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Just Can't Win

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It’s almost impossible to make it up onto the Hawkins High roof. Many have tried, few have succeeded, and even then you probably shinnied your way across the lower edge of the second-floor bathroom window and ended up on the two square feet of ‘roof’ above room 14. 

Like, that’s it.

But if you’re one of the unlucky few, one of the bent, a kiki, a friend of Dorothy, then you know how to get on the real roof. The flat concrete splay, where the theatre you know to be under your feet, makes you feel like you’re on the world's best stage, with no audience to rate your existence other than the pigeons. And you know how to get there because you’ve been lonely enough, alone enough, desperate enough, to sink all the way back into the far reaches of the main building all on your lonesome. And found a ladder or two, and you were just reckless enough to walk across beams that might not support you, and just curious enough, just barely attached enough to your life to press up at the dead end, feel the sunshine hit you like a crystal and step out onto the real roof.  

Or because someone who saw you for what you were, who you were, told you about it. 

Kids like you have been coming here for what feels like hundreds of years. But probably only a couple dozen. And you’ll never meet anyone else like you up here, that’d be too dangerous, but you’ll see their mark. The back wall, past the vents, filters, generators, there’s the wall

You brought a marker, right?

You can write on the wall all you want, about anything you want, you kinda need to. But you can never ever write your name. So all you write and all you read goes like this:

… He doesn’t even know I exist, and I’m glad of it, honestly…

… god, what I wouldn't give for her hair, like a lock of it. To compare to my hair. Maybe I’d eat it. Who knows… 

… anyone else kinda flipped over that painting in the main hall? Just me?...

… I’d kill in heels. I’d love to move to the city...


… because he smells like being underwater, like drowning in honey…

… I think my dad would kill me. Actually. Flip his shit…

… I wish this was easy…

So you write something and lay on your back and breathe easy for a couple of minutes. Because you said what you wanted to say. But you didn’t say it. 

Steve Harrington didn’t stumble across the wall, like most other kids in his grade who had feelings like his. 

Someone told him about it. 

Someone, drunk off their ass, sitting close, talking low, and making Steve come apart at the seams for reasons he didn’t really understand yet, told him last Saturday how to get up onto the roof, that he should check it out, might like it or something and then had been avoiding him since then. 

That might not be the reason Steve was being avoided though. It might have been because of what’d happened after they talked about the roof.

So Steve, not liking being avoided, liking the attention he usually got from said person, had decided to go up on the roof at lunch. 

Bad timing. 

Steve, stepping out into the grey sunshine of an early spring day, was utterly blown away by the back wall. Walking over to it, looking around at the expanse of rooftops around him, he felt a cold breeze pick up and thought for a second maybe he was a half-step closer to heaven. But that was a dumb thought, 

Closer to heaven up here, isn’t it?

Steve crouched in front of the back wall, running his hand over the words, scrawled in blue pen over chipped white paint. 

Close as you’ll ever get. Was just below it in black permanent marker. 

What was this?

Were these…? Did they…?

What’s wrong with me?

Steve had been thinking maybe that was it, that was why he’d been feeling so at odds lately, so rattled, so afraid of being… 

What had Billy said? 

Clutched .” One of those shiny blonde curls had come unstuck from how he usually slicked them back, falling forward across his forehead. When Steve was younger and girls would come to school with their ponytails curled, he always wanted to thread a finger through and tug, watch it bounce. He kinda wanted to do that now. But he kept his hands to himself.

“What’s clutched mean?”

“You know, like rejected.”

It was Billy who’d told him about getting on the roof, Billy who’d picked him up that night, Billy who he’d been getting dangerously close to all before that.

Which was weird on two counts, besides the obvious.

One: They were supposed to hate each other. They’d fully come to blows before, Steve had gotten a real shiner out of it. They were polar opposites and leaders of opposite cliques. Which takes you to Two: Billy was a greaser and Steve was not. 

