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life is like a box of chocolates (i only made it for you)

Chapter Text

He wonders how he got here.

He didn’t remember much, only that he woke up after what felt like months of darkness, and he was in a white room with a single bed and blue lights. Like some kind of sick mental hospital.

There was that familiar white noise, sounding like a refrigerator, that he would notice when he tried to listen. At first, comparing it to something at home brought him comfort.

After awhile, it became a reminder of something he never quite had, really. A home.

And it became annoying.

Tap, tap

He would hear tapping sometimes, he didn’t know where from. It creeped him out, it was always so silent. His bed was soft like the tapping, the white sheets as clean as his golden locks that he doesn’t remember cleaning, but they shine in a way that doesn’t look very greasy.

His memories weren’t in order. He remembers getting thrown around by his dad, and then burning and hurting so, so bad in a sauna. Then he remembers his mom, and for a brief second he was once almost convinced he was young again, at the beach.

Tap, tap

He’s stopped trying to remember, his mind gets more and more empty every time he wakes up, feeling strangely replenished and smelling of pineapples.

When he first woke up, he broke down crying, he threw up on the floor, he remembers remembering something , but he doesn’t remember what that something is. He’d slammed the walls, trying to find a way out, tried to kill himself on the edge of his bed but it was far too soft.

And when he woke up the next day, his vomit was gone and the room was sparkly clean. And his hair smelled like pomegranate, that day.

The first few wake ups, he always threw a fit and would hit things and try to remember things that for some reason he just couldn’t and eventually, he forgot what his hair color was and that his hands were his. And he calmed down.

But it didn’t feel like his body.

Nothing ever happened.

Tap, tap

He’d regain some of his humanity by smelling his hair. Some days, it smelled like cranberries, which made him think of that one pancake his sister (what was her name again?) brought home and forgot on the counter, that he later stole and ate for himself. Sometimes, it smells like.. well. He can’t quite put his finger on it, the name’s on the tip of his tongue but it smells raw. Like nature. And that made him think of a forest, with pretty birds of various colors and sometimes the smell would be a bit fancy and velvet-y and it would make him think of a man who used to snarl at him and push him around in his house. Smelled like roses. He didn’t like that smell.

He thought that was his dad, it made him feel angry, but he doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember.

One time, though, it smelled like cherry, which reminded him of, strangely enough, lips. Cherry colored lips. Like, not really particularly feminine lips. Like the lips on a pretty boy, and he doesn’t remember this boy’s name, but he remembers how he looked, and smelled. And he smelled like cherries sometimes, but sometimes he smelled like roses too, and it made the bad smell all the more tolerable. He had brown swooped hair, like the tip of a sundae in the way it gathered at the tip and flopped in front of his face. It was a cute style, he thought.

In his memories, the boy’s never really smiling though. If he is, he’s smiling at somebody else. He wishes he could remember his name, but he only knows he’s pretty.

Is he pretty?

Tap, tap

He woke up again, frightened awake by the sound of screeching outside the door. He’s used to hearing loud noises sometimes, he’s counted his wakings but he lost it at 43. They always happened every 5 to 8 waking, but he had to count twice. He kept forgetting.

The screeching sounded like chalk on a board, and he covered his ears. It made him growl, he felt primal, he felt angry.

He didn’t try walking around or working out, he just went back to sleep.

Tap

He heard a radio in his head, sounding like it was reversed. But he heard whispers.

I could get you out.

Listen to me.

Wake up.

Wake up.

The whisper turned into a voice, of a girl.

Like.. like a little girl.

“Wake up, Billy.”

He jolted up and right as he did, he heard his door slam and practically shat himself.

The door was open.

Is my name Billy?

Who was that?

What were they doing?

Thoughts shuffled in his head, and he wondered above all who the girl was.

And maybe, if he’d see her again.

His hair smelled like roses.

After that waking, he began to wake up more frequently. The girl didn’t return but he felt so assured by hearing someone else's voice that he realized he was really going insane.

He needed to get out.

And with each waking, he felt like he was getting closer to.. something.

He would wake up, and he’d hear the door slam. Now there would never come a waking where the door wasn’t open for at least a second. He saw the silhouette of somebody once, but he couldn’t move, and it was only for a millisecond before the door slammed and locked again.

He practiced managing his sleep by taking power naps, but considered trying to stay up for as long as he could.

Strangely, however, he heard the white noise louder whenever he would try that, and then he’d find himself falling into a longer slumber.

The tapping’s a lot fainter now, he’s learned to tune it out.

But this waking, he chose to listen again. Maybe he could figure out where he was if he just listened for a fucking second you fucking mistake you-

Tap, tap

The next waking, the door slammed again, but he had more control over his body this time and managed to get up to the door and peek before it shut. There was a hallway, but there were more doors. And people. Lots of people.

His anxiety returned, and he had never felt so fucking alive.

It was his second time smelling like cherry, and he wondered if the pretty boy knew his name.

Later, he dreamt and saw the pretty boy again. Looked so happy.

But the pretty boy wasn’t smiling at him.

What were the colors of his eyes again?

Taptaptaptapt-

When Billy (he was sure that was his name) jolted awake, he heard a door open and thought this was it, I’m either free or dead and either way I’m happy, but found, to his disappointment and unsurprisingly, his door was still closed.

The tapping was loud and frantic and cut off by the noise. Billy heard a scream in the hallway, and his breath caught as he realized he wasn’t alone. There were others.

He heard begs, it sounded young, like a boy’s, and his gut wrenched.

He didn’t know he’d eaten, but whatever it was that he was possibly fed, he threw right out onto the floor.

When he looked at his hands, he freaked out. He forgot they were his again, and couldn’t breathe.

He fainted and he saw the pretty boy again.

Chapter Text

The orange sky was getting darker, shifting into blue tones and chocolate brown eyes found purchase in the sight of a dirty blonde woman singing songs he didn’t recognize loudly on the empty streets. He was pretty sure she was just making them up.

“If you--” “Robin, they’re gonna hear you,” Steve laughed, lightly smacking his best friend (one of them, at least) on the elbow.

In response, Robin ran up to a bench and jumped on it, pretending to tap dance. “Come on, Steve! Liven up a little!” She kicked her legs up terribly, her feet were stomping the poor bench.

As over the moon as he was for her oh so beautiful singing, Harrington just couldn’t deal with the Buckley positivity train today. “Don’t you think we’re being a little, I dunno, disrespectful?

“Has it ever crossed your mind that things have been fucked up for long enough that we kinda deserve to not care today, Stevie?” Robin stopped her dancing, “Ta-daaa!” She exclaimed, waving her hands around with one foot out that Steve was very tempted to just push to watch her lose that stupid grin.

He tried not to think about how true her words were, and shrugged.

Lately, the days have been getting lonelier. Dustin had been busier with studies and his girlfriend, and the other kids have been holding a lot of gatherings unintentionally, but it didn’t make the aftermath any less sad. He’d come home, or they would leave his house, and the memories ingrained into his mind of El screaming and Billy dying would play on repeat again. And how when Joyce was back, Hopper wasn’t with her.

It didn’t mean he didn’t value his time with the others, he enjoyed every second of it, but once they were gone, well…

They were gone .

And they were missing a few pieces too, with people having moved, and some relationships having gotten a bit strained. Like Max.

God, Max .

Steve’s heart lurched with pain again thinking of her. She’d moved away from Hawkins, for good, and with it she didn’t take any memories with her, she just left everyone else trapped in here with them. It saddened him to know of how desperately Lucas had been trying to make it work with her, using Dustin’s help to go up on a mountain every day (which turned into every few weekends) to talk with her.

Or, talk to her. Seeing as she’s almost never responding now.

But he couldn’t blame her, if he could, he’d forget everything as well. And he hoped the best for her, he really did, but he doubted she’d get over her step brother’s death that easily. She never got to know him, understand the things he went through, familiarize herself with the kinder side of him, if he even had that. She had to watch him die in front of her, and cry and scream as his body was retrieved from the rubble and she wasn’t allowed to see him one last time please just one last t-

Earth to Harrington ? You there? Don’t tell me your mind turned into alien goop again, I was just dancing and enjoying myself! It’s not that big of a deal, you know.”

Robin snapped him out of his thoughts, crossing her arms as she hopped down from the bench, pouting. Her brows furrowed though, and Steve could tell she was concerned even still. “Yeah- no, I’m fine. Sorry,” He sheepishly muttered, scratching the back of his neck and averting his gaze.

“Yeesh. Dingus.”

Silence followed for a bit, before Steve suddenly felt something on his cheek, and he raised his finger to discover it was wet. “Oh, fu-” “Holy shit! It’s fucking raining!” Robin laughed, “Convenient timing, God, or whatever.”

The sky was significantly darker now, the orange just barely there. Through the clouds, the moon shone in the blue, and Steve felt a pang of isolation hit him as he remembered the blue of Starcourt. He should tell Robin, he really should. But he felt like it wasn’t necessary to share with her his loneliness, he didn’t wanna bring down the mood any more than it will be tomorrow.

Before he could ask where they’re planning on heading, Robin grabbed his wrist and started running. His feet slipped momentarily, but he balanced himself and ran just as fast. Tried not to run ahead, though, he had no idea what she had in mind.

A few minutes passed with wind flying in their face and water dripping down their hair and they found themselves in a familiar street with a familiar house.

“God dammit, Buckley, my house? Again?”

“It’s big, it’s spacious, and it’s big!”

Steve rolled his eyes at her reasoning, but with his free hand shuffled in his coat to give her the key to his front door anyway.

With enough effort, Robin managed to unlock the front door when they got to it with a lot of struggle because for some reason she’d cramped her wrist pretty badly last week (she tried to wrestle with one of Dustin’s inventions in order to “help him set it up”, ended up underestimating its weight).

When they got in, Steve gently closed the door behind him and kicked off his shoes. “You’d better be taking those off as well, or I swear--”

“I will, I will, calm your horses,” Robin laughed and slipped out of her shoes as easily as he did, shrugging her coat off and leaving it on the ground as she screamed “Home sweet home!” and ran into the kitchen. He knew for her, the real home was in his fridge. Fucker.

Begrudgingly, Steve picked up her coat and placed it on the hanger, putting his right next to it before joining his friend and co worker in the kitchen.

He needed to tell her, maybe she could help him.

“Okay, I have to tell you something Robin--” Of course, Steve had to interrupt himself at the sight he walked into. “Oh my God.”

On the floor, Robin had spilled all of the milk, having used the wrong hand to pick it up, and she looked up incredibly alarmed when Steve entered and witnessed her crime.

“Steve-” Then she hit the back of her head on the fridge door that was still open, and Steve didn’t even care, that was fucking funny. “Ow! Fucking fridge!”

His laughter was almost maniacal, and for a moment Robin thought he would forgive her, but she knew he wouldn’t. Hopefully her head hitting provided him enough amusement for him to forget about it today.

“Good one, Buckley,” he coolly said when his laughter died down to a faint giggle, and he looked at her like she was a kid who just showed him a really shitty drawing of a house and she was the one to call it amazing.

“Are you done? I’m in so much pain , Steve, owie!” She pouted and held out her hand, “Robin got a booboo!” And then she lowered her head as though to show off a massive lump that’d be forming on it like in the cartoons.

“Aw, poor little Wobin, need a band aid?” He opened a drawer, getting out something to clean the floor with. He found a towel, which was a start, but he didn’t know how long that was there for.

“Shush, you have no idea,” Robin closed the fridge behind her, straining her wrist a bit to pick up the milk carton and throw it in the trash.

“Well, you can fix yourself and the mess up. Enjoy,” Steve threw the towel at her and grinned at her even bigger pout, her bottom lip really starting to ache now, he’d bet.

After she caught it, Harrington tossed her a spare key from his pocket and started walking off, “When you’re leaving, just lock the door behind you. Free access but please don’t hound my living supplies nor engorge all my rations, thanks.”

A loud shout came from behind of “fuck yeah!” from Robin, and he just shook his head chuckling, going upstairs after turning the living room lights off.

His room felt weird, he’d completely reworked it after Starcourt, because he got paranoid that Russians were watching him and he didn’t trust any of his furniture nor decorations anymore. It didn’t feel as much of a home back then, but it feels even less like his now.

He kept a few pictures on the wall, one of him and Robin, drunk at the Christmas party trying to pretend they weren’t because the kids were there, but failing. He was a lot more drunk, Robin was better at handling herself because she only had one, but regardless they still were very clearly intoxicated and not entirely in the moment.

Robin was grinning ear to ear, trying to lick Steve’s hair because she remembered Max said before she left someone she knew (they all knew who it was, but they didn’t say anything) compared it to a sundae once. Steve was leaning away, looking incredibly pale and definitely about to vomit, and as he remembers, he definitely did right after. He cringed inwardly, and observed the rest of the photos, nothing too out of the ordinary but all very recent.

Well, save for one of him and his parents, that he stole from their room because they would never notice anyways. But he kept that discreetly under some picture of Dustin. He wasn’t ready to really face that yet.

He was sure they’d be back to see him again someday.

And then he heard the front door open, followed by a “I’m leaving Stevie! Goodnight!” and he heard it slam shut and flinched.

Now he was all alone.

Alone with his thoughts.

Alone at night.

Alone with the shadows.

Steve anxiously pat his bat, sitting on his bed that was just so plain now. The pattern was floral, it made him feel weird, but he wasn’t gonna trust his previous sheets either and these were just placeholders. He took the bat out from beneath the beige blankets and leaned it on the bedside table, where he kept a picture frame of everyone.

Everyone but…

And he flopped onto his bed, exhaling loudly against his pillow. His groan was muffled, but he had nothing to really worry about.

Nobody would really hear him if he screamed, he guessed.

He flipped himself and tucked himself under the blankets, hating how fresh they smelled. Too flowery. It made his nose itch a little.

He felt alone, the moonlight from outside not helping him much as they only emphasized the image of shadows in the corner. He didn’t just feel alone, he was alone.

That thought.. kind of reassured him, but… it made him feel sad at the same time.

Nobody ever really checked in on him, he just knew when a gathering was going on and he’d come in, have fun, leave, take his snack or drink with him, and be left alone in this same, new room again. He felt like this room barely had any life in it anymore, and the house now felt completely empty and isolated. And he felt like he was sleeping in a guest room, despite the pictures. Everything had to be new, bought right after Starcourt.

He even took the leisure of replacing some furniture outside of his room, but only the closer they got. The only place he trusted in his own house anymore was his stupid room. He was glad Robin stayed with him some nights.

It hurt his head still, and remembering how it could hurt more and he was just a coward, it hurt more spitefully.

The brunette breathed through his nose to calm himself down. Night terrors were just night terrors.

He wishes somebody was there to comfort him, another body to keep him aware that his room wasn’t just air.

He felt like the world was a little bit lifeless, and he didn’t know why.

Closing his eyes, Harrington dreamt of El again.

Her screaming, and Billy’s eyes before his last breath.

Tomorrow was July 4th.

The one year anniversary of…

 

And he woke up with fireworks in his hand again. And he heard Max crying again. And it was happening.

All over again.

Chapter Text

….

“Billy.”

He woke up in a cold sweat, thick beads gathered at his jawline, traveling down beneath his white shirt stained with vomit.

He felt hungry, and smelled like shit.

It was probably wrong, to feel this ecstatic for smelling god fucking awful, but Billy thrived in this.

He ran his peculiar looking hands through his hair and was even more pleased to find tangles.

They didn’t touch him.

But why?

He knew he needed to do something, he was starting to feel completely numb and could barely think straight.

He just needed to think.

His bed didn’t feel soft anymore.

He just felt lightweight.

….

He didn’t sleep, he feels sick but he won’t let it get to his head.

Billy sat in the center of the small white room and looked at the door patiently, he noticed the lights were a bit dimmer. He’d taken his shirt off and abandoned it in the furthest corner he could find, not liking the way it stuck to him. It felt too familiar, he didn’t know why. And it was starting to get hot, and that put a weird taste on his tongue that he couldn’t place. He just didn’t like it.

He waited contently. For what, he didn’t know, but he felt like something was gonna happen.

He was expecting something.

This time, he heard the faintest sound of a door opening again. He heard the struggles of a man, speaking in a language he couldn’t discern. He himself was beginning to forget words anyways, he couldn’t even raise his voice anymore.

Bored, brave, and fucking exhausted he banged on his door. He tried to scream as the man got closer, his voice was so broken he ended up groaning and hurting his throat even more, and he heard a voice say something about “her instead”.

It wasn’t the man who said that, it seemed like a girl was with him.

Billy’s heart dropped to his stomach.

He scratched and scratched at the door desperately again, like a dog digging into dirt but making no progress towards his goal. His nails were bitten and bleeding, his cuticles were thoroughly picked at and the threat of a child getting hurt by whatever the fuck was out there was too strong for him to care. She sounded like… she sounded like...

He slammed and the pain became overbearing, and his head became heavy, and he fell over.

He saw the pretty boy again.

….

The past few dreams, he’s been hearing voices. Like talking. In his head.

He could never make out what they were saying, but it didn’t sound right.

It sounded too real. Blurred.

He guessed they were getting lazy with whatever drug they were putting in him, and he wondered if he could find a way to wake up while they’re.. doing whatever.

He can hear water, and then he turns around and opens his eyes and suddenly he’s in bed again.

His memories are not in order.

….

“Hargrove.”

His eyes opened lazily to the bright lights, and he didn’t hear the door slam this time.

Instead, he heard faint static.

And then a voice from above.

“Are you awake?”

And he damn near fucking choked at the static sound of another human.

….

The voice had been asking him questions, like what his name was and what he knew of the place.

Each one, he thought he had an answer to, but just didn’t. He couldn’t even fucking speak, and it seemed to realize that, and then it eventually told him to “wait”. He was fucking relieved either way to hear something different, it felt like a piece of his mind returned and he couldn’t wait for more different. His fingers were itching, impatient.

Eventually, when he next woke up,  he found himself looking at a dark gray ceiling with different lights. They were still blue lights, but they weren’t covering the ceiling. And they were moving.

Or he was moving.

His eyes widened and he tried to move, but he couldn’t. He felt like he was stuck in a dream, but he couldn’t remember places or anything other than his room enough to dream up anything else now. This roof doesn’t ring any bells at all.

He moved his eyes around to find out where the fuck he was, and his breathing was so hard but he couldn’t breathe quick only slower and the ringing in his ears drowned out all that he heard. He couldn’t escape, it was like sleep paralysis, he was gripped and paralyzed by either fear or something else. It reminded him too much of something, he didn’t know what, but his mind was grasping at empty air trying to tell him something and the deja vu was so strong it hurt like a bitch.

His fingers couldn’t even fucking twitch.

A man dressed in white with a surgical mask was to his left, a woman to his right, they seemed to be talking as they took him somewhere . He felt like his eyes were bulging out of his skull.

He could see, that’s what he could do. He could focus, but not really, because his mind wasn’t letting him. The roof was getting darker, and he realized his eyes were closing. He pushed them open, afraid to sleep again. He was afraid of the nightmares. He could control his eyes, though, and he was so damn happy he had control after something it almost made up for the whispers in the back of his head.

And when he saw a shadow in the corner of his vision, his head jumped with an overwhelming amount of pain and all he could do was breathe in and out even slower as suddenly, he remembered, darkness. Shadow.  Things he’d done.

What had he done?

