Sometimes, Steve turns over in their bed, blankets twisting around his body, a cocoon of warmth enveloping him, and looks, really looks, at Billy sleeping next to him. First thing after waking up, the sight is like getting vertigo lying down flat to the ground, like hyperventilating at sea-level.
It should be more than evident, but you really do learn things about people when you share a bed. Like, actually share a bed for more than the duration of a hard fuck to which no one wants to admit afterwards. Obvious things and subtle things and things you wouldn't normally ever care to know, like whether they drool on their pillow or how bad their farts can get. (For the record, not that fucking bad, thank you very much.)
Then again, Billy Hargrove would have been just a footnote in Steve's admittedly weird Hawkins life had they not run into each other at a New Year's Eve party a couple of years after Steve graduates and leaves Hawkins for good. He's been off doing a bad job of studying English at UChicago, sharing a two-bedroom with three other guys, only one of whom he's semi-regularly screwing around with. Billy's living with the elder sibling of one of Max's old friends from California, mostly crashing on their couch, by his own semi-boozed-up account that night.
They exchange numbers more out of politeness and tipsiness (at least on Steve's side) than any honest-to-goodness belief they'd ever see each other again (Steve definitely has no inkling to expect it), and he genuinely forgets about it, until one of his strictly platonic roommates lets him know one particularly chilly Sunday afternoon in January that he's got a phone call waiting for him, receiver lying off the hook in the hallway outside the kitchen.
They don't mess around straight away. Billy's skittish and tends to snark unprovoked weeks into their tenuous acquaintanceship, but he apologises for "that high school shit" when they meet up for coffee the Wednesday after calling Steve at his apartment, and it's only a matter of time before they start getting together on the regular, first for too much caffeine and then for improper amounts of cheap alcohol in the types of hole-in-the-wall student places Steve from high school would have never agreed to patronise if given the choice.
The first time they sleep together is nearly two months after they go for coffee in the city, and Steve invites him over to grab a beer. It's a Saturday evening. Billy must know it's, if not exactly a date, then at least something more than just two people from the same small town getting coffee three times a week for no reason at all for months. Steve's stopped screwing around at all by then, which is a fact he's choosing to keep to himself for the moment.
If he stopped to think about it before, he would have figured Billy'd turn him over, lube himself up with spit, and just fuck in roughly and unpleasantly. Instead, they make out on the living room couch for a long time, Steve's roommates all out on dates likely to turn into all-nighters. The guy he's been screwing around with until recently has been talking about moving in with his high school sweetheart girlfriend while avoiding Steve's eyes over the breakfast counter for a couple of weeks now. The other two have lives which don't revolve around their shitty apartment.
Billy drops to his knees between the couch and the coffee table and sucks Steve down so sweet he doesn't stand a chance, lips all puffed up by the time Steve's coming down his throat, balls drawn up tight, almost aching from it. That night Steve gets fucked in his own bed with more than enough lube to make it delicious and sloppy and messy-good, hard enough to have him drooling into his pillow the entire time, and comes a second time with Billy's hand on his cock and Billy sucking a bruise on the side of his neck, which he wears, secretly proud, for weeks afterwards.
They order pizza late, watch shitty TV while it gets delivered, eat with the radio tuned to the type of rock-metal Billy used to listen to back in high school, and go back for another round.
The roommate moves in with his high school sweetheart girlfriend less than a month later, and Steve phones Billy to bring the rest of his stuff over. It's another lazy Saturday. They fuck pretty much non stop until the following evening.
Nancy calls sometimes. Jonathan's studying engineering in Chicago, she's at Harvard, and Steve is good about dragging Jonathan along to loud concerts in shitty club-basements. Sometimes he even believes Nancy phones for his benefit as well, but he'd rather not dwell on that for too long. The first time Billy picks up when it's her is both the funniest thing to have ever happened ever and also the most terrifying.
Steve probably sounds as if he's choking trying to calm Nancy down afterwards, though Billy doesn't ever mention it and Nancy ends up inviting him and Billy both to visit over spring break, so that's that. The next day he gets a call from Max, which he thankfully manages to answer himself.
"Is my idiot brother being a pain?"
"You mean more so than usual?"
"You know what I mean."
Steve notices Max says "brother" now when referring to Billy. It quiets down a part of him he hadn't been aware was unsettled to begin with.
"We're good. Tell Nancy not to worry. I've got Billy well in hand."
Max chokes on nothing, makes some truly impressive gagging sounds, and hangs up without a goodbye.
Over dinner, Billy asks him what he's smiling about, and Steve thinks back to waking up warm all through his body, the taste of sour morning breath, the little moans he dragged out of Billy with his hands and mouth.
Days before he drove off in the Beamer past the Welcome to Hawkins sign for the very last time, Hop had pulled him aside, said, "You know, Hawkins isn't some war zone, kid. You're not soldiers fighting on the front lines." And Steve had privately thought, No, we're survivors.
Now he knows that might have been just as true then as it still is now, but he also knows it's better to have someone surviving right alongside you.