The pool is not an ideal environment for the host. There is required exposure to heat and sun. The covering of skin is gathering too much attention. Digging into the host’s brain, into the memories, this is an occupation usually requiring minimal clothing. The amount of surface area that it would reveal to the burning sunlight is not an acceptable risk.
The host had to breach the safety of the shelter today, with poor results. The overlay had to be removed, exposing us to the sun. The host’s superior was displeased with the delay caused by the removal. The paltry protection was not worth the attention drawn by the disruption.
The occupation is not sustainable.
Billy is thinking of quitting his lifeguard gig. He’s just not all that sure why he’s considering it. Is it a dream job? No. Obviously. It’s a fucking swimming pool in Hawkins, Indiana. He should be keeping idiots from drowning in the Pacific fucking Ocean, not telling that Wheeler kid to stop running for the fiftieth goddamn time.
It’s a damn sight better than the arcade, though. Or the fucking video store, or one of the hundred shitty places in the mall. What’s his big plan, go scoop ice cream with Harrington? He’s getting sun, he’s got hot women in swimming suits everywhere, and he can really fuck up someone’s summer if he has a mind to.
So he’s not sure why he suddenly keeps thinking he should quit.
That being said... a few days off might be in order. Maybe he’s getting a little too much sun, or maybe he got a little more banged up than he thought in that car wreck, because he just feels... tired a lot. A lot. The shitty full-length cover-up doesn’t seem to make a difference. Fucking thing just slowed him down yesterday when some stupid kid smashed his head on the side of the pool and got disoriented. According to his boss, someone could have drowned in the time it took him to get it off. Pointing out that the kid was in 3 feet of water and holding onto the side of the pool didn’t seem to matter. One of those ’principle’ things.
And for all that trouble, it was still fucking useless. A few minutes out in the sun and he felt like shit the rest of the day. Like someone wrung him out looking for water. He went home and slept for 14 hours straight.
Billy sighs and rubs his forehead, then replaces his hat. Maybe he needs some time off. But that’s not gonna be today, or tomorrow because the schedule for this week is already done.
The pool is a poor environment.
“Quit fucking waxing poetic,” he grumbles at himself, shoving open the door to the 7-Eleven and ducking past some kid looking at the Hostess cakes like he’s making hard life choices. The cold air inside hits him in the face, improving his mood instantly. He makes a beeline for the back of the store and yanks one of the doors open. There’s a slight pop from the broken suction, then the cold air pours out and wafts over his body, leeching through the thin material of the cover. He closes his eyes.
“—the goddamn door!!”
Billy opens his eyes. His skin feels slightly numb from the cold, and there’s a low cloud of cold mist hanging around his ankles and the dirty linoleum floor.
Goddamn it. He went Away again. Everything feels kind of sluggish when he comes back from doing that. He turns his head and sees some greasy kid at the end of the aisle waving his arms as he comes towards him.
“—gonna let everything fucking melt! Are you strung out or some shit? Are you—”
Billy grabs the kid by the front of his orange and white polo, and hauls him around. Uses his body to slam into the freezer door and make it snap shut, then puts his back to the door and holds it here. His brain is kind of foggy on what he plans to do from there.
Obviously this little shithead is annoying. How dare he threaten us? Should be removed.
Billy is late for work. He doesn’t have time for this bullshit. Jesus, have some self control, Hargrove. If you kill every idiot in this town who’s annoying, you might as well just move because it’s fucking quicker.
“Sorry about that,” he says flatly. Not sorry at all. He drops the kid and steps around him. Why the hell is he even hanging out around the bagged ice? He leaves the kid spluttering and trying to smooth out his polo while Billy grabs a bottle of orange juice from the fridge section and fills a cup with ice from the soda machine. The register is empty, so he looks back at the freezer and gestures the kid to the front of the store, raising his eyebrows.
“S-screw that,” the kid sputters. He yanks something off his shirt and it clatters on the floor. “They don’t pay me enough to deal with psychos.” He skids for two steps in the small puddle that formed on the floor outside the freezer, shoes squeaking against the floor as he runs out of the store.
