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A House is Not a Home

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Billy could only remember darkness. It covered him like a thick blanket; he was just warm and unable to move, unable to see anything around him.

Billy .

He couldn’t feel any pain. Billy was so damn tired of the pain that he wanted to sob with his gratitude. His dad couldn’t reach him here, wherever Here was. The Master that used and violated his body wasn’t there to suffocate him under the thick black goo of its being.

Billy? Can you hear me?

No. Please no. He’s not supposed to hear that voice. Did he fail? She was supposed to be safe. He stopped it from killing her and instead it killed him with the cold stabs through his chest.

Didn’t he stop it?

Safe. We’re safe Bily.

Good. He finally did well. His mom won’t hate him now for being such a cruel boy instead of her angel. Max and the Girl weren’t going to be hurt by him or the Master or Neil. No one will be able to lay a finger on them.

It’s time to come back.

…back?

Come back. We’re waiting for you.

He shouldn’t come back. What was she talking about? Too many things went wrong. Too many bad things he did because he was scared and angry. He hurt too many people.

Doe eyes, brown and wide with fear as he crumpled to the ground—

No. Billy couldn’t hurt anymore.

We’ll take care of you now, Billy. No more hurt. Friends don’t hurt each other. Friends help.

Friends?

Friends. Friends now. Friends don’t lie.

Billy’s always hated being lied to.

Friends don’t lie.

No more hurting.

Come back to Max.

Max. Fiery hair and eyes full of spiteful determination. She was going to be alone. No one to take the hits for her. He could do better for her. He could do better for them all…

Come back. Please.

Bright lights assaulted Billy’s eyes when they opened. Like being overexposed to the fireworks and wanting to look away because the thing inside of him hated the light. He stared up at the sterile white ceiling with an irritating beep going off somewhere to the side of him.

“Fuck,” he whimpered, then whined when his throat protested.

“Holy shit.”

“Dustin, shut up.”

“But El just—”

“Of course she did! What did you expect?”

“We all thought her powers were done-zo, Mike!”

“Can we all just stop and—”

“Shut the hell up, you little shits! You’re freaking him out!”

The noise. So much noise. Billy shut his eyes and tried to turn away from it but something was holding onto him and No No No DON’T LET IT TAKE HIM AGAIN—

“Billy.”

He stopped. The voice from the dark place. The Girl.

“Billy. Still safe.”

Billy risked opening his eyes again. She promised it was sade and he believed her. It was stupid to be able to do it so easily.

There was no fear in her eyes like last time. She was looking at Billy so softly that it still made him want to look away and hide.

“Hello, Billy,” the Girl greeted warmly. When was the last time someone spoke to him with warmth? It made his body shiver. He was so cold. Why didn’t he notice that before?

Billy blinked. Realized she was waiting for him to speak. He tried swallowing through the dryness of his throat a few times.

“Hi.”

“Max, wait!”

That was the only warning that he picked up on before he was attacked by a bolt of wild red energy.

“Thank you, Billy!” she cried, tears blending with snot and messing up the scratchy thin gown someone had to have put him in. He had to be at a hospital, then, and not on the floor of Starcourt or wherever else.

“I’m so sorry. You saved us and we couldn’t save you back.”

Couldn’t save him back? What did that mean? He was here, wasn’t he? This wasn’t some dream or Purgatory or some kind of afterlife?

“But I’m…”

“The military said it’s the blood.” Billy’s eyes shifted until they landed on Harrington. All the way across the room with his back against the wall and his arms crossed. Looking like some kind of wall ornament. “The black goo. The Mindflayer’s blood took over your system, so…the goo healed you.”

He’s really alive. And it’s because of the thing that used him? The same creature that kabobbed him when he’d taken back control and disobeyed in those (supposed to be) final moments?

Billy broke out in the hoarsest laugh he’s ever made that was also still tinged with the old hysteria.

“Well isn’t that fucking ironic,” he rasped. At the looks of confused terror that surrounded him from Max’s Brat Pack, he could only grin.

“Not that this hasn’t been an enlightening part of my day,” the younger Wheeler started, body angled to grab the Girl while acting as a barrier for some bowl-cut kid, “but this crisis is over so we should get going. Like now. Right, Steve?”

“Right,” Steve sighed, pushing away from the wall. He didn’t look like he enjoyed the Wheeler kid being right. Did that say something about how Harrington felt for the kid, or how he felt for Billy?

The one who was practically attached to the teen’s hip squawked.

“But guys! He’s alive! El woke his ass up, the Mindflayers’ blood brought him back, shouldn’t we be asking him questions?”

Billy had enough sense around in his hazy head to be relieved over the fact that no one else around him looked to be sharing that opinion.

“Fuck odd, kid,” came from him while “Shit up, Dustin,” came from Max.

“Dude,” Sinclair groaned, dismayed.

“Mom and Jonathan are waiting for me and Jane.” Bowl-cut kid. Who might be related to that Byers creep the older Wheeler’s shacking up with?

“Okay. We’re leaving,” Steve declared with a shove of this Dustin shithead in the direction of the door.

Billy chose to look at the Girl who was still holding onto his hand. Or did he start being the one holding hers? “Jane?”

She nodded. Then Jane gave him the brightest, most serene smile he has ever seen.

“Thank you, Jane.”

“Friends save friends.”

“You didn’t know me.”

“I did.” Jane’s gaze was far too serious than it should be for a girl her age. It reminded him of his own as more time passed from his mother’s departure and the beatings and verbal lashings increased from his dad. What things did Jane experience to have so much there? It was the way Max was, too. “Max cares you’re not the monster. Still time to fix things.”

The words didn’t feel right. Letting go didn’t either. Like he was still just a skin suit that was put on the wrong person.

Max hovered at the other side of him. The Sinclair kid was waiting anxiously for her at the end of the bed. Ready to take action.

“Let’s go, Max.,” the boy urged.

“We didn’t tell Neil.”

Billy wanted to tell her that the puffy eyes made her look like some infected orangutan just to have some familiar spat. Anything that would feel normal. He didn’t do it. The heat wasn’t there anymore.

And now he was staring.

“Didn’t tell him…?”

Max shifted the weight on her feet. “He thinks you’re dead.”

Oh. That…Billy didn’t know how to react…

“Jane said—we know, Billy. What he’s done. Everything. So we’re not letting him near you. Not anymore. Hopper even promised.”

Billy didn’t stop her or the remaining brats from rushing off. He didn’t know how to start reacting.

This group of brats and the teenaged siblings attached knew what his dad did. Everyone else in town, including dad, thought he was dead. His surviving hadn’t been a public thing. Okay. He could get that. Not telling Neil? Would it be different if Jane hadn’t been inside his head?

Which also begged a whole new question.

What the fuck was going to happen to him now?

*     *     *

“Don’t fight it. It’ll be quick.”

Sludge and smoke burned his lungs with every breath.

“It’s okay. This is what you’re meant for.”

Screams. Piercing screams.

Dead eyes.

Placid smiles.

“You shouldn’t have come. Now we know where you are.”

Billy shot forward with a scream dying between his lips. It took him a long minute to figure out that the shaking was him and the sobs couldn’t stop.

The darkness was surrounding him again, of course there wouldn’t be any escape, he’s so fucking sorry and wants his mom to make it all better—

Light pierced through and left Billy shrinking into the anti-bacterial scented pillows.

“Are you all right, Mr. Hargrove?”

Didn’t Max say his dad thought he was dead?

“Mr. Hargrove?”

Oh. Right.

“Don’t. I’m. I’m Billy. Call me Billy. Please.”

The nurse looked closer to his age than the Nurse Ratched that he’d been expecting. The kind look was new, too.

“Billy. Do you need anything?”

To be put out of his misery. “No. Thank you.”

“Are you all right?” she asked next, watching him patiently.

No. He was not fucking all right. Didn’t think he ever was or ever would be.

“I’m fine, miss.”

She didn’t look to believe him. Who did? “I’ll be at the nurse’s station. You can just press that button if you do need anything.”

“I will.” He won’t. “Thank you.”

