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Authenticity (And The Road To Getting There)

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Nancy Wheeler was twelve days late and violently throwing up when she finally allowed herself to panic.

The first few days she hadn’t thought much of it. She was 18, and her period normally fluctuated by a few days each cycle. After a week had passed she had started to become anxious. She was now almost two weeks late, and was currently curled up on the bathroom floor after spilling her guts over the smell of frying eggs at - she glanced at the wall clock - 7:34am.

She could still smell it from the bathroom, and it was making her stomach roll. At this point she wasn’t sure if she was more nauseous over the smell of breakfast or the fact that her stomach was now void of anything except stomach acid.

She didn’t understand. How could this happen? They were careful, responsible. They always used protection, and sure, there had been a handful of times that they got down while in an, uh, altered state of mind, but surely they would still have noticed if something happened!

She wasn’t on birth control because Ted believes that it’s sacreligious, and Karen doesn’t understand why you need anything other than abstinence and a love for the lord. They don’t seem to understand or care much that those things don’t really help with mood swings and period cramps so bad that they put you out of commission for days. If asked, they would probably give some bullshit answer about that just being God's will, and how everyone has challenges in life. Regardless, she was 18 now, and she was planning on getting it anyway. She was going to talk to her Gynecologist at her next appointment for god’s sake.

Jesus fuck. She shouldn’t get ahead of herself. She was probably overreacting. She needed to take a deep breath, and think about this logically. Maybe she isn’t pregnant, maybe if she’s really lucky she has Tuberculosis or a brain tumor!

Ah fuck, who was she kidding? She doesn’t have Tuberculosis. If she did she would have a cough.

Karen is going to shit a brick. Jonathan is going to shit a brick. Hell, Nancy is going to shit a brick! And that’s a lot of brick shitting for one day!

Okay. First thing’s first. Nancy needed to figure out what the hell was actually going on. She took a deep breath, making sure that nothing else was going to come up. Once she was confident that there was nothing left in her stomach, she flushed the sick down the toilet and peeled herself off the floor. She paused in front of the sink to rinse out her mouth and wash her hands. She looked like death. She felt like death. Her face was pale and slick with vomit sweats, the bags under her eyes were dark and defined. God, she was glad that she didn’t have to go into work.

After she had washed her hands and face and brushed her teeth twice, she made her way out of the bathroom. Maybe her first thought should have been to call Jonathan, but she didn’t want to get him involved just yet. She still hadn’t explored all of the different possibilities, and she didn’t want to get him all freaked out over the possibility of having a child when it could be something so much simpler, like cancer. So as it was, she made her way into her bedroom, flopping down unceremoniously and reaching for the phone on her bedside table. She dialed the numbers and sat, taking shaky, anxious breaths, as she listened to the dial tone ring.

“Well hello miss priss. What the fuck are you doing awake at 7 in the morning on a Saturday?”

Nancy sighed, feeling both comforted by the familiar, playful jab, and unbelievably nervous about explaining to Robin why she was calling. She had planned on jumping right to the chase, getting it all out in the open immediately, but now that it had actually come time, she wasn’t ready. “Oh don’t act like you weren’t awake already. I know you wake up at the ass crack of dawn.”

Robin hummed, “That’s true, but our good friend Stevie is probably plotting your ever so painful demise right now.”

Nancy laughed softly. Steve had never been a morning person, which was one of the many places where they disagreed. Nancy preferred to get up early and get things done in the morning, while Steve would sleep well into the early afternoon if he didn’t have other plans (and sometimes when he did).

“Late night?”

“Yeah, he was out with Billy again.” Robin responded. There was something about the way she said it. Nancy couldn’t put her finger on it, but it made her wonder.

Nancy fiddled with the phone cord, twisting it around in her fingers. “I’m glad that they’re getting along. I think it’s good for both of them. I’m tired of their alpha male bullshit.” and if the way Robin laughed was any indication, she agreed.

“That makes two of us.” she paused, “But seriously, what’s up? Or are you just so enamored with me and my jaw dropping charm that you needed to call and hear my voice first thing in the morning?” her tone was light. Nancy wished that she could share in her nonchalance. Instead, her own witty remark was all panic and deflection.

“Yes, exactly. I actually spend every second apart from you dreaming of hearing your sweet voice again. You’re like a siren calling to me, a passing sailor.”

“I fucking knew it.” Robin responded. The seriousness of her tone brought a fond smile to Nancy’s lips. She really did love Robin. “Jonathan better watch his back.”

Nancy must have paused for a second too long, let the silence stretch to the point where it became uncomfortable. She hadn’t noticed, her mind stuck on Jonathan. What was she going to do? What would she say to him? How would he react?

