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By the Rivers Dark

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He sleeps like the dead the moment his body touches the mattress.

The next thing he’s aware of is Max bellowing at him to wake up, which he does, and then him blinking up at the ceiling, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the bleary morning light as she’s saying Susan just left without giving her breakfast, again, and she’s hungry and she wanted to make sure he wasn’t dead since he slept for like twenty-four hours.

‘I know there’s cereal Maxine,’ he tells her.

‘Yeah there’s cereal,’ is her reply as she stands over him and peers down at him like a little creep, ‘but there’s no milk— and I’m not trying it with orange juice again. It’s fucking gross.’

He sits up, making her step backwards. ‘What do you mean there’s no milk? Why the fuck is there no milk?’

‘I don’t know,’ she whines. ‘I guess no one bought any, or any, like, bread, or more waffles, while we were, you know—’ she frowns, face falling, obviously remembering.

‘Fine, yes, ok,’ he sighs, wanting to get that look off her face. ‘We will go get some milk and shit. But, I’m having a shower first.’ About all he could manage the morning before on his way to bed was stripping his jeans off. It’s been— fuck. Way too long since he bathed.

He’s not even going to think about his hair.

‘You are pretty gross,’ she says with an authoritative nod. Yeah, well, apparently even pretty gross Harrington thinks he smells good—

‘Billy, you ok?’ she says, peering at him, ‘Have you malfunctioned or something?’

‘Fuck off Max,’ he says, shaking himself out of— whatever that was.

‘Don’t be a dick,’ is her response as she flounces out of his room. ‘And hurry up! Unless you want to be drinking black coffee?’

‘There’s nothing wrong with black coffee,’ he grumbles, except, of course, he hates the way it tastes. And he fucking dares anyone to call him a pussy because of that.

He feels— actually, physically he feels absolutely fine. He feels good. He feels like he could go for a twenty-mile run and then surf all afternoon without breaking a sweat— if there was somewhere to surf. Which there’s not. Because fucking Hawkins Indiana.

Almost bouncing on the balls of his feet he grabs a pair of briefs and his towel and pads to the bathroom, stripping only once the door’s shut. When he has his own place he’s going to wander around naked whenever he wants without worrying he’ll flash his dick at her or Susan or, heaven fucking forbid, Neil.

Today is going to be a good day. He just knows it. Evil defeated, still alive, his dad hardly home— fuck. He should ring the pool, see if he still has a job— later. Feed Max first.

Fuck does he feel good. It’s like waking up after the first proper night’s sleep in months. As he reaches into the shower to turn it on he freezes, eyes catching on— ‘Shit!’ he hisses, stepping back into the light of the window and staring down at himself.

In the light his skin doesn’t look right. There’s faint, silvery lines in places there shouldn’t be faint, silvery lines. Like scars. Real old scars, and faded even beyond what old scars fade into, faded so much he doesn’t think it’d be that noticeable unless the person looking knows what he looks like and knows he doesn’t look like that— except where he was shot— and on his ankle, where he was first grabbed. There the scar tissue— or whatever it is— is much, much more obvious, the rest of it— It might be faint but it’s everywhere. He looks in the mirror and he can see it there, on his face. Irregular and swirling and marbled and like—

All of a sudden he remembers coming apart. Body shifting, morphing, swirling out of his his shape—

He gags, skin flushing hot for a second before suddenly he’s cold and shaky and not sure if he’s about to puke or faint.

He can’t prove it, but he thinks those lines are where his body put itself back together.

‘Billy!’ Max’s voice drags him back to the here and now, ‘Stop jacking off to your own reflection and have a shower! I’m hungry.’

What’s he going to do now? Just, like, wear a long-sleeved shirt forever? How fucking lame. He yelps out a laugh. Fuck.

Fuck it. He’ll worry about it later.

He’s got more important things to worry about anyway. Because he might feel fine but he looks like shit, and there’s no way he’s leaving the house until he at least fixes his hair.

In the shower he scrubs himself quickly, taking no pleasure in the warm water and getting clean. A kind of nausea is clinging to him, making him jumpy, making his hands twitch away from his own flesh. There’s even a marbled little swirl of silver across his dick. Fuck. Fucking yuck. Did his dick come apart last night? How the fuck’s a guy supposed to deal with that?

