This is so weird, Steve thinks.
Here comes Billy. When Billy approaches anyone these days, they get a pitying look on their face. Except Max, who knows just how to talk to him.
Steve is another huge exception.
Steve Harrington braces himself when he sees Billy coming.
The bell above the door at Family Video jingles as Billy walks in. He’s pushed back the hood of his sweatshirt and he’s grinning as his gaze goes straight to Steve.
It’s the weirdest thing. The rest of the time, Billy is hunched over, quiet as a mouse and looking like he wants to disappear. He’s always wearing a hooded sweatshirt and he keeps the hood low over his eyes.
But... not when he comes to see Steve at the video store which is all the time or when Steve goes to get a sandwich at the deli across the street where Billy’s started working...not that Steve goes there to visit Billy. They just have really good sandwiches.
Billy is different with Max, but he’s very different with Steve.
“King Steve Harrington!” Billy bellows.
Robin is shelving and Steve can practically feel the strength of her smirk.
Billy walks right up to the counter where Steve is tapping his chewed up Bic and leans on it, leering at Steve.
“How’s your day goin’, buddy?” Billy says. His voice is throaty. It’s winter.
Steve wonders if Billy is warm enough.
He’s definitely not.
“It’s fine, Hargrove,” Steve says.
He might be pretending to be more annoyed than he is.
But that’s an important part of this whole thing.
“Anything exciting happen?” Billy says, glancing around. “Any little kids try to rent porn or some shit?”
“We don’t have porn,” Steve says, biting back the smile that threatens to appear. He couldn’t even imagine how he would handle Keith if they did have porn.
Billy eyes him up and down. He hasn’t stopped smiling since he walked in. He looks good today too. His hair is all fluffy and full. Though Steve thinks he needs a hat. It snowing even now. His cheeks are rosy from the cold. Steve gets an eye full.
He hates it when he sees Billy in town and he’s all hunched over with his hood pulled down low. It seems wrong somehow.
This is much better.
But it still gets under Steve’s skin.
It’s been getting waaay under Steve’s skin lately.
“How’s the boss?” Billy says.
Steve sighs heavily. Billy gets a real kick out of the fact that Steve has to answer to Keith who is younger than him.
“He’s not the boss-”
“He outranks you.”
“He’s just a supervisor.”
“Which means you have to do what he says.”
“I mean technically-”
“Does it just kill you, Harrington?”
Steve rubs his eyes and looks at Billy and his gaze drops to Billy’s mouth. He flushes and looks up again. “I think I’ll manage.”
“How the mighty have fallen,” Billy says, shaking his head.
Steve just nods. The thing is, he can’t fight back. He can’t think of a single swing he could take at Billy that wouldn’t be cruel. But that’s alright.
The game is for Billy.
For a minute or two, they’re both just leaning there, only a few inches apart.
Steve gets dizzy, abruptly imagining Billy leaning in to kiss him…
“You gonna come for lunch?” Billy says.
“I’ll make you roast beef,” Billy says.
Steve swallows. “Yeah alright.”
Billy turns to leave. He got what he needed. Steve inhales as he goes, to get one more whiff of that cologne, the scent of his shampoo, the little bit of sweat…
Billy pauses in the doorway and glances back at Steve, eyebrows raised. “Yeah?”
“Your hair looks really stupid.”
Billy cackles and flips Steve off and for some Godforsaken reason, that little gesture makes Steve’s heart jump in his chest. He finds himself smiling softly to himself...until he sees Billy hunch over as he makes his way across the parking lot. The weight of the world and more significantly, the weight of the Mind Flayer is resting on his shoulders again. He raises the hood of his sweatshirt and brings it down over that pretty, fluffy hair as he makes his way through the snow to work.
Steve sighs again.
Robin is staring at him. Steve doesn’t look at her. He just shakes his head and says, “Don’t start.”
“What?” Robin says, sauntering over. Her feathery ponytail sits on top of her head, swinging around. He feels like it’s mocking him. “I think it’s nice. He messes with you, he feels better. You...let him.”
That’s the gist, he supposes. It’s not like they’ve ever talked about it. But Billy never seems happier than when he’s fucking with Steve. And he’s never very malicious. He’s just kind of a dick.
It’s sort of cute really.
It used to annoy Steve more, but now he just wishes Billy could be as animated and alive with everyone as he is when he’s fucking with Steve.
Dimly, he wonders if Billy would be up for some basketball…
That afternoon, Steve goes to lunch at May Street Deli where Billy dutifully makes him a roast beef sandwich as Steve sits by the window, blowing on his fingers because he forgot his gloves at home.
He has a too warm feeling in his chest as the snow falls outside and he sips coffee while Billy tells Steve exactly why he’s not scoring with girls as he makes the roast beef sandwich (he makes it just how Steve likes it with horseradish and no lettuce and slightly toasted bread which is all very specific but he never gets it wrong)..
“None of the fire, ya see,” Billy babbles. “Where’s the old Harrington confidence? You got laid low. Never recovered, huh? It’s sad really...”
He sounds suspiciously like Robin. He wonders what that friendship would look like. Yikes. Also...it would probably be nice for Billy. Well, shit.
