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Authenticity (And The Road To Getting There)

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The thing about having the living shit beat out of you by Russian spies in their secret lair under the mall is that you can really only go up from there. If you have your first real emotional connection with someone whilst sitting in a pool of your own blood and piss, drugged out of your mind and on the verge of death, anything that comes after that point in your relationship is a cakewalk. Be it long shifts filled with bitchy customers at Family Video, little arguments about who left a dirty sock under the couch (it was Steve), or trying to decide whether twinkies were a necessity that fit within their budget. Once you’ve almost died together you’re in it for the long haul.

This was something that Steve Harrington and Robin Buckley discovered pretty quickly.

After the whole Starcourt Mall Incident™ where foreign powers summoned an interdimensional hell beast to terrorize Hawkins, the wonder twins did their best to move on with their lives. They got jobs together at Family Video, (no thanks to doofus) and started spending every possible free second in each other’s presence. There was a kind of bond formed between the two after that night, leaving them emotionally fused together by trauma and just enough allure to create a kind of fictive kinship.

It was a relationship founded on lighthearted bickering out of nothing more than necessity that eventually blossomed into genuine affection and borderline codependency. It was a relationship of long shifts at work spent with playful competition. It was entire evenings spent with movies and dinners and bussing around prepubescents. It was hours spent on the phone when they weren’t physically together. It was Steve crawling through Robin’s window in the middle of the night after one too many night terrors, and it was actually being able to catch a few hours of sleep while wrapped up together in the same dark comforter.

It wasn’t long after this routine began that Robin decided she needed to get out of her parent’s house. Between the practicality of a one vs two person income, the desire to step out from the safety net of parental dependency, and the way that the two never spent more than a few hours apart anyway, it wasn’t difficult to convince Steve to get an apartment with her.

And so it began.

Theirs was a small, shitty, rundown place with carpeting that looked as though it had been the stopping grounds of an old woman and her 23 rag-doll cats and had a smell to attest. There were two bedrooms, a kitchen which doubled as a dining room, a bathroom, and a small central area which by the most generous of estimates could perhaps qualify as a living room. Things were constantly breaking, be it drawers, cupboards, light fixtures, the works. After exactly one month of living in their new place, Robin felt confident that she could fix anything with enough gorilla glue, duck tape, and sheer stubborn force of will. Steve felt as though he had become an expert at sitting on the counter and giving the woman moral support. But hey, it was a place to call their own and if you held your breath, wished really really hard, and spun in a circle twice, the shower might even turn on- sometimes.

It was a shithole of an apartment, but goddamn it, it was their shithole. Family Video’s minimum wage didn’t exactly prepare you for penthouse living, even with both of their incomes combined. It was a long way from Steve’s family mansion in Loch Nora but it was the first thing that was ever truly his and not The Harrington’s. So despite its cracked ceiling, broken appliances, and matted carpet that they could never quite manage to scrub the cat smell out of, Steve absolutely loved it.

There were a lot of reasons that Steve loved that apartment. There was the fact that it was his own (and Robin’s of course) and the freedom that it provided.

There was the middle aged woman, Linda, who lived in the apartment next door who always woke up the whole floor with Frank Sinatra at 6am. He of course complained loudly about her, as Steve Harrington was not a middle aged woman who enjoyed Frank Sinatra. (No matter what Robin called him when he pulled up with a car full of children.) But in the privacy of the bathroom, far from the heckling ears of the literal bane of Steve’s existence, each morning he would passionately sing along with Linda and Frank as he showered.

There was the old man across the hall who left passive-aggressive notes on the doors of anyone who walked through the hall after 10pm. Steve found this to be incredibly amusing, and always made a point to make one last cigarette run at 10:10pm on the button each night just to see what kind of colorful insults the man would dream up.

There was also a young couple a few doors down with an illegal pug (the apartments were no pets allowed) who always managed to escape and go on great adventures to say hello to all the neighbors every few days. Roofus was his name, and Steve had formed quite the bond with the little guy. Their apartment which was not home to a dog, was home to a basket of puppy toys and even a food and water dish. Robin had long since become accustomed to frequently entering her living room to find Steve asleep with a dog who was not their own laying across his chest.

But perhaps the reason that Steve loved the apartment the most was that it was there that the single most important chain of events in his entire life began. It was a chain of events that would eventually lead to him finding the love of his life and embarking on a journey of self discovery that would change the very nature of Steve Harrington as an individual.

Years later, when Steve looked back on the situation, he would cheekily remark that it all began with a gram of mediocre weed from the back pocket of Jonathan Byers. However, the truth of the matter is that the marijuana was actually the second or third event in the long series of situations that would change Steve’s life forever. The real beginning was a frustrated phone call one Saturday morning in September from Dustin Henderson. Not exactly the same amusing yet interest-peeking hook, but we’ll get to the drugs, promise.

The morning of that fateful Saturday Steve was sitting on his and Robin’s patchwork, thrift store couch. (Unfortunately, sans- dog.) He was kinda sorta trying to half pay attention to the 9 o'clock news while also half heartedly batting away the sock clad foot that Robin was waving at his curls. This was the lazy remainder of a long-standing joke between the two that began with an offhand comment about some actress’ weird feet and led to months of Robin harassing him about a foot fetish.

So a typical Saturday morning.

Suddenly, the slow, lazy atmosphere was broken as the ringing of the telephone cut through the air.

The two made eye contact from across the couch for half a second before springing into action. Steve jumped forward and Robin shot up from her reclined position, fists rising into the air in the beginning of a paramount exchange. There was a fire in their eyes as they chose their fighting positions, three beats, and then Steve’s acerbic rock faced Robin’s calculated paper.

But it was best out of three of course. They weren’t savages.

After a second crushing defeat when Steve took a calculated risk with scissors and Robin tactfully chose rock, Steve sighed disgruntledly.

“Yeah, eat it dingus!” Robin quipped as Steve pushed himself off of the couch. He paused for a moment to stretch out his limbs and crack his stiff joints. Rolling his eyes, he padded his way across the small room, flipping her off like the mature adult that he was.

“Hello, Buckley/Harington residence. Steve speaking.” He answered the phone like a little trust fund baby. He cringed as the words left his mouth, just waiting for Robin to realize what he had said. It wasn’t his fault that he had spent 18 years of his life answering every call to his house as if it was the Queen of fucking England. Apparently there were a lot of very important people who needed to speak with his Father. His Father who was consistently terrible at relaying the message to said very important people that 11/12 months of the year he was off god knows where, doing god knows what, and it was only his teenage son at the house. Old habits die hard.

“Buckley/Harrington residence?!” The girl mouthed at him, eyes lit up with amusement from her spot across the room. Steve made a deliberate point to not look at her as he once again flipped her the bird.

“You know you can just say hello , you pompous asshole.” She giggled, bouncing in place. Steve almost reprimanded her for it, but reminded himself that the second hand couch already had literal springs sticking out the bottom of it, and Buckley bouncing a little would hardly make a difference. Regardless, the words were drowned out as the voice of Dustin Henderson filled Steve’s ear.

“Steve we need your car.”

This caught Steve’s attention. His face scrunched up and he sent an incredulous look to the receiver as if Dustin could just sense the look that he was sending. To be fair, he probably could. “Excuse me? No way am I giving you little psychopaths my car! First of all, none of you are old enough to drive. Second of all, I’ve seen how Max ‘drives’-” he made little air quotes with his free hand, “-and there’s no way in hell i'm letting her put her hands on my car.”

“No dumbass, we need you to drive your car over and pick up Me, Lucus, and Mike and drop us off at Will’s.” Dustin patronized.

Relieved, Steve leaned his weight against the chipped wallpaper, fingers playing with the phone cord. “Ah, so this is just you ringing your metaphorical bell for your slave to come make his rounds,” he quipped. Robin, who could only hear one side of the conversation, let out a snort.

“Uh uh.” Dustin remarked dryly, “So anyways we need to be there by 5 so should I tell the guys you’ll be there at 4:45ish?”

Steve gave a dramatic sigh into the phone, but it was really all for show. In truth he loved the kids, and it wasn’t as if he and Robin couldn’t postpone their big plans to sit on the couch and stare at each other all night. “Fine, fine. But one of these days when you call with your panties all up in a bunch needing me to be at your beck and call as always, I’m going to tell you no. I’m gonna tell you I have important plans and it’s rude of you to call last minute and assume I can just drop everything for your fairytale games.”

“Yes his life is just oh so riveting! Adventure at every turn, this one!” Robin called from her place on the couch. Dustin of course could not hear her, but Steve, for the third time in as many minutes, indignantly flipped her off.

“Yes of course Steve. We know. So I’ll see you at 4:45?”

“Yes, fine. See you at 4:45 you little dick face.” Steve dismissed, thoroughly offended with the way he was being attacked , from both sides , in his own home . He really didn’t know why he hated himself so much as to choose these assholes as the people that he surrounded himself with. A question for someone with at least six years of psychology under their belt, Steve supposed.

“Love you Steve.” Dustin sang sweetly, and Steve rolled his eyes so hard he thought he might have seen his brain.

“Uh huh, you just love the fact that I can drive you guys around. I get it, I’m accustomed to being used. I’m just an object for all of you to benefit from until I have nothing of value left for you to take. When you guys start driving you’ll just abandon me like chewed up gum.”

“Ooh, accustomed. Big words from Stevie.” That was the asshole behind him again. Steve huffed and spun around to face the girl. She had a shit eating grin on her face as she stared at the scowling boy.

“Fuck you Buckley. I don’t need to take shit from a muppet fucker.” He stuck his tongue out jeeringly. Robin’s eyes went wide and she froze for a split second before she was overcome with a laugh so sudden and intense that it sent her into a coughing fit.

“What?!” Dustin, who had no idea what was happening on Steve’s end of the line squawked. Until that moment he hadn’t even been aware that Buckley was in the room with the man, and regardless ‘muppet fucker’ was not anywhere on the list of insults that he expected to hear Steve use for the woman. “Steve what the hell?!”

“Nothing!” He quickly responded, having momentarily forgotten about the boy on the line. “Just- never mind. I’ll see you later.” Steve rushed as he eyed up Robin who was quickly recovering and looked as though she was rearing up to fire back.

“Steve, wait-“

“See ya Henderson.” Steve interrupted, finally hanging up the line and turning to face the girl at the other end of the room.

There was still a glimmer of humor in her eyes as she said, “I’ll give it to you Harrington, that was creative.”

Steve let out a soft sign, relieved that the little battle was seemingly over. “Thank you.” He started, “Honestly I don’t know where that came from. I was just as shocked as you.” After a moment of hesitation, he started to make his way across the room, back to the couch where he had previously resided.

Robin, who had laid back down across the furniture, lifted her legs to allow Steve to sit on the cushions. She set them into his lap after he finished adjusting, wiggling until he found a position where the spring in his ass wasn’t quite so invasive. It was a twenty five dollar couch, beggars can't be choosers. He let his hands rest on her shins as he leaned back, eyes meeting the cracked roof of their apartment.

“So, we babysitting tonight?” Robin questioned after a moment of silence.

“Nah, just dropping Dustin, Lucus, and Mike off at the Byers. But if it’s cool with you I figured we could stop in for a bit, maybe for dinner. I’m getting sick of Ramen and Pop-Tarts.” Steve sent a glare towards the kitchen, stomach already protesting the idea of another instant meal.

“Oh hell yes. Joyce’s mashed potatoes are orgasmsic.” Robin hummed from her place beside the boy, arms moving to fold behind her neck.

Steve cringed. A shiver creeped up his spine, as if the very universe were protesting the idea of associating Joyce with anything but motherly wholesomeness, “Please do not use the word orgasmic in the same sentance as Joyce Byers.”

Robin made sure to make direct eye contact with the man when she said, “I don’t know man, Joyce is a MILF.”

Steve paused, so overcome by the deepest offense and exasperation that only Robin Buckey (and sometimes Dustin) could make him feel. It was the world's greatest mystery why Steve continued to put up with her shit. He considered his options for all of two seconds before opting to abruptly push the girl from the couch.

He did not feel bad about it.

- - - -

Here’s the thing.

Steve “The Hair” Harrington, was a real tool in high school. He ran around with the kids who drove fast, fancy cars, that their daddies bought them to buy back their affections after they made their mothers cry. He did it because that’s what the kids at school expected of him. He played basketball and worked out and made a name for himself as someone who had it all. He did it because that’s what his father expected of him. He made eyes at the girls on the cheer team and took them out to nice dinners on his daddy’s dime. He did it because that’s what the girls at school expected of him. He hosted house parties every weekend when his parents were off doing god knows what. He drank and he drank until he couldn’t stand any longer and certainly couldn't remember a single good reason that he we so fucking depressed all the time. He did that because it was the only goddamn way he could live with himself.