Billy watches him go. He’s getting later for work but he still steps back into the store, stopping at the thing the not-a-cashier-anymore threw down. He stops when it’s by the edge of his sneaker. A name tag in a plastic sleeve, the pin in the back bent from being removed too quickly. Trevor.
It’s amusing. Billy has no idea why it’s amusing, and he shakes his head to clear it. Now he’s really fucking late for work and he needs to go. He leaves the store, and the orange juice is on the house today. Price of hiring shitty employees, he guesses.
An employee’s servitude is contractual, not indentured. It is possible to forfeit these duties with little in the way of consequences. This idea is new. The prospects it introduces are promising. The host can simply cease employment with the pool. The host cannot be without employment entirely due to a social obligation handed down by the superior male in the family unit to which the host belongs. To blend in and avoid unnecessary friction, the host must obtain a new form of employment.
There is a plethora of options, if the host’s consciousness is any indication. Plenty of places where other humans are performing a service. Many of them indoors. Many require no sun exposure.
The host has a particularly large number of thoughts involving a confection stored and served in a frozen form. A small shopping space inside a larger shopping space. Air conditioners. Walls. And a bonus of very large freezers.
Ideal. This will be the new employment space for the host.
Billy has no fucking idea why he’s got a Scoops Ahoy uniform hanging on the back of his door. He knows he quit the job at the pool, and he remembers filling out the application and charming some middle-aged woman named Lauren through the interview. He even remembers thinking that the boat motif was so stupid for a mall in a shitty little land-locked town.
So he knows how he got the job. He just doesn’t know why. That part is missing. He doesn’t want to serve ice cream. Or be nice to kids. Or deal with moms when they’re with their stupid kids and husbands. The only possible point of interest is maybe the jazzercise place upstairs.
As soon as he puts on the stupid uniform, he confirms that no, he will not be going anywhere near the jazzercise class. He will be staying far away from anyone he ever hopes to even come close to fucking.
Billy is made for swimming trunks, not for shorts. That’s an important difference. The shorts are ugly but fine until he puts on the goddamn shirt, and then it gets progressively worse with every layer. Shorts over socks, the oversized collar, the bandana… thing. Even doing his hair, adding sunglasses… literally nothing makes it any better. It looks like a costume on someone too old to trick-or-treat, amusing and pathetic all at once.
Billy gives up and throws his leather jacket over the whole thing. He’s gonna go in, but only because Neil is expecting him to go somewhere during the day. But he’s quitting and finding a new job. Period.
The cold is glorious. The entire enclosure rumbles with the machines that re-circulate the chilled air and make the fetid heat outside a minor inconvenience for only the duration of the trip from car to building. It is bliss.
The shop where the host is now employed is colder still, the lower temperature apparently necessary for the serving of the particular confection there. There are whole surfaces where cold emanates. This will be ideal. The host will remain here as often as possible.
The other workers are young and strong. Not as strong as the host, but not to be wasted either. More bodies are useful. It is time to begin to build.
“You’re supposed to tie that.” Steve gestures at the red tails flapping loosely around Billy’s shoulder as he comes into the ice cream shop.
“Where’s your shirt?” the girl leaning on the counter beside him asks.
Billy just gives them the stare-down. “Do you not see my fucking shirt? Are you somehow blind to this shade of blue?”
Harrington holds his hands up. “Hey, easy. Easy. She meant the undershirt.” He taps his own chest where the red and white stripes flash in the framed blue V of his uniform collar. Billy glances down briefly. He’s got bare skin all the way down.
“Look, this uniform had six parts and they’re all ugly. Something wasn’t gonna make the cut.” This looks better, obviously.
“Okay. Uh… but now you’re really gonna have to tie it.” Steve nods to his shirt. “Because that thing opens almost to your nipples with nothing under it.”
“Never had any complaints before,” Billy says, shrugging.
“We have kids coming in here.” The freckled girl opens the door leading back behind the counter. “Get into the back and let Steve fix that thing. Hurry up.”