Steve wore his varsity cardigan almost every day. Billy wore a black leather jacket. Billy drove a dark blue Chevy Delray, tricked out and all. Billy was hot fucking shit and knew it. With his greased down curls, just longer than what could make a pomp, and the gaggles of girls that waited in line to dive into his car with its equally handsome driver.

Steve drove a station wagon. 

Steve was a soshie . Square. 

Steve had been trying not to think too hard about… whatever it was him and Billy had been doing.

But he’d been thinking about it really hard on Saturday. 

Saturday when they’d been parked out not on the cliffs where everyone else went to make it, but down by the quarry, out of the way. Because you can’t do that kind of thing in plain sight. 

He’d been thinking about how warm Billy’s hands were, how overpowering the smell of pomade was when they got close and personal, how tightly strung the muscles of his shoulders felt under the washed-thin cotton of his t-shirt, under his skin. 

How the moonlight from outside was bright enough and Steve was close enough to Billy, that the freckles scattered across his nose might be like stars in the sky. 

He’d been thinking about how this thing, whatever it was they were doing, might be getting more meaningful than it was supposed to be. Than they’d meant for it to be. 

Steve had reached out a hand to press against the window for leverage and found it slick with steam, well and truly incriminating that he’d been fooling around in a car enough to get the windows steamed up. Billy always liked for them to fool around in his car. 

The handprint stayed even after, when Billy’d cracked the windows. Steve was staring at it, the vague outline on the driver’s side window, when Billy lit a cigarette, offering one to Steve, something he’d only started doing recently, and in easy conversation, said that word,


Billy would never have offered him a cigarette when they started doing this. Billy never would have smoothed Steve’s hair back behind his ear, smoke curling between them. Billy never would have told him about the roof when they started doing this. 

It was too… personal

Steve had no idea if Billy could tell what he was doing to him. 

Not like he could say anything about it, could he? What would he even say? If he so much as mentioned anything, then Billy really might do that: leave him clutched.

He couldn't live with that. 

Steve was really on the hook at this point, in way deeper than he meant to be, than he guessed Billy was. 

If only he knew it was the other way round.


Steve was lost in thought almost entirely, absently walking from one end of the wall to the other, when he paused to step closer.

Handwriting he recognized. 

Recognized from a million notes he’d been passed in the past couple of months, notes on the back of old homework like: 

Free later?

Don’t know yet

Let me know?

Patience is a virtue, pretty boy.

Aren't you a panic-and-a-half.

I’ll let you know.

And :

What do you mean, not today?

Dinner with my folks.

Going crazy over here, Harrington. 

Patience is a virtue, baby.

I see what you did there.

The same rapid, casual handwriting. 

Done more carefully than usual, though, it was hard to recognize; song lyrics. 

People say that love’s a game

A game you just can’t win

Steve could taste his own breath reminding him of what Billy’s was like. 

He pressed fingertips to the word, in permanent marker against the cold and overpainted wall.


Air tripped over itself in his throat, his heart skipped a beat. 

Had Billy written that? Those lyrics?

Had he remembered one of the first nights they’d been necking in Billy’s car and the song came on the radio and Steve had pulled back, stupid grin on his face and said,

“Oh, I love this song.”

Put Your Head on my Shoulder? ” Billy had panted. 

“Yeah, it’s a sweet tune.”

Billy had turned up the dial before kissing him again. That might have been the first time he’d done something like that for Steve. Something nice and nothing else. 


But Steve didn’t have time to think about that word, about what they’d been doing, about what they’d done on Saturday, about how this might be exactly why Billy was avoiding him, because he heard the door open. He heard footsteps.


How would he get out of this? He could hightail it around one of the vents maybe, maybe just jump off the goddamn roof at this point, but he was still mid-thought when whoever it was rounded the corner. 

A girl. 

A vaguely familiar girl, too. How did he know her?

She looked up and stopped cold. 

They both just stared at each other for a second. He knew she knew who he was, everyone in the entire school did, but how did he know her?

Bangs. Freckles. Blue eyes. 

What was her name? It was on the tip of his tongue,

Steve Harrington ?” She practically gawked at him.