Billy waited until the door was closed, grateful that she left the lights on when she walked away, then laid back for a deep breath.

“Fuck,” he whispered. He was going to be doing that a lot.

Billy didn’t know how, but eventually, his eyes fell shut and he was able to drift back off into a newly fitful sleep.

*    *    *

“You look like shit.”

“Fuck you, too, Maxine.”

“It’s a good thing.”

“I don’t fucking see how.”

“Because I’d rather you’re here looking like shit than looking dead and in the ground.”

Well. When she puts it that way.

Max took to sitting on the bed by his feet within the last week. There’s a pile of comic books in front of her, an X-Men in her hands. She’s definitely borrowing them from Sinclair and that Henderson kid.

“Where does Susan think you’re at when you’re here visiting me?”

“Playing at Jane’s.”

“Do they know about the Chief not being in top babysitting condition?” Max had told him during one of her last visits about Chief Hopper. How he’d almost gotten obliterated when he and Joyce Byers were down in some Russian base under the mall.

Max rolled her eyes at him and turned the page of her comic. “No one knows.” No one but the government and this own special club. Because of course the government knew about this shit, and of course they knew about the thing that caused him to kill a bunch of people. And this club Max and Jane belonged to decided he was automatically part of it too, now, thanks to being possessed and killed.

Yes. Killed. Because his heart did, in fact, stop beating before this black goo blood in his veins stitched him back together and sent his heart back to its beating ways.

Billy didn’t want to be part of any fucking club and was disappointingly outvoted. Including by Harrington, who was sitting in one of the chairs by the door doing his own bit of reading.

“You’re one of us now,” he had said without even looking up from his book. Billy hadn’t had the energy to flip him off for that. “Whether you want to be or not.”

“You haven’t asked,” Max eventually said. Billy blinked, coming back to himself and fixing his gaze onto her.

“I don’t want to fucking know.”

Harrington snorted, undignified, Billy would add, and rolled his head to look at them. “Bullshit.”

“Not bullshit, pretty boy.”

Steve’s jaw twitched at the nickname. Felt nice to still be smug over something.

“Sure it is,” the brunet insisted, “Us teens? We wish we could forget. Even Robin. But we can’t. And each of us has been stuck wanting to know everything about the Upside Down ever since being dragged into it.”

Billy shrugged. “Not me.”

Max closed her comic and glared at him with frustration. “Come on Billy.”

“No. I fucking mean it.”

Steve leaped onto his feet with a scoff. “I don’t believe it. No one in their right mind would actually mean that. They’d want to know every detail.”

Billy gave them a cold sneer that left Max flinching and Harrington gearing up for a verbal spar.

“Then I guess I’m not in my right mind, am I?”

That shut them both up.

“It’s why I’m here. I’m an experiment. A body that should be rotting and a brain some monster named after a fucking Dungeons and Dragons creature took over for mass murder. So no, I don’t currently give a shit about what you all feel I should know when it doesn’t change a goddamn thing about what I’ve done.”

Being confined to a bed sucked ass so the best he could do to not look at them was close his eyes. He ignored the sound of footsteps but felt the crawl of tension through his body when they got closer. Someone was touching his hand again but the size told him it wasn’t Harrington (thank fuck. That was shit he didn’t want to think about at the moment.) and since Jane wasn’t there today it was a significantly quick process of elimination.

“Billy. Please.”

“Don’t be a fucking asshole, Hargrove. Just open your eyes, amigo.”

Fat chance.

“Fine. Dick.” What a world it was that Billy still knew she was getting ready for some speech without even needing to open his damn eyes. “You’ve always been a dick. Everyone knows that. But you also used to be nice. Until I fucked up in California. I know why you were so bad. It doesn’t make it okay for you to be an asshole. But we’re here for you so it won’t happen again. Get used to it.”

Billy gritted his teeth. They had no right to know. Fuck them. It was his own personal shit.

He was tired of it being his shit.

All of that was why he deserved to be dead. He hurt and killed people. Threatened a kid to look out for his and Max’s asses so that his dad didn’t try to lynch the Sinclair kid on top of it.

“Look.” Oh goody, Harrington’s turn. “I still don’t like you. But you didn’t deserve to be a punching bag and you didn’t deserve being a meat-puppet for some monster from an alternate dimension.”

“Gee, I feel so warm and fuzzy inside.”

“Do you feel guilty?”

Startled, Billy opened his eyes. Brown ones stared him down with the same intensity he remembered from outside that rundown shack the Byers call a home.

“W-what?” he stammered.

“Do you feel guilty?” Steve repeated. “For the shit you did last year? For what you were made to do when the Mindflayer was controlling you?”

“What the fuck, Harrington? Of course I do.”

“Then you’re exactly where you should be.”

They stared each other down, Steve patient and intent while Billy was in utter shock. Did Harrington mean that? Is this some kind of “pass it on” thing from the former King of Hawkins?

Is this shit the reason Harrington hung up the crown and took to being a babysitter to the friends of his ex’s brother?

“You should hear the stories Mike and the others have about Steve,” Max spoke up, cautious.

Harrington’s response was immediate and full of shame. “No. No, he doesn’t.”

And maybe there were some parts of Billy that were curious after all. Because if there was something that could make Steve Harrington blush so nice and pretty like that then Billy wanted to know it. He wanted to know all of it.

“Oh, yeah,” Billy said slowly, eyes catching the way Steve’s throat bobbed from a hard swallow, “I think I do, pretty boy. I want to hear all about the reign of King Steve.”

*    *    *

Billy fucking hated doctors.

Recovering in a government-run hospital only increased the hatred ten-fold.

No, he could not read minds now.

No. He did not know how to move things with his mind or control people.

NO, he would not like to keep having his damn black goo blood drawn every day when there were no signs of change! It was still black. It was still goo. It was still healing up every cut they put on his body.

But sure, it’s fascinating that he can now heal quickly. Fuck you if you think that he’s interested in seeing how long various injuries would take to do it.

If it weren’t the doctors running tests or asking questions then it was the Nerd Herd gathering around him like a frog in Biology class ready to be dissected.

More like Dustin Henderson was the one treating him like a specimen. Everyone else was done with that shit.

Billy was more than done with that shit.

“If you ask him about Venom one more time, Dustin, I swear—”

“But that’s totally what it was like!”

“No,” Sinclair protested, “he was more like Carnage.”

“Shut up,” Dustin countered with. Such a genius. “Carnage was red, like the meaty Mindflayer from the mall. Billy was Venom. Like, Eddie Brock’s Venom.”

“If that’s supposed to be a compliment then it is a shitty one,” the Wheeler kid input.

“All of you are shitty,” Steve stated. Dustin look betrayed. Served him right.

“Steve!”

“If I have to hear any of you shits interrogate him I am not stopping by Family Video on the way back,” he threatened.

“Aw, princess, you’re looking to protect my honor.” Billy put a hand to his chest and batted his lashes at the brunet. “My hero.”

“Fuck off, Hargrove.”

“After sitting through two months of this shit? I would love to.” Billy shoveled chocolate pudding into his mouth. “My simmer’s fucking wasted. Shouldn’t all of you be in school?”

“Next week,” Little Byers offered helpfully. Billy liked that kid.

“Jane gets to start with us this year,” Max said with a grin aimed at the other girl.

Jane nodded. “Finally.”

“Great. So I’ll be stuck with the lot of you,” Billy muttered. Several pairs of eyes stilled on him before he played it back in his head. Steve even looked sympathetic. “Don’t say it, Max.”

“I’m not saying anything.”

“You’re fucking face is saying it for you.”

“Friends don’t be mean when upset,” Jane chastised, “siblings don’t either.”

Billy sighed heavily and sucked on his teeth. “I’m sorry Max.”

Again with the wide looks. He knows how to give a damn apology when he wants to.

“It’s okay, Billy,” Max replied.

Jane nodded her approval.

“There are other things you can do,” Steve prompted carefully, “they said you’re getting a new identity, right? You could take an independent study or go to another school.”

Yeah, he could. That wasn’t the problem. Billy didn’t even know what he wanted to do past getting the hell out of this hospital.