Robin’s teasing tone was gone. Her voice was serious and full of concern when she spoke again. “Okay seriously Nancy. What’s wrong?”

She chewed on the tip of her thumbnail, a habit that she had broken years ago. Her heart was in her throat, beating and beating and beating. She felt like throwing up again, but she had already done too much of that for one day. She was sick of being sick. She took a deep breath, reminding herself why she had chosen to call Robin in the first place. Robin wouldn’t judge her, or scold her, or think any less of her. But she would be there for her, always, and she would keep her goddamn mouth shut about it too, until Nancy told her otherwise. Unlike her counterpart, Big-Mouth-Harrington who would give away everything the minute someone looked at him strangely.

“I need your help.”

-

“If we’re going to hide a body would you just tell me already?”

That was the first thing that Robin said when she climbed into the passenger's seat of Nancy’s car. She hadn’t told the other girl what was going on, just that she needed her for something.

Nancy recognized that she really didn’t need another set of hands for anything that she was going to be doing. She didn’t exactly need Robin to hold the stick for her while she peed. The only real reason that she had decided to bring the girl along was for moral support, and she couldn’t exactly provide that if she didn’t understand what was happening. On one hand Nancy was almost more stressed out about having to explain to the girl what was going on. Although it did prove to be a halfway decent distraction from the looming fear of Jonathan holding in his hands the power to completely destroy any future that she may still have with a single reaction. So, you win some you lose some.

“We’re not hiding a body.”

Robin nodded, getting situated in her seat as Nancy pulled out of the apartment complex parking lot. “Okay good. If you ever do need to hide a body, any chance you could give me advanced notice? I mean I figure, if we’re hiding one already, what’s one more?”

Nancy glanced at the girl out of the corner of her eye, not quite connecting the dots as to what she was implying.

“On a completely unrelated note, would you ever be interested in a roommate? Jonathan is of course included in my offer, but he would have to go thirds-ies on the rent because I’m poor.”

Nancy snorted, “What did Steve do this time?” she was eager to shift her attention to anything other than the road in front of her, slowly bringing her closer and closer to the drugstore and the little plastic stick that would decide her fate.

Robin seemed to recognize this as she rolled her eyes dramatically, slouching over in her seat and crossing her arms. “He’s literally the worst roommate ever! Our neighbors have this dog who always gets out, okay? And Steve always puts out food and water and shit for this dog. He’s like, obsessed. He bought dog toys and he plays with him, and basically Steve adopted our neighbor's dog. At least twice a week I come home and there is a dog sleeping on the couch or licking up the crumbs that Steve practically exudes.” She huffed. She sounded as if she had been holding this back for a while.

“But now, it’s all about Billy! It’s all Billy this, and Billy that. It’s always, Robin, Billy and I are going on a drive, or Robin, Billy and I are going to the quarry! And he’s never home!” She mimicked I’m a high pitched whine that was somehow simultaneously the most petty and the most accurate imitation of Steve that Nancy has ever heard. “But this poor dog doesn’t know that. So now every few days he comes scratching at the door, and he gives me these big brown eyes, and he’s stuck outside so I can’t just close the door and leave him alone! So now, because Steve is an asshole who adopted a fucking dog, I’m a free dog sitter three times a week!”

Nancy snorted. It was of course, just about the most on brand thing she had ever heard. “I don’t know what to tell you Robin, you knew what you were signing up for when you asked Steve to move in with you.”

Robin gave a dramatic huff, slouching down in her seat and throwing her head back to stare up at the car roof. “I beg to differ. When I asked Steve to move in with me there were no animals to speak of. Our arrangement did not involve another life form for me to be responsible for. Keeping Steve alive is enough of a job.”

“Bullshit. Steve has been collecting children for as long as you’ve known him. How are the six middle schoolers that you share your house with?”

Robin glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, glaring at her playfully. “Touché, Wheeler.” she conceded.

After that they drove in silence, neither of them knowing how to continue. As the conversation drew to a close, the secretiveness of what they were actually doing out there hung in the air between them. The atmosphere was tense, although the two of them tried to ignore it. Nancy appreciated that Robin wasn’t pushing, even though she obviously wanted to.

As they got closer and closer to the store where Nancy wanted to pick up the test, a horrible thought occurred to her. What if someone saw her? Hawkins was a small town, and the store- Speedy's, employed a lot of kids her own age. If someone saw her buying a pregnancy test, people would talk. Word would spread like a wildfire through Hawkins and right back to Jonathan and Karen. Everyone already called her a prissy slut, a knocked up prissy slut was just the icing on the cake. Even if it was negative, if this whole nightmare was just that, she would never live it down. It would follow her for the rest of her life. And even worse, she would never be able to tell the people in her life on her own. She wouldn’t be able to sit down and have that important conversation, they would hear it from a friend of a friend in the grocery store.