A girl’s crying. Black, everywhere. Brown hair, no, red hair. It was so huge, it scared the shit out of him. His hand was raised, his arm hurt so much. His waist felt all sorts of wrong, and then he remembered a girl in a red swimsuit. Did he remember? He doesn’t remember. What did he do? His name, his name. Billy, right? And.. his sister. His sister. El. No, Jane. No.. that’s wrong. It’s there. He can remember. He just.. what was the point? He sees a shadow again. He’s so scared. He just wants his mom, please, god, he just wants to see his mom one last time--

This was too much, this was too much at once, he didn’t know where he was and what they were going to do to him and he was thisclose to forgetting to breathe all together until the roof changed and it was further now and the smell of the room was cherry and he heard water and he heard a door close and he felt like choking. Cherry, cherry… his mind let go of the cliff it was holding onto, and he felt those memories that were just on the tip of his tongue fade away with it.

Cherry lips. He could breathe now. He felt relief wash his system, he didn’t know why.

The ringing was getting louder, it wouldn’t give up, goddamn it, and he was losing it. He was absolutely going crazy. There was no way he was still alive.

Until he was lifted from whatever the fuck he was on and put into a chair.

The room looked like an interrogation room. There was a mirror but he couldn’t crane his neck so he could only see the other wall through it.

He felt something stab into his neck, like a needle, and then slowly he felt his fingers again. The ringing calmed down and completely left the moment he heard a door shut behind him. His shoulders jumped.

He felt fucking scared, he’d never been this scared in awhile, and he noticed he had cuffs on, and it was attached to the table. Like an interrogation.

And then he turned his head, and his neck hurt, it felt cramped, and he looked into the mirror.

“Billy!”

And he remembered his mom yelling out his name with a fond smile juxtaposing her stern tone, and then he remembered checking himself out before all this and remembered thinking handsome but now all he thinks is pale, skinny, too clean, and scared . He remembered somebody saying he looked like his mom. A spitting image of her beauty.

Was this his face?

He wanted to touch it, but his wrists were tied to the table. And he was so scared. He wasn’t beautiful like her anymore, he looked ugly and broken . his fingers were still red because of his nails and his hair was longer, he wanted to cut it. It looked like it was trimmed recently, though, there’s no way with how many sleeps he’s gotten that it wouldn’t be down to his waist by now. His collarbone was scarred, that didn’t feel familiar to him. It made him wince. He felt old. He didn’t know how long he’d been here. If mom could see him now...

He didn’t look right. It didn’t look like him.

He felt like he was looking at somebody else completely. A stranger. Couldn’t recognize his own eyes.

That face didn’t mirror the emotions he felt inside. It wasn’t as fucking terrified as he was. It knew nothing .

Back then, he would have felt prideful for being able to hide any negative emotions from others, even himself.

Now, his anger boils and his heart recoils in the pit of his stomach and he feels disgusting and disgusted and wrong.

Like he’s a spectator.

Fuck, he was stuck in that white room for too long. He’d been doing literally jack sh-

“Billy Hargrove.”

His head snapped at the voice, a familiar one, the static one from the previous awakening. Or were all the voices the same? He tried to open his mouth, but no words came out, he could only swallow and exhale. It was so dry. He felt pathetic. The walls were gray.

“It’s great to finally meet you. You can call me Robert . It’s only fair we get straight to first name basis.” Even if that sounds a lot like it’s not his real name.

“You look well, I was worried the people I chose for this case would be lacking, but you look significantly less skinny than some of the other subjects. Somewhat.”

Billy couldn’t really see clearly in the distance, he noticed his vision wasn’t always the best. Him narrowing his eyes back then probably looked a bit flirty to the ladies, so at least that helped.

But he didn’t ask to be like that.

The voice had a face attached to it, but he couldn’t pick out anything, just blobs of color. He’s not usually this bad at seeing.

He might be crying.

“We have had a lot of meetings and… discussions about this, and we’ve come to the decision to extend an offer to you, if you’ll allow us.”

He knew he had no choice. The voice betrayed the professional attire, soft and a little high pitched for a man. It was grating Billy’s ears.

“We test you, you obey and be nice, and we let you hear the voice of a human and see the face and body of a human. Win-win, right?”

He wanted Robert to cut the gas. He didn’t know what the hell was going on, but he didn’t like the sound of tests. Nor his voice. Not a very appealing offer, but he’d take anything for different.

“If you don’t agree, then we’ll just leave you in your cell,” That’s what it was. Not his room, a cell. He almost forgot. “And you’ll continue on like usual--”

The table shook with Billy’s fists, though weakly. He didn’t want to go back there. He would do this, fuck everything else, he just didn’t wanna be back.

If it was a cell, he’d be trapped in there with his thoughts again. He feels lightheaded.

He doesn’t wanna go back.

“I see the preferred option then, Hargrove.”

Robert extended his hand, and Billy (Hargrove?) met him mostly halfway, and they shook.

The door behind him slammed open and he got terrified. He started shaking before something stabbed his neck and he felt numb and then it was lights out again.

When he woke up again, his cell had a small handheld mirror in the middle. He picked it up and looked at himself. He tried winking, but he felt too weak to, even. And his reflection disgusted him. He was scared of what the tests might entail, but he was willing if it meant he had a chance.

A chance to get out.

He wondered what the needles were all about, maybe if he was obedient enough they would trust him to just walk with them next time, the needles scare him. He looks at his hint of a shadow against the white, and wonders why his breath catches in his throat now.

Then when he went to sleep, he saw a boy.

Some... guy.

With an average looking grin and normal brown hair. Well, the smile was a little pretty, he guessed. But it wasn’t very familiar.

And he couldn’t make out his eye color. He didn’t know why he was there.

He doesn’t remember him.

Chapter Text

“Steve!” El smiled brightly from the couch, frosting on her cheek.

She wiped it off after Will had pointed it out, and giggled endearingly, eyes still on Steve.

Taking off his shoes, he smiled back, albeit a little less genuinely in memory of the date. “It’s great to see you again, El. How’s it been?” He asked with small interest, but knew Mike would be wanting to take all of her attention the moment he arrived, so he chose to keep the interactions to a minimum to avoid having to be in more conversations.

El answered sweetly, saying it’s been great, talking about wanting a pet, and once Steve’s got his boots finally off, he walks over and bends down to hug her. “It’s great to see you again,” He repeats, seriously.

He knew this was an opportunity neither could skip on. Their lives were undetermined, sitting in a line for whatever God there was and all their days were numbered.

It wasn’t that they were mortals, it was that the monsters didn’t ever really go away, really.

Even in sleep.

“Steve, please, sit down!” Joyce emerged from the doorway as he pulled away from El, who seemed reluctant to let go in that moment. She’d been hugging him back so tightly, and he got a flash of Starcourt again, he didn’t know why. He ignored Joyce’s request, choosing to stand awkwardly like an idiot.

He was glad to see her smiling so warmly, though. It must have been a long time coming for them to get to this moment and not be crying.

Well, he guessed it was still early. The crying part’s to be determined.

As more and more people started to flood into the cabin, kids and even parents for Joyce, Steve noticed the absence of red.

More specifically, red hair.

He wondered if Max even remembered, frowning, and imagined that she probably was gonna sleep through the day. Try to escape it. He held back a groan at her suffering alone and went out back to try and sneak a smoke.

Though, to do that, he had to go through the front door. The grounds of which the cabin was rebuilt on wasn't all that even either, so he had to put his boots back on and everything. God, he was tired. And he had to greet the kids. Which should be fine, but he honestly couldn’t be bothered. He’d already seen them a week before, he just wanted some quiet.

That was a lie. He loved hearing them talk on and on about whatever, found peace in their lively voices. But he just needed to escape as well. Today made him feel all sorts of wrong.

Steve managed to slip into his boots just as Will re entered the house with Mike, and exchanged a nod with the two, grateful that Byers had already greeted him before and Wheeler was too distracted looking for El to have time for talking with him.

He was fine with that, and he walked by and around. The cabin was a bit bigger now, he had no idea why they hadn’t fixed the back door from when they first installed it and broke it, so it was a little tough getting to the back, but he managed.

July 4th, huh. The day the Mindflayer was defeated.

And back at the Hopper cabin, up again. But he knew the defeat of the Mindflayer was just another way of saying the day three loved souls… passed.

Alexei.

Hopper.

Billy.

His fingers twitched thinking those names, expression darkening, and he fetched a cigarette and a lighter from his coat.

It really sucked that they died.

Which, is obvious, but it really, really sucks.

Hopper was like… a dad to El, and they barely even got to experience a lot of the outside world together. Steve had never really seen Hopper as happy as he was with El or Joyce, but he’d never really seen Hopper that happy either. It brought a little tinge of sadness and jealousy whenever he’d hear El talk about Hopper at the gatherings, say how good a father he was, talk about the food he introduced her to. It wasn’t quite fair, Steve thought, that he never got to really talk or hang out with his dad like that.

But it wasn’t fair either, what El had been through. And Steve knew he was being selfish.

He breathed smoke.

He didn’t know much about Alexei, only that he was completely foreign, didn’t speak a lick of English and was completely innocent. He remembered Joyce saying he held a big smile often, always came back to her and Hopper, and… won a game before he died.

It sucked that he never got to meet Alexei, much less find out if he even had a family to begin with. He just got killed by the fucking guy that got Hopper killed, and that was it.

He wishes he was that naive.

And Billy…

Steve’s lighter warmed up more in his fist, he leaned on the cabin wall for support and looked into the trees, brows furrowed. He didn’t know about Billy.

It’s not that he was ever particularly fond of him to begin with, at all. He hated the guy. They fought, they spoke conversations in fists and insults, and… Billy was just, Billy.

But before Max moved out, she told him Billy wasn’t all he seemed.

And from what El said she saw, Billy really was just..

Not the Billy he thought he knew.

Billy was a wild card, that much was obvious. Liked flirting with women, always got what he wanted, pissed Steve off to no end and really couldn’t rest his tongue. Literally and speech-wise. When Steve saw Billy pinning El to the ground, he’d felt anger like no other, he wished he’d had another firework, so he could throw it at the fucker’s face (but he’d damage El as well, and he didn’t want that). Billy looked so incredibly vulnerable in that moment, the gigantic monster right next to him wasn’t as tempting to punch as he was, kneeled over El, eyes lost.

Eyes lost.

Then Billy stood. And then, as soon as Steve’s anger came, it ran. And in stormed fear, confusion, and fucking rage . He can’t be serious. And everyone just watched, as he fought for El and got stabbed into and then used his dying breath to say something to Max, crying.

Steve felt scared, because Billy had left El and El was on the ground screaming and trying to get away. He felt confused, because Billy had left El. And he felt rage.

Because Billy had left them.

It sounds stupid, but it pissed him off. Billy playing hero in his final moments, fucking hallelujah.

But that made up nothing for the shit he did and said, and he was angry that Max still cried over him.

He knew that made him a bit of a bad person. Morally effed up, as Robin would add.

But Billy should have just… not gone to the warehouse. He shouldn’t have hit on God knows who and he should have just.

He should have lived. And maybe Steve could have gone without knowing he had some good in him, fuck.

And El had told him, Hargrove didn’t live a great life at all.

Once Max left, El opened up to Steve a little more as well for a bit, saying that he should be kinder on Billy’s memory. He kind of blew it out of proportion, thinking El was just trying to respect a dead man who didn’t wish for shit, until El told him of what she saw.

And it all made so much sense.

The yelling, the name calling, the looks, how he also noticed Billy would look at some kids that would be running into their daddy’s arms.

It all made so much sense.

And it proved even more what he already knew;

Steve knew fucking nothing.

Today really, really sucked. Because Steve knew nobody.

Everybody that had died? Nobody he knew personally. And he feels like he doesn’t belong here.

He didn’t feel right to be there, at the cabin, even thinking of the others, when El was inside giving her strongest smile and fighting the hardest battle and surrounded by people with the same trauma.

Fuck, he didn’t deserve to be there. He’d barely fought for shit. Maybe there was the Russian thing, yeah, maybe he did have some of the trauma, but…

He wasn’t really… there anymore.

After a few months, he became closer with Robin and Dustin, but at the same time, he became more distant with the others. El tried to keep him in, he could tell, but she was not always around, of course. It was only at the bigger gatherings when she was allowed to be there. The ones that happened very rarely. His throat hurt a little, thinking of it. He was choking up on the inside, he wanted to cry, but he had no reason to.

His traumas were nothing compared to theirs. And Billy’s trauma was more than his.

He knew jack shit about the people that had died. He felt so incredibly wrong for being here, and he wanted to go.

At this point, the cigarette was tasting too rotten, and he didn’t move his hands from his pockets, tense. He just spat it onto the ground and stomped on it. Fuck.

“Dingus! What are you doing here?”

A familiar dirty blonde slipped into vision, scaring the shit out of Steve who was already scared enough.

“Robin, jesus,” He chuckled breathlessly as Robin straightened herself in front of him.

She just stared at him with a smile, softer than he’d ever seen. She looked a little relieved to see him, actually, her hands were buried in her coat pockets and she had bags forming under her eyes. He guessed she stayed up all night again. It still calmed him significantly to see her again.

“I’m just, uh, thinking, I guess,” Steve said.

He wasn’t really lying, he didn’t feel like he belonged to the pack inside, he just wanted some air and quiet to smoke. Even if the woods scared him more now, and being alone made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on alert.

Buckley nodded, stepping to his left to lean on the wall as well. She looked off, smile still on, into the distant leaves.

They stood in silence, and then Steve wondered why she was here, and not with the others.

Then, he remembered the relief that came over her when she saw him, and he realized.

Robin’s just like me.

Except.. not quite. Because he’d been through hell and back, and he’d actually been there for a long time. Since Barb. Technically, he really was part of the gang.

But Robin, she only came in with the Russians. She had little to no experience with top secret shit, let alone monsters. She was thrown in and then he threw all this information at her afterwards expecting her to remember every single word and understand every single trauma.

But he didn’t understand hers, either. Until fucking now.

Robin Buckley. Just his co worker at Scoops Ahoy and turned best friend to yet again co worker somewhere far from Scoops. She only knew Dustin and Erica, and she’d only seen the others ever so often when they would stop by for ice cream or free entry into the movies. She was just as alone as him, if not more.

She had to be thrown into the situation so quickly, and she adapted with a smile but Steve should’ve known. He should’ve known how different it was for her, how serious it was for her, and how out of place she must have felt on this day. It must have been so difficult to laugh.

She didn’t know the dead people as much as he did. And she didn’t know any of the kids like he did. The previous gatherings, she’d always stick close to him or Dustin.

Steve knew why now.

And he felt like shit.

Groaning internally at his stupidity, Harrington reached an arm around Buckley and pulled her close to him comfortingly. He didn’t know how tense her shoulders were until they dropped. And she leaned into his touch, her breathing seeming to soften now. He eyed her wrist that lied limp at his hip, and sadly thought about how she genuinely just wanted to help.

After July, Robin had troubles sleeping as well. She, like him, had thrown away a considerable amount of things and replaced them in fear of Russian spies. But unlike him, she’d kept some things close to her from her earliest childhood days, afraid of losing a part of her as a consequence for whatever the hell happened that she partook in.

And also unlike him, her paranoia and nightmares got so bad, she almost stopped sleeping entirely. Well, it wasn’t the complete truth, he’d been like that as well, sort of. But not as bad as this.

Not as bad as the questionable things she’d said to him about how pointless life felt if she couldn’t sleep anymore. He can recall her late night calls, crying into the phone muttering nonsense asking to hear his voice wanting to know if she was still under a drug or not as he tried to soothe her with tired “it’s okay”’s when he was, more than ever, trying to convince himself that it could be okay.

God, how Steve wished it could be okay.

He squeezed Robin’s waist carefully, then asked, “Wanna have a sleep over tonight?” It can last for as long as you’d like.

He didn’t have to say that, she knew. It wasn’t uncommon.

Silence took the air again, before Robin’s voice finally cut through, “Please.”

It hurt to hear how soft her voice was. “We can go straight there after this, then,” He reassured, knowing she’d want to go there as soon as possible.

“Cool.” was her response.

The rest of the day went by just rocky once they got back inside. The mood seemed to have shifted from positive to sad and accepting as soon as Joyce started to speak of how proud and happy Hopper would’ve been had he been there, to see everybody celebrating the lives they lived, and not mull over the sadness their deaths brought.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely true, their deaths impacted them greatly. They just had to move on, Steve thought. Which would be hard.

When he left in the noon, he tried to ignore the sight of Lucas waiting outside of the cabin still, looking ahead and around. Waiting. He didn’t have to ask to know for who.

When Robin and Steve got to his house, they watched a few movies and Steve agreed to stay up all night for her, after Robin’s very unsuccessful attempt at a nap.

She’d fallen deep on accident, then woke up screaming for Steve and grabbing at him and crying and scratching him to confirm he was real and she was hyperventilating almost as much as he was. He had to hold her, soothe her, and pretend that her nails weren’t digging too deep.

Grimly, he thought about how much would change if he’d been the one to die to the Mindflayer instead.

He ignored the constant ringing from the phone upstairs, choosing to get back to it after him and Robin were done painting nails or something.

 

On the other end of the line, Max was trembling.

Chapter Text

The first test was weird, they’d asked him to move something with his fucking mind. He didn’t question it, because they were the ones giving him the “hospitality” and he was too scared of being alone again or what the consequences may be if he disobeyed. They hooked him up to some things and placed some mug in front of him.

It didn’t really work out, and they said they’d try again next time.

As the tests progressed, so did Billy’s frustration. He felt like they were getting nowhere, and as grateful as he was for some human contact, he wanted more . Driven by his anger, he had a meltdown on the sixth test. All of it was bullshit, probably trying to humiliate him, and he was still getting stabbed with needles, and he didn’t fucking know why but the smell of roses made him angry and he tried asking them to stop but they didn’t and he was pissed.

He tried banging his head on the table to bleed, feel something, and they had to fucking harass him with needles again.

When he woke up, his head felt a bit weightless. And he smelled like cocoa.

He looked at himself in the mirror and holy shit, they’d shaved all of his fucking hair off.

He looked completely different. A little cleaner, but he wasn’t used to this.

Now, he was wholly changed. He wasn’t himself anymore. He was a whole different person.

He wasn’t Billy anymore.

On the seventh test, he threw a tantrum because he remembered hot chocolate and he wanted it, and when they penetrated him with the needle again, he felt like a small headache creeped its way up his neck again as he grabbed the person’s elbow weakly in defense and he could’ve sworn he saw the person holding him flinch for a moment.

….

He was choking up. His head was under water.

It was all black, and he couldn’t see anything.

“Billy.”

He kept swimming, desperately trying to find a way out of the void. To breathe.

He saw a shower, something familiar, but he doesn’t remember. He swims to it anyways, choking up. His throat was closing, heart beating so loudly in the water that made no noise. It was like he was floating in air.

The shower was so close now, he started to feel lightheaded and on instinct he inhaled.

He realized his mistake.

Suddenly, he was sputtering, choking on the water just inches away from the blue shower. He can faintly hear the sounds of a pool in the distance and people swimming and splashing and he felt so fucking scared and he was swallowing massive gulps of water with every gag. His ears were hurting. He couldn’t breathe, he felt his throat start to clench before it got warm and in his writhing he managed to enter the shower and he was still floating and he grabbed the knob and twisted and-

“Billy!”