“I get it, Harrington.” Billy slouched in the bed until he was staring up at the familiar blinding white ceiling. “I’m getting pretty tired, guys.”

“I should get home anyway,” Max nodded, disappointment clear as she stood. Max hugged him since that was now a thing they did, and Jane followed suit. Then they were both out the door to catch up with the boys.

Steve was the one to hover; eyes uncertain while his body swayed under the indecision. Billy would love to clean him out of his money at a game of poker, he could see how Harrington is shit at hiding anything.

“Spit it out, Harrington,” Billy sighed.

“I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, either.”

“You babysit a bunch of freshmen, it’s not hard to see.”

“No. I mean, yes, I do, but,” Steve shoved the sleeves of his jacket up past his elbows and crossed his arms to keep them still. “School’s never been my thing, I don’t want college, my dad cut me off, and I’m working at a video store. So I’m saying that it’s not a big fucking deal if you need time to figure your shit out.”

“You mean apart from the shit that I’m dealing with?”

“Yeah.”

“Duly noted, pretty boy.”

Steve nodded stiffly and turned away, but not before Billy spotted the flushed cheeks.

It might become his new hobby, in the end, to keep making that happen.

*    *    *

It was the first time Billy was allowing himself to really look at his body since waking up.

All the tests (the ones Billy consented to in the beginning) were finished and as conclusive as they could get. They said he was ready to be released into the world again…just not as Billy Hargrove. He could be anyone he wanted to be and they’ll fit the bill for it since it was the least they could do. There was still time for him to make those decisions though.

He just couldn’t keep staying in their “hospital” until then.

Okay, Billy didn’t want to stay there until then.

Who the fuck chooses to be in a government hospital or any of their facilities?

So Billy was in the bathroom to change into some clothes that Jane delivered to him via Chief Hopper. The jeans still clung to the thick muscles of his thighs like he remembered. The shoes were the only things new since his old ones had kinda been ruined during everything before.

Despite the new healing factor he’s been stuck with, his torso was matted with scars.

Several spheres of glistening skin that were warped like flower buds that will never get a chance to bloom.

It disgusted him.

It fascinated him.

They would help Billy to never forget and never doubt what really happened at Starcourt.

He’ll remember that he took his last breath on the mall’s linoleum floor with Max crying over him as if he’d done anything like a good brother to deserve it.

“Hargrove? Still alive in there?”

Billy startled.

“Fuck off!”

“Oh, good. It would have been a terrible job if I had to give Max and Jane some tragic news.”

Billy was still buttoning up his shirt when he threw open the door. Hopper was a man he would have avoided like the plague under any other circumstance. A man like Neil Hargrove liked to treat himself as an upstanding citizen. That meant cops were a big fat “Don’t Ever Fucking Bring Them Around” in his book. So the Chief had been at the top of the list for Billy to steer clear of. Beating up Harrington in October had been the only time he broke that rule.

His dad had been sure he didn’t make that same mistake again.

This time, they both suffered through some shit. The truth was laid bare between them.

“You look like a dog’s ass, Hopper,” Billy officially greeted him with.

Honestly. The guy looked pale and purple-eyed like he hasn’t been sleeping since July. Probably hasn’t.

Again, Billy could relate.

The man looked unimpressed. “Shove it, kid. I can dump you on the side of the road.”

“Gee, officer, that sounds like some reckless abandonment type shit.”

“Just tell me you’re ready to get out of here.”

Upon a second look, Billy could see more wrong with the burly man. He was tense and shifty, obviously uncomfortable now that Billy cared enough to look. Did it have to do with him, or with being in this hospital-lab place?

“Yeah,” Billy responded, rubbing his mouth, “it’s just, uh.”

“What?” Hopper sighed warily. “Just come out with it, Hargrove.”

“I’m legally dead and all with Max having been the only family who knows I’m actually still kicking it. So I don’t have a place to stay.”

There was a small level of discomfort seeing something in Hopper’s eyes go soft. For him. Like soft was something he’d earned.

“We’ve got it covered, kid.”

And then he was walking out. Like that was all Billy needed to know.

There wasn’t anything he could really do after that but follow after the man and hope he wasn’t about to be buried in the middle of the woods.

*    *    *

This was not what Billy expected.

A cell? Sure. Psych ward? Couldn’t blame them if they did it. A hotel/motel at the very least. Those, he could get.

But not the same damn house Billy almost killed Steve Harrington in.

“What the fuck are we doing here?”

“This is where you’re staying.”

“The fuck it is.”

Hopper looked ready to throttle him. “Look, kid—” he stopped. The Chief took a deep breath. Released the steering wheel he’d been white-knuckling. “Joyce insisted. Max and Jane pleaded. It’s far enough that no one’s going to find you or randomly show up. Stay until you get your shit together.”

Billy was going to have to accept that nothing was going to make complete sense anymore. He stared ahead at the dingy house. A fragile-looking woman was on the porch. Joyce. Must be the mom to the Byers boys.

Somehow, he felt like he knew her.

He’s never met her himself, obviously. But he knew that guarded look in her eyes. The way she looked careful while trying to hold her head high and shoulders back. Joyce Byers was clearly a survivor of the same battle Billy’s been fighting in for his entire life.

New things about Jonathan and Will made more sense.

There were tinted fragments of memory, too. None of them belonged to Billy. All of them were lined with the frostbitten touch of the Mindflayer. Pieces that were left behind from someone else that the Mindflayer used.

Now the old rumors Tommy H. had told him about Will Byers made a lot more sense.

The Byers were soft but they were strong.

That was more than he could say about himself.

“Well?” Hopper prompted, watching him closely.

Billy opened the car door.

“Hello, Billy,” Joyce offered with a neutral smile. It was impossible for there to be any possibility of her not knowing what he did the last time he was here.

“Ms. Byers.”

“Jonathan has been setting up his own place. He’s still cleaning out his room but it’s yours to stay in.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

He could feel it as Joyce’s eyes took him in. It was a slow thing that made sure Billy felt exposed right down to his core. He hated the feeling when it was his dad seeing him. With the woman in front of him, it wasn’t a weakness she was looking for. It was his scars.

Billy knew she found them when her smile took on something more…motherly. Caring. “Call me Joyce,” she told him.

The inside of the house looked exactly the same to Billy as it did in October. There were a few exceptions; photos that included Jane and Hopper, a frumpy recliner that looked like the one from the cabin Jane had been in when they first connected.

“Joyce?”

“Yes, Billy?”

“I’m sorry about—”

“There’s no need.” Joyce guided him past the living room into the small hallway. “July wasn’t you. It was inexcusable what you did to Steve in October or the way you treated the boys or even how you treated Max. But we know why. You’ve apologized. So now we move on to something new. For all of us.”

How were Joyce and her sons able to come off so compassionate when they knew what the fight was like?

“Here’s your room,” she added, stopping at the end of the hall and opening a door to their left.

There were a lot of records. More than he owns since he’d started buying cassettes more often after getting the Camaro. There were a lot of photographs, too. But what caught his attention was all the boxes on the bed. Boxes that were filled with his things.

“How--?”

“Steve and Jonathan,” Hopper said gruffly from his place in the doorway, “Jane and Max, and Will told your old man that they were disposing of all of it for him.”

Dispose of. Right. Like his possessions were nothing but trash instead of something worth keeping. That’s all his dad wanted to do with him in the first place. Since the moment he knew Billy wasn’t some tough straight boy who could be his perfect golden child.

Billy ran his fingers over his books. He pushed them around until he found the most important of them all, a worn-down copy of poems with his mom’s name scrawled in neat print on the inside of its cover. He’d been so afraid of it being found and destroyed by his dad. Billy’d kept it hidden under his bed like it should have been a Playboy.

“Are you hungry, Billy?”

“Oh. Um.” He ran his fingers along the book’s cover page. Brushed his thumb over his mom’s name. “Yes, ma—Joyce.”

“I’ll make you something,” she said softly with an urging push to move Hopper out of the room, “take your time. Settle in.”

