resent?”

   “I’m going.” She replied instead when that hit deep. “She knows I’m different, she’ll get more suspicious. I have to do the bare minimum and it’s so hard. I told Hopper I wouldn’t make waves. Yet. Guess I’m not as brave as Nancy.”

   “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said, Harpy.” He scoffed. She beamed a little at that so he waited a beat until she got back inside. “Don’t want you to go still. I think it’s fucked that you have to face these shitty, rich assholes. Guy fucks you over and you have to make nice with his family and friends spitting the word slut behind your back because they know about...you know. It's fucked.”

   “He left Hawkins and didn’t come back after I told him about the pregnancy. College and life picked up. I scared him off. Guys like that move on.”

   "No, they don't." Billy Hargrove had always known better.

   "You never met him."

   "I know the type." He'd hitched a breath. "He was drunk off your honey and I bet he didn't forget the taste. Bet he looked for it in every girl after and tossed them aside when they didn't reel him in all the same. Shitty guys like that, they get obsessed and they never stop. You said he was your first but, I bet you anything that you were his first too in a way. They don't stop, Camille. Not the relentlessly rich, piece of shit, pedo-"

   "Stop." She cleared her throat, staring at the road.

   “Camille.” He'd said it softer until she looked at his searching eyes again.

   “Can we go?” Her voice hushed. Billy was obviously bothered, exhaling out his nose before he shook his head and drove on. Camille waited a few beats and took his hand. “He’s history. Nothing else. I’m really happy despite this all. I am. We have summer and one more year of school. I’m optimistic.” Billy’s lips twitched, thumb smoothing over her hand while he turned a corner. He didn’t reply but the answer was obvious in his eyes.

** ** **

   “Holy...shit...” Camille turned to admired all the neon lights. “Hate to admit it but, this place is a dream.” She sipped a smoothie and offered it to Billy next to her.

   "You'd lose it over the shopping in California, Harpy." He mused. "Susan will be happy here, she whined because Hawkins didn't even have a Sears or JCPenney."

   "This is my new favorite place, god, I'm a traitor too."  Camille took the drink back to finish it, dumping it away.

   “I want to go in there.” He tugged at her hand and she laughed. “For science.”

   “Lovelace Lingerie. Yeah, no way. Maybe next time, beach boy.” They hurried along. “I need a dress for tonight. Mother insisted. Wish I could sneak you in.”

   “To some rich asshole social,” Billy replied, “I’d be perfect for you in that mix. Is your mother really still that oblivious?”

   “So it seems. She was even happy when I told her we were dating. Supportive. Weird. Like nothing bothers her anymore.” Camille pulled him into a store. “Don’t know, it makes me feel under the radar again. Learned to roller skate, by the way. Easy way to sneak out of the house when I need fresh air.”

   “New language this month too?”

   “Got some Russian in...for fun. I’m trying to cool it for summer. Normal teenage girl stuff only,” Camille held up a little metallic number and Billy cocked his head, nodding. “Hm, you like it so it’s not appropriate.” She laughed at his expression.

   “Don’t want you to be appropriate.” Billy gave a shrug so she picked out something tight and black velvet up top with a short fuller skirt that was hot pink.

   “Give me a sec,” Camille hurried into a fitting room.

   “My dad doesn’t know about us.” He offered through the curtain. “Got him off the trail. Might want to thank Heather.”

   “Heather?”

   “Yeah, I left my bag at the pool after the morning shift and she brought it over. Picked up on some stuff and pretended to be into me when Neil walked in. He thinks I’m back to flings. Real story of her might give him a heart attack.”

   “God, I love that girl.” Camille curled her finger up to beckon him so he’d zip her. “No funny ideas.”

   “Wouldn’t consider them funny,” he drew to her ear. “Might think they’re a little hot.”

   “Ah, ah, no.” She giggled as he kissed her jaw. “Back up, how do I look?”

   “Thought I couldn’t answer that,” Billy quirked his brow. “It’s fine. Uppity. Tight.”

   “Perfect.” She flashed a smile. “Unzip, we’ll go somewhere else.” He tugged so she could redress herself. Billy instead moved in closer after shutting the curtain. Arms went around her under the dress to slip it down.

   "I want to play." He uttered into her ear, lips ghosting hot exhales on skin.

   "Mm," Camille sighed, turning to kiss him. "Billy." He hushed her, mouth on the sensitive angle of her neck. Music from the store floated with an endless chatter of shoppers out and about to enjoy their day. Billy pressed her along the wall, fingers dipping into her underwear to edge fabric down. "We," she spoke between kisses," definitely...can't...do, oh, this." He opened his mouth against her own, humming before he inhaled and came back with heavy eyes.

   "You're right. I mean, this is only our first dressing room." Billy quipped. "The next could be better. Get dressed already, Harpy. Jumping me in the first dressing room like that. I'm a guy of refined taste." He smacked his lips into her jaw.

   "Scram, beach boy," she pushed at him with eyes rolling. "Oh, no! Wait." Camille tugged his wrist up to see the time. "Only ten thirty. You start at one and my dinner party isn't till after five."

   "You look like you have a bad idea forming." Billy was already grinning and she dropped his arm to pull her clothing back on.

   "Don't you like that about me?" Camille tilted her head with a shrug. "Maybe I'll get some pool time in before that stupid party." She grabbed his hand again, eager. Billy couldn’t help but smile. “Come on, more places to see first.”

** ** **

   "Showtime, girls." One of the mothers had checked her face in a compact mirror. They all looked at the time and straightened up. Pool rats, Camille thought, eyeing them from her lounge chair in back while she flipped over a magazine and enjoyed the sunny weather. An umbrella hanging over her blocked just enough so she could be comfortable. Music flooded Debbie Harry's voice out speakers above the fence. Anything could be solved with a little Blondie frankly. One of the lifeguards climbed down at the same time Billy pushed the door open, having spent the first part of his shift watching the front office. Tanned and gorgeous as usual. Popping gum into his mouth because he couldn't smoke here. The group of mothers conveniently sitting off to the side of his favored chair struck their usual poses. Few of them filtered out between weeks but a good handful showed up every time poor Billy had a shift. He crossed the area with his aviators slipped up and a whistle over his neck. Red shorts that left most of his muscled thighs exposed.

   "No running on my watch!" He barked when two kids skidded to stop and passed slowly around him. "Thought so." Yeah, he certainly was dreamy.

   "Hi, Billy." The older women chirped and he produced a bright smile. Every fucking day. Funny at first, now it was old.

   "Ladies...we meet again." Billy spotted Camille and lifted his sunglasses, winking, before he climbed up into his chair. The gaggle of fans didn't like that. Tanned skin caught the sunlight, slicked with a fresh coat of sunscreen while he adjusted the umbrella to take his watch with a coworker across the way. Camille tossed her magazine aside and paced in front of the mothers wearing a pink and tangerine metallic one piece before any of them could get up. They weren't fans of her or her suit by the looks she got. Not unlike the looks she got all over town these days. Burn the witch. Pool wasn't that packed this Sunday as a few rare clouds gathered in. "Ms. Harper."

   "Lifeguard Billy, protecting the masses, I see. Groovy. I learned a new trick." She went up to the emptier deep end of the pool and climbed to the highest diving board. Singing that Blondie song to herself while she glided off. Many teens stopped to see Camille Harper sparkle above them.

   "Angel falling from heaven, man." Two laughing teen boys fawned over her while she took a lingering beat to stretch out. Few girls stopped too. Camille curved and braced to jump. Schoolmates clapped for her in response. Relishing the attention, she went in for an elegant dive as a trained swimmer. Reality is she watched the Olympics every year. The splash echoed before she came up like some ethereal siren. Hair flipping in the sun. Camille leaned back to wade about for a bit and Billy smiled to himself, transfixed and hoping no one planned to drown today because he was useless now. "The perfect girl." Innocent comments from boys in their grade dreaming about a girl like that made Billy snicker. The reminder that she was all his rang bells in his heart.

   "You seem distracted," Camille came up to cross her arms over the side. She looked up under the shade of a massive umbrella covering Billy so he smirked at her. A few streams of sun still caught the edge of his curls to make him glow.

   "Eyes like a hawk, Harpy. New bathing suit?"

   "I'm breaking it in. Some guy tore the old one." Camille teased and slipped under the water, hands smoothing hair back when she emerged again.

   "I'd like to meet him."

   "I'm sure he'll appear. He gets worked up easily, you see."

   "First fifteen isn't till after three, you plan on sticking around?" He leaned on his elbows, glasses slid down. Obviously suggestive.

   "Fifteen minutes, that's hardly enough time." Her expression gave a pout.

   "Oh, it's enough." Billy's teeth flashed at her. Tongue slipping to lick his lips.

   "We'll see how behaved you are on the clock first," Camille flicked water at his legs and dunked under to swim off. A true nymph. Billy sat back and heard the irritated sighing behind him.

   "What a little whore," a bat of a woman tutted with her group, shaking her head, "you know that girl had an abortion, right? News spread all over town. Just like she is." Camille had come out at the same instant, head tilting because the timing of it meant she heard. At least four boys rushed to offer Hawkins pool logo towels.

   "Thanks, sweetheart," she giggled and took one, passing to go back to her spot before she pruned. Leaving them dazed in her wake. Billy was distracted now by the chatter. The gaggle of moms whispered as she passed in snide tones. Camille stilled to notice but kept walking. Frankly, Billy wished Karen Wheeler was here, she would have put a quick stop to that nonsense if anything.

   "Where can you even get a abortion in Hawkins?" One went on to mutter.

   "Probably someone's basement. Dirty girl."

   "And you know her mother's a wreck?" They were relentless. "No daddy in that house. That poor girl is trapped with no positive role model. It's no wonder she's like this. Started working for Chief Hopper and we all know his history with pretty ladies. Juicy fruit ripe for the plucking." Billy's fingers dug into his knees because even he knew that Hopper was a disaster but not like that. Annoyed, he stared at the pool from behind his shades. "We all know the Harper girl goes for older men. Only a matter of time before she seduces the Chief too. If they haven't started up already. That dirty girl is bad news."

   "Someone should warn, Billy. I hear they're a fling now."

   "Like that will last, she goes through boys like tissue paper."

   "Bad news as in batting at high schoolers when your husband is home, ladies? Smells like desperation." Camille shrugged at them, passing back to get a soda. The women jumped in response, totally caught. "Hm? Too much sun will kill your aging skin, you know. Jeez, where are your kids?"

   "Not where yours are, Camille." The first bat had retorted. Billy turned his head to catch Camille's sobered expression before her hips resumed swaying. Head cocked once when she was far enough away. The woman's chair snapped backwards in a sudden motion, sending her feet up and reeling her out of it while her friends cried out to assist. Camille didn't look, sniffling blood, but smiled to herself as Billy bit his lip.

   "All right, ma'am?" Billy had a deeper edge to his voice, pushing his aviators up when he turned to see her.

   "Oh, Billy, I'm fine. Thank you, dear." She adjusted her cleavage in her suit quickly. Made his skin crawl. He turned back but she wasn't done. "You know, Billy," an unpleasant hand touched his thigh, "girls like that send a silent message. You should be careful." Across the pool, Camille decided at that moment it was so fucking on. They plucked the wrong juicy peach down today.

   "Guys like me prefer actual words." He edged back. "Need to watch the pool. On the clock."

   "What a good boy. I just mean, you're so mature for your age. Strong. You need a woman to match that." Okay, now he was heated. But, she removed her manicured hand and turned to go sit.

   "Hey, Camille," one of the boys from earlier appeared at the soda machine. Charles. Harmless meathead who barely drank and always got his dumb jock friends home safe. That type. A boy you can bring home to mom. "Can I get you a Coke? They have cherry flavored now. Just came out this year."

   "How'd you know, Chucky? Cherry's my new summer favorite," she let him buy her a can and leaned to take it. Eyes caught a flash of cleavage. The boy actually blushed. "Aren't you a doll?" She plucked a straw from a nearby dispenser.

   "Have heard that nickname in a while. Everyone calls me Charlie these days."

   "Figure that makes it more special for us." She swayed in with wandering eyes. Sparkling hazel gemstones. Light caught the metallic of her suit.

   "So, you're going steady with Hargrove now?" He spied Billy and stepped back, despite being much bigger and a football player. Billy was too terrifying to cross for anyone in their grade. She picked the right king to crown.

   "I am. I am. We have a good thing going." She sipped, enjoying the crisp flavor, and he set his hand on the machine. Billy watched because his girlfriend was so clearly up to something.

   "Cool...Cool. He's a cool guy. Yeah." A nervous throat cleared.

   "Under all that fire and ice, he's kind of like you. Just a real big softie." Camille touched a finger to her lips. "Can't let anyone know. Our secret." She roused a laugh from him and smiled with charm that rivaled Billy's own. "You know, I was wondering... No, it's too much to ask."

   "Yes, Camille? Anything for you. You used to party with all of us. We miss you at the beer pong table."

   "Too sweet. I bet the girls all line up still, Chuck." She giggled, tapping his nose. "Here's the thing, I'm having a minor issue that I think I can solve with some support from the guys. If you and our lovely jock friends could do your classmate just a teeny, tiny favor?"

   "Keep talking."

   "So, Billy and I are having a problem. A very uninvited problem... I know some of your boys had similar unwanted invites at games... We all know someone. Younger brother or sister. Boyfriend or girlfriend. Mother, even. Not true what they say about teens wanting the attention, huh. The thing I've always loved about our school is even divided, we know who really stands against us. Years of being put down and toyed with, we get tired. And talkative with each other when beers are passed. I remember many conversations over rounds of spin the bottle. Hm." Billy watched Camille touch the boy's chin and whisper in his ear for a few beats.

   "Wait... You mean, he's not into it?"

   "You see Billy jumping that bag of bones? Look at them stare. He hasn't had a shift without this leering." Camille cocked her head.

   "Shit, we all thought... Wish we knew earlier. Fuck, Camille, you know my boy had some woman grab his shit after a game?"

   "That's awful." Camille was queen, she knew everything about everyone. And did she love her generation because they were all steaming mad and ready to fucking riot against every thing pinning them down. The Man with a capital M.

   "And we caught some old fucks trying to follow my sister home the other day. Beat their asses."

   "I'm sure you were so brave." She smiled. "Maybe you can help a girl take the trash out? I'd be eternally grateful. Billy's quite protective but he might be grateful too. And I'm protective of him. These Cali boys, they just aren't meant for tiny, frustrated towns. You know? Wait for the signal."

   "You got it, Cam. We'll take care of the hags. Tired of that shit. And look, no one cares you got scraped. I hear...what people say. My aunt had one last year after this guy jumped her. Shit was hard... No, this don't fly. Hargrove found himself a good one." He winked and turned to gather his teammates. She made a brisk path back around the pool after snagging another towel before she sipped again and leaned on Billy's stand.

   "Sweet face. In about five seconds, you're going to need to find a reason to move out of the way. Mockingbird, out." Camille nonchalantly swayed off.

   "Huh?" Billy shot up still and followed. "Ah, hell...leaves in the pool again. Move it, kid." He swiped up a net and went to scoop them out of another corner, hissing low at his girlfriend. "What did you do?"

   "Cashed in a favor with jocks. You probably took gym with a few. Good ones, if you can believe it, who understand such advances and hell, do they adore me. Harmless puppy love. My favorite boy." She enjoyed the cold beverage and he turned his head. "Second favorite now." Camille plucked the glasses from his face to put them on, arm resting on his shoulder. "And...showtime."

   "Group cannonball!" Beefy football and basketball players flocked in droves from their school, crowding as swimmers laughed while they all jumped in together. Worker bee drones. Water splashed high. Seemingly innocent when it found targets in the group of mothers behind Billy's stand. They yanked up in response, squealing. Hair and magazines ruined. Makeup that wasn't waterproof melted down. Billy laughed aloud with everyone, standing the net up next to him before Camille pecked his cheek.

   "You are bad news, Camille Harper."

   "What? They were having dangerous hot flashes, I cooled them down." She nudged him. Everyone played about still with cheers because this summer was fucking fantastic. "For the safety of the pool." Billy tipped the glasses down to see her eyes.

   "Thinking about taking my break early. Richie up there will cover, he owes me one." He chewed his gum, eyes peering up. "Feel like trying something?"

   "What did you have in mind?" She tossed her can away in a trash.

   "I'd rather show you." Billy came to her ear and passed to see his coworker. They grinned and nodded so he came back to her and the couple grew nonchalant. "Grab your shit, meet me behind the building."

   "Gladly," she stopped when they passed the women gathering their things. Hands leaned into the chair's armrest so Camille could get into the nasty one's face while her friends scurried away to the locker rooms. Billy stopped a foot away to watch in question, eyes landed on Camille's bottom sticking up. "Oh, and Jim isn't my type. Really it's not the age thing, I just don't think I'd want to have dinner that late, you know? Cop hours. I'm sure he's good in the sack but, I've grown protective of my boss and would appreciate a tight lip about him. Call me a slut but back the hell off Jim Hopper. It's funny, I had your kids in my fourth period and your husband taught math to me two years in a row. Adored me, I was a real teacher's pet and a pleasure to have in class. Hawkins is a small town, you ogle my underage boyfriend and I might have to start blabbing about it."

   "Camille, you're being ridiculous," the woman was clearly scared. "Billy is old enough to make his own decisions."

   "And you're old enough to know you don't fucking touch teens when they strike you as mature for their age. You're the adult and I'm kinda doing your job for you."

   "That's laughable. We just come here to have a good time. Blow off steam."

   "Blow it up your ass... And oh, no. I'm dead serious. I'm just a dirty girl and I seduce older men so really, what's stopping me from seducing your husbands? Hm? Certainly not the scandal or risk of pregnancy." Camille cackled in her face and stood up. "You see my boys over there. Sport stars and Hawkins High bests? Gym rats." A line of grumpy looking jocks blazed. "Yeah, a lot of them learned that not all attention is good attention too. Lot of them have girlfriends they're protective of because they learned that same lesson. Call it growing up in the 80s, I guess. New fucking decade of madness. And they love to raise hell, all I have to do is point. But, you see the pattern? Almost like being good looking and charming and young isn't some excuse to touch the goods. We're kids, we don't fucking ask for it and we're sick and tired of the blame bullshit. These things cross genders, hon. Especially when we all start talking at parties. So, go home and fuck your husband or don't...or I will. And I will do it so good and so hard, their fucking heads will spin by some demonic force of slut magic I wield. Am I clear?" Camille was sickly sweet again. Unhinged. Loving it.

   "Yes," she hissed, "just don't..."

   "Oh, and remember to still tip your lifeguard. My guys and gals will know if you don't." Camille tapped her fingers to her head with a flicking salute. The terrified woman yanked a random bill from her purse and offered it to Billy behind Camille.

   "Thanks, dollface." Billy's generic pet names always came out when he was being an apathetic shit. Camille moved so she scrambled to go. "You were kidding about fucking all their husbands, right?"

   "They don't need to know that," she giggled, slipping an arm around his back while he took her hips. "A twenty. Shit. Living large today."

   "And I have my blackmailing girlfriend to thank for it." Billy kissed her cheek. "Buy you a lobster dinner."

   "Oh, sure." She let him pat her bottom, lips on her ear again.

   "Have to grab a key and rubber, meet me there." He hurried off so Camille went to snag her bag and coverup to slip it on. She snuck around the building when hands took her hips, scaring her. "Just me."

   "Jerk," she smacked his chest so he unlocked a supply room.

   "They only use this after hours." Billy looked around and pulled her inside.

   "Chemicals, how romantic." Camille dropped her bag and hopped up into his arms. Billy let out a muffled sound of surprise and fell against the door, feeling around to lock it. Quickies were easier for the summer. Job hours didn't line up and they had to sneak around Neil.

   "You put this on so I can tear it off, or what?" He let her down so she could toss the coverup aside. "Shall we break in the new suit?"

   "Hm, don't rip this one. I like it."

   "Look like a Barbie doll." He'd smirked.

   "Barbie can eat her heart out." Camille had her arms around him. "Last time, I had to race into my house holding the top of my old suit up after you left it in pieces. My mom almost caught me." She played with his hair and kissed him again. Lips opened and Billy urged her back into the shelves. Her damp body pressed flush into him.

   "I can behave." He purred, wedging a thigh between her legs. Billy held her up just an inch from the floor, mouth on her neck to leave a mark she'd be covering up later. Camille moaned, grinding into him. Cock hard against her thigh. "I learned today that you can't however."

   "Just today, Billy?" She joked, biting her bottom lip. Billy looked at her hazel eyes, his own glinted in the dim light above them. Camille tried not to melt because she fucking loved this boy holding her so close now. "Didn't like my flirting to get what I want? Mad that I use your own moves when I please? I'm on my game this week."

   "Shouldn't tease the authority figure on duty, Harpy." He opened his mouth into hers for another urgent kiss. Camille worked herself into his thigh, her own leg rubbed against him. "Look at you, Camille. Needy thing, are we?"

   "All that laughing out there, I'm out of breath," Camille was a firecracker today. "Might need mouth to mouth." Billy broke to chuckle, tongue tasting of cinnamon. She went for his neck and chest. "Running out of time."

   "They'll cover, I told you." He moved his thigh just a bit to cup her, fingers stretching the suit aside. "Fuck, have you been this wet the whole time?"

   "Secret," she mumbled against his lips. Hands all over him. Tugging into his curls.

   "Did you get off on making me jealous or taking a little revenge?" He hummed into her mouth, fingering her now. Working her swollen clit until her thighs quivered. "Feels like both."

   "Please, you just look good in the uniform. I'm weak." Camille arched as he stilled to lift her up again with strong, firm hands tight on her thighs. Billy edged her bathing suit straps down so he could kiss her breasts.

   "All those boys wishing they were here," Billy mused, "when did I get so fucking lucky? You liked making me jealous in this suit. You knew I was watching so close."

   "Always are," she felt him adjust to pull his shorts down just enough and roll the condom on. Camille wiggled when arms gripped under her thighs, pulling her legs impossibly wide. "What are you going to do, Billy? Punish me?"

   "More of a reminder," he drew closer to capture her lips in a hard kiss, drinking in her cry when his cock pierced her. Billy found a hard pace before she could think. Arms squeezed his shoulders.

   "Fuck, Billy... Fuck!" The sweet agony of him pounding her into the wall charged her heart. He bit into her neck, tongue slipping over skin. Camille gripped to him, one hand slid back into his hair.

   "You like it when I fuck you this way?" Billy moaned, slamming into her. Fingers digging into her thighs.

   "Yes," she cried, "yes." Camille was amused again. Somehow able to consume him even when he had the upper hand. "I'm a dirty girl, remember?"

   "Don't let me fucking catch you flirting with those boys again." His teeth clenched, face buried into her skin. He felt her legs lock around his hips while she moved with him, signalling that she was closer. Her back ached pressed into the shelf. Items rocked about with them. Camille moaned, cupping the back of his head.

   "There, oh, yes. Billy!" She warned when one hand shot up to clench her damp locks, angling her face so he could kiss her and reel back to see her eyes. His mouth opened to moan and Camille was lost. Orgasm took him first, hips erratically pounding until her legs were numb. Billy fell against her and rocked still, head under her chin while his hand snaked down to work her clit. Camille locked up to jerk with climax next, unable to articulate. Body curving involuntarily when her voice cut out. She sagged between his body and the shelves. "Damn it, Billy. God fucking damn it." Her lungs quaked and he smirked into her neck, placing a lazy kiss there. "Reminder noted...and I definitely want to have this conversation again."

   "Might not be as kind next time." Billy came up to slip his tongue against her. Fingers massaged her thighs until he felt safe to let her down. "Fuck, I all but destroyed you. Good luck in heels tonight."

   "You ass," she leaned into a crate, groaning. Billy was still amused, tongue caught between his teeth so she swiped at his chest.

   "Let me walk you to your car." He fixed her suit and kissed her shoulder. "Such a brat."

   "Can't stand you still."

   "Guess that's why I prefer you on your back," he was enjoying himself way too much. "Sorry, I wrecked your precious-"

   "Ah, stuff it." Camille was laughing too on wobbly legs, bending to grab her cover up and bag.

   "I'll make it up to you, sneak out of the rich shit dinner." Billy suggested. "Come to my place after."

   "Think my mom is driving us specifically so I don't do that. Sneak out, I mean." Camille hissed before they left the supply room together. Billy let himself smile when they locked eyes. Lost in her too. Soft lips came to her cheek in response.

   "I'll leave the window unlocked for you."

** ** **

   “We don’t have to stay long if you don’t want to.”

   “I don’t want to,” Camille was swift. Honest. Unexpected. Harder to pretend than she thought. Parents didn’t teach her to do that. Her amazing memory had a flaw. Camille couldn't remember who she used to be, it was all hollow ghosts. She tried to think just showing up to this shit show was enough. They let her have champagne so she clicked a ring against the glass. Rosemary expected her to lie. A year ago, her daughter would have sucked it up. Been passive if anything. No longer.

   “Very well. Go, mingle. I have to network. See if I can get a store in that mall.” Rosemary beckoned when a man approached. “Larry. So nice to be doing this again. It’s been long overdue.”

   “Rosemary, you’re looking radiant. Good to see you here. Lot changed. I hope you know how sorry we all were for your loss. Noah was a great man.” Mayor Kline strobed that annoying, political smile.

   “Yes, it’s been difficult but we’re making it. I appreciate that.”

   “And you got the card and flowers?”

   “Of course, thank you, they were lovely,” Rosemary let him kiss her hand. “How’s Winnie?”

   “She’s wonderful, she’ll want to talk to you tonight for certain. Catch up.” Larry turned his eyes. “Little Camille Harper, is that you? All grown up.”

   “Hello, Mayor Kline.” She let him take her hand in both of his to kiss it.

   “She’s just stunning, Rosemary.”

   “Yes, she is. Beautiful and a straight A student.” As if that makes up for the whole abortion thing. Her mother touched her shoulder so Camille pressed a smile. Larry turned his head and Camille's soul shattered.

   “Camille, you remember my son, Robbie? He’s visiting us for the summer.” His words stilled her entire world. Larry still had her hand in his, tugging to gesture with his free one. A blond boy with a chiseled face entered her line of sight. That handsome, predatory smile. One broad hand reached out.

   “Camille. You’ve changed.” He was still grinning. Not at all bothered anymore. She gripped her glass tight and slipped from Larry before Robbie could grab her. “Blossomed into a beautiful young woman, I see. Can’t be rid of that baby face yet.” He laughed and the adults around her joined in. She was petrified. Stunned. Face blank. Sickened. “Your hair is different,” he tucked a strand aside and she gained the ability to function.

   “It grows, you see.” Her tone became flat. Head angling to get away from his touch. Robbie chuckled again after the awkward beat with her mother and Larry.

   "Camille, aren't you glad to see Robbie again? Oh, it's a shame your little sister couldn't make it." Rosemary was oblivious. Maybe by force. Too caught up to watch her daughter shrink.

   “She didn’t lose her charm, Mrs. Harper.”

   “I’ll let you two catch up.” Larry led her mother off, leaving Camille at the mercy of his son and this party around them. Strings were plucked and Camille wished to break them. She turned to go and he stepped in front of her.

   “I know what you must think of me, babygirl.”

   “Don’t you call me that. And the answering machine didn’t make it clear enough?” She hissed and he tugged at his collar, peering around. This couldn't be real. Camille felt like an idiot and didn't want to think of what Billy would say. Or shout. They were stuck in a corner by the row of windows.

   “You sprung it on me. I was scared. I had a life. Plans.” He sighed deliberately like he wasn't the problem, turning it on her so easy too. "What you did was incredibly selfish. I used to think you were a nice girl." The adult man chiding the teen girl. It hit too hard.

   “I was selfish? You...were scared. You had a life? I had a life too and I had our baby scraped out of my uterus,” she tried not to raise her voice and his hands lifted to hush her. “Stay away from me.”

   “Don’t be like this, Camille,” he touched her wrist, fingers clamping. Robbie got closer. Dangerous. “You didn’t...tell anyone, did you?”

   “No one knows it was you. Relax. End of story. Leave me alone.”

   "You didn't tell anyone," Robbie eased, "because you cared about me still."

   "I didn't tell anyone because I was ashamed of you."

   “I thought about you.” He whispered, hand like hot irons on her wrist. “I could make it up to you. You’re still...so beautiful. No girl I had after felt like you did. None of them.” Had. Robbie made the word sound especially demeaning. He longed for her honey.

   “You mean they were your age. Huh.” She hitched with sarcasm. “You couldn’t possibly make anything up to me and I don’t care. Don't need it. Don't want it."

   "Look at this. Little cheap but new and shiny." Robbie twisted her wrist painfully to see the bracelet. "Rose for a sweet rose. Your favorite, right? They grew below your window." Camille bit her tongue and didn't correct him. "A boy get that for you? See the marks on your neck. Always a dirty slut, babygirl."

   "I'm seeing someone else. I don't want you around me."

   "Why aren't they here with you?" He flash a smirk. "Not one for parties? Maybe they're just a side thing for you. Oh better, maybe you know they're not good enough to be here with their superiors. Do they know about us?"

   "They know all they need to." She seethed, tugging but he fingered the saint pendant hanging down from her neck.

   "Look at you blush, Camille. This boy must mean something to you. Must be good in the sack. I'd love to meet the person who stole your fragile, little heart."

   "Stay away.”

   “I guess we have all summer, don’t we?” He got near her ear. Dark blue eyes watched her the way they used to. Lusty. Entitled. Terrifying. “I’ll be seeing you, Camille. I promise you that.” She about tore away from him and passed everyone to go out.

   “Don’t feel good,” she went by her mother, “I’m leaving.”

   “Camille, your shoes.”

   “I’m fine to walk.” Camille was already gone, dropping her glass on the steps before she touched her lips and welled up. Face heating, she tried not to cry and failed. Without the coat she wore to the party, Camille caught a late bus across town in her dress and heels. A tiny, pink clutch hung on a chain across her shoulders. She saw a familiar car and yanked to stop the bus, hurrying off it.

   “Joyce!” She clicked across damp pavement.

   “Camille, what happened?” Joyce turned to the cold teen.

   “Um, I’m sorry, can I catch a ride? I’d like to see Hopper. My feet really hurt.”

   “Sure, come on, you’re freezing.” Joyce got her into the warmed car. “What happened to you?”

   “Whole town knows...about what I did.” She tried to explain. “But, they don’t know who...the almost father was. He, um, kind of came back into my life tonight and I’m...I’m scared. All this stuff came up too fast and...” Camille crossed her arms to rub warmth into her skin, shrugging. “I was so stupid.”

   “You know, I fell for the wrong guy too. I was older than you. You’re not stupid. You fell into a bad place and you got out of it. You did that.” Joyce turned and Camille pressed her lips up, nodding.

   “I’m so sorry...about Bob. You know, he was the sweetest guy working on that block. I broke my car radio once and he took the time to come out of his store and replace it. Made a bunch of nerdy references to make me laugh.”

   “I was lucky.” Joyce decided, trying to smile.

   “You’re a good mom and I just hope you know...that’s not the end.” Camille offered.

   “Thank you for throwing that party. Brightened Will’s start to summer. Nice to see Jonathan with friends, he spent so much time behind a camera.”

   “Will's a strong, sweet kid. They went through a lot with us. You raised them both well.” They pulled up to Hopper’s cabin. “Thanks. Drive safe.”

   “Take care, Cam. If that guy comes near you, don’t hesitate to call any of us.”

   “Appreciate it, Joyce,” Camille hurried up the steps and Hopper opened the door.

   “Thank god, Harper,” he took her wrist to tug her in. “You’re not psychic, are you?”

   “What? Um, no.”

   “I was about to call you.” He seemed frantic, smoothing his hair back. “Look, I’m trying but I’ve never done this before.”

   “Uh. Why...did you need me?”

   “It’s El, she, uh...she’s getting older...”

   “Girls do that, Jim.” Camille wiped mascara from her cheeks.

   “Wait, you were crying.” He realized and she shifted side to side as if to make it harder for him to zero in on her expression

   “No, it’s nothing.” She shrugged it off but his hand touched her chin to beckon her eyes back.

   “Why did you come here?”

   “How about we help El first? What happened?” Camille sniffed, hands dropping.

   “El got her first period. I tried to explain it and...I might have traumatized my kid.” Jim rubbed his face, leaning to Camille’s level with his hands on his knees. “I explained that it happens to all girls when they get older. Once a month and she...thinks she’s bleeding out now. It got out of hand, I lost the conversation somewhere. El's currently wrapped up in a bunch of towels. Locked in the bathroom. Won’t let me in and I make it worse by opening my big mouth.”

   “Oh, god. Jim. I got this.” Camille dug into her purse, pushing it into his hands. “If you don’t mind a late trip, we can pick her up what she needs after. Give me a moment... El? Can I come in?”

   “Scared.”

   “I know, sweetheart.” Camille sighed and Jim shrugged, paralyzed. He clutched her little, pink purse close like he was helpless. “You know, when I had my first period. I was at school. In the middle of history class. Ruined my favorite pair of pink denim pants. I managed to sneak out and...Steve Harrington caught me in the hallway. Tied his jacket around my waist so I could cover it. Let me also ruin his favorite black bomber. I was...so embarrassed. But, I had a good friend to get me through it. I think you need that too.”

   “Okay...” The door cracked and Camille slipped in. El was in a bathrobe, face splotched.

   “First. You are...not bleeding out. Promise. Girls and boys change when they get older. We get periods and they suck. Cramps and bleeding. You might be a little more irritated or hungry. But, when you have normal periods...it means you’re healthy. Your body is working just fine and natural. That’s good. Okay? They only last a week or so usually. Sometimes less if you're lucky. They can be heavy or light. We have special products we use to take care of them. Don’t be scared. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re just growing up. You’ll be just fine. You’re young so you’ll be using pads. I’ll teach you how to use one. I wish I had a big sister to help me because my mom made such a big deal of it. Made me a red velvet cake. I still cringe when I think about it.”

   “All girls get periods?”

   “Mostly, yeah. They’re different for everyone. Bodies are complicated.”

   “And...boys? Will Mike get a period?” El asked. “Is that why Billy gets angry, he’s having a period?”

   “No, not quite,” Camille laughed, helping El up. “Boys develop differently. I’ll find you a book to help you out. You’ll be fine. I promise. Come on, I keep products on me just in case me or a friend needs one. Feel free to ask any questions and you know, Max is probably going through something similar. You could also talk to her or Nancy or Joyce. Don’t be afraid to come to Hopper too, he’s trying his best and he needs to know what you’re experiencing.”

   “Thank you.”

** ** **

   “She’s fine,” Camille left El’s bedroom. “Lots of questions. Brace yourself for some. Don’t freak her out.”

   “Thanks, Harper.”

   “Guess that I was in the right place at the right time for once. Come on, Chief, take me to that little twenty four hour joint. I’ll pick some stuff out.” Camille kidnapped the Police Chief but he was in no place to argue. He dug one of his own coats out and helped her into it over her dress.

   “So, why’d you come here?” They got into his car to drive off.

   “Didn’t know where else to go. Who to tell. I already wrapped you up in my weird, explosive life. My ex. The...bad one.” Camille swallowed. “Do not say anything. Please. Only Billy knows who he is. Ah…he’s Mayor Kline’s son.”

   “Robbie Kline? That guy? Camille, you were fifteen.”

   “Yeah.”

   “Word had it the father was-”

   “Yes, the voicemail covered this.” Camille closed her eyes. “He’s kind of back in Hawkins and I’m freaked out. I just wanted to tell someone and...I don’t know. I wish he’d go away. Things were good and Billy’s going to lose it if I tell him and I’m not sure I should… I don’t want to lie to him and I know he’ll find out. This was our summer. His birthday is coming and I wanted to make it nice. Shit. Robbie, he’s...such an asshole.”

   “I didn’t know.”

   “No one did,” Camille turned her head and he shook his.

   “No, I… I should have stepped in.” Jim sighed and explained. “Few years back, I saw you together. Corner ice cream parlor. He bought you a cone. Your families knew each other, I figured they made you all hang out. You knew his sister but, I thought it was weird that she wasn’t there. He got an arm around you and put you into his car. Drove off. I could have stopped him. You were a minor. Still are, in fact.”

   “Jim, you didn’t know. Nothing was up. Nothing looked off.”

   “It did look off but, I dismissed it. Fucking hell, something happens when you become an adult. You get self absorbed. You just want to believe the kids are doing fine, you know? I'm sorry.” He turned to park and she hurried, getting out. “Camille, don’t shut down on me. Please.”

   “What the hell else can I do?” She snapped, freezing to exhale instead. “Not my dad. Leave it and focus on your own kid…I... I’m sorry.”

   “You told me for a reason.” He noted. “I’ll keep you safe. You’re not my kid, but I still want you to feel safe.” Hopper turned and she rushed to wrap her arms around him.

   “Jim? Thank you.” Her eyes lifted before she sniffled when he rubbed her back.

   "I'm lucky to know a great kid like you. Helped El a lot this year. Helped me too." Jim had offered it all so easily. Words she needed. Wanted. Wished for. "Please, go easy on yourself, Camille. You're so important."

   “I... Come on, we’ll be quick.” She pressed her lips, brightened. Odd pair. Grumpy Police Chief and tattered Queen Bee. Camille wondered if she should be seen with him, wrapped up in his coat, and looking a pretty mess. At this time of night. After what those women speculated about them both. Another awful set of rumors these two now had in common. Camille wondered also if she was a nice girl at all. Shaking her thoughts, she picked out items and Jim took note for next time. Chocolate was also a must.

   "Think we covered it all."

   “You might want to load up on extra sheets and underwear for her. There will be accidents. When they happen, do everything to make her feel not ashamed. She might also be snappy on occasion. Promise she doesn’t mean it. Teen girls and all.”

   “Teen.” Jim realized the frightening truth in that. Camille offered him the basket so he paid and they left. “You owe me, big time.”

   “Don’t I know it? I’ll get you home.”

** ** **

   Camille parked just far enough along the street in her usual hidden spot closer to the woods. She paced in a fitted shirt and high rise jeans toward Billy's window just above his bed. He sat with a pair of huge headphones over his ears attached to the stereo. Book in one hand. Cigarette in the other. Peaceful and still for once. Curls were damp from the shower after his closing shift and work out. For a beat, Camille thought to leave him alone just like that. Felt wrong to disturb something that exquisite. Behind her, trees rustled in the darkness. Restless like her. A colder wind cast over her bones. Rattling her. Scrapes echoed into that chilly air. Like whispers and footsteps all at once. Camille felt her heart pick up, eyes widening while she tried to see between the trees before she looked back and Billy's face was right there.

   "Ah." A gasp filtered out her lips so she pressed a hand over her mouth. Inside, he looked confused, head tilting before he pointed with a nod so she'd creep around the house to the second window between his stereo and vanity made out of crates.

   "Told you I'd leave it unlocked," he turned the dial and unplugged his headphones to let some music cover their voices. The TV played in the living room to further it. "Cold tonight?"

   "Yeah." She swallowed and reached in so he could pull her inside.

   "Guess I can warm you up." Billy joked and met her eyes. "You see something out there?" It felt like the cold had come specifically for her.

   "No, just chilly and dark." She let him close the window and sat at the foot of his bed. Hands reached to snag his book, one she'd let him borrow. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. "You're reading it?"

   "Had the time," he shrugged and sat down while she kicked her shoes to the side. "This Hugo guy likes to talk, doesn't he?"

   "He does enjoy his historical tangents." Camille smiled softer when he shifted to set the book on one of his speakers. She thought of Esmeralda being dragged to the gallows briefly. All because someone in power pointed a finger and called her a dirty girl too.

   "Glad you decided to come," he leaned over for a gentle kiss. Lingering so he could crawl over her. Camille fell back into his bed, eyes on the wall when he kissed down her neck. Hands fell by her hair and a breath heaved. Billy kissed down her body until he could open her jeans and pull them down. He was being so tender with her, she almost burst. Camille stared harder as if to still her own heart. He tugged a torn muscle shirt over his head, leaving him in some boxers before he went for her lips again.

   "I don't want to have sex." Camille blurted out, causing him to sit up on his knees. "I'm sorry."

   "That's okay," Billy shifted off her. Wondered about putting his shirt back on but she sat up looking wounded. "It's okay." Camille did something peculiar when their eyes met. Hands cupped his face, thumbs smoothing. Billy didn't want to ask but curiosity got the better. "What happened at that uppity asshole function?"

   "I just didn't like it." She shuddered when he grasped her wrists, inching closer. "They all looked at me. Felt like I was being undressed." Camille blinked a few times and Billy was locked into her. "Do you think I ask for it?" The tone ached him.

   "No. No, you don't." Billy smoothed palms up her arms to hold her face, serious now. "Not one bit because none of us fucking do." Camille dropped her hands. Let him keep her rooted. Her voice was barely audible.

   "Do you think I'm a nice girl?"

   "Nice is the worst word in the world. Fucking hate it. But, I think you're fucking fantastic." He tried to smile in a puff. Charming. Billy couldn't put Camille into words. None grasped her. None were worthy of her glow. "Aggravating in the best way too." She opened her lips, so small.

   "Do you think my heart is fragile?"

   "I don't think any part of you is fragile." Billy replied, smooth and even. "I think even if parts are breaking off, you're still trudging forward with a fucking blowtorch, sewing kit, or damn superglue to put them back together." Lips pressed when she accepted that answer before she was tugging him under the covers. He adjusted to turn the lamp off while she pulled her bra out under her shirt to toss it aside with her jeans. Camille brought his heated arms around her body. Goosebumps rose as he warmed her skin, pressing into her back. Withholding the truth made her feel still like trash. Dirty girl. Billy rested his chin atop her head when they sank into his mattress, huddled together.

   "Camille, you're shaking," he edged forward to turn her just enough so she was looking up at him, "no, no, why are you shaking?" His confused voice sounded airy and hurt. A hand touched her cheek to feel a tear slip down it. She burrowed into his chest.

   "I just didn't like it, Billy," Camille offered again, sniffling. "You can tell me, I told you so, tomorrow. Okay?"

   "I won't say it at all, Harpy, just talk to me." He eased in her ear, rubbing her arms while she held to him.

   "I just wish...my mom and dad were here and healthy and alive or...or I wish my adoptive parents weren't monsters. I wish they took me and ran too, far away from here because I think I was worth saving," Camille broke, "and I wish Neil was a good dad and I wish your mom never left you and I just wish our parents didn't fuck us up so bad. Billy, I just fucking wish they didn't ruin us so we didn't ruin what's left. I just spent the entire time there on the outside wishing while they all stared until my skin unraveled. Like they knew I was rotten on the inside and assumed there's nothing else to it. I just wish I didn't feel so fucking dirty."

   "Hey," Billy was trembling now too. Soothing her as best he could. "I got you."

   "I just wish the adults around us didn't violate and use and manipulate and destroy us. When all we want to do is learn. Are we going to be like that too? Are we going to grow up and make children feel empty and unsafe?" She got a handle on herself and clung to him.

   "No." Billy shook his head, kissing her hair. "No, we're not. You're not for sure."

   "How? How do you know?"

   "Morning after the Byers' house. Woke up in my car to you shredding my ass apart. Because you cared so fucking hard." Billy inhaled, looking down at her. "You said that we notice shit. We do. We really fucking do. You know why, Camille?" He took her face to make her look at him. "Because we're awake. And it fucking sucks some days but, I'd rather be awake. Don't you think so?"

   "Yes," Camille searched his eyes, leaning in to kiss him. Light and quick. A wink against all this time that went. "I'd rather be awake." She brushed curls from his cheek, smoothing them away from his temple too. Billy watched her face, fixated until she met his gaze again. Camille nestled further into the pillows, lips quirking as she relaxed now. "You're my boyfriend. Damn Billy."

   "I am." Billy broke with a lazy smile, tired. "Damn Camille. My damn girlfriend. My ass is damn lucky though."

   "I'm going to fall asleep here," she warned.

   "Say that like I was going to let you go," he held her still. Kissing her so he could touch their foreheads. He wanted to tell her not to go again but, didn't want to risk upsetting her further after getting her to calm down.

   "I'll sneak out, I work early." Camille nodded while he pulled away.

   "Wake me before you go." Billy adjusted so they got comfortable. "Kiss my damn girlfriend goodbye." Camille felt her heart swell at that. Not fragile at all. Full today.

   "I can do that. For you." She kissed him one last time as he closed his eyes. The urge to apologize swept. They were just too happy. She couldn't break the glass further tonight. Not while he was so at peace holding her. Camille found something else to say instead. "Goodnight, Billy."

Chapter Text

   “Earth to Billy,” Camille waved a drink in his face. “Mint cone for me and a pink strawberry milkshake for my boyfriend with a craving who thinks he’s too manly for a cone.”

   “I just look too good eating one, can’t do that to all the girls in public. Make you jealous.” Billy smirked so she nudged him, sitting upon the fountain at Starcourt with other couples and groups of teens. People bustled all around them shopping. “They got me teaching little kids to swim this morning. One poor shit clung to my arm the whole time so I gave the entire lesson holding them up in the water.”

   “Aw, I bet that was sweet.”

   “Heather was all too happy to take pictures.” He'd grumbled.

   “I’ll be getting copies of those.” Camille joked, tongue sliding along the treat.

   “Shit." Billy's eyes snapped to see her.

   "What is it, babe?" Camille blinked. "Something on my face?"

   "I’m now realizing you did this on purpose.”

   “I don’t know...what you mean,” she batted her lashes and licked again. Billy rolled his eyes and sat forward to drink.

   “Keep laughing, Harpy, I always get you back.”

   “Maybe I want you to.” She whispered, winking. Across the way, Camille noticed two familiar faces. “Is that…? Look.”

   “How the hell did Max get here? Is that El?” He stood, head tilting. El was dressed in something other than a loose flannel. A new chic romper. Colorful. Max laughed as they walked along and Camille smiled.

   “Those two are so good for each other,” she tugged Billy to walk toward them. “Hey, you guys. What’s up?”

   “Mike was being dumb so it's girl’s day now.” Max explained. "I'm sure you have a lot of those, dating my brother and all." Billy was mid drink when the insult dawned on him, head snapping but he was interrupted.

   "You-"

   “Mike is being dumb.” El agreed and Camille nodded at that, snickering.

   “Understood, those days are very important. El, you look incredible. Vibrant.”

   “My style.” El put her hands on her hips, proud.

   “I dig it.” Camille gestured with her ice cream.

   “How’d you get here?” Billy scoffed, sipping with one brow lifted.

   “Bus. You know, the big cars that take you everywhere these days.” Max shrugged. "What's it to you?"

   “How did the flannel fairy afford this outfit, Max?” He cocked his head. “Another bill from Susan’s jewelry box, huh?”

   “Maybe it’s my own allowance. El gets one from Hopper too. This was an emergency.”

   "Can't argue with that logic," Camille noted.

   “Yeah, and maybe I was born yesterday.” Billy flashed his teeth, drinking. "Don't get me in deep shit for all this."

   “Mom doesn’t notice and they know I'm with friends that aren't boys.” Max insisted. Or Susan never says she does notice. “What are you guys doing?”

   “I’m buying Billy a birthday gift and we're celebrating. Day early. He forgot it’s tomorrow and our shifts don’t line up.” Camille joked and he rolled his eyes.

   “Lost track of the days.”

   “We’ll let you two enjoy the girl’s day. Take no prisoners.” Camille beamed and dragged Billy off.

   “They’re happy.” El smiled so Max agreed.

   “He’s dumb but, definitely going to marry that girl.” She pulled her friend in the other direction to continue their adventure.