Suddenly, his vision returned and he took a sharp intake of breath, hyperventilating but finding no water in his lungs. He looked around, and found himself in the familiar showers of… the pool? What pool? He doesn’t remember anything about a pool but he does find himself underneath a showerhead, water spraying on his tank top and shorts. His arm burned for some reason, but it was soothed by the cold water.

A woman was kneeling in front of him, eyes wide, she looked terrified. Concerned.

Heather?

The name felt familiar on his tongue, but he couldn’t speak. He couldn’t even open his mouth anymore, he’d lost complete control over his body. She started asking him if he was okay, and he felt angry all of a sudden.

A primal urge overtook him to grab her, knock her unconscious, tie her up and-

She looked so tasty in the sunlight.

What the fuck? Billy couldn’t wrap his head around what was happening but then he felt like ripping into her and he had to fight back against whatever the fuck had its vines around his muscles and he gripped his knees harder, scared for Heather. He wanted to taste her. No, he wanted to hurt her. Maybe if he closed his eyes, if he just couldn’t see her, he’d will himself to wake up. Just a bad dream. But… He wanted to control her. That wasn’t him, that couldn’t be him, that-

“Should I call an ambulance? Billy?”

Suddenly, his fight for control over his body had ceased, and by the time he heard Heather’s scream and opened his eyes to see her in the trunk of his car, he realized he’d lost.

His head was completely empty when he woke up.

….

On the 20th test (he hoped it was just 20, he forgot how many tests they’d done, they told him they had one test involving candles earlier but he doesn’t remember that), he didn’t get any needles.

The guards opened his door when he was wide awake and asked him to follow them after they cuffed his wrists.

He didn’t ask, he didn’t fight, he was too scared to. They were armed anyways.

He followed them through the long corridors, all the doors were closed, save for one which was open to reveal a cell just like his but bloodied. His blood ran cold when he heard a faint scream and some chalk-like screeching around the corner, thinking about what would have happened if he didn’t take the tests. Thanking God that he did.

A small part of him wanted the needle back.

He was surprised that there were no others in the hallways, it seemed like this whole area they were in was just some section with just cells. And it seemed like they were confident enough in their confinement procedures, with how there were only security cameras every few minutes or so. Some not even on, weirdly enough.

The familiar sound of water filled his ears when they neared a familiar door, different to the others in the way that it didn’t look so heavily locked and not as expensive. He wondered if the room where they washed him was nearby as well.

A guard walked up to the door, keys jangling on his hips as he reaches around them to get a bigger key. Seemed unique, then. This guard must be a trusted one.

Billy observed the guard’s features while he fumbled with the key in the lock, taking note of how he’s got one blind eye and his hair seems to be clean and over-gelled. Really trying to make an impression, huh.

Before he could think any more, the door opened to the familiar interrogation room and he was shoved in. They shuffled in behind him and pushed him down into the chair, uncuffing his hands to his surprise, then instead cuffing his legs to the chair. Bummer.

The door behind him closed gently and he noticed a pen and paper on the table directly in front of him. Different.

“Hello Hargrove.”

A voice spoke from above, and Billy briefly felt his violent urges from his nightmare rip out again, but just as quickly as it came it went, and he just chalked it up to the annoying voice getting on his nerves, nothing else.

“As you may have noticed, there is a paper in front of you. And a pen. We’ve decided to change up the routine a bit, gather some data.”

Don’t they know this shit already?

“So, if you would please take the pen situated to your right.”

Billy considered disobeying, snapping the pen maybe, but he knew better after that walk through the hallways. Maybe that bloody room was intentional to scare his pants off or something. Regardless, it worked in some way anyways.

He took the black pen and uncapped it, leaning into the blank piece of paper because he couldn’t see that well anyways.

“Great. We’ll start with some simple ones. What’s your name?”

He wrote Billy, but hesitated for a moment before putting down Hargrove afterwards. It felt… wrong. He knew it was his last name, now, but… he didn’t like it.

For the first half, Robert had been asking him questions like how was he, how many siblings does he have, his relationship with his parents (which honestly was a stupid question, he just wrote “complicated” for that one), and small things that he could answer off the top of his head easily.

Then, it got harder.

“What’s your sister’s name?”

A beat.

“Billy?”

He tried to remember, pen nib already pressed on the paper and leaking ink through the sheet. His head hurt trying to rack itself for memories, he doesn’t even remember what his sister looks like. Was she blonde, like him? That didn’t sound right.

He wrote down Can’t remember.

“Excellent,” Robert chuckled, though he couldn’t see what was written from the cameras anyways. “Did you have any friends before July?”

July? He didn’t know anything about July. It confused him that Robert used such a specific month, but he assumed maybe that was around the time he was first taken in. Shit…

He wrote maybe.

“Do you know Eleven?”

His brows knit together in even more confusion. He wrote no.

“Have you been dreaming? Just nod or shake your head, please.”

He… well. He hadn’t been dreaming a lot. Except for..

He shook his head.

“Interesting. Do you think you’re making any progress with these tests?”

Dumbass.

Billy let out a dry, airy chuckle that was really just his shoulders shaking and he shook his head as well.

He heard some shuffling from above, and then Robert cleared his throat.

“I’ll take note of that. We’ll do our best to attune the test to what works best, you just haven’t found it yet. We’ll be giving you a newer drug after this one, so the next session will be similar to this. It’s not quite finished yet, but we’ve decided to test it anyways. Back to the questions, would you consider yourself a violent person? You may continue writing.”

That’s easy.

Billy wrote no.

He’ll let them find out themselves.

….

“Hey, sweetie.”

When Billy opened his eyes, he found himself at the entrance to a theme park. His mom was right there, staring up at him fondly, no one else was around and the entrance didn’t give away much of what was inside, with a gigantic face of a jester and an open mouth for entry.

“Hey, mom,” He found his voice and felt so happy that it was back, though it cracked at the sight of her in the same white dress she wore at the beach. He wishes he could be asleep forever.

He was still in his own body, and he found he was a bit taller than her now, her having to look up at him to smile.

“You look pale! What have they been doing to you?” She cooed, rubbing his arm. She knew.

He wanted to reply, but he didn’t want to break in front of her, so he just chuckled. “It’s okay, mom. I’m okay.”

He didn’t know who he was reassuring.

Grinning, his mom took his hand and she felt so light and small compared to him which felt kind of wrong. They walked into the park hand in hand and she walked so slow and weak he was worried by the time they got in, it’d already be closed. Of course, light heartedly. He knew they’d make it in.

Once they stepped in, circus music started playing which was weird because it wasn’t really a circus, but Billy chose not to question it. He saw plenty of games and rides all around him, lighting up. Nobody quite in sight yet, but he already felt excitement rattling in his bones.

“Mom, we should get cotton candy...” He trailed off when he looked to his side.

Peculiarly, his hand was empty, and there was a rollercoaster called Runaway Train. Billy’s mouth fell thin in search for his mom before he heard a yell and looked back to the rollercoaster to find her on it. The rollercoaster looked suspiciously like a car, and for some reason, there were suitcases painted on to it.

“Bye bye, Billy!”

His eyes widened and his breath caught in his throat. He tried to run through the empty line, ducking under the ropes as quickly as he could, wanting to get to her. He didn’t want to be left behind again. “Mom-- wait!”

But it was too late.

It started up and he could only watch helplessly as it increased in speed before the tracks led his mother away from the park. He was choking up watching her leave. All the while, she was smiling and waving but not looking back at him.

He felt spite rise in his chest, but love and adoration grow as well. He missed her already.

Now he was all alone.

He closed his eyes to breathe, trying to will away the fear like he’d never felt before. It hurt his chest, and he gripped his arm. Calm down.

When he opened his eyes again, he was sitting at a freak show. There were so many people, but he didn’t recognize any of them. They all looked a little like his step mother.

“Billy!”

Fear crept up his back and wrapped around his neck as a hand with sharp, devil-like claws dug into his arm. “No, please--” he struggled and tried to stay seated while it dragged him into the center. He couldn’t struggle, he felt like giving up, he didn’t know why, he didn’t know this man, but his voice sounded so scarily familiar. It ripped through him like the devil’s charm.

He knew it was hopeless to struggle so he let himself be thrown into the spotlight, and then suddenly, the whole crowd was laughing. He looked around humiliated on the ground, searching with pleading eyes for somebody to help. Somebody to take him away.

Amidst his crowd, he saw his mother again, but she was just staring at him frowning.

Was she disappointed?

He couldn’t dwell on that thought for longer before he felt the claws pull him up by the hair. A gigantic, dark monster that resembled Satan himself spat in his face.

“Good for fucking nothing pig.”

His cheeks were wet, he didn’t realize he was crying. He couldn’t do anything, everything was out of his control. He wanted his control back. He wanted freedom. Why was his mother just watching? The crowd was still laughing.

“I oughta put some fucking sense in you.”

A punch sent him across the floor, the crowd roared at him. It was all so loud he couldn’t handle it pleaseitssoloudhejustwantstorunawayhewantstogoawayhedoesntwannabehereplease-

“Leave me alone!” He wanted to scream, but then he found blood dripping from his mouth and started choking. He couldn’t feel his tongue.

He looked back up and saw the fucking monster with smoke coming out of its mouth. It went to touch his shoulder and he flinched, but he couldn’t move anymore or scream or talk or fight-

It burned when the claw brushed his skin.

He squeezed his eyes shut as the monster continued to poke at him with it’s burning claws, yelling insults in his ears and picking at every flaw he had. He just wanted to run away, he wanted to pretend he was somewhere nice. Like the beach, maybe, maybe he could go back there. He tries to think of the beach, his mom, but all he can think of is fear and how to hide the marks and where to hide the next time it happens and

“She was pretty. She was really pretty. And you..”

“You were happy.”

When Billy opens his eyes, he finds himself back at the entrance of the theme park. This time, he’s alone. The theme park looks less lively. It might be a carnival, actually.

He goes through again, looks around. It’s just a normal carnival.

But he sees people now.

He just stands there, unscathed, searching for a familiar face. Every face rings a bell, every laugh sounds blurry because he’s never heard them before but they’re there. He sees seagulls, but no white dress. Finds lips, but nothing cherry. Doesn’t see eyes.

Then he sees a pretty boy, and his breath catches in his throat.

Chapter Text

Working at Family Video wasn’t the hardest, the customers were less stressful to deal with and Robin found that she actually could have pleasant (or as pleasant as it could get) conversations with some of the customers. Small talk, mostly, but they were a lot less needy and not always a bunch of kids. She found that working early in the morning though, kind of got her hungry as all hell. Especially after she’d be up all night. 

A week had passed since the defeat of the Mindflayer and Russians anniversary, and Robin and Steve’s sleepover hasn’t ended yet. So in light of this, Steve took it upon himself to come with her to work even if he doesn’t have any shifts today, and after he dropped her off, he went to go buy some actual decent snacks for the both of them.

Robin’s so grateful for that dingus, if it weren’t for him she wouldn’t have made it this far and he understands her. It was hard to come out, it really was. She thought it would be the end of her, but it really wasn’t. Compared to the Russians, the Upside Down, and every other fucking thing, there were no reasons for Steve to walk out on her in that moment after all he’d been through. After all they’d been through. She’s so happy that they’re still friends and as close as ever, even close with Dustin and Erica herself.

The store was empty because it was early in the morning, the sun still rising lazily from its slumber. Robin chose to use this time to clean up a little, dust around, maybe reorganize the shelves if Keith hadn’t already.

After all the cleaning had been done she was just looking for the appropriate section for a copy of the Rocky Horror Picture Show to be stowed away in, but she didn’t exactly understand herself why that was here anyways.

Once she’d found a shelf with fitting enough titles and similar genres, she squeezed it in and nearly knocked all the others off when the door abruptly opened, cutting through the calm air. Letting out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, she laughed.

“Steve! You scared me--”

Around the corner, there was a girl with determination and fury in her eyes, with hair as red as rose. Robin’s breath caught in her throat again, confused. A little angry. The little girl had left and abandoned them after all they’d been through (though Robin wasn’t there for most of it, it was still a lot) and never even said goodbye to Lucas and here she was, ballsy as all hell to be in this territory, presumably looking for Steve of all people, when she could instead be with Sinclair or some of the other kids.

It just kind of ticked her off.

Max looked up at Robin and her expression visibly hardened. “Where’s Steve?”

Buckley scoffed and crossed her arms. “Who’s asking?”

“Where’s. Steve,” Mayfield asked more clearly, teeth grit.

“Who’s. Asking,” She rebutted.

Robin didn’t know what had come over her in that moment, why she was so snappy right now. But she stood her ground, and so did Max. The silence was tense, memories of what they’d all been through hanging heavy in the air mocking the two.

Finally, the younger one caved in and dropped her shoulders. She heaved a sigh and softened. “I found something out recently. Mom told me.”

The dirty blonde tried not to let a smirk overtake her features at this win, and uncrossed her arms to place one in her pocket instead, curiosity bound around her neck. “What happened?”

“I...  um,” The hesitation and the furrowed brows made it clear to Robin that Max wouldn’t cave in that easily, so she groaned, rolled her eyes, and went behind her usual counter after fixing up the shelf.

“Steve will be back soon, he’s getting food,” She supplied.

Max nodded a grateful thanks without looking at her, and just walked over to the counter and leaned on it, staring at the doors patiently.

It was weird seeing Max now, it had been almost, maybe actually a little over, a year. Her hair has been cut short (about just to the shoulders) for some reason and the look almost fit her, but it was clear she wasn’t particularly fond of it. Might have been her mother’s work, but it also doesn’t look clean enough to be recent. Robin thought that maybe it was cut a lot shorter right after she moved, then. Would explain a lot.

She still doesn’t know why, though.

She took note of how Max’s nails were painted, she wore some light makeup but nothing ever too heavy, maybe to keep modesty. She had colorful clothing, a stripy shirt with some waist high short jeans. She was wearing sandals, and she looked a lot cleaner than she did at Starcourt.

Robin recalls how Max had scrambled to Hargrove’s side, crying. It hurt her heart. She never actually lost anyone amidst all the chaos, and seeing somebody as strong and sassy as Max lose somebody possibly (she didn’t know this for sure, Steve said otherwise) close to her and having to watch it… she couldn’t imagine the pain.

So, momentarily, Robin guesses it was a little justified for Max to have moved as soon as possible and it made sense that she’d want to move on with that. Leave the memories behind her. But. It hurt Lucas.

And Robin can’t exactly forgive Max for the days she’d hear Erica complaining about her brother leaving in the middle of the nights to pitch a radio again. Try and catch the signal again.

Try and find that somebody he loved again.

After maybe seven minutes more of just silence, Max was just looking around the store while waiting. The door finally opened and they both perked up at the sound of Harrington’s breathless, high pitched voice.

“Okay-- before you beat me for taking so long, a lot of the stores weren’t open this early for some reason and I had to walk an extra while to find--- MAX?!” He stopped mid ramble, nearly dropping his bags.

Shyly, Max smiled at him. Testing the waters to see if he’d be okay with her being there.

Steve just beamed and ran to the counter, slamming all the bags down and leaving Robin to scurry through the contents as Harrington hurried over to Max.

She fully expected a hug, tensing in anticipation, but what Mayfield got instead was a whole lot of are you okay/hurt’s and concerned double-triple scans over her body. Steve was fucking checking for injuries.

Robin rolled her eyes at his mom-like greeting and piped up, “She’s fine, dingus.”

He was on his knee looking her up and down still as thoroughly as possible before he paused, sighing in relief and then Max used this moment to crush him with a hug.

Steve laughed surprised and hugged back. “I’m surprised to see you here, slugger, did you see Lucas yet?”

Max didn’t answer, instead squeezed, then pulled back, bouncing on her heels. “I need your help,” she said.

The room fell into a beat of silence following her words, and Robin felt knots in her stomach at the silence. She didn’t know Max needed help. She felt worried.

Before Max could continue, Steve gasped looking at her, “Did you cut your hair?”

Behind him, Robin burst into laughter, calling him an idiot while Max laughed as well.

A customer walked in during this and almost immediately, Buckley went tight-lipped and smiled horribly while the customer checked something out after a few minutes of awkward silence.

“Actually, before you tell me anything, just save it for after Robin’s done. She’s good help, and her shift should end in a few hours.”

“A few hours?”

Steve shushed her and promised to take her out for ice cream at least, to catch up.

Robin sighed fondly as they left and patiently went about her day after putting all the bags on the ground next to her. The snacks were good.

Finally, her shift was over and she ran out (after changing, of course) to find Steve and Max already walking side by side to the store, eating ice cream and laughing. Steve had a third ice cream in hand, cookies and cream flavored, untouched.

Robin just walked over and swiped the ice cream out of his hand, resulting in a terrified jump from Steve. “Thank you, Harrington,” “You’re welcome, Christ.”

Max giggled and the three of them walked back to Steve’s chattering about, mostly with Steve complaining about how boring working for Scoops Ahoy was and how he actually preferred the silence of Family Video over the embarrassing moments with the ladies at Scoops. To which Robin butted in with a “you made them embarrassing, dingus”.

He never outright disagreed.

Robin started talking about her cramped wrist and the stupid invention that did it to her, keeping Max distracted while Steve fumbled in his jean pockets to find the keys to open his front door.

Once the door was unlocked, Mayfield licked her fingers clean of ice cream and ran to the living room. Begrudgingly, Steve followed behind and Robin tailed.

“Okay, so, what’s up?” He finally asked, sitting between Max and Robin.

The youngest found her face darkening, voice straightening all serious-like while Robin licked away at her ice cream. “I found out through my mom about Billy’s whereabouts,” she said.

Harrington’s brows knitted together. “Yeah? And? It’s been a year, Max…” He tried not to sound rude, but Max still looked hurt at the comment.

“I know! But… we haven’t even gotten the body yet. How can we.. have a funeral and fully move on if we can’t even have his body?” Max defended before sighing, “There’s just something off about it all.”

“What should be off is that you’re back and you aren’t with Lucas. You know he’s worried about you, right?” Steve quipped a little irritated but softly.

“I know!” She repeated angrier. “That’s not the point, okay! We didn’t know what happened to Billy’s body, it wasn’t our business after the divorce and moving away, but we still had some right to knowledge. Neil slipped while drunk dialing my mom.”

“Yikes,” Robin cringed. Steve nodded, face scrunched up at the thought of how that conversation went. 

He wasn’t too thrilled when El had revealed to him Billy’s relationship with his dad. But respectfully, he hadn’t told anybody else. He wonders why El told him, but figures it has to do with how he regarded Billy. Steve tried to be vague with Robin, but ultimately never dived into detail even if it was a lot on his mind at the time of finding out.

“He told her that some lab took his body, but not just any lab. A new lab that opened up recently, here, in Hawkins. A very secret-y lab that only asked to have Billy, but didn’t elaborate on why.”

Max looked into the distance, “Neil said he didn’t even blink when he cut them off with a yes.”

A bitter taste is left on her tongue with those words, and Steve knows why. Robin looks disgusted, but then confused.

“Hey, wait, why do you need us then? Billy’s dead,” Robin asked.

“That’s the thing, we don’t know for sure. Mom tried to contact the labs but they left her on voice mail, never called back after days. It doesn’t feel right. When I found out, I tried contacting you guys since you guys had snuck into a Russian base before, I thought you could help.”