Billy nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

And he did indeed take his time when he was left to his own devices. He took care of the clothes he put away, each shirt hung up to keep them free of wrinkles and everything else in the proper dresser drawers. His jackets went in the closet, too. Cologne got put on a small portion of the dresser with his hairspray. His jewelry was put next to all of it in a small tray. Books went on a shelf with his own music collection.

He stopped at the box of posters and magazines. Until now, they’d been posturing for his dad. All about fitting the rebel homebody who his dad half-hated because at least then he was going after chicks. It was better than the truth.

But now? Billy has been used and shredded. He was done with the game. The box went next to the door for dumping in the trash later. Or he’ll burn them. Whatever the fuck feels like more of a cathartic release.

His shoulders already felt lighter.

Billy rewarded himself with curling up on the bed and falling away under the rare current of sleep. He could be okay here with the Byers, Hopper, and Jane.

He was already a lot safer. A lot more loved, too.

*    *    *

“Are you going to tell anyone?”

Billy was letting the whine of Ozzy’s voice lull him as Black Sabbath played from his stereo, a lit cigarette dangling off the bed between his fingers. Fall was already rearing its colorful head again.

“Tell anyone what?” he asked lazily, cracking his eyes open. He still hasn’t gotten rid of the kids. Without fail, they’d show up in his room after getting picked up from the high school. He could hear Max and Jane in the kitchen as they gathered their snacks. So Will was on his own, sitting on their floor with Billy’s cassettes in front of him.

“What you are.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific, Willy Wonka. Everyone already knows I’m an asshole so I don’t know what else there is to tell.”

Will flipped a The Clash tape around to read over the tracklist.

“Will?”

He had those same guarded eyes as Joyce. It had to come from his own time as the Mindflayer’s puppet. Billy also knew the intelligence behind those eyes.

“Does anyone know? That you don’t really like girls?”

From anyone else, Billy might have stiffened up or thrown a punch. If there was still the risk of his dad finding out then he’d find a new thing to make Will be afraid of.

That wasn’t him anymore. There’s a lot that Almost Dying put him at peace with.

“What makes you think that Byers?” he asked when his thoughts stopped running laps around his head.

“The nicknames you use when Steve is around. Jane said she saw something when she first started seeing you in the dark space.”

“Jane saw something.”

“She didn’t say what it was,” Will replied, “just that it confused her until it looked like what she does with Mike.”

Well. It’s a relief that he didn’t inadvertently cause some scarring for the two most innocent freshmen in existence.

Billy stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray on his bedside table and pulled himself up. “Okay. Get your ass up here, Byers.”

Will set the tape back in the holder and pushed it away carefully. He slid onto the bed and crossed his legs, sad bowl-cut falling into his face. Billy was getting pretty close to taking his own scissors to it.

“Are you asking because you have a problem with it, or because you get a little secret of your own to share?” Billy asked, keeping his voice neutral so he could prepare. He could tell which answer it was but he had to leave it to Will to say.

“I don’t think it’s much of a secret,” Will said, staring off at the wall, “my dad always knew. Spread it around since he hated it.”

“That shitbag said it to feel like some kind of man.” It did make Billy wish he could have a little talk with the bastard about it. “But there’s a difference between shit being real and shit just being spread.”

Will turned his head to Billy with a smile that didn’t touch his scared mini-Bambi eyes. “It’s true.”

Billy was learning to block out the old words. The ones his dad had been a fan of and Billy used to repeat because it took the spotlight off of his true self. Will didn’t need to here them again either.

“That why you avoid being in the same room as Jane and Mike when it’s just you three?”

Will nodded.

“You’ll find someone better to think about, Will.”

“I don’t need anyone,” Will shook his head. “Not yet. Too much has happened. I’m not ready to look for it like the others have.”

No. Will just needed a way to move on and recover what was taken from him because of their shared monster.

“Being stag isn’t so bad. Personal growth and all that good shit.” Billy bumped his shoulder against Will’s. It got him a real smile so it was what he’d been after.

“What about Steve?”

“What about him?”

“Are you going to tell him?”

“I don’t think it’s something he’s ready for, Willy.”

“Because of last year, right?”

Billy sighed. “Yeah.” There was more to it. But even if Harrington said all was forgiven, Billy didn’t think it was suddenly going to change things between them.

Did Steve even realize that there’d been something more than competitive hostility going on last year?

“He’s been watching you,” Will told him.

Wait, what?

“Who’s watching Billy?”

Honestly, Billy wasn’t surprised at Max and Jane’s timing. They were freaky good at it.

“Steve,” Will answered, helpful as always.

Billy stared at Jane’s still eerie serene look. “You know that, too, Jane?”

Jane nodded. “Yes.”

He turned to Max. She looked as shocked as he was.

“If he’s staring then it’s because he’s making sure Billy isn’t going to hurt us,” Max reasoned. She quickly turned to him. “We know you won’t.”

“I’ve done enough shit to warrant the doubt, Max. It’s fine.”

Jane frowned. “That’s not what it is.”

“But they’re not—” Max stopped. She looked between the three of them, incredulous. “Are you?”

“Surprise.” Billy shook out his fingers in the most unenthusiastic of jazz hands.

Max looked at them again. “Am I the only one in this room who didn’t know?”

“Apparently.”

“I guess so.”

“Sorry, Max.”

Pouting never looked good on his stepsister. So far, that wasn’t changing.

“You’ll see,” Jane went on to Billy. She handed him a bowl of salted popcorn and sat down in Will’s former spot on the floor like it was the perfect end of the discussion.

“As soon as pigs fly, Jane,” Billy told the girl.

Max snickered. “They let you on planes, don’t they?”

“Fuck off Maxine. I no longer feel bad for you being left out. You can get the hell out.”

Jane furrowed his brows and cocked her head to the side. “Billy is human. Not pig.”

Okay. The laugh that caused might be enough to get him to not kill his sister. For now.

*    *    *

Turns out that the metaphorical pigs grew their wings on Halloween and took flight at Thanksgiving.

Halloween had the kids meet up at the Byers’. Steve made the offer to drive this year since Billy couldn’t (for obvious reasons) so he got to watch the brunet struggle to fit the Fellowship into his small car.

“Don’t laugh,” Steve had ordered with a glare when all Billy could do was crack up on the porch.

“Make sure you don’t forget the ax,” Billy got out with a gesture to the realistic-looking prop that leaned against a back tire. Steve huffed, yanked it up, and threw it into the back.

“Hey!” Dustin protested from the passenger seat.

“Shut up or you walk,” Steve threatened. Dustin made a rapid retreat back into the car.

Billy leaned against the porch railing and lit up one of the new cigarettes Joyce was nice enough to share.

“So what are you even supposed to be, Harrington?” That was nothing out of Tolkien’s works, that’s for sure.

Steve’s hair had been as glam as Billy ever saw it. Eyeliner that was way too fucking distracting, a billowy white shirt left a smooth chest exposed the way Billy himself used to do, tight leather pants that did even more outlining of that ass than Steve’s denim did, and boots that oddly looked good too.

He realized the answer before Steve opened his mouth to say it.

“Will convinced me to go as the Goblin King from Labyrinth.”

Billy’s tongue dragged out across his bottom lip. Shit. It was like walking into a wet dream. He wanted nothing more than to get his hands on Steve’s pert ass and pin him against the car. He’d be willing to get on his knees for Steve Harrington’s Goblin King like he would for David Bowie’s. And damn Will Byers for turning out to be a sneaky little shit himself.

“I can’t even believe I agreed to do it,” Steve went on with a frustrated sigh. “I look like an idiot.”

A lungful of smoke slowly eased out of Billy. It’s a damn shame Steve couldn’t keep this look forever.

“Trust me, pretty boy,” he almost purred, “you look delicious. Good enough to eat.”

Those blushes were well what Billy expected. He’d been right about how much he loved to see it.

The way Steve’s eyes went black and breath quickened, however, was a surprise.

A delightful surprise that had Billy thinking the kids had a chance of knowing something after all.

When it was Thanksgiving’s turn to bring them together, Billy was ready to start shooting those pigs down and wear them as a new jacket.

Joyce and Hopper had the whole gang there. Including that Buckley chick. If she weren’t a painfully obvious lesbian to him then Billy would have risked some stupid jealousy issues.