Surprisingly he feel a bit better once he’s dry and dressed— but maybe that’s just the familiar fire of irritation rising at Maxine’s fucking nagging that he hurry up when he’s trying to get his hair to lay right. ‘I swear to God Max, if you don’t quit it you are going to regret it the next time you’re trying to make yourself pretty for fucking Sinclair!’ he ends up snarling, which makes her snarl back about not needing to get pretty for Lucas because he’s smart enough to know how good he’s got it. ‘Doesn’t stop you trying on everything in your closet twice over though, does it?’ he points out after finally spraying his curls in place. Yeah. He looks good. A bit— off— but good.

‘That’s rich—’ she begins, following him out of the house, before they both just stop. Oh. Yeah, that’s right. Well, at least the military must have towed his car here while he was sleeping. ‘Jesus Christ, what did you do?’ she bleats, staring at his poor baby.

‘Something seriously fucking stupid,’ are the words he finds slipping out. ‘Oh my fucking God, I could have broken Harrington’s neck.’

Steve?’ she bleats, whipping her head around to stare at him. ‘What did you do to Steve? If you hurt him—’

‘I didn’t fucking hurt Harrington,’ he snarls, feeling oddly wounded. ‘It’s just—’ his eyes go back to the damage, the way the front of his baby is crumpled in. ‘He was in the car when I hit the mini Mind Flayer lurking around outside the mall. That’s all.’

‘That better be all,’ she mutters. ‘Anyway, I’ll go call him—’

‘What?’ He snaps, ‘to make sure I didn’t do anything else to him?’

‘No,’ she says, meaning idiot, ‘We need a ride— and since the mall’s been wrecked he must be out of a job— so—’

‘It still works,’ he points out. ‘Fucking Wheeler stole it last night, remember?’

She gives him a look. ‘Are you wanting to get pulled over by Hopper or something? Jealous you didn’t get to meet him properly? Because you’re more likely to get one of the other ones and El says Hopper says they’re idiots a lot of the time.’

No I’m—’ he shudders. Nope. Now she’s just reminded him the Chief of Police wanted to talk to him about how he knows all this stuff that’s a danger to the man’s kid. ‘Fine. Whatever. Ring Harrington. We’ll get him to drop us off at the garage so I can arrange to get the car fixed—’ he doesn’t know the garage’s number and his dad has taken to keeping the phonebooks in his car for whatever fucked up reason— actually, probably to make it harder for Susan to arrange things behind his back in case she decides to run off like his mom did.

Max snorts out a laugh. ‘You do not know him, like, at all, do you?’

‘What does that mean?’ he demands, following her back into the house. ‘Maxine. What does that mean? Fucking answer—’

She whirls to face him and gives him a real weird look— kind of challenging or whatever— and then says, ‘I am going to tell him we need to go get groceries after you get your car sorted out, and he is going to drive us there, and then, I don’t know, buy us lunch or something, and then ask us if we need to be driven anywhere else, and then volunteer to drive us even if we could walk or skate or ride our bikes, because underneath all the, whatever, pretend apathy bullshit, he is an amazingly helpful loser that likes doing stuff for people and it’s easier to go along with it than argue, because arguing makes him get this look on his face and is worse than kicking a puppy. So don’t be a dick to him, ok?’

He doesn’t know what to say to that so he just wanders back outside and leaves her to it, taking the opportunity to have a smoke and pop the hood on his baby, to see what damage there is to the engine. Not much. Mainly body work to be done—

He really must get some more cigarettes while he’s out—

For a moment the smell of the smoke blends with the smell of Harrington’s cologne in his memory and it’s like he could just reach out, take the lit cigarette the guy is handing to him, the two of them in his car, driving—

‘He said he needs groceries too,’ Max’s voice breaks through, makes him look over at her in time to hear her say, ‘and then said “we’ll be right over”— Who do you think “we” is? I bet it’s Dustin.’

It’s not Dustin. When Harrington’s burgundy beemer rolls up it’s with Robin in the passenger seat. ‘Is that the girl that works at Scoops Ahoy?’ Max asks as Harrington is parking. ‘What’s she doing here?’ She sounds almost as annoyed as he is to see the girl. Just what he needs, fucking killjoy bitching at him about smoking all the fucking time—

‘She was with us in the Russian base, helped crack the code apparently,’ he answers, voice coming out more gruff than he intended. He clears his throat. ‘She’s Harrington’s girlfriend or something.’