Steve chuckled awkwardly, “Yeah, but, they weren’t very good at security if even Dustin and Erica could do it. And we saw Billy die. Are you sure you’re..”

“- Steve, we’ve seen a lot of people die. And even if he.. is, that would raise even more questions as to why they’d have his body. It would be decaying by now, Steve, decaying!”

“Okay, okay! Sheesh.”

Robin rubbed her hands together and raised a brow, “But what if we find nothing, Max? I dunno. Not everybody’s bad. And if this new lab’s opening in Hawkins, they wouldn’t be Russian, right? Affiliated with the big guys up there. They’d be walking a tightrope with all eyes on them, there’s no way they’d get away with any suspicious deal.”

Max looked like she was considering it for a moment, but shook her head, “It doesn’t feel right. I wanna get El’s help,” Steve straightened at this.

“El’s powers aren’t that effective right now, she’s not a toy, Max.”

Her face, if possible, got even darker and she growled, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes if it means we get to know what really happened to my brother.”

Robin placed a soothing hand on Steve’s shoulder, “Let’s look into it first. See what the deal is before we go sneaking around in there. Who knows, their security might be a lot, lot harder to get through than the Russians. We can get the others to help, if you’re really wanting to go through with this.”

Max seemed calmed by this preposition and nodded at Robin, warming her heart. “I’m down.”

Robin smiled back.

Steve wasn’t all too into the idea though.

Chapter Text

“Welcome back, Hargrove. Sorry to have ghosted you for several days.”

Billy’s cuffs were back, but he chose not to comment. He nodded slowly, suspiciously, at Robert.

After his initial carnival dream, he had a temper tantrum in his cell and sat in the corner trying to process everything. He didn’t know how long it had been, he assumed they took away the gas or whatever they leaked into his room that used to force him asleep, because he stopped sleeping entirely. There were clear dark bags under his eyes, but Robert chose to ignore them.

“We’re only gonna gather some information on how the drugs worked for now, just to warm you up before the next test,” Robert continued, straightening himself before jotting something down on his clipboard.

Billy could only nod. He felt like some of his memories were coming back. Like, he doesn’t know who the pretty boy was, but he can’t get his mind off him and he remembers the bambi-like brown eyes. And he remembered his dad now, and he felt like he was closer to remembering his sister’s name. But the kids in his dream… they all rang a bell as well, and it made him feel like he was a lot further from remembering than he thought he was. He chose to ignore that thought though.

“Did anything change?”

He considered how he should answer, worried that they’d decrease dosage if he said yes. But maybe that’s what they wanted.

Billy shook his head either way. They couldn’t know. If they knew his memories were coming back, they’d stop.

Robert thoughtfully nodded, searching his eyes for answers.

“Alright. How are you feeling? With your fingers, out of ten.”

Billy held up seven fingers.

Shuffling was heard and Robert wrote another thing down on his clipboard. He raised his voice as his hand moved, not looking at Hargrove. “Interesting. Considerably better than your response on the third test.”

Wasn’t the third test where he was given bread and some spread to make himself?

He realized he remembered a lot less. Now he feared his own answers, not knowing if he’d be contradicting a past test or not.

Shit.

“Well, I realize we can’t get anywhere without your voice,” Robert leaned back sighing, “so let’s try something else.”

Robert nodded at his clipboard, lazily. “Try and move that.”

Irritation creeped up Billy’s spine at the repetitive request. He just stared straight at Robert, unmoving.

“Did you catch that, Hargrove?” He didn’t like that Robert always used his last name, “Move the clipboard.”

Silence.

The scientist straightened himself now, leaning in as though to intimidate, expression dark. He was getting annoyed, he was in a bad mood. He repeated. “I said; Move. The. Fucking. Clipboard.”

Billy leaned in as much as he could as well, which really wasn’t a large distance considering the length of the table, but it was still enough to show that he moved in a lot further than Robert, almost invading his personal space. He spat,

“No.”

He didn’t know what had come over him in that moment, his voice was clear as day but deep as night, practically a purr and he could see Robert’s expression shift from surprise to confusion to pissed.

“So you can talk, huh? How long have you been hiding that?”

A voice piped up from the back of his mind, countless whispers of familiar voices telling him what to do, but Billy ignored them. He ignored the temptation and disgust that came with hearing them, hated how it sounded like they were right behind him, breathing against his ears. Their words were shameful, unforgiving; telling him to give in, rip Robert’s head clean off his neck, spit in his face, things that Billy normally wouldn’t have thought before this.

At least, not to the extent of murder. Not unless it was his own dad sometimes.

Robert scoffed and leaned in more, no restrictions keeping him tied in place as he practically touched noses with Billy. He just stared, looking into his blue eyes as though searching for something.

“You gonna say something?” His stupid fucking voice cut through the tense silence.

“No,” Billy repeated, just as threatening as before.

“Fine. Be that way. Guards!” Robert yelled, leaning back in his chair and flaring his noses angrily. “Fucking kids,” he’d mumbled to himself. It made the whispers louder.

The door slammed open and Billy stayed glued to his chair, refusing to break. They uncuffed him from the table, lifting him up by force, and in that slip of time, he heard a scream of a little girl in the back of his brain and snapped.

A fist was swiftly delivered into the abdomen of a guard, effectively catching him by surprise. The other guard tried to come from behind and Billy elbowed them in the throat, taken by anger. He continued struggling and trying to fight back as Robert watched, before Robert’s voice chipped in as he stood.

“Get the drug. The old one,” he seemed to emphasise.

Billy’s eyes widened and he felt fear choking him at the idea of losing his memories again, his only comfort. A guard caught him by the arms and kept him suspended while he kicked away before another man came in, the one who had the key to the interrogation room, and raised a familiar looking needle.

No, not that. Please. I want to see them again.

Billy kept fighting, screaming and yelling the best he could with his broken and new voice, all he could do was swear and shake. He tried moving his neck away from the man as he got closer so fucking slowly and then a prick was felt. In his terrified state, he broke out momentarily and fell against the table, Robert not too far from him. He gripped Robert’s elbow tightly and then saw a flash of a little girl underwater, hearing her laugh, and then he came back to reality and honed in on that vision.

He kicked a guard off him weakly and wrapped his fingers around Robert’s neck, squeezing. Robert looked at him with fear and he felt so alive with power and control. The vision took him again, longer this time, and instead of seeing a pool, he saw an ocean. And he saw a man holding the girl underwater, and he saw blood and splashing and heard screaming and the man looked familiar and almost like-

Like Robert.

Before he could say anything, make out any words, he saw the look of fear and overwhelming anger in Robert’s eyes, like he could see it too.

And then he got stabbed in the neck again.

And he blacked out.

It’s time to wake up.

….

“Hey, Billy,” a voice belonging to a girl spoke from behind, almost flirtatiously.

He opened his eyes and found blackness again, but his toes were wet.

Turning around, he saw the familiar face of the girl in the showers. Heather.

A smile rose to her face at his recognition and she put her hands on her hips. She was still dressed in the swimsuit, but some dark look was in her eyes. It didn’t feel like her.

“Don’t you trust us, Billy?”

This time, her voice sounded like an echo, it felt like it was all around him. She also didn’t refer to herself in that moment. He couldn’t care too much, though. He felt so strangely free in this world, and he looked at her still expression. Did she hear his thoughts?

“I trust you,” he said finally. She smiled wider, an edge to her lips that made it look a little bit unnatural.

“Good.”

That felt.. weird.

“Do you want control?” she asked. Her voice felt louder now.

Billy just stood, a vacant look in his eyes. Control? He liked power, control in bed he thinks half assed-ly. But otherwise, he’s never had control. Always the one watching others be happy, never able to smile as genuinely as them. Always pushed around by his father, degraded and unable to ask for help, because his father was in control, and he made that clear. It was never him.

He guessed, in a way, he did kind of want control for once. Power over some situation.

He tried to nod, but Heather spoke up firmly, still smiling creepily. “We know you do.”

So this wasn’t quite Heather, but he’d take anything.

“We can give you that control. If you’ll use it right.”

“Right?” He questioned.

“Control over others,” she continued, “make them do things. Feel things. See into their own thoughts. Haven’t you ever wondered what was going through daddy’s mind?”

It irked him, for Heather to be referring to his dad as kind of like hers as well. To be calling his dad.. their dad. He noticed that, and it made him realize even more that it wasn’t Heather he was speaking to. Not the real one, anyways.

He hopes the real Heather is okay.

“We can give you those memories back.”

He felt stuck in place, unable to move his legs or look away. He swallowed thickly.

“Yeah? How?” He didn’t believe it was real, he thought he was dreaming. Once he wakes up, it’ll all be over.

“You saw the little girl. Robert’s a bad man,” Heather said. She seemed to care more about his thoughts than his words. Stuck more to his disbelief than his questions.

“That might not have been Robert--” “The grays in his hair, the blue eyes and the small body,”

“He looked almost like the girl. Do you think that was his daughter he killed?”

Billy felt like he was suffocating, the voice was ringing through his ear and left no room for thoughts. He tried to open his mouth to protest, but then Heather giggled, a resounding giggle that should have been pleasant but left him feeling all too vulnerable and kind of scared.

But she was in his head, he reasoned. She couldn’t do anything.

“We can’t. But you can, Billy.”

“What do you mean? What can I do?”

“Do you wanna explore that memory? See what really happened?”

She waited for a bit, and Billy realized he had a choice for once.

Say no and possibly risk waking up to the cruel reality not knowing what happened or who Robert really is,

or say yes and find something he could use as leverage against him. Maybe get freedom from it.

He nodded his head slowly.

The brunette laughed and then pushed him backwards, and he felt shock overtake him as he fell through the ground and into water. All at once, he screamed but nothing came out, and then he saw flashes of the little girl again, blonde hair and everything, in the pool. She was laughing, and he saw small frame by frame shots of her looking up at him. Or was it someone else?

Panic rushed through his system as he found himself drowning, but then he opened his eyes to clear air and a beach. But not like his beach. It was darker, raining, and isolated.

Completely, except for the splashing sounds and hushed whispers behind the rocks.

Billy saw a set up. Two beach towels and a bag beneath an umbrella. Classic, but he noticed how one of the beach towels was rolled up in a rush. Looked like it was gonna be shoved into the bag. He took note of the small pink sandals next to the bigger blue ones. There was music playing over a radio right next to the towels, unnecessarily loud, presumably on loop. The songs were muffled though, for some reason. Sounded like static a little. He guessed that, if he was looking into the memories of Robert, then Robert probably wasn’t paying enough attention to the radio to be remembering any of it. He didn’t know why it was there then.

Heather snuck around Billy, staring at the same thing with the same smile. “Maybe he was trying to cover up something,” Her voice was more proximity now, less everywhere at once and more like she was actually there in near him.

Cover up something?

“Shut the fuck up!” A yell came from a man, yet again behind the rocks. He sounded distressed, and Heather looked at Billy, prompting him to move.

Billy put his hands on the rock and climbed, it wasn’t too great a height and he could easily jump off the top and land on his feet safely if he wanted to, but it was still obscuring some part of the beach. Away from the public eye, but not far from the set up. The suspicious set up.

When he fell on his heel on the other side, he realized he was still in his prison clothes. White shirt, gray shorts, no shoes. His nails were healed mostly though. But his scars looked like they were pulsing, they looked darker. Fresher. He already knew that they covered his body before, but now that they’re blacker, he noticed they covered even more of his body. Parts he didn’t know they reached.

He tried to ignore it, and looked up at where the splashing was coming from.

Right next to the ocean, a man was crouched on his knees, barefoot, digging his hands into long, familiar blonde hair. Billy’s stomach churned as he realized what this looked like.

Heather walked closer to the scene and Billy stuck close, never letting his eyes move from the man. He felt disgusted. He didn’t really wanna be here, but he realized he had to if he wanted to know more and get out.

The hair was all that was visible alongside small hands belonging to the girl’s, pressed into the man’s thighs as he pushed her head down into the murky depths and was whisper-yelling at her. Billy leaned in more to hear it clearer.

“You can save yourself. I know it. Come on, baby, why won’t you show me?”

He realized the man was crying, hyperventilating while keeping her head underwater. Her struggling became weaker and Billy wanted to lunge at the man, but he felt something keeping him in place as well. He couldn’t move. Only watch. He felt shameful, not being able to save the little girl (she seemed to be no younger than thirteen, it made him feel sick to the fucking stomach), it was an ugly sight and he recognized the high pitched, grating voice. Fuck.

“Think daddy got tired of his baby’s lies? He seemed to have had this on his mind for awhile,” Heather spoke softly, forcing Billy to hear the drowned cries of the girl and the heavy, bated breathing of the disgusting thing keeping her under. He was reminded of the beach towel, the sandals, the radio and rising tides of the ocean, and found that those details were too small for Robert to remember. He must have been thinking about this for a long time, to remember all the little details of the radio.

The thought made his stomach hurl.

Finally, the thrashing came to a slow and regretful pause, silence hanging heavy in the air. Finally, the small hand slapped the father’s hip weakly, dragging down and laying limp on the sand.

He hated watching and hated that he couldn’t do anything. He hated that any dad would do this. He hated Robert.

The monster in front of him released the head from his grip, and Billy swore he saw a little bit of blood rise to the top of the water, spreading. He hated that Robert remembered that. Hated that Robert was still looking at it.

Robert started sobbing, pulling the girl out of the water by the shoulders and Billy felt so fucking disgusted.

Her hair was in knots, some vomit running down her face and smudging all over her cheek. Blood was dripping from her mouth as well and he assumed she bit her tongue, he hoped she just bit her tongue. Her one piece was completely soaked and untouched, and Billy couldn’t help but notice the nasty gash on her knee, fresh and dirty and bloody.

“I don’t wanna see this,” he whispered, his voice shaken.

He felt like it was his fault, somehow.

He closed his eyes and felt tears running down his cheeks, and music faded in more clearly.

So right after, Robert listened to the music huh.

Disgusting.

When he opened his eyes, he was back in the void, but sitting down. Heather was sitting cross legged in front of him, smiling gently but there was a dark look in her eyes that conflicted with her expression. The music was gone. She reassuringly rubbed her hands on his knees. It didn’t help.

“Now you know,” she said.

Now he knows.

“Robert’s bad. Very, very bad,” she cooed, as though to convince Billy of what he already knew, “We should stop him from doing more bad. Don’t you think so?”

And he really did.

“Touch him again. His hand. Take control.”

Billy took every word as slow as they came and felt like burning it into his skin. Take control.

He’ll do just that.

….

Quite a few tests had passed, and Billy realized the old drug they were using was ineffective.

It knocked him out, sure, but it didn’t take any of his memories away anymore.

He’d started talking more with fake Heather. She would retell his memories as he remembered them, and let him explore those events or such. She let him go back to the beach, and they’d go there often, and he’d look at his mom waving or smiling at him and he’d smile back.

Heather offered to let his mom talk with him. He wasn’t ready for that yet, even if it wasn’t really his mom. He was afraid of breaking in front of them.

Truth be told, Billy didn’t expect the fake Heather to come back at all. He thought it was all a hallucination, a convenient one, maybe Robert wasn’t actually a killer and he was making shit up in his head to get pissed at him for. But Heather kept coming back, and all the memories felt so real. He guessed it was also because they were his, but he couldn’t deny that he was in complete control of his dreams. Free to go wherever he wanted, talk about whatever he needed.

It was reassuring to have a friend and some semblance of a home, even in his head.

Robert hadn’t come out yet since the last questionnaire, keeping it strictly to comms and brief questions of how Billy was. Of course, he never responded. He chose only to use his voice with Heather for now.

The tests were boring, the same old instructions with various randomly selected objects one would find in a house. Him being asked to move them, turn them off, et cetera et cetera.

He wasn’t all that interested, he tried rushing them, but he also didn’t wanna cause a ruckus again because he didn’t want to be driven further from Robert. So he’d pretend to try, then give up. He never tried. He thinks he knows what he is capable of now.

Take control.

Finally, the time had arrived where he found himself allowed to walk the halls again. No needles.

He got up from his bed and smirked at the guard that was looking directly at the smashed mirror in the corner. Billy slapped them on the back and saw a flash of flowers.

He was getting better at reading, he thinks.

The guard looks momentarily taken aback but then shakes his head, and cuffs Billy.

The walk to the room was boring and long as usual, purposefully dragged out to intimidate him. He wasn’t intimidated, his hair had grown out a bit and he smelled like roses. Oh, the look that would be on his dad’s face if he could only see him now. Smug until he crumbles.

A scream came from a small cell, and Billy ignored it. He was more concerned for his safety than the others at this point. The familiar guard unlocked the door and shoved Billy in, uncuffing and recuffing him (by the legs) as per usual procedure. They left the room and Robert was sat there, hands together and a noticeable newfound determination in his eyes.

Billy stretched his arms above his head and behind, leaning back.

“Good afternoon, Hargrove.”

So it was noon.

Grinning from ear to ear, Billy rose his voice, of his own choice.

“Mornin’, Robbie,” He tried not to look smug at Robert’s surprised look. He knows he noticed the blatant disregard for time, and loves the idea of pissing this monster off even more.

He looked directly into those blue eyes, remembering the crystal bluer eyes of a young girl. His own daughter. Morals be fucking damned.

“Talking are we? That’s good, today I’m just checking in on your progress. We still haven’t figured out what your gift is, but it’s there,” Robert continued, ignoring the nickname. It wasn’t his real name anyways.

Discomfort was clear in Robert’s shoulders, brows knit together. It must have been because Billy was radiating confidence, cockiness. Or maybe because of how it turned out last time they were in a room together. He’d cross his legs if they weren’t tied to the chair legs.

“How’ve you been?” Robert asked.

Billy was looking in the mirror again, at his reflection, he found somebody he recognized a little bit more looking back. The blonde curls were coming into place again. Beautiful, Heather smiled from his side, sat on the table corner at the opposite end from the mirror so as to not obscure Billy’s sight, playing with her own curls.

Billy smiled wider at her reflection, nodding, he was pretty darn handsome.

He didn’t care about the bags under his own eyes, his still pale complexion and chapped lips. He still had a muscular build, just enough to intimidate a kid or turn a lady on. He’d know.

He winked at his own reflection, also to the people behind the mirror, and Robert cleared his throat. “Billy.”

“I’ve been a ten, daddy-o. How about you?” Billy chimed, laughing through his response. When Robert unclasped his hands, that’s when Hargrove saw the ring on his left hand, shining under the light.

Looking back knowingly, Robert tensed under his daring gaze, and tried to raise his voice to appear as the more dominating presence. His body was a fucking three compared to Billy’s nine and a half.

He’d actually say he pushed past the ten.

“I’m good, thank you for asking. Did something happen? You seem.. happy.”

“Why don’t you lean in real close and find out? I’ve got a secret,” Billy teased in a low, firm tone. His voice was almost sing-songy by the end. Heather laughed to his right. She bounced onto her heels and swayed her hips to the other side of the table. Billy watched, but not with a lot of interest. He wasn’t very into girls, he noticed. Heather knew, though.

Nobody could tell him it was wrong now.

As Holloway skipped, she settled behind Robert and wrapped her arms around his neck, giggling in Hargrove’s direction. Mocking the scientist in her grasp, whispering the story of his daughter’s death in his ear while Billy watched.

When he blinked, Heather was by his side again, laughing.

Robert was leaning in.