The store was fast approaching and Nancy had no idea what she was going to do. Could she cover up? Did she have a hat in the car? Could she pull her hair back and put on sunglasses? Who was she kidding? Everyone would still recognize her. God fucking damn it. This felt like as good of a time as any to shit that brick. Maybe it would relieve some of the pressure in her gut.

“Hey, Nancy. What's wrong? You’re really starting to scare me.” Robin placed a hand on her knee, thumb rubbing comforting circles on the skin there.

Nancy pulled into a parking space, putting the car in park. She stared at the store front as if the building itself offended her. The time had come. She had to tell Robin what they were there for. She chewed on the end of her thumbnail, silently wishing for more time. “I need…” she started to trail off, her voice getting low. “a test.” it was almost inaudible. She couldn’t bring herself to speak it any louder, as if saying it would make it real.

Robin stared at her, confusion clear across her face. Nancy could see the moment that she started to realize what she was implying, her eyes growing wide. “Nancy.. Do you mean..?”

She nodded silently, squeezing her eyes shut. She swallowed thickly, trying to clear the bile in her throat. She wished that she could be anywhere else. She wished that the ground would swallow her up and take her away. She wished that she could go back in time by a few weeks, tell Jonathan that she wasn’t in the mood, give him a blowjob or something, do literally anything else.

She felt the tears prickling at her eyes. God, she was such a fucking baby. How could she be ready to have her own baby? Holy fuck. That made her stomach roll. She was going to be sick all over her car.

She kept her eyes squeezed shut, wishing away the tears and the sick. She felt Robin give her shoulder a small squeeze as she muttered something that sounded like, “I’ll be right back.”. She heard the passenger’s side door open and shut, and suddenly the tears were rolling down her cheeks. God she had fucked up. Where was she going? Was she really so disgusted with Nancy that she couldn't stand to be in the car with her any longer?

She took a deep breath. She needed to pull herself together. She wiped at her cheeks, opening her eyes and squeezing them shut again as the sunlight made them burn. She blinked, adjusting. How had she ended up here?

It seemed to take forever for Robin to reemerge from the store, carrying a single shoppingbag on her arm. But finally, she was climbing back into the car, producing three pregnancy tests and a pack of peanut M&Ms. “I figured we’d want a few just to be sure.. And also that you might need these.”

Nancy felt her heart swell in hre chest. She truly did not deserve someone like Robin in her life. She hadn’t even asked, and the girl had taken it upon herself to go into the store and take care of everything because Nancy wasn’t ready to do it herself. She had even remembered her favorite candy. Leave it to Robin to do something so thoughtful.

Nancy couldn’t help herself. One minute she was sitting in the driver's seat, staring at the girl in front of her. The next minute she had launched across the center console, wrapping her arms tightly around Robin’s shoulders and tucking her face into her neck. She held the girl close, comforted by the physical contact. “Thank you so much.” she breathed.

Robin wrapped her arms around the girl, holding her close. She rubbed small circles in the small of her back, doing her best to calm her. “Any time Nancy. I will always be here for you.”

And her words held true. She was there for her when she had to sit in the parking lot for another ten minutes before she was collected enough to start driving. She was there for her when she asked to go to Robin’s house instead of her own, where there were countless prying eyes. She was there for her while she sat on the bathroom floor, anxiety clawing at her stomach as she waited for the clock to hit 9:40, and the test to be ready. And she was there for her when they finally grabbed the test, their eyes falling onto the two faded red lines.

ll Pregnant.

-

“I wish it was summer, I miss the pool.” Steve commented.

He was currently sprawled out across Billy’s- er- mattress, on the floor of the Byers’ attic. Billy himself was sitting on the floor a few feet away.

It was 10:32 on a Saturday night and the two of them had just gotten back from a late dinner. They had gone to the diner down the street for burgers and milkshakes like they had made a habit of doing over the last few weeks. This had been the fourth trip, and yes, Steve’s stomach still felt like it was filled with so many butterflies that the organ itself would fly right out of his body. He couldn’t help but think about the dinners like dates, which honestly made him feel kind of guilty. Billy thought of Steve as a friend, trusted him, was vulnerable with him, which was something that Billy didn’t do. But he did with Steve. He thought of the boy as a friend, and, not to be presumptuous, but Steve felt pretty confident saying a best friend. But for Steve to betray that trust? For him to spend the time that Billy saw as connecting with a trusted companion imagining what those blond curls would feel like between his fingers? It was wrong.