“You’ve been a big help, Billy,” Joyce told him between platter pick-ups. He was giving the finishing touches to the stuffing before he tackles the turkey.

He shrugged but gave her a warm smile. Joyce was so much like the mother he thought his own could have been if it weren’t for his dad. She was one he needed. “Used to do the cooking before Susan came into the picture. Still had to lend a hand after.”

Joyce simply returned his smile with a squeeze of his arm. “I appreciate it. Jonathan is usually the only help and I don’t trust Hop with anything that isn’t the toaster.”

“It’s the least I can do,” Billy shrugged.

She squeezed his arm once more and then went off with the stuffing. Cutting up the turkey, in all honesty, was pretty cathartic. He’d been surprised that it wasn’t Hopper doing it but Joyce’s pleas of ‘Billy, would you please’ was enough for him to not ask questions.

Everyone else was watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on the television when Billy and Joyce popped their heads in. It looked so fucking domestic. Hopper was out of uniform in the recliner, Jane and Max sat nearby talking while Dustin was going on to Lucas and Mike and Will about who the best character was (Lucy, duh), and the other teens had the couch. Nancy and Jonathan had their own conversation going while Buckley was making it her mission to get Steve to either break down laughing or roll his eyes out of their sockets.

“Are you fucking kidding? Lucy? No way!”

“She knows what’s really going on in life!”

“She’s a sociopathic bitch, dude!”

“I think Linus is pretty good.”

“Linus?”

“—Are you sure the distance will be okay?”

“We’ve fought Demagorgons and Russians, Nance. The drive won’t be so bad—”

“—come on, Steve! How do you not get the meaning of Predator?”

“I just don’t get why it’d bother with a bunch of innocent people!”

“No one is innocent! It’s a bunch of rebels and mercenaries!”

All of it still didn’t feel like what Billy deserved even after all these months. This wasn’t his life. More like looking into some kind of rift at a life he could have been a part of if he’d been more like a Byers instead of a Hargrove. It felt like he was intruding.

And yet.

When Steve’s head moved just so. When Steve was catching his eye. When Steve gave him one of those beautiful, glowing smiles. Billy could easily smile right back and pretend he did fit in.

“Dinner’s ready everyone!” Joyce called out. They both ducked out of the way when the kids swarmed their way through to the tables.

Steve slowed down when he was in front of Billy, looking ready to say…who the hell knew what. Buckley grabbed Steve before he could make a sound and dragged him off.

There were so many of them that a second table had been set up for the kids. Billy smirked at Max being stuck at the Kiddie Table again like when they’d been dragged along to a family holiday with the Mayfield extended family. She flipped him off. It was a loving-sibling moment for the ages.

“What the hell? We’re not kids!” Mike griped. He plopped down in one of the chairs with a big pout. Right. Not a kid.

Unfazed, Hopper unfolded his napkin at the head of the main table. “You’re not even at the legal age for a permit, Wheeler,” he replied, “so can it.”

“But I need to sit by Steve,” Dustin insisted, only to be met by Robin’s smirk and her hand petting the brunet’s hair.

“Oh no, goober, I guess that means I’m the one who’s sitting next to him instead.” Robin only cackled when Steve smacked her hand away and the kid glared.

Billy officially likes her.

“Just pick a seat and get in it,” Hopper ordered.

That’s how Billy wound up stuck next to Nancy but across from Steve. One part of that wasn’t a problem for him.

“So,” Robin rubbed her hands together as she eyed the table, “are we doing this thing or what?”

While having a holiday dinner that didn’t end in someone getting hit in the face or plates thrown at his head was great, nothing will ever erase the disturbing images of Dustin Henderson and Robin Buckley inhaling Thanksgiving turkey. That shit was right up there with the meat-suit version of the Mindflayer.

“Gross,” Lucas and Max said in tandem.

“You two must have been hungry.” Ever the kind one, Joyce.

“Put me out of my misery,” groaned Mike.

“Have you not noticed the way you eat?” Nancy countered, though her eyes didn’t leave Robin.

The rest of them watched on in horrified – and awed – disgust.

It made Billy lose most of his appetite, which wasn’t that large to begin with since July. He started the clean-up process as fast as he could.

How that resulted in Steve helping him out in the kitchen was a mystery.

“Asshole. You’re a guest. Go sit the fuck down out there with everyone else.”

“I ate Joyce’s food. This is the least I can do about it, Hargrove, so tough luck.”

“The least you can do is nothing. And fuck you, I helped make this.”

“I know.” Steve dug out storage containers from the cabinet. “It’s why you shouldn’t be in here for the clean-up, amigo.”

Billy shrugged. “Gotta earn my keep, pretty boy.”

“Hey.” Steve stopped Billy’s hand when he reached for the sponge. “You’ve more than earned your keep, shithead.”

“Again, fuck you,” Billy snorted. That earned him one of those genuine smiles that Steve’s been bringing out more lately.

They fell into silence, Billy washing dishes while Steve stored the leftovers in the small fridge. After all the shit that’s gone on at this place, you’d think the least the government could do was give the Byers some decent appliances. He heard Max talking about something being shoved in there once and he immediately waked out so that he wouldn’t gag at it being used.

Joyce popped her head in after a few minutes. “Thank you, boys. I could have taken care of this myself.”

“Go keep Hopper from falling into a food coma,” Billy bid, waving her off with a sudsy hand.

“All right, fine.” She cast them a wry smile. “We’ll do pie in a bit, though.”

“Sure thing, Joyce,” Steve nodded.

Billy scrubbed at a particularly stubborn gravy stain and said, “You sure you don’t want to go out there? I didn’t think Buckley or Henderson could last this long without you.”

“They’re fine and I’ll live. Maybe Dustin can’t stop talking about Suzie. I’m proud but that shit is a bit much right now, you know?”

Right. The nerd actually had some girl he was chatting up in Utah.

“No,” he answered with a smirk, “I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“You’re such a dick, Hargrove.”

Billy would take him more seriously if the guy wasn’t busy smiling still. “So I’ve been told.”

When the food was put away, the pile of dirty dishes was big again. He didn’t complain about it. Steve was starting to trash all that was left, foil and bones from the turkey and the food too big for the disposal.

“Wait.” Billy grabbed Steve’s arm.

Steve frowned, looking around for a problem. “What?”

“Don’t toss that yet.”

The brunet eyed the bones in confusion. “Why not?” he asked.

“Because of this.”

He reached into the tray and pulled out the almost horseshoe-like piece. Steve’s brows furrowed.

“What is it?”

“Seriously, Harrington? It’s a wishbone.”

Steve stared.

“A wishbone.”

“You telling me you’ve never looked at a fucking wishbone before?”

“Can’t say I have, Billy, no.”

That just wouldn’t do.

“Set that shit down and grab the other end.”

When all Steve did was continue to stare at him like he was waiting for a punchline, Billy took the tray himself and set it to the side.

“Just trust me,” Billy requested softly. It was the last thing he should be given from one of these people but he was asking anyway. Steve’s face cleared to something akin to earnest.

“I do trust you.”

“Then grab the damn bone, Steve.”

“Okay…what do I do now?”

“You think of a wish.”

“Seriously?” Steve asked, eyeing him and the bone they were holding dubiously. “You have to be fucking with me, right?”

“Shut up. My mom used to do it with me.” It was one of the good things he lost when she walked out the door in California. No fucking way did his dad think men played fanciful little superstitions and Billy didn’t want it to be ruined by Susan or Max. Maybe now he’ll do it with Max. At Christmas. But right now he wanted to give Steve a good little memory of him. Better than the original ones.

“So what now?” the brunet asked.

“We pull it.”

“Pull it?”

“That’s right, pretty boy,” Billy nodded, throwing a charming smile in for the fun of it, “whoever gets the bigger half when it breaks is the one whose wish will come true.”

There was that blush again. By now it was seared into his eyelids. Steve’s smile was fading into something Billy didn’t want to end up reading wrong.

“Should I be worried about your wish?”