** ** **

   “Harpy, go easy.” Billy let her tug at his shirt to button a new one up. Red and fitting. “Too far.”

   “Oh, excuse me. My bad.” She left another unbuttoned to view his chest.

   “Much better.” Billy shifted to tuck it into his jeans.

   “Hm, I like this. But, I’m thinking of the main attraction.”

   “I can’t show that in public.” He was smug.

   “No. A jacket.” Camille watched him laugh, pushing at his chest. "I've had this one picked for weeks and was going to buy it so you could have something to unwrap tomorrow. But, we can improvise."

   “Am I a doll now?”

   “I put clothes on you and...later...maybe I’ll be taking them off.” Camille was innocent and he grew amused.

   “Guess you’re right. Continue.”

   “This one. You tore the old black one up and I stole the brown one.” She held up a genuine leather jacket and eyed the mirror. Having never received such an fine, clearly expensive gift, Billy felt something rare heat his cheeks.

   “Camille, that’s way...too much.” He could never buy her something that pretty.

   “It’s your birthday tomorrow," Camille chirped before his mood could teeter, "I’m showing you a good time now and you will have a good time. Or else.”

   “Was that a threat?”

   “A promise, sweet face,” she kissed his cheek, slipping the jacket up his arms. “This is...so you.”

   “Damn it, Camille,” he turned to admire himself in the new leather, tongue sliding over his bottom lip before grinning. Her arms slipped around him under his. Mouth falling to his shoulder while she inhaled the leather and his aftershave. “I don’t hate it.”

   “That sounded more like a yes.”

   “A fuck yes.” He muttered so she smoothed out the shoulders and eyed him. Billy turned to see her while she tugged at the leather.

   “Happy Birthday, Billy,” Camille smiled until he leaned to kiss her lips. He just looked so at peace today. So fulfilled. Too much time had passed it felt and it hadn’t even been a year. And, god, was she deeply in love with him. Camille took the shirt and jacket, eyes on the tattoo inked into his bicep. “Get dressed, I’ll have them ring these up.” She went to the front of the busy store. A tune like one from an elevator played on.

   “Cute,” a voice mused before one pale hand yanked back a curtain in a nearby fitting room, “that you call her Harpy. Wish I thought of that.”

   “The fuck? Were you hiding there the entire time, dude?” Billy was buttoning his shirt, eyes lifting to an older boy. “Fucking freak.” He’d mumbled. This guy thought he was smooth. A total douche. Tying a sweater about his shoulders like some uppity asshole.

   “Irrelevant.” Robbie checked himself out in the mirror next to Billy. Slicking blond hair back into place.

   “Don’t know you, man.” Billy tucked part of his shirt in and fixed a curl idly, trying to ignore the asshole.

   “Oh? We have a close, close friend in common.” Robbie shrugged, Billy met his eyes in the mirror. Frozen. “Yes. I assume she mentioned me. I can tell by that stark look in your eye. Loves to tell stories, my babygirl. She’s great, isn’t she? Little Queen Camille. Bouncy thing. Seems happy. Grown up. She was only packing a set of Bs when I knew her. Glad that doubled, know what I mean? Didn’t realize she had to stoop so low for a fuck these days though, dressing you up cause she's embarrassed. Slim pickings in this shit town.” Billy was already turning, chest puffing. "Hargrove, right? Yes, I know all about you. Name's Robert Kline. Camille called me Robbie. Though, I preferred when she moaned it. But, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that, ah buddy?"

   “Fucking mayor's son. You want to get the fuck out of here before I knock your teeth out your ass? Stay the fuck away from Camille-”

   “Not looking to cause trouble, friend. Just curious. I'm sure that you're curious too about me which is why you haven't punched me yet. Sure you know I have people that can drop you into a hole if you touch me. This is about Camille. I'm very concerned. Guess she ran out of trust fund, sports stars to pass her around, thought she’d get adventurous by rebelling. Best pussy I ever had. So clean and tight. And that mouth. Man, I saw her at that party with the same lipstick she used to smear down my rod. Miss it if I'm being perfectly honest.”

   “Party?” Billy was advancing now. Seething.

   “Oh, she didn’t tell you? Hm. I wonder why? My babygirl still purr like a little kitten? I bet she does. Hope you don’t have anything she can catch, the way you were checking yourself out there, fa-” Billy grabbed him by the shoulders, pushing him into a fitting room. Anger caught up with him. Fury. Red.

   “You come near, Camille," his tone lowered, "I’ll fucking kill you. Hear me, I’ll-”

   “Look at you, man. I’m happy for you. I am. Criminal caught himself a princess. A talent. I wasn’t here to cause trouble, I said. Just looking to get to know Camille's new life. Chill out.”

   “Too late, it found you, bitch.” Billy gripped him, pressing the taller man up a few inches. “You breathe in my direction again, you’ll regret it. Don't give a shit that the mayor pissed you out.”

   “Camille and I ran the course, we moved on. I mean, I’ll miss that little whimper she gave when I put it in her ass after some tongue action but...they’re just fond memories now. Found herself a tough guy. Good for her. Poor trash. Easy to be rid of. You live on Cherry Lane, don’t you?” Robbie only smiled when Billy grit his teeth and shoved him higher. “My dad runs this town, kid. You don’t want to fuck with me, Billy.”

   “Think I already am. You talk about my girlfriend again, I will rip your fucking tongue out.” Billy yanked and pushed him out. “Get the fuck out of here.” He watched the shithead turn to go to the front of the store. Robbie passed behind an oblivious Camille and resisted touching her hair. Billy was vibrating still when Camille smiled and let it fade upon seeing his face. He passed her so she took the bag and raced after him.

   “Billy, what just happened?” She tugged for his arm and he ripped from her. "Wait a moment." Calming when he saw her eyes. Billy grew so quiet. Almost wounded.

   “You knew.”

   “Knew, what?”

   “Don’t fucking play dumb, Camille. Not to me.” Billy was walking again, forcing her to shuffle after at his side. “Fucking college asshole. Blond bitch. Probably deals coke and snorts his own supply. Dresses and acts like he drinks douche straight from the bottle. I could go on.”

   “Robbie?” Her blood ran colder.

   “It’s Robbie now, huh?” Billy turned once they were outside in the parking lot. He said the words slowly, leaning into her space. “You lied to me."

   “Wait.” Camille stopped him from going, hand on his wrist.

   "How fucking long has he been back in your life?”

    “He...He showed up at the Mayor’s party."

   "I told you not to go." Billy shook his head.

   "He would have been back in Hawkins regardless. Would have found me." She looked elsewhere. "I left immediately. I wanted him to go away and I didn’t know how to tell you without sounding like an idiot. Really, I never thought he'd return to fucking Hawkins. I hadn't heard from him since I told him I was getting the abortion. He promised the ride and never showed. I didn't lie about that. I was too ashamed to tell you."

   "You should have spit it out."

   "And...your birthday was coming, I wanted so badly to make it nice for you. I did. I promise. I was going to wait till after and there's no right moment for this shit. He said he was staying in town for summer, I hoped he’d be stuffed up his dad’s ass. Seeing him at that party really...fucked me up. I’m sorry. I am. Withholding was just as bad." Camille shuffled in a way that was so unlike her. Billy wondered about a girl who must have cowered under the control of a monster. A side to her he had never seen. "Did...Did he threaten you?”

   “What? Why are you asking? Did he threaten you?” Billy was heated again at that so she released him.

   “Not exactly but, I don’t know..."

   "Did he or did he not threaten you, Camille?" He'd pressed. "It's an easy question."

   "I'm not sure, Billy. He’s, frankly, the same but...more of the same. If that makes sense. Like he morphed into an even bigger asshole, I didn’t think it was possible. There are too many thoughts in my head. He has that effect on me. Robbie had this...hold over me and he knew it. I put years into undoing it. I can't...face this shit.” Camille looked at his hand so he dropped his shoulders and pulled her off toward his car.

   “Let’s just go.” Billy spoke, sighing. “I’m mad. Not...at you. Just so we’re crystal fucking clear.” Quick, he lit up a cigarette in the car to relax and Camille put his bag in the backseat. She held herself and found some words.

   “Not like he can do anything, everyone knows but they don’t know it was him. I’ll let that slip if he steps out of line.”

   “Your word against his.” Billy remarked, inhaling to blow smoke outside.

   “People noticed us around town. I have old pictures hidden away that I stole from him a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant. Some are...not PG.” None were, in fact.

   “Camille, fuck.” Billy stopped her, rubbing his eyes for a lingering beat. He thought of this amazing girl in front of him being held down and railed from behind. That little whimper. Billy thought of himself on his back too and awful perfume invading while rough, small hands tugged his cock. Camille snapped him out of it.

   “What I mean is that I’ll fight him on it. Won’t put him in jail but he’ll back off. He’s the mayor’s son. Robbie's image is everything to him. Explains why he liked controlling mine. I was popular too young, that's never good. He fed off it.” Camille sat forward, eyeing him. "What did he say to you?"

   "Tried to get in my face with shitty jabs about us both," Billy eyes landed on the ashtray, snuffing the smoke out. "Nothing important."

   "Wondering how I fell for it, right? Must think I'm such an idiot. I know I do."

   "I didn't say that." He felt her stare and peered up finally. Said something she'd always remember. "Things look different on the inside."

   "Yeah, I guess they do." Camille sighed, arms crossing. "Don't let your stupid girlfriend ruin your birthday." Billy neglected to mention that Robbie knew his name and street address.

   "No, she's making it a good one to be honest. Call yourself stupid again and it will piss me off though." For a beat, he felt like he'd missed a huge portion of her life. Something she would barely touch with him. Events that made Camille who she was. Hard to even picture.

   "Fair enough," she turned her head, eyes caught a scene across the way. “Hey. One o’clock.”

   “Huh?”

   “Look.” She gestured. Max and El talking to Mike, Lucas, and Will outside the entrance. Dustin was still at camp. El got in Mike’s face and he looked shocked before two giggling girls were racing off. "What did we just witness there?" Camille rolled down a window to wave “Hey, guys!” They crawled behind her into Billy’s car before he could protest.

   “Drive, Batman, we need a getaway.” Max was laughing and Billy rolled his eyes.

   “Not a taxi.” He started the car regardless. Max and El were still giddy, high-fiving.

   “What...did we miss?” Camille dared to ask.

   “I dump his ass!” El proclaimed with a huge smile and ice cream. Both older teens jerked around to see her.

   “Did she just say…?” Billy's mouth opened, unable to fathom this weird kid.

   “Yeah,” Camille was dumbfounded too. Billy turned, snickering before he drove off. “You broke up with Mike? Didn’t you spend like years trying to get together?”

   “It was amazing, Camille, you should have seen it!” Max laughed.

   “Oh, my god, they’re too powerful,” she slid down, chuckling.

   “Max broke up with Sinclair like three times this year.” Billy remarked. “Excuse my sister for whatever bad advice she gave you.”

   “We’re young, we’re allowed.” Max was finishing her cone.

   “Don’t drip on my seats.” Billy resigned himself and turned at a light. “I’ll drop you off at the house, Camille and I have plans still and you’re getting in the way.”

   “You’re going to go happy scream.” El sat forward and Max choked next to her, coughing when Billy jerked to a stop.

   “Max, what the fuck have you been telling this girl?” He spun with huge eyes and Camille’s face was buried in her hands to laugh.

   “Nothing! It’s not my fault!” She shot back, breaking to laugh when he groaned and kept going.

   “Mad Max.” He shrugged, disbelieving. “Fuck, I was right about you. Put on your damn seatbelts, don’t get me pulled over.”

   “You’re not going to dump my ass, are you?” Camille joked quietly, biting her lip and he shook his head.

   “No, you’re still stuck with me.” Billy huffed, smirking. The two kids chattered in back.

   “Good.”

   “Just got kidnapped by some girls.”

   “Have a habit of that.” Camille was entertained again.

   “Can El sleepover at our place?” Max clasped her hands.

   “I do not care.” Billy droned. “Sit back.” He fiddled with the radio until his music played.

   “Weird summer,” Camille mused, head tipping back. “Getting stranger.” They sped to a stop and the younger girls thanked them before getting out to race into the house. Billy turned the corner and shrugged, smug now.

   “So, you want to go somewhere and happy scream?”

   “And I thought you’d never ask.” Camille flashed a grin, causing Billy to speed up. “My place is empty.” She slid closer to him, kissing his neck and jaw to tease.

   “Not fair,” Billy’s thighs opened when her hand palmed him. “You know you’re fucked when we get into that house, right?”

   “Hm. That’s the idea.”

** ** **

   “Billy! Fuck!” Camille was not shy about the pleasure when her house was empty, shameless and moaning. He held her up against a wall and pounded into her. Books tumbled down from shelves. Nails scratching his back. High pitched cries begged for more. She made him feel like a fucking god when they were like this. Hands pressed her hips and legs tightened against him. Sweat glistened along wanting bodies. Hearts thumped. Pants flooded with breathy moans. “Harder.” He gave a low chuckle into her ear. Mouths opened while he slowed to tease her instead.

   “Hm,” Billy stumbled from the wall with her and fell against the bed on his bottom. Sitting up, she arched when he filled her. “You want it, earn it.” Lips left as many marks as he could all along her neck and breasts. Camille whined, seated in his lap with her arms around his shoulders still. She came up and sank down on him. Hands guiding her by the hips, not allowing her to speed up yet. “You do want it, don’t you?”

   “Yes,” she pleaded, pushing him back into the bed. Billy was amused again, face framed with gold curls. Tongue between his teeth to enjoy this. She bounced in his lap, lost in him.

   “Shit, Camille, that’s it. Right there,” he coaxed, muscles clenched together. “Fuck yourself.”

   “Oh, god,” she arched when his thumb rubbed her clit. “Hey...this is supposed to be...for you.”

   “This is for me.” He purred and she pressed hands against his chest to fuck him harder. “My beautiful girlfriend crying out because I make her feel so good. You think I can’t last a few rounds?” He bit his lip, groaning slowly as he watched her. His other hand cupped her breast, fingers running all up and down her skin. “Think I’m not about to make you quake multiple times?”

   “Oh, I dare you to try.” She arched, leaning back to brace hands on his knees. Billy played with her until she was shameless and moaning again. She closed her eyes, head cocked back while she rode him. Billy lifted just enough to see the mirror behind them. He watched her body move, overtaken completely. “I’m right there. I’m there, fuck, I’m coming. Billy.” Camille’s cry flooded out when orgasm gripped her unexpectedly. Billy was smirking and unworried, bucking up to meet her thrusts before she fell against him. She caught her breath and started to come up when he turned them over, driving his shaft all the way in. A strangled gasp escaped her, eyes darting over his expression as he set his arm by her head to hold himself over her.

   “I can still feel you,” he sighed, “gripping me so tight. Pulsing. I can barely stay inside.” More delicate kisses were placed along her temple and cheeks. Billy hummed to relish her body, shifting down her jaw. Camille felt him swaying with subtle, shallow thrusts to keep her in a state. Fingers laced above her head and she sighed blissfully.

   “You feel so good, Billy, I just...want to stay like this,” her little utters came into his ear. He moaned again, one palm slipping over her breast to twist her nipple before his mouth closed around it. Billy stimulated her gently, fingers shifted over her clit again. A breath hitched, thighs quivering and tightened around his hips. “God, I don’t know if I even can.”

   “That’s why I’m here to help you,” he’d smirked, claiming her lips. Light fingers rubbed circles into her. He came up to see her clouded eyes. Camille gave a soft whine so he hushed her, not letting up while his body pinned her in place. Those thrusts filled her so exquisitely, hitting a sweet spot that made her heart quicken. “Just let go, Camille. Relax.” The feeling pooled again in her gut, filling her soul to the brim. “Good,” he praised when her tight body went a little lax, “you can feel yourself getting there. You want to come again for me?”

   “Yes.” Camille ran her hands all along his body, fingers gripped his hips to coaxed him faster. She felt drunk. Billy watched her there, lost in him willingly. Something about it all welled tears in his eyes. Lips fell into her neck so he could sniffle and hold her for a bit. Camille’s fingers came up into his curls to tug until he’d kiss her again.

   “I want you to come with me.” She murmured, soothing him when his forehead fell against her own. “Just like this.” Her body was raw. Unbound. Building again at his beckoning. For a moment, she didn’t think she could until it all locked up. Billy was smacking into her harder. Deeper. Her walls clenched as if to force him out so he moaned. He tortured her clit with those perfect circles. Nails scratched down his back as she shuddered, letting a cry loose before climax found her again. Billy squeezed her when he felt himself come undone, spilling into the condom. Flesh cried out, fizzling with heat. They held each other impossibly close, twitching to finish out the echoing highs.

   Billy didn’t roll off her immediately when they were utterly spent. They took time to share a few lazy kisses. Palms tracing and soothing electric skin. He looked down at her, hand cupping her face to tuck some hair aside. Camille watched those bright crystalline eyes. A glimmer sparking in them. She didn’t speak when one finger traced her cheek. His light expression turned from porcelain to stone. Intent on something and she could no longer read it. Billy just looked at her face in silence.

   And he loved her so much.

   “Hm?” She licked her lips. “What is it?” His mouth opened. A small breath left and the words didn’t follow it. Eyes averted so he could break the spell and roll off her. Billy sat at the edge of her bed, slipping the condom off to tie it and toss it in the bin. Camille touched his shoulder, lips edging along his back. She kissed a few scratches left there and smiled, fingertips tracing shapes into his chest. “Billy.”

   “It’s nothing,” he debated it. “Just thinking about what’s changed.”

   “That’d be just about everything.” Camille joked when he stood to crack her window so he could smoke. Just a few quick drags. He stood there nude and glistening. Dragging on smoke. Hair a mess. Face tinted with a rare blush. Gorgeous. “Wish you could stay tonight. Neil will get suspicious if he knows how often you’re not at home even with work. My mom is going to be home tonight too. Still trying to get her store in the mall.” Billy only nodded, eyes elsewhere while he leaned by the window to snuff out the cigarette and flick it off. “You got quiet.”

   “Thinking about California.” Billy admitted, coming back to the bed so she scooted and beckoned for him to get in. Camille got into his arms, crossing her own over his chest to put her head there so she could watch him contemplate it. “I miss it. Every day. I can’t even say things were better there now. After my mom left… I did shitty things there. Shitty things happened to me too. Dad yanked us here and I remember shaking with so much rage because California was the last thing connecting me to my mom and he knew he was ripping that away. Fucking Hawkins.” He’d scoffed, eyes rolling. “But, when you and I are together. I think I miss it less. And I came here with one goal of getting back. Now, all I think about is us. Guess, I just don't know what to do with it all at times.” Billy summed up her existence.

   “We could try something.” She smiled and he broke to laugh at that.

   “Thought we just played that game.” Fingertips skimmed her back.

   “Not that. I meant, we should make a promise.” Camille licked her lips and sat up a bit more. “We promise that whatever happens. As friends or boyfriend, girlfriend. We just promise to not leave each other behind.” Her hand lifted, pinkie out. “We have to promise right also. Come on.”

   “I promise but I will not...” Billy huffed, caving quick when she gave him the eyes. He brought his hand up and let her curl her pinkie around his.

   “Wasn’t so hard, was it?”

   “The things I do for you.”

   “You’re a boyfriend, babe, you have to do boyfriend things with me.” Camille pecked his knuckles and let him go.

   “Was I not just buried inside you, making you scream?”

   “Happy scream,” she laughed, sobering. “And I recall you bragging you’d go multiple rounds so only twice is not impressive.”

   “Oh,” Billy’s hands ran up her sides. “Well, Camille, there is a way to fix that.” He turned them over. “We have time still before I need to split. Happy Birthday to me.” She bit her lip, sighing out again when he started kissing up her neck.

   “I suppose we should make good use of it.”

** ** **

   “Billy?” A voice sounded at his door, knocks followed. Hurried, he took his new coat off to hang it. Having spent time modeling it in his makeshift vanity’s mirror.

   “Yeah, Susan?” The door opened.

   “Neil’s working late. Said he went out with coworkers after.” The only good birthday present his father could have given him.

   “Figures.” Billy dropped his eyes to the slice of cake in her hands. One candle. Made special for him. He hadn’t had a cake with candles since his mom left. Susan held the plate out.

   “This is for you. I know you don’t want the fuss but you’re turning eighteen and everyone needs candles to blow out. One wish to make.” She handed him the treat and Billy debated it. “Go on.” He pressed his lips, closed his eyes, and blew after a quick wish. Something simple that ached him. “Happy birthday, Billy. And...again, you’re eighteen now. If you wanted...to go. I could try to help you.”

   “He’d never let that happen. We both know it.”

   “You have more rights now.”

   “He’d hunt me down. Just need to make it another year. Graduate. I have to play his game. I always will.” Billy set the cake aside. “If I leave, it’s just you and Max.”

   “I can handle Neil. He doesn’t do to me what he does to you. I can get you away from him. He won’t hit me, Billy.” She touched his face. Something she’d never done. Something he needed right now. Billy sniffled hard, took her wrist to pull it away and didn’t let go immediately. Eyes were intent. His tone grew hard. “He hasn’t hit me yet.” Yet. Susan knew something terrible was coming for her in this life the same way Billy did.

   “He will.

   “Billy.”

   “Can’t talk like this. He’ll know.” Billy turned to sit at his corner table. “...Thank you. For the cake. You have to shut my door now, Susan.”

   “It’s midnight. June 23rd. Happy official Birthday. Max and her little friend are watching a movie. Feel free to join them, I know they like you.”

   “I’m different. Am I...different?”

   “That’s called healing. You are.” Susan pressed her lips and pulled a card from her pocket, setting it on a shelf. "Just something for you. Don't tell Neil." She waited until he nodded then left him. A simple birthday card she signed with Max. Few bills. More money than she should have given him to stash away. Billy picked up a fork and cursed before he snuck out. Two girls peered up as he paced in.

   “So, what the hell are we watching? Better be good.” He plopped down in a chair like he owned the room now. Max smiled and picked through movies while they ate slices of cake together. El sat against the couch, legs curling.

   “Stepford wivesThe Fury…”

   “Since when do you like horror flicks?” Billy paused mid bite.

   “Since ever. You just didn’t notice.” Max beamed. Something else in common. “How about Poltergeist?”

   “Trying to scare your friend.” Billy mused. “Don’t care as long as the police chief isn’t here knocking about how we traumatized his daughter.”

   “I’ll make popcorn,” Max hurried into the kitchen so El got up onto the couch.

   “Not complicated?” She broke the silence. “Camille is your girlfriend.”

   “No, still complicated. But, she is. Try not to say that around here, not everyone knows.” He narrowed his eyes when she scooted closer to his chair, leaning on the arm rest. “What?”

   “A secret?”

   “Look, my dad doesn’t want me dating girls like... Flings were fair game, I stayed out of the way. He doesn’t want me dating Camille most of all. Same way he he'll flip his shit if he sees Max with Sinclair.”

   “Why?”

   “Stupid reasons. Likes to control me. Likes to hate people not like him.” Billy paused. “He’s an asshole. Don’t repeat that.”

   “Bad man.” She inquired, already having heard it from Camille so Billy pressed his lips.

   “Guess so.” Billy jerked a little when tiny fingers tucked hair aside. A bruise was hidden barely in his hairline near his temple. He remembered so many months ago. Camille marching him into a bathroom to clean a similar wound.

   “I can stop the bad man.” El got Billy to crack a genuine smile.

   “Superpowers can’t solve everything, kid.” Billy exhaled and thought of Camille again. Clearly. “That demo-whatever shit swiped your bad man. Tore him up. Same with Camille’s dad.”

   “Didn’t see it happen,” El shrugged. “Camille and I can fight your bad man.”

   “Sometimes you have to deal with bad men yourself.”

   “Not true.” She turned to see Max returning with bowls. Billy slid his eyes away to watch the screen. Not believing that this was his night. Not believing it was not a terrible way to celebrate his birthday.

** ** **

   “You seem jumpy,” Nancy remarked across the booth. It was nice when their lunches lined up.

   “Jumpy?” Camille tore her eyes from the window. “No, just distracted. Lot of filing to do when I get back. How’s the newspaper?”

   “Ugh, they just don’t...take me seriously. Like at all. I get coffee and lunches. I hate it. I’m glad Jonathan is with me but, he doesn’t get what I do. I want to stick it out. I want to write.”

   "Just keep writing then. Still sorry,” Camille puffed, eating fries from her plate. “Guys can be...awful, huh?”

   “Got that right.” Nancy sipped a soda. “How is the station?”

   “Flo collectively had the majority of brain cells in the place. Not bad other than that. Think Hopper prefers me closer with my mom acting like things are dandy.”

   “Camille, you’re not safe there. Even if she is pretending and trying to move on.”

   “When did Hawkins get so messed up?” She huffed, sitting back. “Mike doing okay?”

   “Little shocked about the break up. They’re kids and it’s summer. I expected several break ups. El is getting to know herself, a boy always complicates that.”

   “Sound like Barb.” Camille remarked.

   “She said a lot of smart stuff we didn’t listen to.” Nancy said then, beaming.

   “That she did.”

** ** **

   “Camille, hurry and get ready.”

   “Mom, another summer social. You’re killing me.”

   “I’m trying to be home more and we’re keeping busy,” Rosemary ushered her off. "You used to like them."

   "Not really, I only tolerated them for you and daddy. It's just...they're especially not for me anymore. People talk about me constantly. They know things or think they do and I hate it."

   "We're showing them that we're perfectly fine and rising again. We put on a happy face and heal together." But, I'm not fine, Camille wanted to cry. This is not healing. Hired waiters and caterers paced about. “Finish getting ready. This needs to be great, the Klines are coming.” Rosemary was desperate to show people she'd put the pieces back together.

   “Mom, no.” Camille put her foot down. “I can’t stand the Mayor, he’s like a press on nail. His son is...a total ass. I'm uncomfortable around him.” Pleading. Rosemary was looking at the decorations on the wall, moving to fix them instead.

   “You were friends with his kids once. Just smile and make nice, we’ve been out of the social world too long. We can’t be hermits anymore. You don’t have to speak to them. It’ll be a full house."

   "But-"

   "One night. Camille, I sacrificed for you, why can’t you do this one thing for me?” Her mother swiped out her hand, turning to see her daughter grow livid and choke it down.

   “You’re kidding me.” Camille almost burst with the horrible truth.

   “Look, I didn’t mean it like that.”

   “No, you did. Thanks.” She turned her head. Remembered every instant Rosemary and her had spent laughing over fashion designs. Every heart to heart. Every sweet embrace. It was all ashes. Not the kind you rise from.

   “It’s just one night, honey.” Rosemary got her to go. “Left a dress for you. Something original. You'll like it.” Camille dragged her feet and came down an hour late to a party full of snobs. She didn’t miss these. And she hated her tight dress. Made her feel like a shiny token. Like a Christmas ornament. Irony.

   “Camille, good to see you again.” A woman approached.

   “Winnie.” She exhaled, downing a full glass of champagne like it was a shot. Guests took note. “Been a beat.” Camille was already stealing another glass when a waiter took her first.

   “Tired of these gatherings now? Me too.” Mayor Kline’s wife mused. “Your mother is still working her lines, I see. Hope to see a Harper Sixx in Starcourt.”

   “I’m sure she’ll get her way, she always does.” Camille saw Robbie across the room already making a beeline so she turned. “Pardon me.” The teen hurried between guests as if to hide behind the selection of expensive treats. Robbie appeared around the table. "Remember how you hated me eating sweets." She picked up a frosted cake bite and ate it, licking her fingers. "Mm. So good." Camille stuffed her cheeks with two more. Swallowing.

   "Be mature about this, Camille."

   “You didn’t get the hint. Leave me alone. And Billy.”

   "Rough around the edges type. Stretch for you."

   "Don't come near him again." Her teeth pressed.

   “I told you I wanted to meet him. I don’t think he’s safe for you, Camille.”

   “And you were?” A few cheesecake bites went into her mouth next. His nostrils flared.

   “Guy like that seems to have a lot of demons.” Robbie eyed her like a piece of fresh, juicy fruit.

   “Yeah, his and mine get together every Thursday night to tap dance.” Camille turned, pulling her dress up more over her cleavage. She spotted a man pouring brandy and crossed after finishing her wine. "Can I have a glass?"

   "I'm not sure-"

   "I'm the little lady of the house, I can do what I want. My parent's money funded this party and a lot of this town." She poured herself some. Men looked shocked around her. "Thanks, handsome." Camille drank and flitted off so Robbie cornered her.

   "You're being a child."

   "Aren't I? I'm putting on a happy face." Camille swiped up a plate of those cheesecake bites for herself and set them on a table to eat. She smiled like flashing cameras and drank more brandy.

   “Camille, I’m ready to forgive and forget this all. You turn eighteen August 25th. We can start again like a real couple now."

   "Oh, were we not a real couple before? Why does it feel that way?"

   "I don't make the laws."

   "Right, you just fuck them." She was grinning even still. Felt like a damn clown in all her paint and frills. Smiling like it would all crack soon.

   "We come from good families, they'll be happy. We all can overlook your...past shortcomings." Robbie eased. "You know how I hate your emotional games. All this drama and playing hard to get. It’s childish.”

   “I thought childish was your thing.” She was seething now, gulping brandy. His eyes changed, leering while he got into her space.

   “You’re mine. You always have been, Camille. Since our first kiss. Since the first time I pressed inside you. You are mine. All mine. Body. Soul... You let me in and now, Camille, you have to let me stay. We have a connection no one else can fathom. You were a little girl when I found you and I made you a woman. I made you, Camille. I did. You loved the attention. You loved being made to feel so mature and important. I built the bond. I’m not letting it go. I am not letting you go.” He grew even closer and she gulped her entire glass, smacking it aside. Camille realized all at once that Billy made her feel like she was supposed to. A fucking teen trying to get by as best she could. He made her feel like she didn't have to grow up too soon and paint her face, despite it being too late. And Robbie had mangled her.

   “Tough. You’re disgusting. Stay. Away. I’ll tell everyone about you. You know that I’ll fucking do it. Bad enough the people here pretend not to know about me and stick their noses up. I’ll flood this entire town to drown you.” She hissed back. He just seemed so unbothered. Amused. Something stark pierced her skin at the thought. Why was he not afraid of her? Not one bit.

   “Don’t be like that. I made a mistake. I did. No one knows you like I did. No one loves you like I did. And no one will try. You’re tainted. We both know that. You crawled back every time for more like a little slut because that’s all you are, Camille. Can see it didn't change. People tell me you're fucking boys on the side. Police Chief included. Naughty. How you long for a daddy. I gave you everything you wanted. I know this sounds harsh, babygirl, but you need to hear it.” Robbie sounded so tender while he tore her apart with his teeth. The real jackal to be feared. Made Billy look like a wounded hyena. “Can’t love anyone else. Let me hold you again, you'll see because you'll fall back in. No one can give you what you need, love you, like I did. You don’t see that now. You will. There was a time where I thought I’d never have you again. But, I don’t know. Seeing you now all grown up. Those eyes. That body. Guess, I’m nostalgic.”

   “You always want what you can’t have.” Camille leaned in. And how she trembled.

   “Oh, Camille, you forgot that I already had it. Every which way. You begged for it. Bet you beg for new guy’s dick too. All you want is something thick to choke on. Makes your life a little more worth living.” His grin flashed now too.

   “Unlike you,” Camille shook but smiled with force, “Billy has something thick that I actually can choke on. The things that boy does with his tongue would send your ancestors cowering. With him, I actually get off properly. Multiple times. And does he give it to me hard." Robbie flared up with rage. Calmed.

   “Still have that dirty mouth, do you? Ought to wash it out with soap. Better yet, bleach. Your insides are filthy. You’re a disgusting and rotten little girl, Camille. And I thought I fixed you. Paint those lips and pretty up, I see it. I learned a lot about you since I last saw you, babygirl. Hawkins still loves to talk. Suppose that I have even more to catch up on. I can say that I’m eager. Take care.”

   “You call me babygirl again, I’ll-”

   “Camille, come meet my friends from New York.” Rosemary appeared and whisked her away. "Everyone has been asking about you." Camille peered at Robbie standing there. Intrigued. Fear crawled under her skin. Felt like he smelled it. Didn’t end. Not for the rest of that night.

** ** **

   "That file you wanted." Camille was clearly hungover and Jim noticed it in the way she dragged. Poured herself three coffees this morning.

   "Rough night?" He took the folder, opening it on his desk. "Have a seat."

   "Stupid Harper original party." She muttered, plopping down.

   "I take it Kline was there."

   "I'm handling it." Camille smiled. Red lips lifted in a way that was brutally empty. Jim tried not to wince.

   "You don't have to handle it alone."

   "Right, I have parents I can go to who protect me." She laughed. Harder than intended. Border of manic. Smoothing her skirt. "I feel like I'm going crazy, Jim. Feels like Robbie's hands have been wrapped around my throat ever since I saw him. And I feel like I have something to prove to him again." Camille sniffled and looked at him with huge eyes. "You ever feel like you have to do something bad to stop yourself from doing something worse? Just to stomach your existence?"

   "Explain." It chilled him.

   "I did things I'll never be proud of when I was with Robbie." Camille began. "But, that didn't stop when I was getting over him too. Looking back, I realize I just wanted to end it all. I threw myself into damaging things just stimulating and just bad enough to keep me distracted so I didn't. People always said things about me. Just got worse when I became what they wanted. They wondered about the lonely, rich girl in the huge house who was pretty and popular as a damn freshman. Sometimes, I think I hear them echoing in walls."

   "After I came back to Hawkins, I was in a horrible place. New job wasn't distracting enough. One night after a few pills washed down with scotch, I wrote a letter no one has any business writing. Picked up my gun and put it in my mouth. Waited for something to tell me to pull the trigger."

   "What stopped you?"

   "I looked at Sara's old drawing on my wall and thought about how upset she'd be. Daddy splattering blood all over it. Thought about how these people expected me to do exactly that. How ending my life would never bring my little girl back. Just make another mess for someone to find and clean up. I figured I'd give it another shot. Made a mess still but, I consider myself lucky now."

   "Cause you have El and Joyce and them in your life now?"

   "Have you too." He shrugged and her lips pressed.

   "I'm making messes also, Jim."

   "If I pulled that trigger, I wouldn't be here now to tell you that you're not the only one. And you're not alone. And you're making it. That's worth it to me. Healing. Letting yourself try to heal others too." Jim paused. "When they allow it."

   "I think I'm trying to allow it," Camille replied softer. "I also think maybe I shouldn't work here."

   "What, why?" Jim sat up.

   "Don't play dumb, I know this is awkward. But, you hear what they say about you and I. About us. I don't want to make your reputation worse."

   "Not sure you could, Camille." Jim got up for his coat. "Come on."

   "What?"

   "Only cure for a hangover is the biggest cheeseburger money can buy. We're going to lunch. Somewhere we can't make a damn mess." He cocked his head so she got up to follow, smiling now at his side.

   "I long for such a place, Jim."

** ** **

   “Another hobby?” Rosemary poked her head into the work out room. Camille was beating on a thick punching bag. Making it her bitch.

   “Didn’t feel like swimming or dancing.” She kicked the bag and landed some punches with gloves.

   “Good at that.”

   “Jim taught me some tricks. Police stuff.” Camille was sweaty and glowing. She turned and drank water.

   “You shouldn't call him, Jim, so casually." Rosemary remarked and Camille dropped her arms, scoffing.

   "Well, that's his name." She shrugged. "What? Say what you're thinking, mother. I'd love to hear it."

   "I simply don’t like you with him, you know? He’s a drunk. An addict. Messy...and I know he made rounds with the women in town. Older man with my young, pretty daughter. People see you together and say things, it makes me uncomfortable. After everything.” Her mother was all too oblivious. Camille suppressed manic laughter at that. The same woman who told her to smile at fucking Robbie Kline.

   “God, mom, it isn’t like that. I tutor his adopted daughter. And he seems to be doing better. Too busy with this town and a kid to do much else.” Camille replied. “He’s not a terrible boss. I should be grateful.” She continued with the bag, planting her feet this time. Rosemary dropped the subject. Became chipper.

   “Leftovers tonight?”

   “Sure.” Camille pounded until her arms ached. She decided to shower and slipped on some roller blades, skating outside along their driveway. Wind blew as the sun began its journey down. Tangerine skies. She put her arms out and breezed along. Graceful and light. She thought of her true mother. Free now. Gone. Her necklace stayed hidden under Camille’s shirts where Rosemary couldn’t see it. Headlights pulled up while she swayed around into a circle. Billy laughed at her acting like a child in the roller skates. Wearing a thin, stripped shirt over fuchsia shorts.

   “Catch me.” She skated toward him, bodies colliding so he stumbled back. Arms went around the small of her back when she kissed him in greeting. “What are you doing here?”

   “Shift ended, I felt like dropping in.” Billy pulled her back up the small hill near stone stairs leading to the front door. Camille stepped carefully and sat down. “Movie?”

   “A movie sounds incredible.” She changed into her sneakers and dropped the skates inside. “Mom, I’m going out with Billy!”

   “Have fun, darling!” Came the reply so Camille locked the door and hurried to get into the car.

   “I’ll die if I have to do another social gathering with her friends. I get networking but christ.” Camille pulled a mirror down to fix her lipstick. She hesitated and eyed him before telling the truth. “The Klines were at the last one. He was there again.” She felt some heat from Billy at that. “Don’t know why he can’t back off me.”

   “He put his hands on you?”

   “He’d like to.” Camille crossed her arms.

   “Camille.” Billy grew sharp. He pulled over into an empty lot and parked, turning the car off to see her. “Talk.”

   “He’s just an asshole. I didn’t want to lie to you about it. Nothing really happened.” She sniffled when the emotions flooded back. The fear. Billy stared while she looked at the road. “Let’s just go.”

   “We’re not going anywhere yet. You've been shaking since that first party and it hasn't stopped. He said something to you, tell me.”

   “It doesn’t matter, Billy.”

   “It matters when some asshole is threatening my girlfriend!” He barked causing her to jump, both of them looked at each other and relaxed some. His tone lowered when he slowed to hit each syllable. “It matters to me when you are in a place where you are not safe. That shit matters to me, Camille.” Heartfelt. Robbie was right, she thought. Can’t even accept care and love from a boy nothing like him.

   “And so if I tell you what he says to me, then what? What do you get out of that?"

   "I'll make him stop." Sounded like he was wishing.

   "How? You’ll fight him? Break his arm. Snap a kneecap.” Camille hitched a breath. “How am I supposed to tell my boyfriend the vulgar, awful things Robbie spat at me. The way he’s trying to manipulate me like he used to? He made me dependent on him. Made me grovel like a...fucking piece of trash. And I still got on my knees. I still let him pant over me and put it in my ass without warning me first. I let him finish wherever he wanted. Tits, ass, face, and inside me. He tells me things about how no one will love me like him and that I can’t love anything because I’m fucked. Tells me that he knows me because he does in a way and I know he’s shit but I let it happen. All of it.”

   “You really fucking believe that?”

   “I looked for love and attention anywhere because my home life was fucked and I didn’t even see it, I got into bed with an adult. I went upstairs with too many partners after the abortion trying to forget. I drank and fucked and hurt only myself. And with Robbie, I believed him and I was so stupid. I let him manipulate me. I let him influence every little thing I did. My personal hygiene. You know he made me shave everything down there? It’s sick. He picked out my clothing down to my panties. How I styled my hair and makeup. He picked the things I liked. He picked the words I said. The food I ate. Sometimes I wonder if he built the rest of the queen bee.”

   “He preyed on you!” Billy cut in. “He was the adult and he preyed on a kid he tried to fucking groom. I know you know that, especially after you threatening those hags at the pool. He told you want you wanted to hear because he wanted you to believe it was your fucking idea. And I’m telling you right now that it wasn’t. Assholes like that dress it up well when they grace us with attention. They know we're fucking starving. You were just a god damn kid.”

   “I was easy.” Camille whispered it pitifully so Billy was scooting to point at her expression.

   “And you survived him, Camille! That shit...it isn’t easy.”

   “Did I?” She sniffled, wiping her eyes.

   “Yes and he can’t stand it. He’s crawling back and he sees you happy and he can’t fucking stand that. He lost you, Camille, and he knows it. He’s going to try anything to get you back because he wants to control something...and if he comes near you again, I’ll fucking kill him.” Billy’s emotions all fizzled at once.

   “Don’t say that. I know you mean it.” She put up one hand, placing it on his leg so they both could calm down. “You were right.”

   “...What?”

   “Pretending. My plan of pleasing my mom so she’d back off and not know what we know. It’s shit. She doesn’t want new Camille, she wants me to be that popular, passive baby. A doll she can dress up. And I don’t have it within me to fake that and I didn’t realize that until after. It’s not safe, I know.”

   “Leave. Move in with the Chief.”

   “You’re saying it like it’s easy and it’s not.” Camille lifted her eyes. “Why didn’t you leave at eighteen?” Billy stopped, eyes stilling when he met her own. She gave a nod, understanding.

   “Guess we’re both stuck.”

   “Stuck together at least,” she unbuckled to slide over, arms tight around his shoulders. Felt compelled to confess her feelings. Words didn't come.

   “Don’t go anymore Camille. I'm serious.” He’d uttered, holding her close so he could bury his face into her hair. “Fuck, I’ll come with you. Not letting that piece of shit near you.” She hitched a chuckle, quieting.

   “No, I’m done.” Camille came back into her seat, sighing. “I’m over it all. I’m done with those stupid parties. I'm done with these people... This is my life. My damn summer. We have one more year of school. I threatened to destroy him, I will if he...” She sighed, coming back. “Sorry, it’s just frustrating. We can go. I am over Robbie fucking Kline.”

   “No, Camille, you will tell me if he gets near you again.” Hands gripped the wheel tight before he started it up and got them going again.

   “You can’t just beat the guy up as much as he might deserve it and as much as I’d love to see it.”

   “The hell I can’t. Watch me.”

   “He’s the mayor’s son. That whole family is crooked, I can feel it. His dad cheats on Winnie Kline and we all know about it. They’re fucked. They always are, I’ve known them a long time. Creeps. Probably get re-elected though.” She flicked hair in a huff. “And, I just...”

   “Just, what?” They turned at a light.

   “It’s not just them or my mother.”

   “Yeah?”

   “I’m on edge because Edna hasn’t made a move since the whole putting me on blast at school thing. The hell is she planning? It’s too quiet and I hate it. She knows I’m itching and loves it. I told El not to look for her too much and when she does, it’s nothing. I’m looking for things to stimulate and I feel like I can’t get over that. Ugh, I’m just so riled up. I’m losing it, Billy, and I...I don’t want to go to the movies. I want to have sex, can we do that?” The car skidded when he turned a corner so she laughed.

   “Got it.” He chuckled, licking his lips while she took his hand. “House is empty, dad and Susan went to some dinner thing for work. Max is staying with El.”

   “Great, now move it. We’re not getting younger.” They stopped at his place and hurried up the steps. Billy locked the door behind them and she was already kissing him. The couple backed up into walls, feeling around until they got to his room, kicking the door shut. Camille pressed him into the dresser, unbuttoning his shirt to kiss down his chest. She slipped to her knees, fingers opening his jeans next.

   “Fuck, Camille.” Billy leaned back over the dresser when her mouth was on him. She was in a mood tonight. Looking for that stimulation. Gagging on him eagerly. Hating that Robbie was right. Fingers slipping into her hair, offering a few slow pumps. Lips swelled around his cock. Her tongue slipped from tip to base and she leaned back.

   “Bed,” she whined, up to tug at his arms. Camille hopped up so he grasped her thighs, carrying her back until they fell against the mattress. Clothing was tossed all directions. Frantic. He rolled on a condom and she turned to her hands and knees, back arching. “Fuck me, I want you now.” Camille moaned when fingers tugged at her hair. Billy plunged into her, pounding already while she encouraged him to go faster. She cried out as he spanked her ass once, gripping her hips to drive harder. That was new. The hand in her hand tugged so she came up, curving. Head turned to kiss him. Fingers roamed her skin, pinching her nipples to tease. Billy’s mouth was on her neck, kissing her flesh until she leaned over again. Pulling out, Billy jerked her aside to turn her over, one thigh draped over his arm.

   “Right there,” he teased along her opening until she whined. “Like that?” They both panted, hearts wild under skin. “Tell me you want me.”

   “I want you…” The tip pushed inside her again, filling her until she clenched him. Muscles grew taut. Billy leaned over, palm over one wrist to hold it down. They locked eyes and he found a slow pace. Camille moaned as they built again. Pressure mounted. He kissed her lips, smacking into her until she wound around him. Arms and legs locked tight. Billy knew this wasn’t going to last so he came up a bit, slamming into her, and slipped a hand between them where their bodies met. Fingernails scratched at him. Tugged into those dirty blond curls. A high pitched cry flooded out. Camille closed her eyes and let him play with her, uttering filthy things into his ear until climax gripped her.

   “Come with me, I want you to,” Camille kept murmuring still. He was undone, body curving when he came with a silent groan. She watched his face contort with euphoria. Gorgeous. Billy fell against her so they could get their breath back. She planted lazy kisses along his collar until he rolled off.  “Have to pee.” Camille slipped his shirt over her head and snuck out. Billy reclined nude with a cigarette on one hand and his other arm behind his head when she returned. “God, you’re beautiful.” She crawled next to him, lips on his. He put out the cigarette and opened his mouth against her own. “Wish we could stay like this.”

   “We can.” He shrugged. Someday down the line. Billy felt the urge to confess again too. I love her. The words burned his tongue instead. They both feared the syllables.

   “Your parents will be home and I won’t be good in that mix. We shouldn’t push it.” Camille got up to dress so he followed.

   “Not just yet,” he tugged her to lie down again with him. Her head came to rest on his bicep.

   “Feels like so long ago we laid like this talking.” She was wistful. Camille pulled his arm down over her shoulder, holding his hand to press light kisses along his fingertips. “Try again for the movies tomorrow? You have the day shift again?”

   “Yeah,” he reached to slip hair behind her ear, drawing a line down her jaw. “Don’t lie to me to spare my damn feelings, okay?”

   “Think we can agree on that,” Camille lifted her eyes, a quick peck against his cheek tugged those lips into a smile. “You’re different. Used to be you were always bouncing on your feet. Smoking. Working out. Blaring music. No patience in sight. Stimulation. I know because I was there too. I still am like I don’t want a moment alone with myself or my thoughts. But, now...here, look at you. Relaxed as if you’re about to melt. Holding me and playing with my hair. Would purr if I could.” She watched him swallow when he remembered Robbie’s crude words. Discomfort flooded in and out in one breath.

   “You got me to sit still for an extended period of time. Achievement of the year,” Billy joked so she pushed at his chest.

   “Just remember these moments,” Camille shrugged and came up to place her lips on his, “where we are happy.”

Chapter Text

   “Dusty!” Camille grinned, coming to squeeze him. “We missed you! How was camp?”

   “Amazing. I met a girl and she’s like...as pretty as you. Suzy.”

   “Oh?” Camille chuckled, eyeing Steve behind him but he only shrugged. “Well, that’s good.”

   “Got home in time for the Fourth,” Steve ruffled Dustin’s hair. “So, the Mayor’s speech, huh?”

   “Right? It was so hard to sit through that mess. But, god, look at all this noise. Not bad, Hawkins.” Camille watched the festivities ahead. The Fourth of July carnival lit up the space as the sun went down. Music and bright rides fluttered like twittering moths. Campy smell of cotton candy and popcorn invaded the air. Made Camille feel like a kid again. “Way better than the stupid picnic last year.”