Plus, Steve was sure that Billy’s soulmate, wherever she was in the world, wouldn’t appreciate some faggot jerking off to her man.

Which was a whole other thing that Steve pointedly didn’t do. Because yeah, it felt really good in the heat of the moment when he was alone in the shower and he just needed something to push him over the edge. Felt pretty fucking perfect when that million dollar smile and those big hands with those long fingers floated to the front of his mind. But it felt really fucking gross, and wrong, when he came down, standing in the cold shower water, spunk slipping away down the drain and the remains of his friend’s name on his lips. Felt like something that Billy definitely wouldn’t appreciate him doing. Kinda felt like another betrayal.

So yeah, Steve didn’t jerk off to the thought of Billy. He could get by perfectly fine with the thought of say, Harrison Ford, or maybe Carrie Fisher in that damn golden bikini, or, fuck, Harrison Ford in Carrie Fisher’s damn golden bikini. God. He should definitely tell the kids no more Star Wars on movie night.

“We could still go.” Billy looked up from the rubber band that he had been twisting around in his fingers, “I know all the easiest ways to get in and out of the pool. All we would have to do is move the tarp. They don’t drain it.” There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he spoke, and Steve found himself thinking about how much better the boy was doing.

His skin has regained much of its coloring. He was still missing that I-Spend-All-Day-Basking-In-The-Sun-Because-I’m-A-Literal-God-And-People-Will-Come-To-The-Pool-Just-To-Oogle-Me tan, but he was far from pale and sickly anymore. He had also regained a lot of his muscle. He had been spending all of his free time- which, since Hopper and Joyce were still putting their collective foot down on the job thing (a subject that was of much contention in the Byers house) pretty much meant any time Steve was working and therefore not monopolizing all of Billy’s time and energy- exercising. Even his mood had improved dramatically, as he started to feel more like himself again, and less like an undead prisoner.

“You know it’s November right?” He deadpanned. Early November, sure, but still November, and while Steve had definitely been known to be one of the first patrons to make his way to the Hawkins Community Pool as soon as it opened, that was still never before a solid 70 degree day, not a 40 degree day. There was also the small fact that Steve’s interest in spending as much time at the community pool as possible had less to do with actual swimming and more to do with Heather Holloway in a swimsuit. Plus, you know, the small fact that Steve decided that he would never again use his own pool after a girl died in it. “So unless there’s a secret hot tub at the Hawkins Pool that no one told me about..”

“Of course not, the pool isn’t even heated. This isn’t Loch Nora, we're talking about pretty boy.” He shot the rubber band at Steve, who glarred half heartedly back at him. “But speaking of which, you know where there is a hot tub?” Steve didn’t like the way his eyes sparked when he said it. The way his face lit up was a telltale sign of trouble. “Your place.”

Steve was confused by this, to say the least. Steve and Robin lived in the slums, the “bad side of town.” Their apartment complex was smack dab in the middle of the closest thing that Hawkins, Indiana had to a ghetto. They didn’t have a pool, and they definitely didn’t have a hot tub. Half the time they didn’t have a fucking garbage man because one just didn’t show up to empty the dumpster. Billy knew this too. He had been to their house. Sure, he hadn’t been inside, just passed it a few times or came with someone to pick up or drop off Steve or Robin. But he should definitely know that they didn’t have a fucking hot tub. “Um, at the apartment?”

Billy rolled his eyes dramatically, “No, Harrington. At that big ass rich boy mansion of yours. You know, the one that radicalizes teenagers and gives meaning to the phrase, ‘eat the rich’?”

Steve turned to him, “Yeah, you mean the house that I don’t live in anymore?” It was too late in the evening for the housekeeper to be there. No one would notice or pay any mind if they did take a trip over to the Harrington Estate. But for some reason the thought of going back to that house made Steve uneasy. Maybe it was the years of isolation alone in a too big house, maybe it was the traumatic experience of being disowned as a complete and utter disappointment as he walked out the door, or maybe it was the girl who died in the pool not two feet away from the hot tub in question. Regardless, Steve wanted no part in returning to that house.

“Yeah. You know, the one that’s always empty and not a soul would ever notice or care if we took a little trip over to.” Billy raised his eyebrows challengingly. “It’s still your parents house.”

Steve signed, thinking it over in his mind. Hargrove was right. No one would know the difference, and it wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone to take a little dip. God knows that hot tub hadn’t seen use in… Steve wasn’t even sure how long. It just sat, fully functional and ready because Steve’s parents were ridiculous and why wouldn’t they pay for the upkeep on an amenity that they hadn’t used in years? Everyone knows that saving money on a pool cleaner even if not a soul had so much as touched their foot into the water in years just didn’t fit the rich white suburban aesthetic. “You know my parents disowned me and told me never to come back, right?”