Here’s the thing. Steve “The Hair” Harrington was a real tool in high school, because that’s what everyone expected of him. But then when it’s all set and done, the kids from school moved on with their lives. His parent’s finally realized that Steve isn’t their golden boy and consequently stoped pretending to give a fuck. Steve found that the safety blanket of driving too fast, and kissing too hard, and drinking too much, and never giving himself a chance to just stop and exist was suddenly ripped out from under him. Suddenly he’s not the boy who made Nancy Wheeler go all Sandy Olsson; but the high school burn out who works at Family Video and can sometimes be seen trucking around a car full of prepubescents.

Here’s the thing. Steve “The Hair” Harrington was a mask, a cover, a personification of everything that everyone else wanted him to be. But the truth was on the inside Steve was just a scared little boy who didn’t know how to deal with the fact that his mother never had any interest in her son. He didn’t know how to deal with the fact his father wouldn’t give a shit if he was shooting heroin as long as he kept a basketball under one arm and a skinny girl with an admirable rack under the other. Steve didn’t know how to deal with the fact that his parents didn’t give a shit about him. He didn’t know how to deal with the fact that he had no fucking clue what he was doing with his life. He didn’t know how to deal with the fact that he was dating Nancy Wheeler but sometimes when they were fucking he knew that she was thinking about Jonathon Byers. He certainly didn’t know how to deal with the fact that sometimes he was thinking about him too. He didn’t know how to deal with the fact that sometimes, when he was alone in his room he thought about what would happen if he just opened his window and let himself fall through the screen.

So instead of dealing with all of that shit, he drove around with Tommy, and kept playing basketball, and kept fucking Nancy Wheeler, and he kept drinking until he couldn’t remember why he started in the first place. On a particularly bad day he broke Jonathon’s camera, and to be fair he kind of deserved it. But it didn’t even matter, because Steve didn’t break it because he was being a creep and Steve had to protect anyone’s honor. He did it because that morning he had woken up from a dream about having Byers wrapped up in his arms and for a second that morning he had even believed it was real.

Here’s the thing. Steve “The Hair” Harrington didn’t know how to deal with the fact that he was a real fucking person, and not just a culmination of everything that everyone else wanted him to be.

Steve thought that maybe he was starting to figure out how to be real. After all, it’s hard to remember who you are and aren’t supposed to be while the vast majority of your mental capacity is being dedicated to ‘holy fuck is that a demon?? What the fucking shit!? Quick hit it with the bat! Fuck! Get the kids out of the way! Holy shit it’s getting bigger! It’s hard to remember how to be the suave, aloof, rich kid who’s too good to have his time wasted by all these other lowlifes while fighting for your life alongside said lowlifes. It’s harder still to put the mask back on once everyone has seen you with it off.

To be fair Steve was trying. He was trying to let people in, he was trying to take off the mask, he was trying to look at himself in the mirror and have some semblance of an idea of who he actually was as a person. He was trying to be true and authentic and to not feel as though the only way someone could ever care about him was if he put the mask back on because people don’t succeed in life by being vulnerable. To be fair Steve was trying, but it’s hard to unpack 18 years of that on his own when he was at least 90% sure that even a trained therapist would require a sum of money that would make even his father’s head spin.

So it was an uphill battle but Steve was making it work. He picked up a job at Scoops and he filled up as much of his spare time as he could trucking the kids around. He met the absolute bain of his existence and somewhere along the way maybe possibly started to use her affection to fill the void left by his absent parents. (But that’s a whole other round of therapist bills.) His mom and dad were never home and when they were they just kind of ignored him. But he always had food and water and at least he wasn't living out on the streets so Steve tried to remind himself not to be such a pussy about it.

Then the monsters came back because the monsters always come back. Steve got harassed by Lucas’ little sister, and snuck into a russian lair, and was drugged and tortured, and fought for his life at the Starcourt Mall. Before he knew it the mall was gone, he was living with Robin in a shitty five room apartment that was falling apart at the seams, and was driving down the road with said girl in the passenger's seat while contemplating the meaning of life.

Hi, I’m Steve, and my life? Is kinda crazy.

He was kind of sad to see the mall go, something he had never thought he would say. There were some really important memories at that place, like half heartedly trying to pick up girls to fill the void in his heart, solving secret russian code in the breakroom, making stupid bets with Robin to decide who had to clean the milk fridge, almost being killed by a giant monster in the food court, a super intense heart to heart with Robin while half drugged and covered in vomit on the bathroom floor, etc.

But it was better this way.

Steve struggled a lot with the idea of letting go of the caricature that he had always tried to be. He was in uncharted waters now, living in his own place with his own money with someone who was actually important to him and trying to be vulnerable enough to maintain a genuine relationship. It was terrifying. Maybe he had fucking hated himself and maybe he wanted to die most days, but it was still easier to be daddy’s perfect little douche bag than to be a real person. Some days he even wished that he could turn back the clock. Preferably back to Senior year shot-gunning rum and coke until he vomited all over his mother’s white rug and couldn’t peel himself off the floor if the house was on fire.

But he had to pull himself out of those thoughts. He couldn’t run from himself anymore. He had made his choice. Sure it was scary to let yourself be the person that you spent your whole life trying not to be. But otherwise Steve was on a fast track to riding a basketball scholarship and his daddy’s name recognition to college. He would knock up some skinny blonde chick who cared more about the sports car than the boy driving it, and would propose to avoid the scandal. He would work for his dad’s company and live trapped behind the white picket fence that felt more like a cage. Trapped in a house he hated, with a wife he didn’t like, with a kid who was probably doing fucking cocaine, and a life full of what ifs. Like father like son, and really, wasn’t that even more terrifying than anything else?

Suddenly there was a hand on his knee and Steve almost wrecked the car.

“Hey,” came Robin’s soft voice, just breaking through the soft hum of Madonna- because, yes, Steve listened to Madonna, fuck you. “Where’s your head at?”

“Hmm?” Steve kept his eyes on the road ahead, not making eye contact with the girl beside him. Instead he let his eyes creep across the countless lawns of the surrounding suburbs.

Robin shifted in her seat to reach across the center console and lightheartedly punch the boy in the arm. “Stop being so mean to my friend Steve. He may be a dumbass but he doesn’t deserve half the shit you give him.” She settled back into her spot, eyes shining fondly as she studied Steve’s face.

The boy glanced over to meet her eyes, a small smile teasing the corners of his lips. A quiet, “Sorry.” was the only response he gave. It was one of those moments where Steve really recognized how lucky he was to have Robin in his life.

“Yeah well, shape up buddy.” The girl retorted, “If Dustin gets in this car and sees you all somber and shit he’s gonna think I was bullying you.” She crossed her arms and scrunched up her nose, but the tone was light and teasing. Steve couldn’t help but find himself slowly being pulled from his sour mood, filled with a fondness for the girl currently setting her dirty converse on his dashboard.

“Yeah well, you’re always bullying me so.” He reached across the car to push her feet down, flicking the turn signal with his other hand as he slowly approached the driveway of the boy in question.

“That is so not fair! I am sweet as pie. You just make it too easy with your big dumb hair and your fucking Madonna .” She gestured to the radio and the accompanying tape. The heavy atmosphere that has settled over the car had almost completely dissipated by the point.

As they started to pull into the Henderson driveway Steve tossed the tape case to Robin. “Speaking of which, can you change that shit to like, Prince or something? I can see Dustin through the window.”

Robin laughed, “Scared of the scrutiny of a 14 year old I see?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

- - - -  

When they arrived at the Byers it was already full, and Steve almost felt bad for planning to stick around.

There was the sound of pots and pans clanking around from the kitchen. The smell of homemade mashed potatoes, much to Robin’s delight, wafted through the air. Joyce was hovering over the stove, working diligently and fighting off Hopper, who was repeatedly attempting to get his fingers in whatever bowl was sat in front of the woman.

Johnathon and Nancy sat together on the couch in the living room. They were curled up in front of the tv, which seemed to be quietly playing some kind of old movie.

You could hear voices raised in excitement from back towards the bedrooms. Steve assumed it was coming from what was now Will and Jonathon’s room.

“Hey guys, come on in.” Joyce smiled at the crew who was just making their way through the threshold. She dried her hands with a dishtowel, using it to give Hopper- who was making his final stand apparently- a smack on the shoulder. Turning to face the kids, she said, “Will, Jane, and Max are in Will’s room.” and just like that, the three boys who had already toed off their shoes took off down the hall. “Dinner will be ready in about a half an hour!” The woman called after them.

After the trio disappeared to the back of the house, Joyce turned her attention to Steve and Robin. “Are you two staying for dinner?” She inquired brightly as Hopper, fingers leaving his lips, turned to stand next to the woman.

Robin was already sliding her shoes off as Steve replied, “If it’s not too much trouble, we’d love to, Ms. Byers.” he sent a sharp look at the girl, who, to her credit, at least had the decency to send a guilty look back at the boy.

“It’s Joyce, Steven, and you are always welcome. You know that.” She chided as she turned back to her cooking. The warm atmosphere of the Byers’ residence never failed to amaze Steve, who was now slipping out of his own shoes.

 

“Jonathan and Nancy are in there.” Hopper gestured towards the living room, and Steve sent a nod in his direction as he and Robin began to make their way over to the couple.

Steve watched Robin send a radiant smile to the two young adults curled up on the couch, trailing a few paces behind. She had a spring in her step as she slid into the space beside the two and immediately sank down into Nancy’s side, joining the cuddle pile. Watching this unfold it really dawned on Steve how strange their little friend group was.
Steve and Nancy had dated, and to say it ended poorly would be an understatement. Robin had, just a few months ago, called Nancy a ‘priss’ and wanted nothing to do with the girl. There was also the whole incident where Steve beat up Jonathan and broke his camera, before the boy turned around and stole his girlfriend. If you would have told Steve, even at the beginning of the summer that they would be able to move past all that and form a tight knit friendship he wouldn’t have believed you.

“Steve, care to join?” Nancy smiled at him, outstretching an arm in his direction as he approached.

He raised an eyebrow at her, eyes trailing up and down the small couch already hosting three fully grown people. “Not that the idea of piling on top of all of you isn't incredibly appealing, but I think I’ll be okay on the beanbag.” He quipped as he flopped down onto the bag on the right side of the couch. He couldn't imagine how the Byers, who’s household just seemed to keep growing, all managed to make do in the house.

He remembered thinking of that back in July when, admirable as it had been, Joyce had taken in Max. After the incident that summer, after Billy Hargrove had passed away, a whole can of worms had been opened up about the Hargrove/Mayfeild household. In particular, Neil Hargrove, and how he had been drinking until he passed out and beating the shit out of his son. Billy would have died- or, no, that's a bad figure of speech- if anyone had found out. But after he was gone, Max let it slip while talking to Hopper the one day. He of course wouldn’t let the girl return to that house, and thus launched a long, expensive, drawn out court battle. Hopper was hoping to put the son of a bitch away for good, but it was a hard fight when the key figure in the story is dead. But regardless of whether the Chief could manage to make an arrest, he did manage to raise enough hell to officially get Joyce custody of Max at least while the investigation into Neil happened.

Max, well, this was good for her. Not only was it dangerous for her to be in that house, but she needed the Byers at a time like this. For as much as they fought and got under each other's skin, she had lost her brother that summer, and she had taken it really hard. Will and Jane were a big help, and Joyce was especially good for the girl. So practicality of fitting a six person household in a six room, three bedroom house aside, it was a decision that had to be made, and Steve admirred Joyce and Hopper for that so much. Will moved his stuff in with Jonathan, and Jane and Max shared a room, and it was a tight fit but they made it work.

Sure, it was a little annoying when Steve and Robin wanted to come over to uh, do some recreational activities with Jonathan and Nancy, but they could suck it up. Steve was sure it sucked exponentially more for Nancy, and it wasn't as if Steve and Robin didn’t have a place now.

“Loser.” Robin called from her place on the couch. She was leaning heavily against Nancy’s side, who was sitting with her legs tossed up over Jonathan’s lap.
Nancy chuckled good naturedly, sending a glance to the girl beside her. “Already miss your man that much?”

Robin groaned as Steve chucked a pillow towards the girl , “For the last time, Robin and I are not dating.” He insisted for what seemed like the millionth time. It was one thing for Robin’s parents or Joyce to think that they were together, but Nancy was supposed to be on their side.