Billy darted his tongue out to wet his lips. His smile grew when he caught the way Steve followed the movement.

“We’ll see,” he answered.

Then he pulled.

The bone snapped and broke away, leaving half of it twirling between Billy’s fingers.

“Looks like it’s your wish, pretty boy,” he said with a nod to the half still sitting in the brunet’s hand.

“So now it’s supposed to come true?” Steve asked slowly, staring at the bone with an odd expression.

Billy nudged the water back on and grabbed the next plate. “That’s how it works,” he confirmed.

Maybe he should have stolen away for Jonathan’s camera. Steve’s face was pretty priceless.

He hadn’t meant to tell Steve about his mom. Jane was the last person who had mentioned her and it was almost pathetic that it’s what saved him and the brats from the throes of the Mindflayer. Billy didn’t feel like he resented talking about it, though. Billy shoved all those memories away out of spite and heartbreak for years. Jane had reminded him that they were cherished once. Telling them to Steve, well, he’s been trying that honesty shit, so—

It’s a good thing that Billy was too surprised to throw a punch when he was grabbed.

Like, a really good fucking thing.

Or else Steve would have gotten a fist to the jaw instead of Billy having the experience of a lifetime with his pretty boy’s mouth on his.

No wonder all the bitches at Hawkins High were crazy about King Steve Harrington. Lips this soft and experienced were meant to be made out with.

Fuck. Harrington knew how to use that tongue, too.

Billy groaned and dug his fingers into dark hair that crunched with hair products and didn’t give a damn about it getting messed up. Or that his hands were wet. Steve made a sound of complaint but he was gonna have to suck it up.

Hands grabbed at his ass to pull him in – again, no complaints – while his lungs quickly tested their limits. Billy had the thought that this death was far more to his liking.

“My mom wanted to see if you were almost—Shit! I’m sorry!”

They broke apart, each seeking air while they met the stunned look Jonathan Byers couldn’t shake off.

“You were taking a while, so,” the boy faltered, keeping his eyes averted, “I’ll tell them you’ll be a minute.”

“That’d be great, Jonathan,” Steve nodded, not looking away from Billy. Billy focused less on Byers retreating and more on the lack of fear or guilt from Steve.

“Should we get out of here?” he asked, cautious. Steve’s eyes went wide with surprise.

“What? Oh. No. I think that we just got a little more time to ourselves.”

“Not worried about what they’ll think once he blabs?”

Steve stepped closer again and dragged his hands up Billy’s thighs until he could grab onto his hips. That was a touch that Billy would love to explore somewhere more private and with a lot fewer clothes between them.

“Should I be?” Steve asked in return.

Well. If that’s how Steve was going to play it.

“Fuck no.”

Steve broke out into a smile. “Good.”

Billy would put this Thanksgiving down as a pretty damn great one.

Later, when they did join everyone for pie and movies, the knowing looks held no signs of hostility or disgust like his father would have held. There were plenty of sincere smiles instead that made Steve try to look as if he didn’t care whether they approved or not and Billy falling back on looking tough.

That is until Max smirked and Will started giggling.

Max was nothing but a dead little shit.

But fuck did he actually love her.

*    *    *

Good things were hard for Billy to come by. He didn’t have a great track record of them lasting either.

Every time they hung out, every heavy make-out session, every damn smile. All of it made Billy feel like a big ass shoe was supposed to drop.

He really didn’t want it to this time.

And so far it hadn’t.

Christmas passed with gifts and sugary kisses under the mistletoe.

You know I can’t buy you a gift, Stevie boy.”

“Don’t need one.”

“Seriously—”

“Get under the mistletoe, Billy. You can give me a gift by copping a feel.”

“I will, then.”

“That’s what I’m asking for, asshole."

Then New Year’s Eve hit midnight without the world ending.

“Get your hands off of my sister’s ass, Sinclair, or I strap you to a firework.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me, shithead.”

When he woke up with the Mindflayer’s tentacles chasing after him on a March morning, the shoe still hadn’t dropped.

Billy followed the routine of shuffling into the bathroom while it was still free (a house of five with one bathroom was hell on a good day), showering through the hot water that still hadn’t felt like anything above lukewarm when it touched his skin, throwing on some clothes, and then venturing to the main area of the house.

“Morning, Billy.”

Billy grunted in response and went through the next part of the routine of making coffee. Will sat at the table with a sketchbook and a half-empty bowl of Fruit Loops in front of him.

“Harrington picking you up for school?”

“After he gets Max,” Will nodded without looking up.

Jane popped in from the back porch to join Will at the table.

“Almost here,” she informed them, patented bright smile in place.

Billy narrowed his eyes at her. “What were you doing out there?”

Jane’s smile only grew as she shrugged. “Practicing.”

He knew that her powers weren’t as easily forthcoming as they were before July. The Mindflayer had taken a lot out of her and Billy sometimes felt some guilt over that. He even had an inkling now that she was pushing herself to get strong again. But Billy didn’t think she’d been doing it on her own. You know, stupidly, and without any supervision.

“Jane,” he started, and then it turned out to be when he was ending because that was when the front door was practically thrown open in the haste of a certain redhead. A redhead who expedited his wake-up processes when she skipped the usual Jane hugging to come right up and hug him instead.

“What the fuck?” Billy blurted out. He set his coffee down like he was trying not to set off a bomb while he stared down at Max. “Did a problem come up? Did Neil touch you?”

She quickly looked up at him. “What? No!”

“Then what’s with the hug that feels as if Arnold Schwarzenegger is body-crushing me?”

“I’m hugging my brother, asshole. Neil and my mom acted like today wasn’t important anymore.”

“Okay…”

Max’s look turned flat.

“Your birthday, dick.”

Billy’s eyes shifted over to the calendar. He counted the days in his head a few times to be sure.

“It is,” he said lamely.

“You forgot your own birthday?” she asked, incredulous.

“I guess I just lost track of time.” It wasn’t like he had many reasons to think about it.

“I wasn’t able to get you anything,” Max told him. The months didn’t stop how weird it was to see her look like she was actually sorry about that. “Neil took my allowance and I told Steve I wouldn’t use his money.”

Steve knows about his birthday?

The door swung open again as the rich boy himself came inside.

He swept a hard look at all three freshmen and crossed his arms. “I’m not taking the blame for you shits if we get to the school late,” he warned.

That sent the brats scrambling and out the door.

“Nice trick,” Billy complimented.

 Steve shrugged. “Gets the job done.”

“Thought you didn’t care about school.”

“I didn’t. But I’m not giving Hopper or your dad any reason to chew out my ass if the shits decide to start thinking the same way.”

“Fair.”

Steve smirked and came into Billy’s space. “You know what’s fair?”

Billy sucked on his teeth and leaned back against the counter. “I’m a pretty fair guy.” Too bad they didn’t have the time to get into this for real.

The kiss he got next told him that he wasn’t the only one thinking it.

“Can I come by in an hour?” The brunet asked, breath brushing against his lips and thumbs pressing into the curves of Billy’s hipbones.

“You got the time for little ol’ me, princess?” Billy returned. “No videos to rewind?”

“Took the day off when Max told me about today. Thanks for not keeping me in the loop, by the way.”

Billy sank his hands into the tight back pockets of those jeans. He had a lot of things to say about this ass. All good things.

“The place will be all ours,” he answered with.

“I’m good with a little privacy.”

“Then I guess you can pay me another visit.”

Steve’s face lit up like the sun. He laid another kiss on Billy like it was some kind of reward for giving the right answer and pulled away.

Billy had no problem with the view he got on the guy’s way out.

He was used to having the house to himself now. The empty space had given him time to participate in plenty of panic attacks without any interruptions.

Now, though, his thoughts were running around with something else. It sent him down a rabbit hole that he didn’t realize he was in until he was staring out of his bedroom window and there were arms around his waist. Billy blinked the awareness back, and he found the grey light of the sun that was filtering through the dense trees in front of him. The sound of David Bowie’s “Heroes” played from his stereo. Steve’s hands felt like they were searing through his stomach compared to the droplets of water still hitting his shoulders from the tips of his damp curls.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you look so lost in thought before,” Steve murmured against his neck. Each little breath tickled at Billy’s skin. “You’re real good at making blonds look smart, Hargrove.”