“Serves them right then. Plus, what they don’t know won’t kill them.” He paused, “Or you know, maybe it will.” He smirked, winking at Steve, who pulled the pillow out from under his head and threw it at the boy.

Billy laughed, blocking the plush projectile before it found its mark. He threw it back at Steve, who was hindered by his horizontal position and therefore was soon met with a face full of pillow.

Billy didn’t wait for his retaliation, jumping up off the floor and grabbing for the shoes that he had kicked off after they settled down into his room. Steve groaned, knowing that that meant the boy had made up his mind and there was no changing it.

“Billy it’s cold.” He whined in a half hearted attempt to convince the boy to sit back down.

“Not in the hot tub!” Billy smirked, tossing Steve’s own shoes over to the bed where said boy was making no effort to actually get up.

Steve groaned, but it was really more for show by that point. For better or for worse, he always had the worst time saying no to something that Billy was excited about. The more time that they spent together the more that Steve was starting to think that it was the latter. But maybe he was wrong. Robin was always telling him that you need to confront your fears in order to move past them. It was called exposure therapy, or something like that. She had said she read it in some psychology book, and Steve hadn’t asked too many questions, because the very concept of psychology made his brain hurt. Although he had very narrowly avoided flunking his senior year and most academic subjects made his brain hurt so that wasn’t really saying much.

Regardless, maybe it would be good for him to go back to that house. Perhaps it might even alleviate some of the anxiety. Steve had built up that place as some monumental space of death and isolation. He associated the building with all of the worst parts of his life. Perhaps going back to that place and seeing it as nothing more than an empty structure, making new, better memories in a place which brought him so much pain, might even take away the house’s power.

Or maybe, just maybe, he needed to spend less time with Robin.

Billy had his shoes on and was currently pulling on a jacket, which meant that either way, Steve had been overruled. They were going back to Steve’s childhood home to infiltrate the hot tub in the middle of fucking November. Sometimes, Steve hated Billy Hargrove.

-

Steve and Billy had parked a block down from the Harrington’s house in the driveway of a house which had been “for sale” for as long as Steve had been old enough to remember it. It was just an extra precaution, but it made Steve feel better. The neighborhood watch had surely noticed that Steve’s car had been missing from the driveway for months, and the rich white suburban moms of Loch Nora weren’t exactly famous for minding their own business. Steve was sure that there had been nasty gossip rippling through the neighborhood since the day he had moved out. The rumors about that Harrington boy who had started out with so much potential but ended up working a minimum wage service job instead of going off to college or working for his father had been making their rounds since graduation. He couldn’t even imagine the brunch gossip after he had stormed out in a flurry of haphazardly packed boxes and angry words at the telephone. He didn’t want to run the risk of satisfying the neighborhood’s rumor addiction with the theories about why the beamer had shown up in the driveway again for a few hours while no one was home.

All of that is to say, they were on foot when they approached the house. Steve hadn’t thought about it until they were already on their way, but two unidentified boys walking down the street at 11 o’clock at night, especially with one of them looking like Billy, would probably raise just as many alarms with their neighbors.

Oh well.

It took Steve much too long to realize, but as they got closer and closer to the house that he called home for 19 years, Steve realized that there was a car parked in the driveway. His first thought was to do a quick scan of the street, just to make sure that he was in fact looking at the right house, and that the weed they had smoked hours before wasn’t laced with something strong enough to make him confuse his rich people mansions. His second thought was that perhaps the housekeeper had stayed late. There could have been an incident or something taking more time than she had anticipated. Although Steve wasn’t really sure how much mess an empty house could make. As they got closer, his third and final thought occurred to him. This one, as it turned out, was the correct one, and when it dawned on Steve it stopped him in his tracks.

Billy marched on for a few paces before he realized that Steve was no longer with him. He spun around to see the other boy frozen in place, staring at the car with eyes the size of the plates from the diner that night. “Hey Harrington, what’s wrong?”

Steve didn’t know how to feel. In an objective sort of way it made sense. If you would have told him he wouldn’t have been surprised, not really. But for some reason he still felt like his chest was on fire and his stomach had dropped to his shoes. He felt hurt, he felt angry, he felt confused, but those were all background noise. His ears were ringing and he couldn’t seem to make his legs move forward. He felt like he was frozen, stuck in place like his shoes had melted into the sidewalk. Most notably, he felt defeated and chagrined. It shouldn’t have bothered him. He should have seen it coming. He should have been prepared. But he wasn’t.

It was his parents’ car.

“They’re home.” He said, staring into the car with an icy intensity. He felt like his chest was full of gas, like it was expanding and expanding and at any second it might explode. If this were one of the comic books that Dustin obsessed over, Steve’s glare would be burning a hole right through the vehicle.