He shushed her frantically. “Keep your voice down!”

“Oh my god,” She almost grinned. “What are you doing on the real roof?”

“I’m begging you-”

“At lunch, too!”


“Do you even know who I am?”

Steve stopped. 

She folded her arms. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” Steve didn’t respond. 

“We have Mrs Click’s class together, first period?” She hinted. 

Steve frantically wracked his brain, unsettled by how much this girl seemed to be enjoying his panic. 

“...Robin. Robin, something, right ?”

“Buckley. So you’ve got a brain under that famous hair?” She pointed to his head, the single lock of hair falling from his pomp to line his nose. 

“Robin, please, you gotta understand-”

“Oh, I understand plenty, dingus.” She grinned. “You think I’m gonna rat you out?”

“I… wouldn’t you?”

“I’m up here too, ain’t I?”

Steve hadn’t thought of that. “... Suppose so.”

“So maybe no brain after all.” She grinned wider at him, maybe nerves, maybe not. “Like the scarecrow.”


“Wizard of Oz.”

Friend of Dorothy. 

“So…” Steve reasoned. “You’re not gonna tell?”

“Not if you don’t.”

Odd, getting flooded with information about a person you hadn't even looked twice at till now. 

“Sure thing.” 

They shook on it. That should be it, right? They parted ways, like that was the last they’d see of each other.


Billy was on the fucking hook. He was real gone, this would be the end of him. He’d been pining, literal pining for months now. 

Only to be drunk and stupid enough to tell Steve about the fucking roof

How’d they even get here? Get far enough he’d bring up something so obvious.

You know how you got here.

They’d been drunk at a party a couple of weeks after Steve’s heart had been smashed to bits, and Billy tried to get into it with him. 

Steve had been sitting on the back steps of whoever’s fucking house it was, alone, when Billy came out, also alone, to take a crack at him for being unlucky in love.

He barely responded. 

“C’mon, Harrington, what gives?” Billy pushed his shoulder with a booted foot. 

“Nothing gives, asshole.” Steve pushed his foot away. “Why don’t you leave me alone?”

Billy leaned against the wall, clearly more intoxicated than Steve, but trying real hard to keep something going. 

What was the difference between intimacies anyway?

“What? Is your cage still rattled about that fucking Wheeler chick?”

“Her name is Nancy. And you shouldn’t be saying it anyway.”

“Right cause I’m such a lowly commoner, King Steve-”

Steve stood up. “Leave me alone.” And walked back inside.

Billy wasn't used to people standing up to him. And when they did, he wasn't used to listening. 

Two things happened simultaneously in his mind. 

One : He resolved to not leave Steve alone as much as possible, finding any way to distract, irritate, piss off, anything. And Two : he wasn't sure that was the only reason he wanted, very suddenly, to be around Steve. All the time and as much as fucking possible. 

At first, Steve just told him to fuck off most of the time. Then he’d been less of a germ, more of just a general jiver. Steve had lightened up a little. Then they were talking casually. 

And wasn't Billy supposed to just be annoying the shit outta him? Not being friends, trading nods in the halls. It wasn't like they were actually friends anyway, Steve was way too square for them to even be seen talking to each other. 

Then they’d hung out proper, just the two of them, maybe hundreds of times now. 

And the first few times were pretty normal, pretty average high school boys fucking around, wasting a day.

But then they weren't, you know, normal anymore.

They had to stop trading nods in the halls to make sure no one found out they were swapping spit in Billy’s car after school.

They had to make sure to not so much as mention each other’s names, ever aware of who might be listening. 

Delicate and dire. 

At first, it might have just been fun, thrilling, relieving to get to do that with the kind of person you wanted to be doing it with. 

Then it stopped being plain old fun. 

Billy knew this would happen, he fucking knew it, it’d happened to him before, back in California, and it’d ended in flames back there. Why was he letting himself do it all over again?

There was something about Steve. Maybe the clumsy charisma that got him so popular, maybe the way he was genuine enough to accidentally fool people into thinking him clever, or maybe the way he’d figured out by the second time they hooked up where exactly on Billy’s neck he liked to be kissed. 