“Yeah asshole, you think I would go for dingus? I have much better taste than that.” Robin grumbled, pulling away from the girl who was now sending her a playful glare.

“Watch it Buckley. You trying to say I have bad taste?” Nancy started. But it was in good humor, her eyes still sparkling with amusement at the situation .

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Sometimes I allow myself to think about what badass friends I have, and then I’m reminded that at one point you picked him.” Robin exclaimed, hand thrown to gesture towards Steve, who was feeling very targeted during this conversation.

Jonathon made a small noise from beside the two women, and Nancy suddenly spun around to face the boy, laying a hand on his chest. “Don’t worry babe, I came to my senses soon enough.” She smirked cheekily.

“Hey!” Steve finally shouted, “What is this? Let’s all get together and talk about how gross and unloveable Steve is?” He tried to keep the humor out of his voice and did his very best to look serious and offended. “I already have to deal with that all day in my own home thanks to this asshole.” he smacked at Robin’s hand, which was still hanging over the edge of the couch. She swung back at him lightheartedly.

“Sorry Stevie,” Nancy started to giggle.

Steve studied the couple. As much as he liked to joke, he was really happy that they found each other. They just worked. While he was dating Nancy he never would have admitted it, but now that he was far enough removed from the situation he could admit that they just made sense. Of course it was Jonathan and Nancy.

Plus, they were soulmates, so that helped.

He let his eyes trail over their interlocking fingers, and the matching scars that ran up their right wrists. He remembered how devastated he had been when Nancy had gotten that scar after slipping in the ice just a few months after their breakup. Back in the early days he had been holding onto hope that maybe they had gotten it wrong, maybe they were meant to be, and in a few months time they would come running back to each other. But then Nancy almost broke her arm and gave herself a nice long scar on her wrist that Steve very obviously did not have, and Jonathan Byers, well, did.
But that was all in the past. Now Steve was so incredibly happy for the two. They deserved it.

Suddenly Jonathan spoke up from beside his girlfriend.

“Can’t get into it here because, well, full house. But if you have some spare cash on you, I have something that might make you feel a little better.” He suddenly shifted, pulling a small bag out of his back pocket. There were two pre-rolled joints in the bag, and suddenly Steve was taking a mental inventory of every ounce of cash he had on himself and in his car.

“Dude, Hopper is right there.” Robin muttered, and Jonathan waved his hand, dismissing her.

“He’s in the kitchen. Plus, he doesn’t want to bust his almost step-son. I’d have to practically blow a smoke ring in his face for him to feel like he actually had to do something.” This didn’t seem to ease Robin’s nerves as much as Byers had been hoping. “Anyways, you interested?”

Steve nodded eagerly, “I think I have like $7 in my car..”

“Sold!” Jonathon grinned and tossed the bag across the room, Steve caught it and quickly pocketed the herbs. Just as he was about to ask if the boy wanted to walk out to his car with him, Joyce’s voice rang out through the house.

“Dinner’s ready!”

Steve and Jonathan made eye contact.

“After dinner?”

“Good with me.”

Little did Steve know, that would come to be the best $7 he would ever spend. Eventually looking back on it he would realize that it was those two little joint’s from Jonathan Byers pocket that would eventually lead to the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

Nancy Wheeler had known for a while that Steve Harrington was gay. Or, well, kind of gay? Half gay? Whatever. The point is, she had known for months, maybe years, to be perfectly honest.

And sure, at first it kind of freaked her out. She was young, and immature, and way out of her comfort zone dating The King of Hawkins High™. She was already feeling all kinds of horrible, because she was with the guy that every teenage girl in the whole town (and lets be real, their mothers) fingered themselves to. But while Nancy Wheeler was actually being fingered by him, well, she was wishing it was someone else.

Jonathan Byers.

But then she caught onto the fact that she wasn’t the only one pining after the boy. She realized that her and her boyfriend were both dreaming of getting their guts rearranged by Jonathan, and that was just too much. She already felt gross and weird and guilty about it, and Steve being… well, Nancy couldn’t deal with that.

So she called it off and called him bullshit. Then she went and really did get her guts rearranged by Jonathan. She did it because, well, she won then, didn’t she?

And sure, she felt like shit about it. It was a dick move, and so incredibly not fair to Steve. But at the time she was angry, and scared, and more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of her boyfriend fantasizing about the same person as her. So she got with Jonathan, to… prove something maybe? To make a statement? To really hammer the last nail into the coffin of her and Steve’s relationship? Or maybe just to hurt him? Whatever, it was a shitty thing to do.

Of course, she’s not sorry she did it, more so, sorry that it happened the way it did. Jonathan turned out to be her soulmate for fucks sake, so no she’s not sorry that she broke up with Steve for him. Plus, Steve’s over him. Nancy was pretty sure that once the two actually started to become friends, the infatuation wore off.

She was sorry, however, for being such a dick to Steve in the beginning. She wasn’t homophobic, not really. Not once she got over the initial shock that comes with the whole, living in a small, conservative town in Indiana, and really thought about it. Nancy had grown up in a somewhat religious household. It wasn’t as if she was constantly berated from every side with reminders about how God sends homosexuals to burn in hell. But it was more so a concept that came up once in a blue moon and was just kind of accepted. She knew that it was wrong to be gay because her dad told her that God created men to be with women one day after something about it came up on the news, and that was that.

Sure, every once and a while you come across someone who had a same sex soulmate. But that’s an anomaly, a product of the sinful nature of humans and something that you just have to ignore. People have cancer, that doesn’t mean it was God’s perfect plan for people to die of cancer. That’s how her Dad had explained it to her at least.

So yes, when she first realized Steve was bent, at least a little bit, she was angry. Her initial reaction was to be disgusted, and frustrated, and to push herself away from him. That just wasn’t what you were supposed to be in a place like Hawkins Indiana, and Nancy and everyone else knew that.

But it had been years since Nancy had believed in a god. Certainly not the god of the Bible. When you take away the argument of religion, the idea that homosexuality is inherently wrong or bad, well, it doesn’t exactly have any legs to stand on. Does it?

Steve was a good guy, sure he was kind of a douche in highschool, but he had a good heart and he was really doing a lot better now. She thought maybe it was something to do with the kids and the Upsidedown and just growing up in general.

Nancy had grown up a lot too.

It didn’t take too long for her to come to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality. Not with her guilty conscience making her spend hours on end thinking about the way it had all went down with Steve.

So what if he likes boys, Nancy sure as hell understands.

So anyways, the point is, Nancy had known for a long time that Steve wasn’t exactly straight. The problem is, in the middle of Butt-Fuck Indiana (Maybe a different figure of speech would be more appropriate) Nancy wasn’t quite sure that Steve knew. Or at the very least, Nancy worried that he would never admit it to himself.

It took her months of self discovery, losing her religion, and hours upon hours of thinking through the whole situation for her to come to the conclusions that she had. Not to mention, it was easier for her because it wasn’t really about her. She could only imagine the hell that Steve was putting himself through, if he even let himself think about it at all.

So, Nancy wasn’t really sure if Steve knew that he wasn’t straight.

She hoped he did, because Steve deserved to be happy. They may not have worked out, in fact they may have even been really toxic together. But both parties had done a lot of growing up since, and now Nancy had all the love in the world for the boy. In fact, she wasn’t really sure what she would do without him. Sitting, perched in her boyfriend, her soulmate’s lap, she thought to herself, she wasn’t sure if Steve knew he wasn’t straight, but she hoped he did, because he deserved to feel the way that she felt in that moment.

“Earth to Nancy.” Jonathan purred softly into her ear, “Where’s your head at?”

Nancy sent a warm smile up at the boy, heart swelling with so much affection that she couldn’t at all help the sickeningly mushy expression that must be crossing her features. She shook her head, dismissing the question.

“I just love you so much.” She said softly.

Yeah, Steve deserved that.

-

It took exactly 12 minutes, 43 seconds, and four wacks from a monkey wrench for Steve to get the shower to finally turn on that morning. Yes, wacks. As if Steve Harrington knew enough about monkey wrenches and plumbing to fix a shower. Ha.

He smirked at his work as he dropped the wrench to the ground along with his shirt, sweatpants, and boxers.

The fact that Steve even owned a monkey wrench was nothing more than circumstantial luck. It had been a gift to him from Hopper on the day that Steve finally moved out of The Harrington’s mansion in Loch Nora. He had been working himself into quite a state about finally calling and telling his parents that he was leaving. So much so that the boy had waited until the day of, worrying about the anger and disappointment that would surely come. After all, Steve was finally calling to tell them that he was officially walking away from the perfect plan that they had envisioned for the perfect son.

Really, it had been a long time coming.

First he had fucked up the perfect relationship with the girl next door. Not that his parents cared enough to know anything about Nancy except that she was decently popular around school and that her family was respected and more than financially sound. But she was the perfect girl on paper and Steve had fucked that up.

Strike one.

He bombed his senior year and failed to be accepted into any colleges. Let alone the prestigious Harvard or Yale or Stanford that his father had envisioned his only son attending. So he picked up a part time job at Scoops slinging ice cream and tried not to think about how it would feel to fall into his pool and never come back up again.

What a stupid little thought, Steve would never step foot near that pool. Not after what happened.

Strike Two.

So he didn’t have the girl, and he didn’t have the school, and his parents never stopped to pay him any attention anymore. But every once and a while when he was able to have a short conversation with them his father would mention something about his company. It seemed that even then he held onto the idea that Steve would of course come and work for him at his company.

But to call and tell them that he was moving out into a shitty little rundown apartment with a coworker from Scoops . (Or, Family Video now but Steve wasn’t sure his parents gave enough of a shit to know that he had a new job. The fucking mall was destroyed but Steve was sure his parents never even spared a thought as to what that meant for their son.) To finally say, I’m done living in your house, I’m not working for your company, I’m done trying to break my back bending over backwards to try and make you happy. I can’t make you happy. Nineteen years and I’ve never been able to make you happy.

Strike three.

And that would be it. Steve knew that would be it. That would be the last conversation he would have with his parents. The worst part was that he wasn’t even sure they would care. Sure, they would be angry with him on the phone, tell him what a disappointment and a failure he was. But Steve was confident that they would hang up, turn back around to the wealthy men and women around them, and move on with their lives without a son. It wouldn’t make a difference to them. That’s just one less expense on the list.

So he waited, and on the day that he was scheduled to leave and begin moving his stuff into his and Robin’s new place, he called them.

It went almost exactly how he had thought it would. He was told that he was being ridiculous, and acting like a child. He was told that he was an idiot and that he would never go anywhere in life. He was told that he was their greatest disappointment and a stain on the Harrington name, and then, they hung up on him.

Steve had held it together for all of five minutes before he walked out the door, got into the drivers’ seat of the Beemer with the boxes that he was loading completely disregarding, and broke down. Steve took off down the road, silent tears devolving into loud, angry, scream crying. He wasn’t sure where he was going. Robin would be worried when he didn’t meet her at the apartment in an hour, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care.

He didn’t remember deciding to go there, but suddenly Steve was parked in the driveway of the Byers. He had mostly calmed his sobbing but his throat was raw and his eyes were red and puffy. He knew that tears were still spilling over his cheeks but as he stepped out of his car he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Hopper had suddenly emerged from the shed. When he saw Steve standing beside his car the man assumed that he was there to pick up Will and Max. But then he had seen the state that Steve was in and suddenly a pit had formed in the bottom of the man’s stomach.

He found himself jogging over to the boy, already fearing the worst case scenario. When he was finally standing in front of the teenager he stopped, placing a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Harrington, what’s going o-” he had started to say before Steve, who had never been particularly close to the chief of the police force, knocked the wind out of the man with the force of the crushing hug that he was pulled into.

Hopper had stood frozen as Steve Harrington clung to him like he was afraid that if he let go he would die. The young adult who was feeling more and more like a scared little kid by the second was sobbing loudly into Hopper’s shoulder. The man slowly brought his arms up to hold the boy close, so incredibly out of his comfort zone but knowing that at the moment this was the best he could do for the boy.

Once Hopper had gotten Steve to calm down enough that he wasn’t worried that the boy was going to pass out from hyperventilating, he took him into the shed. He knew that the kids respected Steve, and that the boy probably wouldn’t want Will and Max to see him in such a state.

Harrington had told him everything. From the neglect and emotional abuse, to the way the trauma from Barb and all the Upsidedown shit made it impossible to concentrate, to failing classes and not being accepted into colleges, and to Robin Buckley and finally deciding to get the fuck out of that house.

