“You sure you won’t get cold?”
Billy sighed and rolled his eyes in Harrington’s direction, opened the window with more force than necessary. The glass rattled in the frame and a few flakes of rust fell onto the carpet. “I’ll be just fine, Harrington.”
A half-truth. He would get cold, but he could handle it for the time it took to smoke a cigarette. Harrington being so, so mothering, all the damn time had Billy that close to snapping at him. Though it wasn’t the fact that he was acting that way that made Billy snippy, oh no. Things would never be that easy. It was that he coveted the way Harrington fussed over him; liked the attentive glances, liked the way Harrington’s hand twitched and hovered over Billy’s shoulder when the cold made his breath tickle and catch in his lungs and his scars ache. And that pissed him off a little, how much he needed it. So he flicked half-assed irritated comments Harrington’s way to hide his unreasonable fear that he’d stop, but he couldn’t snap at him for real. Had to chew over the mean things he might have said but not meant and keep his mouth shut, because he couldn’t lose the way Harrington looked at him like he mattered. All of which was just a long way of saying that Billy was… kinda fucked.
It’d struck him a while back how similar it was to the way he’d caught Harrington looking at him sometimes after he’d rearranged his face last November; cautious and frowning. At the time he’d thought Harrington was worried he might hit him again, start a fight out of nothing and put more bruises on that pretty face, and had privately sneered over it. Sometimes not so privately, too. But now he’d figured it out he knew better – Harrington had been afraid for him, not of him.
“Okay man,” Harrington raised a hand and a disbelieving eyebrow in defence, “if you say so.”
Billy lit his cigarette, leant on the window frame. He wasn’t supposed to smoke any more, not really, after that thing had punched a hole through his chest. Most of the time he stuck to it. Mrs Byers had even said she’d try to quit with him in support, but he didn’t know how good she was doing. And Max had become an expert at shoving a lollipop under his nose whenever she sensed he had a craving, little shit. Harrington gave him a look, mouth tight, but didn’t say anything. Billy blew smoke in his face.
He scrunched up his nose and made a show of waving the smoke away. “Nice.”
Billy just grinned and turned his attention to the sky. The chief’s trailer was a little ways out of town, away from all the stares and whispers that had followed Billy after Starcourt. Since Chief Hopper had seemed to decide life was too short for fucking around after his almost-death in the underbelly of the mall, he’d moved himself and El in with the Byers the second the worst of the aftermath had blown over. Which had left his old trailer by the lake empty. And there’d been no way Billy was going to walk back into that house on Cherry Road. So, somehow… it was his. His shit in the cupboards and food he’d bought himself in the crappy fridge. A terrible ashtray with Hawkins written on it in purple that El had presented him with in the hospital. To remind him they both had a home and a family, or whatever mushy bullshit he’d had to pretend didn’t cut him to the core. Paper snowflakes courtesy of her and Maxine were still strung up along the walls of the trailer, even though Christmas had long gone by. He didn’t want to throw them out.
It was far enough out of town that he could see the stars. Not that Hawkins’ main drag threw out as much light as the towns and cities did back home, but whatever. The night was cold and clear, cold enough that Harrington’s breath misted, and mixed alongside Billy’s cigarette smoke. He smelt of laundry detergent, and Billy wanted to press his nose into the warmth under his jaw. They were both hanging half out the window, looking up at the spray of silver stars across the night. Or rather, Billy was. He could feel Harrington’s eye on him, careful and disapproving, each time he raised the cigarette to his mouth. All it achieved was to make him want to make more of a show out of it than he already was. To shift his despite-it-all-best-friend’s attention away from his illicit smoking, Billy started talkin’. It was what he did best.
“You see those stars up there, Harrington?” he said, pointed with his half-gone cigarette up to the sky.
“Yeah, you’ll have to be more specific man,” he said, pushing his hair back like that would help him see more clearly. Billy watched his long fingers curl and settle into his dark hair. “They all look the same to me.”
“Jesus.” Billy sighed, hard out through his nose, just to make a point of how dense Harrington was being. “That little group right there, that looks kinda like a pan?”
“Uh,” he hesitated, and Billy looked over to see him squinting up at the stars, mouth dropped open a little as he searched, “I think so, yeah.”
“That’s Ursa Major.”
Billy snorted. “Right. The Big Dipper?”
“Oh. Yeah,” he perked up a little, “I’ve heard of that.”