“What’s that secret?” He whispered, testing the waters.

Just a little closer.

Billy uncrossed his arms behind his head and let his elbows lie on the table, mimicking the pose Robert had held before. “I’ll tell you, but they can’t hear,” he nodded in the direction of the mirror.

Robert leaned in further, “They won’t.”

“I’ll whisper it,” he leaned in as well. Just a tad closer.

Come on, you fucking monster.

“You’re a terrible dad, you know?” He finally said, when he realized Robert wouldn’t move closer much to his chagrin. Heather nodded in agreement, leaning back on the table like a cat, watching them interact with interest.

A shred of fear showed through Robert’s features, he tensed, leaning back a bit. Fuck. “What-- what makes you say that?” His voice was trembly.

“I’ll tell you, but they’ll hear.”

Finally, Robert had leaned in and over half his torso was within reach, and Billy laughed. “You fucking child murderer.”

Before the creature could react, the dirty blonde grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him in strongly. Heather was gone, but his strength had returned after countless work outs in his own room. Doubted it would have changed much though, seeing as Robert wasn’t a very well-maintained man, it seemed.

Take control.

Heather’s voice spoke softly with his, as though guiding him.

“You’re under our spell now….”

He saw flashes of a life, the sun, the moon, rain, an unfamiliar beach (the murder scene), a little girl, his own fucking wife and countless memories. He didn’t need to go through them or keep them, but he could if he wanted to. He saw the memory from when he first came here, got all the info he needed on the drugs. Saw the families of the guards, the countless beds Robert had slept in with other women. He knew now that the scientist had gone crazy after finding out his daughter might have had powers. Killed her because she wouldn’t tell him what they were, and he expected them to come out at the beach. This guy was obsessed with powers, wanting control but not as much as Billy, who had it now.

And he found his name.

“... Callum.” Billy spoke deeply.

The world was spinning around them, he heard a door open behind him, and Callum was looking at him, eyes wide and glassy and they weren’t blue anymore, they were darker. They looked almost black for a moment, and Billy noticed how his veins pulsed beneath his palm as he was pulled away from him. He noticed that the scars on his own wrist looked a little black. He made sure the guards didn’t see that, though he could feel something like satisfaction and power course through him.

Callum stared up at him, mouth agape. He didn’t look particularly surprised, angry, scared, or guilty. He looked lost.

Heather whispered into Billy’s ears as the guards readied the needle.

“He’s all ours now.”

Blackout.

Chapter Text

Another week had passed since Max’s return. Robin and Steve discussed her plans and concerns and had a debate as to whether or not they really should do it, but God, he couldn’t say no to Buckley. She really wanted to make the kids happy somehow, so he guessed he had to. As long as she was happy, and Max was okay again.

The day after they all held a gathering at the cabin again, Max being amazed at its new state and choosing to walk around and explore the interior while waiting for the others. Nobody knew she was there, Harrington made it out to be a surprise, and boy was it when Lucas stormed out immediately after seeing her face.

He’d convinced Max to talk to Sinclair, not wanting his absence to create a hole in their discussions. Begrudgingly she did oblige, but not without calling Steve a mom before leaving.

After they all had talked, and Steve definitely noticed how Max and Lucas were holding hands, Mike asked about El. She wasn’t there.

Max said that El could probably try and find Billy again in the void, but Mike was indifferent. Steve was as well, but he knew Robin would want to go straight into sneaking into the danger if El couldn’t help, so he unfortunately had to shut Wheeler down and put himself on Mayfield’s side.

So far, nothing’s really been done yet. Robin and Dustin said they’d do the research, Mike said he’d get El, and Max and Lucas were supposed to go on their first date in awhile this week. Will joined with Dustin, not wanting to lose sight of them. And Steve was at home.

In his bed. Waiting for them to tell him what to do.

He feels kinda useless, but furthermore, he feels doubtful. There’s no way Hargrove’s alive, breathing, or even fleshy at this point. They all saw him get pierced. They watched the beast break him in. Max heard his final words.

He didn’t know why she was so desperate, why she couldn’t move on. But he cared about her and he wanted to see as much as he could through, as long as they were safe. But.. he was worried. What would happen if they went through all the work, got in, and found Billy? But Billy wasn’t Billy?

If Billy was dead, he didn’t know how Max would take it. And he didn’t want Robin to feel useless or stupid.

But if Billy was alive, there’s no telling how the first impressions will go. If the new lab’s anything like the other, then what if they turned Billy into something different? Like the Mindflayer, but no longer under its influence. Under their influence.

Steve felt his insides squeeze fearfully and helplessly, not knowing what would happen. He wished Max would just move on. He wishes they could all just move on and he wishes he could be happy still.

Maybe this little bit of action will distract him from his insanity for awhile. Maybe the end result would satisfy that melting candle inside of him, effectively relight a new one in place of that flickering heat.

He didn’t know, he didn’t quite like knowing that he was trying to twist this whole thing into some selfish end goal of happiness. He already had Robin.

Even though Robin never liked him back, even if he’s learned to accept it by this point, he knew it didn’t change much. But, he couldn’t get that bathroom moment out of his head. Like, maybe it did change much. Because after that, he found all these thoughts he’d once put down with anger bubbling and rising back up to the surface.

Like, he knew he liked girls. But what if he liked guys too?

Steve remembered how his mom would let him use her perfume, he remembered using cherry lip balm a lot growing up and nobody ever noticing. But he also remembered once, a guy looked at his lips for a little longer than a second, and it excited him at the time. But… it was wrong, he thought.

He realized though that Buckley coming out to him made him feel a little bit better about those feelings he’d pushed away. But he liked girls too, still. He remembers Robin once said that if she was bi, she’d like him. Was that the word for liking both guys and girls? He had no clue. It would make sense.

But it didn’t really, because nothing made sense and Steve didn’t know what or who he liked at this point. Nobody ever really ended up liking him back.

His heart hurt remembering Nancy.

Thought I’d be over that.

Chuckling at his own stupidity, Steve rose from his bed and looked back at the pictures on his walls. Looking past the ones from drunk times, and then he saw a familiar picture of Max and him, before she left. She was smiling, but he knew it wasn’t real.

He could tell from the way it didn’t reach her eyes. Just like Robin’s smile when he’d see her talking with a guy that was clearly interested in her.

Well, Robin’s smile was more condescending and slightly amused.

Steve stretched his arms above his head, looking around the pictures for a certain one. He knew it was in the right hand side somewhere.

He lowered his arms, relaxed, and let his fingers do some of the searching, feeling around the corners. He hated that there were so little pictures, but so many were in front of buried memories. And cramped together. He really oughta make more memories with the others, the past year clearly wasn’t enough.

Finally his finger landed on a familiar charred corner of a photo. It was right behind another picture of Max, this one an older picture that El had given him the gathering after Max left. She was younger, smiling, and Lucas was clinging onto her looking like he was saying something stupid, as per usual. Steve felt his lips pull up in a subtle smile at this.

His frown returned when he managed to pull the target photo out of the back.

It was a photo of Billy, leaning against his Camaro having a smoke. Waiting for Max, not knowing one of his creepy fangirl stalkers had been watching. His hair was in its usual style, curls falling into place on his face, eyes searching the entrance of the school and posture tense. One hand was curled around a lighter, the other was dragging the cigarette.

El gave him this one too.

Apparently Max had tried burning this picture, evident by the torn, blacked corner just barely touching photo Billy’s hair. Steve didn’t know why, it was a nice picture. And looking at it, he felt the familiar thrum of his heart pick up again.

The leather jacket Billy usually wore, that Max now had in her possession instead. The jeans and the pretty red shirt. He could see a bit of chest hair and he felt so drawn in by the contour of Hargrove’s cheeks.

When he opened up to Robin about how he felt like maybe he also could have been bi, she told him to explore those feelings right before running off to get something Keith paid her for. Steve guessed now was a better time than ever.

It made sense why he felt like this. Didn’t make sense why it was Billy.

Maybe it was how confident the dirty blonde was, or the piercing, longing side-glances he’d give Steve in class sometimes with his beautiful deep-set blue eyes that Harrington always noticed but Hargrove probably thought he didn’t. Maybe it was how effortlessly charming his words were, or the little piece of advice he gave him at the gym that showed that maybe he was still a little bit of a team player despite his alpha wolf exterior. Maybe it was his looks, or his dominating presence, or his ass.

Whatever it was, it drove Steve crazy.

He hated Billy, with a passion he did, but he could never deny the feelings that would stir deep within him whenever they’d lock eyes. Because of his ideas of how love should have been at the time, he’d shoved the feelings behind a gate and locked it up tight, throwing away the keys and promising to never consider nor look again. He convinced himself every waking day that Billy would be there to greet him at school, that he hated him.

Steve definitely had some sort of hatred for him, but he knew now that before, he still had a small sense of admiration for him as well. A little crush that he didn’t let blossom.

He didn’t think it would continue to grow now, but now that he’s looking at this picture, thinking about Robin’s words, and knowing that there’s a small possibility that Billy may just be alive…

He really wasn’t prepared for how hard his heart was beating, and the heat that he felt building up in his core as he observed the photo in his hands for longer.

But, he didn’t believe in that possibility. There’s just no way. It’s too late now.

A sigh left his lips and he put the photo back, this time making sure it was harder to find amidst all the other pictures for his sake. There’s just. No way.

And there’s no way it’d be that asshole that I end up liking.

It wasn’t long before a sudden knock kicked Steve out of his thoughts. He ran downstairs and opened it up, worried that somebody had gotten hurt or that Robin was having nightmares again or something.

Instead he found Dustin, grinning from ear to ear with a smirking Robin at his side.

“Jesus, you guys. Come in,” Steve said, ushering them inside without wasting a second and closing the door behind them. “Where’s Erica?”

“She’s grounded, Will’s asleep. Why are you awake?” Dustin asked, looking at his watch that read 2:30 AM.

“Why am I awake? Why are you awake?”

Robin snorted and flopped onto the couch, leaving little room for the two of them but just enough space for them to squeeze into after Steve lifted her legs and dropped them on his lap.

Dustin was sat on the opposite end of the couch, refusing to get involved with that level of intimacy as he fiddled with his watch. “We found something,” he said.

Steve’s ears perked up at this and he cringed when Robin kicked her shoes off the couch and almost into his ankle. “This late?”

The kid nodded, looking wide eyed at Harrington like he was the weird one. “ Yeah, this late.”

“Skip to the point,” Steve requested as Robin finally moved her legs and sat up properly.

“So, there was a missing childs case going on a few years back, regarding a girl called Emilia Whitehall,” Dustin began, already speaking in his as serious as can be voice, “She was like, thirteen at the time of having gone missing. Apparently her parents woke up one day, and she was gone. Just like that.”

“That’s… weird,” Steve said.

The dirty blonde between them nodded and chimed in, “Yeah, but that’s not even the half of it. See, Emilia’s dad, Callum, was the number one suspect because a neighbor said his car was missing one morning and when he came back, he was all wet and stressed looking. Unfortunately no other key witnesses were present at the time, and Callum’s wife said she was with him as well and they were just going on a quick date. She claimed he ran into a drunk man and got into some nasty fight or something.”

“- Those details don’t matter, Robin, what’s important here is-” “- Isn’t it weird, though?” “- what’s important, is that this man works at the new lab,” Dustin angrily whispered, as though they were being watched.

Robin clearly hadn’t been sleeping.

Steve raised his head from the couch and placed his hand on his chin in thought, “Okay…? And? We’d be looking into a man who’s probably traumatized, dude, his daughter was only, what, fifteen?” “Thirteen,” Robin corrected. He felt worse after hearing that.

“Thirteen,” Dustin repeated, “and no, we’re not interrogating him. He’s apparently never home anymore. It’s his wife we’re interested in. She’s not Emilia’s actual mom, she only got married to him after the incident. Affair or something.”

“Yikes,” he said.

Silence followed his words for a few minutes, Robin kicking both their feets bored. Dustin was waiting for a better answer, Steve realized.

“Oh, uh…” he looked around awkwardly, “What are we doing? What’s her name?”

Satisfied, Henderson kicked his legs up on the table. “Liz. We’re gonna.. oh,” Realization dawned over his features, “I didn’t think this far, actually.”

Of course.

Laughter came from Robin in response to this, “We only dug into the case pretty deep to figure out the names, he seemed to be trying really hard to completely erase his identity. It was annoying, okay? Cut us some slack, Stevie.”

“I didn’t say anything!” He pouted.

Nothing happened for a bit, the three just sat staring at various objects in thought trying to figure out what to do or say next. Steve decided fuck it, why not, and piped up, “Why don’t we just ask her if she knows Billy?”

“What? Are you dumb?” “Come on, dingus, no way!” They both said simultaneously, disappointment seeping through their words.

“Jeez, guys, if we have nothing else, and nothing to really lose, what bad will it do?”

“No, I think we should just get El actually. Dammit, I thought we were getting somewhere with this,” Dustin grumbled. Robin pat him reassuringly and nodded. “Yeah, I guess that little tiger could do something for us, see if Billboy’s at least alive.

Steve snorted at Robin’s nickname for Billy but found himself still curious about Liz. Maybe he himself could go to her instead. He’d just have to figure out a way to get the address out of Dustin or Robin. Buckley would be easier to crack.

It wasn’t hard for Steve to realize Dustin genuinely wanted to help Max as well. He knew more than ever how much Henderson also cared for the others, noticed in the way he always brought a smile to Lucas’ face before Max’s return. How he let Mike teach him things he already knew to distract him from El’s absence. It was very endearing, if he wasn’t also so damn stubborn and cocky about it.

Admiration sunk into his features looking at the kid grumbling to himself about the case, endeared by how determined he was to support Mayfield and bring them somewhere. Even if the situation was pretty small and he saw Hargrove die as well, he still went so far as to dig into closed cases from years ago. And Steve felt happy that Robin and Dustin were similar in that aspect, they got along well with how much they wanted to help and how Robin was a listener and understander and Dustin was the talker and walking geek thoughts.

It made Steve happy to know that the two were so determined, and that Robin had somebody else other than him to go to as well. He knew that Dustin had heard some of their midnight rambles, and always loved seeing how soft and rambly Henderson could get to try and distract her.

God, but it hurt him to think again, how would they feel after all this, if it all was for nothing?

How would they react if they got so far in, and only ended up finding a rotting corpse with familiar black goop abandoned in some small cut off section of a lab?

What would happen if once they knew too much, they were put in danger and it was all for nothing?

What would they do if they ended up having to lose another one as a result of their digging?

Man. Harrington really needed a smoke right now.

Chapter Text

He was strawberry blonde.

No.

He had crystal blue eyes.

Not important.

His last name is Whitehall.

Better.

His daughter’s name was Emilia.

Dead.

His name was Callum “Brown” Whitehall, no older than forty two years. He’s average, smart, used to have a short temper and was insanely obsessed with discovering powers. Making weapons were the least of his concerns, it was controlling them that he wanted. Control. Shape them into what he wanted, make them obey him mindlessly. He’s not usually kind, he’s usually angrier. His wife at the time of Emilia’s death had been the one to file the missing childs report. He got her to give him an alibi, say they were out together on a date. Not enough people could confirm nor deny this, just the two of them. They divorced after she relapsed into a state of depression from losing her daughter, but she never knew if Emilia was dead or not. Callum was verbally abusive, manipulative, paranoid, but also liked making dinner before leaving the house in the mornings just to soothe his nerves.

Unimportant.

No, wait, it is.

He liked making pancakes usually, he wasn’t very good at cooking. His hands were trembly and awful sweaty, no different than they are now. He hid his bad side from his daughter very well and would pretend that his cooking was all in thought of her. He cared about her a lot. Working at the lab was his forever dream, and he had gotten into the business at his mid-twenties. He had power over a specific part of the lab that was more detached from the rest, and the lack of too many cameras allowed to make sure the government weren’t able to see what was really going on. It helped to give the appearance of just small, short corridors just like any other section. Nobody ever quite checked in anyways. He had good rep.

“Good, Billy,” Heather purred in his ear.

Billy tried to focus on the total blackness, walk around for a bit in his conscious state. He tried his best to relive Whitehall’s life, making sure he knew the traits that fucker had and trying to find a weak spot that would allow him to slip in and take full control. Apparently he already had enough, but he needed to find some sort of a gateway in some memory strong enough that would let him slip fully into Callum’s mind. Billy was almost short of breath from how often he’d been falling into smaller memories trying to paint the bigger picture, but he tried his best with Heather’s encouragement and watchful eyes.

Finally, he sunk into the ground again and found himself in another memory. This one was clearer.

Unlike the first memory, this one was not totally clouded. It was fully colored, felt like he was actually in the moment. It looked real and clear. He was in a classroom, the students’ faces were barely discernible but he could hear their laughter.

On second thought, the memory wasn’t as clear. It was getting darker.

Just as Billy was about to reset, he saw a face sticking out from the rest. It wasn’t blurred, on rewind, or laughing like the others. It was a boy, sitting in his chair, scratching his table. Callum.

“It has to be important in some way,” Heather voiced his thoughts.

He nodded in agreement and walked over to the boy, carefully. The boy was about his age, maybe one or two years younger. Well, about his age before…

The laughter suddenly went quiet, and instead one remained. It belonged to a girls, and Billy looked to his left to find a girl sitting in the front row, laughing with her friends. She had chestnut hair, a red sweater, and braces. She never looked at them, she was too distracted, but she looked petite and cute and a little chubby. She made Billy think of rainbows and sunflowers. She radiated kindness.

For some reason, Billy thought she was pretty.

Callum thought she was pretty.

And the faces around her slowly became clearer, and the faces around those became clearer, and Billy realized how close Callum paid attention to the people around her now.

“How sweet, his most important memory is of his crush.”

Wasn’t his crush. When Billy went over and touched her arm, she felt cold. A rush went through him and he saw a flash of her in a hospital.

Was his half-sister.

Who died.

Behind him, Heather laughed. It irritated him a bit, but she continued nonetheless.

“Poor guy. Doesn’t justify anything,” she said. He agreed, but he felt hurt thinking about his own step sister. It must have hurt Callum too.

Was she okay?

“If we hurry up, we can find that out sooner.”

Yeah. That’s right.

Billy turned around silently and walked back to Callum, extending his hand to place it on his head. He had soft hair. He didn’t expect this to work, the memory was so slow, it felt like it was a rewound tape. Felt scratched, like a record, from being replayed so much. But it felt abandoned. Like he was trying to move on.

It was surprising when suddenly, he found himself in blackness and opened his eyes to see countless security monitors.

When he looked down, his hands weren’t his. And not in a bad way.

Heather wasn’t there, but he knew she’d always be one way or another.

Looking up again he saw a computer in front of all the security monitors, it must have been for control. He didn’t know how to work it though, it was muscle memory to Callum and he didn’t share that muscle memory.

Billy decided to try something, he sat still in his chair and closed his eyes again. He focused on the classroom memory and instead, he tried to turn it all into the vision of Callum in his office right now. There Whitehall was, sitting down right where he left him, staring at the monitors.

He leaned in and whispered, “Get me out.”

Much to his satisfaction, it worked and he saw Callum flinch before starting to type things into the computer.

Softly, in the back of his head, he hears a door unlock and a creak. A grin spreads across his face and he tips Callum’s head up by the chin and whispers to him to sleep right before closing his own eyes again.

Now, Billy’s eyes are open and he’s back in his own cell. Himself.