He felt guilty, but the chief was almost relieved when he found out it was about the boy’s parents. At least it wasn’t Upsidedown shit. The relief lasted only a second though, before the man got the whole story and was left feeling a deep and hot kind of rage towards the elder two Harringtons.

Hopper wasn’t a therapist, hell he was barely a parent, but he was trying his best. He comforted Steve the best he could, tried to remind himself that explosive anger wouldn’t fix anything nor make the boy in front of him feel any better. So they talked, for hours, and by the time they finished the sun was setting and the shed was starting to become just a little too cold to be comfortable.

Before Steve left, Hopper had awkwardly looked around before grabbing an old monkey wrench off the wall. Steve started at him as if he had three heads before Hopper grunted, “A house warming gift. I’m sure you don’t have a tool set of your own. You need that kind of shit if you’re gonna be living on your own.”

Steve had smiled brightly and genuinely at the man’s words, accepting the monkey wrench and pulling the man into a tight hug one more time.

After that Hopper had kind of become a father figure to Steve. It was weird. He had never really had a Father before. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen his dad in person, and the only time they spoke it felt as if Steve was some kind of inconvenience. Something the man simply put up with. But this was different.

So Steve and Robin had a monkey wrench. Unfortunately, as appreciated as the sentiment was, Steve had no fucking clue how to use a monkey wrench. So the thing hung on the kitchen wall and the only time it was used was when someone needed to hit something. It was big and heavy and of course they didn’t have a hammer.

Maybe the next time someone abandons him he’ll get a pitty hammer.

But that hadn’t happened yet. So that morning when Steve had gone to step into the shower and found the knobs turning and turning but no water coming out, he sighed and made his way to the kitchen to grab the monkey wrench.

Again, to hit the thing until it turned on, because Steve never had parents to show him how the fuck to use a wrench.

But finally, a steady stream of lukewarm water was dripping from the shower head. A sad and pathetic stream sure, but a stream nonetheless.

As Steve stepped into the shower he noticed that the duck tape which was rigging up the shower head was starting to come loose. He assumed this must be due to the constant dampness making the tape lose its stickiness, and made a mental note to have Robin touch up her handywork.

Steve knew that somewhere, somehow, a little piece of his father’s soul just died. But frankly, Steve didn’t give a fuck, probably couldn’t if he tried. Seriously, fuck you Dad, wherever you are, Jesus.

Anyway.

Steve stepped under the spray of water. It was just on the wrong side of too cool. Goosebumps started to prickle at his skin but he quickly decided against trying to mess with the water any longer. With his luck if he so much as thought too seriously about attempting to get some more hot water running the appliance would stop working all together.

He closed his eyes and tilted his head back under the spray, letting the cold water run down through his hair and over his face. Steve concentrated on the feeling of it dripping down over his head and tried not to let himself get caught up in his thoughts.

Dustin had come back to the apartment with Steve and Robin after the campaign at the Byers’ the previous night. They ate stale popcorn and watched some shitty action movie. The kid passed out on the threadbare couch sometime around 1:30am and Robin and Steve retired to their respective rooms shortly after that.

He still needed to take the kid home. Plus, he was supposed to pick up Jonathan to go take pictures at the Quarry later. This wasn’t the time for a pity party.

Steve reached over to grab the shampoo beside him, squeezing a generous amount of the blue gel into the palm of his hand. He started to work the soap through his hair, massaging it into his scalp and using his fingernails to scratch. Steve inhaled deeply, the rich smell of cedar filled the bathroom.

Once the shampoo had been rinsed from his hair, Steve made a grab for the body wash. As he started to work the soap down his shoulders and over his chest, his fingers caught on something rough and unfamiliar.

Steve’s eyes snapped open, head shooting down to try and get a good look at his chest, The skin over his left pec, right over where his heart would be, was covered in deep scar tissue. The area was thick and bumpy, rough, as if the skin had been ripped to shreds. Although the injury was not his own, just staring down at the scar it had left, Steve swore he could almost feel it.

A small gasp left the boy’s lips as he ran his hand over the area again and again. It was an ugly injury, painting a perfect picture of something gruesome and deadly.

Suddenly, Steve felt lightheaded. He reached out to steady himself against the wall of the shower. The thought of what kind of incident would cause such an injury, leave such a scar, he felt sick to his stomach.

He had a few scars from his soulmate, little nicks and cuts that he didn’t have a story for. But nothing like this. This was something bad, something traumatic, something… deadly.

Realistically, he knew that if it had appeared as a scar on his body, his soulmate was okay. Their chest was healed, bearing a matching scar. If they had died from the injury it never would have healed and never would have showed up on Steve’s own chest. But the thought of someone going through something that would leave such a mark, well, it had to have been a close thing.

Steve let the cold water rinse away the body wash before turning the shower off. He hadn’t conditioned his hair yet but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Later, when his hair was dry and straw like with none of the bounce and shine that he worked so hard for, he would regret his decision. But for now, Steve’s mind was far from the significance of messing up his daily hair regimen.

He stepped out of the tub, toweling himself dry. The boy pulled on the new pair of boxers and shorts that he had brought into the bathroom with him, forgoing the shirt in favor of leaving his chest on display.

“Robin!” He called out, making his way towards the living room where she and Dustin were reclined on the couch. They were in the middle of an intense level of Mario Bros , in the same positions that Steve had left them when he went to go get a shower. The two paid him no mind, attention still completely devoted to the game in front of them.

“Robin.” He tried again, padding over to stand next to the television. If the girl had been paying him any attention at all she would have been scolding him for the way his hair was dripping into the carpets. However as it was, neither her nor Dustin looked up, their intense gazes fixed on screen.

“In a minute Dingus.” She muttered, leaning slightly forward in her seat.

Steve rolled his eyes, nervous energy still bubbling up inside of him, making him bounce on his toes. He worried his bottom lip between his teeth, “Rob it’s important.”

“Shut up Steve.” Dustin muttered. His entire body was tense, as if he was the one who had just discovered that his chest looked as though someone had run it through a meat grinder. Like some low budget Sweeney Todd . But no, he was focused on a video game.

Steve’s fingers started tapping anxiously against his knee. He understood, he had saved up and bought the stupid game for gods sake. Robin frequently would come out of her room in the morning to find him on the couch in the same position she had left him eight hours prior. His eyes would be half lidded, hands cramping and a crick in his back as he sat in the same position, surrounded by empty beer cans and a Doritos bag. But not while someone was having a crisis.

“Rob-”

“Steve!” The girl shrieked, and suddenly the music changed to the sound of losing a level. She and Dustin groaned loudly, flopping back against the couch with annoyed huffs. “Happy now?”

Steve reached over to press the power button on the tv, shutting the game off.

“What the hell?” Dustin started to grumble as Steve made his way across the room. He was about to start pouting when he finally looked up to see the boy and the words caught in his throat. “Holy shit.”

“Steve when the fuck did you get mauled by a bear? ” Robin started, perturbed.

Steve sat down in the chair beside the two. He felt as if his whole body was vibrating, hands shaking where he let them rest on his knees. He shifted in the seat once, twice, feeling like he couldn’t get comfortable. When he finally spoke his voice came out hoarse.

“Yeah, uh,” he cleared his throat, “so this just happened.”

Robin suddenly leaned forward in the seat, her elbows resting on her knees as she studied the scar. Her eyebrows scrunched together, eyes wandering over every dip and bump.

Steve found himself beginning to feel uncomfortable as he looked over to see Dustin doing the same.

“Holy shit. So that’s...” Robin began, voice going soft in a whisper. She trailed off, as if the last word was too fragile to speak.

“Your soulmate’s.”

Steve glanced over to Dustin, who had finished for her. Their eyes met as the older boy nodded silently. There was a beat where no one spoke.

“Looks pretty bad.” Robin muttered, almost to herself. She suddenly leaned forward even more, reaching out to run her hand across the scarred flesh. If it had been anyone else it would have been strange, crossing boundaries. But Steve let the girl. “Musta been..”

“A close call.” Steve nodded.

“So, what do you think… I mean there aren’t many things that could do… that.” Her fingers brushed over the tissue, eyes studying it with awe and a kind of nervousness. There was something about the scar, it felt… Steve wasn’t sure what to call it. Bad , didn’t feel like it cut it. It was if there was something inherently evil about the scar and whatever had happened to leave it there. There was a time in Steve’s life that he would have scoffed at the thought.

Not anymore.

“I don’t know.” He breathed deeply. In truth he didn’t want to think about it. There was something, a feeling, a memory perhaps, nagging at the back of his mind. It sat just below the surface, tickling at his consciousness, barely tangible and impossible to grasp. It was almost like some twisted sense of deja vu, only it left his stomach in knots, nausea gnawing at the back of his throat.

“I mean, they’re okay. ” She breathed, almost as if she was afraid to speak the words. “They’d have to be.” Her eyes met his, so serious and vulnerable. She was trying to comfort him, but it sounded as if she were trying to convince herself.

“Yeah…”

Silence hung heavy in the air. It was thick and hot and suffocating. Thoughts that they all seemed to share swirled around the space, but no one dared to voice them.

Suddenly, Dustin’s eyes lit up in the worst kind of way, and Steve began mentally preparing for whatever the kid was about to say or do. The last time he had seen the look was at Family Video . The kid had wandered over to the Adult Video section while Steve wasn’t paying attention and switched out one of the VCRs for some low budget action movie. Steve had known by the glimmer in his eyes alone that something was up when Dustin smugly set what appeared to be some PG-13 car chase movie on the counter.

Dustin liked to play all offended whenever Steve brought this up. As if it was some massive betrayal of trust that Steve had opened the case and found the secret porn and hadn’t let the boy rent it.

So when Steve noticed that same glimmer in the boy’s eyes, he knew exactly what was coming.

“You know Steve, this probably means your future wife only has one boob.” Dustin managed to get out around the giant shit eating grin plastered across his face. “Like some weird cyclops wife only with tits.”

There was a beat where no one spoke, as if what the boy had just said was taking a moment to process. Then, “Jesus Christ, Henderson.” Steve groaned, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And yeah, that was exactly the kind of thing Steve had been expecting.

But just like that, the serious, heavy atmosphere was broken.

Robin had leaned back in her seat, fighting a smirk that was trying to creep across her face.

“Don’t you dare.” Steve threatened, a finger pointing accusingly. The girl bit down on her bottom lip to try and fight the growing smile.

“I didn’t say anything!” She threw her hands up in surrender, eyes wide as she tried to choke back giggles. “It was him!” She gestured towards the boy beside her.

Dustin looked as if he had moved past teasing and was genuinely considering this possibly. “I’m just saying, with a scar like that.” His eyes studied the area in question, mapping out the dips and curves of the healing skin.

Suddenly his posture relaxed, and the grin was back, “I mean think about it. A girl with only one boob.”

Robin finally let out the snort that she had been holding back before devolving into a fit of laughter. This seemed to serve only to encourage the young boy, who was beginning to speak with more and more passion.

“It’s like an origin story man!” he rushed excitedly, arms flailing, “Imagine: Girl gets into a horrible accident, her boob is literally blown. off. ” He emphasized the words with two claps, “Then she only has one tit- and- and- and she gets a, a robo-boob!

Suddenly Dustin stops, eyes blown wide and sparkling, as if the idea that had just come to him was too good to be true. Robin, the asshole, barked out another genuine laugh. Traitor.

“Oh my god, Steve! What if your future wife has a ROBOTIC BOOB!? ” Dustin was practically vibrating at this point, and Steve was absolutely, one hundred thousand percent done with the conversation.

It was moments like these where he regretted the fact that the majority of his friends were 14.

“Okay that’s enough.” Steve interrupted, standing up from his seat to signal an end to the conversation. “Time to get you home.”

“Awe come on Steve,” Dustin whined.

Robin, again, traitor , joined in “Yeah Steve, just cause you’re upset that your soulmate has a mechanical boob-”

“Buckley I swear to god,” Steve cut her off, “you are supposed to be on my side.” He pulled on the shirt that he had been carrying beside him, making his way to the front door to grab his sneakers.

The girl just chuckled as Dustin sank further down into his seat, “Come on Steve , please.” He stuck his bottom lip out in a dramatic imitation of a pout, arms crossing over his chest.

“Nope.” Steve popped the ‘p’, tossing Dustin his jacket. “You gotta get home, and I have to get over to the Byers’ to pick up Johnny Boy.”