“You’re good at being a Disney princess,” Billy returned, “all these woodland creatures and dwarves that follow you around. Bet you got a sweet little singing voice, too, and whistle while you work.”

Steve snorted and buried his face deeper into the blond’s shoulder.

“Fuck you.”

“I mean, if you’re up for it. But I usually like it the other way around.” The smirk came naturally as soon as he felt the stutter of Steve’s breath.

It became Billy’s main objective for the next hour to see how many times he could make the other boy sing.

When they were both drenched in sweat and breathing like they’d been chased by some dema-whatever, Billy sat back against the headboard and lit up two cigarettes. He passed one down to Steve and took the chance to take a minute to consider it the best birthday he’s had since turning nine. That was when a small blue box tied with a cream satin ribbon was tossed into his lap. A baby blue bow even sat on top. He let the smoke leave from the side of his mouth as he turned the box over in his hands.

“What’s this?”

“A present. Happy birthday, you know?”

“This isn’t a fucking ring, is it?”

Steve coughed, choking on his newest inhale of smoke. “No, it is not a ring, dickwad.”

“Good. I don’t want to kick your ass out after having some pretty good sex.”

“Just open it before I regret buying you anything.”

Billy’s tongue poked out from between his lips as he flashed a quick grin. He plucked the tiny bow off the box and stuck it on top of the brunet’s head.

“And here I thought you already gave me a present.” It was a pretty good one, too.

“Jackass,” Steve muttered between puffs.

Billy popped open the lid of the box and was met with a tiny flash of silver. It looked like legit metal, not the shitty kind that can turn your skin green or gradually gets that coppery appearance. The stud of the earring had what he was pretty sure was an actual fucking diamond. A tiny little ring connected at the bottom of it so that a silver (shit, maybe platinum) stake dangled from it. A total step up from the cross and stake earrings that he already wore all the time.

“Jesus fuck, Steve.”

“What?”

“How much did you pay for this?”

Steve shrugged. “I didn’t really ask.”

Billy stared. “You didn’t ask.”

“Nope.”

“Did you even get this in town?”

“Of course not.”

“Then where did you go?”

“The city. Tiffany’s isn’t going to open a place in a shithole like Hawkins.”

Tiffany’s. Steve got him an earring from fucking Tiffany’s. Who the fuck was he, Truman Capote? Holly Golightly?

Who the fuck buys an expensive ass earring for someone like Billy, whose most expensive belonging used to be his car? And how do they act so damn casual about it?

Rich people. That’s who.

“Look. If you don’t like it then I’ll take it back,” Steve said as he reached for the box.

“Back off, Harrington.” Billy shoved his hand against Steve’s chest to hold him back. “Did I say I didn’t fucking like it?”

“You didn’t explicitly say you do.

“Fine. I like it. Better?”

Billy took out the cross he had and tossed it onto the bedside table. The earring from Steve slid into his ear smoothly and he put the stopper in place. With a tilt of his head, he aimed a sultry look at the boy next to him.

“Well? How does it look, princess?”

Steve brushed his fingers along the stake, observing it. Then, slowly, he moved them down Billy’s neck.

“Looks gorgeous,” Steve answered, voice low as he leaned in.

Pulling Steve into his lap, Billy did the nice thing of showing the brunet how much he really liked the gift.

*    *    *

“Is everything okay, Billy?”

Looking up from the remains of his chocolate cake, Billy offered a nod as his answer. Joyce held out a cigarette to him while she took a seat next to him, then kindly held a lighter out for the both of them to use.

“The kids wanted to do something for you,” she went on, “I hope that it didn’t disappoint you.”

“It didn’t,” he shook his head. It really didn’t. The cake and party streamers had been a total surprise but he’d been touched by it. The presents, too. New cassettes from Jane and Max (turned out Hopper gave the girls money for it), a drawing from Will that Billy was sure was supposed to be characters for Dungeons and Dragons, the skull ring that Mike Wheeler begrudgingly handed off to him, and some old copies of the Lord of the Rings that Sinclair and Henderson expected him to read immediately.

Joke’s on them; he’s already burned through a summer with a copy back in Cali.

Hopper and Joyce had even given him some money for who knew what.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Joyce asked. He shrugged and took a drag.

“It kinda hit me today that I’m not supposed to be here,” Billy answered after a moment.

Billy didn’t say anything when he saw her cut a look in the direction of the recliner where Hopper was nestled in. Neither of them should be alive today.

“Is there a problem with that?” she asked when she turned back to him.

“Not a problem,” he said as he tapped the ashes onto a corner of his plate, “but I feel like I’ve spent this last year in a free fall, you know? All I’ve done is hide my ass out here.”

“It’s time to pull the parachute.”

“Something like that.”

Joyce nodded thoughtfully, taking a drag from her own cigarette. “Have you figured out what you plan to do about that?”

Billy fiddled with his smoke. He’d been thinking it over since it hit him this morning before Steve showed up for the second time.

Eventually, he said, “I think so.”

They sat there at the table in a shared silence after that. Some poppy Madonna song played from the stereo. Obviously it was chosen by the girls. Steve was fighting with Henderson about something that was most likely unimportant while Mike with the girls dance, Lucas trying and failing to join in. Billy hoped Will would be able to stop watching Mike like that someday.

“Billy,” Joyce called softly, resting her hand on his arm, “I want to make sure that you know it’s okay to decide something that might mean you aren’t with us anymore.”

Before he could even try to respond she was holding up her other hand to stop him. “We are grateful that you helped save us. We all feel bad for the man your father was with you and your mother. But we want you to find the path that lets you move on and be happy. Being stuck in a town that thinks you’re dead is a trial that you shouldn’t have to continue going through. So none of us will see it as some kind of betrayal or abandonment. We will support you because we all love you. Even Hop.”

Billy quickly had to look away, his throat suddenly thick from the overwhelming love he could feel from the woman. Those weren’t words people like them can toss around whenever they felt like it. After the last year, he couldn’t accuse her of lying and he doubted she’d ever been the kind of person who does.

They’ve all done something for Billy. Even Steve’s shadow had stopped trying to probe him. Since when did so many people give a shit about him?

Joyce was a lot closer then he remembered when she wiped a napkin against his cheek, the touch gentle but firm. Like her. The crying thing was always so annoying.

“Whatever you decide for yourself, Billy, just make sure that you don’t leave it to the last minute to tell anybody.”

Don’t leave Steve and Max in the dark was heard loud and clear. Billy cared too much about most of the brats now to do that. And Steve…there was even more shit there to get into.

“Who else would I tell but you guys?” he challenged, the smile not entirely fake but it wasn’t his best either.

Joyce’s own smile matched anyway.

If Billy could spot Steve at the couch with a concerned frown aimed his way then it was definitely not going to be acknowledged by him.

*    *    *

Steve tasted like the cheeseburgers he brought as their lunch. There were days when Billy did wish he could go with Steve to the diner and eat in a booth or stroll into the video store and fuck with the brunet for an hour or two like he used to do at Scoops Ahoy. There wouldn’t be any animosity like back in the summer but it would have still been a thing to do that wasn’t being stuck in the Byers house in the damn woods.

Still, Billy guessed he couldn’t complain for real or for long when his hand was currently down the front of Steve’s jeans and he was halfway to leaving a vividly red splotch on the side of his pale neck.

Steve’s hips tried to mix jerking and rolling together in order to get more friction.

“You’re so fucking sexy, Harrington,” Billy purred. His teeth nipped playfully at the blood vessels in Steve’s neck to make it even redder.  The accompanying whine was delicious. “You’ve been so good. I like it when you listen.”

Steve gripped at his shirtsleeve. “Can’t believe what you’ve turned me into, Hargrove.”

“If you’re bitching about how I get you off then I will happily relieve you of the problem,” Billy offered casually, starting to pull his hand out. Steve’s hand shot up to grip at his wrist.

“Don’t you fucking dare, asshole. Stop and I break your hand,” he hissed.

“I do like having a fiery little princess under me.”