‘No way,’ Max says, looking from the beemer to him and back again. ‘No way. Oh my God—’ whatever she was about to say gets bitten off as Harrington rolls down his window.

‘Do you two want to hop in the back?’ the guy asks. ‘Garage first?’

‘Yeah,’ he replies, flicking the cigarette butt into the gutter and opening the door for Max to climb in first so he’s sitting behind Harrington. Inside he gets a better look at the guy’s face and sucks in a breath at the way the bruises are darkening. ‘Your face looks like shit— ow. Fucking what Max?' he snaps as she elbows him viciously in the ribs.

‘Don’t be a dick,’ she hisses viciously, then, louder, ‘Hi, I’m Max,’ to Robin, sounding surprisingly hostile. He glances at her, surprised. Just because he doesn’t like the girl much— funny, he would have thought Max would think a weird chick like her was pretty cool.

‘Robin,’ she replies, and he sees her glance nervously at Harrington and sees the way the guy frowns. If the brunet is going to give them shit just because neither of them like his lame girlfriend—

He feels a sudden surge of affection for Max.

Because he’s trying to be good or something, or at least not a dick, he doesn’t light another cigarette. Harrington’s doing them a favour after all, and the guy could just as easily chuck him out of the car if he pisses off the guy’s girlfriend.

Still feels weird that Harrington has a girlfriend. Guy’s been existing in a state of about-to-be-dumped->dumped->single ever since he met him. It seems kind of— unnatural.

He watches Harrington’s hands on the wheel as the guy pulls away from the kerb and heads towards the garage. He’s a better driver than he would have thought, calm, confident— safe. Still, he’s never liked being driven by someone else. It always feels best when it’s his hands on the wheel. He put up with it when he was teaching Max, because she might argue with him, but he knows she knows better than to do something stupid and get them both killed, but anyone else

Not just because he can remember his parents having some pretty fucking nasty fights in the car. His dad behind the wheel, car veering all over the road, no one’s eyes but his up ahead, and the times when the old man would suddenly lash out, smack his mom hard across the face, and all he could think was they were all about to die and his mom crying and bleeding and snarling at the man who had just hurt her would be the last thing he ever saw—

He sucks in a breath, bringing with it the scent of Harrington’s cologne. Yeah. Ok. It’s ok. It’s Harrington. The guy hardly has the balls to drive like a lunatic—

Anyway, fucking Neil aside, he’s not sure he likes this. It’d be better if he was driving, Harrington in the passenger seat, and Max— Robin too, if that’s the way it had to be— in the back. Cigarette between his lips of course.

Harrington makes small talk while he drives, chattering on about nothing much in particular. After a while he starts to sounds kind of— strained. But that may just be because no one is responding that much. Even Robin is staring out the passenger window like she wishes she was somewhere else.

Why though? Shouldn’t she be happy? She’s safe. They’re all safe— and she gets to hang around with her boyfriend with no one expecting them to wear stupid outfits or sling ice-cream. Kind of ungrateful if you ask him, especially since Harrington’s trying so hard.

‘What groceries do you need?’ he asks, interrupting the nervous flow of bullshit from between Harrington’s lips. That’s a safe topic, isn’t it? That’s not being a dick.

This redirects— but doesn’t stop— the bullshit, which wasn’t quite what he was after, but— ‘I wonder if the supermarket will even be open,’ Max muses from next to him. ‘Oh my God. I wonder if we’ll be in trouble—’

‘What are you talking about?’ he demands, and then remembers hunting them to it, the puddle of El’s blood— He shivers in the heat of the car.

‘We kind of broke into it last night—’ she winces. ‘I hope Hopper isn’t mad.’

‘Why don’t you fill us in on what we missed?’ Harrington suggests, ‘While we were, you know, fighting Russians.’

‘Getting captured, beaten, and then running away from Russians you mean?’ Robin says with a fond smirk at Harrington, ‘Not to mention—’ she trails off, her eyes meeting his in the rear-view mirror. Was she about to say shot? He glares, hoping she can read the words “You’re not fucking Max up with that shit” in his gaze.