Billy hears the faint sound of footsteps behind him as he heads behind the counter. A glance over his shoulder confirms that yes, there are kids traipsing into the store behind him. Fine, whatever. He’ll just follow Harrington into the back, tell him to take this job and shove it, and then be on his way.
Steve pushes off the back of the counter and pushes open a door into some kind of back room, disappearing into it. Billy is frozen halfway behind the counter to watch him go. For a second, he’s afraid he’s about to go Away again. He forgets to keep walking. The kids behind him sound very far away.
He doesn’t go Away, though. He’s not blanking out again. He’s just having the very painful realization that Steve Harrington’s ass is the only good thing to ever come out of this monstrosity of a uniform.
Continue this employment. Obtain this specimen.
Goaded by a push from Robin to remind him to move his ass again, Billy stumbles into the back room, the door swinging shut behind him. Steve is very much right there, crowding Billy back against the door, grabbing for the red tails of the bandana that are resting against his chest.
“So... you know you’re gonna have to be nice to people, right?” he’s asking, tugging at the bandana and Billy’s collar. Like everyone else in this fucked-up town, it seems like the pretty boy has decided to pretend that last year just didn’t happen. Billy assumes it’s because people in small towns can’t actually get away from each other, so they learn to put up with more shit. It’s weird. But right now it’s working heavily in his favor.
“Is that so?”
“You can’t say ‘fuck.’” Steve leans in closer and lifts the collar of his shirt, brow furrowing as he tries to straighten it. “How the fuck do you even have this thing on?”
“Language, princess,” Billy murmurs, directly into Steve’s ear, making him jump and stumble back a step. Billy grins at him, running his tongue over his teeth. “So. You gonna train me how to be nice?”
The host is acting erratically, thus far refusing to bring the two employee specimens to begin building. And controlling the host has been difficult while in the shop. This is puzzling. The cold environment should make the host more susceptible.
The other male holds an odd sway over the host. It would seem that the host finds him to be very appealing, and thoughts of this make have begun to consume a considerable amount of time and energy.
Must try harder. The host will obey and the specimens will be obtained. The male is a top priority, so that the host’s attention will no longer be divided. Enough time has been wasted.
Billy is driving into work, minus the striped uniform shirt and bandana undone as has become custom for him. He needs to get Steve into his car. That thought is just kind of stuck in his head and, once again, he’s not sure why.
“Hargrove, don’t you fucking do it,” he orders himself, catching his own eyes in his rear view mirror and glaring at himself. “Don’t you go trying to get all formal with the princess. You wanna be the pussy out buying flowers every time he’s in a snit? No. No, you don’t.” He hits the steering wheel, frustrated with himself. He knows better than this. You stay away from the high maintenance ones. Even when they’re pretty, or let themselves get crowded against a wall super easily.
Bring the specimen. We must build.
“What did I just say??” Billy lurches the Camaro to a stop in the parking lot, shoving her into park. He scrubs at his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Like you’re not even listening today. Fuck.”
Billy storms into Scoops Ahoy in a bad mood, irritated at the parking lot for being so goddamn hot, and irritated at himself for being a dumbass. He honestly does know better, no matter what kind of banter they might have tossed around in high school.
Robin sighs and pulls the counter door open for him. “Day 12, still can’t put on the uniform properly.”
“Start counting that on your board, Freckles, and I’ll use a Sharpie to draw something on it that’ll make sure it never leaves the back room.”
“Charming.” She jerks a thumb over her shoulder. “The dingus is in the back. Go let him make you sort of presentable.”
Billy does, because it’s a habit. It’s their thing by now. He’s seen Steve tie the bandana almost a dozen times now, he knows how the stupid thing works. But it feels like once he ties it himself once, then the game is over and Steve won’t do it again. So he drags his bad mood into the back room where… there’s no Steve. He looks around and sees his hat sitting on the table where they take breaks. And his ice cream scoop. And there’s a serious draft in the room that immediately improves Billy’s mood.
He follows the cold air to the large, metal freezer door that’s hanging open in a way that’s probably against some energy-efficiency rule. His bad mood evaporates thee rest of the way at the sight of Steve’s ass in those shorts. Harrington is pitched forward with his hands on his knees, so it’s also a really good view of his ass today.