“Huh?” Billy stared at him. When he took in Steve’s blank expression, his lifeless eyes and the way his fists clenched so tightly they shook, he understood. “Oh fuck.” He breathed out.

“I don’t think they were even going to tell me.” Steve bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, the sharp pain and the metallic taste grounded him. “I haven’t seen them in person in months. I haven’t spoken to them since I moved out. But they’re home, and they didn’t even fucking let me know.”

Billy set his jaw, shifting his gaze from the house in front of them to the boy beside him. “What do you want to do?” he asked.

Steve stood there, eyes fixed on that shiny black car. What did he want to do? He knew that Billy was genuinely asking, and would follow through with whatever Steve asked. If it had been Nancy, or Robin, or even Jonathan, ‘what do you want to do?’ would really be code for, ‘do you want to go home then?’. That wasn’t what Billy was asking. If Steve looked him in the eye and asked him to march up to their front door and give them a piece of his mind, he would. If he said that he wanted to throw rocks through all the windows he would. If he said he wanted to set their fucking car on fire and then book it, he would. Usually his reckless, devil-may-care behavior was exasperating. But in that moment, Steve appreciated the fact that Billy would be there in full support of whatever the hell he needed to do, no matter what it was.

That was a lot of pressure though, and even if the thought of vandalizing the property and setting shit on fire sounded kind of liberating, Steve wasn’t sure that was really the way to go. He was sure that his parents would love nothing more than to throw his ass in jail to ‘teach him a lesson’, and in the end they could easily fix any damage that the two of them caused. It wasn’t really worth it.

But he didn’t want to do nothing. That meant that they won. That meant that still, after everything that had happened, they were controlling his life. If he gave up, turned around and went home, then he was still rolling over and letting his parents walk all over him, and he was sick of that.

“I want to go anyway. We’re already here.”

“Yeah?” Billy raised his eyebrows questioningly, but a smile was creeping across his face. Steve thought that maybe the boy was a bad influence, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. The more he thought about it the more liberated that he felt.

“Yeah,” he nodded, “It’s 11, so they’re either asleep or so hopped up on opioids that they won’t notice anyways. So.”

Billy’s smile faltered just a bit, but he quickly recovered and when the smirk returned there was a kind of determination to it. Steve found himself reminded that the other boy knew all too well about parents who can’t bear to be sober long enough to actually take care of their kids.

He spun around towards the house, starting to move towards it once again. “Come on pretty boy,” he said, “time to break into these privileged ass mother fuckers’ hot tub and infect it with our lower class filth.”

Steve found himself laughing despite himself. There was something about being with Billy, simply standing in his presence and hearing his voice which made him feel better. Which, honestly was a pretty fucking queer thing to say. But it was true. There was a strange sense of belonging when he was with the boy, like they were meant to be together. Which was also a pretty fucking queer thing to say, especially considering that Billy was probably the straightest man that Steve knew. All macho, with all the girls flocking to him. He was with a different girl every other night, it almost felt like a game. But what could Steve say? He understood why all the girls wanted him.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve been grouped into the lower class. Usually I’m just associated with these assholes.”

Billy shrugged, “You work a minimum wage job and live with a roommate in a shit hole apartment on the bad side of town. You’re not exactly living the lavish life that you used to. Welcome to the life of the majority of America in our corporate capitalist system. It fucking sucks.”

The two boys rounded the back of the house. It was dark, but the neighbors two doors down had a floodlight in the backyard which illuminated the surrounding area just enough to see what was happening.

They came up on the covered pool and anxiety gripped the base of Steve’s spine. It was covered by a large tarp, but he could still picture exactly how it looked that night. He wanted to keep going, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. Billy noticed that he had stopped again, and this time he put a hesitant hand on his shoulder.

“That’s where…”

“Yeah.” Steve breathed. Billy hadn’t been around when it happened. He hadn’t yet left California. But he knew the story. He knew all the rumors about sweet Barbra who had died in the Harrington’s pool.

“Come on.” He said simply, tugging at Steve’s shoulder to lead him away from the edge. He walked the boy over to the covered hot tub, but Steve’s eyes lingered on the pool. It wasn’t until he was jolted back to reality by the soft thud of the thick cover being pulled off and let go that his eyes came back to Billy.

The water was hot and bubbly, steam thick and dark against the cool November air. It wasn’t until that moment, staring into the bubbling water that Steve remembered that you generally remove your shirt to get in, and Billy had never seen the big ugly scar across his chest. He had worked his way through three of the five stages of grief before Billy pulled down his jeans- and only his jeans -and stepped into the water in both his boxers and t-shirt.