   “The one where anyone who ate that potato salad puked?” Steve joked. “Yeah.”

   “Their mistake for eating potato salad at all,” Camille walked with him, adjusting her colorblocked shirt so it was tied tighter above high waisted shorts. “Everyone else is around here somewhere. Oh, finally.” She waved to catch Billy’s attention from the parking lot. Max raced out from his side to see Dustin.

   “Come on, the others are probably already in line for the roller coaster!” She passed them so Dustin took off and Steve followed after them.

   “Hey, I want to ride too!” He complained as Camille laughed, turning to kiss Billy in greeting. A thin, fitted button up was blown against the wind, partially displaying the tank under it. He shifted to tuck fabric into his jeans.

   "Glad to see your face." Her teeth flashed. "How was work?"

   “Pool was a shithole nightmare today,” he let her take his hand to pull him off. “Literally. Some asshole kid couldn’t hold it.”

   “Oh, yikes.” She hissed, amused and covering her mouth. "Glad you're here with me now then." They spotted Hopper and Joyce at a picnic table so Camille crossed over to them. “Fancy that, Chief, you guys are...here together.”

   “We’re just, uh-”

   “Waiting on the kids.” Joyce was quick. “Not a roller coaster person.”

   “Like I’ll fit on that rickety thing.” Jim muttered.

   “El with them?” Hazel eyes narrowed, mischievous.

   “No, she and Mike went with Nancy, Jonathan, and Will to play some games. Think they’re talking again.” Joyce nodded.

   “Good. That’s good.” Camille swept her gaze between them. “Well, you two have fun. Not too much.”

   “Goodbye, Camille,” Jim scoffed until the teens went off.

   “Billy! Camille!” Heather raced toward them, hand clasped into Robin’s. “Heard about the pool. Was it true that you drew the short straw and had to fish it out?” Billy blinked, clearly in agony about it before he closed his eyes, rubbing the back of his neck.

   “Fucking shit, yeah…” He grumbled and Camille muffled her lips again with both hands.

   “Oh...Oh, no. You left that part out.”

   “Must of been traumatizing. Today at Scoops, a little kid got into the back and ate half a tub of the chocolate chip ice cream. Was actually a little impressed,” Robin shrugged.

   “Probably the same little shit who messed in the pool tonight,” Billy had pushed his lips into a line.

   “Could be here tonight looking to make your life worse. We'll protect you, B.” Heather wrinkled her nose when she smiled, tugging at Camille. “Come on, the line for the Ferris wheel is still short.” They enjoyed a few rides before an eager Camille was dragging Billy to the games.

   “Please...” She pouted and batted her eyes to weaken him. It worked.

   “Trying to bully me into winning you something, Harpy? Come on, that’s tacky. You can cheat at all of them.” Billy snuffed out a cigarette while she enjoyed some cotton candy.

   “I’m just saying, if you can’t do it...it’s fine. I understand.” Now Camille played up the innocence and he bit his lip.

   “Using me for my incredible strength and throwing skills to get a prize and if I lose, you make fun of me. I don’t like this game where it’s a win for you either way.”

   “Billy, if anything, I use you for your tongue.” She’d shrugged, pacing forward when his head whipped to see her. Camille turned to wink, one finger to her lips to lick the sugar off. There's his fox. Scoffing, he caught up and grew smug.

   “I’ll allow that.”

   “See that stuffed pink monster over there?” She’d pointed. “I want that big, ugly thing to remember our first summer together. You're going to walk your pretty self up there and win it for me.”

   “Can’t just snag free photos off Byers,” Billy looped an arm around her back and swiped the treat to eat some. She chuckled, kissing him with candied lips. A cotton candy kiss that truly tasted of summer. Like young hearts bursting with technicolor lights.

   “No, beach boy, I want the pink monster.”

   “Strength test. Easy.” Billy shook out and slipped some change to the teen running the game. He received a large mallet and flexed to put on a show because he couldn't resist, twisting to see the onlookers with the tool propped over one shoulder. Girls stilled to watch their favorite lifeguard. Few boys too. “Dedicate this to my girlfriend, Camille Harper, who lovingly threatened me.” He winked at her and dreamy sighs about echoed in the audience.

   "That's me! I'm the girlfriend. Less talk, more winning, babe." The mallet smashed down, sending the weight up into the bell. It blared out and earned a huge round of cheers. "Whoo, Billy!" Camille bounced in place, lost in red hot summer love. A rosy haze of glowing embers that smelled vaguely of hairspray and cotton candy. Billy felt pride grip him and claimed the prize. He smiled fuller and came to offer it. Ignored the crowd for once.

   “Impressed?”

   “Oh, yes,” she instead kissed the stuffed toy on the cheek, giggling at Billy’s face before she offered him one next. “Hm, I think I’ll call this lovely thing...Billy Jr.”

   “Please, I’ll beg you, do not do that,” he was laughing, tugging her through crowds until she shifted and hopped on his back. Both snickering now like dumb schoolkids. Could have sworn the distant uttering of Belinda Carlisle's song pulsing louder was just their imagination.

   Oh, baby, do you know what that's worth?

   “Onward, sweet face.” Camille let him piggyback her off. One arm over his chest to hold tight. Hearts thudded together. Felt like the world slowed in tune. Rewarding them to enjoy these beats in time.

   Oh, heaven is a place on earth.

   Neon colors played off their skin. Billy turned his head when she kissed his jaw, eyes flickering because he was so stupid happy at the moment. Because it was possible to find this hope again and more.

   They say in heaven, love comes first.

   Because this mighty swell of bursting colors just absolutely had to last forever.

   We'll make heaven a place on earth.

   They found something glittery and gold to chase together. Something that, in this very moment, they knew they deserved to touch. The Ferris wheel framed their silhouettes, making them glow. Billy stopped to bask in it. Unafraid for once with Camille sighing to enjoy it too. The couple found El across the way toting three prizes herself and hurried to see her with the rest of the kids.

   “You win all those?” Camille was entertained, sliding down from Billy’s back.

   “I won them for everyone,” El beamed and they realized the entire group had something.

   “Jonathan dragged Nancy to the photo booth,” Mike piped up. “Hey, there’s Steve.” The older teen and Dustin approached with giant, greasy corn dogs.

   “Hey, gang.” Steve began before Lucas stole a huge bite of Dustin's food, grinning with a mouthful.

   "My stupid sister stole my popcorn and ran off with our mom." He'd explained at his friend's flat expression.

   “We’re headed to the funhouse.” Max cocked her head. “This is massive. Did Billy win you the cyclops?”

   "I'm calling it Billy Jr. in his honor." Camille generated laughter at that.

   "I love it."

   "No, no, we are not." Billy's arms crossed. El and Camille left their prizes with Joyce and Hopper. Steve struck up an actual conversation with Billy about cars when El grew giddy, stealing Max’s hand to rush after the group toward the colorful structure. Will turned to go but had stilled, hand touching the back of his neck when a colder wind blew.

   “Hey, you alright?” Camille came to his right and he shrugged, smiling after a beat.

   “Yeah, just…I don’t know. Cold.” Together, they peered at the trees beyond the carnival, swaying harder against the hush of night. Little winning dings and jingles from games echoed. Somewhere a balloon popped loudly to pull them out of the moment.

   “Will!” Mike came to tug him to go. Lucas and Dustin already caught up with El and Max.

   “Camille!” Max beckoned so the teen picked up speed too.

   “Billy, come on! I hear it’s scary!” Camille waved.

   “Maybe for a five year old. I’ll be right behind you!”

   “El, wait up.” She was giggling, following them into the whirling entrance. Not quick enough to find her friends. Walls moved and darkened when they ventured further. A room of blacklights made Camille’s clothing glow. Another chill rushed her bones. “Max? El?” She turned a corner and climbed some steps. A sudden clown laugh honked and startled her. “Shit!” She exhaled, amused at herself. "Silly." Mirrors distorted while she felt around and eyed the glowing animals painted along the walls. Contorted faces all stared back at her. The floor moved in slow circles. Optical illusions danced and doors covered another room. “Guys?” Camille opened one door to nothing. Another sent a clown head snapping toward her.

   “Fuck!” She fell backwards, sighing outward again. “Funhouse, huh. Yeah, right.” Voice-overs echoed along the path.

   “You can run. But, you can’t hide. We are coming.” Tones flooded as Camille went into a glass maze. Deeper into the bowels. Mirrors echoed her own twisted reflection all over. She looked and felt goosebumps rise like there was someone beyond the veil of glass waiting for her. Fear didn't register but curiosity billowed. Not sure if that was worse. “Camille...” They giggled. “Come closer, Camille.”

   “Who’s there?” She turned with at least twenty reflections casting around her. Chills pricked on her skin further. She shook her head as if it was just another illusion. Hands blindly felt around to get through glass walls.

   “Camille...” The sweet, haunted voice growled instead. Distorted. “Come and see, Camille. We’re waiting. It’s for you. All of you.

   “Stop,” she begged, hands touching her head. “El! Billy! Anyone?!” Frantic, she felt her way out into another room of warped mirrors. Funhouse wasn't fun anymore. Strobes danced, distorting her perception. Life-size creatures and dolls lined up all around the space. She trembled and moved around each as carefully as she could. Behind her, a clown turned its head to follow her down the line. Hands reached forth to touch locks of hair. Camille was hurrying out, she didn’t hear it breathe. Fear overcame hope and curiosity. At last. That's when he struck.

   “Babygirl.” It uttered, too close to her. Shuddering with a breath, she turned her head at the same moment a hand yanked into dark hair. The cry was cut over when her skull smacked the wall. Sagging in a daze, she moaned and felt around. The clown glowed in the blacklight with a horrible plastic mask of sharp teeth. Grinning. Robbie pulled it up and her hands lifted.

   “There’s a camera behind me, I’d rethink that move,” he grasped her neck, lifting her into the wall while she squirmed and kicked. “Yes, Camille, I know all about you and your little friends. Should have made you watch more porn to make you a better fuck. Can’t believe I threw such a powerful girl aside. Shame on me.”

   “Stop,” she gasped for air, hands tight around his wrist. Lips opened to scream before a gloved hand covered them. He hushed her sweetly, a blade glinting now in the light.

   “Shut up, I have a lot to say and we'll run out of time,” he growled again. “Like my costume? We never got this kinky.” Metal grazed just under her jaw, palm slipped back to her neck. “I never told you why I didn’t show up that day. Didn't it ache you?"

   “No, because you’re a coward,” she cried out when he pulled and slammed her head back into the wall. Stars burst forth. Dancing.

   “No, I was coming for you, Camille. I was. I had to make sure you did it. Couldn't let you ruin me or my family. But, I met some new people. They told me all kinds of stories. About you. About Hawkins. I laughed at them at first. But, they showed me some amazing footage of you. Copycat. Mockingbird. A perfect echo. They taught me things too. Offered some work. The woman promised me a shot at you again.”

   “Edna.” Pulling strings from behind the scenes of her life like always.

   “We’ve been watching you this whole time. She needed help and money always buys that. Your parents got soft.”

   “Plenty of monsters are still soft.” She grit her teeth. “You’re all the same to me.”

   “The experiment had to live on. You little shits needed to be contained. Edna knew this well, she was the only one to really understand it in truth after Brenner. They tossed you out into a harsh world that would fuck you, not realizing how important you would become. This was all for you. Not even the stronger experiments lived up to what you could do. When their use expired, someone had to take care of them. The way you took care of our baby. I did my best."

   "Fuck you."

   "Made sure they suffered for failure. What a waste. But, we knew through you, it could be controlled. All of them. We longed for a way to put their abilities in you and we found it. You just need cleansing first. You are not free. Neither are the others who escaped. We always come back. We always win. It's just how your world works, isn't it? You’re alive because they want you alive, Camille. You’re the most important piece in all of this and you didn't know. You and that little monster. That Eleven. Almost ruined it. But, you failed.” She was crying now, too terrified to move an inch.

   “Brenner and my dad are gone, you think you have a better chance? That bitch, Edna, really think we won’t take her down? She hasn't shown her face, I fucking triple dog dare her. People from that lab who show their colors die.”

   “Gone. Cute, that you think that.” He mused. “What if I told you that you were wrong?”

   “About?”

   “No, I can’t spoil the surprise. It's all too good. You can wait...just a bit longer.” Robbie slammed her back again, jerking her to her feet as she skidded and fought. Camille was dragged into another door that said Employees Only, hurrying around the open stretch of rickety balcony that faced the back forest area. “We've been tracking it well. It wants power but it needs a host. Someone easy to control with little resolve left. It’s coming, Camille, it'll smell you and we’ll have the perfect gift for it. And it'll be all your fault. Just like...what was her name? Barbie?”

   "Barbara." Camille growled. Cold wind caressed her face, scratchy music still echoed.

   "You shits may have chased it out of the boy, but...don't worry. It's thriving. I don't want to have to hurt you, babygirl."

   "Pity." She elbowed his nose, whirling to kick him. Robbie caught her, sending her body into the side of the funhouse wall.

   "Don't fight, Camille. You're not the only one building new skills." He laughed in her ears, hands tore her into his body so she grabbed at his arm, flipping him over her form. A heel charged into his balls. Beyond them, trees bent and swayed roughly. Something flooding around them. Filling the voids with hopelessness. It was stark and so very dead.

   “Fuck you!” Camille skipped over him, hitting the floor when he snatched her ankle. She grabbed for the bars to drag herself off but he pulled her under him.

   “Hold still, Camille. It’s not your turn yet. No, we’ll give it something better. Watch it happen now... God, I miss this position, babygirl. How about a scream for me? Just like old times.” He smacked the side of her head into metal once more. She cast into a daze, sagging. Metal steps charged behind them.

   “Get the fuck off her!” Fists yanked her attacker around before a punch landed. Robbie was jerked off, dragged when Billy slammed him into rusted iron. The knife slipped back over the edge to tumble down. Camille was disoriented, dragging herself up. Billy sent punches left and right. Blood splattered. His own fury and anguish drew the beast in. “Clown fucker, I told you I’d fuck you up if you came near her again! Camille, go, run!” She blinked and grasped blindly for bars to sit up. Head pounding. Moaning out.

   “No. Billy...look out...” Something dark like tar flooded between them up over the metal ladder behind the fighting. Robbie took note and became unhinged. Cackling. Camille felt that awful cold lift, aware of her presence in turn.

   “It’s true. We’re all locked in here together.” He spat. “Say goodbye, poor trash. Found a use for you.” Billy was jerked by an ankle, skidding across metal and clawing to stop. Fear plunged into his eyes. A yell flooded between teeth. Hands gripped bars to still. Camille had surged to grab him, yanking his arms as he cried out when his ankle was tugged too hard. Forces flooded out to push them apart. To free him.

   “Let me go, Camille!” He tried to save her first.

   “No!” Camille pressed her teeth, nose dripping as she was yanked off too when metal snapped. They were dragged all the way to the end. Camille wrapped her limbs around more bars to stop it. Iron bent when the monster persisted like Billy was the chosen prize in a claw machine. “Hold onto me, Billy! Oh, god. Fuck. Hang on!” They clung tighter. His teeth clenched with a wail that tore out. Her own voice cracked.

   “Just hold on! Let him go, you can't have him!” Camille was frantically pulling, gathering as much of him into her arms as she could until his back pressed her chest. Billy looked down, smoky tendrils whirled up his leg. Claws sunk into flesh. Oh, how he screamed. Bleeding fingers tore to hang tight. Camille thought of Barbara dragged without help into the Upside Down. Her resolve flooded back. She growled and pulled Billy further up, not letting go. He was yelling, crying out for it to stop. Terrified. Blue eyes reflected a claw opening before his face. Body went numb. His cries stopped. Face pacified. Billy tried to fight the sensation.

   “Don’t look, close your eyes.” Camille wept, turning his head down into her neck while she held his shaking body. The beast seemed to notice her as well, stilling as if to snap a mental photograph. Robbie came to his feet to advance. Camille wailed this time, desperate to hold Billy closer to her.

   “Beautiful… It’s over. Take him.” Robbie screamed too when he was thrown forward by a great force. “No!” Tossed over the railing. He hit the mass and was swallowed whole instead. Billy flung forward, free of it to see who helped save them. El dropped her arms and sprinted down the way with a bloodied nose. Robbie had echoed a sound that was cut off. Trees splintered apart in the distance.

   “Camille. Billy.” She was tugging at her dazed friends, holding each other so tight. “It almost got you.”

   “What the fuck?” Billy groaned and hissed, touching his raw ankle. “Almost broke it. Shit. What the fuck was that thing?” Camille was frantically looking him over in his state. “Told you to run.”

   “And I told you I wouldn’t leave you behind.” She offered a quick, relieved kiss; fists tugged at his shirt. "Oh, my god. It almost had you. It almost got you." She shook with him. El pulled them both up so the trio could peer below. Just a cold wind left behind.

   “Have to leave.” She insisted. Camille looked for a camera or witness, standing to see Robbie already gone. Few fireworks lit the sky up. Trees moved again in the dark distance. Carnival music filled the air. Haunting. Aimless. El put her arms around Camille, wiping a nosebleed on her own arm. “Come on!” The little girl jerked her wrist and grabbed at Billy too so they made their way out. Billy forced himself to run, pushing at Camille to make her go quicker. Max was rushing the Chief to find them too.

   “Hopper!” They saw him first with the rest of the party behind him. Her frantic hands grasped for his arms.

   “Camille, what the hell happened to you three?” He touched her head, blood trickled down the side from her hair.

   “There’s a clown! In there.”

   “It’s a funhouse...”

   “No, no, it was Robbie. He attacked us. He knows. He knows...everything,” she cried, hyperventilating before Billy was grabbing for her to look her over again. Jim glanced around, hand on her back.

   “Stay here, I have guys on security.” He jogged off and her friends pulled her to sit on a bench. Billy bent down, pressing napkins Steve offered to the cut. Joyce was at her other side with Will wide-eyed.

   "Here, let's get you cleaned up. Just breathe." The mother eased.

   "It tried to grab Billy." Camille was sputtering.

   "What did?" Mike asked.

   "Mind Flayer." Will blinked, chest heaving when the memories flashed. "You saw it."

   "It was so cold." Camille let Will offer the stuffed monster to comfort her.

   “Skinned my damn ankle. The fuck, I couldn’t find you until I heard that asshole.” Billy was trembling with rage. Fear as well. Buckets of it.

   “Camille, breathe,” Nancy sat by her to calm her down too.

   “Robbie, my ex. He knows everything about us.” Camille whispered when they huddled. “About El and I. The lab. He’s been in Edna’s pocket since...”

   “Robbie Kline? The mayor’s son?” Nancy sat back. “He was the father.” Camille covered her face, shaking so Billy dropped his outer shirt layer over her.

   “Guess it’s time for the Party to meet.” Mike offered, hand on Will's shoulder because he was scared too. “We got you, Camille. It’s going to be okay.” El watched him, lips lifted as he tried to comfort their friends.

   “My parents are sitting in Hawaii right now.” Steve nodded. “We can use my place.”

** ** **

   “If they knew about El returning, why didn’t they come after her?” Joyce took a cigarette Hopper offered and Camille shrugged.

   “Same reason that they let me stay with an uncooperative mother. Big lab rat plans. This is a horrible game of chess.” She rubbed her eyes, pacing. Too irritated to sit. “They knew about my abortion and didn’t go to my parents. They knew my parents were struggling to work with them as I got older and didn’t rip me away. They know El is with Hopper and...let it all happen. He told me I was important. The whole study on me was to see if...if I could be repressed. Why would that matter?”

   “You repress something, it means you can control it in theory.” Jim dragged on smoke at the table.

   “He said that they terminated some of the others. But, I know a few escaped. Also said they…they wanted to put their abilities in me. That can’t be possible. I mimic and absorb things but, that’s a whole other level.”

   “Thing that grabbed me.” Billy was shaken by it too, seating in a cushioned chair with Max planted next to him. “Never felt anything like that. I was fighting and something in me...wanted to let go. It was like ice."

   “Will, you felt it coming. Didn’t you?” Camille realized, hand on Billy’s shoulder.

   “I think you’re right." He exhaled. "I did. I don't know how, it was like a chill ran my spine.”

   "Wasn't here for this Mind Flayer shit, I got the rundown." Billy pipped up again.

   "You were there," Lucas shrugged, "just tranquilized." He got several looks and gestured. "What? It's true. Had it coming too at the time." Billy didn't deny that part.

   “We burned the Mind Flayer out of Will and El closed the gate. We stopped it.” Joyce shook her head.

   "The Demogorgon followed blood," Jonathan realized, "Mind Flayer is smart. It must be more in tune with thoughts and emotions from what we've seen."

   “This thing tried to grab Billy like it smelled him. Only went for Robbie when he was tossed at it. I didn’t get a good look. But, Robbie disappeared. Something’s not right.” Camille rubbed her eyes. “Why do they want me? I wasn’t the most impressive experiment. I just...did what I was told.”

   “That could have changed. They pushed you. They pushed El’s limits overboard and the gate opened. They did the opposite with you, they suppressed you because they were going to make you one of them. What happens when they push you instead? Really think your mother didn’t know that? You're powerful too, Camille. They see it.”

   “Shit,” Camille heaved. “I forgot to check in again, she’s going to lose it at me. Steve, I’m using your phone.” She went down the hallway.

   “Saved Camille,” El crossed to Billy hunched over in his seat, his head rose with a solemn expression. “Thank you.” He didn't know what that thing was, but understood that he'd be ashes if it weren't for El and Camille fighting so hard.

   “You did the heavy lifting. Saved us from...that thing.” He replied and she pressed her lips up.

   “Why did it grab you?” Mike wondered.

   “Can’t be my devilish good looks,” Billy sat straighter to shrug. Steve rolled his eyes behind him. “Shit if I know. It got something else.”

   “Did it...kill Robbie?” Nancy had asked.

   “I didn’t see,” Billy shook his head and there was a beat.

   “What do we do? Mayor controls the town. You don’t think he knows?” Lucas broke the silence.

   “He’s got to know something,” Dustin nodded.

   “Do you think he knows about Robbie and Camille?” Max noted and Camille returned with a fight crackling inside her bones.

   “I think he’ll be eager to keep it quiet.”

** ** **

   “Um, Chief Hopper, the mayor is-”

   “Just be a moment,” Jim passed the secretary with Camille next to him. The door banged open and Hopper flashed a dangerous smile. “Larry.”

   “Jim...a pleasure. Congratulations on fatherhood,” the mayor came to attention, matching in bravado. “Ah, Camille, what are you-?”

   “There was an attack last night at your carnival.” Jim waited until Camille locked the doors.

   “Yes, I heard. Carnies, huh, what can you do?”

   “Carnies?” Camille leaned over, hands out to touch the desk. “You sure? Where was your son last night?”

   “Here, I keep him very busy.”

   “Not busy enough because he fucks underage girls for sport.” She jumped right to it. “You know the rumors about me. Don’t you think it’s a little strange? The timing. I spent a lot of time with your family.”

   “Camille, your private life is-”

   “Non-fucking-existent in this town.” She didn’t let Hopper get a word in. “Your son got me pregnant when I was fifteen and I aborted it, don’t play coy. I’ve known your family since I was a toddler. Robbie came into my life that New Year and fucked it. You’re corrupt and your son is out of control. So, either he leaves town tonight or I put him on blast. Won’t look good for you, Mr. Mayor.” She was testing him.

   “Robbie hasn’t come in today. Camille, the many boys you sleep with don’t concern me. Robbie has good, college girls. He’s too busy for a mere child. Please take these ridiculous accusations elsewhere.” Camille became feral, grinning as wide as she could with red lips.

   “You know, I thought you’d say that, Larry. Jim, look away now, it’s about to get nasty.” She slapped photos down before Hopper could function. He glimpsed the images and looked up as quick as he could. “This is incriminating photo porn of your son fucking an underage girl, in case you could not tell. I have friends at the paper ready to bust this shit wide open, the same way Robbie used to do to me.”

   “Camille, please, this is not appropriate at all.” Larry averted his eyes at the dirty pictures.

   “Neither is you fucking the secretary,” she stood taller. “How about you recognize daddy’s perfect boy plowing a fifteen year old girl? He loved to take pictures, Larry dear. Photographs as well as you do. Got our best angles. You see this one? Your golden boy was a fan of a good face fucking. Note the birthmark.” Her fingers shoved it into his face. Jim's eyes were still on the ceiling. “Don’t be shy now. Look at it.”

   “Camille-”

   “I said, look at it!” The teenager growled, lunging up onto the desk on her knees. Unhinged. Not a care in her shattered world. She waited for the walls to just pound and bleed. "Look at what he did to me!" Larry jolted back, fearful at last when she shoved a picture at him. Jim had to grab her by the waist and tug her off. Tears of rage and pain entered her eyes. Hopper felt her quivering. “Send him to fucking Antarctica for all I care. Either he walks or I start singing and believe me, fucker, I can hold a tune. Keep your shit away from me. Keep it out of our town. Don’t make me ruin you.”

   “Alright, just keep it down. You’ll regret this.” He shook too now.

   “I already did.” She gathered the photos. “Jim, move your ass, we’re going. Oh, and put a Harper Sixx in the fucking mall, shut my mother up about it.”

   “That all?”

   “Yes,” Camille flashed a sweeter smile now, “and if your son comes near me again, I’ll scorch him and then you and then the rest of this town because I’m running low on things to lose here.”

   “Don’t be so sure, Ms. Harper.”

   “Good luck with re-election. Bye now.” She shoved the photos away and Jim grasped her elbow once they got outside. Heels stomping pavement. She whirled to see his eyes.

   “Camille, you-?”

   “He doesn’t know. About the lab. Not a lot of it. He knows something but...not the magnitude of it. I know he’s involved. But, does he? Guys like this, it's all dollar signs.”

   “Why do you think that?”

   “He was scared. Means he doesn’t have the right people behind him. Would you be worried about a teen girl if you knew you could crush her? And I know that thing grabbed Robbie...Mayor doesn’t even know he’s missing. Edna might not either. Might buy us time.” Camille dropped her shoulders. “Sorry, I sprung that on you.” Jim’s hand came to her shoulder, not knowing what words to offer to make it better. If there were any. “It was fucked up. So much for the rose colored world of Camille Harper.” She crossed her arms, eyes still watery and huge.

   “Brave, too. If anything else.” He tried, somber even still when her gaze lifted. Camille held herself tight until he hesitated and pulled her toward him. A dad’s affections that she was too desperately seeking out. Crumbling, she sniffled and let him hold her. “It’s okay… You’re doing okay. I got you, kid.” Camille buried her face into his shirt, unwinding. Safe. “I’ve got you.”

** ** **

   "You're quiet."

   "It's a library." Camille quirked her brow, slipping a book out to see the cover.

   "Quieter than usual while you absorb...." He peered at the cover. "Booby traps. Why not, I guess?"

   "Nancy recommended it."

   "Why does that not surprise me at all?" Billy mused. "You've been on edge since Hopper dropped you off at my car." Been on edge since he met her.

   "Threatened the Mayor today, I'm charged. You know, I feel bad always asking for rides, still freaked after my brakes were cut." She huffed, sliding her book away. "Too drained to absorb this shit right now." Camille rubbed under her eyes. "How's the ankle?"

   "Fine. Still have my leg." He ached for a smoke, head tipping back against the book shelf. Eyes followed her movements. "As long as I don't catch some weird disease."

   "Think you'll be okay there," Camille passed him after pecking his lips. Billy tugged her wrist back to press her into shelves. Hands already trying to work up her little, bold patterned summer dress when he kissed her full on the lips.

   "You're revved, Harpy, I can help with that...if anything."

   "Down, beach boy. Respect the books." She snickered, pushing at his chest to go on. Billy trailed after her, fingertips skimming the spines of novels. Observed the stiff posture that was clearly putting stress on her muscles.

   "What happened with the Mayor? Feels like you left something out."

   "I just flashed some evidence he wouldn't want coming to light to squeeze what I needed out of him." Camille was pulled into a shelf again, forced to see Billy's dewy eyes in the soft lights.

   "Hey, look at me." Billy picked up on what she meant when shame etched her expression.

   "It was just something I had to do." Fingers took her chin. "Sucked. Jim had trouble with eye contact after that."

   "Probably feels like me right now. Like he can't do shit to really help you." Billy had frowned, thumb tracing the line of her jaw.

   "Better I have them than Robbie Kline." Her shoulders lifted, breath cast to let them drop. "You help plenty." Camille nudged him so he'd come in for a kiss. "Just tired of feeling so exposed in this town."

   "I know what you need." Billy's grin slipped slow over his lips.

   "I'm sure you'd love to tell me what I need, Billy." She passed him to go on.

   "Nothing like that...unless, you're into it." He was entertained, falling in stride. "I was going to say you need a fucking cold beer."

   "A beer?" Camille rolled her eyes. "Sure, I... Actually, a beer sounds fucking incredible."

   "And maybe you have a boyfriend who knows a place that doesn't card." He winked, pulling at her. "I'll even be the responsible one. Place is just on the edge of town. The only information of value Tommy offered."

   "We shouldn't." Camille shook her head.

   "Ditch the books, bullshit, and nosebleeds for one night, Camille. You remember how to loosen up? I know you do. Must be itching to, it's summer." Billy had her when she turned to see him again, arms crossing. "I swear, I'll have one beer and that's it. Let me look after you for once. We're trying something."

   "Fine. Have it your way. Don't get us arrested. Not like I'll get smashed." Famous last words. "Couple drinks and then we go." Billy was dragging her along already, amusing her.

   "Sure, sure, let's go." His Camaro revved eagerly, racing off toward their destination. Sun made its journey down, coloring the sky in dwindling fire. Camille knew the place. Casual setting about halfway to a biker bar. All the fishers in town frequented it too. Type of place Jim used to come to before he got his shit together. Mostly. Place smelled of cigarettes while a baseball game played over whatever generic rock playlist they had going.

   "Billy, I can't drink all that." Camille watched him set a tall mug before her, filled to the brim. "You even got yourself the smaller glass."

   "Proving to you that I can be the responsible one. I get water after this." He sucked on a smoke, flicking after he snagged an ashtray. "Just let go, yeah?" Camille took the challenge after a pout and gulped once. The cold froth of beer was more enticing than she realized so she gulped more. "Shit, look at you putting that away. Finally."

   "Please, last summer I won a drinking contest against our school's star quarterback. He had to be air lifted by his boys out of there. I stayed and danced the entirety of Thriller because I'm a winner." She eyed the pool players across the way. Skillful bunch. "Hell, I'm absorbing again I think. Just happens randomly." She sniffled blood.

   "Can't turn it off, huh?" Billy drank after clicking glasses with her.

   "Not if I tried." Camille lifted her mug with two dainty hands, not even thinking before she filled her belly. "Okay, maybe I did need this."

   "Do I know you, or not?" He grew smug.

   "It's just all such bullshit."

   "Yeah and we're making this a no bullshit zone." Billy sat back, legs opening. "Tell me something about you that's not going to make my heart ache."

   "Your heart aches for me, Billy? Aw." She sat forward on her elbows, arms crossed. He rolled his eyes, gesturing. "I secretly love musicals and scary movies. Love campy, cheese bad movies too, they're fun."

   "Musicals? This conversation is over." Billy laughed at her.

   "Phantom of the Paradise is a guilty pleasure, okay." She joined in, tapping nails on her mug. "Tell me something terrible about you now that no one knows."

   "Fine, I'm game. The first time I saw Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, I cried like a little bitch." He admitted and she covered her lips to stifle a cackle. "I am not shitting you. My mom had photo evidence."

   "I punched the Easter Bunny when I was about seven...spun his head around. He scared me." Camille offered, finishing her drink.

   "I pretended I didn't know you were dressed as Stevie Nicks at that Halloween party."

   "Billy Hargrove."

   "Before you tease, she was my mom's favorite. Always on in the house. Liked to twirl with shawls on." Billy's smile was wistful but didn't falter. "Used to join her when I was young, if you believe it."

   "I do. Carol and I used to get wasted and sing Pat Benatar." Camille giggled when he swiped her glass.

   "I'm getting you another." Cunning Billy was back in a flash. "And water for me. See."

   "Impressive," Camille drank this one slower. She told herself she would. "Tell me something else about you."

   "I fucking hate baseball and football." He cocked his head at the game on television that was rousing cheers.

   "Light of my life."

   "And I used to want to work on movie sets."

   "Acting?"

   "Fuck no, like crew type stuff. Had a friend whose parents did makeup and effects and all that shit. Used to build monsters, their house was this museum of their work. Thought it was awesome, monster building." Billy scoffed at himself. "Kinda like you had control over them, I guess." More and more, she learned that Billy had hopes and dreams. Real aspirations beyond this fight. He looked most beautiful like this.

   "I bet you're better at art than you let on." Camille narrowed on him. "I think it's cool to create art unique to you. I can only copy."

   "Tired of being so perfect, Camille?"

   "Fucking yes, I am." She chugged at that. Impressing him again.

   "I can name some flaws if it makes you feel better," he shrugged, leaning into the table now.

   "Lay them on me."

   "You steal my clothes. You always leave your clothing in my Camaro. You leave lipstick kisses on my skin and collars without telling me." He noted and she pushed at him. "You cling when you sleep."

   "So do you," Camille shot back and he lifted a finger.

   "You leave the damn toilet seat down."

   "You leave it up." She gaped at him, grabbing for the digit pointed at her. "All my pillows smell of your hair products."

   "You listen to The Smiths."

   "Do not insult The Smiths to me, Hargrove. Leave them out of this. They've done nothing wrong."

   "You also distract me at the pool."

   "Not my fault your eyes wander." Camille kissed his knuckles and went back to her drink. She lightened up quick tonight. Pride swelled in Billy's stomach. "You can't pass a mirror without making love to yourself."

   "Okay, Miss Fix My Lipstick In Every Reflection." He teased. Noting that she was zooming through her mug.

   "Aren't we just the worst couple?"

   "I can't fucking stand us." Billy agreed, head shaking when he smiled fuller. Younger. "Have to take a leak. Behave."

   "No." Camille winked so he got up to go. His mistake for leaving a curious fox to tread alone. Billy saw her empty mug when he returned, eyes scanning to spot Camille leaning on a pool table between some frightening looking bikers. "I want to play pool."

   "Little lady, you're on." They were laughing. Charmed. Under her spell.

   "Camille." Billy stepped up, slightly warning.

   "He's the boyfriend. Billy." Camille was already bending over the table to strike.

   "Girl's funny." One guy began.

   "Billy, I made friends. This one," she patted a guy's beefy chest. Whole body inked. "They call him Vulture. I'm going to beat him in pool."

   "Excuse my girlfriend, she's had a long day," Billy turned up the charm and roused nothing.

   "You betting or not, boy?" Another was gruff and Billy considered it, smirking.

   "Actually," he touched his chin, "I'm happy to bet on my girl." He smacked a bill down like a cheeky shit because he knew something they didn't. Even drunk, Camille was a spitfire sending trick shots. Third beer was gone into her belly through the game.

   "Where'd you learn this, Bambi?"

   "From my daddy." Camille lied, sinking another ball. She teetered on her feet.

   "She's good, Curly." One approached Billy so he crossed his arms, chest puffed.

   "You have no idea."

   "I owe you a round of shots for that one." They garnered some more attention. Camille elicited cheers when she won. Baseball game be damned. She leapt at Billy after he collected his winnings. Kissing him.

   "I won! I won!"

   "So did I." He bit his lip, snickering while she bounced.

   "Shot?" A tray was passed.

   "Ah, my boyfriend is the responsible one tonight," Camille looked devious and swiped two so Billy didn't get one. Blue eyes watched as she downed both at once. Fuck, he realized because he was in for it now. "Billy, these are my new biker friends. Banshee, she's my favorite. Crow. And Grinder. You met, Vulture. This is my boyfriend, I call him sweet face." Billy's expression fell when that was met with amusement, Camille leaned into him. Tipping from buzzed to drunk to wasted pretty quick. She swayed to sit on a table between two of the biggest dudes. "They said they ride through Hawkins a lot. Used to hit up Benny's place. Oh, I miss him. You all must miss him too."

   "He was a good guy. We should do a shot for Benny. He's got fishing buddies here. Hey Earl, let me get you guys a round!" Cheers echoed again and Camille laughed as Billy tugged her toward him.

   "How about you sit here instead?" He got her into a stool so she could prop her elbows up on the table.

   "To Benny!" The bar drank together. Save for poor Billy.

   "You know, Benny always looked out for his customers. Warded off creeps." Someone began.

   "Always caught something great with us too," Earl had added. "Hell of a guy."

   "Benny was so sweet," Camille touched her chest and actually welled up. "He always told the best jokes." She gained some emotional reactions and Billy was truly confused. Agreement hit the customers around her when more shots were passed. "Always gave out free milkshakes. Let you stay late if there was a storm or if your ride skipped out on you. And he never skimped on fries."

   "No, he didn't." Crow was crying. Billy watched his girlfriend make all these beefed out, sorry saps weep. Fucking Hawkins. Conversations went on to overlap while night fell and Camille downed another shot like a champ.

   "Oh, Harper, you're fucking wasted," Billy slipped around the table to sit by her. Camille kicked her feet and couldn't sit still, overly confident.

   "I am so...not wasted. Would a drunk girl do this?" She made literally no move. Just beamed at him.

   "Do what?"

   "What? Ah, shit, I lost it already. That's hilarious," Camille cackled and leaned into him, realizing. Tone dropped. "Oh, my god, Billy...I think I am drunk. You did this. You batted your pretty blue eyes and I got wasted."

   "That's exactly what happened. You hold it well...so far." He narrowed his gaze. When the game ended, more music overtook the place. Lights dimmed. Smoke rose from every table. Camille could not be stopped from joining some ladies by the jukebox. She mouthed words and spun about with them, hips swaying. So very intoxicated. Billy kept close and lit up another cigarette, rubbing his head because, yeah, he did this. Felt like she needed it. Camille moved and was completely aware of his eyes on her body. Charged. Stumbling, she made it back at the same time he jumped up to help. "Hey, you. Productive day."

   "You smell so good," Camille got her arms around his neck. "Look at all my new friends." People who didn't know her well. Nice change.

   "Something tells me none of them are remembering tonight."

   "I'll have to keep the memories for me," she stumbled with him. "It's sooo hot. Are you hot in here? Makes me want to take my skin off."

   "Ah, yeah, you're smashed. I think we should go, Harpy."

   "What if I'm the only one who remembers at the end of all this and everyone else just forgets it all? Will they forget me too?" Camille lifted her head to see his eyes, hand on his face. A genuine beat of mourning. Thumb tracing his cheek and bottom lip. Billy stilled to get lost in her for a moment.

   "Something tells me I won't be forgetting any of this either."

   "Promise?" Camille clung to him and lifted one hand so he'd pinky swear. "Don't want to go back into Hawkins."

   "We have to. Unfortunately."

   "What if we kept driving?" She was pulled along by him, chirping in a confident singsong tone. Not lacking vibrato. "What do you say we run away?" Camille swept one hand out, sighing back into the cold air. "That's amazing."

   "Just get some fresh air for a sec." Billy trudged with her squirming about. "Camille, move your feet." He chuckled and held her waist to keep her from falling when clumsy footing teetered. "I'd fucking jump at the chance to run away with you, you know we can't. You'd sober up too and regret it."

   "What if I did this?" Camille turned into him, lips fierce on his. A compelling argument. Billy held her face and kissed deeply, lips opened. Graceless, she gripped to him tighter and waited for the stars to just fall. Billy sucked in air after he pulled apart by force, cupping her jaw to keep her in place.

   "Answer is still a no tonight, Harpy. Rain check." He puffed cold air. "Didn't realize wasted Camille would be a pain in the ass. Frankly, I'm still having the best time here. You're so fucked tomorrow." Little ballerina lost her composure. "Come on."

   "I want to watch the stars." She whined, legs gave away and Billy hooked his arms under hers.

   "Okay, come on. Easy does it. Christ, Harper. Up we go now, ready." Billy heaved his trashed girlfriend up into his arms.

   "I have the strongest boyfriend ever!" Camille shouted, wildly laughing as he hushed her and couldn't help his chuckles.

   "Camille, you better remember this, I swear." He carried her to his car, even buckled her in. By the time Billy came around, she was already wiggling to get into the back. Stuck between the seats by her hips. "The fuck are you doing?" She groaned instead, pulling herself into the backseat while her dress rode up hips, flashing her underwear. Camille just cackled. So mad and delightfully alive.

   "I love the feel of these seats," she spread out and Billy rubbed his eyes, buckling himself. "Billy?"

   "What?"

   "I'm drowning, save me," she snorted in the dark. One hand blindly felt around for him, smoothing wild curls.

   "Very funny." He lit up a smoke and started the car. "Hang tight if you're going to be a brat back there."

   "Hide with me." Fingers pulled for his arm. Warm skin against her cool palm. Fingertips traced the heated steel of his muscles. "We could play."

   "I am not fucking you while you're this shit-faced." Billy just laughed and steered to go. Camille yelped when the jerk sent her backwards. "You alive back there?"

   "No, I'm drowning," Camille sagged into the seats. Thoroughly amused at herself.

   "You're not drowning."

   "I'm definitely...drowning." She slurred.

   "Warn me if you're going to blow chunks, do not puke in my car." He turned a corner to follow a longer road back into Hawkins. "Shit, I don't know where I'm taking you. Mother home?"

   "She died." Camille sounded sober for the first time and he cursed himself.

   "I meant, Rosemary," Billy was quieter. "She's at your place?"

   "For now." Camille got up, clinging to the passenger seat with arms wrapped around it. Head tipped to cool upholstery. "You ever heard of Faust?"

   "Who?"

   "It's about this rando who sells his soul to the Devil, you know? For shits and giggles because he's bored... I get bored too. Being fuckin' perfect and all. Mostly he does it to get all the kn...knowledge and pleasure he can touch instantly. Am I selling my soul as I absorb? Is there an exchange and one day there will be...nothing...nothing left of me too? What if I'm just corrupted?" Camille hissed and gripped the seat when Billy glanced at her.

   "You're not drowning or corrupted. Can't be either because I know you. Too well." He just beamed. Slightly forced because she shook him. "Too fucking stubborn. You'd kick the damn Devil out of hell and take his throne if you wanted. Save me a fucking seat."

   "You're so romantic." Camille purred. "Where are we going?"

   "Your home is out. We can't go to my house either while you're...like this." Billy thought aloud. "Fuck, I have a shitty idea."

   "I love it." She replied, falling back as he turned.

   "Hey, easy. Just stay lying down." Billy peered to see her snickering still. After one beat, a shoe landed in the passenger seat followed by another. "Camille, quit it."

   "It's hot again." She'd complained and Billy skidded to stop when her dress followed.

   "Hey! Do not take anything else off." He passed her dress back over.

   "Boo..." Her pout lingered as she covered up with the fabric.

   "Shit, I can't believe I just said that to you." He rolled his eyes. The car sped toward a darker street, down the forest path.

   "Billy?"

   "Yes, Camille." He just sighed.

   "I...am drowning."

   "I'll save you in a moment." Billy gave in.

   "Okay." She paused. "Billy?"

   "Yes, Camille," he repeated.

   "I really fucking like you."

   "I really fucking like you too." Came his reply. "Even when you're smashed."

   "Aww..." Camille bit her lip. "So, do you have like a crush on me or something?"

   "Harpy... Babe. Sweetheart. You and I are dating currently."

   "You're such a sap, Hargrove, you have a huge crush on me. You have the hots for me. Deal with it. K-I-S-S-I...I-N-G."

   "Christ." Billy swerved to a stop.

   "Where are we?"

   "Just go with it." Billy got out and put his seat up. "Will you put your dress back on already?" He had to force the garment over her head and pull her out into his arms. "Going up again." Billy had her shoes hooked in his fingers while he carried her up a set of steps. "Knock for me. Lights are on." Camille giggled and did so before poor Jim Hopper was opening the door with a confused expression.

   "Future Mr. Byers." Camille giggled.

   "What the hell is this?"

   "I have a deposit, sir. One drunk off her ass girlfriend." Billy smiled a sheepish grin and Jim shook his head. "Help a guy out?"

   "Jesus, just come in." Jim stepped aside. "El, can you pour a glass of water?" The younger girl jumped up from the couch, pausing the movie they had been watching to see her friend. "Explain, Hargrove."

   "I asked her to loosen up, she unraveled completely." Billy dropped the shoes and balanced her in his arms. "Camille, be still for a second." Hopper looked a little amused now. Billy's expression was flat while Camille nudged into him with a crooked smile.

   "Jim, did you know that Billy had a crush on me?"

   "No idea." He reached out to help Billy handle her. Camille was ushered to the couch.

   "Billy, plug your ears," she swayed into Jim, eyes lifting. "I have a crush on him too. Shhh." One finger touched the scruff of his facial hair, giggling. "God, you're like a bear, Chief." Billy rubbed his face, groaning.

   "You've had a full night." Hopper eased, letting Camille squish his cheeks.

   "She got involved with emotional bikers, too many shots, and pool. I lost her in the shuffle." Billy winced before Jim pressed Camille back toward him. El came around to offer water.

   "Camille?" She tucked her friend's hair aside. "Is she sick?"

   "Ah, she might be soon." Jim stood, hands on his hips. "Let's get you to bed."

   "El, I love you. You're like my sister." Camille grinned and held to Billy.

   "Love you too," El kissed her head, snickering now. "Feel better."

   "Off you go." Jim ushered her into a bedroom. Billy exhaled while Camille nuzzled into him. Hopper returned and shook his head. "Guess it was best to bring her here."

   "You think?" Billy got Camille to drink all the water without a fuss at least.

   "She can sleep it off here, you can stay too." Jim watched as Camille tried to climb behind Billy to splay out on the couch.

   "Will you quit it?" The teen muttered, holding Camille up. "I'll stay to make sure she doesn't get into anything else. Run home to make an appearance then sneak back. Dad's going to let me have it if I..."

   "I get it, kid." Jim grew softer when their glances met. Didn't risk upsetting Billy and making him close off right now. "I can take care of her if you don't make it back."

   "I have the science of sneaking out down."

   "I'm sure," Hopper watched Camille flop the other way into the couch cushions.

   "I've seen her tipsy and drunk but not this smashed." Billy stood and pulled her legs up onto the couch. "Camille, lie on your side." He moved her and let hands grab for his own. Intent, her fingers traced the lines on his palm. The veins down his wrist. Pattern of her dress clashed against the couch's colors. Almost made Billy dizzy.

   "She want to clean up?" Jim asked after clicking the TV off. Eyeliner smudged and gave her a grungy raccoon vibe. Lipstick was all but gone, only leaving a red tint. Girl looked a pretty mess. Camille gave a huff and stretched back again, letting Billy go.

   "Let's go wash your face." Billy heaved her up.

   "Have to pee." It was the whine of a child.

   "I got to help her, don't I?"

   "You're the boyfriend," Jim got the door for them. Camille almost slid off the toilet so Billy grabbed her arm while she wiggled her panties down. His eyes turned.

   "I got it." She swayed on her spot.

   "Brat." Billy let her do her business and wash her hands before he was wetting tissues to clean makeup away. Hard because she kept thinking he was trying to kiss her. "The Chief of Police is outside this bathroom, Harpy. Behave."

   "Got something she can wear." A white thermal shirt slipped through when the door cracked. Camille instead put it over her dress, looking like a rag doll.

   "Close enough." Billy pulled her out. Stumbling and whining still. "Sit."