When another customer walks in, Billy shuts up like a clam. His entire posture changes. It’s like a magic trick just happened. It makes Steve feel awful even as he finally, slowly chews through his roast beef. The deli fills with customers, all of whom know some version of the official story on What Happened to Billy Hargrove. They’re all giving him that pitying look and he looks like he wants to crawl into a hole.
Steve tries to wait all the customers out to pep Billy up before he goes back to work.
He hates the way people talk to Billy Hargrove. It’s not mean exactly. But they act like he either might explode or like he’s very stupid. The old Billy would have no patience for it.
Steve is already fifteen minutes over his lunch before he finally has to leave.
He tries to catch Billy’s eye but he’s not looking at anyone. Billy stares down at his work, his head hanging.
Goddammit, Steve thinks.
That particular day, Steve stops by the deli again when he’s off work. He’s never gone that extra mile before. He decides not to think about what it means.
Blessedly, there are no other customers.
It occurs to him, he should probably have some excuse for being there.
When Billy sees Steve, he stops short and looks a little startled before he brightens up again. It’s like Christmas just came early. He grins and leans on his counter, eyes bright.
“Harrington, if you gorge on this shit, you’re gonna get even softer,” Billy cracks, and pats his stomach.
“Fuck you,” Steve says, shrugging. He looks around, searching for some legitimate reason to be there. “Half a dozen Snickerdoodles.”
“You got it, porky,” Billy says, giving him a wink.
Steve rolls his eyes, but he smiles when Billy isn’t looking.
That’s more like it.
It’s a week later when Billy shows up at his house.
Or rather, Billy shows up in his backyard and Steve would not have even known he was there if he hadn’t gone to the kitchen to make hot chocolate. He might still not have known if he hadn’t glanced out through the sliding glass doors to look at the pretty blanket of white outside.
That’s when he sees the hunched figure on one of the deck chairs.
He’d know that hunched figure anywhere.
Except Billy doesn’t have his hood up...because he’s not even wearing his sweatshirt or a jacket. He’s wearing a goddamn long-sleeved t-shirt and shivering.
“Jesus Christ,” Steve says, his voice cracking the silence of the house. His parents are attending a dinner party.
Steve stomps outside and finds Billy shuddering, staring out at the woods, his hands pulled up into his sleeves as he hugs himself, his hair dusted with snow.
“Billy,” Steve hisses. “Billy, shit. Come inside! Jesus…”
He helps Billy to his feet. He’s a little stiff and Steve wonders how long he’s been sitting there. “I’ll go,” Billy starts to say. “I didn’t mean…”
“No no, come inside,” Steve says, steering him to the kitchen.
“I didn’t know where to go… I didn’t feel like going home.”
“It’s fine, man. Come inside and get warm.”
Steve brings him inside and shuts the blinds and leaves Billy shuddering in the kitchen while he runs upstairs to grab a giant blanket from the linen closet. Billy just stares at him when he comes back down and wraps the blanket around him and takes Billy’s hands in his own.
“God, what the hell happened?” Steve mutters. “You could lose fingers out there, dummy. Christ…”
“I was… I thought I saw it. I was out walking and I thought I saw the thing, the shadow,” Billy says, his voice still shaky as Steve rubs his hands. “I flipped out. Then this stupid bush...my sweatshirt got caught on it and I just left it, couldn’t get it untangled…”
“You don’t dress warm enough anyway,” Steve says. “Gonna catch your death out there. You need a hat and gloves. You need more layers at least.”
“Are we friends?” Billy says. He sounds so young the way he says it, Steve thinks. He sounds like a little kid.
“Well, I hope so,” Steve says. “I don’t usually let enemies in my house to get warm.”
He imagines letting a demogorgon in because of inclement weather and it almost makes him laugh.
Billy’s holding his gaze, like he’s searching for something. “I’m always messing with you.”
“Yeah…” Steve flushes. They don’t talk about this. “But that’s just messin’ around.” He raises his eyes to meet Billy’s gaze. “Right?”
“I only do it ‘cause...it makes me feel a little like my old self?” Billy says. “Except I don’t feel as… I don’t know. It makes me feel better. Like I’m not crazy. Everyone else treats me like I’m crazy. You treat me like I’m just...fuckin’ Hargrove. But you know I’m not like...serious, yeah?”
“I know,” Steve says. “Because we’re friends.”
Billy’s got tears in his eyes and Steve feels that jump in his chest. He doesn’t think about it. He just throws his arms around Billy, blanket and all, and hugs him as tight as he can.
“It’s okay, man,” Steve whispers. “It’ll be okay. You’re not crazy.”
Billy hugs him back, a little awkwardly at first. But then they’re just standing there, hugging each other for longer than dudes generally hug dudes in Steve’s experience.
“You’re a real pussy, Harrington,” Billy says, sniffing.
“Yeah, I know,” Steve says, and grins against his shoulder.
When they finally break apart, Steve offers hot chocolate. Billy says only little kids drink hot chocolate. Steve has the mind of a five-year-old in his opinion. Steve nods and tosses him a bag of mini marshmallows and Billy sits on a stool at the kitchen counter, tossing them into his mouth one by one, telling Steve everything that’s definitely wrong with him, still bundled up in the chenille bedspread.
Steve can’t stop smiling.