“Whatcha doing, princess?” Billy asks, joining Steve in the freezer, stepping right into his space and letting his hips fit right up against the proffered ass. It’s a very nice fit.
“I—woah!” Steve startles upright and almost turns around, but Billy reaches out and grabs either side of the shelf in front of Steve, boxing him in. The cold metal feels good under his palms.
“Careful. You might fall.” Billy hooks his chin over Steve’s shoulder. “I said, what are you doing?”
“Uh… trying to figure out where to store this thing.”
Steve is flailing, and at first Billy thinks he’s trying to get free, but no… no, he’s gesturing at the floor of the freezer. He glances down. At their feet is the biggest tub of ice cream he’s ever seen. Way bigger than the ones that will fit in the serving counter. Gotta be 10 gallons of vanilla sitting there.
“Huh. That’s a lot of ice cream. The fuck is it doing here?” Sure, they serve ice cream. But that thing isn’t gonna fit anywhere. Though the size of it is forcing Steve into an awkward stance with his feet slightly too wide part on either side of the bucket, which make it so much more easy to crowd him.
“Apparently we do birthday parties now.” Steve waves at the giant tub. “And we have to turn this into a sundae bar.”
“Oh.” Billy slips an arm around Steve’s waist, teasing the hem of his sailor shirt. “When are we supposed to do that?”
Steve squirms a little and might adjust his footing, but sure doesn’t protest it. “Today at 2.”
Billy turns his head so his words breathe warm air on the side of Steve’s neck. “And… management left us crisp, clear instructions on that?” he asks, hiking Steve’s shirt up around his waist and sliding a hand up his stomach. Steve’s shoulders flex and Billy can feel the definite press of a warm body back against his own.
“Sure. A sheet of paper that said ‘Birthday party at 2, use this for sundae bar.’”
Billy curls his hand around Steve’s ribs, pulls him back more tightly against him. The way the freezer turns the surface of Steve’s skin cool, warm muscles underneath, feels pleasing under his fingers. “They really should tell us this shit earlier.”
Obtain the specimen. Now.
Steve shifts a little when Billy must have been still for too long. “Do you... uh... want me to tie your bandana?”
Billy blinks, coming back to reality again. Right, he’s got Steve half bent over a freezer shelf. Get your head together, Hargrove. “Might try my hand at untying yours, actually.”
The host has begun to copulate with the male specimen. It is an unexpected turn of events, but the mating behaviors of these creatures are unknown and largely unimportant. While this has removed any considerations of leaving the shop’s employment from the host’s mind, there are more negative aspects than positive.
Access to copulation is removing large amounts of aggression from the host’s temperament. This is not ideal. It has also made the host impossible to control, even within the colder environment. There has been no progress on building.
Upon determining that collecting the favored male specimen was futile, the host was sent out in search of others. This was not successful. The host was distracted by the sight of the male specimen’s car and immediately changed directive.
New information— the host is unable to copulate outside of the freezer due to the rise in body temperature produced by the activity.
Billy wakes up, horny but also choking. So. That’s a weird combination. Something is tingling inside in cheeks and at the back of his throat, and tickling lax throat muscles in a way that makes him sputter and begin coughing.
“Billy! Jesus Christ!” Strong hands grab his shoulders and haul him onto his side where he coughs again, and the water runs out of his slackened jaw, spattering on the pavement under him. Bubbles. There are bubbles.
And a dick. He’s also staring a dick dead in the face. Eye level. Familiar dick.
“The fuck?” he manages, his own voice weak and crackly in his ears.
“You passed out!”
That sounds about right. Billy vaguely remembers having Steve braced against the hood of the Camaro and thinking it was just… really fucking hot in the quarry. Empty, which is great, but so goddamn hot. And now he appears to be on the ground, if the stone under his cheek is any indication. Steve is kneeling by his head, still grasping his shoulder and the back of his neck, something green and out of focus beside one bare knee.
Billy groans and closes his eyes against the thick warmth in the air around them. “Did you seriously pour your fucking Perrier down my throat while I was passed out?” he asks, wanting that to sound angrier than it does. “Trying to kill me, Harrington?”