At first things are blurry, he sees double and he feels very lightheaded. The colors are all sorts of wrong, blue turning into yellow, yellow edging into green, everything disorients him and hurts his eyes and he wants to throw up. His nose is wet, and he brings his finger to it to find red that looked almost black. He heard ringing in his ears, didn’t quite feel pain, felt numb, but he could hear screams. Not his. Familiar screams, they were drowning out his thoughts.

The only thing not blurry was Heather, standing over him, waiting.

A gag comes from him and he sits up immediately. The world spins harder and he starts coughing and hacking wildly. He overdid himself, but he’ll get used to it. He must have been at it for hours, if not more. The screams quiet down, move away.

“Is something wrong, Billy?”

“No,” his voice cracked with his dry throat and he cleared it, “No,” he repeated. Still sounded dry. “I’m fine.”

Heather smiled at this and his vision slowly cleared as he furiously rubbed at his face and breathed deeply. “I’m fine,” he said again.

“You’re fine.”

He was fine.

But he felt like crying.

He couldn’t be scared now, he had control. He felt some part of him slowly slip away as he got more and more control, but that didn’t matter. This was Billy now. Billy Hargrove.

Swallowing down the urge to vomit, Billy forced himself to stand. At first his movement was sloppy, but once he got to the door and opened it, the loud creak jumped him into reality. He was fine.

The corridor was dark, he knew nobody was monitoring him because Callum was asleep in that room now. He was as safe as he could get, with how unguarded this area generally was. He just had to avoid the interrogation room, that got closer to the more important areas with more security. More eyes and bodies and guns.

Heather hummed alongside Billy as he walked down the long hallway, fingers trailing along the walls and doors smugly. “It’s an ugly world,” she began, “but we can make it pretty with red.”

That sounded weird. But once the thought rose to his head, he couldn’t get it out. It would be pretty painted in red, wouldn’t it?

No, that’s wrong. He just needed to get out. He was fine.

“Don’t you agree, Billy? Wouldn’t it be prettier in crimson?”

Billy ignored her as he passed by room after room, finding the familiar open door with the dried blood everywhere. So from here, he had to go right. As he travelled, as alert as his hazy mind could get, Heather continued to pester. His mind was so dumbed down right now, it made him even more vulnerable when he could hear her so clearly.

“All the blood. From monsters like Whitehall, to daddy Hargrove…”

Voices came from around the corner and Billy quickly pressed himself against the wall, ignoring Heather. If she got caught, that’s on her.

They can’t see her. Fuck.

He was losing it.

“Even the pretty ones have to die, you know.”

The guards were talking about lunch break, complaining about work. He couldn’t quite clarify their words. His eyes were glassy. When he peered around the corner, they were in front of a big door. There was one camera, but Callum wouldn’t be quite useful here without a speaker.

“Like Carol.”

He didn’t quite think Carol was that pretty.

Gently, Hargrove pulled a shard from his broken mirror out of his shirt. He made sure they wouldn’t find it.

A quiet laugh was let out from one of the guards and Billy used this to his advantage. He rounded the corner swiftly. They weren’t as armed as the other guards from the other days, these ones just had a pistol. Looked like they’d piss him off, though.

One guard saw him and yelled, “Hey, what the fuck--”

“Or maybe Nancy?”

He ran towards them as they were trying to ready their guns (they didn’t think any of the prisoners would get out, they were too underprepared for this) and pulled one guard in front of him by the wrist.

“Hey-- hey leave him alone, freak!” The other yelled, small gun pointed at the two nervously.

Before the guard in his arms could do anything, Billy dug his nails into his wrist until it bled and saw flashes of cars and drinks and girls in bikinis and laughed. The world was spinning again.

He whispered, “Take care of him,” and the guard did as told and drew his gun on his co worker. “What the fu--”

The other guard’s body dropped to the ground once a shot blasted through his head, a sound that wasn’t pleasant to Billy’s ears at all but seeing the pretty red puddle beneath the man’s head gave him a sense of satisfaction. Like he’d done something right.

“Good boy,” Billy muttered, nose bleeding. “Are there more on the other side?”

“Yes.”

“Take care of them, don’t let them touch me or see me,” He ordered, watching the guard whip out his keycard and unlock the door.

Heather continued to talk, “Or what about…”

He saw a scientist with red hair first before anything, and his head suddenly hurt like shit.

“... Max?”

A familiar sense of shame and anger filled his body as he watched his guard run into the room with a pistol and start shooting at the scientists and guards alike. He watched the red headed scientist drop dead.

“It’s an ugly world, Billy,” Heather said again. “Make it prettier.”



Skeletons.

It was dark, the cell’s bars were scratched up and rusty, the walls were stained with dried blood. The only light came from his flashlight, shining through the bars onto a terrific sight that made the worms under his skin shake and tremble.

A black, rotten husk of a man. A skeleton with black bleeding down the sides of its cheekbones, pooling onto the solid ground beneath it. It was limp, leaned against the wall as though it was positioned that way in preparation to be put on display. It was a gross sight, and the worst part was that it wasn’t really a skeleton.

He wished it was.

It had flesh left, some on its face, mostly around his body but its eyes remained, wide open, looking ahead blankly. The once tan skin was pale against the blackened goop dripping off its gashes and scars. The once blue eyes were now black, bloodshot but just.. black.

Wet.

That’s what it looked like. Sweat, but it couldn’t be.

He heard a cry from behind him, belonging to Max. El stood next to him, looking away in disgust as Mayfield continued to sob ugly, unable to look away from the corpse and begging for it to not be real.

He felt speechless.

He couldn’t do anything. This was real.

A real corpse, a real feeling, a real person.

He didn’t realize he was on his knees, until the wetness on his cheeks brought him to. The wailing was softened by the beating of his heart. He couldn’t stop it. Only distract himself. Like always.

The bruises surrounding his body felt like nothing. He felt like nothing. Like he was floating. He didn’t know what to do anymore.

Suddenly, light bled into the room from behind him and he saw the shadows of men with guns.

He tried to get Max to move, he remembers screaming at them. El tried to keep the men away, but she was too weak. She was easily thrown into the ground.

He tried so hard to fight back, he remembers his throat hurting like shit. He can recall the burn on his skin and how he felt like he was choking when he saw how lifeless Max looked on the ground after a shot resonated through the air.

In his final moments, he looked back at Billy’s body.

He felt disgusted in himself. It was all his fault.

Another gunshot came. El screamed.

“Steve!”

Screaming, Harrington woke up, hyperventilating as his eyes fought to adjust in the bright lights. He was crying.

He brought his knees up to his chest and started sobbing, burying his nose between the crook of the two and ignoring his snot running down his lips at this point. It should have been okay, but it wasn’t. He wasn’t hurt or bruised, but the phantom pains were there. He didn’t want to return to reality, even if it was probably infinitely more pleasant than that dream, he just didn’t want to think. He just wanted to shut off.

Steve cradled himself on his bed, stained with sweat. He continued sobbing into his knees with trembling shoulders. He hated those dreams. He hated the thought of inevitability. He didn’t want the kids hurt because of him, and…

He was afraid of reality.

Birds chirped outside, it was early in the morning, and the sounds of peace made him cry harder. He was so, so scared of the life outside. Having to return to pretend-smiling, but he’d do it all again if it meant they were safe. But the sunlight he could feel on his skin reminded him he was alive, and he couldn’t stop crying, his throat felt so raspy. It’s okay, it’s okay.

Those kinds of dreams, the ones where the kids die because of him, were not uncommon back then. At the time, they didn’t impact him emotionally or mentally as much because he barely knew the kids, but he did still feel broken from them. Now though, it all hurt a lot more after all they’d been through together. Those kinds of dreams, the one where his only friends, his friends with family, have to have their lives cut short all because of him. Those kinds of dreams break him. He hated how El’s scream became so familiar to his ears, how he can hear Max’s weeping on loop.

The shadows of the past always followed him, and the reminders of what he had now kept him going. Robin, Dustin, El, Max.. fuck, so many of them. They mattered so much to him, and he hated being so worried for them all the time. He knew he was probably not alone in those feelings.

Shakily, Steve moved one of his hands across his chest the best he could and squeezed his shoulder before rubbing up and down as slowly and gently as he could. He tried to focus on his breathing and the warmth of his palm, pretend it was someone else’s. Warm. Like alive. Like living.

That kind of made him cry harder again, but he kept going.

He was crumbling from the inside out, he knew that much. He was falling apart, tearing at the seams, and he didn’t know why. It was like the traumas finally caught up to him, but that feeling of “finally” would return day after day. He thought the dreams had stopped, but they hadn’t.

He imagined his hand was his mom’s.

Goodbye.. goodbye…

Tried leaving the dream behind, tried forgetting it. The warmth was getting warmer, and the touch got softer. The rub was more like a tickle now, but he could pretend that his fingers were smaller and slender. He could pretend that his knees were the crook in his mother’s neck. He could imagine his mother telling him she wasn’t going anywhere, the kids weren’t going anywhere, and that everyone will stay. And that it will be okay. No matter what.

He could almost hear the hum of her voice in his ear, a soft tune of a song hummed like silky blankets covering him with softness and glee and freedom and safety. Could pretend the house was full of life again, his room was back to normal with all of its memories still intact, and his father was just downstairs making dinner and his family was over preparing presents at the tree while his mother rubbed his shoulder. Could comb his own hair and pretend his mother was whispering bittersweet compliments to him like a breeze. His own hair was nice. It was so beautiful. He was okay.

When his sobbing finally calmed down to hiccups and soft whimpering, Steve gently squeezed his shoulder and took a deep breath through his nose, letting it all out back through his mouth and straightening himself.

Gently he peeled his tear-stained shirt off and focused on breathing all throughout it. Head through the hole, arms next. Focus. He felt ticklish, sticky. Sensitive.

He almost glided to the bathroom with how light his steps were in accordance with his thoughts. The rest of his clothes were abandoned on the floor and the warm water hugged him the way his mother used to. Broken, that’s what he was. But with each cut of the shard, bled new motivation. Each wound healed, each scar a reminder of why he was alive now.

He was okay.

The soap cleaned him and the shampoo foamed at his scalp. He tried not to be rough, he wanted to be as gentle as he could with himself, he deserved it. His mom would say that. He deserved it.

Once he was dried, he looked into the foggy mirror and wiped to find his face. His hair was flat but long, longer than it used to be. He couldn’t recognize himself as his mommy’s boy anymore, not her little baby. He was grown now, it wasn’t Christmas anymore.

But he deserved to be happy and okay and fine.

So he was still his momma’s favorite, as far as he was aware.

Gently, his fingers traced around his eye that was once bruised. He trailed it down to his lips, once cut and bled, all the way to his tongue, that he bit too hard countless times for smaller reasons. He admired his teeth, that were white as day, no longer stained with red like it used to be. He brushed his fingers along his knuckles, smiling daisy to himself remembering the fights they’d been through and the things his hands have held. Grateful.

Everything he ever did, he used to do for himself. Now he did for them. Anything to make them happy. Anything for them to be safe.

His fingers stopped at the side of his neck and he remembered the drugs him and Robin were put on. Even if he faced rejection in the end, he found that a win in his books. He made a friend. And she made him happy. No masks, no lies. Only real laughs and shared trauma. He remembers their old uniform at Scoops. Remembers sneaking the kids in.

Wasn’t just making them happy. It was making him happy as well.

He was okay.

A smile rose to Steve’s face, eyes no longer focused on his own reflection. He’s reflected enough.

The phone was never too far away.

They were always there.

For him.

Chapter Text

The familiar strawberry blonde sat on the chair unmoving, the only thing indicating life is his chest moving. Some monitors showed dead bodies, bodies that Billy himself had created with the assist of his newfound powers and controlled guards.

The guards killed themselves once they completed their request, some shooting themselves earlier if they fail a smaller part of it. Billy took note of this. He knew his powers wouldn’t come without some drawbacks. At least he managed to keep Whitehall alive.

Callum had a key near the notch of his belt, lying static on his lap as he was in his deep state of slumber. Still, Hargrove felt weird about it. He already felt conflicted at having started a near massacre in the lab, he was terrified of getting caught but he was even more ashamed by the damage he wrought. The blood around the tips of his fingers served as a reminder for his recklessness and demoralized actions.

He tried not to dwell however. For some reason, satisfaction followed each time red was shed as well. Satisfaction that seemed to have something to do with Heather.

With his less shaky hand, Billy reached around Callum to try and grab the key but something stopped him. Like a barrier, but he couldn’t see it. He felt the whispers again. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand, goosebumps form on his bare, black veiny arms. He didn’t know what he was here for. What he was looking for. He just knew he wanted the key, but what would happen if he really did get out?

Was it all worth it?

Who was he doing it for?

The whispers edged into ringing, directly into his ears. It sent his mind in a spiral of confusion and anger and fear. He didn’t know what he was scared of. It was suffocating, but he felt a sudden rush of dissatisfaction enter his system. Like he hadn’t done enough. Like once he was gone, he left something behind. Something he needed to stop.

No, this isn’t right.

“But it is, Billy. It’s so right,” Heather whispered from behind. He didn’t feel her warm breath on his ears. It sent a shiver down his spine nonetheless.

“I don’t know what to do,” his voice shook, hand hovering just above the key.

When he looked up, there was a coat on the desk. Its belt was still on, leather, and it made Billy tremble with a feeling of uncertainty yet hope.

“Hurt him the way he’s hurt you.”

He hurt me?

“I don’t want to.”

“Billy…”

Her voice got louder, and then all the whispers blasted in his ears. He fell back against the edge of the desk and crumbled into tears on the ground. His back hurt, it hurt so much, but it dulled in comparison to the loud noises. The loud shouts. It was all around him, they all said his name. They were telling him to kill Callum.

Eat him alive, watch him bleed, make him pay, let him cry and beg and plead for his life. All sorts of whispers surrounded him and itched at him. He couldn’t stop listening anymore, now that he’s heard them the temptation moves from the tips of his fingers and spreads throughout his body, taking hold of him.

He knew he had a choice. He should have had a choice.

But when he opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was the belt again, he felt like he never had a choice the moment he’d met Holloway. The fake Holloway.

It wasn’t long before he realized he was already moving onto his feet, hands reaching for the belt the closer he got. He wanted to stop, he just wanted it to end, he didn’t want to listen he just wanted to be normal he just wanted to get out please he didn’t mean to he just wants to see his mommy again he just wants to see Max-

The familiar weight of a belt in his hands made him realize there was only one way to make the voices stop. Then it’d go quiet again. Then he’d be safe and normal and okay again. If he just listened this one time, if he could just shut them up this one time, he’ll remember to ignore them next time. And they’ll leave him alone. They’ll go silent. He will be okay.

He ignored the knowledge that he’d given in to the voices demands before.

“Wake up,” he spat in Callum’s face once he had the belt secure around his neck. “Don’t move your hands or legs.”

Blue eyes opened drowsily before bulging in fear. Billy heard sputters and smelled sweat and tasted blood. He hated the sound, he hated hearing the cries, even if Callum deserved it it disgusted him. It wasn’t him. He didn’t want to do this. He felt like cotton.

The whispers quieted with satisfaction as he pulled on the belt. A cry of an apology wormed its way out of Billy’s throat as he saw fat, ugly tears pour down the man’s face. Is this what he got for wanting control?

He didn’t even have any control over himself.

No.

The belt tightened. Whitehall was turning purple, desperately trying to move his body and catch air.

He had control. Callum’s fate was in his hands. He was in control of his life. He decided his fate. He decided the fate of everyone he ever came into contact with. He was in charge of everything now. This was his choice.

Disgust was replaced with shame, shame morphed into anger, anger morphed into satisfaction when the belt couldn’t go any tighter. He felt a small give-in when he pushed anyways, wanting to go beyond the limits. His eyes couldn’t look away at the purple, already nearly lifeless face of Callum.

Finally, a snap resounded.

The voices left. Billy heard the laugh of Heather. He laughed along. It was over. He was okay. They were gone.

He couldn’t believe he’d done it, but it was done. He could be normal again.

When he let go of the belt, ignoring the indents it left on the inside of his hand as he grabbed the key. He tried not to pay attention to the abnormal way Callum’s head angled itself when it fell to his shoulder. Tried to pretend he couldn’t see where the windpipe had been crushed.

Heather spoke from the doorway, pleased, “Good boy.”

Billy didn’t want to know why it had gotten clearer. Didn’t want to try and understand why she actually felt there now.

The key felt light in his hand, all too soft around the edges and the corners of his vision were dark. His head wasn’t all too clear. He hadn’t used any of his power, he realized. This time, he killed somebody himself. With his own fucking hands.

The dirty blonde looked at his bruised and dirty hands, saw the clean and small key in the middle and couldn’t bring himself to regret anything at this point. It was his fault, anyways.

He just wanted to be normal.

Guards were heard on the other side of the door and Billy put on the coat, tucking the key away but choosing not to use the belt. It made him feel wrong. When the door burst open, five men came in with guns but only one of them used it.

The one furthest at the back felt warmth around his wrist, and then before he could whip around, he was blasting bullets into the other people’s backs.

Billy felt nothing as he ordered the guard to kill himself.



Miss Whitehall was… a surprise, to say the least.

Steve mused as he watched the raven-haired woman obsessively wipe her counter while rambling about how nice it was to have guests over that weren’t family for once. Her voice was trembly, almost paranoid despite having nothing to be scared about. Maybe she felt scared after learning of Callum’s lost daughter. She was dressed in a cute yellow dress with an apron over it all, and yellow gloves to match as she cleaned the kitchen.

“So, how do you know Callum?” She asked suddenly. Harrington fidgeted with his fingers from the dining table and smiled, he didn’t like lying, “A… good friend of mine was best friends with his daughter. I’m sure you know her,” he answered through clenched teeth. Respectfully, he dropped the smile a little at the mention of Emilia.

Whitehall laughed good-heartedly, “Shame,” she sighed while she fixated on the corners of the sink, “I heard Emilia was such a good kid. Was she? I wish I’d gotten to know her, I heard so many good things. Callum doesn’t like talking about her, understandably. I wish he could just open up.” Steve felt warm cover his hand, suddenly. He ignored it.

Whitehall’s little ramble was expected by Steve and he took a big gulp of his apple juice while listening. When she finished, he licked the juice off his lips and sadly smiled. This one was more genuine. “He might open up eventually. It’s hard to lose someone so, uh.. important, to you. Especially when they’re so young.”

She nodded and kept silent as Steve kept talking, “She- uh- Emilia was nice?” He didn’t actually know the answer. “She was very sweet, um, energetic. Smiley,” he giggled mostly to himself. Why was he doing this again? Dustin said it wouldn’t help. He felt warm air on his skin suddenly. Like someone else was there. That’s unimportant, what mattered was why he was here.

Right, because he really, really wanted to make sure the kids were safe.

(and he wanted to feel useful.)

“Was Callum happy?”

He felt sad now.

Her voice had cracked, she sounded desperate, she’d stopped in her cleaning to look Steve in the eyes. She just wanted to know.

He didn’t know if he could answer that. But he wanted to see her smile.

“Yes,” he said without thinking, lighting up when he saw the big smile return to her face, “Yeah, he was really happy.”

“I’m glad,” Whitehall held a clean plate close to her chest in thought. “So, what are you here for?” She finally asked.

Oh, fuck, shit.