But something in Steve Harrington begged to be worshipped. Billy found himself wanting to get down on his knees. Sometimes he hated it, sometimes he lived for it, other times he just tried not to think about it.

He was thinking about it on Saturday. 

Maybe that’s why he told Steve about the roof, about the wall. 

But that wasn't why Billy was ignoring him, avoiding him. 

It was because of what happened right after that. 

In the back of Billy’s car, no light save the moon in the sky, he could taste the bite of cheap rum on Steve’s lips, they were breathing each other's breath, and they should have talked about it, should have stopped, but neither wanted to, because Steve had already pulled his stupid khakis off, Billy’d already been working him open with lithe fingers, and Steve had pushed his hands away, undone Billy’s belt with a surreal fervour, pulled him out of his jeans, let Billy pull his hips forward, and let him sink into him with a low sigh. Let it happen, made it happen. Wanted it to happen. 

They’d gone pretty far before now, done some shit you had to think about doing, but they’d never done this. 

They didn’t talk about it. They should have. 

It might have been fine. It might have just added itself to the list of things they were allowed to do when they hooked up like this, but close to finishing Steve had looked up, looked him in the eyes. The coolness of the moonlight made Steve’s eyes look somehow warmer, somehow deeper, something Billy might sink into and never return. 

Like drowning in honey. 

Soon as Billy realized what was happening it was too late.

The following Monday, when Steve tried to get him alone after school, Billy had blown him off, terrified Steve might have actually gone up there, read the wall, and saw right past what up until this point was a game. Now it was something that had Billy coming apart at the seams. 

He didn’t like feeling this... compromised. Didn’t like getting put in a corner. 

Avoiding him was working out pretty ok, even if was a shitty thing to do, he wasn't as troubled as before, but like anything you tried to stop Steve Harrington from doing, it didn't last long. 

Steve showed up at Billy’s temp garage within three days. 


Steve knew where Billy worked, he’d seen him there when he’d passed by, on accident or on purpose, but he’d never actually seen Billy working on his car before. 

With his jacket off, t-shirt sleeves cuffed, rag in his pocket, grease smeared across his hands, his cheek. 

Steve was not complaining, ended up a little at a loss for words actually, just standing there staring till Billy turned around. 

No sooner was Steve about to say hey than Billy had grabbed his arm and dragged him around the back of the outside garage wall.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you. And you’ve been avoiding me, so.”

“At least take off the fucking prep-ass cardigan, Jesus.”

Steve started pulling off his cardigan as he spoke. “I don’t appreciate being avoided.”

“Right, always gotta be the center of attention,” Billy was looking over Steve’s shoulder to make sure no one could see them. 

“I went to the roof.”

Billy let that stew around in his stomach, not saying anything right off the bat. 

“I thought-”

“Ice it.” Billy cut him off. “I shouldn’t have told you about it, it’s a dumb kid’s thing-”

“I thought it was cool.” Steve held his gaze. 

Billy felt his breath catch - That never happened to him anymore, “You read the back wall?”

“Most of it. I dug it.” Steve shrugged. 

“You dug it,” Billy almost laughed. 

“Sure I did.” They must have been closer together than they were before, “You ever write anything up there?” Steve asked him. 

People say that love’s a game. 

“Couple of times.” Billy felt his whole heart pitch forward. 

A game you just can’t win. 

Steve just nodded. “Stop avoiding me,” He said eventually. “Please.”

Billy swallowed, “It’s a bad idea, Steve-”


“Because it’s just- you don’t get it.”

“Sure I do,” Steve spoke barely above a whisper. There was a breath of space between them. “You going to the passion pit Friday night?” Steve asked him. 

“Dunno.” Billy didn’t want to give an answer.

“Well, you know where I park - If you wanted to, y’know. Stop by . ” 

“Don’t creep up on me like this again,” was all Billy could think to say.

“No creeping. Got it.” Steve smiled a little.