Billy ground the heel of his hand along Steve’s length. Having Steve at his mercy like this was far better than the alternative. It didn’t take long like that before Billy’s hand grew sticky and wet from the brunet’s cum. He carefully extracted the hand while Steve caught his breath. He reached over the bed for a shirt to clean up with.

“Robin’s starting to complain that I spend all of my lunches with you,” Steve sighed. He pushed a hand through already messy hair. Billy was pleased he was the one that made it get that way.

The blond tossed the shirt aside once he was done with it. “Am I supposed to feel bad about that? There’s no chance of it happening. She should accept it and move on.”

“I told her we’d do something the next time we get the same day off.”

“Good for you, compromising.”

Steve snorted, “I was being smart and saving my ass from any future kicking.”

“Still proud, pretty boy.”

“So, what, she gets me without a fight from you?”

“She’s a fucking lesbian, Steve. I’ve got nothing to be worried about with you spending a day with her.” Billy grabbed the back of the brunet’s head and yanked him into a bruising kiss. “Besides. I know I’ve got you for myself the rest of the time.”

That answer seemed appeasing enough for the poor princess. Steve dropped back down against the bed while Billy pillowed his hands behind his head.

“Are you ever going to tell me about what you and Joyce were talking about?” Steve asked. Right when Billy was getting comfortable with the quiet.

Yeah, he’d been avoiding that talk. Not by accident either. He wasn’t used to putting thought into discussions about the future, let alone one he didn’t think he’d have. It was a callous thing in his past to toss someone aside out of boredom and disinterest. Caring about another person used to suck and required too much vulnerability. He didn’t want to lose Steve when he was finally allowing himself to open up that way. It was a big first for him.

Plus there’d been the matter of getting plans fully realized in a more cemented way. He couldn’t just flip-flop on it.

Or be swayed by Bambi eyes.

“Why? Are you jealous, pretty boy?” Billy teased.

Steve shoved at his side. “Figured we were past doing secrets. We can talk about shit. Right?”

“Still hearing that you’re jealous I can do some sweet talking with her.”

“Try to be serious, asshole.”

Billy sighed. “Fine. You want serious?”

“I asked for it, didn’t I?”

“Hiding in the fucking woods is bullshit, all right? I’ve been out here not doing a goddamn thing for a year. A year that I wouldn’t have had in the first place without this Mindflayer goo shit in my veins and Jane’s Jedi power.”

Steve pushed up on his arm so that he was hovering over Billy, concern etched in his face. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“Why would I?” Billy countered with a scoff. “What could you have done? Hide me in your trunk with that bat of yours and drive me out of town for dates? Real classy of you.”

“I could have snuck you to another house, sure,” Steve glared, “or at least brainstormed something together.”

Fuck, Billy wasn’t outright looking to make this into a fight.

“Too late for it now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My point wasn’t to piss you off, okay?”

“Thanks.” But Steve did soften. If not with a huff first. “Then what is the point? Why is this too late or whatever?”

Steve’s fingers were light as they traced the St. Christopher that was nestled against Billy’s throat. He wasn’t used to being afraid of soft touches. He wasn’t used to being selfish enough about a selfish that he wanted to keep. Not since his mom.

“The big boys in government are still waiting to pay me out.” They were an ominous presence in the background waiting to be rid of him. “I’ve been thinking it’s time to accept what they’re offering and move on from Hawkins.”

Steve stilled. Billy could see the storm starting to brew. It actually reminded him of the look on the guy’s face back on Halloween at the party after Wheeler broke his heart.

“Okay, before you read too much into it, I’m not doing it to drop you or whatever.”

“But you plan to leave. So what do you expect me to think?”

Steve was the one to abandon Billy and the bed to pace the room of all things. Billy sat up and reached for the carton on his nightstand.

“I don’t expect anything, Steve.”

“Bullshit,” Steve bit, “where are you going to go?”

“I was thinking back home. To California.”

“Won’t people recognize you?”

“Not if I go to another town. Maybe Monterey instead of Santa Monica.”

“You plan to go back across the country and I’m not supposed to have a problem with it?”

“Have a problem if you want one.”

“Damn it, Billy! I told you to be fucking serious here!”

Billy blew out his smoke, finger playing with the cap of his Zippo. Steve wants serious so that’s what he’s getting. “I want you to come with me.”

Steve came to an abrupt stop. So abrupt that for a second it looked like he was going to topple right over.

“Come with you,” he parroted dumbly, regaining his balance. Barely.

“Ditch the brats and Buckley. I’ll help your freckled ass learn how to tan.” If Steve in Shitsville, Indiana, then Billy was worried that the brunet will die the next time some creature shows up to take over the town. Billy wouldn’t be able to handle that.

Steve shoved his hands through his hair (no way was any product going to fix that now) and crossed his arms. “I like those brats.”

“I won’t hold it against you.”

You like those brats.”

“That’s how I know you won’t hold it against me.”

“I grew up here. This is where my life is.”

“And California is where my life used to be.” Billy offered up his cigarette, which Steve snatched up right away. “People move, Steve. Do you really want to stay in a town full of other-dimensional monsters where you have parents that only cared enough about you to make you take a summer job and have a boyfriend that everyone else thinks is dead? Can you really live like that in the long run?”

“They’re gone now,” Steve argued.

“Like the last time?” Billy countered. He still didn’t ask about what happened in those previous times or if there was more than one but he didn’t need to in order to know there could be a risk of it happening again.

Steve floundered for a moment. “I could decide to go to college after all.”

“California has colleges, too.”

“We would still have to hide there, wouldn’t we? For obvious reasons?”

“A lot more progressive out there,” Billy pointed out. “We could even check out some clubs if you wanted. Special bars.”

Steve’s brows pulled together. “Why? You really care enough to ask me to go with you? What about Max? What is she going to do?”

Another bridge Billy had to cross. But he didn’t think it’d be as tough as this one.

“Max still has Susan She wouldn’t pull off a second runaway attempt but I know Jane and Hopper won’t ever let anything happen to her. If she gets so sentimental about it then I’ll write her a letter or postcard, or she can call me. I can deal with that.” Billy gave in to the need to get up. He needed to make sure Steve understood. “You’re stuck in my head, Steve. Always thinking about you.

“And now,” he went on with his hands securing themselves on Steve’s hips, “you’re stuck in my heart, too. I hate the cheesy shit but I love you. Got it? So yeah. I would rather not go without you.”

He knew Steve was breakable. The bruises once upon a time had been proof of that. Nancy Wheeler showed the cracks when she tore out his heart last year. But Billy wasn’t used to Steve looking this fragile.

“You love me?” Steve asked, small and disbelieving.

“Yeah. I do. I love you. Doesn’t come cheap.” This might be the only time he will ever risk opening up to it.

Steve brought his hands up to Billy’s shoulder. His eyes flickered around in search of something in Billy’s face. From the way one of those hands grasped at his necklace and tugged him closer, Billy was hoping Steve found it.

The brunet waited until their mouths were almost touching before he responded.

“I love you too.”

Billy was starting to think that things could officially turn around for him.

*    *    *

Nightmares were still a thing.

Billy had nights where he was too afraid to go back to sleep until the sun rose.

Steve told him that he had nights like that, too. That now they’ll be there for each other when they happen.

Some days he’d fall back into the dark nothing and wouldn’t resurface until he was disturbed by someone else.

Steve didn’t judge him for any of it.

Until the day Billy had a newly issued form of ID with his new name on it and a payout plan that was signed by the top of government power (who knew about Hawkins and the other creatures) he thought it was a pipe dream.

Until Steve showed up with a packed car and they said goodbye to the family they both managed to make, he thought the trip would be done on his own.

Until Steve drove them past the You’re Leaving Hawkins sign and then the You’re Leaving Indiana one, Billy didn’t know if he could feel true joy again.

And until he was grinning like a loon out the window with Steve’s hand in his, Billy didn’t know what hope felt like.

Leave it to a near-death experience to turn him into a Grade A sap like Harrington.

But now, Billy was going to make sure that this second life wasn’t for nothing. With Steve, it could be everything.