   "No. Queen's gotta buzz," she tossed her head back to cackle at her own joke. "Hey, it's Jim! Why is my face numb? Weird."

   "Pulled out the couch, figured she'd be more comfortable." Extra pillows were dropped because he knew she liked to burrow into them. "Camille, lie down."

   "Just because you're my boss-" A cry hitched when Billy heaved her up to plop her on sheets that she instantly melted into.

   "Nice." Jim had rolled his eyes with a scoff. Billy just shrugged at him.

   "Wait, tuck me in." Camille rolled over covers and pillows. Jim got her under the blankets while she squirmed around as if she was trying to make drunken snow angels.

   "Fine, just get on your side. There you go. Be still for a second."

   "My dad used to tuck me in...only when work let him go. Guess they never did because...I was the experiment." Another cackle. Billy stared, sitting on the arm of the couch as Jim took the spot next to her. "He'd tell me stories I thought he made up of magical little kids. He told me their stories in a way and I had no idea. How twisted. Only they were each a different color. They changed the world. I wonder...what my color was." She fell back and blinked many times. "Probably red now." Camille reached up for Billy. "Hey, I'm drowning again."

   "No, you're fine, Camille, I saved you. Cool it and just relax, you'll start to float."

   "I'm..." The hand on his arm reached for his cheek. Missed. "I'm going to save you now."

   "I know, Camille." Billy looked too soft here. Freckles in the warm light and curls just wild enough.

   "And I know the Chief of Police." She swatted for Jim who pressed his lips. "He's like not bad. I'm not bad either. I think." Camille nuzzled into the sheets, forgetting the men there. "Am I still floating?"

   "Goodnight, Camille." Jim pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. "You should run home, it's late. I got her."

   "I'll be back." Billy was on his feet quick. Stopped to stare at the walls of the cozy cabin. "Thanks."

   "You're welcome, kid."

   "Was it bad?" Billy didn't look back.

   "Hm?" Jim stilled.

   "The Mayor thing." Curls ruffled when his head shook because he knew the answer. "Was it bad?"

   "Yeah, it was." Hopper pressed his eyes shut. "One of the ugliest things I've ever seen." Coming from a former city cop, that meant something huge.

   "She's not dirty," Billy started walking, "she's just been told she is too many times. Started to believe that shit." Billy Hargrove knew that sad fact about image better than anyone. Had his dad to thank. Jim agreed silently. Having touched the truth of it too. Three people told they were filthy and worthless who dreamed so vast to touch a better self beyond it. At least they'd all found each other.

   Camille dreamed. She dreamed of a flood of bleak darkness enveloping her. It didn't grieve. Not at all. No, here, she was safe and hidden. She dreamed that black matter whirled up to swallow Robbie whole. Dreamed Hawkins was drowned in a starless sky. An infection that touched everything in sight. Dreamed that she was fine it was happening for a few solid beats. Floated high with her arms spread. A silent scream. Wondered if the Mind Flayer had hopes and fears too. If those creatures in the Upside Down yet to be seen stayed there because the burn of light was so exposing and ugly.

   She dreamed of colors pooling together to wash light and dark away. A great crack in space echoed out and all she dreamed of was reaching back to make contact the same way El once did. No fear or hope. Only intrigue. The same way that monster stopped just to see her eyes when it tried to grasp Billy. She wondered what the exchange would be? Knowledge for knowledge. Soul for soul. Camille Harper dreamed that maybe there was something beyond the veil lying dormant. Waiting for a charge. Waiting the same way she was. Wondered if maybe they both were drowning from opposite sides of the glass, pounding to shatter it one day. Maybe there was good and grey and evil and equals thriving all at once. So, she reached and waited with curiosity and horror because she knew that something out there was bound to reach back for her. And she knew well that she wouldn't step back from it. Not while Hawkins flooded. Not while she struggled and fought to float above it all.

   A sweet, cakey smell invaded her senses. Eyes cracked to hear a sizzle and hum. Her head thumped unpleasantly. Truly felt like a corpse. Voice cracked with a groan when she opened her eyes to spot El mere inches from her. That sound became a cry and jerk that almost sent her off the bed.

   "Am I dead?" Camille moaned, hands on her face. "Oh, I'm dead."

   "No, they told me you drank too much," El laughed at her. "Breakfast?"

   "Harpy, you look...amazing." Billy's voice intruded. He was rumbling and perfect, head cocking. "You need to eat something solid."

   "Oh, my god. I remember. I played pool with a huge biker, didn't I? I danced. Ugh..."

   "I won good money. Might have something there," he tapped his chin. "Drunk you is a trip."

   "You snored too," El noted. Camille came up on shaky hands. Body hating her for it. Jim's cabin blurred to focus.

   "Never again." She whined, stumbling up to look down at herself. Jim's baggy shirt pulled over her dress. "Oh, and my boss saw me like that."

   "Yes, Camille, I did. Least you didn't puke." Pancakes piled high on the table. Jim appeared proud of them.

   "Still might," she was rubbing her poor head again, slipping into a chair. Hopper set the biggest plate of pancakes in front of her and another whine roused.

   "Don't be like that, you need to eat the whole thing. Now." He kissed her head, half mocking before a fork pressed into her hand. "Both of you, sit. Yeah, Hargrove, I meant you too. You eat, don't you?" El bounced into a seat with Billy obeying next, surprised for the invite at all. Jim poured coffee that Camille chugged without adding anything extra. "Looks about right."

   "Haven't gone that hard in a while. El, don't ever drink. It's stupid."

   "We're not stupid," she echoed, smiling after a big bite of pancakes. Camille looked around, catching Billy's eyes. Odd sort of family gathered together. Her lips spread.

   "I'm lucky." They all took a beat to pause and see her expression soften. Billy already knew because he felt it also, not sure how to show it.

   "For?"

   "Good company to watch over me." Camille stabbed into her pancakes to watch thick syrup gush over the top. Mouth watering for the wrong reasons. She recalled that dream. Horrid and yet, there was no fear today. Only the cursed drive of curiosity that pushed Camille Harper to ravage justice like a disease.

   That smile didn't end.

** ** **

   “Late again.” Rosemary spoke days later when her daughter entered the kitchen. "Food came late though too. Worked out."

   “I stayed to finish some filing and met Billy at the pool. Brought him some dinner. The closing lifeguard got sick so he’s stuck there late.” Camille flashed a grin that was convincing enough. Mother and daughter. Both killers. Both sick. Both still attached.

   “Chinese, okay? I got your favorites."

   “Sounds good to me,” Camille came to the table while they unpacked boxes of take out. Rosemary sipped wine for the first time in weeks. Beaming. She watched her daughter eat first, eyes narrowing, then helped herself to fried rice in another container.

   “You’re so different this year. Happier, I think.” She mused after a beat with eyes as sly as her little girl's own.

   “It’s been hard, without dad. But, I made some good friends. Supportive.” Camille blinked. Daring. A little witch with her hex at the ready. “Protective.”

   “I’m glad.” Rosemary only smiled. “Things are looking up for us. I also just got an odd call.”

   “Odd?” Felt like all they did was play chess.

   “Good type of odd. They’re going to put my store at Starcourt. Larry Kline himself gave me the news. Excited to oversee it.”

   “That’s amazing. It’ll be nice to have one close. See all the ladies gush.” Camille beamed, put her claws away. Still longed for a mother and hated that seeking comfort felt safer when all she wanted to do was scream. “I’m proud of you, mom.”

   “I’m proud of you too, baby.” Her mother gave a sort of half smile, eyes watering. She thought to buy fresh sunflowers tomorrow while Camille ate. Oblivious. “I always will be.”

Chapter Text

   “Nothing?"

   “No word, I think that’s a good sign.” Camille shrugged, picking up a smoothie to drink. They met on Steve’s break, he sat hunched over the table in his sailor uniform. Nancy and Jonathan placed across from Camille with Billy to her right. Group of kids who looked like they didn't belong together huddled.

   “How’d you do it?” Jonathan asked so she made light of it. A corrosive bad habit.

   “Oh, I just threatened the mayor with...evidence. Lots of dirty laundry to be flashed.” Didn't say it was her own. Pink cheeks sucked in with discomfort, a hand lifted to her head so she could hiss. Billy eyed her closely and decided not to comment, opted to stare at the napkin dispenser instead. “Stupid migraine is killing me.”

   “You need to be careful, I... Ah, hell, I got to get over there. Sling some more ice cream. Pray for me.” Steve touched Camille’s shoulder and left to go back to Scoops.

   "Robbie said they tracked the Flayer, how?" Nancy's exhale caught them. "Jonathan and I used blood to lure the demogorgon, it was a mindless beast we thought."

   "Blood?" Billy made a face at that, scrunching his expression. The more he learned about Princess Nancy Wheeler, the more he realized...she fucking scared him. The couple flashed matching scars on their palms.

   "Yeah, ours." Okay, Wheeler was a badass. Not that Billy would own such a thought. "But, this is so different. They played with fire, these monsters...they can't be controlled. Gate opens, the Mind Flayer gets out. People will die. No other result."

   "No, maybe they can't be controlled. Yet. Maybe there's a piece missing...what if they found it? But, these things. They can be studied and learned from. That alone makes you rich and, better, it makes you powerful." Camille recalled something horrible and distant. "My dad...he used to talk about the price of knowledge. Some people are fine paying it...or letting other innocent victims do it first."

   "It still came to us like a dog caught the scent of food." Billy stole a drink of smoothie. Arms crossing so he could sit forward into the table. "There was a moment. I don't know. I got this chill. It wasn't just cold, it was nothing. I felt numb like all my rage just got sucked out. Felt like everything got sucked out and I was...I wanted to let it..."

   "Maybe it follows fear and hatred and...pain. Maybe that same hatred humans create is the true monster, these beings are just hungry and desperate to survive. Same as us." Camille's tone put her far from her friends. Eyes lifted when Nancy frowned deeper. Billy felt his entire core shudder when he placed the numb sensation. Stepping in front of the Mind Flayer was less scary than stepping into his own home. Seeing his father's cold eyes. "Hawkins has plenty of that to spare." Idle fingers were still rubbing her head to ease the ache within.

   "You sure that you're okay, Cam? You were all pale this morning." Her friend eased. Head tilting to catch her gaze. Nancy had asked her that too many times while they chattered and tried things on in dressing rooms today.

   "No, it's better. Just my head, it'll pass." Camille flashed her darling smile, wattage pumped up. One that usually blinded drones into submitting. But, not friends who knew her all too well. Billy raised one brow in disbelief and caught her eyes flicker to him, signalling to drop it. "We're having a good day, I'm determined to continue it."

   “Still want to do the movies?” Jonathan went on, sitting back.

   “Definitely, our schedules never line up like this. It'll be fun, we're normal teens who totally don't monster hunt.” Camille stood to follow them, Billy’s hand idly came to her own. Laced fingers. Pretended it was a thoughtless act when blue eyes fixed on the open space ahead. “Plus, everyone is dying over this one. Back to the Future.”

   “Kids saw it the other day, wouldn’t stop talking about it.” The teens paced toward the cinema, conveniently attached to Starcourt. Bought tickets, popcorn, and soda. Found seats. First double date. Billy was quieter than usual, fiddling with his ring out of habit. Wore a thoughtful expression like he was studying a packed work of art. Camille leaned into him so he put his arm around her. Opening previews started.

   “Dad, again?” She frowned and he stared just at the screen. His total stillness answered the question.

   “We got into it in front of a work friend he had over. Nothing huge but dad was pretty embarrassed. He only hit me once after. No belt. No lesson. Just a reminder that he can and will. But, I don’t know, I got the feel it wasn’t over. Always asking about who I'm with.” Billy sighed when her head touched his collar. They whispered under the voices on screen. “And I keep thinking about that asshole putting his hands on you. I really could fucking kill him.”

   “You helped stop him. We took care of it. We’re getting our summer back. I promise.” Camille’s lips quirked and he came down to kiss her. Forgetting that Wheeler and Byers were right there for a moment. The headache pulsed while she tried to enjoy the movie. Camille was hyper aware of wrappers rustling. Feedback from the echoing speakers. Flick moved too fast and made her dizzy. Movie was easily a favorite. Circumstances of seeing it were just unfortunate. An upset stomach clenched unpleasantly so Camille sipped soda like it would help get her through it. Credits rolled and she was up in a hurry to go to the bathroom. Not waiting for Billy or offering a word on the way out after stepping over his legs.

   “Movie wasn’t that bad, Cam? I liked it.” Nancy entered the restroom with the boys outside and heard Camille gag. Couple of younger teen girls hurried out at the ugly sound of puking. “Cam?”

   “I’m fine, I think there’s a bug going around the station. It’s nothing.” Her friend threw up again, sounding impossibly heavy. It definitely wasn't nothing. But, she came out to wash her mouth, sniffling. Popping a few mints. “Ugh, this is miserable. Loved the flick still. Might have to see it again when I’m better. Think I just need to rest.”

   "Let's go. You look miserable. You used to get sick like this all the time."

   "Been awhile, I know. Stupid immune system."

   “Hey, what was that?” Billy approached as the girls left.

   “I don’t want to make you sick,” Camille put her palms up and Billy touched her forehead with the back of his hand.

   “Jesus, Camille, you got a fever. We’re going.” Always puffing out his chest to take charge, Billy put his foot down about it.

   “Sorry, guys.” She didn't fight him on this one.

   “No, just get better.” Jonathan offered.

   “I’ll call tomorrow.” Nancy added and Camille was ushered off.

   “Callahan picked up this guy yesterday, thought he was drunk. He was acting weird. Getting sick. Moved him to the hospital, maybe I caught a bug or something.” Camille shrugged and they were stopped by angry footsteps.

   “Ms. Harper!” Larry Kline was pacing from his expensive car. “Think you’re funny now?” Billy pushed Camille behind him.

   “You want to start over, dickhead?”

   “Excuse me, you little delinquent. I’m trying to speak with Ms. Harper. My son is missing. Haven’t seen him since the 4th, that was almost a week ago. You threaten him too now?” Larry truly didn't know about the lab. This confirmed it. Sinking feeling in her abdomen like he'd been involved soon hit.

   “No, Lar, that was your job. With your luck, he’s impregnating someone else. Adding underage notches to his bedpost. Leave me alone.” Camille passed to go and Larry stepped in front of them.

   “If my son doesn’t turn up, I’ll-”

   “Destroy me? Haven’t you heard, Larry? That’s been done.” Camille tugged an upset Billy with her so he didn’t throttle the guy. Felt as if she was dragging a pillowcase full of bricks. “Probably broke his face in that fall and didn’t want to be seen if that thing didn’t eat him.” She hissed to cool night air. “Can we just go, Billy? I don’t feel great, I’m sorry.” Camille stopped when he pulled at her now. “Something’s up."

   "It's nothing." Her boyfriend was clearly distracted. Blue eyes sweeping and darting in different directions. Away from her.

   "Billy, talk to me? If it’s about...this thing. The photos. I’m fine. I am.”

   “You’re not fucking fine, Camille. It’s not...” Billy sighed, gaze on the street as they made it to his car to get inside. “What you said, I’ve been spending more time thinking things over and I’m...just not sure. I’m not sure yet.”

   “About?”

   “Fucking everything.” He’d admitted. Anxiety stark and billowing. Not something he let flood in public. Not something he even liked to share or put on her now. “Where I stand with everyone after what I did. Where I stand at home. And even us.” Felt like he was in limbo. Or just plain purgatory.

   “Us?” Confused tone made him explain quicker.

   “It’s not that I want it to end...the opposite. I guess, shit, things have never felt like this for so long. Natural and easy. I don’t know what to make of it.”

   “If it makes you happy, just let it. You said you were trying to stop asking why and this is part of it.” She cupped his jaw and let him run smooth hands down her arms when they leaned together.

   “I can feel all this shit building and..."

   "And, what?"

   "You're important to me. You're all I got."

   "Don't say that, it's not true." It was also not a fair thing to place on her. He knew that. The actual truth came.

   "I’m fucking scared. Okay?” He blurted the words. Held back the most important ones. Winced even still because it was too much. “Shit.”

   “Hey, I am too."

   "Fucking stupid." He regretted saying it.

   "I don't think that and I am, I mean it. So much has happened and it feels like it’ll never end. But, it has to end somewhere and we have to face it. Whatever it is. We have some amazing people who will face it with us. Hey, look at me." The command felt like a wish. Billy granted it and looked. Hard and long.

   "I just mean, you changed everything for me." Honesty honeyed his tongue. Gave it a twang of fresh citrus that reminded him of California.

   "You did the work, I just got to be your friend and hold your hand when you allowed it. You’re not alone anymore, Billy.” Camille kissed his cheek, lingering so he’d see her expression. Something did build. Sound hit her like a freight train. Glass shattering. Fireworks exploded. Bubble gum popping. Carnival rides whirled and jingled. Waves splashing into a shore. Pieces came together and it all went impossibly quiet.

   Camille took in that sweet air. Transformed it into something breathtaking.

   “And I love you.”

   Billy froze, eyes wide and senses starkly aware of her perfume. Her soul blaring into his. It was too easy, the way she’d offered it. Camille found it so swift and fearless that it came a second time.

   “I love you, Billy Hargrove.” Jealousy burned because she was at peace, leaning out of her seat into him. His forehead came to touch hers when hands tugged. But, Billy couldn’t grasp the words quick enough. “We’re going to be okay." It sounded like a promise Camille never planned to break. "It’s late, we should go. I just...needed you to know that.”

   They drove in silence. Billy had both hands on the wheel. White knuckles. Didn't utter a word. The syllables lingered now. He wanted to scream that he's loved her for months. Camille didn't even seem insecure or offended that he had nothing in return. Just counted twinkling stars outside. Even his Camaro purred quieter. Billy realized Camille didn't say it to hear it back. She just wanted it to touch his world because it was the truth.

   She loved him.

   A soft smile lingered. This amazing girl with so much to offer loved him. She kissed him goodnight and walked up the driveway. Free. Billy gripped the wheel and struggled. He wanted to be free too. His heart sunk when the door shut before he cursed himself. It couldn't end like that. The car skidded partially out before he was racing to knock with the engine still on. The gentle rumbles underscored his heart pounding. Camille was halfway up the stairs, turning. Headlights off the car framed Billy to make him glow. Like a star, she thought.

   “Billy?” Camille was cut off when he took her face to kiss her. As long as he could. Thumbs smoothed over warm cheeks. Not caring that she was ill. Not caring about anything else but giving that truth back.

   “Camille Harper,” he hitched a breath and let go because it felt amazing like chains coming off, “I love you too.” Relief swelled and a tear rolled down his cheek. She wiped it and gathered him up in a tight hug. It felt like the sky itself could fall and not take this. He cupped the back of her head, squeezing her to him. Billy came out and kissed her again. “Don’t care if you’re sick.” They stared, finally breaking with chuckles. Relief washed them away.

   “Call you tomorrow when you get off?”

   “Do that,” Billy let her kiss his cheek. Both teens glittered under the moonlight. That same rosy haze cast like a spell unable to be broken. He turned to get back into his car, teeth tugging at his lip before he smiled wider in the rear view mirror. Camille floated, pressing against the door. She touched her heart with both hands to feel it quiver. Her own smile heated her face.

   The sunset colored moment was torn into. A light clicked on and Rosemary stood atop the stairs in a long night gown and robe. Looked like one of her own storefront mannequins. Caught her daughter with one hand in the cookie jar. The rest of her ready to dart out of this house. Out of Hawkins.

   “Scared me,” Camille was still bright pink, pacing forward.

   “First love.” Her mother mused like she was truly contemplating it. Like it meant something real to her once. “Always the sweetest. You’ve had a full summer. Only one more year of high school. Where did all that time go?”

   “Right.” Camille agreed.

   “Pity it’ll end.” Rosemary’s green eyes glinted in the light. “Summer, I mean.” Camille's gaze lingered to see a fresh vase of sunflowers left on a table in front of the hallway mirror. Meant for her to find. She saw her reflection and the angle made it seem like she was growing out of them too. Trapped to follow the horrid exposing allure of the sun. They just mocked her politely and went about their day. Camille wasn't sure if it was a sign or mourning, celebration, or regret. Could be all three.

   “A lot can happen in one summer. I have college and work to look forward to after this year. Whole big world.”

   “Big and broken.” Rosemary sighed, coming down the steps. Calculated. “You should join me at Harper Sixx, you know everything I do is for you and you’ll always have a place there. Imagine working with me. Learning all you can about my empire at last. Flights to LA and New York. Europe. You could see the world," eyes narrowed to really look at the girl she raised, "isn’t that what you want, Camille? More than anything?” Rosemary would give her everything, hoping she'd want nothing beyond it. Her pattern. But, Camille was already awake and she'd already seen that horizon ahead. Waiting for her to chase it.

   “Sounds amazing. Mom, you own the fashion world. I love it but, I don’t think it’s the right fit. I used to think I wanted to dance but, everything is just a hobby to me. Nice but, not my future. I want to see the world on my own terms. I want to do something that helps people who are hurting. Something I won't be perfect at but, I can still give it my all. That's worth it.” Camille clasped her hands, shrugging. “I guess I’m not sure what I want yet but, that’s okay. I have time to discover it.” She watched her mom twitch until a smile crossed her face. “But, uh, I’m not feeling my best. Stomach bug.”

   “Of course, go rest. I’ll bring you something to ease all that pain.” Rosemary touched her hair, kissing her cheek. They stood for a moment as equals on the steps. “I hope that boy deserves you.”

   “He does.” Camille passed her to go up. Rising higher. “He makes me happy.”

** ** **

   “Ugh, my head feels like it’s full of bees.”

   “Vivid.” Billy joked into the phone. He rubbed a towel over his hair and sat to enjoy his last break. “I’ll come over after work. It’s Saturday, you’re trapped at home. Still sick.”

   “Nancy already offered and I can’t get you two sick. I’ll just coop myself up and get better. Maybe tomorrow. Plus...my mom is here and if someone else tries to take care of me, I think she’ll burn with jealousy. Besides, I have my appetite back, I’m good. Really am. Just let her baby me until it passes.”

   “And you haven’t heard from Mayor Shithead?”

   “Nada.” Camille sighed. “Hope I scared the rat off.”

   "Hey. Do you want to get a motel room this coming Saturday?" He'd chirped it so confidently.

   "A motel room? Why?" Camille's legs swayed when she rolled over onto her stomach.

   "I really got to explain why over the phone?" Suggestive, he bit his lip. Camille puffed with amusement. "Because I absolutely can, I'm-"

   "Ah, ah! Easy, beach boy. I mean, I know why. But...why now?"

   "Something to make us feel like we're getting away. Thinking we could get some cheap alcohol. Watch bad television. Fool around. Eat whatever we feel like. I don't know, just something stupid to block the world out." Billy smirked to himself. Sounded truly heartfelt even when he tried to play cool.

   "Hmm, you make it sound so enticing. Let's do it, I'm game." Footsteps sounded. “Mom’s on her way up, we’ll talk later.” She paused, smiling. “I love you.” Felt so fresh still offering it. Billy smirked on the other end.

   “I love you too, Camille.” They hung up and Rosemary opened the door, coming to touch Camille’s head.

   “Fever is broken.” She grinned. “Thankfully. Something light for dinner. Chicken soup with dumplings. Do you think you can eat downstairs with me?”

   “Yes, I’ll shower and be down when it's ready.” Camille got up on wobbly feet to wash herself. She hummed a tune and slipped on a pretty summer dress, pacing down the steps. Into a den of wolves unknowingly. Too curious and easy a fox. “Smells amazing.” Rosemary gestured to a chair and served two bowls. Camille drank some water and sat back.

   “Dig in, you need to keep your strength up so that fever doesn’t crawl back. You remember how easily yours do that. I could feed you just like old times.”

   "I think I got it from here." She shifted in her seat. Ignored the stiffness in her spine. The tingling all along her abdomen.

   "Yes, I suppose you do." Rosemary waited until Camille took a few bites. Beaming. Eyes trained on each spoonful her daughter brought to her lips. Music played behind them off the radio. “We used to dance in the kitchen to this.”

   “Sometimes dad joined in.” Camille let herself laugh. Rosemary was smiling again, spoon in hand but she didn’t eat yet. Instead, she sipped wine. Dyed blond hair flicked.

   “We were happy, weren’t we? We tried to be around with you.”

   “I think so.” Camille swallowed and sat up, hands on the table.

   “Left you with Edna too often. She always had such an attachment to you.”

   “…Certainly did.”

   “Perhaps letting her go was a mistake.” Rosemary gave a sigh, head cocking. Camille didn't miss the way her blithe voice changed. “Guess that I just wanted you to myself for the first time. I tried to take it back. Motherhood. I’m just not sure if it’s working. Feels so very one sided.” The utensil fumbled in her daughter's hand, dropping. "Clumsy, baby? That's unlike you. So much of this year was unlike you though."

   “What...do you mean?”

   "What do I mean?" Rosemary hummed slower as if it were a thoughtful question, eyes beaming. Grinned like a wolf with sharp bared teeth at a fresh meal. "I can mean lots of things. I mean it when I say that I tried. That I always wanted the best. I can mean that I'm not ready to give up even if you are. I can also mean that I'm tired, Camille. Tired of how pretty you look when you lie to my face."

   "Lie? I haven't-"

   “You’re not my little girl, it feels as if you don’t even want to be. Ever since your father...no, that’s not right. Even before. You pulled and pulled from us. I thought I snuffed that out when you were a tiny little child. Willful thing. Always resisting. But, you gave in. You always did. Yet, these last few years. Since Hawkins began to rot around us. I don't know. Feels like I tucked you in as a baby. Put you to sleep. You woke up though years later to a culling song. You woke up screaming. And you never stopped and...you think we're all idiots like we can't hear you. But, we all hear you, Camille. Loud and clear.” Rosemary was light. Innocent. Border of manic.

   “Mom, don’t talk like that.”

   “I know what I said and so do you.” She continued. More wine to her lips, pointing with the glass in hand. Not a worry in sight. That was the scariest part. “I keep trying to figure out when you discovered it. You played well but, that didn’t last. It never does with you, baby. No one in this house taught you to fake it.” Camille was treading carefully, eyes on the table.

   “I don’t...”

   “Don’t lie, Camille. Not to the woman who raised you. I never was one of those oblivious women waiting for her husband to come home. Truly, I hope that rubbed off on you. Our minds are...so alike in truth. Resent me all you want, I made you. I know you well enough. I thought if I had you to myself, we could start over. I could finally mend it. All the wishes and promises. But, you don’t want me to. Maybe that’s deserved. You just kept screaming.” She shook her head, truly sorry for it. Punctuated each word.

   "Am I screaming now?" Camille had shuddered. Her mother drank again, touched her lips to consider it.

   “No, currently you're inhaling to. But, I have another solution. To make this all go back to normal. Put things where they’re supposed to go. You need rest so you're going to sleep again whether you like it or not. I just wish you hadn't been so difficult about it, I had to rely on old habits. I don't appreciate you making me into the bad guy, Camille. But, fine, I'll play the bad guy just because I love you so much. You were unruly as a child. Feral thing with a face like a porcelain doll. I made you a lady.”

   “You’re scaring me.” Camille played dumb again, scooting back in her seat.

   “All I wanted was a little girl. When Noah brought you home, I just resented you. I resented him and that lab. But, things changed. You loved me so at the time, untamed as you were. Trusted me even though I tried to hate you. So small and needy. That part never changed.”

   “Mom-”

   “Enough, Camille!” Her mother hit the table and Camille was frozen, gripping her dress. “Admit it. You’ve known. They watched you, you think they didn’t whisper in my ear about it? As if I already hadn’t discovered it. You don’t hide well, Camille. Must have been why you’re such a popular girl. You’re witty and beautiful. Perceptive enough. But, you just don’t...understand people. There was always something naive there. How they fit. How they see you."

   "What?" Camille felt the words burn flesh. Brands. Stupid girl. Dirty girl. Lost girl.

   "Look at all your relationships. Tell me I’m incorrect. Started to sleep with boys early to fill the void. The abortion. And I have to hear that my daughter is the town slut. A dirty girl. And this boy you're dating now. I knew you were rebelling but, darling, picking such a rattling worthless shit. Garbage from Cherry Lane. Keeping it up this long. Fuck, Camille, I've held that back forever. He must be some lay."

   "He is actually," Camille growled. "He fucked me on this table two days ago after I sucked his dick in the very chair your ass is in, Mother. Is that what this town wants from me? All the dirty details of my life because your sex lives are so sad, you fucking pervs and prudes. Jealous that I get it hard. Oh, but I give it too. Let's go! I'll talk about how Robbie Kline fucked a baby into me despite most of his load spurting into my ass, mouth, and on my skin. Oh, yeah, Mayor's son. We were together from January of '83 all the way to summer. Used to climb the rose lattice to my room. Always left those horrible petals in my bed. We also fucked at every party you made us go to back then. Fifteen year old me really got nailed by an older man."

   "You're disgusting." It was so passive. So calm.

   "You made me smile at my rapist, you're disgusting! Yeah, mother! I'll talk about all those boys and girls I let under my skirts that summer after, just before I turned sixteen. Usually both at once, I'm a needy hog! A good kinky relationship building tool. This dirty girl had one hell of a ride that season!" The tablecloth bunched into her fingers. "Whoo, I love being fucked! I did it all over this house. All over this town. I loved that after Robbie, it felt like I was fucking them instead! And maybe if I wasn't with Billy, I would have made a pass at Jim Hopper, huh. Girl like me adores a challenge."

   "Camille-"

   "Can't trust me. A dirty girl with daddy issues. He looks like he's packing, huh! Betcha he'd at least give me a ride to the clinic too! But, you know what? Jim Hopper has all the power to destroy me but, he's a good person and a fucking decent man who'd never harm anyone like that. Especially a child. He's not a monster. Imagine for a moment, being an adult and making bare minimum choices to not be fucking evil. It's fucking easy, you all are just full of pathetic excuses and looking to ruin something innocent then place blame." Wide eyed like a Kewpie doll, Camille was halfway on the table spilling her guts across the floor. Acidic and steaming. She sounded like Billy in his moments of pure mania. Owning it. "Is this what Hawkins wants from me? Confess and repent so they can get off on it. Good girl. Dirty girl. Never your girl. You all can't fucking stand it."

   "You stupid slut, you gave too much because you hate yourself."

   "Well, that's the one thing you actually taught me, mother! And don't you call Billy worthless to my face again."

   "Don't worry about him, we took a page from your book and he'll be less of a problem now. He's taking from you too. You just let people take from you. I know I didn't teach you that.”

   "What have you done to him?" Camille was reeling back, on the alert and ready to charge again. Revving.

   "He's going to be out of the way. This is about you now. I'll fix you, I'm your mother." That was it.

   “Fine, mother dear!” Camille swallowed. Bursting. Shaking. Sweeping food off the table. “Yes! I know! I know about the lab and all those children they tortured! I know about me and you! You stole me!”

   “When?”

   “Around Halloween. Broke into that horrible room.”

   “Funny, a part of me hoped you discover it. Just to see what would happen. We're alike, baby, we love a good show.” Rosemary admitted. “Perhaps, I should have gone into science as well. It was interesting to watch you develop and fight and change and ultimately give in.”

   “You are as guilty at them.” Camille spat.

   “They needed a place to keep you. A place they could digest you slowly over time. I tried to not grow attached. They told us not to but you looked at us like we were the sun coming up to play. You don't come back from that. So, I gave in too. Learned all I could about you. Went to Judith. Sweet woman.”

   “You destroyed her.”

   “I destroyed her?” Rosemary was amused at that. “No, no, baby. I begged for weeks for forgiveness. She just rocked and rocked. They said she never spoke, but they lied. I wept and begged for something. Anything to make up for it. Anything to signal that I could move forward after what had been done. And she gave me the promise. Two syllables. She looked right into my eyes...and whispered, Camille. After that, I knew. You were mine. My sweet girl. I tried to raise you as she would have wanted.” Camille let tears pour at that, lips quivering when her tone was thick. When she cracked under all this pain.

   “What she wanted...was me. A life with her daughter and husband. His name was Adam. You helped take it away.” The teen sniffled, tried to be hard. “I fucked up my life too. My body. Because you and dad made me feel unwanted. You smothered her.”

   “No, darling, that was Edna. I could never follow through with such a thing. I didn't want that end for her. I promise. I loved her too.” Rosemary sounded like she was citing unimportant facts. “I studied Judith’s life and we adapted. A sweet Jewish family. A nice house and pool. An interest in classical ballet. A happy suburban household. So, we became that for you. Camille, I fashioned your entire life to her. For her. I honored her with you.”

   “You’re a monster.” Camille was undone, not able to move. Her headache pounded. Bile built up. Splashed the tablecloth. Rosemary only tut tutted at her. Mild. Camille bent over to get a hold of herself. Wiping her lips across one arm.

   “A monster who took you in with her husband. Loved you. Raised you.” Deluded eyes were unsteady on the sick girl.

   “Because a sick lab kidnapped and tortured me! You fucking stole me! And I’m a monster too.” Camille raged through angry tears welling. “I let daddy die. I saw him that night and I could have sent that monster flying without lifting a finger. I could have saved him but, I didn’t and I wish that you went with him! You don't get to spout about loving me. Both of you are burning.”

   “Perhaps. But, do you really wish such a thing on me, darling? That’s certainly a pity.” Rosemary’s head tilted, eyes wide and unstable. Wine emptied from her glass.

   “You kidnapped me and painted my life red. Fuck you.”

   “It’s what I do, Camille. I decorate people and places. I always know what people want. How to give them that." She just sounded so proud of herself. As if she'd earned a gold star. A shiny participation award. "Like pretty paper dolls. I fashion their lives from dreams and I did the same for you with Judith. I took every detail of her life and decorated you with it. Don’t you see, it’s for you, Camille. All for you.”

   “No!” Camille stood, hands lifted. Nothing. Rosemary was unworried. Not afraid of her monstrous daughter one bit. The teen felt her entire core quiver with terror. She'd planned this prior.

   “I figured you stopped taking them. I’ve been powdering pills and putting them into your food every chance I got. Off and on. Glad it was just enough. Easy when you run from them.” Her mother stood too and Camille’s back hit the wall, stumbling to just be away from her.

   “You poisoned me.”

   “Yes, I did that as well." Huge eyes never blinked. Arms spread. Rosemary believed everything she said. "It was the only time you became mine again. When you were a child, Noah found out. Made me stop only when it was too much. Wasn’t good for the experiment. You displayed more abilities and we had to block them. They would have taken you sooner. I protected you. So, yes, I’ve been poisoning you for decades. It almost went too far when you were much younger. We knew though, that it would help us keep you longer. If they thought you weaker. You just kept pushing though. My brave, little girl. Come here to your mother. I will keep you safe and sound. You don't have to hurt and fear any longer. Just close your eyes and dream then I'll make those dreams a reality.”

   “You...are not my fucking mother!” Camille hissed. “You’re sick. You took me and took details of Judith’s life...dressed them up as you.”

   “Don’t fight it, Camille. It’ll all be over soon. We’ll help you become that perfect girl again.” Rosemary gestured and Edna stepped in. Dark eyes intent. Hateful. Ecstatic. “Edna and I have set aside our differences for the greater end.”

   "Milly, everything it going to be okay. It won't hurt. Much. Just like a scraped knee. Something to kiss better." The betrayal stung all over again. This woman who taught her so much about the world. This woman who helped make that world ugly.

   "Why, me?" All pretense dropped.

   "You were chosen." Edna sighed. Almost seemed sincere. "You belong with us. It's for your benefit. For the benefit of the rest of the world. Too late for regrets. Like it or not, you're so important. I'll give you that much. Don't make this harder on yourself. I'll hurt you if I have to. You brought a lot of pain into this world, you might not recall it."

   "If your father worked for that lab, he deserved it."

   "Oh? You little shit, I've seen the things you could do and it has to be contained. You'll make the world a better place with the right guidance. Just give in. I know how hard you've fought, Camille. How tired you are. Wouldn't it be nice, perhaps, just to close your eyes. Let us do the hard work. Imagine letting all that fear and pain go." It almost sounded enticing. That was the hardest thing to stomach. The woman knew her. Camille held herself, eyes locked. Yes, she wanted to stop fighting. But, she just couldn't live with herself if she did. Feeling hope and hatred was too important. Living unashamed and growing was too important. Not letting her loved ones down was too important. Justice was too fucking important.

   “Fuck you both!” Camille tossed her chair across the table. Went for the front door. A man stood there. Mangled with scars like claws across half his face. Camille recognized him still and slipped back, skidding. Guards lingered behind him. Closing in.

   “Nice to see you again, Six. How you've grown.” The surprise Robbie had promised her.

   “Brenner.” She went up the stairs, dizzier than before. “You drugged me.” She pulled herself up. “You sick shits!  You let me live like I had my hands tied behind me. You tortured children. Killed so many people and for what? It's all shit!”

   “We're making the planet better. We're going to control it. No one will worry again with us at the wheel. You won’t have to hurt like that anymore. I’ll take care of you.” Rosemary rounded while they advanced. Camille scurried up the steps, slamming the door to her room. Locking it. “She won’t get far. I gave her so many. Let them take effect.”

   “Help me!” She screamed, dialing Hopper first. Dial tone beeped and she cursed. Tried the station and couldn’t get through. Then, she tried Billy.

   “Hello?”

   “Max!” Camille was talking too fast. Max jumped to attention.

   “Camille, slow down.”

   “Need help! Brenner! My mother… Edna.” Camille dragged, beat her window open. “They’re coming.” She stumbled about, tried to stay alert. On the other end, Max burst into Billy’s room as he dropped his keys on the bed; having just gotten home.

   “Something’s wrong, it’s Camille.” His little sister was frantic and close to tears. Billy came to his feet, taking the phone.

   “Camille?” He tried but she mumbled. “Camille, talk to me!” Billy trembled, eyes darting.

   “Billy…?” Camille got one leg out the window. The phone dropped with a clatter. Billy was still shouting into the receiver, trying to rouse something more. The sound of glass breaking and a crash registered. His girlfriend wailing.

   Camille plunged into awful rose bushes. Ruby petals splashed out like blood. Pain howled up her bones, thorns cut into flesh. Caught part of her fall on the lattice covered in vines, broke that down with her. How she fought. Aching and dragging herself up. Something to be admired especially by monsters. Barefoot and wobbling to stand, she kept going. The world hazed. Colors dulled. Camille heard the glass door open and stumbled over into the pool. Unable to stop herself from sinking this time.

   She reached for the sky above and floated down. Realized for a moment that she would much rather sink. Hands beckoned out for the surface world when she was enveloped, bubbles flitting up from open lips. It felt sickly peaceful with her dress and hair splayed elegantly. Could have sworn another barefoot girl in a dress was standing over the pool to watch her. A shadow that fluttered while the sun edged overhead to burn. Camille also swore that the shadow reached back before eyes closed and a splash echoed to grab her up.

   “Fuck,” Billy dropped the phone when it clicked on his end and raced out only for Neil to grab him.

   “Warned you about that girl.” Neil jerked his son into the wall. “What’s this shit I got in the mail?” He shoved a photo at Billy's face. Taken from the woods the night of the bonfire. He saw Camille’s bare back while she straddled his lap in the car. They were embracing. Edna pulling her strings to get him in deep shit.

   “She’s in trouble!” Max tugged so Neil pushed her too hard, sending her to the floor.

   “Son of a bitch!” Billy lost all control, slammed his dad backwards. Neil punched him square in the jaw, jerking him down the hallway to throw him into his room. Like he was some criminal.

   “You're out of control. Just installed some new things while you were at the pool. Learn respect and I’ll change my mind, Billy.” The door slammed. A lock clicked on the other side.

   “No...fuck, no!” Billy pounded, tossing his body into it. He clawed until his fingers bled. Knuckles bruised before he tore his shades away and stopped in horror. Bars. On both of his windows. It was all about control with Neil and he was losing it. “No, let me out!” He raged, unstable and throwing himself into the door again. “Camille!” She needed him. She was drowning somewhere. That little whimper.

   “You help him, Maxine, and you’re next. This is my house. My house!” Neil poked Max in the shoulder but she burst, tearing into her room. Billy kept calling and pounding while she grabbed her backpack and turned on loud music. The little girl slipped outside and came to her brother’s window, knocking.

   "Billy-"

   “Max, don’t worry about me. Just go.” He pulled the glass up. She took his reddening hand through the bars out of instinct. “Get the Chief. Get Wheeler. Get all of them. Help her.”

   “I can’t leave you in there.” She urged, tugging at bars. Billy cursed and reached to drop his keychain in her hand.

   “Take the fucking Batmobile and help Camille. Get out of here!”

   “I’ll send someone to get you!” Max scrambled across the grass while the sun was high. The Camaro screeched to go, whizzing off down the street.

** ** **

   “Rosemary, open up!” Chief Hopper kept banging, hand on his gun. Power went out at the station. Convenient. Behind him, the Party gathered just outside the driveway around their cars as if to surround the place. Max stood halfway between the door and vehicles, glaring. A mousy Rosemary answered.

   “What seems to be the problem, Chief? It’s getting late.” She was crying, sniffling into a handkerchief.

   “Where is Camille, Rosemary?”

   “Camille...oh, my baby.” The mother wept. “There was an accident. I found her...passed out. She’d taken so many. They arrived just in time to save her poor life.”

   “There was a call placed out, Camille begging for help and terrified. Sounded hurt.” Hopper stepped closer. “Don’t play with me, Harper. We both know what this is.”

   “Prove it.” Her dainty hand wiped tears aside. Some pretense fell. “She was distraught. All that happened. It was too much for her. She couldn’t take it. My Camille was always so fragile. A little mockingbird."

   "Bullshit. I know that girl better than you ever did."

   "I'm sure you did, Jim. They found photos in her room. Her with a boy that looked much too old for her. His face wasn’t in all them but we know better. Chief Hopper, you’ve been seeing my daughter...more than usual. Correct? Be a shame if a couple nasty photos where to show up in your work desk. Police Chief needed stress relief and found it with his bouncy new summer hire. She slipped him some photos when he was hot to trot. Vulnerable and seeking comfort after she lost her daddy. Camille tried to kill herself so they took her to a place where she can be better again.” Hopper grabbed her, lashing out. Smacking the smaller woman into the door. She cried out but scowled at him. "You wouldn't hit a woman, would you, Chief? Daughter shouldn't see that. Funny thing, Camille just got done defending your honor."

   "I'll close to taking my chances." He'd uttered. Rosemary just smirked at him. Like she could get off on this. "Camille is important to me. She survived you, she'll survive this. You better pray she does."

   "You know the same people I do, Jim. They'll come for you and that little girl. You're well aware that she's next. Better protect her first. You know they'll come for all of you so I suggest you play nice with me." Slowly, fingers slipped away. "There, we go. You have such a soft spot for broken girls. I got the feel my daughter's little curly, trash boyfriend had similar sentiments. Camille is broken too but not for long."

   “That’s a lie! And my brother isn't trash! He's not like you people!” Max stepped forward despite Jim waving her back. “She loves Billy and he loves her! She has friends who care about her despite you trying to smother her. She’s happy despite you! The only broken thing in her life is you.”

   “Look at you, what a big girl. Maxine, right? Your daddy hit you yet too? You have quite a colorful mouth."

   "My name is Max, you uppity hag bitch! Your stupid clothes are garbage, no wonder Camille didn't want in on that ugly shit!" The shooting retort awed her friends to pieces. Jim, as well. He liked this kid. Rosemary finally looked offended. Aghast.

   "Max. Camille can’t love anything. She doesn’t know how. You think Hawkins lab is over, Chief, they built her and they’ll start over if needed. We have the time.”

   “I’ll come back with a warrant. I'll come back with a fucking army.” Jim was harsh. “I’ll drag you and your rich friends over the coals.”

   “Do that. I need to grieve this.”

   “That lab breathes in my town again, I’ll crush it. We already did once.”

   “You’re out of your depth now.” Rosemary scoffed. “You think you solved anything, all you did was move the pieces. They’re very much alive and so is the gate. Yes, I know all about it. The only way it’ll end is Camille becoming who she was meant to be. Do not come back.” The door slammed.

   “We can’t leave.” El puffed, shaken with more anger than fear.

   “Camille isn’t here. With our luck, all the evidence is purged.” Jim turned.

   "I'll try to find her again." El was urging. Still tired from the first time. "I saw her." Camille was splayed in a few inches of water. Nothing that spoke to her location. Eyes closed and looking like Sleeping Beauty. Waiting for true love's kiss to revive her. A shadow loomed over her. Not of a monster. Just of another curious girl.

   "You need to get your strength back," Mike came to her first. "Camille would say the same. We'll find her. She'd do the same for us." That rang true. Slowly, he took her hand and she allowed him. Comfort swelled.

   “What’s taking Billy so long?” Max muttered, coming to El when the party regrouped. Darkness threatened to cover them. “He should be on the way by now.”

** ** **

   Billy was breathing heavily, sagging against his door. Bloody prints dotted where he’d hit the wood.

   "Billy? Came a silent mouse. He pressed into the floor, eyes scanning under the crack to see Susan's orange hair.

   "Susan, get away from my door." Billy tried to be hard. "My dad-"

   "He's in the garage. Where's Max? What happened to you?"

   "Camille's in trouble. I'm not there. She needs me." Billy vibrated. Wanted to beg her. "Max went to get help."

   "I can't get the lock open, Neil has the key." The fact that she even tried knowing she'd get beat brought Billy to tears. Pale fingers shifted under the door. An offer of affection. He touched his hand to hers. Knocks brought him to attention.

   "Someone's at my window." Stumbling, he ripped the curtain back to see Steve’s wide smile.

   “Harrington? The fuck?” Billy jerked his window open.

   “Little redhead in a Camaro sent me on a mission. Operation: Rapunzel. Just named it. Feel like leaving the tower?” Steve joked but he looked horrified at the bars. “Your dad’s an asshole, huh. Mine is too.”

   “Get me the fuck out of here.” Billy edged back, hurrying to drop to the door. "Susan. You need to get away. I'm getting out of here but, you need to get away now."

   "Neil's coming, I'll distract him." She disappeared before he could stop her when Steve produced a small saw. The blade whirled so he put on sunglasses and went at the metal. Billy turned up music in his own room to drown it out.

   "Darling," Susan came to kiss Neil after he came to the top of the garage stairs. He kissed back distractedly, going around her. She loved him. Once. Was this what it was supposed to feel like? A cold numbing like something you had to do. Like mushy vegetables to be choked down. Fear of a beating. Walking on eggshells to keep them docile. There were things Susan had to do in this life. Protecting her daughter. Keeping a roof over her head. Holding down a stable job that put food on the table.

   When Susan Mayfield met first Billy, she couldn't fathom a boy that beautiful lashing out the violent, unpredictable way he did. Neil had talked up a monster child as if he were a mad dog the family kept around. She thought that was something she just had to deal with too for love. Thought that maybe she'd stay out of Neil's hard parenting. Before she saw Billy get hit the first time. Then she thought maybe she could disconnect. Look away to spare Billy the shame. Situation was complicated and he didn't want any part of her in his life. Maybe Neil wasn't so bad. Maybe he'd change. He never hit her. What a childish sentiment.

   But, as Susan watched her husband stare at Billy's locked door. A cold sort of unfeeling expression on his face. She knew that protecting Billy wasn't something she had to do. It was something she wanted to do. No longer out of the fear of Neil. More so out of the fear for Billy. Out of affections she grew for him. It was also the right thing. Neil abused his son. She felt she let him. Yes, they were alike in dealing with Neil's controlling ways. The fact that something horrible was headed for them both. Only a matter of time. Susan decided that risking speeding the clock was worth it for the lost boy who thanked her for the birthday cake.