Steve stared at him for a moment. His confusion must have been evident on his face because Billy raised his eyebrows at him challengingly “What? It’s cold.” Steve raised his hands in mock defense, trying his best to act indifferent, but relief was bubbling up inside of him.

He pulled down his jeans, following Billy’s lead and stepping into the water with both his boxers and his shirt. As soon as his feet hit the hot water, goosebumps prickeld across his skin, and a shiver ran up his spine. He quickly lowered himself into the steamy water beside Billy. He did a quick calculation in his mind, positioning himself at what he decided was the perfect distance right between so far away that it’s awkward and so close that it’s gay- that is to say, about five feet.

There was a certain thrill to being there, trespassing on the space that he had been instructed to never return to. A kind of excited, anxious energy buzzed at the base of his gut. A culmination of facing his fears and sitting in the place that terrified him for so long, and doing so with the boy who made his heart flutter and his palms sweat, just in view of his parents, if only they peered out the window.

Billy wore a kind of satisfied smirk as they sat, and Steve realized with a jolt that being in the boy’s presence made him feel safe. He thought back to highschool, back to the quick tongues and quicker fists. He thought about the biting remarks and the shoves and the bloody fists from bloody noses. He thought about broken plates and black eyes and just how much Billy had terrified him. But now, all of that anger and energy was no longer directed at Steve. In fact, sometimes it felt like it was being directed for Steve.

Steve knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Billy would go down swinging for him. If his parents came marching out of the house right then, if the goddamn police showed up, Billy would face them head on. He was arrogant and angry and had a too short fuse. He was impulsive and reckless and sometimes self destructive. But he was also protective, and somehow, along the way, Steve had proven himself to be something worth protecting. All of those things that Steve had once seen as rash and infuriating, somehow became endearing. He wasn’t just cantankerous and pettish, he was passionate. He wasn’t proprietorial and controlling, he was solicitous.

“You keep looking at the house and then to me. You don’t have to worry, Harrington, they’re not going to notice anything, and if they do I’ll kick their goddamn asses.” Billy spoke confidently, but with an air of humor. He was smiling softly at Steve, and wasn’t that just the whole point?

Steve was suddenly overcome with the most overwhelming urge to cross the short distance between them and press their lips together. Never had he wanted something more than he wanted, in that moment, to find out what Billy’s lips tasted like. He wanted to see if they were as soft as they looked. He wanted to know if he could still taste the cigarette that he had smoked on the way there. He wanted to know if the boy was really as good of a kisser as all the girls around town would have you believe. Goddamn, maybe he was still a little more high than he had realized, because he had to physically dig his nails into his thighs to stop himself.

“I know you would.” He spoke, and he wanted to punch himself for sounding so breathless. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Billy’s sparking ones. His cheeks were flushed from the heat of the water and the coldness of the air. His lips were full and wet from where he had run his tongue along them to moisten them. His hair was pushed back out of his face, and the light from the floodlight cast dark shadows across his freckled face. Billy was staring back at him, and Steve felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest. Try as he might he couldn’t hold back the thoughts of what’s the worst that could happen? Just go for it.

Billy’s eyes seemed to trace his face, his eyes, his nose, his lips. If Steve hadn’t known better, he could almost convince himself that the other boy was just as enamored, just as entranced by him. It felt like he was bewitched, eyes locked into the other boy, he couldn’t look away if he tried. He couldn’t have missed the way Billy’s lower lip was sucked between his teeth, tugging on the flesh and sending Steve’s heart into palpitations.

Maybe it was a trick of the light, but Steve could have sworn Billy was slowly moving towards him. So hesitantly, so leisurely, leaning across the water. Steve felt as if he might throw up in the best way. He felt his hands tighten on his thighs, his eyes lock on those pretty lips.

God what’s happening? Is he really going to do this? Right here in the hot tub? In plain view of anyone who might choose to look? How strong was that bud? Holy fuck.

Steve felt as if the whole earth had stopped moving, as if time itself had slowed to a stop, and everything else simply ceased to exist. The only thing that mattered in that moment was Billy Hargrove. The entire universe had stopped to revolve around the boy, as if he was the very center of everything in existence, the heart of reality itself.

He was now certain that they had both moved a significant amount, the distance between them cut in half. Steve’s brain had practically short circuited. He couldn’t process the idea that he was actually about to find out what it was like to kiss Billy Hargrove.

Suddenly, they were jolted out of their trance by the crashing of a garbage can across the street. Steve’s very soul practically jumped out of his throat as he spun around to see a raccoon racing away from the can which had been knocked over. If he thought that his heart was racing before, it was nothing compared to the way it was beating then. Steve thought that he was dangerously close to figuring out what it felt like to have a heart attack. “I think that was probably our que to go.” He said, “I’d be surprised if the entire neighborhood wasn’t just woken up.”