‘I fought one,’ Harrington points out. ‘I even won. Also Billy—’ he trails off too. For fuck’s sake. The brunet clears his throat, ‘And if I’m remembering right Billy dealt with that mad doctor, so—’

‘Ok, you’re right, Russians were fought,’ the girl says.

‘We fought Russians too,’ Max pipes up. ‘Or, you know, Russian.’ She then starts telling them what happened to the kids while he was gone.

Pretty much no surprises. Swap out him for the Russian, add a few extra uses of El’s powers when she was looking for him and Steve, subtract the time he reached for her in that other place, trapped and terrified her, told her why, and replace it with the Mind Flayer using the Russian’s ability to track people to follow them back to Hopper’s cabin and there you have it. Stupidity at its finest.

He told El to rest. He told her

Though of course she wasn’t going to with everyone relying on her. At least Max seems a little— something about their reckless use of her friend’s powers.

He’s going to have to have a talk with Wheeler and Byers Sr. It seems they were the closest thing to a “responsible adult” hanging around the moment he was out of the picture, and to him it doesn’t seem like they were living up to the title.

Poor kid. He’ll have to take her for waffles or something. Just her, the others don’t deserve being rewarded for being a bunch of little shitbrains.

Though maybe Harrington or someone should come too, because it might seem kinda weird if he’s taking some kid he’s not even related to out for breakfast— though maybe Harrington and him wouldn’t look good either. Two older guys and a fourteen-year-old girl. Yeah, ok, Max can come too. But she’s not getting a milkshake.

He just knows there’s going to be trouble when Harrington pulls up outside the garage. The guy there— older guy, beer belly beneath his stained t-shirt, sneer showing teeth yellow from smoke and coffee— seems to take one look at him and decide he’s some dumb, sack of shit kid, that’s probably wrecked his car speeding into something.

He feels himself tense up, head going up— He bets the guy is going to try and charge him more than the work’s worth, will try and convince him there’s more wrong with his baby than there is— if this old bastard thinks he can pull one over on him—

Oh Jesus,’ he hears Max whisper and wonders if she’s agreeing with him about this old guy.

Yeah, Things aren’t going well. Even just arranging for the car to be towed to the garage so the guy can have a look at her and he can feel the judgement radiating towards him in waves. Also it’s Hawkins Indiana, there’s no reason it has to be later in the day or tomorrow— who the fuck else needs their car towed?— and

He is going to lose his temper.

A warm, pleasant smelling presence gently nudges him back with a hand planted on his chest. ‘Hi, Mr. Duvall.’

‘Steve Harrington!’ the old guy says, a smile cracking across his unfriendly face. ‘You taking care of that beauty of a BWM?’

‘Of course, Sir.’ the brunet replies. A bit of meaningless small talk ensues, boring, but it’s interesting to watch the way Harrington winds this old bastard around his little finger, makes him soften up, that hard, judgemental edge smoothing away.

Before he even realises what’s happening Harrington is pushing him back away from the garage, gentle, so very gentle, and saying something like, ‘Why don’t you go get some cigarettes? I’ll deal with this. I promise I’ll get it sorted out, ok?’

And, for whatever stupid fucking reason, he agrees, taking out a smoke and puffing at it while he stalks past Robin and Max lurking near the beemer and down the street towards the 7-11.

He buys a carton of Marlboros from the indifferent girl behind the counter. She’s hot enough to warrant one of his more charming smiles and leaning over to flirt with her for a bit— not that she seems to notice— but he doesn’t linger that long. He feels like he should get back to Harrington.

When he saunters back the old guy seems a hell of a lot friendlier. ‘Steve here told me you were at Starcourt last night,’ the man says as he approaches, ‘Brave thing you did, young man, getting your sister out like that.’

What?

The brunet’s expression is pretty much screaming play along— Has Harrington been talking him up this old man? Why? Whatever the reason it’s not too much of a lie, so he shrugs, ‘Yeah, well—’ all noncommittal.

Anyway, turns out Harrington has arranged to have his car towed later that day and fixed as soon as possible, whenever whatever parts that need ordering in arrive if it’s more than a panel beating job. The old man, Mr. Duvall, will ring him later, once he’s had a look at the car, but the prices that get mentioned are a hell of a lot cheaper than he expected, so there’s that. They even shake on it, him and the old man. Weird. Old guys generally don’t like him much.