   "Neil." She eased, coming to tug at his hand. "They aren't going anywhere. Come, you had a long day at work."

   "Don't want to hear griping about me needing to make more time for you. I provide. That should be enough." He turned to her, touched her face. That same voided expression he saved for Billy. Directed at his wife. She wondered about the last time he said that he loved her. The last time he brought her a flower or touched her shoulder to comfort her after a stressful day. Last time he even offered to make a damn dinner.

   Susan Hargrove realized that she was a decoration in his life. In his house. Just here to complete the ornate tea set. And that realization didn't hurt as much as the thought, the terrifying truth, that she brought him into her life. Into Max's life. She'd dug herself into a deep pit. A bad place that she now had to get herself out of. Susan had been too passive. Too eager to move on from her ex when Neil offered to care for her. But, Billy was changing. Maybe there was hope that she could change too. So, she pulled at Neil again to bring him into the kitchen. Tried to preserve the work Billy put into himself when she could do little else.

   "Let me make you dinner. A friend gifted a bottle of wine to us for our anniversary coming."

   Neil's expression told her that he'd forgotten.

   "Which friend?" He was really asking if it was a man.

   "Karen Wheeler. You remember her? We get our hair done at the same place." Susan kept him talking. Kept him in the room to give Billy some time.

   “Come on, hurry.” Billy had shaken the bars, trying to break one when a sliver now cut into it.

   “Trying.” Steve clenched his jaw and the blade shut off, snapping. “Fuck. Okay, I have another idea, little extreme.” He raced off so Billy pressed up against the metal. Steve returned with a chain and looped it through several times. Boy was crazy but it was a solid plan.

   "What was that sound?" Neil looked up from the table in the house still. Not helping Susan while she got things out for dinner.

   "Probably a car outside," she waved her hand and looked at the stove. Water started to boil as if it were warning her. "Oh, I think I left a bag in the car downstairs with the pasta in it. Can you grab it for me, honey?" Over the music from her kid's rooms, there was a distinct whirring. A snap against metal. Neil perked up. A guard dog on the prowl.

   "It's coming from the back." He ignored her. "Stay right there." Susan froze. Tears welling. The bottle of wine reflected her distraught face so she clutched it close.

   "I'm sorry, Billy."

   “Your dad have insurance?” Steve had asked outside with big brown eyes. This was really his day.

   “Fuck if I care, go,” Billy urged. A steel voice caught them.

   “Billy, what the fuck?” Neil marching toward them around the house. Looking like a mad bull. He caught Steve pressed into the bars inches from his son with a chain that linked to his car. “Who the hell are you?!”

   “Ah, Mr. Hargrove, I’m...I’m...”

   “Need your little boyfriend to come save you, Billy?” Neil jerked Steve by the collar and threw him backwards into fresh grass. Billy grew jilted, thinking quick before Neil could advance further on his friend. Friend.

   “Uh, yes!” He called out. Steve stilled to see him and Neil froze too, turning. Perhaps, he misheard that.

   “What did you say?”

   “Ah, I said, yes! We’re fucking!” Billy swiped outside the bars. "Fucking like bunnies."

   “Who, now?” Steve looked genuinely confused, arm up at the defensive.

   “Us, bitch! You got me, daddy! Not only am I screwing a beautiful Jewish Queen, I’m fucking pretty boy, King Steve, too! Whoo! Had to collect the entire royal set all for myself! Only way to make an impression in this town. Couldn’t resist, I’m a dirty little boy. Hey, everyone! Cock is on the menu tonight here at the Hargrove house! I take mine hard and up the ass! Neil Hargrove's son is one huge slut for pussy and cock!” It echoed into the dark neighborhood. Somewhere a car alarm went off and dogs barked. Billy howled at the sky to rile the world further. Laughing like the hyena he was.

   "You shut the fuck up over there!" A neighbor exclaimed. Neil looked mortified.

   "Hey, kiss my ass, man! I'm talking about dick over here!" Billy hollered back, causing his dad to kick the bars.

   “In your dreams, buddy,” Steve came to his feet. Neil flamed with more building rage now so Billy egged him on. Licking his lips and humming.

   “I suck his fat dick and he gives it to me hard! Makes me cry like a little bitch! I don’t even give it, I receive his hot load! Oh, you want more? I fucked Camille in your favorite living room chair too! Left a stain! Ate her nice and greedy until I made her scream. Oh, yeah, I did! Then, I got my cock fix from my pretty boy here later that same night! Swallowed!” He grinned, hocked the nastiest spit he could muster and let it fly into the grass. Most of it hit his dad's shined shoes. Billy was half deranged, releasing all that pent rage. If only he and Camille could have seen each other breaking down, burning, and building higher. Shit was beautiful in the starlight.

   “Keep your voice down, Billy!” Neil grew bright purple.

   “I’m his bitch, daddy! Oh, King Steve! Oh! Oh, yeah!” Billy moaned and shook the bars, hips rutting obscenely until his dad exploded “Yeah, daddy, come in here and beat my ass! King Steve was pounding it all last night!” Neil was sprinting back inside to shut him up and Steve looked awed. Jaw slack. This wild asshole was definitely his friend.

   “Dude, I’m super flattered and even more flattered that you think I'd be on top but, what the fuck are you doing? He’s about to kill you.”

   “Let's get one thing straight, I'm the fucking top here-"

   "Right, of course. You convinced me. This is a normal conversation." Sarcasm was comforting.

   "And if I know one thing, it’s how to upset my dear asshole dad. Start the car and fucking go with it.” Billy tipped his head to the bars, eyes squeezing before he groaned. “Fuck my entire life.”

   “I feel you, bud. Shit...uh, hell yeah! I totally gave it to him! I’m the pitcher, bitches!” Steve ran to get his car started at the same time Neil busted the door open.

   "Neil! Stop!" Susan clutched the bottle in the doorway. Skidding backwards because this was about to get ugly. "Leave him!" Billy was grinning still, spiraling fully to unleash his repressed pain.

   “I love that pretty Jewish girl, daddy, and fuck you! Just, fuck you! Hope you forget this part, I'm going out tonight,” Billy yanked a lamp up and smashed it at his dad. Neil stumbled and hit the wall behind him while Billy raced outside. Susan went after him with Neil in tow. Billy was almost to the door and Susan had one chance to save him. Frantic, she gasped and dropped the bottle. Wine and glass fizzled, shattering across the floor around her feet. Neil skidded forward into it, slipping while he held his head.

   "Oh, Neil, my darling. Are you hurt?" She played up her shaken state and came to him. Neil was out for the count, groaning when he turned over. Billy tore out of the house and jumped into Steve’s moving car. They jerked to go, forgetting about the bars and tearing them with.

   “Ah, shit, Harrington.” Billy fell against the seat. He was so fucking dead after this.

   "I didn't think you'd get out of there." The car raced down the street.

   "Susan saved me." He thought of his mom walking out. Leaving him with a monster. Susan wasn't his mother. But, what she did for him was the act of a mother's love.

   “Sorry...I broke your house.” Steve took a hard turn. The bars dragged with them and Billy breathed heavily.

   “Shitty house, just drive. I fucking owe you.” Eyes turned to see the boy. His friend now.

   “Yeah, you do. Sit tight, Keg King, we’re getting our girl back.”

** ** **

   “They could have taken her anywhere.” Joyce urged in Hopper’s cabin. "We could get Owens."

   "It might take days to get through to him. I keep trying." Jim slammed the phone down. "Until that time, this is on us."

   “We could break in, search that place.” Billy was on his feet, trembling.

   “Kid, she isn’t there. I don’t think they left Hawkins, they could have taken her and done that months ago. The gate opened here. Everything happened here. They need her here and close.” Jim stood between them all. Max tugged Billy to sit so she could finish cleaning up his wounded hands. “They need her alive and healthy, we’ll find her.”

   “She’s not at Hawkins General or any other hospital nearby. We searched all the Jane Does. She wasn't falsely admitted.” Jonathan came in with Nancy behind him. Both looked a mess. “Something happened there. I… Some guys raised hell and escaped. Tore some people up like an animal.”

   “People we knew...they were mutilated. Melting. They turned into monsters.” Nancy caught her breath.

   “We moved a guy there who was acting off.” Jim rubbed his head. “Mayor’s son is still missing too. That’s not a coincidence. All this happening at once. We need back up, I'll keep trying Owens.”

   “I can find her again,” El was already grabbing for a scarf to use as a blindfold.

   "El, you're drained. You got shut out last time." Mike frowned.

   “I'm still trying. My turn.” They couldn’t fight her on it. The static on the TV blared when El sat in the middle of the living room. “Camille?” She breathed, blood dripped from her nose. The little girl let herself sink in search of their missing friend. Her lost sister.

** ** **

   “She’s not responsive. I don’t want her like this,” Rosemary came to a bed. Camille hooked up to machines keeping her in a forced coma. Her mother had changed her into a pink dress. Painted her face up. Nothing. “I want her to respond to me.” Martin Brenner turned around, eyes cold.

   “Rosemary," he eased, "we’ll get there. Be patient. You and Noah made a mess of this.”

   “We wipe her. Start over. Leaving my girl with you was a mistake. I could have controlled her from the beginning. You never understood her.” Edna came to Brenner’s right. Possessive of her monster child. The child she broke down and built up.

   “There are risks. She could suffer brain damage. It could effect her abilities.” Brenner swept hair from Camille’s face.

   “I want her to move and let me hold her again.” Rosemary urged. The door bashed open. Robbie stumbled in still in that ruined clown suit. Dirtied and bloodied. Changed.

   “The hell have you been? You were supposed to help us take her. She warned her friends because you weren’t in position.” Edna pushed at him. He blinked, head cocking.

   “Been busy. I am better now. So much better. I am going to make Camille all better too.” Building his army. Readied to ravage Hawkins. It was all tumbling into place.

   “It was supposed to take the boy. Not him. You said it would take the other one. He was vulnerable. An easy target. You said they'd work to get the gate back open for us. You saw things down there. You lied.” Edna realized and Brenner smiled.

   “No. This could bode better for us. Robbie. Welcome back.”

   “I’ll fix the girl. I want the other little one in return. You all work for me now.” His voice was gravelly. Unnatural. Brenner let him believe it was so. “When this ends, I will have her. She will take the others with my guiding light. Keep the voltage high. Wake her.” Robbie came to Camille, hand on her throat as they unhooked her.

   “My baby.” Rosemary coaxed. “All will be well soon.”

   “Ngh...No...” Camille quaked and tried to get up. To drowsy to fight. Restraints held her and Robbie squeezed her throat, sliding up her jaw to hold her head in place. “Stop, please, stop!”

   “We need you to stay very still,” Robbie’s voice vibrated. Hot, rank breath touched her face. Made her gag. He smelled like rotting flesh. “It will all be over soon.” Rosemary and Edna came to her, pulling off metal jewelry. Her necklaces and bracelet. Felt like she was being stripped of her identity.

   “The pain will stop, baby. Just relax.” They let Brenner and Edna strap a device with two metal pieces over her head.

   “Wait, wait, I’ll be good!” Camille bucked and screamed before she heaved. “Mom! Mama, please.” Rosemary stilled, eyes widening. Tears streamed. They forced a mouth guard between her teeth.

   “Just do it.”

   Lights flickered violently. Camille screeched. A siren pulled aboard an enemy ship. Veins crawled about to burst. And then she sagged.

** ** **

   “Camille!” El screamed on the other end, tearing cloth away. “Lost her...gone. Gone. No.” She sobbed and Joyce got to her first.

   “What do you mean, gone?” Billy urged. “She isn’t gone.”

   "Gone." El choked.

   "Stop saying that!" Billy jerked to his feet, teeth bared and eyes wet. Steve grabbed for him first.

   "You won't help Camille acting like this. Give her a second." He released Billy when he was more lax. Hard and nodding.

   “They hurt her.” El whimpered. “She was drowning in sparks. Under the water.”

   “Did you see where she was? Any clues?” Nancy came to her knees to help comfort her. El tried to focus and Will touched the back of his neck. His skin prickled. El stood to inch forward. Touched the television to recall her vision. White noise droned. Bright lights framed her silhouette. She turned to see her friends when a soft tune played like something from the carnival.

   “They’re here...” Will got to his feet with huge eyes. Everyone stared at him. “I recognize that. I know where Camille is.”

** ** **

   Elsewhere, a teen woke to blaring lights, snapping up when her head pounded. Hammer to nail repeatedly. Stumbling, she got out of bed and tried to walk before the door opened.

   “Not so fast.” A scarred doctor approached to ease her fears. And there were many.

   “Where am I?”

   “You were in a horrible accident. A devastating attack. Lucky to be alive. We saved you. Made you all better.” He eased, so gentle, before he touched her back. “Do you remember, child?”

   “No, I...I don’t remember anything.” She searched with wide eyes. “Hurts.”

   “That will fade.” He was rubbing her spine to soothe. “Do you know your name?”

   “No. I don't.” Everyone had a name.

   “Would you like to know your name?”

   “Who are you?” Camille pulled from him.

   “I am your Papa. You’re safe with us. You're exactly where you need to be now.” He came forward to take her arms. Humane. Delighted. “I promise.”

   “What’s my name?” She came into his embrace, trembling. Eyes on white walls. Brenner hummed and spoke. Giving her an identity to chase.

   “Sweet girl. Your name is Six.”

Chapter Text

   “It’s closed, how and why are we breaking in?” Mike followed Steve and Will with the Party behind them. Starcourt glowed beyond the group.

   "Trust me." Will urged, tugging for Joyce who looked around.

   "You think she's here?"

   "I feel it." Her son had touched the back of his neck. "Camille felt it too. We're connected, just like El is to the Upside Down. I think it has her. Here."

   “Guys, I have an in. Terrible uniform has a perk.” Steve was smug, coming to the head of the group. He knocked three times and the Starcourt backdoor unlocked.

   “This better be good, dingus.” Robin’s flat expression appeared. “Brought the whole family. Weird. I’m trying to close, it was a disaster today and I'm the last one out. What is this?”

   "Who's behind there?" Nancy had crossed her arms after gesturing.

   “Uh, hey...” Heather poked her head out when they caught her trying to hide behind some boxes. “What’s up, guys? I just, um, needed to drop something off. I’ll be going now.”

   “No, this is interesting,” Robin stopped her. “Steve desperately needed in. They’ve obviously been hiding stuff and I get the feeling we’re the last to know. Spill. Or I shut the door.”

   "This is serious." Jim smacked one hand to the door to stop her.

   "How serious, Chief?"

   “Where’s Camille?” Heather wondered aloud, doe eyes scanning. "Billy?" His crushed expression jarred her.  "What happened?"

   “She’s in trouble and we need all the help we can get.” Nancy blurted, earning various looks. “We can trust them. We’ll explain on the way.”

** ** **

   Robbie let the freezing spray bathe him. Not cold enough. His back hunched when the visions sprang. Being thrown over a rail. Dragged into the trees. Filled with power unlike anything in this world. So, he thought. He dressed and looked pristine, leaving to seek out Camille. Lost and innocent. His. Soon to belong to the beast. Soon to be a vessel for something far greater.

   “Am I interrupting?” He held a stuffed pink monster in hand. An empty smile that still charmed.

   “No, please, come in... Six, would you like a cookie?" Edna grew too sweet. Doting. Camille looked utterly dazed in a cushioned chair. Seated like a queen to be waited on. Pumped with medication that made her dewy and vacant. Hands gripped the armrests tight. All she needed was her crown. He planned to grace her with one. Soon.

   "Yes."

   "Yes, what, Six?" Robbie lingered forward. Touched her chin to tilt it. She didn't fight. Just stared. Grew delicate.

   "Yes, I would like a cookie very much. Please." The handler fed Camille a tiny shortbread cookie like she was giving a kitten a treat.

   "Good girl." Rosemary joined them, brushing long brown waves out. Mused over how to style it. Finally had her baby doll.

   “Do you remember him?" Edna had gone on. "His name is Robbie. He's waited ages to see you."

   "No.” Camille didn't blink once. Didn't really look at Robbie, she just stared through him. Into an endless void. Ready to sink.

   “You wound me, babygirl. Don’t remember the man you love?” Robbie just smiled again, flashing his canines, and offered her the plush. She responded warmly upon seeing it, fingertips skimming the fur. “Remember, I won this for you at the carnival. You always loved it there.” Robbie tucked hair aside. Let her hold the toy close. A scent wafted over her. Cotton candy. She saw a flash of twinkling multicolored lights. Smelled another aroma more smoky. Hairspray and warm cologne. It flooded out to leave her alone there. They pampered and babied her. Demeaned her in truth. A caught fox about to be made into a pretty fur coat. Worn by monsters to seem less threatening. Two fingers slipped to curl into a lock of hair in a way that was mildly possessive. “I can take her from here. We have...so much to catch up on.”

   “I was told she’d be going away with me. I’m her mother.” Rosemary grew tense, pulled Camille by the hair into her so Brenner touched her shoulder. Scarred face twisting further with a smile. He waved them back to lean over the chair, trapping the girl there when hands touch the armrests.

   “What Six needs is to be surrounded by her community again. She needs to be immersed. To remember what she can do.” Brenner stroked her paled cheek.

   “What happened to me?” Camille piped up, holding the pink plush closer.

   “There are bad people out there. People afraid of your gifts. People who want to see you fall because of them and who wish to stop our careful work...to help the world. You want to help the world be better, don't you?"

   "I do...very much so." Hazel, green eyes sparkled.

   "Good." He cooed. "They tore you from us and almost destroyed you. There are beings like you, Six, turned away from their destiny. Not you though. You will be the best of them and you'll make them better too. It chose you to be the first one.”

   “Why...?” She exhaled.

   “The others like you...they are sick. You're going to have to be strong. Strong enough to carry them all. There is a place, you see. Full of knowledge and wonder. You will make contact." Brenner soothed, petting her. She didn't purr.

   "And the people who hurt me? Are they going to come back?"

   "I fear they will. They betrayed us. But, now, it’s our turn to tip the scales. To get ahead. There is just something you need to do first for us, Six. The things your mind can do and absorb...it changed everything.” Brenner offered his hand so she followed him. Deeper into this new lab. Down the rabbit hole. A cart drove them through a maze. They came upon a glass room leading to tunnels. A rock wall with a mighty crack that had been long mended. Dr. Brenner brought her down some steps outside the observation room.

   "What is it, Papa?" There was this flicker of resistance when his hand gripped her wrist. Too tight. That flame died.

   “Don’t be afraid. It will come if you call it. It'll know you're here and come. Your perfect mind is a database, it can learn and touch anything. It sees your potential. It will unlock it further. There are secrets trapped behind the gate and you need to seek them out. You flooded the world. Now beckon for another to pour. Focus. Open it.” He took the stuffed animal from her and left her there alone, bright lights cracked to touch her skin.

   “I don’t understand,” Camille shook her head and looked up to see them behind the glass. Observing. A rat about to choose between a door with a treat or one with a horrible shock.

   “What if it kills her?” Rosemary held herself.

   “It won’t. It asked specifically for her.” Robbie’s eyes dilated. That horrible voice was distorted. “I’ll have her.”

   “Six, focus. That’s it. Open the gate for us, Six. Let it flood you with all the knowledge in the world.” Brenner was vibrating. She lifted her arms and felt the tear deepen. Hands shook. Out of control, she felt pain and screamed. Blinding light poured over her flesh now. Like the sun exploded in her face. The gate ripped to expand, wider and wider. Camille lifted from the ground and couldn’t fight it. Thought it blinded her. Eyes rolled back. Tendrils slipped out, easing around her neck. A claw with teeth opened at the end, inches from her expression. Lights like floating stars blared to wash out her face. Lights that were gorgeous and completely voided of any life. Lips opened to swallow the stars down. It felt like it had kissed her. And then she was dropped. The gate snapped back.

   "No," Edna reeled toward the console. "We had it."

   “She cannot hold it open but we have what we need. It picked her. Struck the bond. She’ll be strong again. Ready able to absorb anything I feed her. She will take down the rest of them.” Robbie mused. “Soon nothing will stand against me. Not with Camille at my side.” Rosemary pressed a hand to the glass, her child splayed like a forgotten rag doll across the way.

   “Perfect.” Brenner breathed over the control center. “She’s just perfect.”

   "That's enough excitement." Rosemary hurried down out of earshot to rouse Camille. Robbie stared down at the gate. Not moving an inch.

   "She's a problem. This never would have happened under my watch." Edna remarked and Brenner passed her. "You spoiled the child."

   "You hate her, Mathias. I cannot trust your emotions."

   "I don't hate her, I just know what she's capable of. More than any of you." The woman had seethed lower. "I helped raise her. I taught her about being a girl. A woman. I taught her about the world. I took a monster and I made her human again. And I broke her down again for all of you. For this. You all fucked my work. Milly was too curious. You think you can hold a shiny thing up in front of a girl and keep her in place forever? No, she always looks beyond it. Eventually. You're underestimating my girl."

   "Oh, then you grew fond of her." Obsessed was the better word.

   "I'm not as easily swayed as the Harpers. You weren't there to see her develop. You're just dreaming, Brenner." Edna scoffed. "I warned Noah not to get close. I warned you too. You favored Eleven and look where that got you."

   "Hold your damn tongue for once. You got close too. Almost ended up like poor Connie. Eleven will be a great loss." They went quiet when Rosemary ushered Camille up toward the door. Scientists busied about while men with guns kept watch. Some minds were willingly here. Not all. Camille dragged like a zombie. No color in her face.

   "Wait here for me, darling. Stay very still." Rosemary planted Camille in a corner. No one even looked at her. Bothered with her while she stared, hollowed out.

   No one wiped the lone tear that fell from her eye.

   A scientist nearby pushed glasses up his nose, shuffling like a skittish bird whose wings were clipped. Pencil lead scratched numbers into his clipboard when he stepped on something soft. The fluffy pink monster. Low ranking, no one looked at him either. While he stayed in line. One hand picked up the plush to offer it to the expressionless girl with no color in her soul. Camille stared through him too. She blinked once. Twice. Arms came up to take the toy. His lips lifted in a childlike manor because some blush returned to her cheeks. Because she had a way about her that made the hardest hearts melt with hope. A way that inspired loyalty.

   "Don't forget your small friend," he'd said in thick Russian. "He will miss you." Camille processed the words. Calibrated.

   "Thank you. I won't forget." Came the fluent reply. The smallest act of kindness flicked a switch within her. She remembered arms around her. A scruffy man that towered like a raging bear with a gentle heart. Camille clutched the toy tighter in response. Another pair of tender eyes were fading away.

   "Don't talk to it." A guard pushed between them, rifle pressed into the scientist to shove him back to his station. Alexei turned away and tried to forget the blushing girl who didn't deserve this devastating hell.

   "I speak Russian?" Camille numbed and Edna flocked to her. A soft droning in her head similar to carnival music played. The haunting tune like that from a music box. Hands once offered an ornate gift to her. A ballerina twisting slowly within. Happy Birthday, Nancy had said at the time. Radiant face pressed to smile, dazzling. Camille smiled back at her friend. Lost her too.

   "There is so much you can do, Six. You're a miracle and we," a hand touched her face, "are going to help you discover more. We're going to run a few tests. Show you what you can do. We're going away for a while to sharpen your skills." She was a dull blade soon to be ready for a great war.

   "Will it hurt?" Was all she asked. Like she knew. One more tear shed. Edna grinned even brighter at that. Too bright. A camera flashed distantly.

   "Just a little. Like ripping a band-aid."

** ** **

   “And you think Camille Harper was kidnapped...and is being experimented on by a secret government lab...in Hawkins? In the mall? Are you all high or...?” Robin's jaw went slack.

   "They have been off." Heather reasoned slower.

   “You guys gotta stop telling people this stuff,” Jim Hopper came between the kids as they tried to explain it all to Robin and Heather. “Will, what are you doing?”

   “This. I need change.” Will held out his hand and Steve realized it. Soft neon lights blared from closed shops.

   “Kid, you’re a genius, I’ve had to listen to that tune all day and I didn’t...shit.” Steve ripped some coins from his pocket and jammed them into a horse ride.

   “We don’t have time for...” Jim stilled when the ride started. That same awful tune echoed into the empty mall. “She is here.”

   “Where?” Billy tossed out his hands. Ready to blow.

   “She’s beneath us.” El realized. “Last year. The tunnels.”

   “They tossed the mall up over some of them.” Jim exhaled. “The Mayor tossed the mall up over them. Hawkins Lab wanted that. Gate isn’t far from here.”

   “Think he knows how to get under them or who he sold the space to?” Dustin asked.

   “Hop, come on, we can go now.” Joyce urged before they Party was stopped.

   “Why leave, you’ve only just gotten here. We're not hiding now.” A ghost from their past stepped out of the dark. Scarred beyond belief.  “Eleven, how I missed you.”

   “Papa...” She clenched her hands.

   “Where is she?” Jim lifted his shotgun, protecting the Party behind him. El pushed the boys and Max behind her, readied to fight.

   “Who?” Brenner played dumb. Too delighted.

   “Camille,” Nancy pulled a pistol from Hopper’s side. Billy, Steve, and Jonathan stood awed around her. Robin and Heather came together, ushered behind Joyce.

   “Really, we’ve no idea who you’re taking about.” Edna joined him. "Oh, you know? I think he means Six. Such a nice girl now. Little foggy. Feeling so much better."

   “Oh." Brenner noted. "How right you are. Six is perfectly safe. Onward to start her new life. We only needed one small favor. She’ll wake and not remember, happy and contented. Willing. Lovely girl."

   "Flexible." Robbie had added. Lips curling in a way that was truly inhuman.

   "Where the fuck is Camille?" Billy steamed.

   "Resting. We wore her out. Got messy, I'm afraid. The pursuit of true knowledge always is. After our machines finish the scan of her perfect, little brain. She'll be released to serve the being you couldn't kill. They'll be eagerly awaiting. There is so much we can learn from her. She'll change the world. Camille is a database. It would be a shame and a crime to waste her. You’ve already lost.” Brenner smiled, careless as he tossed a stuffed toy toward the group. Edna stepped ahead of him with Robbie at her side. “We’re leaving.”

   "No!" El raged, hands lifting to toss him backwards before Robbie’s arms elongated unnaturally. Those same tendrils from the Mind Flayer sent everyone reeling. Shots fired and glass broke overhead. One gust of wind clashed. They’d escaped. Too easily.

   “Believe us now?” Mike peered at a shocked Heather scrambling to get up. Tugging Robin with her.

   "What was that thing?"

   “Camille! Fuck!” Billy raced forward, eyes lifting. Teeth clenched to still his sweltering emotions because he'd failed her. Let down another person he loved. “No...”

   “How can we get below?” Lucas let Max pull him to his feet.

   “Won’t be easy. They moved her, kids.” Jim scanned the room. “Could take us days at this rate. They’ll have guards. It’ll be a maze and we’re blind. They knew we'd come. They took her out.”

   “What was that...? Kline’s son?” Nancy exhaled sharper. “He’s one of them. Like those things at the hospital.”

   “Mind Flayer.” Will frowned. “He tried to make Billy the new host. Took Robbie instead.”

   “Me?” Billy puffed, eyes averting. “Fucking, why me?”

   “You were vulnerable and you know about everything. You know Camille. Robbie did too, I imagine.” Nancy was quick. El and Camille saved his existence. Here he was wasting it.

   “I closed the gate.” El shook her head.

   “What if all we did was lock it in here with us?” Will replied. Will the Wise for sure.

   “We have to be a unit and fight this from all angles, we won’t help Camille if we tear this place apart. She could be anywhere now.” Dustin offered. “We need to find a way to her and we need to fend off that douche. They’re using our friend and rotting our town. And...”

   “Papa...” El quivered. “The demogorgon did not kill him.”

   “I’ll tear this place apart myself,” Billy raged, turning. “She could be right here waiting, I can’t leave until she’s with us.” His knees hit the floor. Max came to his side, touching his shoulder only to be shaken off on instinct. Billy picked up the pink monster he'd won for her. Turned it to see a devastating splatter of fresh blood along the side of plush fur. "No." He held it close to his chest and cried. Hunched over and turned away from prying eyes. "Camille..."

   “Camille needs us to be strong.” She sighed, sinking down to hold him. Not pushed off this time because he was so tired. “We’ll find her.”

   “What if she comes to us first?” Steve repressed his own tears, eyes elsewhere. They didn't want to consider such a terrifying thing. Everyone looked to each other.

   They truly feared that would be the case.

** ** **

   "And what did you see there, Six?" Brenner walked in circles. They kept her in an overexposed room. White floors and walls.

   "The shadow. It told me things."

   "The shadow monster?"

   "No, Papa, it was just a girl at first. The shadow." Camille stood there. Sunken and worn from the trials forced on her. They would have chopped her hair off if Rosemary didn't throw a fit about it. Brenner took another drag of a cigarette. Smoke rose up.

   "A girl? One like you? What did it say to you?" Brenner coaxed, but she was silent. Shaking. "Six?" Her eyes stared at the puff welling above him, floating away. A spice like cinnamon spread along her tongue. Made her mouth water.

   "Is it true parts of California smell like oranges?" Dazed now, a softer smile crossed Camille's face. Head tilting. Blushing like a school girl. Brenner looked displeased again, snuffing the smoke out before he sighed.

   "Do it again. She's resisting." He went behind a table.

   "Wait, I'll be good." It was too late. Edna flicked on a light before Camille could so much as cry out. It hurt. Every single time. Her eyes rolled back. Blasted with a strobing beam that turned her to mush. Out of the flashes, there was a glimmer of crystal blue eyes and golden curls. A sharp smile that stilled hearts. The smell of rippling boy and hairspray.

   "Six. What did the girl say to you?" The heavy conditioning peeled flesh and muscle from bone. Made her raw.

   "She said...sink." Camille droned. "The shadow monster grew out from her. Flooded. It kissed my cheeks with stars."

   "What did it want?" Edna persisted.

   "There was a little boy in my dream last night. I keep seeing him. The shadow knew him too once." Camille shuddered. "He held my hand and told me they're coming."

   "Six!" Brenner hit the desk. "Focus!"

   "It wanted Eleven. It's hungry."

   "Did it know how to increase you?"

   "We needed to build it something first." Camille didn't blink and the light flicked off. "A body. Out here."

   "Good, Six. Stay there now." Brenner turned. "We have time before Rosemary comes back. She means the host. Robbie, he's fulfilling his part. Then, he'll be lost to it."

   "Her little friends will come." Edna replied, standing. "We need to prepare her for that."

   "Rosemary is working on them. She'll play her part and Eleven will be ours again too. If it works with her, we'll have our answer."

   "She is swayed too easily when something comes up. Still confused, but what if it all floods up at once?" Edna stilled when the door opened. "Monsters can love too."

   "Don't worry about her attachment to her friends," Robbie leered, inching forward. "My father knows only what he needs to. Rosemary is quite the actress. I think Six will be too. Come here, babygirl." Camille shifted at the harsh snap of his fingers to come to him. Obedient.

   "It didn't want her flayed like the others." Edna stepped between them. Surprising herself. Obsession made her weak. Camille was her project torn away.

   "I have no plans to break her. I am going to make her whole. I'm going to show her who she needs to be when the time comes. Don't you want it, Six?" Robbie's eyes glowed into her. Putting her further into that horrid trance.

   "Yes, sir. I want it." She took his hand so he could lead her off.

   "Against the rules," Edna pushed at Brenner, but he did nothing. Just looked at his watch. "Rosemary will-"

   "That woman is lucky I let her live after ruining my vessel. Six, come with me now." Robbie jerked harder at her. No one stopped him. Finally alone in another room, he pressed her into the wall. "They're going to be telling you a lot. Telling you who to be for them. Who to be when we take and ravage this world. But, the only person you answer to...is me now. I'm going to tell you a story about a girl who lost everything. She was weak. But, you're not. Not any longer. Six, you're going to play the lead role in the story. You're going to play a trick with me on the people who brought you down. On the people here trying to make you a doll. You hate them all, don't you? The entire world let you down. But, never me."

   "Yes. I hate them." Camille was meek. "Who's the girl in the story?"

   "Oh, she's dead, I'm afraid. Her name was Camille. Do you like that name?"

   "I do very much, sir." She watched him smile. Camille grinned too like she was dreaming this entire time. A twitching expression that mimicked his emptiness. "Can I keep it?"

   "You're just so good. You're perfect. We elevated your gifts and I just...I can't wait to see you bleed." Robbie chuckled openly, voice low and guttural. Like he was near tears, squeezing her shoulders.

   "The shadow's growing. I see it and I feel it...everywhere. I want to grow too."

   "Oh, you will. You are." Hands pressed down to hold her face. "With Eleven, you'll find them all. I'm so proud of you. You're so close. We're so close to the end. With you, I can absorb too. When I present you to the shadow...I will be richly rewarded." Robbie kissed her. A barren kiss. He tasted like ashes with a chemical sort of twang. Moldy. One hand curled around her neck. Pressed down. "Tell me you want more. I'll make you whole and send you into its arms when you're perfect. You'll make it perfect too. We looked for you all these years and you're real. This dream will be a reality and then the bleakest nightmare."

   "I want to be perfect." Camille's blank voice creaked. Robbie kissed her harder. Pressure alone made it hurt. Like he was trying to absorb her right here. Veins crawled and darkened under his skin. Pupils dilated out against bloodshot eyes. He just smiled impossibly wide. Blood lust made his mouth water. Drool fell against her dress.

   "Good," Robbie stood taller, giddy. Stared at her hollow expression. "Now, go lie on the bed. It needs me to give you something. It's a secret. You can't tell anyone."

   Camille's eyes didn't change once.

** ** **

   It was days of dead ends.

   Mayor Kline disappeared. As did Rosemary. The Party broke into the Harper house and town hall office. Nothing. Neil readied to tear Billy apart when he came home that first night. Until Chief Jim Hopper stepped in to fill the doorway with Max behind him.

   "Neil Hargrove."

   “Chief Hopper, to what do we owe the visit? My son getting himself into more shit?” Neil nursed a cut in his hairline.

   “No, the opposite. I came to thank you. There was an attack. Your son saved my kid. Came just in time with Max. I wanted to personally see him home safe and thank you both. Susan, you alright?” Jim flashed his eyes and Billy stared at his dad.

   "Of course, Chief." She stood too still there watching the men stand off. They shook hands and Jim clamped down hard, tugging Neil forward to see him wince.

   “Just know I’ll be keeping my eye on him.”

   “Billy, is this true?” Neil pressed his lips and Susan cowered behind the kitchen island. A tense smile crept across her husband's face. Like he'd found a pesky rat he was about to exterminate. “Good. Good boy.” Neil inched to grab Billy’s shoulder, harder than he should have. His son just stood there, a plush clutched in his hands. Susan wanted to ask about Camille but the devastation in Billy's eyes stopped her. “You know, I always tried to raise Billy with good morals. Respect and responsibility.” Jim pinched his tense expression and nodded.

   “Okay,” he grabbed Neil by the collar. “Look, friend, I’ll level with you. I think it’s in your best interest...to protect your kids. This town is messy. People are disappearing.”

   “How dare you?” Neil looked scared for the first time. “This is my family.”

   “Keep it that way.” Jim smiled. “Great to finally meet you, Neil. Know that I’ll be around. Checking in. Max. Billy.”

   Chief,” he managed. Eyes red rimmed. He didn’t care now if Neil pounded him. Camille was lost. Jim left and Neil advanced, Billy just waited for it until Mad Max stepped in.

   “I have evidence!”

   “Maxine, be quiet.” Neil still halted at that.

   “I’ll give it to the police if you touch him again! They'll start asking questions. You saw Chief Hopper.” She shot back and he steamed, inches from his son.

   "Max." Billy quivered.

   "Right, my faggot son doesn't need a little girl protect-"

   "I meant," Billy's eyes lifted, "she said her name was Max. Don't call her Maxine." Neil fumed again at that. Fists clenched. Billy earned one hard slap. Barely twisted. Didn't even whimper. Max was between them instantly.

   "Stop-" Susan begged.

   "People will ask questions. Word gets around this town." Max urged again to stop him. Neil seethed, exhaling. She waited to be hit next. It never came. Neil reeled back, slinking away like a caught spider.

   “Control your damn kid, don’t make me do it.” He'd shot to Susan, leaving the room. The father raged and edged off. For now. Billy was on borrowed time. Still locked in when the mood arose. Still hurting even though he’d been granted a reprieve from his father’s wrath.

** ** **

   “Hey, Heather, nice suit. Like it much better off.” Came a gross comment at the pool days later. Forced to continued life as normal, they waited. They knew she’d appear. She had to. And they’d be ready. Lies spread that Camille had a mental break. Tried to kill herself. Went to rehab. Shocked no one in town. Billy jumped down from his own lifeguard stand, tearing the nasty teen harassing his coworker back and tossing him into the pool.

   “You need to cool off, bitch.”

   “Billy, stop,” Heather grabbed his arm to keep from advancing. He’d already been in two other fights since the loss of Camille. “Come on. You need a moment away from here.” Billy was pulled into their tiny break room. “Can you cover for a moment?” The girl in there left to go watch the pool so they were alone. “Billy...she’ll turn up. We’ve all been looking.” Visibly upset, he was already lighting a cigarette in the window. Hands shaking. Heather sighed and helped with the lighter because his fingers refused to do a simple function.

   “I got it.” He shrugged backwards, blowing smoke aside. “We’re wasting time. She’s out there. Probably alone and fucking terrified and being tormented. Byers' little brother keeps saying he's having these dreams about her and she's in pain.”

   “It sounds like they needed her healthy and alive, B. I promise, we’ll find her. I'm new to this but, Camille is the strongest person I know.” Heather shifted to touch his shoulder and she didn’t get swiped off this time.

   “She needs me and I’m not there. Camille never once stopped trying to save me and how the fuck can I repay that shit? They have the girl I love and I can’t fucking help her. I’ll fucking tear them all apart to get her. I’ll do it. People are disappearing in this fucking town and Camille is at the center of this shit. They could be making a monster out of her.”

   “She wouldn’t even want you to repay any of it. She’s just like that,” Heather tugged to put her arms around Billy’s neck to comfort him. He dropped his smoke in the window and trembled, head tipping to her shoulder. Body lax and heavier. “It’s okay. It’ll be okay. Those bastards won’t win. Camille’s a fighter.” She realized it. “You said you loved her.”

   “I do.” His lungs hitched but, he squeezed his friend.

   “She loves you and all of us. She’ll fight her way back but, we have to meet her halfway. We can’t give up.” Heather paused. “Don’t fall back on yourself. You know Camille wouldn’t want that. You don’t want that either… Thanks for stopping the jerk outside.”

   “Thanks for trying to help keep my dad off me. Lasted a bit.” Billy eyed her. “You’re good at pretending to be into guys.”

   “Had a lifetime of practice, I guess.” She beamed. “I know we’re in danger. We have to find her but, you know they’re watching all of us too. That's what Hopper told me.”

   “Have to play normal. Fucking sick of it all.” Billy was hard. “She’ll fight and we will find her. I know that. I just can’t stand this shit. Not knowing when.”

   “I can’t stand it either.” Heather frowned. The door opened, two giddy coworkers chattering with a flyer behind the row of lockers.

   "Took them long enough, I can't believe they're doing this finally. You know, I heard Camille had a total meltdown. Swallowed pills. I always knew that girl had a problem. Too perfect. Her poor mom is still going through with the open-" They stopped when they saw Billy's eyes. Furious. An angry dog on a chain about to snap free. Really his bulking hyena self about to shred its meal.

   "What was that about Camille? Hm." The signature Hargrove charm was gone. Heather let him have this one. "Waiting." They just gaped at him.

   "Oh, Billy. Sorry. You know people-"

   "Talk, yeah. This fucking hick town loves to talk." He advanced. "I hate talkers. What I hate more is a pair of pathetic assholes with smiles faker than that shitty hair color I'm sure fried your brain. You want to talk? You're going to do me a favor. You're going to keep my girlfriend's name out of your mouth. You're going to spread the word to everyone else to do the same. Yeah, dollface?"

   "Sure...Sure, Billy. Sorry."

   "Give me that," he yanked the flyer from the girl, causing them both to jump. Heather shook her head at them and rushed after Billy when he left out another door. "Look at this shit."

   "She can't still be possibly opening that Harper Sixx in Starcourt." Heather took it to read once they were outside again. "It says Mayor Kline will be there."

   "Rosemary is fucking rubbing it in," he began to stalk off but she grabbed him.

   "Maybe she's also sending a message." Heather pushed him toward the gate while pool-goers played around them. "I've known Rosemary a long time. Her dream was having Camille join her. Legacy, you know?"

   "What are you saying, Heather?" His arms crossed, brow furrowed to listen.

   "I mean that I think we know when Camille is going to show up again." She'd frowned and Billy's hands dropped, head shaking. "Her mother always loved to show her off." Billy stared at her with hard eyes like pieces of coal.

   "Suddenly, I think I'm not feeling well. Might need to leave early today." He watched her pick up on what he meant.

   "You know, I'm not feeling too hot either."

** ** **

   On the day of Larry Kline’s return. The speedy opening of Harper Sixx, Steve saw her first. Traps set on both sides. For a moment, his friend looked like a mannequin up there. Poised and plastic like. Paraded like fresh art. Dripping too many colors. Mic in hand to recite the words as she was told to.

   “I am so pleased to be here with my mother today to present another dream becoming a reality. Mom, you taught me how to do that.” Camille cocked her head and smiled like her mother would. The mall held a fashion show. Lots of security for it. Too much, in fact.

   “Oh, baby, my biggest dream was you.” Rosemary blushed and the crowd swelled because it was all so perfect. So pristine and gift wrapped. Speeches continued.

   “Guys, you got to get down here to the west end. We're in motion. Robin has eyes on her...you won’t believe it. Heather, you were right.” Steve hid behind a payphone. Camille twirled upon the stage in a lavender gown, looking like a goddamn house wife. A Stepford wife if he was being honest.

   “I’m so pleased to be modeling an original.” Camille showed off her dress with elegant hands. “I’m so pleased that soon I will be apart of a great family. I’m pleased that my home town is growing for the better.” Robbie came, charm and all, to loop his arm into her own.

   “Camille, we’re proud to have you.” Larry clapped at the podium, not really in the loop himself. Robbie always did get what he wanted though. “Let’s celebrate another great addition to Starcourt with the new face of Harper Sixx.” Camille walked the runway to perfection, face intent. The show began. An impending battle with it. Music bellowed out. Vibrated charging souls.

   “Are you happy? Do you like this?” Rosemary urged her off to the side behind curtains that models went in and out of. Camille’s glazed eyes shone with nothing. No glimmer in space. “Six. Focus.”

   “I am happy if you are, mother.” She chirped, hands clasped. Rosemary frowned. No, this wasn’t right either. The mother cursed when she spotted Steve calling for backup.

   “Time for you to leave, Six. You’ve had a long day. It’s time. Time for you to do what you’ve been tasked with. We worked so hard for it. You remember? Just pretend until it’s real. He'll come for you.” She expected Camille to fight. To want to watch the show. To pout and bat her lashes. But, she turned to breeze off. It was all so wrong. Not like she pictured.

   “Yes, mother.” Camille let Robbie guide her away, ushering quicker when he caught sight of her friends grouping.

   “Little shits,” he tugged her into the empty backlot, “this way. Into the car, babygirl.” Hands shoved her inside before he was speeding off. A blue Camaro’s lights switched on before him. Billy revved, looking like hell before he charged forward. “Fuck!” Robbie jerked the wheel at the same time Billy hit his side, metal crushed. Only his car was made to take hard hits, just like him. Camille’s head smacked the side and she drooped in her seat belt before hands dug her from the crushed car.

   "Camille, I got you." Billy brought her into his arms when she moaned and opened her eyes to see his pretty face. Makeup bled down her skin. His lungs heaved, not believing he had her. Lips came to touch hers while he smoothed hair aside. As if true love's kiss could break the spell and send them back to the start of all this. "Fuck, you're okay. Hey, stay with me." She just stared at him, undaunted. Bleeding. Not blinking. "Camille?" The sound of her true name set off alarms. Ringing nothing positive in her eyes.

   A hard fist sprang out into his jaw, sending him stumbling. Billy gasped, recovered quickly. Tongued his cut lip because shit, that hurt.

   "Camille, what the fuck?" He went for her again at the same time she advanced, ripping into curls to smack his head into the hood of Robbie's totaled car. Stronger. Faster. She disarmed him too quickly. Kicked his knee to make him buckle forward. Bent his arm behind his back before he could even try to stop her, twisting. "It's me, Billy!"

   "I don't know you. But, they said the people who almost destroyed me would call me that." Camille stumbled back when he got a hold of himself and kicked her off.

   "You know me." His teeth crushed, cheek throbbing. The ache in his heart pulsed far worse. Her eyes. Nothing. Wind picked up. "You love me."

   "Love?" She scoffed as if it were a childish notion. Camille dove at him a second time, legs straddling when he fell into the hood again. Billy's head smacked glass while a girl half his size throttled him. Crushed his neck with two taloned hands.

   "Camille. I-I'm sorry." He'd choked the words. Didn't fight her too hard. Shocked. Not wanting to hurt her further. Another car sped toward them at the same time a voice called.

   “Crashing into them? You could have killed her! We didn't plan that!” Steve raced out and Camille whipped around. Billy grabbed her hips to stop her from lunging at Steve with a feral look on her face. "Shit!" But, something changed. The blare off the headlights from Jonathan's car skidding to stop. They blinded her. Blood dripped from her nose when the trauma of her conditioning reeled, sending her falling off Billy. He jolted up, hurrying to gather her limp frame. "You shouldn't have done that!"

   “Shut the fuck up and move it! I got her, don't I?” Billy had growled, clutching Camille to his chest. Lungs gasping still because she was alive and real. If anything. "She didn't know me." Steve put his hands up to calm him. Caught sight of bruises, welts, and broken veins from needles and god knows what else all along her skin.

   “Easy,” he watched Billy’s shoulders drop. “We got her. We’re together. Stick to the damn plan.” Steve crossed to check his friend over and Billy held her closer in response. “Still breathing strong. The headlights...they like...switched her off.”

   "You got her!" Nancy raced toward them.

   “We need to get her out of here, go!” Max and her friends raced out another back entrance with Robin and Heather. Stars twinkled over them. Max took in the gouged front of Billy’s beloved car. Something to mourn in it. Robbie stirred, rage entered his veins before those arms morphed to extend toward Billy. El tossed her hands out, straining when his car was thrown across the way.

   “Go!” She urged, they got into vehicles, taking Camille’s form with them.

   "Why didn't she know me?" Billy whispered more so to himself, hitting the gas hard.

   “She okay?” Dustin turned in the Camaro to Nancy with her friend in her lap.

   “Just knocked out.” She stroked dark hair. “She won’t remember us when she wakes.”

   “Well, we need to make her.” Billy swerved around a corner.

   “No, I mean...she’ll fight. She’ll be upset.” Nancy sighed. “We need to take her someplace hidden. Guide them to Hopper’s house.”

   “Guarded. Alone. She’ll be safe.” El wiped blood off Camille with her jacket. They drove into the forest, surrounding Hopper’s cabin. Whole party save for Joyce and Jim.

   “I got her,” Billy trudged up the steps.

   “What are you doing?” Steve rubbed his head while they gathered ropes and tape.