“You passed the fuck out, I was trying to hydrate you!”
“I need to be awake first, princess, or you’re just drowning me.”
“Shut up!” Steve grabs the bottle. The glass bottom scrapes against the stone as he picks it up. “You’re awake now, so drink.”
Billy pushes Steve’s hand away and forces himself up into a sitting position. “You’re a lousy nurse.” Though he does notice, through the haze of near-death, that Steve did drag him into the coolest part of the shade, close to the stone walls in the quarry. The Camaro is several meters away, now in full sunlight as the day’s gotten later. So maybe Harrington did listen to some shit in his health class.
“Drink some fucking water and then I’m taking you to the hospital,” Steve snaps, shoving the bottle into Billy’s hand.
“No!” Billy winces and shakes his head, which is a bad idea when he’s only barely back from passing out. The world spins slightly.
“Yes.” Steve wedges himself behind Billy, sitting with their backs pressed together and forming as solid of a wall as another person can. “Drink.”
Billy lets his weight sag back against Steve as he tries to get his head to clear. The glass bottle in his hand is warm from sitting in his car while they were making out, but he drinks from it anyway. The carbonation clears his head a little.
No medical examinations. Kill the specimen.
Billy scrunches his nose and rubs between his eyebrows. Jesus, Hargrove, relax. Harrington is just worried. Being a fucking mother hen is a good third of his personality.
If he could maybe not overreact like a psycho, that would be great.
“Look,” he says, voice calm and therefore reasonable. “It’s just a little heat exhaustion, okay? Why do you think I quit working at the pool?”
“You fucking fainted,” Steve grits out. “You should see a—”
“I know.” Steve is worried. Say something nice. Say something calming. “I’m sorry I scared you, princess. Look, I’m being a good patient.” He holds the bottle over his shoulder, shaking it to emphasize the emptiness. “All hydrated.”
Behind him, Steve takes the bottle. “We really shouldn’t try to go anywhere sunny for… a while? Right?”
“Probably. I’ll be careful the rest of the summer,” Billy promises. “Should be fine in the fall once this place starts to freeze over again.”
Steve snorts out a laugh. Good, he’s calming down too. “The fall isn’t that bad, Cali boy.”
“It makes me almost want to button my shirts. It’s clearly sub-arctic,” he says, shifting one shoulder back to nudge Steve. “You’re sitting bare-assed on the rock. Go get your pants.”
“Hm. Fine.” Steve moves, but gingerly, like he’s waiting to make sure Billy can hold his own weight up. “You should let me drive us—”
“That’s a no.”
Steve sighs. “Well, at least you sound like yourself again. But we better pick up something to drink at the first gas station.”
Billy turns enough to cup Steve’s ass and give him a push to get him the rest of the way standing. “Pants, Nurse Harrington.”
An alarming development. The host is not only ignoring commands, but is now actively working against them. The control of the host seems to be at a non-existent level. The time may have come to use more force and quash the host personality. This will harm the ability to camouflage with other humans, and was to be used only as a last resort. However, allowing the host to maintain control of the body is now proving detrimental to safety.
Takeover will be hostile.
Billy rubs the bridge of his nose where his sinuses are throbbing. Maybe Harrington was right and he needs to see a doctor. This weird shit has been going on for over a month. But on the other hand, Billy could always just stop being a pussy and deal with a little lightheadedness here or a sinus headache there.
“Man up, Hargrove,” he mutters at himself, shoving towels into his gym bag. “Beside, we’re doing sauna time. That cures basically everything.”
“Yes, heat” Billy runs a hand over his face. Did he always talk to himself this goddamn much and he just never noticed? “Heat and then seeing a doctor for this weird fucking heat stroke thing, since Harrington is such a fucking flower.” How did someone who lived through snow every year develop pneumonia from a little freezer sex? Okay, repeated freezer sex, but still.
No heat. No medical examination.
Billy grabs the edge of his nightstand, using it to hold himself up as the pounding in his head makes him feel dizzy. God he’s getting sick of his own bullshit. What the hell is his issue?