“You're just avoiding the conversation.” Dustin grumbled, pulling on the coat and standing up from the couch, “You can’t run from fate Steve. I’m just taking an objective look at the evidence. I think I speak for all of us when I say, I don’t think it’s premature to conclude that you’re destined to marry a cyborg and have robot babies that drink straight electricity from their mother’s cybernetic tit.”

Steve thought death might actually be better than a fifteen minute car ride with Dustin. “Henderson I swear to god if I hear one more peep out of you… When I get home I will tell Robin about the time I took you for ice cream, and you ate an entire banana split while neglecting to tell me you’re lactose intolerant.”

Dustin’s eyes suddenly went wide. The smirk was wiped from his lips as his cheeks turned pink. “Steve you swore you wouldn’t.”

“Then shut the hell up and get in the car.”

Steve didn’t hear another word about the mechanical boob.

Chapter Text

The first time it had happened, Will Byers almost projectile vomited all over Mike Wheeler.

They had been sitting in Will’s room- back then it was still Will’s Room, not Will And Jonathan’s Room- listening to the mixtape his brother had made him. Will absolutely loved doing this, sharing his new music with Mike. It was special, intimate, felt like something that was theirs.

Will would never do this with Dustin or Lucas. For one, they would never let him. They didn’t care to sit on Will Byers bed while he played them all the new music that his brother had shown him. Not when they could be out doing something more adventurous and fun. Besides, this was their thing, his and Mike’s. Will didn’t want to share that with the rest of the party.

Maybe that was selfish.

Anyways. Will had been sitting on his bed, back leaning up against the wall behind him. Mike sat beside him, hands folded in his lap. There was maybe a foot of space between the two boys, and Will was hyper aware of every goddamn inch. He had borrowed Jonathan’s cassette player so that the two could listen together. It sat on the bedside table now, the sound of I Can’t Seem To Make You Mine, by The Seeds was pumping softly through the speakers.

I can’t seem to make you mine.
You’re flying around like a bee,
Hurting everything you see.

Things had been strained between the two recently, and Will hated it. He just wanted everything to go back to the way it was before. Before the Upsidedown, and the Demogorgon, and the Mind Flayer. Before Will was different- or well, he was always kind of different. But he would take being the weird quiet kid over the kid who died and is now constantly followed by demons any day. Before he was different, now, it was as if Will was a different species all together.

The party knew about everything, had fought the same monster and seen the same hellish nightmares as Will. But it wasn’t the same. Will had lived in that nightmare, had almost died in another dimension. Even when he finally got back, he still couldn’t catch a break. The monsters never went away, and he was always caught right in the middle of it. So yeah, the party understood. They understood why Will was the way he was, understood the kind of trauma that he had to endure. But they didn’t understand what it was actually like, not really.

But it wasn’t just the Upsidedown stuff, because apparently the universe has some kind of vendetta against Will Byers. He was the quiet weird kid who was trapped in another dimension and is constantly followed by monsters from hell, but even if you took all that away Will was still different.

When everything was set and done, when it felt like they may finally be able to move past all the monsters and the crazy nightmares, all Will wanted was for things to go back to normal. He wanted his friends to get together and play DnD. He wanted to go to the arcade and burn through every penny that he was allotted. He wanted to hang out at AV Club. He wanted to have big sleepovers in Mike Wheeler’s basement and watch scary movies they had stolen from Jonathan. He wanted that all back.

But of course the universe wasn’t that kind. His friends didn’t care anymore. They didn’t want to play DnD, or go to the arcade, or watch scary movies until they couldn’t sleep. They didn’t want to do that anymore because all they cared about doing was hanging out with their girlfriends, or when they finally were together as friends all they wanted to do was talk about said girls.

I tried everything I know,
To make you love me so.
The only thing you do,
Is try to put the hurt on me.

It was so stupid, girls were so stupid. They were mean, and boring, and thought that the party was weird. Why didn’t his friends see that? They used to see that. They used to agree, girls were dumb and not worth their time. It was much more exciting to have their campaigns than to hear about the latest celebrity gossip from Cosmo.

But apparently they didn’t think that anymore. Suddenly whatever Clint Eastwood was doing was the most interesting thing in the world as long as hearing about it meant they got to make out with a girl. Will didn’t get that either. It was weird and gross and he didn’t understand how having another person’s tongue in your mouth was supposed to be appealing. His friends used to agree with him on that too.

So now he wasn’t just Zombie Boy, but he was the kid whose friends had moved on without him. They didn’t care about the same things anymore. He was weird and different and didn’t care about the right things. Mike had said it himself, and he was right, it wasn't his fault that Will didn’t like girls. But it sure as hell was his fault that Will felt like such a piece of shit about it.

Okay, slow down. Mike had apologized for that, repeatedly. He knew that it hadn’t come out right, that he hadn’t meant it like that. He cared about Will, he didn’t mean to hurt him. Will knew this, but it still hurt. It wasn’t Mike’s fault that he didn’t like girls, but it wasn't Will’s fault either.

Can’t you see what you’re doing to me?
You fill my heart with misery.
With every breath and step I take,
I’m more in love with you.

Will shook himself out of his thoughts. So what? Maybe things are different, but they’re growing up, things are going to be different. Mike was here wasn't he? He was sitting beside Will on the bed, listening to his music and making time for the boy, just like he used to.

Will glanced over at the boy beside him. Mike sat just a foot away from him, but it was clear that his mind was a thousand miles away. His head was tilted back to rest against the wall, posture slouched over and eyes unfocused, not really looking at anything in the room. He was spaced out, lost in thought, his mind wasn’t present. He was sitting beside his friend but he wasn’t really there.

Will sighed quietly to himself. It wasn’t the same. Mike was making time for him now, trying to hold onto old routines and rituals because he knew that Will needed that. But it wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Mike wasn’t listening to the music, he wasn’t holding light conversation with his friend. If Will had to put money on it he would bet that Mike was thinking about El, Jane, whatever.

Will chewed on his bottom lip the way his mom always yelled at him for. What was so good about Jane anyway? What about her made Mike Wheeler lose himself in thought? What about her made Mike smile in that stupidly sweet way of his? What about her made Mike want to spend all day kissing her and holding her? What was it that she had that Will didn’t?

Will let his eyes wander over to the boy beside him, with his messy dark hair, and his deep eyes, and the freckles splashed across his face and his neck. He studied his long lashes, and his pointed nose, and his big soft lips.

I really want him to kiss me.

Suddenly it was as if someone had dumped ice water over Will. He sat bolt upright as his eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. Will’s stomach churned, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that he had for lunch threatened to make a reappearance.

Startled from his thoughts, Mike turned to his friend to see what all the commotion was about.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. He hadn’t really just thought that, had he? What the hell Byers? What the fuck is wrong with you? His mind raced.

“Will?” Mike spoke softly. His friend looked as if he had just seen a ghost, and with Will, Mike worried that perhaps he had. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

The sound of his voice was too much. The way his stomach fluttered, (or maybe the way it churned, he wasn’t sure at this point) was too much. It was all too much. Without giving the boy an answer, not so much as an I’m sorry, Will jumped up from the bed and bolted from the bedroom.

I can’t go on like this,
A little bit of love, not one kiss.
I gotta have your love everyday,
A love that’s real that will stay.

Will barreled into the bathroom without so much as a knock. Luckily, the room was vacant. With fumbling fingers he barely remembered to lock the door before falling to his knees and dry heaving into the toilet bowl. The boy shook as angry tears welled up in his eyes, spilling hotly over his cheeks.

Why, why was he like this? His whole life he had been told by his father, by the bullies at school, by the mom’s when they thought he couldn’t hear, that he was different. They knew, they all knew, what a pathetic, disgusting, faggot, he was. From the time he was a small kid everyone could see it.

What was it about him? Was it painted across his face? Shouted in the way he walks and talks and lives? Was it splattered across his clothes? Was it wafting through the air that he breathed?

‘Faggot’ ‘Queer’ ‘Fairy’ ‘Poof’

After the third heave the sandwich came back up. The sour, acidic taste filled his throat and his mouth, burning the whole way up.

God, why, why couldn’t he just be normal? After everything, after being sucked into another dimension, after being haunted and possessed and stalked, why couldn’t he just have one thing? He was the dead kid, he was the demon kid, he was the weird quiet creepy kid, he was the nerdy kid, and now, now he was the dirty freaky faggot kid that they all knew he was.

The sound of the vomit splashing against the water and the smell that filled the room made him heave again. Another bout of gross digested sandwich hit the toilet bowl. Will didn’t want to look because he knew it would just make it worse, but somewhere in the back of his twisted mind, he kind of thought he deserved it.

There was a soft knock at the bathroom door.

“Will? Are you okay?” It was Mike, of course it was Mike. Will had shot out of the room like a bat out of hell with no warning or explanation.

Will squeezed his eyes shut tight, tears still burning at his face. Fuck. He took a deep breath, pushing down the nauseated feeling and trying to steady his voice.

“Yeah, uh,” he paused to take another breath, determined not to sound as if he had been crying, “I think I ate something bad. Maybe, uh, maybe you should- should go.”

There was a beat of silence from the other side of the door, “Are… are you sure? Do you need help?”

“No!” Will shouted, fists clenched and shaking. He just wanted the boy to go. Why couldn’t he see he was just making things worse? “No Mike, I really need you to go now.”

He made the mistake of glancing down at the toilet bowl he was leaning on. The smell alone made him want to gag again, and the sight made the boy physically squeeze his eyes shut and breath deeply to push back the sick feeling.

“Oh… okay.” Mike said softly. Will could tell by the tone of his voice that the boy was hurt. He couldn’t bring himself to care. If Mike knew what was going on in the other boy’s head he wouldn’t be so concerned. He would never speak to him again. He needed Mike to leave. “I guess I’ll see you at school then.”

“Uh huh,” Will rushed, “Bye Mike.” praying that the boy would listen and finally leave. If he had to see him again any time soon… Will thought maybe the rest of his sandwich would be making acquaintances with the carpet.

The soft padding of feet moving slowly away from the bathroom and towards the front of the house left Will physically sagging against the toilet bowl in relief. It only lasted a second or two before fresh tears filled his eyes.

God, why was he like this? Why did they have to be right? Why did he have to be different? Why did he have to be in love with Mike fucking Wheeler?

Will didn’t know how long he sat there, but by the time he got up his limbs were stiff and he had cried himself to exhaustion. He felt his stomach rumble as he flushed the toilet, there was nothing in it now. But Will ignored it, splashing water on his face before moving back to his bedroom to fall bonelessly against the bed.

Mike must have stopped the cassette player when he left because the room was eerily quiet. The silence was too much, Will didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts right then, so he turned to the box and pressed play.

I can’t seem to make you mine,
I can’t seem to make you mine,
I can’t seem to make you mine,
I can’t seem to make you mine,

Will turned the damn thing back off, and there were the tears again.

-

Steve sat with his legs dangling over the edge of the cliffs, eyes wandering out over the jagged dips and peaks of the Quarry. It was gusty that day, the cool September wind blowing Steve’s hair back like some magazine cover. He supposed that was all the better for Jonathan.

The other boy was crouched down a few feet away, camera held up to his face as he snapped pictures of the other boy. That’s what they had come out here to do, take pictures. Photography was Jonathan’s passion, and Steve was happy to indulge him.

He knew that Jonathan was hoping to go to school for it. He was hoping to go to a nice school in New York, study photography and maybe make a career out of it. There were so many opportunities in a city like New York. Steve also knew that Jonathan would never admit it. The boy wanted nothing more than to save up his money to go off and pursue his dreams, but the boy was too selfless. His money wasn’t going into savings, it was going to bills. It was going to rent, and food, and school supplies for Will. It was filling in the gaps that Joyce’s job just couldn’t fill. Just as it had been since Jonathan was sixteen and got his first job.

“That’s great Steve.” The boy called out, “Can you lean forward a little? Maybe rest your elbows on your knees?”

“Trying to get me to nose dive?” Steve laughed, but he did as the boy asked. He slouched over, knowing Jonathan was going for a more thoughtful image, and fighting to keep the grin off his face.

Jonathan could do it. Steve knew he could. If anyone could break out of this shithole it would be Jonathan and Nancy. Nancy was already well on her way. She had opted to study at a local school and work on her general classes while she finished her internship. Then, once she had finished she would transfer to some uppity school that she had gotten a million scholarships for and would prepare her for the journalist job of her dreams. She had told Steve the name of it he was sure, he just couldn’t remember.

Jonathan would get there too. Steve had seen his work, the kid was a shoe in for NYU and the scholarships to go with it. He definitely qualified for financial aid as well, Steve thought to himself.