   “If she wakes up with powers and no memories of us, what do you think she’s going to do?” Nancy looked at Billy who silently agreed. They tied Camille up in a cushioned chair, blindfolding her after. Her head fell against a pillow and Billy took a moment to stroke locks from her face.

   “Anyone call Hopper?” Mike peered out a window, caught Eleven's eyes briefly.

   “He’s supposed to bring my mom.” Jonathan frowned, pulling up a chair as they took seats around their lost friend.

   “She has to remember,” Heather sniffled. Hopper walked in on the scene and slammed the door after Joyce came inside behind him.

   “Did you guys kidnap a teenager and tie her up in my cabin?” He waved them back and took Camille’s face.

   “How?” Joyce wiped blood from the poor girl's temple.

   "We were right, the show." Robin was rubbing her arms. Clearly frazzled.

   “They brainwashed her." Will began.

   "She was all smiles at the opening of her mom’s store. We grabbed her.” Lucas was nodding.

   “You all realize that they put her on that stage for you guys to catch for a reason, right?” Jim shook his head.

   “Going to fix her.” El insisted as Hopper cleaned the head wound. Camille moaned and Jim released her so they all sat forward. “Camille.” Joyce took a seat next to Will.

   “Ugh...mom?” Camille roused, jerking against ropes and tape. “Who’s there? Where am I?” No one spoke. “I hear you...please, don’t hurt me. My mom, she has money. She’ll give you whatever you want.” She played up a terrified girl. Sounded sunken and chirpy as if she was a doped up homemaker starring in a bland cooking show.

   “No one is going to hurt you.” Jim eased first then her head snapped. Arms and legs squirmed against tight binds.

   “Robbie!” She cried out. Sweetness turned sour. “My fiance, he’ll kill you.”

   “Fiance,” Billy’s teeth clenched. “That fucker. He’s fucking dead.”

   “Camille, what do you remember?” Jim stopped them from overlapping comments.

   “Camille? She's dead. That’s not me. No, I am Six. You have the wrong girl. You’ve made a terrible mistake. Camille, they told me to fake for the people. The show. Papa. Just a paper doll.”

   “Your name is Camille.” Billy was on his feet. “You live on Loch Nora, the nicest part of the manure field that is Hawkins, Indiana. You have one year of high school left and-” Camille laughed at them. Pretense gone.

   “Words. They told me...you’d come back. Try to sway me with lies. You did this to me, you just used me. You don't want us to help the world. They'll come for me.” Camille jerked again. “My name is Six. I’m the database. Camille is a cover. She’s nothing. You want me for my ability. You won’t get it. It’s too late, it’s already begun. I’ll fix you all, you'll see.”

   “You’re a teenage girl with a life and friends who’d fucking die for you!” Billy erupted this time so Jim and Steve pulled him backwards.

   “She doesn’t remember all of her abilities,” Nancy whispered to El, who nodded.

   “You’re all too late, I said, it’s done. You’ll lose everything. All that crying and work for nothing. He's been building it for us. For me.” Camille was laughing again, higher and unstable. “All that knowledge, they tore it out. The gate gave me what I needed. The Mind Flayer is strong again. Free to ravage everyone. It’ll come for us and when it does-mmff!” Nancy taped her mouth.

   “I’m sorry, we need a moment to talk.” Nancy stood to address them. “When we saved Will, I watched that...that thing fly up and away. It was alive. Could it have multiple hosts?”

   “No, only one. It just...flays others. Hive mind. We're sure. It’s not her. She isn't like them. She's meant for something more. They're all rotting. Camille...she still looks perfect. They need her strong and pretty.” Will shook his head. “It grabbed Robbie. I felt it. But, it...I don’t know. It’s like Robbie is the brain and body. The hive of soldiers. I was a spy when it had me. And she’s like...an upgrade. A microchip for the computer. Making them stronger and faster. Helping it know all it needs to take us down. She’s the heart of the hive conducting all this...power. Letting it grow and billow like a cloud. It wants El too, doesn’t it? It wants to grow further.”

   “She thinks she’s some sort of agent for the lab. Six. The files said they were turning these kids into weapons. She might be the first successful one.” Dustin added.

   “She’s in there,” Steve got up, passing them to tear the tape off. Camille winced against it. “Our first real party, you remember, Cam?”

   “Untie me.”

   “We got drunk for the first time that night. We were about thirteen. They played seven minutes in heaven and I spun you. I was relieved I did too.” Steve grew emotional. “We went into that closet and I...I was freaked out. You held my hand and told people I kissed you to make me look good. Told girls that I was great at it. Another party, I was too drunk, you hauled me to your place because your parents weren’t home. Let Tommy and Carol pass out there too because all our folks would have killed us. Covered my ass without a second thought.”

   “I remember a party too,” Heather added. “Homecoming thing. Boy at another school gave me a drink and you saw him put something in it. You grabbed it and threw it in his face. Girls chased him off. You stayed with me that whole party and after because I was shaking.”

   “Barb and I used to come over to your house during summers like this.” Nancy took a turn. “We’d spend hours in the pool until we were prunes. Build forts downstairs and eat too much pizza. You came over to my house before a dance and my mom did all our makeup for the first time. You said we looked like princesses and we did. And I… I have an idea.” She turned back to address the group. “What if El can jump start her memories? We did a similar thing with Will but...what if El can go in with our help and do what she does?”

   “Break the microchip and reboot.” Max sounded encouraged.

   “See everything.” El trembled, nodding. “I can do it.”

   “What if it’s too much for both of them?” Jim shook his head.

   “We're fighters. I can do it. I will. I’ll save my sister.” El scooted forward, blindfolding herself. Max turned on the TV and Camille resisted, squirming. “Fighting.”

   “Stay out of my head, you little shit!” She raged at last, head tipping back while she heaved and jerked around. A growl ripped low in her throat. “He’s coming for you, Eleven. It's time for both of us to sink. Let it take you over. I did and I feel great now. So much better. It doesn't hurt anymore.”

   “Need you guys to help me. Steve and Nancy first,” they each took one of her hands. El beckoned. This was different than the other times. Camille had no direction so they gave it to her. Static droned behind them on the TV and radio both. Nancy summoned the courage and spoke over her fighting.

   “We met in ballet class. My mom was young and trying to fit in with the others. Nervous. My hair tie broke and she couldn’t find another one. You pulled one off your wrist and offered it. I was shy. You took my hand next...and helped me fit right in. Barb lived so close to me, we were hard to separate at the time.” El felt that familiar sinking like slipping into a warm bath.

   “It’s working. I can see...everything.”

   “Camille’s memories and mine?” Nancy paused when El nodded, blood trickled and Camille grew still. Impossibly still.

   “She’s got her.” Jim noted. “Keep talking, one of you.”

   “My parents were never around and neither were yours. We flirted but...I don’t know, there was something different between us. Never tried to date even as King and Queen.” Steve offered. “You never really liked Carol or Tommy and still you were the first one letting Carol sob on you whenever Tommy did something shitty.”

   “She’s responding.” Nancy sat up and El nodded.

   “Camille, we’re all here.” She offered, slow and even. El saw her drowning again in a glass globe. Snowflakes all around. Dressed like the swan queen. El banged on glass at the same time Camille woke to touch it, eyes wide. The globe shattered, sending her into El’s arms. Hair fell from its style and she stood. A storm beckoned overhead. Lightning outlined the silhouette of a girl transforming into a monster.

   “What have you done?” Camille spoke to the air, standing in the dream. El took her hand to guide her off.

   “Keep going. I have her.” The little snowflakes fell about them. Scattering memories.

   “It can’t all be happy,” Nancy sniffled and braced herself. “You remember the day that you stopped talking to Barb and I?”

   “No.” Camille sounded crushed.

   “You do. We drifted out. But, we tried not to. She confronted you first when we went to your house. It felt like we were pretending to be friends. We all knew it. You’d taken over as queen early when the last left school. Stopped hanging out with us. Changed all your likes. Ignored us. Barb asked you, if this is how things were going to be now. And you said-”

   “If you don’t like it,” Camille was slow and even, “don’t speak to me. I don’t need you.” Nancy sniffled, breaking, and tore the blindfold away to see Camille’s wide eyes.

   “Then, she said...” Nancy was crying now. Tears rolled down Camille’s cheeks out of huge, empty eyes. Endless voids. They locked gazes, Nancy cupped her face with two hands so they connected. “She said...Camille, this isn’t you. And you said-”

   “It is now.” Camille droned. A ghost. Ashamed. Just go home, Barb.” They both had let Barbara Holland down. The party exchanged looks.

   “Guys, keep it going.” Steve switched with Dustin.

   “You were the coolest girl in school and we were lucky to know you before that. You and Nancy dressed up for our campaigns with us. You babysat some of us.”

   “You were the only sitter my sister would tolerate.” Lucas added. “Made her feel like a cool kid.”

   “You’d help me design characters in my drawings. Gave me art supplies we couldn’t afford.” Will smiled in a way that was encouraging.

   "We destroyed a clown together. That was a good day." Robin smirked to herself.

   “You made me feel like maybe things would be okay after moving here,” Max sniffled. “You helped bring Billy and I together. You stood up for me even when he didn’t. You didn’t even have to bother with me.” Nancy shifted and offered El’s hand to Hopper. He exhaled to begin.

   “Look, kid, we know you’re in there. You helped El in ways I couldn’t. Stood up against bullies because, hey, you’re young and at times you were one. That takes courage to be better and you have it to spare. You gave it to other people." Jim watched her soul resonate. Too likened to his own. Camille was shaking so hard.

   "I'm tired." She crackled apart, eyes intent on his. Something genuine came to the surface. Camille was here. He felt it too. "I'm so tired. Jim. I want it to stop."

   “I know you are. You lost your family. Your identity. Not your friends. Your annoying little friends. And when we get you back, you’re going to come stay with El and I because you belong here in this family we made. I know I can’t replace your dad but, I know there were moments...you let me have and maybe it was because you didn’t have anyone else. But, I’m happy to be an option and I want to keep you safe. I think what we have...it’s enough for us both. You’ll feel safe again. It’s time to come home, Camille. You’re going to get through this.” Camille’s body gave a tremble. Blood dripped from her nostrils. She never blinked once, just stared at them.

   "Camille, you have to hold out for a little longer." Will added, shuddering. Somehow that was familiar.

   "I can't," she quaked with tears, "I can't."

   "You can," Joyce had insisted. "It's so much to ask but you can."

   "I learned a secret..." Camille sniffed hard, head shaking. Erratic. She never shared it. Head cocked, eyes averting. "Mom?"

   “Her parents,” El watched on, letting Camille’s hand drop so she could go forth and have one happy memory of the people she lost. Judith and Adam held each other, lighting a single candle on their menorah. He kissed her cheek and Camille crumbled at the peaceful sight. She hurried to join the scene and it billowed off like smoke. “Billy. Your turn.” Billy stood and grew petrified. “Don’t be scared.”

   “You’re going to see her..and me.” He clutched his fists close to his chest and El nodded.

   “Needs you.”

   “Robbie?” Camille’s head tilted the other way and El snapped to focus.

   “How is he there?” Jonathan burst out.

   “He’s finding her too.” Mike’s eyes darted. “El, stop.”

   “No, almost.” She urged and Billy clasped his hand into her own. Fingers laced. Camille found herself following Robbie toward a stream of light before a bubble popped. Snapping focus, she turned and instead trailed after the sound. Bubble gum. Billy Hargrove smiled that damn grin, eyes locked because they always were. She saw too many moments where he just gazed at her while she was oblivious.

   “That night of the bonfire,” Billy started, “we wrote those letters and burned them. I never finished mine.” The memory whirled with waves rolling and fireworks cast above them. Camille came upon the couple seated close. Billy stopping to stare at her for a slow beat. She crept closer to see it there. Three words at the bottom of the crumbled page.

   “I love you.” Camille read and echoed aloud.

   “Should have said it sooner. I did so many...fucking god awful things. I was a prick. You never really ignored that. You demanded better and it didn’t daunt you when I didn’t give it because it was my damn problem. Not yours. But, you still hoped that I’d wake up and I did. I was never your problem. Didn't treat me like other girls. I should have said it at that moment, I was a coward for waiting. For making you wait too while I got my shit together. I'm trying to stop, I am. And that day we spent...that first day we spent talking in my room. One of the best days of my damn life and I didn’t see it then, but I fucking do now. Had a friend. Only one I ever had to be honest. Hope that counts for something.”

   “You said...you didn’t like the ending.” Her lips quivered. Billy scooted forward, encouraged.

   “I still don’t.” He sniffled, chuckling lighter. “It’s not our fucking ending though, Camille.” Something glimmered in her eyes. "I believe that now because of you. You fight your way to me. I'm here. I'm fucking here." She blinked once. Twice. Inhaled. Billy stood, hand lifting toward her face. She inhaled, waited for his touch to soothe.

   El released Camille and watched the glint in her eye expand before the little girl screamed and pushed Billy aside with force. Glass shattered. A slimy tendril crashed into the room, claws wrapped around Camille’s neck. More tendrils followed, swiping the group aside while El tried to fight them off. Robbie’s body morphed and expanded over the house, looming. The Mind Flayer’s host at full strength. Ruined people stalked to surround the cabin, melting and pooling to join the beast until it grew. Flayed soldiers. Camille was dragged, kicking and half aware. Jim grabbed for her, missed.

   “Come out and get her,” the growl vibrated the cabin. Wood beams crashed down.

   “Move, now!” Jim barked, tossing a gun at Nancy while they pursued the mighty beast.

   “Six.” It rumbled in her head. “Do not be swayed.” She’d mounted it, hanging on for dear life while it took her away with long legs like a spider. Hawkins was hushed and peaceful below even in the chaos. Stars watching in complete dead silence. They came out of the forest, Robbie shrunk down and moved like a zombie with parts attached and dragging. Arms sprang out and a truck jerked. The driver hit the wheel and was torn out of the car. Blood splattered Camille's pretty dress when the man was torn to pieces before her. “Get in. Six! Remember what you must do.” He grabbed her face and her arms came up to push.

   “They knew me.”

   “They are liars!” He shook her, lips opening before those awful strobing lights burst forth into her eyes. Artificial and burning. Not the safe haven darkness offered for her to heal. Dazed, Camille was tossed in. Reckless and unhinged, he drove her to her house. Her prison.

   “We’ve led them back. The girl is with them.” Robbie pushed Camille against the main staircase. Half man, half beast. All monster. She lulled like a rag doll until Rosemary came to her. Wiping blood from her devoid face.

   “No, no, this isn’t right. It's all wrong. Look at her, it's too much. We ruined her. She's not well... I ruined her. My baby is sick. She's dying.” Manic. Finally sounding like a mother.

   “Get up, Six, you will fight them. One by one. Bring us the girl. Next, we take this town by force and then hunt down the rest of those shits.” Brenner tore Camille up by the hair and Edna pushed her into the center of the room. Robbie stood in back, gone completely while the monster extended to fill the space behind his darling Six.

   Doors blasted wide open. A gunshot sent Robbie crashing away. Body hit the wall and the fireplace turned on, igniting with a button. He hissed and slithered from it, limbs melting back together in a pile of rotten flesh and muscle. Jim Hopper tossed a cigarette to the floor, blowing smoke.

   “Jim. So good to see you.” Brenner stood just behind Camille. Her head tilted down, threatened and on guard. Behind her, the fireplace burned high and bright. Her soul charged with it.

   “Here for my new daughter. Camille.” He lifted the barrel and Edna aimed for him. Rosemary shrunk against the staircase.

   “Six.” Brenner clasped his hands. “Kill Jim Hopper.”

   “Yes, Papa.” Camille sprung forward, forcing Hopper to dodge. She landed hard hits like a trained fighter in some spy flick.

   “Don’t make me ground you, kid.” Jim swung the shotgun, missing when her fist nailed him in the mouth. Blood spurted before she kicked him, landing him on his back.

   “Poor Jim Hopper...lost a wife…lost a daughter. About to lose another. Just a black hole.” She taunted with no emotion. No trace. Jim strained and tried to back up, realizing what she’d said.

   “Black hole. I said that to you. You’re remembering. Camille, come back. They need you.” He spat blood aside. "I need you."

   “Camille!” Joyce Byers caught her attention. An amazing woman with a heart of gold and no superpowers of her own. Just love and a fight in her soul. “You got stuck in a bad place and you dragged yourself out. You have to do it now.” She cringed when the tendrils grabbed her.

   “Joyce!” Jim pulled for his friend. "Let her go!"

   “Six. Now.” Brenner ordered. Camille braced to strike Hopper when something splashed the air. An odd flow of music, echoing and bursting from the stereo. The Mind Flayer dragged Jim up to the wall. He found Joyce’s hand and laced their fingers. Camille took note. Love.

   “No, let them watch,” Brenner stopped Robbie and Edna held her gun ready. “Get them, Six! Focus!” He stuck behind his protectors. Lights flickered and burst. Camille followed the sound. That music. Fluttering from the speakers in the living room. Classical ballet. The television turned on. A home video of her giggling between Nancy and Barb at an old birthday party. She came to the massive screen to touch it. “Rosemary! Control her.”

   “Darling.” She begged and stopped as well. She saw herself kissing Camille and setting a cake before her. Noah joined to light the candles. “Look at us. We were happy… We could have stayed that way. You could have had that with Adam and Judith...I did so many horrible things. What have I done, my god... Six. My baby.”

   "Six... Milly. Stay with me. That's a good girl. You can be good. Dry your eyes and sink now." Edna fired a shot into the TV to stop it when Rosemary didn’t move. Footsteps creaked before Camille’s face snapped to see the kids hiding behind the couch.

   “Shit!” They scrambled when she stalked toward them. An arch swept Camille back as she was lifted and tossed away into the wall. A huge painting crashed with her. El came to her feet to face her down.

   “Your name is Camille.” She glared and her sister rose to full height. Tendrils whirled into the room while the older teens fought them off with makeshift weapons. Bats, tools, and steel bars. Edna jerked at the same time someone tried to sneak by, gun pointed at Max. Her lips opened to scream, caught before the shot echoed out the roof. Billy about broke Edna’s wrist and slammed a punch into her jaw. Blood spurted when she bit the tip of her tongue from the force.

   “That’s my sister, you fucking crazy bitch. Hey, Wheeler!” He kicked the gun to Nancy after she ran out of bullets. Billy nailed Edna again in the eye socket, sent her back another few feet. She didn't get up this time. "Stay the fuck away from my girlfriend too." Camille and El both advanced and were tossed back at the same time. The older teen lunged quicker, hand bringing El from the floor by her neck. Nothing registered in her eyes.

   “Camille!” Shocked shouts tried to stop her. She peered at them, gone, and threw El into the Mind Flayer’s grasp. It cackled and materialized at the center of the floor, lifting El high into the air. She screamed and jerked while the kids tried to fight their way to her. Camille walked forth with dead eyes, readied to let it consume the little girl. A shadow loomed to stretch behind her, cast from flames. Girl to monster. In wait.

   It'll all be over soon. Just stay very, very still.

   So very still.

   Sink.

   “I’m sorry, El, it’s time to go now.” Brenner came from the wall. Screaming echoed all through the house. El charged to keep the monster from advancing. Struggling. Losing the fight. Robbie came to the floor, disfigured, half melted into the beast. Cackling still.

   “Camille!” Billy was thrown back. She faced the monster, head tilted toward El. Readied to absorb her abilities and seal the fates of their many brothers and sisters still out there. Bright blue eyes darted for something to pull focus. “You’re really going to let this be the end, babygirl! Shitty ass ending. Vocals resonated and Camille stilled. Everyone slowed to focus so Billy puffed.

   “Why did you call me that?” Camille’s neck craned. Truly confused and bothered. "Why did you say that? You don't say things like that."

   “Why, Harpy? Because you know I never do?” He heaved. “Because you remember me.”

   “No,” she cracked, sounding smaller, “I just don’t like it.”

   "Bullshit, you love me."

   "I don't like it, I said. Stop it." She sputtered. Billy flared, hitting his words with slow and intent purpose.

   "And I love you...and you remember us."

   "I don't know you."

   “Why don’t you like it, Camille? Tell me.” Billy pressed as hard as he could, slipping further into the wall. Her eyes darted. "You remember us. You remember every second of us. Tell me."

   “I don’t know. I just don’t.”

   “You know why.” Billy heaved and wailed her name. Echoed it so it bounced back to her. "Camille! Your name is Camille!" The other joined in to chant with him. Taunting. Made her feel smaller. She covered her ears to stop it.

   "No! No! I don't... Please. Make it stop!"

   “Enough! Six! End this, now.” Brenner hissed. Voices caught. “Become our ultimate weapon. The Mind Flayer feeds into you and you back. With El’s abilities, you can find anyone. We’ll find all those brats. Take each and every one until there is nothing left. Nothing will stop us. You and I together. Your mind will be unstoppable. Your abilities will soar beyond this dimension. Let it take you over, Six.”

   “Sounds like he doesn’t believe in your mind now, babygirl. Needs some otherworldly monster to make it strong again. That sound like you? Really? The smartass little rich bitch I fucking love with a photo memory who still wasted time studying because she wanted to be the best. Even though she already god damn was. He doesn’t know what you can do either. Huh. We do though because we know you.” Billy was taunting still and the kids looked around. Jeering nicknames and mocking. Casting memories at her. Overloading the microchip until static fizzled out her bones.

   “Stop! He keeps calling me that, I don’t like it! Papa.” Camille was unsteady on her feet, hands in her hair. “No, this isn’t right.” Brenner struck her hard, causing Rosemary to cry out and rush forward only to be stilled by the barrel of a gun pointing.

   “Rosemary, you’re as guilty as we are. Six was never yours. Don’t grow a conscious now. I waited too long. Shed too much blood. For this moment.”

   “I know that.” She paused and granted her daughter one final kindness. “But, her name is Camille. Her mother. Her real mother...Judith King wanted that for her...and so do I.” Camille blinked several times, backing up.

   “You're my sister! Camille! Help me!” El struggled and whipped like a mad cat while her friends fought so hard.

   “El!” Mike screamed, grasping for Will next to him. Face to face with the monster who almost consumed him as well. It recognized him, claw advancing to see his expression too.

   “Wait.” Camille pushed herself up at the center of the floor. Eyes focused. She turned to see her lost loved ones all fighting with so much hope to beat this. She was lost too. Tired of the battle. Readied to give in. But, Billy’s eyes pleaded, the Flayer’s limbs coiled around them all. Preparing to squeeze. Camille looked to Brenner and circled him, breathing steady. His gaze followed until his back turned so she flicked her eyes to Billy again.

   And then Camille Harper broke the glass herself.

   “I want to try something.” She gave a softer breath. Billy’s chest heaved at that, lips pressing when tears welled. That's my girl, he thought. She slipped the gun from Brenner’s hands, touching his scarred face. “Trust me, Papa. I’ll end it all. Like I was supposed to.”

   “Very good, Six. Become who you were born to be. To think we thought of you as the weakest. Forgive me. My perfect girl.” He mused. Camille smiled sweeter then reeled forward to spit in his face. For the hell she and her siblings went through. For all those kids who ached like she did. A shot echoed out Robbie’s eye socket when her arm lifted, eyes intent on Brenner. Chaos erupted.

   Camille was hit by a tendril in response, gun sliding away. Robbie wailed and screeched, dropping El toward the hard tile floors. She flailed to stop herself before Billy flew under her, sliding on his knees to catch her. Limbs jerked, whipping about and releasing everyone else. Brenner went for Camille and El threw him with all her strength. He slid near the fallen gun, grabbed it to aim for Camille’s heart. Fired.

   “No!” Rosemary tossed herself into the line, jerking backward when it struck her point blank. Camille caught the woman in her arms. “C-Camille...I’m so sorry.” She urged, fist lifting to uncurl and drop three chains in her hand. Billy’s necklace and bracelet. Her mother’s Star of David. Things that shaped her identity. “I tried, darling.” Red seeped from her lips.

   “You did. I’ll remember that. Goodbye...mother,” Camille offered, jaw clenching when Rosemary touched her face with a bloodied hand. Eyes unfocused before she was limp. Gone. Careful, the teen set her down at rest. Brenner echoed a laugh as Camille stood up in her ruined dress, stuffing the jewelry away. “You killed my family. Others. Over and over. You won’t take this from me. You won’t have us.” El came to her right. Robbie jerked around, feeling out to attack when he was blinded.

   “This will never end while you two live.” Dr. Brenner replied. At peace. El took Camille’s hand tight. Arms lifted in tune. Brenner’s smile faded. Weight squeezed within his body. Stretching with force until he snapped. Skin split apart. Blood exploded. He wailed a sound that cut off as he tore to shreds by sheer force. The Mind Flayer was still quaking about. Camille slid to the center of the room, embraced her abilities for the first time. Arms spread, the huge house creaked. Glass cracked in every single window.

   "Get down." Camille's fingers contorted. Everyone took cover. A scream burst forth. Feet left the floor. Windows shattered under the magnitude of her soul. Shards of glass cast forward to rip into Robbie, the Flayer by proxy. It screamed with her. Camille heaved and dropped. Blood spurted to cover her. Her loved ones. The whole room. The Mind Flayer tore all over the space, body weakening. It went for El but Camille ripped her close to shield her. She waited for the pain that never arrived.

   “Billy!” Max had screamed. Camille turned to feel his weight fall into her, arms stretched forth to protect the two girls he’d come to care about and dropping. El cried out, hands lifting to force the ruined monster back, crumbled into the burning fireplace. Billy touched his side when a deep claw yanked from it.

   “No, no, no,” Camille brought him to the floor. Blood expanded out to stain fabric. “Billy, stay here.” He wheezed, gripping her. “You stay with me.”

   “She needs you.” He swallowed and Camille lifted her eyes. Those slimy limbs tore through the room, burning. El was a foot off the floor pushing it further into the flames until curtains caught. Camille hitched a sob and lifted her hand to assist, pressure mounted. Fire exploded and caught the house she grew up in alight. It all burned too easily.

   “Billy!” Max scurried to his side. “You’re fine. You’ll be fine. Hey. You covered them.”

   “Mad Max,” Billy tried to smile. “I’m sorry, for all of it.” Teeth bloodied. Max clutched at him, tears falling down her face.

   “Already forgave you, jerk. I won't forgive you if you die here though.”

   “We have to move, now!” Hopper freed himself, trying to get them all out. Joyce pushed for kids to get them going too. Mike caught El when she fell backwards, fatigued and drained.

   “Camille,” Billy tugged so she looked down to see his eyes. Tried to smile.

   “You know...I didn’t like the ending either.” Her lips split now for a watery-eyed grin. “Get up. You have to get up. I’m not leaving you behind.” Max helped drag him along when Camille got his arm around her neck until Hopper came.

   “Max, go first,” Billy pushed so Jim grabbed her while she fought. Beams came down. Fire spread. For a moment, the two teens felt like they were drowning in it. Steve and Heather raced up the steps to help Camille with Billy’s form. They stumbled out into cool grass. Sirens blared in the distance. Camille dropped with Billy's weight in her lap, sprawled in her embrace.

   “Kid, focus,” Jim was pressing fabric to Billy’s nasty wound. Blood poured out his side and soaked the cloth too quick. He glanced at the sparkling stars beyond Camille’s hair and sighed in her arms.

   “Billy, look at me. We got you. It’s going to be okay... I love you. I do. I remember us and I always will.” She held him until the sirens closed in. Helicopters whirled overhead. Owens. Billy's vision blurred, lungs slowly taking in air until he tasted more blood.

   "Don't cry, Camille." Were the only raw words he found for his friend, breathless. "You saved me." Her heart quivered at that. Lips dropped to touch his. Hazel eyes looked up at a lavish house burning and she felt relief in the cool night air.

   “And don’t call me, babygirl.” Camille puffed while the light bathed her face. Warmed it. Reflected in her eyes. El dropped to hold Billy with her, allowed his head to fall into her lap so she petted his hair to comfort him for saving her life twice. Blue eyes fluttered. Thick lashes delicate against his wet cheeks. Maybe not the worst place he could be in to go. In the arms of the girl he loved so much. Surrounded by people who cared. Family. Slowly, their friends came together, piling because they won again. Because they were alive and together. Because they found home once more.

   And, god, it was beautiful.

Chapter Text

   “Camille, come in here and eat! Breakfast is ready!”

   “Coming!” A teen bounced down a set of stairs into the kitchen. Jim Hopper looked up from a skillet, a smile tugged his lips. The sweet smell hit Camille. Blueberry pancakes. El shifted, giddy in her seat and already dressed up. “Not excited at all for the first day?” Red manicured nails ruffled Eleven's hair.

   “No,” El joked and Camille helped pour coffees for her and Hopper. A sort of routine they'd grown comfortable in.

   “You know if there are any problems," Jim began, "Camille is in the next building and I’m a phone call away. Don't be upset if they call you, Jane. El is a nickname and not all the teachers will use it. Are you sure that you're ready for this, kid?”

   “Easy, we talked about this. Think happy thoughts.” Camille patted his shoulder and set a black coffee in front of him. Kissed his cheek. “She’ll be fine. Max is going to take her to get her schedule. I'm nearby. We have our tragic cover stories. You adopted two girls in need this past year, saved us. Party is close by too. It’s good.” She sat down and sipped from her own mug after stirring in creamer. “But, El...this is most important because it'll be tempting...if someone gives you trouble...”

   “No powers.” El agreed.

   "And if you use the powers because you inevitably will."

   "Don't get caught."

   "Very good." Jim shot Camille a look at that so she shrugged. They found a smaller house together, closer to the suburbs Nancy lived in. Cozier. The trio ate together in the dining room. Watched movies. Built a home. A family. Contented and bright. A family they chose. Autumn leaves began to fall outside. Warm shades of orange and brown illuminated with the rising sun. Comforting. El was hurrying to stuff her backpack full while Camille sat back at the table, fiddling with her pendants. Summer was long over. Too much changed.

   “You miss him.” Jim met her eyes.

   “Always do.” She exhaled, gaze fixing to his when he touched her hand. Billy. Who used himself to shield the people he cared about.

   “You know, I’m sure it won’t be long before-” A rumbling car honked in the driveway, ripping the quiet moment. “He’s waking the whole damn neighborhood again.” Jim grumbled, rubbing his eyes. Camille sprang up to open the door, grinning at the blue Camaro outside.

   Billy. Still raising hell and growing beyond his harsh years. Took the whole end of summer to get the car fixed and pristine again. Neil hadn’t touched him once despite trying. Not while the Hawkins bad boy recovered and was hailed a hero. Time ran slim. He knew that much. Hopper's random drop-ins always reeled Neil back a few inches.

   “Camille! El! Come on!” Max called from the passenger seat, shifting to jump in back. Billy turned his head, aviator sunglasses over his eyes with an aloof expression. Lips curled. Charged. El ran down the pavement and stopped, turning to come back and hug Jim tight.

   “Have a good first day, kid.” He kissed her hair and Camille beamed to his right. El hurried to get into the car and Camille peered to see Hopper. “You too.” She'd started down and paused as well, spinning on her heel to toss her arms around his neck. Jim responded warmly to that. She kissed his cheek again and came back. Truly happy and hopeful today.

   “Thanks, Jim, for everything.” Camille got into the car and Billy flicked two fingers at the Police Chief in a lazy salute before they raced off. El chattered in back while Max laughed at her excitement. “Someone didn’t sleep last night.”

   “Someone else isn’t sleeping tonight either,” he whispered so she smacked his arm, causing him to grin. Camille fussed with his radio before kissing him at a red light. “Hear from Harrington?”

   “Had his orientation yesterday. Happy to be off the wait list and out of the sailor suit for now. He and Robin are looking for something else together, Heather told me.” Camille watched the trees, idly taking his hand. They blazed into the parking lot like they owned it. “El, you and Max will meet us here after classes.” Camille got out to move the seat up.

   “Yes,” El watched all the kids pass and didn’t try to go after Max did.

   “You coming?” She stalled, but her friend shrunk back.

   “I got this one.” Billy exhaled and Camille eyed him, nodding.

   “All yours.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek then followed Max down the small hill after shutting the door. Nancy waved from her car with Jonathan to signal them. Billy turned his head and El stared at him.

   “I get it, you like the car. Don’t want to leave it.” He joked, tilting the sunglasses down to see her. “Because I know you’re not scared, huh? Not the kid who fights monsters and shitty ass men.”

   “No,” she lied, peering out again and Billy chuckled.

   “Hm,” he shrugged, “you know, day one as the new kid. Shit sucks at first. I was the new kid here once and I was also lucky because I had a pretty girl to show me around. Pretty girl who became my friend. You already have friends here. Half the work is done.” El looked back at him, nodding. “Guess you need one more thing.” He pulled his sunglasses off to offer them. “Some bitching shades to show them you’re tough if any jerkwad gets into your face. Better?”

   “Bitching.” She had beamed, causing him to snort because he loved this kid. The aviators looked huge on her, arguably more cute.

   “Don’t say that to the teachers or Camille will hand me my ass before the Chief can. Unless they deserve it.” Billy grinned, getting out so El followed and raced down to chase after Max.

   “Have fun, El! Good luck!” Camille smiled brighter.

   "See you guys inside!" Nancy went off with Jonathan. Billy came to Camille's right, popping a fresh piece of gum into his mouth.

   “Breaking a habit, are you?” She observed.

   “Ah, couldn’t do it at the pool or hospital. Gum helped. You seemed to like it a little too much. My run times aren't what they used to be.” He offered the pack to her. All their kisses still tasted like cinnamon. “My grades are going to go to shit if they separated us. You know that?”

   “Just think about getting out of this place and keep your nose in a book,” Camille opened the front office.

   “Lovebirds.” Robin mused behind the front desk. “And to think...I figured that I escaped your annoying sessions of intense eye contact.”

   “Lucky, you got the good free period to work here. I couldn’t even get that,” Camille beckoned so Robin found their schedules. “Thank you.”

   “We have Lit together, Cam. See you in second period. Also, I may have done something bad.” Robin gave Billy his schedule next.

   “Do tell, birdie.”

   “Call me that again this year and I land you on your ass, Hargrove.” She grinned, voice dropping. “I put your lockers together.”

   “Knew I liked this one.” Billy winked and Camille tugged him off.

   “Feeling isn’t mutual, but I’ll take it as Heather seems to adore you. That, I'll never understand.”

   “Goodbye, Robin.” Camille waved when they left to find their new lockers. Students moved around them in turn, chattering. “Oh, god, mine isn’t broken for the first time since I started going here. It’s an autumn miracle. I don't even care about anything else, life is good now.” She bounced and tossed books inside.

   “Let’s see it,” Billy leaned against the metal so they put their schedules together. “Not bad.”

   “Three classes and mealtime. Groovy.” Camille winked. “Lunch and then our last three periods in fact. No, not bad at all.”

   “The hell, Camille? You're taking all that science and a robotics class for third period? Explain.”

   “I think I’ll excel at robotics, show all the boys up. I have ideas.” She laughed at his expression. “Can’t be late to first period. See you for lunch.” He beamed at that, leaning forward to kiss her. Camille pressed closer, not caring if a teacher had to split them, and he joked.

   “Easy, Harpy, I can’t be late either. Shame on you.” Billy teased, going around her. “Those country boys give you a hard time, I’ll take care of them. In fact, I still might regardless.”

   “My hero.”

   “Don’t you forget it.”

** ** **

   “Weird without Steve.” Nancy had shrugged at lunch. “It’s official. Billy is the new King. The new hair guy.”

   “We’ve known this, Wheeler,” Billy opened a small bag of chips.

   "Well, Billy beat up Steve, but so did Jonathan." Came Robin's addition. Billy and Jonathan eyed each other at that across the table. "Only way to find out the real king is a duel. Blood bath."

   "Name the time and place, Byers. I'm intrigued." Billy, as always, was game.

   "What?"

   "Not happening." Camille nudged Robin, entertained. "Although, Jonathan can throw a mean punch. Had a front row seat to that. Took Tommy and I both to pull them apart. Well, to pull Jonathan off him." Pink rose on his cheeks when she lifted her lips.

   “You guys hear about Tommy and Carol?” Heather came to sit, smacking her tray down in a rush. “I died when I found out.”

   “Oh, yes.” Camille was also laughing now.

   “What happened there?” Jonathan scooped up some potatoes from his tray.

   “Carol got into college up in Michigan, dumped Tommy’s ass hard, and took off into the sunset.” Robin chuckled now, shrugging. “Rumor has it that Tommy H punched a mailbox and cried.” Billy snorted, almost choking.

   “Good for her.” Nancy smiled too.

   “Heather deserves congrats too. Cheer captain. And Nancy, editor and chief of the school newspaper for the stories you cracked over the summer. I sense a job offer is next.” Camille praised and the girls earned some claps.

   “Just the right place at the right time.” Nancy winked. “Weird guy who helped with the Hawkins Lab stuff was excited to assist again.”

   “You guys going to homecoming this year?” Heather went on.

   “Running the photo booth, I think,” Jonathan replied when a few of them nodded.

   "I'm still working on Billy with that one. He's shy." Camille stole a chip from him, earning a nudge.

   "Stupid dance." Came a grumble.

   “They asked me to help plan the stupid dance, figured it could be fun.” She went on. “Last year here, we might as well make the most of it. Right?”

** ** **

   “Home!” Camille set her backpack down hours later. Max and El scurried in behind her with Billy at her side. “Sorry, we’re late. Gang stayed out to exchange stories.”

   “How was it?” Jim came around the corner, having just gotten home as well.

   “No powers,” El shrugged with a wide grin.

   “Good...that’s good.” He let her and Max race up to her room. “Delivery tonight?”

   “Sounds great, yeah.” Camille watched him peer up the stairs and look back to her. A more solemn expression crossed his face. "What is it?"

   “Have something I need to tell you.” Hopper guided her downstairs into the finished basement. Part office, part recreation.

   "About?"

   “About that night.” The Chief swallowed, exhaling. He tried to avoid pulling her into this but, Camille was sharp. Billy followed them when she pulled at his hand before Jim opened a cabinet and took a box down. “Had my contact, Owens, get some guys down here. Searched the mall. Nothing. They wiped it. Gate was sealed it looked. They're now in control of watching it. I also had them look over the remains of your house when it happened. Redid the tests several times. Only bodies that were found were Brenner and Rosemary. Remains of Robbie the monster. People he kidnapped. Nothing about Edna or what she's up to.”

   "I punched her fucking lights out, she must have gotten up in the shuffle." Billy added.

   “Covered it all well. Made you a hero. Billy, too. Mayor held a funeral. You think that he knows?” Camille crossed her arms, looking over photos. Her house in ashes. Her old life too.

   “He’s hiding it well for re-election time. Tried to martyr his shitty son.” Jim shrugged. Camille only pressed her lips into a tight line at that.

   “Nothing else about that housekeeper?” Billy frowned. “She’s still out there ready to cause us hell.”

   “She comes, we’ll take care of it.” Camille sounded confident. “We always do. Don’t worry El with this, she’s determined. She’ll spend herself looking and that drains her too much. Last time, we didn’t see much. Edna’s smart. She knows how we work. She helped suppress me for years and she’ll fight us if she can.”

   “Dr. Owens has people on it.” Jim assured them. “We’ll find her ourselves. Go on now, go relax. I'll order dinner.”

   "Thanks," Camille flashed a distant smile and went upstairs. Billy followed her to her room so she could plop down in bed, falling back. He joined her so they could stare at the ceiling. Enjoy a beat. "Nice to be unpacked. Have the furniture built. Guess, I didn't exactly have a lot to unpack." Everything burned. "I do have Billy Jr. Blood stain aside."

   "Only letting you call it that because I like you." He muttered, hands clasped on his stomach when Camille rolled over to see him. Lips pecking his quickly. Billy cupped her face, smiling softer than usual.

   "I like you too."

** ** **

   “Mayor Kline, you have a guest. A reporter here to do a story on you.”

   “Send her in,” he was focused on his work, not even looking up.

   “Mayor Kline, I'm a big fan.” The woman graced him with a smile. Words slurred ever so gently. Awkward syllables after her tongue healed. Another man entered behind her, stoic and muscled. Dead set.

   “Forgive me, we’ll have to make this quick…" Mayor Kline looked up when the huge man advanced at him once they were alone. "Who is-?”

   “I think you’ll want to speak with me awhile. Forgive Grigori, he doesn’t play well unless you name the right price these days. Edna Matthias.” Edna removed a hat from her head. Hair spilled down. “I knew your son. Robbie. Lovely boy. Innovative. Willing. Peculiar taste in girls. Incendiary."

   “Who are you?” Larry jumped to anger at that, but she slapped a thick file down.

   “A ghost looking to settle a score. I think we have some common enemies. Time for you to get to know your town, Larry.” She watched him open the file. Pictures of the Party. Of his son. Of the madness that plagued Hawkins for years. “Have time for a story now, Mr. Mayor?” Eyes lifted. Menacing. Also quite willing.

   “Keep talking.”

** ** **

   Camille was frozen. Trapped. She tried to feel around. Nothing. But, the panting. That awful sound. Echoed in her ears.

   “Babygirl, you’re still so soft.” Robbie leaned out to see her eyes. His pupils were huge. Veins inched dark just under his pale skin. Like an infection. Camille was blank under him.

   “Uh.” She offered. “Oh.” Monotone. In that horrid trance.

   “Come here, get on your knees.” He coaxed. "It wanted me to show you things. To give you something. A secret. You have to keep it safe for later."

   “Yes.”

   “Yes, what?” A hand tore into dark hair.

   “Yes, sir.” She was undaunted. Unblinking. Hands choked her. Camille felt herself struggle to stop this. Robbie opened his mouth. Teeth grew sharp. His jaw broke open. Eyes melted down his cheeks. Dripping. Those awful lights like dead stars glimmered to wash Camille away. Her own eyes burned too. She screamed at long last. Bucking. Robbie readied to swallow her whole. And then she was falling. Down into a deep, sunken pit made of broken glass. One she wouldn't be crawling out of. The lone hand of another dead girl reached back to help her rise. Camille saw her reflection cast all around. It was too much.

   “No!” Camille jolted up in bed, almost knocking Billy backwards when he’d tried to wake her.

   “Hey! Hey, you’re safe. I got you.” He felt her break with tears. Breath unsteady. Knuckles paling when she grabbed for sheets. “Nightmares, again.”

   “Can’t shake them,” Camille held to him, trembling before footsteps sounded. “Shit, hide.”

   “Where?” Billy was half awake still as she pushed him down under her bed. Poor boy rolled off with a thud and silenced groan.

   "Camille?" The door smacked open and Jim stood there, crossing to make certain she was okay.

   “Just the stupid dreams again,” she began, pulling her blankets up. Jim turned on the light and sat down. Gentle as he could because she looked like a twittering, wounded bird.

   “You wake up screaming, Camille. El had them too when I took her in but, your night terrors are only getting worse.” He gathered her into his arms when she sought comfort. Head tipping to Jim's chest so he could kiss her hair.

   “They’ll pass,” she assured him. Let him rub her back and arms. "I can handle it."

   “You need to talk to someone, I can make that happen.” Hopper pressed like he had many times before this night.

   “No more doctors. Not like I can really tell them anything.”

   “Could get you to Owens again. It's something.” He sighed, hand on her face.

   “He was helpful but not that kind of doctor. And he personal cleared me to resume life as normal. Same way he cleared El and Will. That’s what I want. It's all I want.” She pressed her lips. Tried to be level and even. “I’ll be fine, they’ll pass.”

   “It’s Saturday. Come down for breakfast in a few.” He kissed her forehead, standing.

   “I will.” She smiled and Jim did too, leaning down like he had dad radar to see Billy cramped under the bed with sleepy eyes and messy curls. Those blue eyes became alert in one instant. “Oh, so about that...”

   “Billy Hargrove. Again. Did Camille ask you if you wanted breakfast, son?”

   “Morning, Chief. Not on Cherry Lane anymore, am I?” He flashed a big smile because he was fucking caught yet again and Jim looked smug. “And no, sir. She didn't.”

   “So, you're lost in my daughter’s bedroom?”

   “Just some light sleepwalking. Wandered across town.” Billy shrugged. “What can you do, huh?”

   “You like french toast, Billy?” It sounded vaguely threatening.

   “...I could eat.”

   “That’s what I thought.” Jim stood, eyes on Camille when she looked guilty. “Hiding under the bed is the oldest trick in the book, kid, figured you were better than that.”

   “Get you next time, Chief,” came Billy’s voice and Camille snickered.

   “Sorry.” She whispered but Jim only hummed, turning.

   “Teenagers.” He shut the door so Camille fell back into the pillows. Billy popped up with wild curls to get into the bed once more.

   “Caught you again.” She’d teased.

   “We can go to my house.” He shrugged. “Dad knows now for sure after…you know. Me yelling about cock and our sex life to the neighborhood for ten whole minutes. He can’t stop us from seeing each other.” Billy was so confident about that too.

   “He’s a ticking asshole bomb, we can only keep him off you for so long. I don't want to put you in a position where you'll be hurt. It's a risk.” Camille cupped his face so he’d kiss her lips. “Max is always free to be here. Frankly, Jim likes it more since El and Mike are back together. Jim knows about you. He knows enough. He doesn’t mind as long as we’re not...doing funny stuff.”

   “That’s most of what we do.” He countered, leaning in again.

   “Well, he doesn’t have to know that.” Camille pushed at his chest, teasing. “Besides, Jim has no room to talk. He made rounds too once upon a time. Not so much since he’s been pining after Joyce, it’s too obvious they’re into each other and being dumb about it.”

   “And we did what, exactly?”

   “We’re dumb, but not as dumb as them.” She sat up, slipping out of bed to rub her eyes. Jim was kind enough to give her the room with its own bathroom in it. Camille washed her face and sighed.

   “Hopper was right. They’re getting worse.” Billy appeared behind her to change the subject back.

   “You don’t know that,” Camille turned to face him, arms crossing. He shot her a searching glance in response.

   "Camille, I wake up to you thrashing and crying more often than not. I think I know enough."

   “There were bound to be side effects. I don’t...remember it all when I was under. I don’t want to right now. I know it was awful. But, I’m moving on.”

   “You’re ignoring it. Shit's not the same.” Billy watched her huff, because his brutal honesty hit hard, and pull a short robe on when her skin chilled.

   “Maybe so.” Camille dropped it so he did. For now. “Come on, let’s just get breakfast.” They went down to see Max and El at the table. Jim scooping up plates.

   “You got caught again.” Max teased and Billy was flat, slipping into a seat. Camille poured coffees as she always did before she sat down next to him.

   “It came today, Camille.” Jim offered a letter. “Inheritance. They left it all to you. Owens made sure none of it went anywhere else.”

   “Don’t want it. It’s dirty.” She refused.

   “Set it aside for the future. They owe you that much.” Jim pressed so she took it with a deliberate sigh, ripping the envelope open. Billy craned his neck when Camille’s eyes were wide. He choked on his coffee.

   “Holy fuck.” Billy hit his chest and Jim hushed him.

   “Language, kid.”

   “That’s a lot of money.” Camille blinked, handing it back. “Do it your way. We’ll save it. We can use some to help out here too when needed.”

   “Don’t worry about that. It's for college.” Hopper offered plates so they ate. Odd bunch gathered around the table.

   “I have to finish some Harper Sixx business so that chapter can be done too.” Camille spoke then. “Country is mourning the lost icon.” Jim gave a nod, understanding.

   “Can you drop us off at the arcade, Billy? Might have to swing by home, I left my change there.” Max grinned and he rolled his eyes, shrugging.

   “Meet you after?” He turned his head.