Billy stumbles over to his mirror and braces his hand on the wall while he faces himself. He needs to look himself in the eye while he tells himself to grow the fuck up.
“Okay, look. I told you not to get in bed with a pretty little society bitch like Harrington, and you didn’t listen, did you?” Good man, Hargrove. Don’t take any shit off this guy. Ignore the... copious sweating. The... black veins creeping up from collar of his shirt?
Do not resist. Surrender control.
Billy is, clearly, hallucinating. He only worked at the pool a few weeks and he managed to get some kind of mutant sun stroke that’s not only making him live indoors, but now he’s going crazy too?
“Fucking hell, and I thought Harrington was the flower,” he mutters, tracing one of the veins.
“HEY!” Billy slams his fist against the wall. “Someone in this relationship has to have their shit together, and obviously that’s not gonna be Steve.” Which is why he fucking told himself not to get involved, but it’s too late now. “So we’re gonna go sit in a fucking sweat box with him so he doesn’t drown in his own dainty goddamn lungs.”
He turns away, back to his bed, and yanks the gym bag closed so hard that he nearly breaks the zipper. Grabs it, hefts it over his shoulder.
He notices the spatter of blood that falls from his nose to his t-shirt right before everything goes black.
When Billy comes to, it’s because a clammy hand is lightly slapping at his face.
Well. At least Harrington isn’t trying to drown him this time.
“Billy, wake up.” The slapping pauses and there’s a harsh, wheezing breath. Coughing. Footsteps.
Billy drags himself awake, maybe out of sheer curiosity as to what the hell is going on. The room is fuzzy and the edges of his vision stay a little dark, but that’s definitely his ceiling. He can smell the cigarette he was smoking earlier, now stale in the air. The blood on his face is dried now. Itchy.
He’s alone. Somewhere very far away, there’s... water?
“Did you find me covered in blood and pause to go wash your hands?” he asks, closing his eyes again once Steve’s hazy form shows up in the doorway. “Shit nursing, Harrington. I’m gonna die on your watch.”
“I didn’t want to get you sick,” Steve protests in that pitiful rasp that’s been getting more whispery by the day. “What happened?”
“Nosebleed.” And passing out after hallucinating, but Steve doesn’t need to hear that part right now. “I felt shitty after and took a quick nap to sleep it off.”
“There’s a lot of blood,” Steve says, touching Billy’s chest lightly. Billy glances down at his fingers, confirming that his shirt does, indeed, look like he was murdered in it.
“It was a big nosebleed.”
“You said you were coming to see me 6 hours ago.”
Shit. “Well I’m up now.” Billy sits up gingerly, feeling the room tilt a little, then settle. His head hurts like a son of a bitch. “Pool’s open another few hours. Sauna’ll probably clear the nosebleed right up,” he says, hauling his bloody shirt off. “Lemme wash this shit off my face and we’ll go.”
“I’m not sure you should drive after—”
Billy grabs the back of Steve’s head and pulls him closer, presses a kiss to his warm forehead before he gets out of bed. “We went over this at the quarry, princess. You shouldn’t have even driven your sick ass here to begin with.”
Steve turns his head away and coughs into his hand. “We don’t have to go,” he crackles, followed by more coughing. “Maybe tomorrow, if you’re feeling better?”
“Today is good. I feel fine now,” Billy says. Sure, his head is pounding and his nose feels like he took a punch, but it feels like he’s actually kinda telling the truth here.
In the bathroom, he splashes water on his face, watching it turn pink around the drain as he cleans the dried blood off, being gentler right around his nose. He scrubs. Listens to Steve coughing in his bedroom, spreading his goddamn germs all over all of Billy’s stuff. He rolls his eyes and finally ventures a peek at his reflection.
No sweating. Certainly no black monster veins.
“Are you over your bullshit?” he asks his reflection. “You done being a drama queen?” His reflection just stares back at him. “Now go stick the princess somewhere warm so he doesn’t fucking die, okay?”
No volatile reaction. No reaction at all. Everything in his head seems to finally be on the same page.
Okay. He’s over his bullshit.