“Uh- I uh- I came here, to… check in on your husband. Because I haven’t talked to him in awhile, and I wanted to- uh, see how he was doing?”

“Oh, I see. Well, Callum’s not here. Just me. He’s never here, always working. Keeps the water hot, at least,” she joked. She looked sadder now. In a weird way, Steve related to her loneliness.

“The house must feel space-y without him,” he found himself saying, again without thought. Maybe this was a stretch, he probably shouldn’t have come, he must have been reminding her of her isolation. He felt like an asshole. Coming into somebody’s house, lying, lying again, and then acting like he knows or understands who they are or how they feel.

Strangely though, Whitehall looks at him with such fondness in her eyes. A little bit of surprise as well, shown in her raised brows. She knew what he meant.

“Very.”

Silence took its toll for another few minutes as Steve drank his juice, trying to think of what to say next. He felt relieved at least. She was very kind.

“Where does Callum work? If I may ask.”

Whitehall looked confused for a moment, then chuckled, “Oh, dear. He hasn’t quit his line of work since Emilia, don’t worry. Still a scientist working down at the new lab. Got promoted from the old one the moment he heard of it.”

A scientist, huh.

For that long?

Embarrassment flushed Steve’s cheeks, he at least got away with his carelessness just then. “Where’s the new lab?”

“I think it was being rebuilt on some damaged grounds? But I’m not sure, I’ve never been. He never tells me much, that old stump,” she laughed. She was cleaning again. Steve thought about the warmth earlier, wondering what had happened.

“Well, uh, I think I better go now. My friend and I.. we uh, we’re meeting up. Sorry,” Harrington said, feeling a bit irked.

The raven-haired lady laughed and picked up his empty glass. “No worries, sweetie. You’re always welcome back here whenever you want. Maybe Callum will be home next time.”

For some odd reason, he felt like Callum wouldn’t.

He stood up and gratefully shook her hand, helping put away some of the dishes with her before going over to the door to slip back into his jacket. “Thank you, Miss Whitehall.”

“Please, just call me Cindi.”

Oh, they were already getting friendly. Oh how much he loathed himself right now.

“Thank you for everything, Cindi. Really.”

Cindi smiled as Steve opened the front door, and she quickly took a picture out of a drawer before he could leave and held it out to him.

He felt confused. It was a little girl, blonde, blue eyes. She was in a swimming pool. “What’s this?”

“Maybe your friend would like this picture of Emilia?”

Oh.

“Oh.”

He took the picture out of her hands guiltily.

“Thank you.”

“Anytime, sweetie.”

Behind her, Steve noticed a picture frame on the wall of, presumably, Callum with his ex-wife. She had dirty blonde hair.

Like Billy.

Once Steve was back on the streets, he tried to push aside the temptations to talk with her instead. He already felt guilty enough.

But he recognized her.

She was Robin’s aunt.

God, he was fucked.



Billy found the smell of air refreshing. Was hard to smell it through the blood all around his mouth at this point, but it was freeing. The sky was dark, the stars were covered by clouds much to his displeasure and the area around him was just an unfamiliar forest. There, at least, was a single street. He was glad the section of the lab he was in was connected to the outside. It seemed they were planning on making a room there, but had postponed it, giving him a free exit.

The lab behind him was large, more wide than it was tall. It looked kind of abandoned, vines and moss running down the cracks with familiar blood pooling out of the exit he’d taken. Heather wrapped her arms around him, but he didn’t feel it.

“We’re free, Billy.”

He didn’t like the sound of his name on her tongue.

“What now?” He asked with wide eyes. He should have felt refreshed but he felt unsatisfied. Like it wasn’t over.

The soft caress of the wind broke him out of his trance. He was free, he felt so fucking free.

“Callum’s wife,” Heather said, as though it was so obvious.

A chill ran down his spine again. His blood ran cold.

“What?”

He didn’t want to do it again. He was normal now. He should have been normal now.

“She helped him get away. She knew. She was a monster, too.”

“No, she didn’t. She was manipulated. Forced, she--” “-- Listen to me, Billy. Nobody would notice.”

That was horrible reasoning, still the whispers increased. Threats to her life.

“NO!” Billy shouted into nothingness, looking around frantically for the source of the whispers the way he thought he’d stop when he first heard them. “I’m not hurting anyone anymore. It’s over, Heather, please, let me be normal again. I just want to go home.”

“There is no home, Billy. Only justice now. Imagine if Emilia was your sister?”

He growled and dug his nails into his scalp, tugging at the roots of his already so short hair. “I don’t wanna do it, please don’t make me do it,” he begged.

The whispers kept coming, the threats feeling more like warnings at this point. He could already feel the blood pooling beneath his fingers, could imagine the cherry red spilling from the mouth of whatever Whitehall’s wife looked like. If he remembered, she was a dirty blonde.

“Don’t make me do it,” he whispered, trembling. He fell to his bare knees on the dirty grass. Hugged the coat close to him for warmth, tried to ignore the thrumming in his ears. The drumming of his heart, the brunette in his vision, the voices.

“You would never forgive her if she’d hurt Max. Don’t let her do it again,” Heather said.

He begged, knowing he had nothing to give. He felt so unclean and disgusting and it was all so wrong. He felt shame. He felt like throwing up, even if he hadn’t eaten. Already his vision was getting darker, he was getting so lightheaded from using his powers too much. He’d overdone himself.

Finally, bile rose and a puddle formed on the dirt as Billy threw up black.

It soaked into the ground slowly, he just watched. Darkness dripped from the corners of his lips. He wiped at his nose, there was so much blood. He heaved again, and vomited.

His throat was so dry and hurt so damn much, but he couldn’t stop throwing up. All that came out was black, but he couldn’t tell if it was real or if it was his mind playing tricks on him again. His vision was closing in on him, everything looked static-y.

Billy knew it was bad to use his powers more, but he couldn’t help himself. He squeezed his eyes shut when he fell on the ground and escaped to the better reality. When he found himself at the familiar beach again, he searched for his mom. “Let me see my mom,” he begged Heather, who wasn’t too far from him, smiling cruelly.

Finally a familiar silhouette came into form and Billy ran over, trying hard to crush his own mom in a hug but his hands went through her. He fell to his knees on the sand, at least he was cleaner here, and cried.

“What’s wrong, baby?” His mother cooed. It sounded so static. He was falling apart.

“I’m so sorry, mommy. I’ve done some really bad things. Some bad, bad things. I didn’t want to do it. I swear,” he sobbed on the ground, clutching himself.

“Why would you do them if you didn’t want to? That doesn’t make any sense, Billy,” she laughed gently.

It sounded wrong, he hated it. He looked up and choked, he felt his power slipping. No, he couldn’t fall asleep now. He needed to find somewhere safe. The beach felt like it was laughing at him, it felt disgusting, it felt dehumanizing, it felt distant and out of reach and he didn’t wanna be there anymore. He wanted home. Why wasn’t it home anymore?

The woman before him looked mocking, staring down at him as though he was stupid. Belittling. Eager to leave, to not see him anymore. He felt like it was a trick of his mind, but he felt it. Could feel the shame. He wondered to himself, why would the lab want him if he wasn’t even a wanted child?

I don’t wanna be here anymore.

He closed his eyes and reopened them to the void. This was comforting to him. It had nothing, but him. The water at his toes kept him grounded and he searched for signs of Heather but found none. He had shut her off for now, somehow.

Maybe if I could just…

Blood leaked from his nose more, dripping down to his chin. He ignored it and focused all of his power on looking for somebody. Somebody to distract him. Help him pretend he was normal. Okay. Somebody who wouldn’t remember him. Just anybody. Whoever he could think of. Whoever came to mind first. He wondered briefly how Heather was, the real one, but for some reason couldn’t find her. So he focused his power somewhere else. Tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach at why he couldn’t find Heather. The fake’s brown hair looked darker recently, but maybe that was his vision.

Brown hair.

Before Billy was a brunette, not Heather, but a man. Harrington.

His whole body softened, felt like cotton again, fuzzy. He felt lightweight, lightheaded, like it was okay. It reminded him of when he had nothing to worry about, other than his own dad. When the girls ogled him, when he sweat his dick off in gym and he was able to clean himself afterwards. Showers, clothes, normal things.

Steve was sitting at a table, drinking apple juice, looking at someone. Billy tried to get into his head, try to see who this person was, and to his displeasure he found a familiar woman behind a kitchen counter talking. Callum’s wife.

What was Steve doing?

“A… good friend of mine was best friends with his daughter,” he heard Steve say.

He sighed, Harrington was an awful liar. Billy was amazed he’d gotten away with so much in school.

With his words, though, Billy realized coldly that Steve was talking about Emilia. He was likely looking for someone, maybe him. He wondered..

Gently, so as to not hurt him, scared to ruin him, Billy placed his hand over Steve’s. Blood was filling his own mouth now, but he ignored it. When he closed his eyes, he heard conversations, snippets of life. He couldn’t catch a lot, the connection wasn’t strong, but he saw Max.

Oh, Steve.

You’re looking for me.

That’s all he gathered, and all he needed. Sadly, he opened his eyes and knelt next to Steve. He sighed, admiring him. His heart didn’t beat the way it used to. He was far too hurt to go on.

“If you knew what I’d become… would you still want to find me?” He whispered to nobody.

Hurt filled his chest. Loneliness spread throughout his very being. Longing.

Why was he never allowed to be normal?

Steve giggled to himself, and Billy hated the warmth that nearly overpowered his shame in that moment.

He muttered, “I’m sorry.”

When he looked up, he noticed a picture. It showed Callum’s old wife and him. The whispers returned, gentler this time. As though testing him, seeing if he’d take that plunge.

Seeing if he’d take control.

Looking back at Steve’s smile, Billy stood and ran his fingers down his own jawline to comfort himself. He knew what he had to do.

To keep Max safe. Keep Steve happy.

“I’m so sorry,” he said one last time. Heather giggled from behind.

He had no choice.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Robin, just wanted to tell you that your sweet aunt might be the mom of the girl that went missing and I found this out because I went to Emilia’s dad’s house and lied to his now-wife that I was Emilia’s good friend’s friend and she was really kind about it and made me apple juice but on the wall was a framed picture of the Callum guy and your aunt and they looked pretty happy together so I was wondering if you would let me know where she lives or something so that I could interrogate her instead because I feel like maybe I was getting somewhere and wanna be useful.”

No, that was stupid. She’d get pissed. God, he’s stupid.

Steve ripped the page out and tossed it in the trash. His pen was starting to run out of ink.

“You’re really into that notebook,” Robin spoke while removing her shitty work shirt. She let her hair down finally and stretched her back, satisfied as it popped. “Something interesting?”

Harrington looked up at her, eyes wide, “Uh- no?” He stammered. Clearly, he was lying, but Buckley snorted anyways. She’d settle for that answer. Thank god.

“Okay, well, I’m done for now and I met some girl who really wants to watch a movie with me,” Robin announced. She definitely mentioned that part on purpose. If Steve weren’t so nervous and awkward, he’d feel jealous. Instead, he nodded, looking back down at his notebook. “Uh-uh,” he responded. He was glad she met somebody, he just was very busy.

Robin raised a brow then laughed and pecked Steve on the forehead from across the counter. “Go buck-wild, cowboy,” she joked while leaving. He looked up and watched her close the door behind her and disappear into the night. Groaning internally. God, he hated that line.

It started as a joke, Steve had walked in on Robin dancing to some shitty music he’d never heard of. He originally insulted her moves, but then a boy came in and revealed himself as Robin’s cousin and that he’d taught her those moves. Quickly, Harrington had retracted his prior statements and complimented it instead, praising the boy’s vast intellect and creativity (poorly, as Robin said), and then when the boy had asked to show Steve his moves, Steve all but shut down because he was also pretty drunk and didn’t want to spend any longer at the Buckley residence. When his stupid mind remembered that, he stuttered out a shitty pun, “Go buck-wild, cowboy,” and Robin started howling with laughter. He felt embarrassed.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been that bad a situation, and really, it wasn’t. But then the boy started to talk about a cowboy character he’d made up.

And Steve had to spend the rest of the day listening to that kid while Robin got to sneak out and do her own thing.

God. He was an idiot.

Back to the blank pages, he pondered the many ways he could just ask to see Robin’s aunt subtly. Maybe he could go to Dustin, Dustin might take the news better and even help.

But he’d be disappointed, and probably get upset. So, Steve wasn’t willing to take that route.

He groaned to himself and decided to just reorganize the shelves in his free time. Keith always tried to reaffirm the fact that Steve wasn’t to exit his place from behind the counter for any reason at any time whatsoever unless he was going to the bathroom or his shift was ending, but whenever Keith wasn’t looking, Steve always neglected the self-set rules to flirt with women or mess around with Robin.

It’s not like the rules made much of a difference in the end, they didn’t get a lot of customers unless it was Robin’s time to shine. Which, admittedly, kind of caused Keith to dislike Steve even more, because Buckley had promised that he’d bring in all the hotshots and he, so far, hasn’t done any part of the contract.

Oh well, not his problem.

The shelves were messy, every single item completely misplaced and Steve was surprised nobody had done anything about it but Robin (but she got lazier as the days passed, Keith was really bad at maintenance and guest care). Technically, it was just the three of them most of the time anyways. But still.

Keith tutted disapprovingly behind him as he dusted an isolated part of the shelf off and tried to spread the items evenly across. “What?” Steve asked, irritated.

“They’re not supposed to be there, Steve,” Keith berated. Harrington really hated how he always used his name when he did something “bad”, it was honestly very annoying and at this point Keith was just picking at whatever he could to make Steve look bad or get him one step closer to being “reasonably” fired. “And?” Steve countered.

And, you’re supposed to be behind the counter.”

Fuck.

“Salty ‘cause I’m true? Whatever. I happen to have a date tonight, so I’m going early. Move everything back and get back behind the counter, you’re on thin ice, King Steve,” Keith slowly said. He spoke like a fucking sloth.

“Fine. Whatever,” Steve mumbled. Keith was not pleased.

“What was that?”

God, he loathed him.

“Yes, sir,” he growled.

Keith smiled smugly and nodded approvingly, “Good. And clean up, for extra measure.”

Jesus fucking christ.

Harrington glared daggers into Keith’s back as he watched him leave. He was so, so annoying.

Some time had passed, the brunette had moved everything on the shelves back to the ugly way it was before, and nobody was coming so he decided instead to just clean early on. Even if he had like, maybe an hour left, and the store wasn’t too big, he just wanted to get it over with and have something to do.

The broom was annoying and probably did more harm than it did good, but desperately Steve sweeped at the floor and ignored the harshness of the bristles and paid more attention to the dust and grime.

From the other side of the shelf, Steve heard the door open. Ah, shit. He hoped it was a guest and not Keith coming back early from a probably shitty date with a not-real woman, and crossed his fingers. He wasn’t ready for another fucking lecture or the potential loss of a job.

Nervously, he placed the broom back against the wall and went around the shelf, not yet looking up. The floor was still dirty. He might need to mop, now.

He saw the shoes were not completely ugly like Keith’s, and sighed in relief, speaking up, “Hi, sorry, can I help y--”

What his eyes locked onto was nothing short of what the fuck.

Everything that went through Steve’s mind was confusion.

There, right by the now fully closed door covered in a rich-looking beige coat and freshly-cut dirty blonde hair, blue eyes and a bruise on his cheek-- Billy fucking Hargrove.

He looked clean, weirdly so, but Steve didn’t fail to notice how much skinnier he looked compared to a year ago. How much paler he was, how much more afraid he looked, the bags under his eyes combined with the weird bruises formed around his neck.

“Steve?”

His voice was like candy, oh so sweet and small but so wrong and unhealthy. It cracked in all the wrong ways, but went off Billy’s tongue in all the right tones. It sent a familiar shiver down Steve’s spine and he felt his throat closing up. God, his voice was almost husky.

“Billy?”

They stood there in silence for awhile, shock keeping them in place as they kept their eyes locked until Billy blinked and lightly shook his head. Now, his expression looked darker. He didn’t look so surprised anymore.

“Holy shit,” Steve breathed, he looked like shit now that he’s taken a good look. But his clothes looked new, and his hair was so much shorter. His eyes were the same old blue, but his stance was hunched. His posture reminded Harrington of an animal curling in on itself.

Like.. like a dying animal.

His heart went into overdrive as the thoughts drove him into a panic.

“Billy-- what are you-- what the fuck?” He choked out, tears threatening to fall. Why was he here now? What happened? Was he alive all this time? Was he hiding?

Steve didn’t know what the answer was, but he doubted he’d like any of them.

He closed the short distance and slapped Billy straight across the face, effectively catching the dirty blonde off guard. The red mark was clear on his pale skin, almost making Steve feel guilty if he wasn’t feeling so damn angry.

“Steve, please-” “- Don’t fucking start with me, where have you been? You’re supposed to be dead,” he said with such hurt in his voice he tried to ignore the pain showing in Hargrove’s eyes. “I saw-- I saw you die-- we all saw-- we--”

Steve was hyperventilating, shaking and overwhelmed. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. It was supposed to be slow, a build up, they’d find Billy, get him out, and then that would be that. Or Billy would be dead, and they’d move on, and that would be that. Billy wasn’t supposed to be here in the stupid fucking store looking Steve dead in the eye like he was the one hurting.

This felt wrong, not right, and all at once Steve felt his whole body go into betrayal mode. Was this a lie? Some kind of fucking sick set up by some twisted bastard?

He started pushing at Billy, nearly throwing him into the bikini model cut out as he yelled out nonsense, spluttering words and probably thinking aloud but none of it mattered because Billy fucking Hargrove was here and he wasn’t supposed to be.

Billy took the pushes but kept his feet grounded, hands raised in defense but oh so weakly it pissed Harrington off even more. He threw a punch at Hargrove, half expecting him to fight back, block the hit, anything-

But all he got was the blue-eyed charmer falling backwards onto the shelf and staying weakly on the ground, looking back up at Harrington with a bloody nose and still wide eyes. He looked like he wanted to say something.

Steve so badly wanted him to say something.

To justify something.

To defend himself.

To fight back.

Like they used to.

Something to tell him this was Billy, still. Something to remind him that he should stop, something to prevent him from going further, to calm him. He was just so fucking confused and angry and why did Billy come here of all fucking places?

“Your sister-- god- fucking, Max wanted to save you--” he cried, dropping to his knees and almost ashamed at how easily he broke at the mere sight of the dirty blonde. Dryly, Billy responded, “I know.”

“You fucking-- knew? What? You knew, and you-- and y--” He didn’t know what he was saying anymore, he just felt so angry and so fucking.. alarmed. Scared. What was he going to do? What did Billy want? He hates this.

Steve tried weakly punching Billy again, but this time the other grabbed him by the wrist and spoke softly, “I know,” he repeated. For a moment, Steve saw blood and bodies and white. “I’m so sorry,” Billy said, carefully, but he sounded a little confused. Like he’d seen that too.

Sorry?

“Sorry doesn’t make up for shit,” Steve spat. He ignored the prior image.

He looked up into the blue eyes again, saw they were darker now, glazed over, no light remained in those once bright diamond eyes. Tore him apart, for some reason. He missed the passion. Missed the way he used to talk to him.

“I know.” Again.

Billy looked just as lost as him, brows furrowed, bottom lip caught between his teeth and Steve was kind of hoping he’d do his usual tongue thing again, as another reminder that this was Billy but of course that wouldn’t happen and it made him cry harder.