   “I’ll pick up fixings for dinner tonight,” Camille agreed and Jim looked grateful.

   “Have to go in today for a few hours. I’ll give you some money, you want to pick out dinner for the week? I trust you.”

   “You love me,” she teased and Hopper smirked. He did.

   “Eat your breakfast, Harper.”

** ** **

   Camille wandered aisles, filling her cart with different items. A subtle tune played over the speakers between sale announcements. Droning. Picture perfect displays of colorful cans and boxed goods only highlighted the discord in her life. She picked out some vegetables and looked up. Robbie stood across they way. Grinning. Bloodied. Her breath quivered. A woman passed in front of him and he was gone. Camille turned and the shadow cast behind her didn't move. One single beat where two powerful entities split apart.

   “Fuck.” She'd uttered under her breath, jerking the cart to go into another aisle as a flash of orange hair caught her attention. Bright curls not as kept as usual.

   “Susan.” Camille realized, hurrying to greet her. “Hi, been awhile since I last saw you. Max told me you got a new job at the JCPenney a while back...helped Joyce get something there too when the store closed on her.”

   “Hi, Camille. I hope you’re well.” Susan was facing the cans on the shelf, shoulder hitching. Stared like the display was truly fascinating. "Yes...but, the perfume department isn't all that exciting. Boss isn't terrible."

   “Billy’s on his way to meet me. Guess Max is seeing the kids at the arcade.”

   “Good...that’s good. I’m glad you all spend this much time together. Seeing them with friends in Hawkins now makes me so happy. Better when they’re not in the house. You know?” She turned her head when Camille came around. The radiant smile faded.

   “Not bright enough for those big shades indoors,” Camille remarked and Susan shook her head, slipping them off. Hearts sunk in tune. “Oh, my god. Susan.” Said her name too cautiously. Like it wasn't real. This wasn't real.

   “You can’t say anything.” Susan regarded the younger girl, wise beyond her years. Makeup layered thick over a fresh shiner around her left eye.

   “Neil, he…” Camille touched her chest and came closer, hand on Susan’s arm. The mother flinched.

   “It was an accident, he said it won’t happen again. He cried and...and he held me and he promised me. He promised.” She shook her head, sounding like a brokenhearted schoolgirl. “I knew that he was upset and I pushed too hard, it was a silly argument. We rarely have them.” Mousy Susan was reaching a breaking point.

   “No, he can’t do this shit.” Camille watched the woman jerk to focus on her.

   “Mind your own business,” Susan snapped, turning with her cart before she stopped. Regret lingering. “I’m so sorry.”

   “No, no.” Camille came to hold her. Susan felt very small. Frail. Not unlike the way Rosemary felt when she sunk into Camille's arms, dying. Pale hands went over Susan's eyes to stop the stupid flow of tears.

   “Billy and Max, they don’t know. They can't.”

   “You care about them but you can’t put yourself in danger too.” Camille shook her head. Susan was in danger the moment she accepted Neil's first date offer.

   “You know, Max asked me once...why I always looked away. Left the room. When Billy was being… When Neil started hitting him after we’d gotten together. It wasn’t because I didn’t care. I did. I promise I did. I'm not bad. I'm so sorry, I didn't...help him. I couldn't. But, I knew how...degraded he felt. Being hit in front of others. I wanted to give him his privacy because I couldn’t give much else. I failed them. They need to stay out of the house...as much as they can. Don’t tell them, Camille. Please. Keep them at the Chief's house and I’ll handle this.”

   “You have to get out of there too, look at me. It has to stop. You can stop it. We’ll help you. Jim and I tried to get Billy out but he's eighteen now and he chose to stay for this last year. For you and Max. You all can help each other.”

   “It’s only the once. It only happened once.” Susan was begging to convince herself too.

   “But, it still happened.” Camille pleaded. “He hits Billy. He hit you. I know you care about Billy and you want to protect him and Max. I know you’re terrified and you’re trying. Guys like that...they get to a point where they don’t ever stop. Not everyone gets out of the cycle and it’s not on you in any way to-”

   “Only one time.”

   “But, he did it.” Camille held her steady. “He’ll hit Max too. He uses Billy to control her, he kept them on opposite sides for months. You know that. I know you do.”

   “I’m stupid.”

   “You’re not. I had a wise woman tell me...you’re in a bad place and you can pull yourself out of it. She was right. We always have more courage than we think, it just doesn't show itself until all the cards are down. I promise. The cycle...he doesn't want to get out of it. Billy is still struggling with his anger at times and I see it...but he’s young and he’s healing. Neil had his whole life. Multiple relationships to do better and he didn’t. He didn’t try for his own son, he won’t for you.”

   “I can’t get out. I can’t. He won’t let us go.”

   “Report it. Max...she’s recording what happens to Billy. Hopper will help you all, I promise. You can’t wait for him to hit you again. You need a plan ready...because he will hit you again.” Camille insisted.

   “You must think I’m awful for marrying him.”

   “I have no room to judge there. You know about me. Whole town does. You can get out. You can.” Camille took her sunglasses, sighing before she shifted them back onto Susan’s face. Her lips trembled so she touched Camille’s cheek.

   “You’re good for my kids.” She referred to Billy as her own.

   “They’ve been good for me too. And I think you helped that.” Camille pressed her lips. “It’ll be difficult but you can leave him. There are good people in this town willing to fight and help you. I didn’t think that before and I spent a lot of time feeling more alone than I should have.”

   “I’ll think about it. My options. I’ll...come up with a plan. Don’t tell them. Max and Billy.”

   “They’ll see it eventually.” Camille sighed. Susan stared and took a moment to touch brown hair, contemplating something that ached.

   “Camille, I’m so sorry again. About your mother.”

   “She’s with my dad now. At least they’re together. Thank you.” Camille lowered her eyes and Susan nodded, silent as she hurried off. The weight of it was heavy. Almost too much. Fluorescents didn't do enough to wash that out. It wasn’t long before Billy found her picking out cans of soup. He crept up, hand on her shoulder before she whirled and snatched his wrist to twist it. These little reeling ticks brought her back to that night.

   “Ow, fuck! It’s me.” Billy puffed when she released him, pushing at his chest.

   “You scared me, ass.”

   “No reason to turn 007 on me,” he yanked his jacket, exhaling when Camille smirked lightly. She turned to take the cart.

   “More of 006… Does that mean you’re my sexy Bond sidekick?"

   "I can be anything you want in this fantasy, Harpy."

   "Are you also mad that I can take you on, Billy?”

   “On the contrary, I live for it.” He stopped Camille, lips against her own for a lingering beat. Tugged at her shirt playfully. Camille only smiled and averted her eyes.

   “Going to need help with the groceries. Come on, I’m putting you to work now.”

   “Tell me about the fashion thing.” Billy fell in stride with her, twisting the ring on his middle finger in thought.

   “Harper Sixx has met an end. Made some good donations. Paid out the employees well. Few tributes but it’s time to put it to bed.” She frowned, turning the cart with her while Billy followed. “Better this way. Mom got her storybook ending. I won’t have to be reminded as much.” Camille eyed him silently, trying not to burst with the truth he was sure to discover on his own. The truth he’d predicted at the start of all this. “How...are things at home?”

   “Not really in the same room as him often.” Billy replied as they walked along. “He comes at me and remembers we have shit on him. Neighbors hear the shouting. Max keeps the record hidden. Feels like something’s going to snap.”

   “Sounds like it already did,” Camille remarked, biting her lip. Billy didn’t process what she’d said in full, agreeing silently.

   “There’s actually something...different. You’re going to laugh.”

   “Fantastic, spill it.”

   “Haven’t been staying home a lot, especially with things...as they are. Figure it's better he doesn't see my face to be reminded.”

   “So, you’re either with me or...” Camille turned to see his eyebrows lifting before it dawned on her. “Oh, my god. Billy Christopher Hargrove.”

   “Don’t.”

   “You’re staying with Steve. His parents are never home so he offered you a place when needed. I know I'm right. Aw, I wish I had a camera to document this moment.”

   “Camille, you have a photographic memory.” His brow furrowed. Hands out in disbelief.

   “Oh, right. Duh. Forgot that detail,” she pushed at his arm. “And you...have another friend. My two little kings are all grown up. This is so adorable. We could have a sleepover, trade hair secrets.”

   “Steve Harrington is not my-...shit, he is kind of my friend.”

   “Better to accept the truth of it now. And you're his friend. I’m sure he finds it equally disturbing.” Camille was far too amused.

   “Stop giving us things in common.” Billy was flat so she giggled, tugging him along while she put different packages of meat into the cart.

   “Keep up with me, will you?” She tricked him into pushing, veering down another aisle. “Look at us, so domestic. Think you can handle it?”

   “Nice not getting stabbed,” he touched his side, fingers skimming over a scar through the shirt. “What was stranger was the full hospital room.”

   “And the tales of your heroics. Neil had to sit there and listen to people thank his brave son for helping save some kids and little lost rich girl, Camille Harper, in a terrible fire.” Camille eyed his expression and hummed again, deciding on bread. Her shirt rode up as she reached for a loaf on the highest shelf so he rolled his eyes and snatched it for her. Fingers tickled her side until she gasped, pushing at him.

   “Not funny.” Camille stole the cart and went on. People eyed her with sympathy, the same way they did at school. Rich girl lost it all. Parents. House. Fiance. Existence. Taken in by the charity of the messy Police Chief.

   “You know...” Billy neared her again. “There is currently an empty house not far from here. Chief is at the station. Kids at the arcade. It’s the perfect storm.” Camille suppressed amusement.

   “Whatever is a girl to do?” She arched one brow and Billy knew he had her.

   “I have a few ideas.”

** ** **

   Music flooded out Camille’s speakers as Billy pushed her into bed. She tugged him atop her, rolling them over to sit up and unbutton his shirt while he went for her jeans. Frantic and nimble fingers made quick work.

   “Oh, you’re always so full of great ideas.” Camille slipped fabric from his shoulders when he sat up to kiss her, adjusting so he was cupping her bottom to grind into her. Liquid heat.

   “Hm, don’t I know it?” Billy uttered into her ear. A moan left swelled lips, arms holding him while he kissed along her neck and chest. Fingers touched a scar on his ribs where claws pierced taut skin. Camille stopped, sinking down to peck the rough flesh.

   “Can’t wait much longer,” she let him turn them over.

   Camille just wanted her life back. Normal teens in a normal relationship.

   Clothing was flying every which way. Billy braced his hands by her head, messed curls framed his pretty face. Camille touched his wrist to kiss the tender skin there until he sank down against her body. Her bra came off, leaving them in their undergarments. Billy’s hands skimmed along her thighs, lips tracing her jaw before he lifted to see her eyes. She peered up at him and felt a chill rush through her veins. Robbie looked down on her, hand tracing her collar bones before grasping her neck. Her entire body lurched.

   “Stop!” Camille cried out, pushing him up when she reeled forward. Tight fists pressed into his bare chest.

   Readied to fight her way out of hell. Again and again. A vicious cycle.

   “What?” Billy was breathing heavily, blinking. Erect. Confused. Camille rubbed her eyes and gave a sound of agitation.

   “Nothing...nothing, I just-”

   “It’s happening again.” He caught his breath, shoulders dropping.

   Missed the way her veins crawled to pulse darker for one single heartbeat. Also missed the way her shadow inched out as if to slink away. Stretching. Curious thing. Like something from a children's book Camille read long ago.

   Just like Peter Pan.

   It should be considered that his shadow ran because it knew something others didn't. Knew perhaps that sweet, little Peter-never going to grow up, not me-was dangerous at heart and maybe the villain of the story. Camille dreamed to be oblivious of that fact like Peter Pan when he trapped those lost boys in Neverland. When he created a powerful adversary in Captain Hook, who must have hoped once too. Dreamed that answers were as easy to seek if only you followed the second star to the right and straight on till morning. But, this was no simple fairy tale. Not for them.

   “Look, I’m sorry," Camille explained herself, "I’m trying… I know this is like the fourth time since-”

   “I’m not worried about getting off, we get off plenty. I’m worried that my girlfriend can’t stand to be touched half the time.” Billy said it harshly to make sure it gripped tight. Didn't judge. Just needed her to understand something awful and true. Camille was not well.

   “I can keep going.” Camille came to him and Billy stopped her. Fingers curled around shaking wrists. Felt her pulse speed.

   “No, you can’t. I’m not letting you fucking force it. You may not remember all this shit, but something inside you does and-”

   “I just want to feel normal again.” She pulled a sheet up to her chest, hand on her temple. Billy exhaled, deliberate.

   “These nightmares are getting to you. We all see it. Why can’t you?” Billy got up to put his jeans on. “We left perfect Camille behind. Stop pretending.”

   “Guess, I didn’t let her go fully.” She watched him set her clothing on the bed. “Billy, I want to. I do. We did it a few times. Maybe now isn’t...the best night for it. Lot on my mind.”

   “I know you want to.” He sighed, pulling his shirt back on. “I’m just not letting you force yourself through a fuck session like it’s a damn task for me. Put on your clothes, Camille, we’ll go watch a movie downstairs.”

   “I’m sorry.”

   “And don’t you apologize to me again.” He cupped her face to kiss her deeply, lingering when she grasped his arms. “I love you.” Billy found the words so easily today, knuckles grazing her cheeks. Face soft in this light. Just so pretty.

   Billy was still these days. So very still. Used to be that all he did was rock about and run. Toward something painful. Away from something painful. No in-between. He'd been running since his mother got into a taxi without him and didn't come back. Billy was about seven or eight. How he pulled so desperately to stop it.

   Tore her beaded bracelet off trying to get his mom to stay or take him with her. Little jeweled beads covered the sidewalk. Scattering. "I don't understand!" the little boy kept choking those words. His mother cried and apologized. Still got into the taxi and locked the door on him. Billy still didn't understand. But, he could run so he did. He chased that taxi down four streets until Neil pulled up alongside him to force him into a car. Took him home while he rocked and cried so hard. Hit him until the screaming stopped.

   Finally, Billy Hargrove had something that made him want to stop running. But, it ached. Because as he stopped running, his girlfriend started.

   Camille just smiled in response, lighter. Pained clearly.

   I don't understand, Billy wanted to say. But, she reeled him in too quick.

   “I love you too.”

** ** **

   Jim Hopper walked in on the teens in a position that was more shocking than usual. Billy with his feet up on the leg rest, reclined to watch the television. Camille nestled into him under one bicep, her own arm draped over his waist as she sagged and slept against him on the couch. Trapping the poor boy there. Hopper looked amused and settled a finger to his lips as Billy ran the fingers of his free hand into her hair.

   “I’ve had to take a leak for two hours,” he mumbled at last and Jim suppressed a snort.

   “Sounds about right.” Jim picked up a pillow to save this poor kid trying to ease out from under Camille. She whined, nuzzling into the couch when a pillow replaced her boyfriend. Billy scurried away to relieve himself as Jim smoothed locks of hair from her face, moving after to go into the kitchen to see a full fridge again. Billy passed and stilled at the moment Jim snapped his fingers.

   “Hey, come in here. Tell me about these nightmares.” Jim pressed and Billy averted his eyes. “Look, I know you sneak into that window every other day.”

   “Ah.” Billy’s pretense came down and Jim offered him a cold beer. Skeptical eyes lifted. “Not trying to trick me, are you, Chief?”

   “I think we understand each other, Billy. Camille is eighteen but she chose me and I chose her. You hurt my kid and I’ll make you disappear.” Jim grinned, clicking the can open. “Shocking, but you’re not the boy I’m worried about. It’s the Wheeler kid I find unpredictable.”

   “Way to kill my reputation. Bottom’s up then,” Billy resigned himself, gulping. “They’re bad. Won’t tell me what they’re about but I think I know Camille well enough. She says she doesn’t remember but...I don’t know, it’s like she goes into this state while awake. Like she’s day dreaming too. But, it’s not...I can’t explain it. She’s just not here...and she doesn’t remember where she goes. Closes up worse than I do about it.”

   “What happened when they took her back was traumatic. That comes up in some horrible ways.” Jim began and Billy drew silent. Odd night. “We need to do what’s best for her. I’m getting a doctor I trust back down here. Few times a month. He may not be the expert but he knows what’s going on and she needs to start talking.”

   “You think she’ll see that as us fucking helping her?”

   “No, not at first.” Jim drank, leaning back to size Billy up. “You love Camille and I don’t doubt it. I’m going to ask that you watch her.” The teen lifted his blue eyes at that.

   “Think I’m not already?” The air chilled as if a window cracked. Jim set his beer aside and Billy followed him into the living room. Wind echoed into the front door, now opened wide.

   “Camille?” Jim hurried out to see her standing at the end of the drive. Head tilted up toward the cloudy sky. No shoes or coat. Wind in her dark hair. Shivering. Eyes closed.

   “That was your turn to watch,” Billy frowned, coming around to see her face. Serene.

   “Camille...” Jim shrugged off his jacket and covered her, trying to usher her back inside.

   “She’s never sleepwalked.” Billy noted, taking her face only to be shoved back into the grass. Hard. Camille jerked with panic, writhing when Jim held her arms down and carried her back into the house. Whipping and hissing about like a creature caught in a bear trap.

   “Wake up!” He shook her. “Camille, wake up!” Fists blindly fought against him when Billy ran in, shutting the door. Camille’s whole body locked into an unnatural arch in his arms while her fingers contorted close to her chest. Something out of The Exorcist. But, her face. Lips opened to scream but nothing came out.

   “Hey, hey...” Billy helped Jim easy her into the couch so she didn't hurt herself. Camille thrashed like she might have a seizure. The lights flickered. Television switched to static white noise. A voice carried out from it. Echoing.

   “Billy. Help me. He’s here. They're coming for me.

   “Camille, wake the fuck up!” Billy grew frantic, hands gripping her shoulders to shake her harder than Jim did.

   “The lights!” Camille cried and bucked around. “They’re dead. They’re dead! It's coming. Can't...” She woke with a start, blinding grasping at Billy’s shirt as her breath caught.

   “Hey, hey, we got you. Camille. You’re home. You’re safe.” Jim eased. Camille pushed up to curl into Billy’s arms.

   "I'm sorry."

   “Camille.” Jim soothed again. She crumbled, face pinching to get a hold of her emotions when they burst. “You are not well.”

   “I know. I know. I’m trying, I’m really trying. It's hard.” She hitched a sob, muffled into Billy’s chest. Wetting his shirt with salty tears.

   “You have to let us try too.” Jim touched the back of her head, smoothing hair. “It’s getting worse.”

   “I don’t want to remember it. I have to remember everything already. Do you know what it’s like to never forget a thing? To have every awful thing never go away? It’s actually pretty shitty.” Camille clenched her teeth. Shaking like a leaf. No one ever looked at her abilities that way. “It just hurts.” Jim pressed his lips, exhaling.

   “So, you hide in it. It’ll hurt more.” He was honest. “Just give it time to process. You overwhelmed yourself, Camille. It’s okay to stop and rest when the world is too much. You hear me?” Jim held her chin until she nodded. He looked up at Billy’s hard eyes. “Can you-?”

   “Got her.” Billy was already pulling Camille up.

   “Green or chamomile?” Jim asked so she paused, eyes on a picture of Sara sitting across the way.

   “Chamomile, please. With-”

   “Honey. I know how you take it.” Jim sighed. Camille went upstairs and let Billy undress her, pulling a large shirt over her body before he got her into bed. She sat against the headboard so he came to her side.

   “Don’t say it,” she whispered, legs curling when she clasped her hands in her lap. Joints ached from the pressure of it all.

   “You don’t need me to, you already know.”

   “If I talk to someone, it’s all going to flood out. I’ll drown.”

   “Don’t mean to brag but I was a lifeguard for a few months.” Billy’s joke brightened her expression. Camille peered away, fighting a smile when he leaned in to see her eyes. “Ah, no. Let’s see it, Harpy.”

   “I can’t stand you sometimes.” Camille pushed at him and tugged for a quick kiss. Jim knocked at the door and came in with a steaming mug so they broke apart.

   “Tuesday, after school. Dr. Sam Owens.” He set it down. “I’m driving you.”

   “Jim-”

   “We do it the once and decide after. Just give it a try.” He wasn’t going to budge.

   “Just the once.” She relented and took the mug. “Thank you.”

   “Get some rest and I mean, rest.” Jim eyed her then Billy.

   “Goodnight, Jim.” Camille rolled her eyes and waved for him to shut the door. “Staying tonight?”

   “Trying to be rid of me?” Billy inched closer, lips touched for a lingering beat. Camille murmured against him.

   “Never.”

Chapter Text

   “Welcome wagon again, Cam?” Nancy held her schoolbook and crossed from Jonathan’s car to meet Camille and Billy at his.

   “More new students, yeah. Hawkins High needs its fresh face.” Camille shrugged, watched the autumn leaves swirl with tones of orange and brown. “Heard they were siblings.”

   “I heard twins.” Jonathan puffed into colder fall air.

   “Seeing other new students behind my back?” Billy paused while a car sped around them. Music boomed from it. Slick red Mustang like a shiny poisoned apple. Dust welled up. Gravel split under tires screeching to a halt in a parking spot. Students stilled to watch.

   It was just all so familiar. Picture perfect. A boy got out. A pretty boy, in fact. One broad hand sliding over loose locks of styled auburn hair that slipped into his face. More red, orange in the tiny streams of sunlight through grey clouds. Squared, intent face and slight dimple to his chin. He was joined by a girl. Softer in angles. Same full strawberry locks in voluminous waves. Face shaped like an oval. Doll like to be honest. A pair of fashionable siblings airing on the side of alternative.

   “Twins, huh. Riveting.” Camille noted as they went down the path to school. Billy caught her intrigued stare. Locked into that. The siblings earned various looks from passing students. Caused a stir. “Think I spotted my new assignments. Lucky me.” She went first with Billy quick to her side, one of his hands slipped into her jean pocket. Air puffed from his nose like a bull. “Ooh. Jealous, much?”

   “I need a reason to put my hand on your ass now?” He quipped, earning a snort when her free arm went around his back. Nancy and Jonathan were hurrying to catch up.

   “See you both later.” Camille followed the path to her locker with Billy. Students split as their rightful king and queen walked the hallways together. Commanding. “Wonder where they transferred from? I’d hate to transfer during my damn last year of high school. Ugh. Least you had two under your belt.” She busied with her locker, bunching up the sleeves of the brown bomber she never gave back to Billy. Seeing his girlfriend wear it was better in truth. Same way she left ruby lipstick prints on the collar of his jean jacket.

   “Nervous about your big talk after this?” His brow rose. Daring to bring this up.

   “Annoyed that I have to do it in the first place.” She shrugged, scrunching her face. Made her look cuter than usual.

   “Dad and Susan are doing some date shit I guess. He planned it out of the blue. Used to do the lovey dovey shit before the proposal.”

   “Ah huh…” Camille eyed her reflection in the locker mirror and shut it quick. "Hard to picture Neil like that."

   Billy recalled that horrible wedding. Susan's poofy white dress like a sad cloud. Max trapped in an ugly powder blue number that she ripped later that night. Her freckled face was hot and red the entire time. Hands sweaty and fidgeting. She and Billy both shook through the entire reception. He drank anything he could get his hands on. Ate straight from the buffet like a starving animal scavenging for food. Laughed and laughed. Cackled. Made snide remarks. Billy later slept with one of the waitresses and returned all glowy, smelling of booze. Susan pretended he wasn't even there and thought Max would warm up. Eventually. Neil was here to fix her life. Kiss it all better. Wishes.

   Neil took Billy out back and gave him a quick round with the belt for causing a scene. No eyes were batted when he came back in all disheveled with red-rimmed eyes. Max just stared though. At the time, he loathed her for that. The crumbling boy stole a few bottles and drove himself to a cliff. Cried and passed out under the stars. Ruined the shitty rental suit Neil forced him to wear. Another whipping when he got home hungover before the delayed honeymoon. Max buried her dress in the backyard after they'd left. Struggled with a shovel taller than her. Billy remembered laughing as he observed the scene. Genuinely. Mad Max indeed.

   Some shit was so painful, you had to laugh. After watching her fight to get rid of the garment, he clicked his lighter open and they held a Viking funeral for it in silence. Watched the layers burn. Pretended it was cleansing. Sibling bonding.

   “Max is going to the arcade. Heard El was hanging with Wheeler today. Have the Chief drop you at my place. You know, after the session.” He shut his own locker, peering at her. Camille pressed her lips and nodded. “Just go to the thing and have a damn conversation. You can whine at me all you want after.”

   “You’re too sweet. And you do know that you weren’t supposed to be friends with Jim, right? Not allowed.” She drew flat and he smirked, shaking his head.

   “We just have a pain in the ass in common,” he winked, pecking her lips when she pushed at his arm.

   “Oh, you spoil me. On that note, I actually do need to be in the office. Behave.”

   “Unlikely.” Billy kissed her again, harder than usual. Camille just rolled her eyes, amused and turned to go toward the front office. She popped a fresh piece of gum in, blowing a pink bubble idly.

   “Ms. Harper, right on time, as usual.” Ms. Kruger was taking two schedules from Robin crouched over a file cabinet. The twins both turned in fluid motion to see her. Smiles matched. Like they choreographed it. “This is Randall Dean and his twin sister, Regan. Please make them feel welcomed here. Camille Harper will see to it that you both find your classes and get to know our school.”

   “Nice to meet you two,” Camille extended her hand and Randall took it into both of his. Already charming. Eyes fixated.

   “Looks like we’re in safe hands. Camille, was it? Lovely name. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Lips tugged into a wider grin at her.

   “Regan.” His sister nodded, lifting her hand higher than intended with nerves before she dropped it some. “Hi.” More awkward than her smooth brother for sure. Camille had to slip from Randall to shake her hand next.

   “Welcome to Hawkins High, I will be your guide for the day.” Camille took their schedules. “See you, Robin. Ms. Kruger.” They followed her out. Students eyed them as they always did. More so curious of the new twins breezing through. “Bear with me, I usually get one new kid. Must have been a green-light special on twins.” Regan burst with a giggle that fizzled into a snort at that. Randall elbowed her to stop and Camille chuckled.

   “Sorry,” she cleared her throat. “New school nerves.”

   “Sure it was like your old one.” Camille smiled to set her at ease.

   “Afraid our parents believed in home-schooling. Private tutors. Passed away over the summer so we moved in with our aunt. She can’t be bothered.” Randall explained. His blue eyes had more of a spring green tinge while Regan’s were brighter like the summer sky.

   “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Camille frowned. "Who is your aunt? I might know her."

   "Ah, she lives on the outskirts of Hawkins." Randall explained. "Works mostly. Big time corporate suit in a small pond. Bigger rich friend circle. Still a bit of a shut in, leaves town a lot. Helena Blanc."

   "Blanc. I'm sure I'd remember that name," Camille looked elsewhere. "My parents might of known her if they ran in similar circles. Heard you two are from the big city."

   “Just moved from New York.” Regan added.

   “Must have been a hard change.” Camille walked them to their lockers. “Hawkins is small but full of some decent people. Good kids here too. Should make your last year a great one. Your locker is here, Randall...and Regan...your locker is a few down from mine.” Randall tugged to open it with no result and Camille sighed.

   “Hm, you got one of the broken ones. Sorry. There’s a trick to it, just pull and give it a hard bump...here.” Camille smacked her fist lightly to a spot on the metal and it jumped open.

   “Already making my life better,” Randall grinned at her, adding some books before he shut the door. Regan's eyes swept between them.

   “Ah, I had a broken one my first three years. It sucks.” Camille only shrugged. “As for classes, Regan...you have gym first. Down the way, make a left. My girl, Heather, will be in class with you. She’ll set you up. We actually have our last three periods together. Lucky. And Randall, you have Lit first, gym next. My boyfriend has second period gym too.”

   “Boyfriend.” His smile twitched while her eyes remained on the page. Couldn't be bothered. She missed the way the twins sniffed and exchanged looks.

   “Mm hm, Billy Hargrove is his name. But, I’ll see you in third period, robotics, and...fifth period, science. Make the day easier. I only have a few rules for new kids, keep up and don’t make me late. Got it?” Camille handed their papers back, eyebrow quirked.

   “Easy,” Regan split with a cheery smile and her brother didn’t falter. A viper hiding in the grass waiting to strike.

   “Loud and clear.”

** ** **

   “Hargrove, here, now!” Their coach barked, jerking to point. Billy hated today in one instant. Obligatory football tryouts in gym. His fault for getting caught smoking that joint in the boy's room. Camille didn't let him live that one down. Mostly because he hadn't shared it with her.

   His fault for also showing off at every sport in gym class. Coach was looking for a way to persuade him. To put that lightly. Either join the team and contribute or enjoy a lengthy suspension that was sure to send his dad over the edge. Annoyed, he shrugged on a helmet and stalked to his place.

   “Billy Hargrove, right?” The boy in front of him muttered, earning a glance. “Name’s Randall. Dean. Just transferred. Camille showed my sister and I around the place today. Mentioned you.” The teens all crouched into position. “Real slice of warm apple pie, that one. Lucky guy. Kid's here have a lot to say about her. You too, I guess. King and Queen, huh? Quaint.” Billy opened his mouth to get in this dude's face, but a whistle blew. Instead, he was yanked backwards on his ass, distracted as the new boy landed on him. Other students stilled to watched their king take a tumble into grass. “Beginner’s luck?”

   “Hell off me.” Billy puffed, already worked up. Ready to blaze. Randall beamed and offered a hand that was swiped away. All so damn familiar. Billy recalled last year with Steve. Hating that he missed the pretty idiot. The new boy sniffed against cold air and shrugged.

   “You ought to plant your feet next time, Hargrove.” Randall winked with a smirk like he knew already. Smug shithead. “Draw a charge.” Billy crushed his teeth into the mouth guard, readied to wipe that expression away. They got into position and Billy was ready this time, lunging forth to knock Randall Dean over in turn. Harder than he should have. Coach liked it. How’s that for a charge?

   “Clear.” It came out as a hiss. Billy stepped over him when positions changed.

   This was going to be a long day.

** ** **

   “We’re not even into the season and they’re throwing a pre-homecoming party,” Camille eyed the invitation, shrugging. “Tina’s weekend bashes never quit.”

   “Something to celebrate the last year in this place,” Heather was entertained, eyes lifting. “Hey, you’re being summoned. New guy.”

   “Ah.” Camille spotted Randall across the way, waving her to his empty lunch table. Regan waited in line for her food still. “I’ll come sit with you guys in a moment. Gotta be available to the new transfers.” Heather went off and sat between Nancy and Robin across from Billy. His eyes were glued to the two speaking. Cheeks sucked in. Jaw tensing.

   “You jealous already? It's not even fourth period yet, Hargrove.” Robin twirled some overcooked pasta along her fork.

   “I don’t get jealous.” Billy blew air out his lips at the sheer absurdity of her spot on suggestion. He was clearly glaring, ignoring his lunch. “Just don’t like the guy. There is a huge difference.”

   “Says a jealous Billy...jealously.” Heather snapped her fingers, causing him to break the intent gaze. “Guys flirt with Camille all the time, B. It’s nothing.”

   “Not like this one, Heth.” He bit the inside of his cheek. Across the way, Camille took a seat.

   “Classes well so far?”

   “Different.” Randall mused. “Fine. Exciting, in fact.”

   “That’ll wear off.” She joked, causing him to smile and sit forward.

   “I have to ask. Robotics.”

   “I’m well aware that I’m the only girl,” Camille shrugged, “and I like the challenge. I have big ideas already.”

   “Seemed like it was a challenge for everyone in there but you,” he’d quirked his brow and Camille beamed. Chirping.

   “I didn’t notice.”

   “I did.” New boy had a certain way about him. Cool and collected. Compact. The way Camille used to be before her existence unraveled. The way she often wished foolishly that she still was. “To the point though, I just wanted to ask you something. It might be too much.” He began. “You see, my sister. She’s had a hard go of it.”

   “I can imagine.” Camille Harper could do more than imagine.

   “We both did, but this past summer...she’s not the same. Doesn’t have friends. Never really had any at all. I want this year to be better for her. Maybe it’s silly and I don’t know you well. I’d like to. I just wondered if you could, you know, look out for her. Take her under your wing. So to speak. I see how the rest of our class reveres you.”

   “Believe me, not all of them, I...” Camille bit her lip, blinking. “Yeah, I can do that. It’s sweet...you looking out for her.”

   “Sometimes, I think we’re all we have.” Randall sounded heartfelt, eyes lifting before he sniffed. Gazes locked. “Family is everything. Terrifying, I think, what we’d do to protect it. Wouldn’t you agree?”

   “Yes, actually, I know exactly what you mean. She seems sweet. Regan. I’m sure she’ll fit right in here. Hawkins is an odd place, more interesting than we give it credit for.”

   “I’m so looking forward to finding that out.” Randall grew bold, touching her hand. “Thank you, Camille. I appreciate it.” She felt frozen for a beat, surprised he’d reached out. Her hand slipped away quick before she got up, smiling in a flash.

   “Don’t mention it.” Camille lingered, exhaling before she turned to join her friends at their usual table.

   “What was that?” Robin leaned over when Camille sat next to her stiff boyfriend.

   “Just asked me to look out for his sister. We have the last few classes with her, Billy. Maybe I’ll ask her to the mall. Girl’s day can solve anything.” Camille smiled and he glanced at her, unresponsive emotionally until something hard cracked.

   “He was hitting on you.” Billy's heavy eyes sparked at her.

   “Lots of people hit on me.” She’d countered. “Lots of girls hit on you. Boys too, even if you don’t notice.” Oh, he noticed. He was pretty.

   “Makes it too fucking obvious.”

   “And you did what exactly when you started here last fall?” Camille quieted him, their friends felt discomfort lift. “Ah huh. I’m with you because I like you. Dummy.”

   “Stuck in gym with this asshole. I’m telling you, he isn’t right.” Billy had his arms crossed. Pissed him off more because he did this shit to Harrington when he’d started. Karma was after him or some such shit. “Trapped on the damn football team with him this season.”

   “You made the football team?” Jonathan cut into the moment like a record scratch and Billy groaned, head tipping back. The mood shifted. Lighter. Camille gave a huff.

   “Billy, my boyfriend, who I am dating and love very much-”

   “Ew,” Robin snorted.

   “-you need to stop worrying.” Camille went on, amused. “He’s new and wants to make an impression. You know what that’s like.”

   “It’s just a feeling, I get. I don’t like him. You ever get a feeling in your gut about someone?” He noted the way her eyes shifted at that. Didn’t ask why. Bit down on his tongue. Hard.

   “It’s called jealousy,” Camille tugged him in by the collar of his denim jacket for a kiss. Billy caught Randall taking note across the way and felt better. Draw a charge. Pride returned. “And it’s out of fashion.”

   “I’m putting you two on notice.” Robin was pointing with her fork and Heather started laughing next to her. “Three second intense eye contact maximum. Nance and Byers aren’t even as bad as you both. Consider this a warning.” Playfully, Camille came in to leave a red lipstick mark on Billy’s collar. A signature. “None of that either.”

   “Aw, thank you, Robin.” Nancy touched her lips to chuckle when Jonathan went pink.

   “Football thing does suck but you’ll have me cheering from the side. Makes me feel better, someone I know well on the team. Some of these players are total creeps on both sides,” Heather’s face was bright. Billy lifted his eyes at that. A friend he made feel safer. Neil used to rip into him about always needing to be the hero. Since his mother. Ached less when girls like Heather smiled at him like that. Because of trust.

   “Nancy and I will have to do stories for the paper too.” Jonathan added.

   “Party season is picking up and we’ll be at those games.” Camille poked her food about. “The Breakfast Club has your back, so get used to that.” She earned some chuckles. Billy’s chest fell with an entertained scoff, arm slipping around her chair as he stretched. Odd group of friends. Odd to even have a group he belonged in. But, when Camille turned to grin at him, it really didn’t matter as much. Billy had learned to stop asking why. Tried to during long nights when his skin began to crawl. When that swell of nerves bundled every time he entered his own house. Camille was his charge. Not a mere spark. The rosy firework that had gone off before sparkling blue eyes at last.

** ** **

   “You know that my dad will lose his mind when I tell him I’m playing. Pushed me into damn sports when I was young. Might actually make him proud for once. Fucking joke.” Billy was scratching words along a paper, tense until Camille scooted in. Study hall began as usual.

   “He has a popular son who was a hero over the summer with rising grades and a good group of friends. Not a terrible girlfriend either.” She’d joked so he twitched a smile before slowing to look up at her. Those weighted eyes framed with long lashes blinked. Billy had the face of a movie star. Bright and tired of the business he was in. Too proud to show it. “He can’t say shit.”

   “He always finds shit to give me,” Billy rolled his eyes and she flipped through a robotics book, sketching ideas along her own notepad. Too many came to keep up with her hand. “Beatings don’t get that far these days but he’s two seconds from the edge. Barely see Susan, she just comes home and goes to their room. Especially when Dad and I get into it. Max comes out and watches like a hawk, she’s going to get my dad charging after her for protecting me. Fuels dad’s famous ‘I have a pussy for a son’ rants.”

   “She wants to help you and recording it is how she can. Neil’s going to try to drive you two apart for it. You both know that because he did it before.” Camille touched his thigh under the table. “And you are currently dating the new faux adopted kid of Hawkins’ Chief of Police. Neil’s smart and careful, he’ll try harder to cover his own tracks before he does anything else.”

   “He flashes his family dinners with coworkers but, I don’t know. He made a comment the other day. About all the fighting needing to end. He came up with this idea to invite you, El, and the Chief over. I know something's up. Bury the hatchet, my ass.” Billy shrugged. “Susan was supposed to call the Chief, I think she’s putting it off.”

   “Jim will see right through Neil,” Camille shook her head. “Your dad wouldn’t risk tipping off the Police Chief further unless he had a plan to be an asshole.”

   “That day you were taken. When he locked me into my room. You know that nanny bitch sent photos to him of us during the bonfire.” He spoke after a moment of thought. "My dad will play nice with the Chief. Make me look like a piece of shit. Same way he does with everyone else. Thinks he can fool Hopper."

   “You believe that she’s still tipping him off about us? Try to split me from you. Get you beaten.” Camille watched him nod and sat back. “I don’t want to do this. But, I think I’m going to have El try to find her again. It's too quiet.”

   “Said she was normal and boring last time the kid tried.”

   “I can go in with her, make her less drained. Something’s off there too.” Camille fiddled with her pencil. “I’ll have Jim drop me at your place as planned and we’ll go from there. Might be time to gather the Party.”

** ** **

   “Sorry, we’re late. Couldn’t get this one out of the car.” Jim pressed Camille by the back into a doctor’s office, set up for a therapy session. The girl dragged about it. Pouted as Jim ushered her along.

   “No, you both are right on time.” Sam Owens came to his feet, the slightest limp in his step. Evidence of the attack he’d survived that her father didn’t. Camille recalled the stark tear of flesh and pounding against glass. “Camille, good to see you again.”

   “Yeah,” her arms were crossed. His smile didn’t end. “Sure.”

   “Pop, how about you wait just outside?” Owens gestured for Camille to come sit on a lounge chair. Ruefully, she took a stiff seat and Jim sighed, nodding.

   “Just talk to him. I’ll be right out there.” He offered and Camille looked elsewhere, shrugging. Didn't want to meet his eyes when he tried. Jim went out and one of Sam’s assistants beckoned for him to enter another room with a two-way mirror. Other doctors busied to take notes. Jim hated intruding like this.

   “You’re a senior, aren’t you?" Owens had gone on. "Last year is always the most exciting.”

   “Debatable.” Her tone grew dry. “Finding out that you have superpowers kind of takes the entire bakery.” Owens gave a nod and sat across from her with a clipboard in hand. He turned the lamp next to him on and noted her cringing, head tilting another direction.

   “Superpowers. You know, I always wanted the power of flight when I was younger. Superman fan.” The doc was pleasant. Easy-going. Not worried about the grumpy teen before him. “What about you? Any hero?” Camille sat back, sucking in her cheeks.

   “Catwoman.”

   “Isn’t she a villain, technically?”

   “Depends on where you’re standing, sir.” Camille watched him smirk and tried not to relax. The guy was good at this.

   “Sam is fine. You have a whole group of heroes in your life. Don’t you, Camille?” He saw her eyes slide to him. A flicker. Uneasy. “You’re quite the hero yourself already too.”

   “Getting taken and wiped and used." Breath hitched to scoff at that. "Yeah, hip hip hurrah for Queen Bee Camille. Super Bitch.”

   “For fighting it. For surviving it. For saving your friends and yourself.” Owens offered carefully and her hands slipped into her lap to fidget.

   “They’re in danger still because of me.”

   “They are in danger because our government did something awful and that leaked out into this town. Too many innocent people got hurt and not all of them will get justice. We both wish it was different.” He sat forward. “You’re a very bright young mind with a whole future ahead. Good grades still? Jim tells me you’re the top of your class. In line to be valedictorian. Could get into any college you wish.”

   “I guess. I don’t know, sometimes it feels like I'm just cheating now.” She admitted.

   “Kids look up to you. I hear that you tutor as well. You use these abilities to help others struggling to do well.” He nodded. Camille never thought of it that way. “You have lots of school friends too?”

   “Yes, most of them in our...Party, we call it.” Camille played with her sweater, legs curling up so she could lean into the couch. “Some kids I tutor, I guess. Like to think I know everyone. Couple of new kids too.”

   “New kids?”

   “Twins. Just transferred in from New York. Seem pretty cool. They're in my grade. I invited the sister to go to the mall with me tomorrow. She doesn’t have friends and...it might be nice to hang out with someone who doesn’t know me.”

   “Why do you say that?”

   “I feel less exposed, I guess.” Camille cleared her throat. Stared at her glittery pink nails.

   “Tell me more about that. Feeling exposed.”

   “All the shit, sorry...” Camille touched her lips and he didn’t mind. “All the stuff that got flashed around the whole town about me. My adoptive parents had my life mapped with official study files and pictures and tapes. No privacy in sight. My own damn nanny was a spy. Don’t like to cry in front of people but, I can’t seem to stop this last year… Found affection anywhere I could because I didn’t get it enough at home. I did things with older boys that I shouldn’t have when I was too young.” She sniffled and Owens came to offer the tissues. He sat back again and bumped the table lamp setting the box down. Light flashed up into Camille’s face and she jerked, hands up to block it. Like it truly burned her retinas apart.

   “Sorry about that,” Owens fixed it. “You can look up, Camille.” He noticed the way she was shaking, quick to wipe under her eyes. “Take one deep breath for me...good.” Sam took down a few notes while she calmed herself, emotions squashing. “Do you feel exposed when you open up to friends?”

   “Sometimes.”

   “Can it be comforting too?”

   “For a little while, then it just...feeds into everything else. I know they love me. I love them. But, I just get that...stabbing ache like a plucked vein. Those awful people used to make me dance and mimic for hours. This is awful to think. Sometimes, I’m scared that I’m just a mockingbird echoing a song when I’m with the people I love most.”

   “You feel you’re just mimicking emotions instead of actually feeling them?” Sam watched her nod. “And this scares you?”

   “Yes.” Camille curled further into the couch, holding a pillow to her lap.

   “When is it you started to feel more exposed, Camille? Or have you always?”

   “Always, I think. But, it didn’t feel important until...until I saw Robbie again.” She grew quieter. “Not even finding what I did in my dad's attic was as bad as seeing Robbie's eyes again. Like whatever perfect snowglobe of a world I saved after everything was finally fully shattered. Messed my relationships up. Billy and I especially.”

   “Ah, yes, Billy. The boyfriend. Must drive the Pop crazy.” Owens pressed a smile and she twitched with one at the mention of the boy she loved. A warm expression that tinted her cheeks with a blush.

   “Billy drives most people crazy.” Something inside unfurled.

   “Even you?”

   “Me, yes, most of all,” Camille cracked to grin, touching her lips when he encouraged her. Jim allowed himself to smile on the other side of the glass. These subtle moments when she let herself be a teen girl were truly beautiful.

   “Did you mimic that?” Owens lifted his brow and Camille sobered. “Tell me about these nightmares you have. Are they memories or just fears created from the trauma of that event?”

   “I think they’re a little of both. Rare that I find recalling something so fuzzy.”

   “Can you tell me what you do remember?”

   “Felt kinda like I was outside of my body watching it. Other times, I was trapped inside here...not in control. Like I was in a blank, white room. I remember all these faces flashing. The gate. I think I opened it and something bled out. I didn't mean to.” Camille’s lip trembled. She twisted the tissue in her grasp. "I remember the horrible things they wanted me to do and...I know I did bad things under them."

   "It is not your fault, Camille."

   “I wish I believed you. It’s nice...not remembering something. It makes me feel normal.”

   “Ah. Less exposed?” He inquired. “Do you worry more about being exposed to other people or are you too afraid to turn your own perception on yourself?” Owens set the clipboard aside when her lips opened. “Both?” Camille gave a subtle nod, mouthing the word to herself.

   “It’s like I’m alone on a stage with a spotlight that won’t let me hide. It just grows larger.”

   “A spotlight,” Owens eyed the window and then the lamp again. “Camille, I’d like us to try something.”

   “Dangerous words, Dr. Owens.” She lifted green, hazel eyes when he touched the lamp. Her body locked up and he noticed the way she went rigid. Sitting forward. Spine straight. Hands digging into the cushions like she was bracing for pain. Like she might jolt up to run away.

   “Do you want to stop?” He asked softer. “It scares you.”

   “I am scared.” Camille cracked apart. “But, I know...remembering could… It could help us.”

   “Do you think it’ll help you? Letting yourself be further exposed?”

   “I know I have to face it all.” Came the most truthful answer she could think of. “If I look back, I’m just lost, Dr. Owens. I'm tired of feeling so lost.” He waited until she nodded, then lifted the bright lamp to beam across her face. Eyes cringed. Body recoiling.

   “Camille.” He eased. “I’m here. You’re here. You’re safe.” Camille couldn’t see much with the light blasting white across her vision. She tried not to look directly into it. But, she sunk even still. “Camille, can you tell us where you are?”

   “Sink.” She breathed, lungs clenching. “I’m… The gate.”

   “What do you see at the gate?” Owens shrunk behind the light to let her focus. Eyes growing wide. Features washed out like the horrid flash of a camera’s exposure.

   “Mind Flayer. It’s… It wanted to swallow me. There are stars in its mouth. It needs me to do something. It wants to feed me the stars. They’re dead. They’re all dead.”

   “Are you dead, Camille?”

   “No.”

   “Prove it.” He sounded like more of a comfort.

   “It’s so cold.” She was unblinking. Fixated. Horrified. Tears edged down her cheeks. “The stars are closing in. I feel the lights everywhere.” Behind the glass, Jim recalled the way Will would speak about the Mind Flayer during his time hosting it. Only it was cold darkness. This felt like the other side to the coin.

   “Can you hide?”

   “Ngh-No, it’s got me.” Camille quaked with a shudder, hands fisting the fabric of her sweater tight to her stomach. “It wants me to glow too. It wants me to be a nightlight. A safe beacon to follow. They wanted me to consume El. Find the rest. Spoon their abilities into my head. It was going to take them. One by one. And put their lights inside of me.”

   “Did you want to hurt them?”

   “No.” Camille’s lip quivered. More tears welled. “It’s that damn light. And after...I...” The answer fluttered too far to touch.

   “I want you to do something. You can’t hide, Camille, look at me. I want you to find a light that makes you feel safe. Can you do that?” He clicked on a metronome. “Focus here and find a safe light for yourself.”

   “My real parents. They’re lighting candles together.”