“Cool. Means the Great Bear.”
“Doesn’t look much like a bear to me,” Harrington was still frowning up at the stars like they might spontaneously rearrange themselves into a flawless image of Smokey Bear.
“Guess not,” Billy said. “You wanna hear the damn story or not?”
“There was this chick, Callisto,” he said, “a nymph of Artemis, goddess of the hunt.” He’d always privately thought it seemed like Callisto wanted a little more than to be best gal pals with the goddess, but he wasn’t sure if Harrington was ready for that minor speculation just yet. “And she’s beautiful and shit, because it’s Greek myth, so everyone’s a ten, right?”
“So Zeus goes after her even though she’s made a promise of chastity to Artemis and even though she’s not into it, cos he’s kinda a dick like that y’know? Disguises himself as Artemis to get into her pants. Only Zeus’ wife is pissed about it, so she turns Callisto into a bear. And her own son’s about to stick a spear in her out of grief, but Zeus turns him into a bear too before he can follow through. Then I guess he feels kinda bad and puts them both up in the stars.”
“That’s… kinda a bummer.”
“Yep,” Billy flicked the end of the cigarette onto the damp ground, “most of ‘em are.”
“Couldn’t he have just turned them back into people,” Harrington frowned, and picked at the rust around the window frame, “instead of turning them into stars?”
Billy shrugged. “You’d think.”
“What’s that one?” Harrington pointed up another group of stars.
“Andromeda,” said Billy.
“And that one?”
Billy could recite the stories in his sleep. Which was lucky, because he was too busy watching Harrington to pay much attention to anything else. The starlight suited him; all chilled fingers on Billy’s shoulder and cheeks flushed with cold as he pointed out each group of stars and asked him what they meant. All of his attention on Billy like that made him want to cry and smile and throw something all at once. And any of those things would no doubt earn him that look from Harrington, the half-fierce half-fearful frown. But he didn’t give into any of them, just rattled off stories about goddesses and trickery and people turned to animals, and kept his gaze fixed on the stars.
“You’re so smart,” Steve said when Billy was done and had run out of options other than meeting his eye. He’d said it quietly, eyes all big and bright with starlight, and like it was something he’d given some thought.
“Nah,” Billy denied it even though he knew it was sort of true, and with none of the bluster and brashness and smirking pride he might have before. “Not like that kinda shit’s any use to anyone.”
“No!” Steve said with a surprising amount of conviction, so forceful after their quiet talking that it caught Billy off guard, fingers curled tight on the window frame as he waited for what Steve was going to follow it up with. “It’s beautiful, Billy. You’re beautiful, I – “ he cut himself off, biting his lip like he wanted to eat the words back in again, but not embarrassed, not uncertain. He looked like he’d meant it, and Billy was powerless to do much in the wake of all that hope other than hold his breath and pray Steve kept talking.
And they’d been leaning close to each other anyway, shoulders bumping while Steve pointed out each cluster of stars for Billy to name, but now he turned to face Billy properly, their faces close and noses almost touching.
He said it against Billy’s mouth, not quite a kiss.
“And smart,” with a quick press of lips, and Billy sucked in a sharp breath.
“And brave,” and Steve’s voice had gone deep and just a tiny bit wobbly, “so brave Billy,” and the kiss was still short, too short, but a proper kiss all the same, wet and soft and the briefest press of tongue. Billy thought he might fracture, like a mirror that’d been punched, hairline cracks spiderwebbing over his whole body, and the slightest nudge might send him splintering.
“And you’re good Billy,” another kiss, one hand light on Billy’s hip and the other on his jaw, cold fingertips in his hair, “so good.” And the praise coming from Steve, as few words as it may have been, made something deep in Billy shift, a warm jolt in his belly and a groan in his throat as he melted and hauled Steve in for a proper kiss.
And Steve let him. Billy could feel his smile break out against his lips, the briefest moment before he opened up his mouth and let Billy kiss him deeper. Let him bundle Steve up against the trailer wall, press messy kisses to his mouth and throat and jaw, whine in frustration and sheer joyous relief that it was happening. Steve’s hand rubbed soft at the back of his neck, and he smelt like Polo and laundry detergent and the pizza he’d brought over after work. It had been a long time since he’d felt safe, felt loved. Longer than he wanted to think about. But he did right then, stars above them across miles of clear Indiana sky, and the boy he liked, liked him back.