“What happened?” Steve asked in a croaky voice, wrist still held by Billy’s hand but a lot gentler now.

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

The dirty blonde finally, finally licked his lips in thought and Steve felt some sort of relief flush his features and he was able to breathe a bit again, but he still felt wrong. Betrayed. Confused. Angry. God, the shit Max must have been through and Billy isn’t even trying to find her. And he looks normal, mostly fine, and walks into a fucking store that barely has much to offer to begin with late at night. It was wrong. It was awful. Max didn’t deserve this.

“I just can’t,” Billy said, roughly. “You wouldn’t like it.”

“Are you staying?” he couldn’t help but ask, softer this time.

Hurt flashed on Billy’s features for just a moment. Finally, Steve felt like it was a human he was speaking to. Maybe it really was Billy.

“No.”

His heart stopped.

Billy let go of Steve’s wrist and he helped himself up, dusting his coat before walking to the door. “Don’t look for me,” he growled suddenly. When Steve looked up at him from the dirty floor, Billy looked sinister, angry, wrong.

He knew it was probably desperate thinking, but he could have sworn Hargrove softened when he saw Steve frown deeper.

With the door now opened, Billy ducked his head and speed walked out, leaving Harrington on the ground.

Just as lost as he was before.

So his efforts were useless now too, huh.

Always the confused one.

Always the last thought on someone’s mind.

“Don’t look for me.”

Billy’s words echoed through his own mind and he grimaced. He didn’t want to. He didn’t.. didn’t fucking care about his game of charades. He wasn’t up for finding out whether he was alive or dead and now he knows and now that he does he has no reason to continue. He can tell the others and get it over with.

Fuck Hargrove. He was fine.

Despite all these growing thoughts of anger, Steve still laid there on the ground, eyes distantly focused on the door as though something would happen. His heart was still pounding, never calming. He was still angry.

But he was so sad too. When Billy’s hand had been around his wrist, it felt cold.

It was such a weak grip.

He overreacted.

He screwed up.

He over thought it, he overlooked all the more important finer details in favor of his own confusion and idea of how things should be and he hated himself all the more for it.

Tears were streaming down his face again, thinking of how much of a fuck up he was. He hated himself. So damn much. What would he tell Max?

What could he tell El?

Suddenly, the door opened again and in came a smaller figure. It was Max. Convenient, but scary. He didn’t want her to see him like this.

He just felt too weak to say or do anything. Even his mouth was still open.

“Steve?” She looked surprised at him, ran over and shook his shoulders. He responded only with closing his mouth, looking at her. His tongue felt dry.

“What happened? Robin asked me to check in on…” Max trailed off as Steve brought her into a tight hug, arms curled around her waist as he sobbed into her shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry, I messed up.”

His mind drifted back to the blood and the bodies that came forward earlier, and he hiccuped, “I saw Billy.”

Max stiffened in his grasp and pulled back, looking up at him seriously. “What?”

“And he-- he was pale.”

“Steve,” she warned.

“I wasn’t dreaming, Max. He was here. And he… cut his hair, like you did. But shorter.” Steve didn’t know what he was saying, the importance of any of this information. It was like he was trying to recall Billy as just being Billy, trying to pretend it wasn’t a different person he was looking at.

Max spoke in a low tone, “Steve, I--” “-- I’m not joking, Max! And I…”

Should he say this?

But when he looked back into Max’s eyes, he saw a glimmer of hope. Saw the opportunity to be useful.

The possibility that he could help her smile again.

He recalled the flash of white. Tenderly brushed his fingers along his own wrist where Billy had held it.

“... I think he has powers.”

Chapter Text

Max paced around the room, frustrated. El played with Mike’s hands for comfort as Joyce and Jonathan finished the rest of the snacks. Nancy was standing next to the couch, concern written all over her features while she decided the floor was an important thing to look at. Lucas was trying to calm Mayfield down as Dustin was just talking his mouth off. Erica wasn’t able to come today, she was having a sleepover.

Robin, Will, and Steve were sitting on the couch awkwardly.

“So, what, Billy just walked in and you started crying and punched him and then he left?” Henderson checked, clearly amused but also in disbelief.

“I yelled. Crying’s for wimps,” Harrington spoke in defense, “- and, no, he didn’t just leave, he said to not look for him.”

“And he has powers?” Nancy said. Steve nodded slowly, “He grabbed my wrist and I saw like, three dead bodies and blood. And like, lights.”

El cautiously piped in, “Did he do that?”

“Uh, I’d hope not. I didn’t see.. him doing anything, just the bodies. Don’t even know if it was his perspective, really?”

The redhead in the middle of the room groaned, “So he’s alive, he’s free, has powers, and we have no fucking clue as to where he’s gone now?” She spat, angry.

Steve felt bad. He let him go.

“Sorry.”

Max softened a little and slapped Lucas lightly on the shoulder, “I need to go to the restroom,” she announced. “Oh, okay,” Lucas responded, lost.

She grabbed him by the arm and dragged him with her out of the room, much to his shocked and confused protests.

Dustin stared Steve dead in the eye. “How did he know you were looking for him? And how was he sure?”

The older of the two shifted nervously in his seat, feeling sweat gather at his back. “I dunno,” he mumbled like a baby.

“Steve.” Nancy pushed.

“Okay-- okay, well, maybe he heard Max talking about looking into it. But--” he cut himself off, “-uh, yeah, that’s it. Maybe he heard.”

Next to him, Robin snorted. “This isn’t very convincing, Stevie.”

El looked at Steve curiously, eyes wide and brows raised. Even if she didn’t realize it, she herself was pushing for an answer as well.

Groaning, Steve raised his arms suddenly, making Will jump next to him, “Okay! Fine!” He shouted, catching Joyce and Jonathan’s attention, “I may or may not have went and visited Callum’s wife.”

“Liz?” Robin said incredulously. Dustin scoffed in offense.

“No, actually, uh, his current wife. She’s very kind. I didn’t know where Liz was. But I know who Liz is now.”

“What do you mean know who Liz is now?” Dustin asked suspiciously.

“W-well, um…”

Steve scratched the back of his head and looked around the room stupidly. His eyes landed on Robin and he gently placed his hand on her shoulder, gesturing to her hair.

“I saw a picture of a lady and Callum on a wall. And, she had blonde hair.”

“Okay?” Dustin’s eyes narrowed.

“Okay, and, uh… shesrobinsaunt…” his voice trailed off into a mumble. The room fell into a tense silence, everybody staring at Steve. “Steve,” Nancy warned.

Harrington cleared his throat finally and looked pointedly away from Robin, “She’s Robin’s aunt.”

“What?” Buckley stood, “No fucking way, dingus. Are you sure?”

Everyone looked confused, surprised, but mostly confused. Joyce clapped her hands to try and dissuade some of the tension. “Okay, wait, so-- this-- this Emilia girl, is Robin’s cousin?”

“Oh that’s great to hear,” sarcasm laced Robin’s voice. She crossed her arms and glared at Steve, breathing quickened.

“Listen- I know it sounds messed up, and believe me it is, but yeah, it’s true, and I think that maybe we should shoot our shot and try and see if we can find anything from her!” Steve stood up as well.

“That’s my aunt, Steve, and if that’s my cousin then that’s even more fucked up! Which aunt is it, even?”

“Aunt Stacy?” He awkwardly said, brows knit together.

Aunt Stacy? Are you serious? She’s kind of psycho, Harrington,” Robin tried to sound like she was fine, but she sounded beyond pissed.

“That would explain a lot though! Maybe she knows something we don’t know?” He countered unsurely.

Dustin stepped between the two, a little confused, “I hate to admit it but he’s got a point. This might be a good lead what with El’s struggles at the moment and all,” El visibly darkened at this and Mike held her closer to him, “- but seriously Steve? We should have been in this together! We said we wouldn’t go to Callum!”

Oh, shoot. He was right.

“Listen. I’m really sorry, I am, but I just--” “Just what?” Robin snapped.

“I just.. wanted to be useful,” his voice softened.

The dirty blonde laughed dryly and nodded at him, “Well I’d hope you are.”

“I need some time to process this,” she softened after a moment. And with that, Buckley left the cabin.

Steve felt really bad.

For the rest of the gathering, Max and Lucas were having some sort of intervention while Mike tried to help El with regaining her strength. Steve didn’t know where Joyce and Jonathan went, but assumed they were in the kitchen.

Nancy and Will left early, understandably, and Harrington just generally felt like a dick until it was too late in the night and everyone had to head home. Dustin had kind of ditched Steve that party as well, choosing to leave early with Will.

Little to no progress was made.

Gently, Steve closed his front door behind him. He took a good look at the shoes, trying to see if there were any new pairs to show him that his parents were home for once.

Of course, the answer was always no.

He tried calling Robin, waiting by the phone for countless hours before coming back to reality and setting the phone back. It was just absent minded dialing until midnight, he was lost again.

His room felt sadder to him, even if it hadn’t changed too much. He felt all too lonely without Buckley now. Lonelier than he was used to.

The pictures grimly reminded him of his stupid decisions. Any one with Dustin giving him flashbacks to the disappointment in his voice when he called Steve out on doing something without them.

God, for just a moment, he wished he was happy.

He hated coming home to an empty house every day, hated how isolated he felt without Robin and how even after the good days, tears were inevitable by the end of the week. The tears slimmed down, only used when there were nightmares. But sometimes he couldn’t help it, despite how much he’d numbed to that feeling of being alone.

When he sat on his bed, he thought of the stars.

I believe that we’re someday going to find our way.

His mom had a nice voice.

Didn’t provide him comfort as much as it used to. The memories served as reminders of what he never could have now. But she always believed it would work out. Always believed in the good things. Just… Steve thinks that she was living her best without him. All of her ideas and dreams of happiness were never had with him in the picture. And it stayed that way for her. She got her happiness.

Steve?

Billy had a sweet voice. Steve didn’t like how unfamiliar Hargrove had sounded saying it, how he looked almost confused putting that name to light. Like he was testing it. He wondered if Billy had an idea of a good day or life, too.

Sometimes all our dreams just don’t come true.

Steve doesn’t know what his definition of a good day or life would be. Doesn’t know his own dreams. Maybe with a girl, but no girl’s ever liked him back and why should they?

Maybe with a guy.

But who’d like him?

Oh, how he longed for a future.

To be normal.

But he was normal, wasn’t he? Just not normal enough.

Or maybe he was too normal.

He doesn’t know what about this life he deserved. He deserved the beatings, the bruises, the unreciprocated feelings. But he doesn’t deserve the friends, the care, or the breathing.

He was probably supposed to die a long time ago. Something just saved him and pulled him back from it.

What a grim thought.

Maybe in some other alternate timeline, he was happy. And had somebody. And didn’t have to worry about death, the Upside Down, anything. Just live life the way it was intended. At least one version of him was happy.

A part of him will probably always be waiting.

For what, he doesn’t know.

He remembers thinking he’d have kids with his highschool sweetheart. Recalls telling himself how he’d tell them stories of his mom or his many adventures. Of course, all of those adventures now dulled in comparison to his whole fucking life.

Billy was probably some adventure to him before all this bullshit.

Even if it was negative attention, it gave his life some conflict. Some interest.

Combined with the sexually (or maybe more? he didn’t know) piqued interest by the leather-clad man, his life was a lot more one sided before that.

Before that, he was just some jock. Some asshole. Some dickhead who needed some sense beaten into him by a human.

And Billy was some jock as well. Some asshole. Some dickhead that already got some sense beaten into him by a monster of a human.

And Billy was a pretty piece of shit. A stupidly handsome kind of fucked up. A thunder so loud in the distance but lighting up the dark skies with its dwindling presence.

He was flawed. Just like Steve.

But Steve got to prove himself, or try to. He got to care for people. He had the opportunity to become a better person, and he did. And he has an amazing set of friends, two best friends he wouldn’t trade for the world, and…

He already had his life planned out for him by his dad. But his life became all kinds of jagged and better from the kids and Nancy and Robin.

He had his arc.

He should have been the one to die (or, at least, nearly) instead.

Not Billy.

Because Billy was a messed up kind of person, fucked in the head with the wrong definition of love carved into his cheek. Because Billy was a shitty kind of person, but he was only shitty because he was fed lies his whole life after his mom and she never came back for him. He was left to fend for himself, and he did it the only way he was taught how.

Force, brutal fucking force. Angrily. Stupidly. Carelessly.

But he didn’t deserve to be cut so short.

Because Billy was all kinds of fucked. But he could be different. He was still so capable of being molded into something better. He was still so young. Max could have shown him the kind of love he never thought he deserved. Steve could have.. maybe he could have given Billy the kind of friendship he never thought was real. And teach him to let down his guards. Retell him the ways of life the way he was shown after meeting all these kids.

Patiently, very fucking patiently. And carefully, lovingly, and understandingly.

The way Billy fucking deserves it.

The moonlight shone on the crumpled sheets of Steve’s bed as he held it close to him. Billy didn’t deserve to be forgotten or loathed or lost. He deserved to be fucking found.

He sat up, huffing through his nose determinedly before getting on his feet and making his way to the small wall of pictures. His fingers knew where the photo was, even if he didn’t want to know why.

Once they took out that familiar photo of Billy, the only one he’s ever had, Steve laid it on his bedside table and pinned it beneath a stapler as though it’d fly away if it wasn’t weighed down.

Gently, he readjusted himself in bed and stared at the picture. He’ll see Stacy first.

And if Stacy can’t do it, hopefully this picture could help El somehow.

Just fucking maybe.



Steve stood by the dark chocolate door, ringing the bell repeatedly, impatiently. He needed to find something.

Dustin stretched besides him, yawning. “So we’re doing this without Robin?”

“Yeah, she won’t pick up any of my calls. Why was Stacy’s name Liz anyways?”

“Probably to keep her name private or something, we didn’t search that deep. I mean, if she’s as paranoid as Robin says she is, then…”

Harrington nodded, totally getting it but not at all. “Uhuh.”

A few more minutes of no response. “I’m gonna ring it again,” Steve announced before practically smashing the bell.

“Jesus, dude, cool it!” Dustin laughed.

It was pleasant to hear him laughing again. Thank God they were okay. Speaking of..

“Hey, by the way… uh, sorry. For trying to do something without you guys. That was stupid of me.”

Dustin seemed pleased by this, shrugging, “It’s fine. At least you weren’t hurt. I’m glad you told me about today, just.. don’t do it again,” his voice was genuine.

Steve smiled then groaned, “Uuuughh, is she even home?”

“Dude, just--” Henderson slapped the bell again and they both burst into laughter. It was a stupid moment, but it was their stupid moment.

“Hang on, let me try something,” Harrington stretched his arms swiftly then wrapped his fingers around the knob. He twisted it.

The door opened.

“Oh.”

They both looked at each other, at first amused but then shifting into synchronized concern. “Why is it open?” Dustin voiced their thoughts.

“I don’t know,” Steve responded, opening the door wider.

When they walked in, Steve shouted carefully in the one story house, knowing it should reach whoever’s home, “Aunt Stacy! It’s Steve Harrington!”

“Idiot, she could just have forgotten to lock her door.” “I dunno, man, she’s really paranoid. She triple locks her door.”

And to emphasize his point, Steve closed the door behind him to reveal that it did, in fact, have three locks. More than, actually. “See?”

“Uh, they’re totally broken dude.”

Steve’s eyes widened, “What?” He turned around and saw that they were, in fact, broken. Dented, actually. One of them was ripped off completely.

He looked back at Dustin and spoke in a low voice, “Weapon.”

Nodding, the younger of the two scurried off into the living room while Steve began making his way to the master bedroom. Admittedly, the hallways were a bit cramped, it was hard for Steve to navigate carefully without bumping into a weirdly placed table or two, but he’d been here before. The tables were nothing new. They were fine.

What was new, was the wooden door with a hole in it. Most notably, a hole the size of a fucking fist.

Under his breath, he mumbled, “Oh no.”

Sweat dripped down his forehead in clumps, fear rising with every step closer to the gaping door. His heart rate picked up at the disgusting smell, the smell that felt too familiar for some reason and he gagged.

One gentle push and the door was fully opened with a deafening creak.

Steve’s blood ran cold.

On the floor right next to the bed was a familiar blonde. Aunt Stacy.

The sheets were bloodied and the room was a mess. A red knife laid abandoned near her body. Her whole back was facing Harrington, dress crumpled up as though it got caught on something on her way trying to get away from something.

A body pushed into his, “Hey, I got a--”

The sound of a kitchen knife falling to the ground. Steve had whipped around and covered Dustin’s eyes, shielding him from the view with his body. “She’s-- she’s fucking--” Dustin hyperventilated, “Holy shit!”

“I know, I know, we have to tell Robi--” Steve cut himself off when he heard a car outside. “Shit!”

He grabbed Dustin and ran to the backdoor, pulling him closer when he looked behind to spare a closer look at the scene before them.

The backdoor’s lock was bloody, but thankfully Steve didn’t need to touch it as it was already unlocked beforehand. He ignored the thought of who that blood might belong to and where they might be heading with this, hated how fresh it looked, and slipped through the backdoor with Henderson.

Closing the door behind them afraid to get caught by Robin or something, he ran to the fence and pulled himself up and over. “Uh, Harrington, what the fuck?” Dustin whisper-yelled.

“Well I’m sorry, do you have any better plans?”

Begrudgingly, Dustin took Steve’s hand to lift him up and followed him behind a tree.

They breathed for a moment, hearing sounds coming from the house.

“Holy shit, she’s dead,” Steve spoke first.

“And holy shit, who’s here?” Dustin offered second.

They looked at each other for a moment, seemingly coming to a decision and before they knew it, they were peering from around the tree through the chain link fence.

Two armed men came through the backdoor, looking around thoroughly and just barely missing the two boys behind the tree.

“Who are they?” Steve whispered. Dustin narrowed his eyes, “This is suspicious as fuck dude, I don’t know.”

The guys spoke to each other and laughed for a moment. Steve tried to get a better look but slipped on a rock and immediately, the guards snapped to the sound. Before they could investigate any further, a yell came from within the house.

Dustin let out a breath of relief.

“Dude, do you think they’re from..?”

Henderson looked at Steve confused, and the older just waited for him to complete his question.

“From what, Steve, I’m not a mind reader.”

“Oh- uh, do you think they’re from the lab?”

Dustin considered it for a moment then looked back at the house, “But it looked like a standard A-level murder scene we walked in on. Nothing inhuman.”

“Maybe? But Aunt Stacy was always paranoid, was married to Callum, I mean… it’s a little too convenient, y’know? And why would they be here so conveniently right after? Jesus, dude, I’m banking on it being something a lot bigger than it looks.”

The two seemed to come to a mutual agreement after that, and Steve straightened his back, “We should tell the others. I have a picture of Billy, maybe El could make use of that. Or try to, like she used to. Somehow.”

“Why do you have a picture of-- you know what, okay, fine. I don’t see any better option,” Dustin raised a brow despite this disregard, and grabbed a rock. Steve looked at him confused.

“For defense, just in case they come out here while we’re trying to get out.”

“That won’t even diffuse a situation the slightest when it comes to men with guns, but okay.”

Despite his indifference, Steve grabbed a rock as well.

God, I hope Robin is okay after all this.

He wondered for the briefest of moments if Billy had anything to do with this.