   “Very good, stay with them.”

   “I want to. I want to stay so badly.” Camille’s face crumbled, head twitching. She wept softly with dead eyes. Teeth clenching. “But, I can’t.”

   “Find another.”

   “Barb and Nancy. We used to hold flashlights to our faces and tell scary stories.”

   “Good and another.”

   “Billy’s Camaro pulling up to my house.” She droned, calming. “I can see the headlights filtering into the windows.”

   “Are you going on a date? He bring you some red roses?”

   “No, he knows I hate them. My adoptive parents used to grow them all along the side of our house. I couldn’t stand it. Robbie used to pluck them and leave one by my bed. They’re just too much and out of control. Cliche. He has peonies.”

   “That’s nice of him.”

   “Yes, it is.” Camille lulled more in a daze, hands still clutched into her top to feel grounded. The clicking of the metronome brought more awareness into her flesh. Something to focus on. “I can’t leave the house to see him. They still have me.”

   “The Mind Flayer?”

   “No, my mother and them. Brenner. Edna. Robbie.”

   “What are they doing?”

   “I didn’t want to tell them, he made me do it. It knew all my secrets. Gave me one of its own.”

   “What did you tell them?”

   “How to take the rest of them. My brothers and sisters. We needed El to find them. The Mind Flayer knows what they can do. Who is alive and not. Just not where they all are. How to reach them. We were closing in on some.” Camille swallowed. “Edna sat me down and stroked my hair. Mother...she’s...dressing me in a pretty gown. Painting my face. I can’t move. Edna wants to know everything.”

   “About?”

   “The Party. My friends. Me. What the Mind Flayer whispered into my ears.”

   “And what did the Flayer tell you, Camille?” Owens watched her twitch. “Focus, you’re safe.”

   “It told me...we cannot hide. That it sees us. It knows us. It knows how to take us all down. It will find the others. Then it is going to find everyone. My brain can absorb them all. Make the world our hive and turn it into something new. Something all better.” Camille’s shoulders went back, hands dropping limply. “We are all going to die down here.”

   “Camille, stay with me. You’re not dead, remember?”

   “It tried to grab Billy,” she recalled tearing to hold onto him. “I almost lost him. It took Robbie instead and it learned...everything about me. I can’t hide. I’m exposed again and again.” He watched her start to unhinge. Breathing picked up. Twitches became erratic quivering.

   “Robbie is dead but you’re not.”

   “I c-can’t move.” She rocked now, lungs began to spasm. “I tried so hard not to sink. I swear, I tried. I couldn't stop it. It told me secrets. There was a girl like me only she was just a shadow. I think she’s mine. I can’t see her face. I only see me. Robbie’s coming. She doesn't like him either.”

   “Is he with you?” Owens watched her shake her head like a petulant little girl. “Camille, stay here.” He’d urged again. “The Mind Flayer does not have you. You found an anchor. Lights that are warm and safe. Stay with them.”

   “Billy's just outside and I can't get to him anymore. I can’t breathe.” She pulled at her sweater as if she was choking. “Robbie’s squeezing it too tight. Make him stop. I can’t move. I can’t...” Camille fell to little pieces, shuddering with cries before her voice was raw. Squeaking. “He’s taking off my clothes.”

   “Camille!” Owens shut the light off at the same time there was a bang outside. He barely caught her shoulders when she tipped forward. Back into reality. Gasping.

   “Hey!” Jim slammed the door open, crossing to her in one instant.

   “You’re safe,” Owens soothed as she covered her lips.

   “She’s had enough.” Hopper gathered Camille into his arms, one palm pressed her face into the crook of his neck. Cradling her close, he rocked her to still the cries into quieter sniffles. She wept and grabbed blindly at his hair and clothes to burrow. Tried to hide. Sam met his eyes and nodded for him to scoop her up then follow. Camille clung so he didn’t have much a choice and carried her off.

   “I can prescribe something for the anxiety and sleep issues. But, we both know this goes deeper than that. And I also know this poor girl had pills shoved at her for her entire life. I saw the endless supply of them after we packed up that lab.” Owens shook his head. Camille edged out to peer at him, wounded. “What she needs is to be surrounded by loved ones. She needs to be in a place that she feels safe again. You need to talk about it, Camille. Little by little. With those friends you have. Don’t think you consider me a good friend. Might hurt my pride. But, Camille, you need to find those safe lights if you can’t hide in the dark. Can you do that for an old acquaintance like me?” He smiled when she gave a nod. “And drive the boyfriend crazy when you can, get him back.”

   “Thank you. Sam.” She croaked, fingers tight into Jim’s coat.

   “I’d like to talk to you again. When you’re ready.”

   “Thanks for coming out, doc.” Jim sighed, holding the teen close to carry her out a back door so they could get into his truck. He buckled her in and sighed, hands on either side of her lap while he leaned into the vehicle. “Camille.”

   “I’d like to see Billy still. Can you take me to him?” Camille's eyes turned when he touched her face, kissing her head once to comfort her. That little voice was blank. Monotone. “It was better I went. I know that. I just have to process it.” Database. Hopper shut the door and came back around to get in and drive them off. Autumn leaves whistled into the wind around them. She watched the sky between trees. Branches swaying about. Billy was bent over the front of his Camaro with a socket wrench in hand when they came to a stop. He peered up, brightening before he rubbed a towel across his hands. Slipped an open shirt on over his tank, thumb resting into the buckle of his belt.

   “Stay here a moment.” Jim got out and went around toward the teen with his hands in his pockets. "Billy."

   "Chief." The teen craned his neck. "What happened to her?"

   “It was rough. I’d like her home in a few hours. You can stay or whatever but, know that she’s...” Jim couldn’t think of a better word. “Fragile.”

   “Camille? Fragile.” Billy scoffed sadly. Lashes fluttering when he peered away. Feet shifted. “You could shatter that girl a million times over and go mad slicing your own hands when those pieces crawl back together. Too fucking stubborn. She’ll use a shard as a mirror to fix her damn lipstick in. Laugh in your face about it after. Cut your heart out to take a bite.” The kid knew her. All too well. "And she'd do it so sweet and charming that you'd thank her for it."

   “She is stubborn.”

   “Her Queen Bee stinger gets limitless use, I guess.” Billy exhaled.

   “She doesn’t stop,” Jim agreed. “Something brave in that. Something completely deranged in it too.” Hopper understood this too. The Chief sized him up again. Billy squared his shoulders in response. “A lot of stuff came up. Go easy. She feels safe with you.” Billy eyed Camille staring ahead at the road and gave a nod. Jim exhaled cooler air and turned, stilling to peer back. Hesitating.

   "Chief?" Just say it.

   “Billy, Camille won’t stop trying to help out the people she loves. She’s strong, she wants to give that strength to others until there isn’t any left for herself. That's worth it to her. I hope they appreciate that and meet her halfway. I hope they know they can save themselves with her support. I had to learn that too.” Billy was silent, shifting to follow him so he could help Camille out of the car. She came without a fight or word, arm slipping around his shoulders so she could stumble aimlessly.

   “I got her.” Billy took her around the waist to get her moving.

   “I know you do, kid.” Jim went across the front, waving once when Camille looked back before he drove off.

   “Hey, you.” Billy sort of propped her up, half seated on the front of his car. “Just finishing this up.” Camille floated there a minute, watched him lean in next to her with tools. Billy was patient, dropping his shirt aside again so he was clad in the tank and jeans. “No damage, just a quick tune.” He didn’t force the conversation. They just existed together. Shared an intimate space. Billy went back to the tool box on a shelf and turned to see Camille leaned over, clicking about and finishing what he’d done. Like a programmed robot. Replaced the spark plugs and fixed a hose.

   “Seen you tune it enough. Better?” Her head gave the slightest tilt so he took the wrench and peered under the hood.

   “Uh. Yeah,” he eyed her blank face, “yeah, better.” Billy wiped his hands again and offered her the towel, turning to close the hood. “New skills.” Camille stood there, facing away from him. Wind echoed into her hair and clothing. Her voice just came.

   “He raped me.”

   “What?” Billy lifted his head, palms flat after he’d clicked the hood down. Curls shifting. Of course, he knew. But, she never said it to him. Never faced it fully. Camille blinked several times, head turning so she could meet his eyes.

   “When I was fifteen, a twenty year old man named Robbie Kline groomed and raped me...and then he did it again and again during the summer. Those days they had me. I don’t...know why I felt the need to say it. I wanted to be honest with you. Expose myself without feeling like I need to hate me at the same time. I associated the two for so many years and I don’t want to feel shame and guilt when I open up to the boy I love so much.” Her eyes welled again and Billy was holding her already. Camille’s cheek tipped to his shoulder, arms lifting before she was squeezing him in return. He leaned out to cup the back of her head, kissing her only when she nodded. Their foreheads came together.

   “I can keep you safe.” He kissed one cheek then the other. It sounded like, I love you. Promised because he finally believed such a thing. "You know that?" She just nodded and let him guide her off up the steps of the garage and into the house.

   Camille followed him into the bathroom, they washed their hands properly. She splashed cool water on her splotched face, cleaning it of tears and eye makeup. Took a good, hard look at her reflection and slid her eyes to Billy standing next to her. A couple made of too many colors that glowed and swirled about. He slipped a hand into her own to tug her out, down the hallway and back to his room.

   “Looks cleaner.”

   “Had some free time,” Billy kicked a laundry basket aside.

   “Have you always had a couch there?” She gestured to the small, beat up piece and he smirked.

   “Very funny.” He only shrugged. “Looks different not piled with clothes and shit, huh.” Billy went still when he turned to see her right there looking at his eyes. Hands lifted to touch his waist, fingers sliding down to slip the tank top over his head. He just stared at her while she looked at his body. Fabric bunched at his shoulders, edging his arms behind him. Lips opened when fingertips ghosted down his collarbones. Over his pecs. Dancing along his ribs. Her thumb traced the scar there in his side.

   “I want to touch you.” Camille mused more so to herself, pushing at his arms so they were more behind him. Billy didn’t try to grab at her. Kiss her. He just watched her observe and explore him. Unafraid. Safe. Camille circled him. That observant little fox with sly eyes.

   Fingers traced over his back, down the notches of his spine. The shirt hit the floor. He eyed her in the mirror, arms winding around him to smooth all down his chest and taut stomach. Hands edged to undo his belt, tugging when she was at his side again to toss it away. Camille watched his eyes and came to her knees, unzipping tight jeans to bring them down until she helped him step out. Nude, Billy had never felt this exposed in all their sexual history.

   “You’re so pretty.” Camille placed a hand on his calf, palm up over the hair on his legs. After too many years of being lusted at by women young and old and older, having girls call you pretty is actually a welcomed change. Goosebumps rose on Billy’s flesh.

   Lungs caught. Her hand traced up his leg, followed lines in his hips. Each perfect contour of his body. Cupped his ass. Slid along his inner thigh until he shuddered. A tiny prickle of arousal dripped from his tip. Camille licked it off her knuckle when it landed there. Billy vibrated, waiting for her so she touched his hand and placed it against her face. Fingers shifted hair from it while she caressed his thighs, tight with thick muscles.

   “Camille, fuck,” he’d uttered, lips opening when her cheek pressed his flesh. She brought his other hand down, encouraging him to work his shaft while she watched. Fingers tangled into dark locks when he took the time to masturbate himself. She spent minutes massaging his hips and thighs, pressed so close to his cock. Breath on heated skin. Billy moaned when she cupped his balls, fingers drawing into the trimmed hair there. Up toward his swollen, dripping head. Eyes lifted to his.

   “I want it.” Lips opened, tongue replacing her fingertips. Something made him feel especially dirty while she stuck her tongue out, fully clothed, and let him offer his tip. Arousal leaked readily along her bottom lip. Slipping from the corner. Mouth closed so he moved his hand and let her inch down the thick swell of him. Billy cupped her jaw, thumb rubbing praising circles into her cheek. Camille worked her mouth a few times, sliding back to stroke him until he was slicked. Plump lips opened, the head nestled there to drip while she pumped him with her hand. Billy watched her and came undone. Moaning when she swallowed him down.

   “Fuck, just like that. You’re perfect.” He eyed her then looked at the mirror again. Billy listened to her suckle on him and moan around his dick. Longed to know how wet she must have been already from just touching him. Camille came back with a satisfying pop and pulled off her sweater.

   “Undress me,” she begged and that was it. Billy pulled under her arms and let her tumble back into the couch. Pants and underwear went first, tossed aside before her bra was next.

   “Spread,” he curved forward to kiss her lips, tongue exploring her mouth. Soft thighs opened so he got between them on his knees against the carpet. “Touch yourself.” Billy was already working his shaft again, he came up and set one knee on the couch to half hover. Camille slipped her fingers against the stiff bud, moaning when he hummed blissfully at the sight. Pre-cum hit her stomach. She brought her thighs up and spread wider for him. Lips touched her neck, lingering down her chest. Camille got the idea and two fingers spread her folds so he could lick and suck between them. A whimper charged him further.

   Billy lifted his eyes and tugged once at her clit, then spat against her entrance. Camille whined, needy beyond belief when he was this dirty and ample with her body. Billy ate her as obscenely as he could and felt hands run all into his curls. Thighs hitched up higher and he stilled to dig into a nearby drawer for a condom. Camille snatched it, taking his hips in a hurry to lean forward and roll it on him. Arms wrapped around his shoulders to make him nestle between her legs. Billy instead pushed her thighs up again and straightened his spine so he could look down at her.

   “Look at you,” he stilled to grin, pride swelled when she smiled too in her state. Breaths puffed together. Teeth bit into her bottom lip. Turned on and begging for him. Billy rubbed and patted his shaft against her swollen folds. Hair splayed around her head when she arched, squirming about. “Ah, ah. Manners, Camille.”

   “No. I want you.” She whined like a brat.

   “Hm?” His hand came to her pelvis to hold it in place, thumb shifting to rub circles into her bud. “Have to use the magic words first.” The relentless teasing sent a groan fizzling out her skin. His cock smacked against her, the head barely edged inside. He felt her walls already clenching, ready to squeeze him tight.

   “Billy, just fuck me.” She gasped when Billy jerked one leg up and settled it over his shoulder. “Please, I need you. I want you now. Fuck me.” The syllables grew hard and shredded apart when he plunged inside all the way. His thumb still stroked her clit as if to soothe when her lips opened with a silent cry. He filled her, stretching her with his size as she clenched him so perfectly. Almost too sweet, too tight and warm, for comfort. Billy came out and slammed back in, earning another honeyed moan. He bared his teeth, splitting her open while he found the hardest pace he could. Hips pounded together. Camille was a wanting little mess. Writhing and coaxing him to have her every which way. And he would.

   “Mine,” he arched, fingers squeezing her. The word just came, near silent. He was still torturing her clit so she came undone.

   “Yours.” Camille closed her eyes to savor him, hands grasping at any part of him she could reach. Billy pulled out and yanked her up to turn over.

   “Get back into my lap.” He tried not to bark the words. Bodies shaken and worked up, desperate for relief. Billy sat on his knees and pulled her against his chest. Her legs spread on either side of his thighs. Hands guided her hips so he could plunge back in. Camille turned her head for a deep kiss, holding to his arms as they wound around her body. Palming soft breasts roughly to pinch her nipples. “Like that?” He groped for more of her.

   “Yes,” she reclined back into him. A hand slid up her neck to take her jaw, forcing her gaze to the mirror across the way. She met Billy’s clouded eyes in the reflection.

   “Fuck yourself,” he uttered into her ear, tongue slipping down her collar. “Watch it.” Camille shuddered and he didn’t let go. “Now.” She whined again, adjusting to come up and sink down. Arms helped guide her, hips undulating against him. “Perfect.” He watched too, eyes locked.

   Pretty. Pretty. Pretty.

   “You’re beautiful. Keep watching.” Billy’s free hand fondled her clit again. Camille cried out and thrust back, rigid against him. Pleasure clouded their flesh. Consumed them both. She watched their bodies move in turn, fitting perfectly together. Breasts bounced when the couch began to rock. They panted and moaned, lost and locked together. “Come for me. Watch yourself.” Her thighs began to quiver. “Fuck, that’s it, Camille. You’re so fucking good. Right there. Yes. Oh, fuck.”

   “Billy, I can’t! Ah!” Camille arched, sinking all the way down when her rocking became erratic. Muscles spasming while she climaxed hard against him. Fingers held her jaw to make her watch it happen to herself. Tender kisses came into her messy hair and neck. “Ah! Ah! Ah!” Camille was still crying out, he drew her orgasm along until she couldn’t take up, fingernails dug into his arms. Through her quaking, he moaned aloud and came too. Hard thrusts finished inside her. Eyes lifted to the mirror to see Camille wrapped up in his arms. Utterly spent, she reared back to look at his eyes. Hissing when he palmed her breasts and gave her ass a satisfied slap.

   “Mine.” She kissed him again until he broke to grin, amused thoroughly.

   “Yours.” Billy agreed, massaging her still to work her body through those shock waves. Camille sagged into him, sighing out because this had to be heaven. “Come on. Get up to go pee and come back to bed. Still have a few hours before I need to get you home.” He helped her stand on shaken legs and let her go, disposing of the condom. Couldn’t help winking at himself in the mirror, teeth tugging at his bottom lip when she hurried back and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Camille playfully pulled him into bed with her. They burrowed under the covers and melted together.

   “Missed that.”

   “Couldn’t tell,” he joked, pecking her lips before he set an alarm so they could nap. “We’ll get out before Dad and Susan come home. Rest. You need it.”

   “Hm,” Camille inched into him. “If you could have any superpower, which one would you pick?”

   “Why?”

   “Fun.” She smiled and he scoffed, eyes lifting while he thought.

   “My mom and I used to play this game. Shadow monster, if you can believe it. Really just hide-in-seek. I’d creep after her in our house, hiding in one soft shadow to another when the sun started to go down. Scare her. Used to pretend I was teleporting into one shadow and out another. I’d hold a blanket over myself to cheat and inch up until she either found me or pretended she didn't know I was there.” Billy gave a wistful smile.

   “Teleportation. Void crawling. Creative.”

   “You make it sound much cooler,” he smirked, tired. "Shit became too much. I could just go somewhere else in a blink." Somewhere safer.

   “You were never scared of the dark as a kid?”

   “No.” Billy looked at her face again. “More comforting, I think. It’s fucking silly, I just felt-”

   “Less exposed?” Camille watched him nod and smiled more so to herself. "Not silly at all."

   "Sure."

   “Who’s your favorite superhero?”

   “You and supers tonight,” Billy quirked one brow so she shrugged. “Metal head badass from the X-Men. Magneto. And I know people think he’s a villain but-”

   “Depends on where you’re standing.” Camille laughed, touching her lips. “Also a Jewish icon. You win points with me for that.” She kissed his lips and nestled into the mattress. There was a moment of gentle staring. “We’re happy, aren’t we?”

   “We try to be.” Was the most honest answer he could create. Camille let him touch her face, eyes fixated together. Knuckles ran down her cheek and back up. Her lips lifted before her own truth resonated deep within his heart.

   “That’s enough for me.”

Chapter Text

   “Don’t want to go.” Billy tugged Camille by the jacket into his chest for a kiss. Got handsy with her against the open locker.

   “Look at you, pouting. My poor beach boy.” She mused, resisting playfully. Students hurried to leave down each hallway around them. “You have practice, Mr. Football Star. Boys bigger than you to tackle. Get going. I’ll call you when Regan and I finish up. Girl’s day. No boyfriends allowed. That's the rule.”

   “You know how I always break those. I could also start failing classes again and get kicked off the team.” He noted so she pushed at his chest again.

   “So you don't graduate and the coach blackmailing you turns you in for the joint you decided not to share with me. Yeah, that is a solid idea. Brilliant.” Camille winked, plucking his hands off her hips. "See where it gets you."

   “Fine,” he grumbled. “Do it your way.”

   “Hm. I knew you would. Now go kick ass so I can brag about you,” Camille took his face, leaning up to instead plant a kiss on the light scar that etched his eyebrow, “dummy.” Sly, he stole a second kiss for himself and tugged a loose lock of brown hair, shifting around her.

   “Get ready to run out of breath bragging, Harpy.” Billy glanced back with a matching wink before going. Camille smiled after him and turned to shut her locker, jolting out of her skin.

   “Camille.” Regan waited there, blinking. Oblivious. Seemingly. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.” There was a stillness about Regan that chilled.

   “Jeez,” she touched her own chest, laughing. “No, sorry, I’m just...jumpy on occasion.” Camille swept a backpack over one shoulder. “Come on, my car is out this way. Have you been to Starcourt yet?”

   “No, not yet.” Regan about bounced. Stillness flipped off like she remembered that she was a teenage girl. As if she reminded herself on occasion by force. That much, Camille understood. But, she grew genuinely excited while they exited the building.

   “Can’t imagine it’s as thrilling as New York must have been,” Camille led her into the car so they could drive off. She fiddled with the radio and Regan broke the silence.

   “I like new places. We never really traveled. Hawkins is...cute. The people are really nice to me. I don’t know, I didn’t expect that. Used to expecting the worse.” Regan had a way of wonder about her too. Nothing was a commonplace. Not even manure land Hawkins.

   “Same there, I haven’t seen much outside of Hawkins. When I graduate, I want to go to college somewhere else far away from here and explore. Travel whenever I want.” Camille smiled and turned a corner. A swell of empathy rushed between the two girls like they recognized this need for more in each other. A smile was shared between them. The ride was not long and a familiar vibrant structure came into the distance.

   “Looks like a dream.” Regan sighed, leaning forward. Camille recalled saying something similar months ago. “Bigger than I thought.”

   “Starcourt Mall. Pride of our jerk mayor but the shopping is admittedly...killer.” Camille quirked her lip and parked. “Come on, I have a wicked craving for a chocolate milkshake. Stupid girl trouble this week.”

   “Girl trouble?” Regan cocked her head to follow.

   “Too much information but, you understand,” Camille laughed at herself, “my period started. The worst.”

   “Oh...right. That.” Regan forced a scoff with no clue in sight. “The worst. I, uh, hate that.” Camille eyed her, blinking before she shrugged. The girl was awkward, no need to call her out for it.

   “Right...oh, this way.” Camille grasped a thin wrist to tug. Regan laughed after her, eyes wide in awe of the neon lights and overlapping patterns around them. Scoops Ahoy wasn’t busy just yet. The new kid behind the register turned. “Can I get a large double chocolate shake and...Regan, what do you like?”

   “Oh, um, I’m not sure.” She tapped the glass. Appeared to be looking at a new species of animal. “Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream...that exists?” Camille thought it was a joke but it sounded somewhat like a statement of fact.

   “Two scoops in a waffle cone of that.” She ordered, paying.

   “Thank you.” Regan dropped her hands.

   “Consider it a welcome gift to Hawkins.” Camille inched aside so they could wait for their treats.

   “You’re just...so...kind. I didn’t think...” Regan licked her lips, shrugging. “I mean, I know my brother put you up to this. Randall always thinks he can hide stuff from me.”

   “He didn’t exactly twist my arm about it. You and I have classes together. I like to go out.” Camille took her shake after Regan got her cone. “You’re cool. Own it. And I guess that I also just have a thing for transfers. New friends this year, I got my boyfriend last year as a transfer too.”

   “I am cool, huh.” Regan played tough and tried the ice cream, breaking. She licked her lips and brought a hand up, savoring. “Okay, this is amazing. I could die.”

   “They sell it from nine to nine here.” Camille sipped and cocked her head.

   “Billy, your boyfriend.” Regan followed. “What’s he like?”

   “Oh? Rough and tumble, boy. Mostly tumble these days.” Camille smiled as they walked along. “You know how boys are. Pretty and aggravating. Pretty aggravating. Stubborn. Chaotic. Soft when he wants. Hides it. My favorite jerk at the end of the day. And does he adore me in return. What about you? Someone waiting back in New York?”

   “Never had a boyfriend.” Regan was already biting into the side of the cone. They took a second to enjoy the ice cream.

   “So, I don’t mean to pry...”

   “I’m messing this up.”

   “What, no? Not at all.”

   “I’m naive. Randall always tells me that.”

   “No, I just...figured you might come from a strict family.” Camille looked up. This girl set a record for fastest cone eaten with no brain freeze. “Hey, this store, I think you’ll like the stuff.” They went in together.

   “Strict? Something like that. They’re protective of us. Randall and I. Mostly me, I’m the baby. By like twelve seconds.” Regan rolled her eyes. “Didn’t get to do this a lot.”

   “Shopping?”

   “Hanging out with friends.” Regan blinked and Camille stilled, lips lifting.

   “Well, I’m glad we’re doing it.” She watched the other girl beam before a voice called.

   “Cam!” Steve Harrington was rushing toward her. Bright eyed and grinning. Hair perfect as always when the skylight caught it. Regan took note of the boy. Blush in the cheeks and mouth. Dark eyes you could sink into like a warm bath. He hugged Camille and came back.

   “Steve, what you are doing here?”

   “Tore a huge hole into my jacket, excuse to buy a new one. Had to pick up my last Scoops Ahoy paycheck and turn in that awful sailor uniform.”

   “Ah. So, classes are good?”

   “I have no idea what’s going on, but I take lots of notes and hope for the best.”

   “Atta boy,” Camille pushed at his arm and he noticed the girl next to her. Eyes stilled to fixate on him. Quite the looker. Expression rosy when her lips curved upward.

   “Ah, who...is your new girl here?”

   “Oh, sorry. Regan, this is Steve. My friend, he just graduated. Goes to the local college nearby. Steve, this is my new friend and future mall rat. She just transferred from New York with her twin brother.” Camille gestured and Steve was already flashing his most charming smile. Fingers shifted perfect, brown locks aside.

   “I'm hair...uh, I mean, Steve Harrington. Hi. Camille’s friend.”

   “She mentioned that,” Regan giggled. Hating her laugh before she shook his hand, sniffing. “Regan Dean.”

   “Nice to...Regan.” His words jumbled.

   “...Nice to Steve?” She’d joked. Their hands were still shaking idly and Camille cleared her throat. An instant third wheel.

   “Yikes, I’m sorry,” Steve cringed at himself, pulling away. “Held your hand hostage there. What I mean is, it’s nice to meet you.”

   “So,” Camille cut in and appeared mischievous when Steve peered finally at her, “I know it’s girl’s day but, we’re all shopping in the same store.”

   “Your word is the only fashion advise I trust, Harper.” Steve agreed with his usual puppy stare. Those huge, brown eyes flickered. His friend looked even more devious with her palms pressed together.

   “How about you go pick out some things and we’ll keep the jokes to a minimum? If possible.” Camille flashed her teeth and he rolled his eyes.

   “Watch out for this one. She's trouble.” He gestured, passing them to slip away. Regan watched him cross to the men’s section and bit her lip, sniffing just a little harder. Camille was still looking smug but her new friend whispered in a tiny, peculiar tone.

   “He thought I was pretty.” She sighed, tucking hair aside in a way that was adorable. Regan caught herself dreaming. Came up for some air. Became still again. “I mean, you know...how boys get. Pretty aggravating.” Camille watched her face, nodding. Odd.

   “No, I’m sure you’re right. He did.” Queen Bee led her into colorful racks with dresses and blouses. “And you are. Duh.” Camille peered to Steve glancing back at them and Regan returning it. She decided that she had a new sneaky project this fall. “Let’s try some stuff on. I need clothing bad.”

   “Oh? Because of the...” Regan stopped when Camille turned to see her. “Sorry, the other kids...they talk. A lot.”

   “Girl, I know that fact all too well. You probably were made aware of the juicy story.” She huffed, shrugging. “I guess I’m not shy about it either. Small town.”

   “You lost your parents too.” Regan paused and reached to take her hand. “I’m so sorry.”

   “It was hard. My dad in an accident last fall.” Camille remembered the way his flesh tore again. Muscle stringy and obscenely red. The way she let that happen. “My mom in the fire that took our home over the summer.” The crisping burnt smell. Her mother bleeding in her arms begging forgiveness. There were times when the moon was high and she was alone. Camille missed bits and pieces of the life they made. Guilt was fresh snow melting on her cheeks. “But, I had a great community that got me through it all. People I love.”

   “I have Randall. He smiles a lot when we’re out. But, he took it hard too. I think he just wants to put the brave face on for me. I wish he wouldn’t. We never talk about it.”

   “Hawkins is small, but at night...I don’t know, it’s a big, open place then. Lots of bright stars to contemplate. This town...it changes people. I’m not sure how but, it does.” Camille slipped away. They both beamed. “You have to find the right party and charge together, I guess.”

   “Sounds nice.” Regan agreed, trying to steer clear of stillness and dreams. They weren't allowed. A voice interrupted.

   “Ladies, I think that I found a winner,” Steve opened his arms, flicking on sunglasses while he donned the most obnoxious coat he could find. Fur and bright patterns. Hideous. “Thoughts?” Regan burst out laughing, so hard that she gave off that snort. Cheeks went red and Steve laughed too, faking a louder snort to make her feel better. The boy was too good.

   “I’ll take ten.” Camille grew flat, arms crossing. Steve caught her eyes and shrugged at them.

   “I love it.” Regan agreed so Steve put out his arm out. Looked like damn Mr. Darcy as he did so. Pretty and soft about it.

   “Accompany me to the mirrors, Regan, I have a grand selection based off this one.” He became smooth and Regan took his arm, giggling still. “Camille, you too.” His other arm was out so she gawked with amusement and came to him. New project wouldn’t be hard with these two making so many eyes at each other.

   Camille missed the way Regan Dean sniffled blood in the dressing rooms.

** ** **

   “Billy, it was like I disappeared,” Camille was still laughing. Hours later. “Steve’s eyes were two little baby hearts.”

   “Mad you lost out on attention?” He teased, earning a push before he grinned and adjusted on the couch so his head was in her lap. "Harrington has no game."

   "He does too have game, our boy just hit a rough patch."

   "Hm. I don't know what that's like. I'm always on my game." Billy did nothing but boast. Nestled there and relaxed with his arms over his stomach.

   “They were way worse than us. The eyes. And he didn’t even ask for her number. I’m friends with a fool.”

   “Like I said, zero game. And I also could have told you that a year ago,” Billy smirked, trying not to purr when her fingers combed his curls out. Wondered if it could always be like this moment. Where he melted to fill the spaces around his girlfriend. “Had fun with the new girl though?”

   “She’s strange and unusual. Like me. And I adore her. Talked about you if you must know. She’s never had a boyfriend. Shocked me. And...I don't know, she seems...so sheltered. Like, she’s never had a period and the acting like she didn’t even know the magnitude of what one was. I wish. Meanwhile, I’m dying here this round. I want to start birth control already, I should get it soon.” Camille moaned. “We can’t fool around and awful cramps and just, ugh. Kill me already.”

   “You think anything has really stopped us from fooling around?” Billy laughed again when she settled one hand over his mouth. Reaching to take her wrist, he pressed his lips there. Felt her pulse. “Hm, keep playing with my hair. Pay you back, I always do.” Billy relaxed, lips quirking so she continued and twirled golden curls about.

   “I could eat about fifty chocolate covered strawberries right now,” Camille whined while he hummed to agree. “No, one hundred. All by myself.”

   “Consider, I eat them...off of you.” He roused a chuckle. “My two favorite things. You, naked. Obviously.”

   “Oh, obviously. And chocolate covered strawberries?”

   “No.” Billy went on and didn’t hear the footsteps into the kitchen. “Second thing is you, again. But, with the clear absence of clothing. Two different things in my great mind. And yet, millions of ideas.”

   “Uh, huh. I see, I see. Interesting. Your astute mind, Billy, I don't think the world is ready for it.” Camille sucked in her cheeks. Jim stood in the doorway with a fatigued expression. One beer in hand. A grimace on his face now. Teenagers. “And I know the third thing in this trilogy.”

   “You...but minus all of the clothing.” Billy's hands came up to slope an hourglass shape into the air. "Better, I get to peel them off with my teeth."

   “No, it’s the Chief of Police who basically adopted me overhearing some punk guy make a total fool of himself.”

   “Psshh, please, I got Hops right where I want him, yeah? And-”

   “Right where, William?” Jim spoke up and Billy sprung out of Camille’s lap with a curse, hitting the floor on his ass. First record scratch. Only Chief Jim fucking Hopper could make Billy Hargrove lose his cool like that. Pride builder for sure.

   “Chief Hopper. Sir. Uniform looks pressed fresh today."

   "New detergent." Jim's eyes blazed.

   "It's working. You know, Susan is mad about fabric softener. Tip for you. Free of charge. Ah... The girls all must be chasing you down. You should designate a stick to fight them off with, huh?” Billy saw Camille laughing at him, face buried in couch cushions. “The third favorite thing is respecting Camille. Obviously.”

   “Oh. Obviously,” Jim cracked the beer open to drink. Billy knew his neck was next.

   “You know, that just jumped up to the first and second thing too.” Billy sunk down, hands on the couch. Jim only saw his eyes up and smirked.

   “Fancy that.” Jim nodded. “Call me Hops again and I’ll-”

   “They won’t find the body.”

   “Oh, they’ll find it, son. Here and there.” Hopper smiled wide. Today, was a good day for him. If only the punk Wheeler kid responded to this approach. As much as he wouldn't admit it, Billy liked Jim. Looked up to him. Always searching for that father figure. Hopper had power over him because of that one. Luckily, the Chief had room in his heart these days. Giving Camille's boyfriend shit was a right he earned.

   “Understood, sir. I’ll be too busy respecting Camille to call you-”

   “Jim, may I call you Hops?” Camille batted her eyes at him, one hand raised.

   “Yes, you may, sweetheart.” Hopper played along and Billy gulped. “Don’t watch too much television. Rots your brain. Some of us are already there.” Jim went up the stairs and Billy hissed.

   “You couldn’t have warned me the fucking Police Chief was right there? I was about to go into more detail,” he’d nudged her leg.

   “It was too late, you opened your big mouth.” Camille fell back into the sofa. "You're afraid of Jim. Aw. He's like a big, cuddly teddy bear. Likes you."

   "I am not afraid of him, I just understand his line of work. I've also seen the guy give and take hard hits. Stop laughing." Billy's cheeks flushed at that. She tugged him back up onto the couch.

   “Fine... Get over here and respect me, babe.”

   “Oh, I am going to respect you...so hard.” He joked, hovering to kiss her lips. Billy settled on his girlfriend, hands grasping at clothing to stay linked together. They got about five seconds of peace.

   “You guys are so weird. El, don’t ever let Lucas and I get like that.” Max cut in. Record scratch number two. The couple jumped apart. “Ew.”

   “Yeah, weird,” El agreed. “They don’t have the door stays open three inches rule.”

   “Wouldn’t matter, they’ll make out on anything.” Max came around the couch and Billy huffed.

   “Can’t have five minutes with my girlfriend?” He just grumbled, arms crossing. Beaten.

   “Your love life can wait a bit longer.” Max teased him.

   “It really can’t.” Billy could have whined, head falling back. Little sister made it her mission to mess with him. Deservedly.

   “I was going to do it, what you asked me.” El sat down between the two when Max stole the big chair next to couch

   “El, I was emotional when I asked. I can’t push you. Edna hasn’t made a move since-”

   “She will.” El insisted, scarf in hand. “She can’t pretend to be normal forever. We’ll catch her first. You and me.” Brave little girl with fire invoked Camille's own fight.

   “Fine. Take me in with you.” Camille got up to grab a scarf hanging, joining El to tie it. Max clicked to a TV channel with static. “Let me see.”

   “I’m finding her.” El laced their hands and Billy scooted to give them room. They dove together with El’s beckoning, coming to in that dark place. Eleven's powers were evolving. Getting more broad and powerful the same way Camille's did as she got older. They looked about. This endless void. First time Camille didn’t feel exposed in a while. Comfort was horrifying. They found Edna hunched over a desk. Writing furiously. Pictures spread out before her. Distant trickles of water echoed. “Do you see?”

   “Yes, I’m going in for a closer...” Camille trailed off.

   There was a sort of splash behind them. Something small dropped into the unending pond. Like a coin tossed into the Starcourt fountain. Eyes closing to make an eager wish. One that wouldn't come true.

   El gasped out as she was torn away, a scream erupted and Edna became smoke. She’d smirked at them. Camille spun around to see who’d blocked them and was met with that awful lifeless light. Lightning from a cloud of smoke. Scorching her skin. Blood ran from her nose and she became stone. El had already ripped her blindfold off, scrambling.

   “Blocked! Something caught us...it knew. It knew! Camille? It's got her. I can't pull her back out. Wake up!” El shook her and Max tore the scarf away. Jim had raced back down the steps at the commotion. Billy roughly shaking Camille now to rouse her. Nothing. She just stared with horrified eyes. Trapped. Sunk. Camille remained planted there and the light closed in, whispering into her ears. That ineligible tone shuttered out of the television.

   “Six. Six. Six.” Camille was only able to make out in her head. “Don’t trust you. None of them. You are lost. Welcome home, Camille.

   “Camille? Wake up!” Billy took her face, trying to meet her eyes.

   “Move.” Hopper pushed them. Billy let a scared El into his arms when she wept, trembling. He blinked and came too, holding her in turn. Comforting the quivering little girl. “Camille, you have to wake up. You remember what the doc said? Find light that’s safe. Camille!” Jim held her face with one hand. Smoothed hair back from her cheeks.

   “Max, come here now,” Billy felt a chill rush his spine like it wasn’t safe. Something familiar he always picked up when his father stepped into a room. He brought his sister and El further away. Camille closed her eyes as if she was dreaming. Waking in a grassy field with horrid red roses in hand. Two graves sat before her. Numb, she lowered the flowers and screamed. Hands lurched from the Earth through vines and petals, grabbing her to pull down. Her adoptive parents growled and decayed, tugging before she screamed herself awake. The television exploded out. One static burst. Jim lurched to cover Camille while Billy yanked the girls backwards. Glass rained before it was calm.

   “Hey!” Jim shook her about still until she’d sagged into him.

   “Jim…?” A little tone scratched.

   “What the hell happened?” Hopper turned with Camille half in his embrace. Eyes darted for an explanation.

   “Tried to find Edna,” El was clutching Billy, arms around his waist so he let her cling. “Saw us.”

   “Who?”

   “Someone bad.” El whimpered and lifted her sleeve. A perfect bruise like a hand print marred where she’d been grabbed. Billy stilled to glance down at it, empathy filled him when he reached to take her elbow and get a better look. Camille grew wide-eyed, stumbling up.

   “That happened...while we were in there.” She slipped to her knees to hold her sister.

   “That isn’t possible.” Max came to their level and Camille hissed, opening her palm. Little pricks from where the roses jabbed her fingers. Camille came out to see El’s expression.

   “Edna...” She exhaled. “She has someone like us.” El nodded.

   “Felt it.”

   “And they blocked us. They can hurt us while we...” Camille tried to catch her breath when Jim came to take Eleven.

   “Don’t investigate this anymore. I mean it.” He picked El up so Max followed to help soothe her. Billy was pulling Camille back to her feet. “I’ll see if Owens can find and pull files on the other kids. Might be a stretch. Give it time.”

   “Jim, I asked her. I’m so sorry.” Camille’s eyes welled and he turned, exhaling sharper out his nose.

   “These abilities have a cost, Camille, they’re not free. I won’t let either of you pay it. Go to your room and rest.” He left up the steps and Camille felt this twinge like he might have blamed her without realizing. She wished she knew where that sensation    came from.

   “Come on.” Billy’s hands were on her arms, pushing her upstairs after.

   “I didn’t know,” she stuttered, numb. He had to force her to sit on the toilet seat, rummaging around for something to clean the bleeding pricks.

   “Hold still.” An iron grip encased her wrist as Billy seated himself on the edge of the bathtub. Camille sat shaken and mute, fading away so he didn’t let her. “Hey, focus,” Billy caught the light, tiny scars on her wrist. 006. He exhaled out his nose and contemplated it, switching tactics.

   “Tell me your favorite color.” Billy looked up, wiping the beads of swiped blood from her palms. Camille tried to shift as if to go but he tugged, her head turned to see his intent eyes.

   “Why?” She breathed, blinking.

   “You won’t talk about your dreams or what’s happening but, I need to you stay here and talk either way. Just give me some terrible small talk so I know you’re around.”

   “Pink.” She decided. “And tangerine. Like when the sun goes down and the sky changes all rose gold. That color. Tell me your favorite.”

   “Red,” Billy smirked. It was fitting. “Looks too good on me.”

   “Had you figured for blue.”

   “Too cliché.” He focused on her other hand. “Now, you think of a question. Gotta pull your weight in the conversation. Stay right here.” With me.

   “I’m here. I am.” Camille was gentle. Rasping. Her clean hand touched his forearm to trace the slight contour of muscle. “Tell me your favorite Greek or Roman myth.” Blue eyes rose at that, disbelieving.

   “Christ, I was thinking mindless questions.”

   “No excuse.” Came the tease. "Come on, we all have one or two."

   “Chick with the snakes in her hair.” He decided, gaze back down as he worked with her smooth hands. Camille hitched as if to chuckle. Watched him look so soft and pretty from this angle. Counted lashes and freckles. She wondered how a usually vibrating boy could feel like this. Unfurled. Billy had always been hyper aware of what was happening around him. Being that he grew up on the look out for monsters around each corner. Horrible with feelings because he had nowhere to put them. But, this oblivious moment where he relaxed to comfort her and not look behind his shoulder. This moment where he let his thoughts and feelings pool around him so she could dip her toe in to test the waters. Trust.

   It was breathtaking.

   Billy still watched for monsters. Even at rest. They both had to. Perhaps, he trusted that Camille might warn him if she spotted one behind him first.

   Perhaps, they were safe for a night. Even if they talked about the mundane to pretend.

   Hey, this is fine. We're fine. We're going to be just fine.

   We're here.

   “Medusa?" Camille came up for some air. "I’m shocked. Why?”

   “Beautiful. Lusted after... Attacked. Sick of all the damn bullshit. She gets this punishment...this ability to make everyone leave her the fuck alone.” Billy lifted his eyes, glowing in the light. Medusa was a protector of women too. “Might be nice to turn everyone trying to hurt you to stone. Let them feel powerless and gawked at.” Exposed, she thought. Camille lifted her hand to tuck hair from his face, twisting a curl when he lowered his head to finish. “You?”

   “Always had an odd thing for Bacchus and Ariadne.”

   “Wine guy?” He smirked and she nodded.

   “Awesome girl helps this shitty hero defeat a Minotaur. Frankly, she did all the work. He whisks her away and dumps her two seconds later on some island when she falls asleep. Leaves her there. A drunk off his ass god finds her and falls in love, scares the hell out of her because they’re having this massive party and all his followers are frenzied off their shits. But, they fall in love and he marries her. Offers her the sky and she gets her own beautiful constellation. Joins him up there as one of them. They get to float up in clouds together. Wild couple. Just kind of weird and funny...and oddly sweet.” Camille exhaled, dropping her head against his so he paused. “I’m here with you, I promise.”

   “I’m going to keep checking with shitty small talk.” Billy came up to kiss her lips, hands curling into her own once he’d finished.

   “Do you trust me?” Camille lifted up, glances met. Her brow furrowed when he searched her eyes.

   “You think I wouldn’t get fucking wasted off my ass and offer you the sky on a silver platter right now?” His joke made her a little more lax. “Where did that come from?”

   “I’m not sure.” She breathed. “These dreams...they just make me uncertain of myself.”

   “I’m going to get you into bed, Camille, and I need you to keep talking.” Billy cupped the back of her neck and waited for her to nod. They undressed and slipped under soft sheets, he turned to face her. Slowly, Camille got one hand into his, bringing it to her lips so she could kiss his rough knuckles. Scarred from too many fights.

   “Still here.”

   “How is this shit possible? Your hands. You saw El’s arm. That hasn’t happened before.” He coaxed and she lifted her eyes. Bodies bathed and outlined silver in the moonlight. Like they weren't real at all.

   Like they were made of it.

   Moonlight. A light that was safe.

   “I don’t know. If she has someone like us...I really have no idea. All our abilities were different. They...They were powerful. I felt it. Edna found a way to block us. She could have another innocent kid trapped with her.”

   “What if they’re not?” Billy asked the question she refused to consider.

   “Hm?”

   “I mean, what if they’re not innocent? You try to think the best but, what if this is just another asshole we need to stop?” He felt Camille tense and slip from his grasp to pull her blanket closer. Billy knew he’d struck a cord.

   “I’m not naive.” She whispered. The cord snapped apart.

   “No, you’re not.” He debated leaving it because she was already wounded. One hand sunk into her hair, twisting the waves through his fingers. Billy tread carefully, recoiling. “It’s just that-”

   “Just, what?”

   “Nothing. Drop it.” Easier to shut down before he sunk into feelings. The true Billy Hargrove way.

   “No, you said it. Finish the thought, Billy.” Camille pushed herself up, colder now. Billy gave a harsh exhale and sat up to face her. They faced off.

   “You’re the smartest person I know. You are. You read people to fucking filth too. But,” Billy licked his lips, “it’s just that...gut thing.”

   “You’re saying that...I lack a trustworthy gut,” Camille’s fingers bunched up sheets as she slid even further from him. It hurt more than anticipated. A piece of flesh peeled slowly from her back to expose muscle and spine. It was true. She falls into people. Easier than she likes. She falls and knows there are monsters lurking to pounce. Even when she pretends they can't. Pretends they'll see her pretty face and become mush. “Rosemary said something similar.”

   Oof. Billy felt heat from that.

   “Why, Billy, because I trust people I shouldn’t and ignore all those blaring red flags. Because I want to think people are better than they are? Because I want them all to just love me? I put myself in danger because of it. I pretend until nothing is left and then I don't stop. I came too far. I stayed in that house. I dropped my friends for assholes. I stayed with Robbie. I went upstairs with boys at parties and gave them too much… I was drawn to you.”

   “Camille.” He reached to touch her but, she tore herself up further and shrank away.

   “You used to be one huge red flag.” Each slow syllable was a steel arrow. "It's all bright red balloons to me. Over filled. About to pop in my face to the sad tune of shitty carnival music and scratchy clown laughter. Soundtrack of my damn existence."

   “I know.” Billy sounded too gentle about it tonight, eyes dropping. No use denying the truth. He was still a red flag in his own perception. Still trying to be more.

   “I would have let you drunkenly kiss me at that first party if Nancy hadn’t been wasted. You know that? You were right too, I wanted to find out all about California bad boy, Billy Hargrove. You were a pound of catnip to me. Maybe I would have gone upstairs with you too. After Robbie, I went to parties every other night. Went up stairs with senior boys and girls. Sometimes together. Oh, the games we played. Stopped for a bit after Barb went missing but I had a full ass summer…"

   "I know."

   “...Fling rule be damned because I wanted the new, coveted transfer who eye-fucked me the whole day before. Let you brag about my pussy the next morning to Tommy and Steve in the showers after gym. Just to get a rise out of other boys who dreamed of fucking me at that school. And you claimed the queen in mere days. Maybe I would have crawled back for more because you’re just too good. Ignored how horrible you treated people because of your magic dick.”

   “Camille, fuck-”

   “Maybe, Billy. Fucking maybe. You would have let me sink right into you. Maybe if you and I weren’t together, I would have let Robbie bury it in my ass again when he returned. Let him consume me. Lick me up, babes. Or perhaps, I would have been a dirty girl and tried to seduce Jim like the whole town said I would. Made rounds with his officers. Collected their badges in a glass jar for my nightstand. Maybe if I just saw those red flags and ran from that home and from Hawkins, Noah and Rosemary would be alive?