“Yeah, that’s it.” Jonathan chuckled, snapping a few more shots. “Damn it Steve, stop looking so happy, I need brooding and thoughtful.” The boy stood up from his crouched position, making his way over to the other boy.

Steve smirked up at him, taking the hand that he offered and pulling himself up. “Sorry man, I can’t help it. Your whole River Phoenix thing is throwing me off.”

Jonathan shoved the boy goodnaturedly, making sure it wasn’t so hard that the boy lost his balance. Contrary to popular belief he actually didn’t want Steve falling over the edge of the rocks. He flipped the boy off as Steve threw his head back laughing, “Fuck you Rob Lowe.” he bit back, but he wasn’t quite sure how effective it was since he was grinning from ear to ear.

“You wound me.” Steve threw a hand over his heart, dramatically swaying before letting himself sink to the ground. He made a show of the fake injury, clutching at his chest as he fake grimaced. He fell back against the dirt with a dramatic yell, laying there still for a moment before peeking an eye open to catch Jonathan’s reaction.

The boy simply stood there, towering above him with his arms crossed over his chest. He tried his best to look unimpressed but he was fighting back a smile. “You’re incorrigible.”

“You love it.” Steve grinned up at the boy before bouncing to his feet again. He shook his head wildly like a dog shaking the water from its fur, brushing the dust from his shirt.

Jonathan was still smiling at him, and Steve found himself overcome with a warm feeling of belonging.

In high school, running around with Tommy and Carol it always felt like an act. They were friends, but they were friends because that’s what they were supposed to be. They were the rich, popular kids. They were expected to get along, form their little clique, it was how everyone expected them to act.

That’s what it was and that’s what it felt like, an act. It wasn’t a genuine friendship built on a mutual understanding and appreciation for one another. They didn’t hang out and take picture and laugh at stupid jokes and watch movies until they couldn’t keep themselves awake any longer. Or rather, they did, but only if it fit the perfect script. They took drives to see how fast their cars could make the sharp bends. They threw parties and made games out of who could kiss the most drunk girls. They took to the streets and threw rocks at the windshields of the kids who they decided they didn’t like. All the while choosing every word, every action, every activity to keep up appearances.

Maybe Tommy genuinely enjoyed what they did. Maybe Carol really did have a good time tailing her boyfriend like a lost bitch. Okay, that was too much, Steve reminded himself. Degrading and rude and not helpful. But that’s kind of how it felt, and it was hard not to slip back into that mentality when thinking about his high school days.

Everything was inauthentic, an act, a script. It left him feeling empty, frustrated, desperate.

But not this.

Dicking around with Jonathan, taking pictures because he genuinely loves it, cracking jokes that they genuinely find funny, smiling because they genuinely enjoy the other’s company. It was weird, it wasn’t what Steve was used to. But it was what he was becoming used to.

When he was at home with Robin and they had Nintendo competitions until much too late at night. Or when they were at work and she silently kept tally of all the girls he failed to wooh. When he went to lunch with Nancy, removed from the pressures of dating, just hanging out with friends. When she would give him all the latest on Hawkins and the world. Her passion was journalism and even if Steve didn’t give a shit about what the president said about the Netherlands, he loved to watch her talk animatedly about it. Even when he was trucking around the kids from house to house. Or when he and Dustin would go out for pizza and then catch a stupid new movie at the theater.

Steve wasn’t playing a part anymore. He was living, hanging out with the people he liked being around, doing the things that he liked doing. It was refreshing. It was a feeling that Steve was becoming accustomed to, and he never wanted to go back.

Suddenly Jonathan’s eyes lit up with an idea. “Oh, Steve! Do you think you could lose the shirt for the next few pictures?”

Steve was reminded for a second of the first few times he had agreed to be Jonathan’s model. He was fresh in his infatuation- god, it wasn’t a crush. Steve was not falling down that rabbit hole right now. This was a good day- and when Jonathan had eventually gotten around to wanting to take some shirtless pictures Steve had almost died. Jonathan had explained to him with a nonchalant shrug and a chuckle that he liked the shirtless pictures because the best pictures highlighted the model’s assets. Steve had good abs, and with the contrast adjusted just right, they made for some good pictures. It was understandable, and Steve had never been shy about taking off his shirt, but Steve still spent those first few shoots buzzing with nerves.

Steve was over that now. Jonathan was a person in his world now. They had gotten shit faced together, talked for long hours into the night, got a little too heated over music in the car, seen eachother eat drippy, spicy, chicken wings. Jonathan was Steve’s friend now, one of his best friends, in fact. He didn’t get nervous about taking his shirt off in front of him, he didn’t talk about him a little too long and a little too interested, he didn’t occasionally have weird domestic dreams about him. (Or occasionally catch himself wondering if his lips were actually as soft as they looked.) Not anymore.

So point being, Steve didn’t give a shit. He was already nodding, halfway to pulling his shirt over his head when he remembered the scar.

Suddenly Steve froze, hands lowering his shirt back down. “Actually, uh, maybe we should not do the shirtless pictures today.”

Jonathan gave Steve an incredulous look. “What’s wrong Steve? Getting all self-conscious on me?”

Steve shifted, glancing over at the boy. It wasn’t a big deal, he should just tell Jonathan about the scar. Everyone had scars from their soulmate, he would probably be happy for Steve even.

But for some reason, Steve couldn’t bring himself to share this with Jonathan. It was all so new, so fresh. Steve wasn’t sure if he was ready to get into that conversation. This wasn’t some stupid cut on his ribs, this was something big and serious and dark. This was some kind of terrible tragedy, something traumatising and deadly. It wasn’t as if Steve wanted to hide this from Jonathan, it was just that, it wasn’t the kind of conversation that Steve wanted to get into at that moment.

“I’m just really sunburnt and peel-y. It's kind of gross and hurts like a bitch. Plus I don’t really want to make it worse.” Steve lied easily. Once he had some more time to process this, figure out some idea of what is going on, then he would share it with Jonathan. He just wasn’t ready to yet.

If Jonathan caught onto the lie he didn’t give any indication. The boy simply nodded, already moving on when he said, “No problem dude. I actually probably have more than enough for now if you wanna call it a day?”

Honestly, Steve was kind of relieved by the offer. They had been out there for a few hours and while the September air wasn’t quite cold enough to warrant a jacket, it was just cool enough that after hours in the wind he was starting to wish he had brought one.

The two turned, making their way to the car. It was silent for the next few minutes, and after a glance in the other boy’s direction, Steve noted that Jonathan looked as though he was deep in thought. He worried for a second that maybe Jonathan had known he was lying, and that maybe he had upset his friend.

“You okay dude?” Steve tried, nudging Jonathan with his elbow as they settled into the drivers and passengers seats of the Beemer.

Jonathan looked conflicted for a moment, as if he wasn’t sure if he should share his thoughts. But after a moment he spoke, “I don’t know. Maybe I’m being stupid, or overannalyzing things. But I’m worried about Will.”

At these words Steve went through a whole series of emotions in the span of just a second. At first he was incredibly relieved that Jonathan has not been all broody because of him. That he had not accidentally offended the boy. Next, he was overcome with a cold sinking fear in the pit of his stomach. What was wrong with Will? What was coming? Was he in danger? Were they in danger? Steve had barely recovered from the last incident. He wasn't ready for another one.

Just as he was beginning to work himself into a state Jonathan seemed to notice what was happening in the seat beside him. “Oh, oh no! No! Nothing like that!” He put a comforting hand on Steve’s arm. “No, he’s just, I don’t know.”

Steve gave a sigh of relief, letting the anxiety that had been welling up inside of him calm.

“Like, a few weeks ago Mike was over, right? They were fine, having a good time and everything, and then all the sudden Mike rushed out of the house. Then for the rest of the day Will was trying to pretend like nothing happened and like I couldn’t tell he had been crying.” Jonathan started as Steve shifted the car into gear, “Ever since then he’s been weird. Like, he’s been super distant, and he’s just really, i don’t know, in his own head right now.”

Steve hummed as they started down the long country road. “You think they had a fight? Like, maybe Mike did something?” he questioned, not nearly as concerned as he had been before. Will was sweet, but he was sensitive, and MIke was, well, not. It wouldn’t surprise Steve at all if Wheeler had said something stupid without thinking and really upset the other boy.

Jonathan gave a frustrated sign from his place beside Steve, “ I don’t know. I haven’t really seen him around since, so I guess that makes sense.” he didn’t look convinced however. His brows were scrunched up as he glared intensely out the window at the rolling hills. “He’s just been so angry, and anxious. I can feel it coming off of him in waves.”

Jonathan paused, and the tense, heavy atmosphere made Steve want to flick on the radio just for some kind of background noise.

“Sometimes, when the two of us are alone at the house, he’ll come up to me and just kind of hover there. He never says anything, but he always looks like he’s fighting himself not to. If I acknowledge him, or try and ask him what’s wrong, he runs off like some kind of scared animal.” Jonathan said quietly as they pulled into the Byers’ driveway. He was staring off at the house as if this were the first time he had ever seen it.

Steve didn’t know what to say to comfort his friend. He wasn’t sure what was up with baby Byers, but personally, he was pretty sure it wasn’t nearly as bad as Jonathan was thinking. He was probably just mad at Mike, teen angst and all that. But his brother was clearly worried, so Steve reached over and set a comforting hand on the boy’s knee.

Jonathan turned to face Steve, anxiety clear in his eyes. It was honestly really touching how much he worried about his brother. Steve wished that he had someone in his life that worried about him like that.

He looked the other boy in the eyes earnestly, “Will’s going to be okay Jon. He’s fourteen, he’s full of hormones and rage. Him and Mike probably had a stupid fight over a video game or something, and will be back to painting their nails and braiding eachother’s hair in no time.” He smiled softly at his friend, trying to lighten the mood.

Jonathan didn’t laugh, but the corners of his lips twitched upwards just a tad. He nodded, patting Steve’s shoulder appreciatively before turning to unbuckle his seatbelt and open the door. “You’re right Steve. He’s a big boy now, he doesn’t need me mothering him.”

Steve chuckled, “God knows Joyce has that one covered.” he flashed Jonathan a bright smile as the other stepped out of the car.

He waved back at Steve as the boy started to slowly back out of the driveway, “Damn right she does. Thanks again for being my model Steve, we got some really nice shots today.”

Steve waved back at him from his spot in the car, hollering out the rolled down window, “Any time, Jonny Boy. If anything else happens with that brother of yours you call, hear me?”

Jonathan smiled genuinely to the boy, “Thank you Steve. I will.”

-

When Steve stepped in the door of his apartment, he was greeted with the smell of fresh, greasy, pizza.

“Steve!” Robin greeted around a mouthful of cheese pizza. She was sitting in the middle of the living room floor, back resting against the couch. There was an open box from the Pizza Hut down the street resting by her feet. “I ordered food. It just got here like five minutes ago, you hungry?”

Steve kicked off his shoes by the door and tossed his keys into the keys bucket. He made his way across the livingroom floor, nodding as he dropped down to sit next to the girl.

Robin pushed the lid of the box the whole way open, inside was a half cheese, half pepperoni pizza with a single slice missing from the cheese side. She pulled out a piece of the peperoni, strings of cheese following the slice.

“Thanks Robin, you’re a godsend.” Steve muttered as he took the slice from the girl. She gestured as if to say, well duh, and the boy smiled warmly at her. “So what’s the plan for tonight?”

Robin smirked mischievously at him, turning in her spot to pull out a VHS tape from behind her back. “Well I did manage to sneak this home from work.” She held the copy of The Breakfast Club out in front of her, looking much too proud of herself.

Steve’s eyes lit up. He had been wanting to see it since it had come out in February, but hadn’t gotten around to it. When he heard that they were getting a copy for the store, he had made a mental note to check it out himself once the demand died down a bit. “Dude, how has someone not already checked that out?” he grabbed the tape from her, jumping up to pop it into the VHS player.

Robin smirked, “I may or may not have been there when the shipment came in today and slipped it in my bag before it hit the shelves…” Steve laughed as he set up the tv, because of course Robin stole a brand new movie from their work before even checking it in. Why would he have expected anything else? “Also I was thinking…” the girl started, and Steve spun around to look at her.

She was dangling a small bag between her fingers, her eyes wide and pleading, yet sparkling roguishly. “Hey!” Steve shouted, jumping up and snatching the bag out from her grasp. Inside were the two joints that he had bought from Jonathan. He glared at the girl in mock offense as she laughed good naturedly.

“This is why we don’t have a rainy day stash Robin.” Steve joked, “Every time we get something you’re ready to crack into it within-” he glanced at the clock hanging on the wall, “twenty three hours.”