Billy, who had also spun around to see what had caused the noise, turned back to Steve with wild eyes. He nodded, “Yeah of course. You go ahead, I'll be right behind you.”

Steve pulled himself out of the water, giving Billy a confused look, “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

Billy was right behind Steve, stepping out of the hot water. After they were both standing outside of the hot tub, he pulled the thick cover back down over it. He waved Steve off as the boy pulled up his jeans, “Seriously, don’t worry about it. Just wait for me in the car, I’ll be there in like two minutes.”

Steve didn’t like the sound of that, but he knew that arguing with the boy would be fruitless. So he nodded, fastening his jeans and starting the walk back to the car.

It wasn’t a long walk, only about a block, but his boxers had soaked through his jeans and his shirt was dripping. Both articles of clothing had quickly cooled from hot to cold, and Steve was starting to regret his decision of wetting his clothing before walking through the cold November air. His skin was cold and covered with goosebumps. He shivered as he walked towards the empty house where his car was parked.

Despite the cold, his mind was going a mile a minute. He couldn’t believe what had just happened, or what had almost just happened. He hadn’t been imagining that, had he? There was no way that Billy Hargrove, lifeguard chick magnet and professional heartthrob could have really been seconds away from kissing him. Steve was probably imagining the whole thing, and that raccoon was his saving grace. If he hadn’t been stopped, he would have walked away with not only a broken face, but he would have completely lost the trust and friendship of Billy.

God Steve was an idiot. How had he let himself get wrapped up in that?

He finally reached the Beamer, climbing into the driver’s seat and starting the car. He cranked the heat up to max, hoping to warm his icy, dripping body. He would have to come out and dry the seats tomorrow, but that was far from his biggest concern at the moment.

Robin was going to hit him. Was he born yesterday? His only hope was that Billy hadn’t realized what Steve had been about to do. Maybe then their friendship could be salvaged.

What was Billy doing anyway? God. He was probably figuring out the most efficient way to tell Steve to fuck right off. He was probably sitting there deciding whether it would be more effective to verbally berate him or just punch him in the face again. Fuck why had he done that?

True to his word however, it only took Steve a minute or two to see the other boy approaching the car from the rear view mirror. He was waking with a kind of determination, but he didn’t look angry. In fact, from what Steve could see, he looked almost, giddy?

The passenger side door opened and Billy slid into the seat beside Steve. Much to the boy's surprise, there was a self satisfied grin plastered across his face, and suddenly Steve found himself anxious for an entirely different reason.

“Step on it pretty boy, let’s get the hell out of here.”

A month of hanging out was long enough for Steve to learn that when Billy gave a command like that, you followed it. So he pulled out of the empty house’s driveway, not even waiting for Billy to get fully situated before he was speeding down the road out of Loch Nora. “What did you do?” He found himself asking, anxiety and curiosity getting the best of him.

Billy’s smile grew just a bit wider as he replied, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it Harrington.”

Maybe it was because he was tired, or still a little bit high, or just so emotionally exhausted that he was being reckless, but that answer wasn’t enough for him. “Billy,” he said, glancing at the boy out of the corner of his eye, “what did you do?”

The boy waved him off, but he kept glancing behind them as if he were checking to make sure that no one was following them. “I said don’t worry about it. I just left your parents a little surprise for when they wake up. Something to tell them just how much I appreciate their fantastic parenting.”

That statement did nothing to ease the anxiety that Steve was feeling, but he didn’t push it any further. He knew that he would get nothing out of the boy if he decided not to tell him. So they rode in silence the rest of the way, and it wasn’t until Steve had pulled up the Byers’ house that Billy spoke again.

“Thanks. Tonight was fun.” He flashed Steve a grin as he stepped out of the car. The other boy nodded, his mind still racing, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Had Billy really not noticed? Were they really not going to talk about it? “See ya, Harrington.”

“Goodnight Hargrove.” Steve tossed the boy a little half wave, watching as he made his way up the stairs and onto the front porch.

Billy reached for the door, pulling it open, and Steve was about to pull out of the driveway when he noticed that Billy had stopped. The boy spun around to face Steve again, the mischievous smirk was back. “And Steve?” He called out, “Just for the record, I put your neighbor’s dog’s shit on your parents porch. Just thought I’d give them a little taste of all the shit they put you through. Goodnight!”

He didn’t give Steve a chance to respond, or even process the information that he was just given. He simply spun on his heels and pulled the door shut behind him, leaving Steve alone in the Byers driveway.