“Oh come on Steve, she nudged the boy, “we already got the pizza and the movie, it’s like the icing on the cake. This situation is calling, nae, begging for such a vice.” the girl recited dramatically.

Steve rolled his eyes. “You’re ridiculous.” But even as he said it he was holding the first joint in between his fingers, pulling his lighter from his pocket. He flicked at the tool twice before a flame was ignited, holding it close to light the blunt.

“Hell yes!” Robin cheered, doing a small little dance from her spot on the floor as Steve took his first hit. He inhaled slowly, holding the air in his lungs as he passed it along.

Steve felt the familiar burning in the back of his throat, hot and sharp and indicative of something well worth his seven dollars. Held the smoke in his lungs as long as he could before the soft tickling became too much and he exhaled. He held back the worst of the coughs, but let out a few as he blew the smoke towards the ceiling.

The previews were still droning on as the movie played softly on the tv screen. Robin finished her own hit and passed the blunt back over to the boy. He took it, taking another long drag as she started the conversation back up. “So how was the Quarry?”

Steve hummed as he blew smoke out his nostrils, watching as the white clouds danced up towards the yellowing plaster. “It was good.” He paused to let out a few coughs as the words made the tickling in his throat intensify. “Jonathan said he got some good pictures.”

The girl nodded, neglecting to respond as she held her breath. When Steve glanced over at her she smirked, opening her mouth and attempting to blow smoke rings. All she managed was a sad cloud of pungent vapor. Steve grinned at the girl, turning back to the screen as he took a large bite of his pizza, which he had almost managed to forget about.

Steve let his head fall back against the couch behind him. A warm giddy feeling was starting to buzz around inside of him. He took the blunt from Robin’s outstretched hand, taking another hit.

By the time the movie was in full swing Steve wasn’t sure how much of the plot he was really grasping. It wasn’t that he wasn’t paying attention, rather, every small detail sent his mind wandering down another rabbit trail. He decided that he would have to rewatch the movie in the morning before he took it in with him to work.

He glanced over to the girl beside him, who looked as though she was just as gone as Steve himself. There was a stupid grin plastered across her face as she swayed her head back and forth. Steve wasn’t sure if she was aware that she was doing that.

Her eyes went dark as one of the girls walked back onto the screen, Claire was it? Steve studied her features as she watched the girl in the movie. Robin’s mouth had fallen slightly open and her breathing went shallow. It suddenly dawned on Steve that his friend was attracted to the actress.

He knew that Robin was a lesbian, that conversation wasn’t one that you forget. But most of the time, he didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t something that he associated with the girl in a normal day to day setting. She was Robin, his best friend, she was funny, and way smarter than Steve. She liked to pretend that she was a rule follower, but she had a rebellious streak that she couldn’t manage to hide. She was sarcastic, and a bit of an asshole, and a huge movie snob. These were all things that he associated with the girl. He didn’t associate homosexual with his freind except every once and a while. When she got just a little too flustered when helping out some girl at work, or when she tried just a little too hard to pretend to check out some guy, or when she was just a little too interested in some movie character. In those moments, Steve remembered, oh, right, lesbian.

It wasn’t as if he actively tried to forget, as if it made him uncomfortable or disgusted. It just wasn't something they talked about.

Steve wondered how she knew. Wondered how she realized that she wasn’t normal, that she was different, bent. When did she first recognize what the sick, fluttering feeling in her stomach was? When did she make the connection that that’s what she was supposed to feel for guys all along? Was she terrified? Disgusted? Angry? Did she try to push it away? Force herself to like some guy? Pretend she never realized?

“How did you know you were a lesbian?” Steve heard himself asking. He froze for a second, worried that she would be upset. He hadn’t planned on actually voicing his questions, however it seemed as though his mouth made the executive decision for him.

Robin was suddenly snapped from her trance like gaze, slowly turning to face the boy beside her. Her eyes were wide, but the slow, easy atmosphere kept her posture much more relaxed than the first time they had talked about this.”I’m sorry?” She said after a second.

Steve took a breath, infinitely more relaxed than he would otherwise be, but he could still feel the nerves bunching up in the pit of his stomach. “Like, how did you realize that what you felt about girls was... “ he trailed off, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. He glanced away towards the floor, not meeting the girl’s eyes. His mind felt heavy and slow, as if his head was full of water, his thoughts swimming around in it like fish.

Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea, they bobbed to the surface.

Robin studied the boy inquisitively, eyes trailing lazily over the redness of his face and the way his eyebrows furrowed. He looked as if he were troubled with something, but he didn’t look as if he were angry with her, and so she felt her shoulders relaxing. “Steve,” she started slowly, this wasn’t a conversation that she was supposed to have. Every fiber of her being screamed at her that she wasn’t supposed to talk about this. It was bad, dangerous, wrong. This wasn’t something that you shared or acknowledged.

But the way he glanced over at her when she began to speak, eyes wide and attentive. He looked anxious and almost as if he was afraid to hear her answer. But there was also a kind of desperation in his eyes, like he physically needed to know.

She considered telling him to back off, ignore him and keep her secrets locked away as always. But her head felt so clouded and heavy, as if every thought weighed a thousand pounds, and suddenly she needed desperately to get them out. Every reason as to why it was so bad and dangerous to talk about suddenly seemed too trivial and unimportant. Steve obviously didn’t hate her, and he had already proven that he wasn’t going to tell everyone about her.

“I guess I always liked girls, I just didn’t know what that meant.” she heard herself starting. “I always wanted to be really close with my girl friends. Like, I wanted to constantly be touching them, playing with their hair, holding their hands. Being around them made me feel warm inside, I wanted to spend every second with them. Eventually I realized that I wanted that stuff more than normal friends.”

Steve felt something at those words, a jolt up his spine. He wanted to tell her to shut up, to stop talking. He wanted to reach out and grab the words from the air. He wanted to shove them back in her mouth like she had never spoken them.

“I realized that normal girls didn’t get a knot in their stomach when they held their friend’s hand. Normal girls wanted to curl up beside a big strong man. I realized that they didn’t lay in bed thinking about holding another girl in their arms, wanting it so bad it hurt. They dreamed about a future house with their husband and maybe a kid, they didn’t picture a future where they lived with their best friend forever.” The girl carried on, with each thing she listed Steve’s stomach twisted tighter, thoughts flashing through his mind now much too fast instead of much too slow.

Wanting so badly to hold David Preston’s hand on the playground in third grade, my Dad told me boys don’t hold hands. When he was eleven, telling his nanny that he was going to grow up and live with Tommy. She had scolded him and told him that he had to grow up and marry a girl, so Steve shrugged and said he guessed he could just marry Heather. Just two years ago, dating Nancy Wheeler and waking up from dreams about being wrapped up in Jonathan Byers’ strong arms instead of holding Nancy in his own.

Steve suddenly wished that he was sober. He needed to be able to think. He needed his head to not be so fuzzy anymore. He needed the room to not be so stuffy anymore.

“Steve?” Robin said, hand reaching out to rest on his forearm, “Are you okay? You look like you’re freaking out.” her voice sounded anxious, fearful.

Steve felt like he was spinning at a thousand miles per hour, the room was too loud yet too quiet and he couldn’t fucking think. He wanted to splash cold water on his face, he wanted to throw up the pizza that he had just eaten.

“Steve?”

“Robin.” The boy’s voice came out strained and shaky, “You knew, you knew you were bent because you didn’t feel about guys the way you felt about girls.” He stared at her with wide eyes. The girl stared back at him, nodding silently. “But what if,” he continued after a pause, “what if you liked girls, and you knew you liked girls, but then you realized that you like guys the same as you like girls?” He rushed. He felt breathless. It felt like there were a thousand marbles rolling around in his stomach.

“Steve..” the girl drew out, removing her hand from his arm, “I’ve already told you. I don’t like guys.” there was a sinking feeling in her gut. She thought they were over this. Steve was her best friend, she didn’t know what she would do if-

“No!” He shouted, interrupting her train of thought, “I know that! I didn’t- god- I don’t mean- just- what if?” he fumbled over his words, hands waving through the air as if he were trying to grasp his point out of the space in front of him. “Not you, just, someone. Can you- is that- can you do that? Can you.. Like both?” by the time he was finished his frustration was melting away and perturbation.

He looked terrified, angry, desperate. It was as if he were begging her to understand what he was trying to say, physically needed her to get it, but couldn’t muster the strength to say it.

Suddenly Robin got it. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked over at the boy. She placed her hand back on his arm comfortingly. “Yeah Steve, you can definitely like both.” Her voice was soft, and the boy turned to her with wide eyes. He didn’t say anything, so she kept going, “It’s, uh, it’s called bisexual. Actually, um, I think David Bowie is uh, bisexaul. So.”

Steve felt as if his entire world had been turned on it’s side. Bisexual. He liked the way the word sounded. He was sure he would like the way it felt on his tongue, so he tried it out, muttering it to himself over and over again. “Bisexual, bisexual, bisexual, bisexual.”

“Steve?” the girl interrupted him. Steve felt as though he should be embarrassed but he couldn’t bring himself to be. There were other people out there that felt this way. People who understood the struggle, the confusion, the frustration that he was almost normal. He looked up to meet the girl’s eyes once again. “Are you… are you asking because you think you might… know someone who is bisexual?”

Suddenly the marbles were rolling around again, reminding him of the greasy pizza he had scarfed down. He swallowed thickly, fingers twitching at his sides. He felt dizzy all over again.

“Steve,” Robin squeezed his arm comfortingly, “you know we just had a whole conversation about how I like girls, right?”

Steve bit his tongue, his stomach flipping as alarm bells sounded through his mind.

She knows she knows she knows she knows.

He nodded mutely, fighting to keep eye contact.

“So, you know that means I would never judge anyone for being gay, or bisexual, or anything like that right? Don’t you think that would be a little hypocritical?”

Steve nodded again, worrying his lip between his teeth. He let his eyes fall away from hers.

She knows she knows she knows she knows.

“Steve?” Her voice was so incredibly soft, gentle, kind, “Can I ask you a question?” there was silence. He didn’t give her a response, but he hadn’t said no, “Steve, are you bisexual?”

He felt as if the bottom of his stomach had just dropped away and all of his insides were sliding out onto the floor. Everything that made up Steve seeping out, laid bare on the carpet in front of them. His fists clenched and unclenched beside him as he slowly looked back to meet her eyes for what felt like the hundredth time. He nodded.

The girl broke away from the serious mask, a bright smile covering her features. “That’s great Steve, thank you for being so honest with me.” She said brightly. Robin suddenly shifted in her spot on the floor, scooching over into Steve’s space. She wrapped her arms around the boy, resting her head on his shoulder.

She didn’t press for anymore information, and Steve was glad, he wasn’t sure he would be able to give it to her. Not right then at least.

He felt as if a million pounds had just been lifted from his shoulders, like he could truly breath for the first time in years. He let himself sink into the hug, a warm feeling spreading out across his chest.

Steve let his head lull to the side, resting on top Robin’s where it was pressed against his shoulder. He let out a long breath as he turned back towards the movie that the girl was engrossed in, or at least pretending to be engrossed in. Either way Steve appreciated it.

He had no idea what was going on, having missed at least half of the movie. He couldn’t bring himself to care though. He wrapped an arm around the girl, suddenly realizing how heavy his eyes were.

Within five minutes Steve was asleep, safe in the arms of the person he trusted most in the world.

Chapter Text

Joyce Byers was really tired of top secret government departments and their insistance on fucking with her life.

Two days prior, she and Jim had been sitting in the Kitchen. It had been a peaceful Sunday afternoon, one of the rare occasions when the two of them were the only ones home. Will, Jane, and Max were off running around somewhere, assumingly with the rest of the kids. They had mentioned something about the Wheeler’s house before they dashed out the door. Jonathan was out taking photos with Steve Harrington, leaving the house empty except for the two adults.

It was still a little strange seeing Steve around all the time. Whether it be hanging out with Jonathan and Nancy, or driving around The Party, he always seemed to be close by.

Joyce remembered not too long ago hearing all about what a selfish, spoiled, asshole he was from her eldest. She knew that the two boys had always had their differences. They practically lived in two totally different worlds. That’s not to mention that Jonathan was pining hard for Steve’s girlfriend.

She had always felt bad for the boy. She had heard more than enough in passing about the business trips and the nannies and the giant house that was empty except for Steve and the occasional housekeeper. Joyce had never had the... pleasure... of meeting the Harringtons, but they had a bit of a reputation. Posh and arrogant and incredibly pompous.

She had always known that while the boy was very good at giving off the impression that he had it all, in all reality, Steve Harrington had nothing. Nothing that mattered, anyways.

So it was strange to see how quickly things had turned around. She was, of course, more than happy that they had. It was all about growing up, really. It was about realizing what matters in life, and being mature enough to be a little bit vulnerable. It was about recognizing that life goes on after high school. It was about being true to yourself instead of trying desperately to be who everyone expects you to be.

Joyce remembered what it was like to learn that lesson herself when she was Jonathan’s age.

So the point being, sometimes the mother in her got on the defensive. It was a common joke that you may forgive someone, but your mother will never forget what you told her about them. At the very beginning it was difficult to trust him. In the back of her mind she was always thinking about the fist fights and the broken camera and a heartbroken Nancy Wheeler. But she reminded herself that everyone grows up after highschool. As time went on and she really got to know the boy, he and Robin Buckley becoming faces that she saw more and more frequently, it became easier to trust.

She watched the way he interacted with the kids, and the way they absolutely adored him. She saw how genuinely he cared for them, and the way he literally put his life on the line to protect them. She saw the way he and Nancy had repaired their relationship. The way they joked easily and smiled genuinely. She saw the way Jonathan, who had always had trouble making many friends, spent more nights than not out and about with Steve, Nancy, and Robin.

So anyways, the house was empty except for herself and Jim.

They had been sitting at the kitchen table, the radio playing softly in the background. Joyce was nursing a cold beer, while Jim drank one of his own. They sat quietly, just enjoying the feeling of doing absolutely nothing. There were no kids running through the house, no busy shifts at work to rush off to, no important adult tasks like paying bills or washing bed sheets that needed attending to. It was hard to remember the last time when they had been able to just sit.

Jim was running a hand up and down her arm softly as she sipped her drink. She thought absentmindedly about what they would make for dinner that night, wondering who would be back to eat with them. She had been just about to voice her question aloud and get the man’s opinion when the phone had rang.

Joyce hadn’t thought much about it. It was most likely Karen Wheeler or Will asking about if the kids could stay for dinner. Or maybe it was Jonathan calling to say he would be out a little bit longer than expected. Needless to say, Joyce had barely thought twice about it when Jim stood up from the table and picked up the phone.

“Hello, this is James Hopper.”

Joyce sat quietly, gaze turning to the open window. It was a beautiful day in September. The sun was bright with only a few scattered clouds. It was cool and breezy, just warm enough for her to let the kids get away with leaving their jackets on the coat rack. If the kids ended up eating at the Wheeler’s, she considered asking Jim to eat on the porch before it got too cold to do so.

“Uh huh. Where did you say? Cleveland Ohio?”

Joyce turned back to the man on the phone. That definitely wasn’t the kids then. Was it the police force? Why were they talking about Ohio? What was going on?

She made eye contact with Jim, shooting him an inquiring look. She tried to convey her questions with her silent gaze, but the man just looked confused and slightly frustrated. A pit formed in the bottom of her stomach.

“Right now? How do you expect- … Yes. I understand that but-” the man argued with the phone. Joyce became more and more anxious about who was on the other end and what they needed from the chief of police. It must be a law enforcement issue. What else could it be?

“Can you at least tell me why? ... Well how do I know- … Uh huh. Okay. I understand.” Jim turned and hung up the phone. Once it was back in its place on the wall the man took a deep breath before growling out, “Goddamnit!”

Joyce immediately shot up from her place at the table, walking up to the man and placing a comforting hand on his tense back. Her mind was buzzing with questions, anxiety filling her chest. “Jim, who was that?”

The man didn’t answer for a second, just silently rested his head against the wall. He was still just as tense as before, although the redness of his face was receding. After what felt like an eternity of silence, he finally spoke in a low voice, “Do you remember, after the mall incident this summer, when we were all regrouping right after everything happened, those men showed up? They looked like they were straight out of a James Bond movie, and they flashed some fancy government badges and then… made the whole thing disappear? No more Russians, no more monsters, just a gas leak and an explosion?”

The pit in her stomach opened wider, a cold feeling settling over her. She did not like where this was going. She nodded silently.

“That was a man, uh, Stevenson. I guess he’s, uh, head of the department in charge of those guys. They want me to come to the Cleveland Medical Center right away.”

“Cleveland? Are you serious? That’s like a 5 hour drive at least!” Joyce argued, frustration filling her gut. Who did these people think that they are? They can’t just call them up and demand that they drive the whole way out to Cleveland for- for what? What was so important that they had to upend their lives over this? “What do they even need you for? What is at the Cleveland Medical Center that is so important?”

The man grimaced, not making eye contact with her, “He… wouldn’t say. He said it was sensitive information not to be delivered over the phone.”

Joyce felt like screaming, “He wouldn't even tell you.” she deadpanned. “Yet, he expects you to just pick up and drive out to Cleveland at the drop of a hat? What kind of self important asshole does that?” She moved away from Hopper and began pacing the room. She felt as if her entire body was buzzing with nerves.

“He said he would explain everything once I got there…” Jim started, and Joyce froze in her pacing, spinning around to face him.

“Yeah and that's supposed to be good enough? He thinks that he can order you around with no explanation just because he works for the government?” She fired back at the man, “Speaking of which, how do you even know that he’s telling the truth?! Some random man calls and says ‘I’m in charge of a secret government agency so you have to do what I say.’ and you just say, ‘okay, sounds good to me.’?”

“No, I spoke with him briefly at the mall. I knew exactly who he was once he said his name.”

Joyce resumed her pacing. What could they possibly need the police chief of a small town in Indiana for in Cleveland? Why him? There were a million other people a million times more qualified for whatever they could possibly be doing. The only reason she could think that they would specifically need Jim would be if it had something to do with the incident. If it involved the Upsidedown.

Joyce worried her bottom lip between her teeth like she yelled at Will for doing. If that was it- and she couldn't think of any other scenario that made sense- she didn’t want Jim going anywhere near them. She had been dealing with this shit for three years now and she had enough of it. If it wasn’t pounding down their door then they were not taking a single step out looking for it

“Joyce, listen to me.” Hopper interrupted her train of thought. “These people would not be reaching out to me if it weren’t important. They don’t want to be in contact with me, frankly they would prefer it if I didn’t know that they existed. If they are calling me, it must have something to do with-”

“I know!” She shouted, not letting him finish. She didn’t want to hear him say it. If he said it out loud then it would be real.

“Joyce.” The man said softly, moving from his place against the wall to rest a comforting hand on her back like she had done for him just a few moments before. “What if I don’t go and something bad happens? If there is something going on I need to go so that I can protect you. If I ignore them, and whatever is going on gets out of hand, it's too late. I don’t ever want you, or Jane, or Will, or Jonathan, or any of the other kids to have to deal with this stuff ever again”

“Why does it have to be you?” she spoke softly, fighting to hold back tears. She had lost so much to this, this darkness, these monsters. Why was it always her family? Why couldn’t they just for once be left alone?

Jim rubbed small circles up and down her back, using his other hand to give her arm a tight squeeze, “Because I wouldn’t trust anyone else with the lives of my family.” He pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head, “Let me protect my family Joyce. You have all fought so hard. Let me take care of it now.”

She couldn’t hold back any longer. Joyce spun around in Jim’s arms, silent tears falling down her face. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, pulling herself into his chest.

Jim held her close, securely in his arms as he whispered to her, “I promise I will protect you, and I’ll be back before you know it. I swear to god Joyce, I’ll be back before you even miss me.”

That had been two days ago.

Now, Joyce was pacing the Kitchen. She had barely left that room except for work and to sleep. Even then it felt as though her mind wouldn’t slow down.

Jonathan was with her now, sitting at the table and staring at her with eyes full of concern. She had told him what had happened, but they decided not to tell the kids. Not until, at the very least, they knew what was going on. For now they had been told something about the man making a trip out to a neighboring county to speak to their police force.

Joyce felt so unbelievably frustrated. Still, two days later, she had no idea what was happening. She had received a call from Jim right after he had arrived in Cleveland to let her know that he had made it safe. At the time he hadn’t yet sat down to talk with Stevenson, which meant he had no information to give her besides the fact that he was there and he was alive. A few hours later he had called back to say that he had talked to the man, and that she shouldn’t worry because it wasn’t anything dangerous. He wasn’t there to be put in harm’s way. However, he wasn’t at liberty to explain the situation to her over the phone.

Joyce was going crazy. Why couldn’t anyone just tell her what was going on? This was her family after all. How was she supposed to be reassured by “I’m not about to be shot or anything, but I can’t tell you what I’m doing or why I’m here.”?

Infact, her anticipation only worsened when early in the morning, she received a third and final call from Jim. He said that finally, after almost 48 hours he was coming home. He would be leaving in a few hours, and Joyce should expect him sometime around dinner. He still was unable to disclose what had happened in Cleveland. However, he had been very adimate that they would have a lot to discuss when he returned.

He was safe, and he was coming home. This was of course relieving. But the added secrecy of not being able to know what had happened and the urgent and almost apologetic way he had said they would have a lot to talk about sent her mind spiraling.

“Mom.” Jonathan interrupted her train of thought. She turned to the boy who was sitting at the table, eyeing her sympathetically. “He’s okay. He’s going to be home any minute.”

Joyce smiled softly at her son, but she couldn’t bring herself to come up with any substantial response. Instead, she fell bonelessly into the chair beside her eldest, who grabbed her hand in his own and squeezed.

Not five minutes later there was a sudden knock at the door and Joyce straightened up in her seat like a jolt of electricity had gone up her spine. She glanced over at Jonathan who held out a hand as if to say, wait. There was no justifiable reason to be nervous, but there was something in the air that seemed to scream something’s wrong. Apparently Jonthan felt it too.

The boy stood up from his place at the table, slowly padding over to the door. He looked back at his mother once more. Joyce nodded to Jonathan, who spun around and slowly pulled the door open.

Hopper stood before the boy, and Joyce felt the tension leaving her body. She felt silly for letting some superstitious anxiety get the best of her. The woman was just about to shoot up from her seat and run to him when he stepped through the doorway and another man followed him in.

She felt herself tense all over again, and saw out of the corner of her eye the way Jonathan did the same. Before she could get any words out there was a crashing sound of glass shattering against the hardwood floor behind her. Joyce spun around to see Max standing in the archway, the remains of an empty glass scattered around her feet. The girl was frozen in place and pale as if she had seen a ghost.

In all fairness, she had.

Because standing right inside the doorway, looking just as pale and sickly as you would expect from someone who had died and come back, was a broken, bandaged, Billy Hargrove.

-

Jim Hopper wasn’t sure what he had expected to find when he received the urgent call to get over to Cleveland Medical Center, it sure as shit wasn’t this.

Perhaps they needed him to help perform some exorcist type shit on someone who had been possessed, like they had done to Will what seemed like lifetimes ago. Maybe they needed him to help battle it out against another army of hell beasts. Maybe they needed him to come to the hospital so that they could wipe his memory and leave him on the side of the road with no recollection of demons or Hawkins or secret government agencies.

That is just a few scenarios that Jim would have listed as infinitely more likely than the situation that he had actually found himself in.

Demidogs and Mind Flayers he could accept. He had risked his life fighting against them many times. Demon possession and evil murder sprees was nothing new to him. The prospect of the government needing him for something more sinister such as tampering with his very mind? Well, Jim had never been the most trusting when it comes to men in suits. But all of that paled in comparison to reality, because now there was a dead man in the passenger seat of Jim Hopper’s car.

Or, well, he wasn’t dead anymore, but somehow that was worse. Up until roughly 40 hours ago, Jim had known Billy Hargrove to be dead, diseased, passed, donezo. He had been possessed and eventually killed by the MindFlayer. He saw the way the beast had ripped a hole through his chest. He died in Max’s arms for god’s sake.

But according to Stevenson, that wasn’t the case, at least not the whole case.

There really was the possession and the final stand at the mall and the giant hole ripped through his chest and the dying in Max’s arms. But apparently that was as far as he got, dying, not dead.

According to the man, once they had all cleared out of the mall and the agents showed up and moved in, they found Billy laying there in the middle of the food court. He appeared to be dead, in fact, he was only just clinging to the very last few minutes of life. Five minutes and he would really have been gone.

They swept him up with the rest of the evidence, just as everyone at Hawkins had assumed. His body was evidence, it had to disappear with the rest of it. But what they hadn’t known was that they had instead moved Billy to an emergency unit at the Cleveland Medical Center where they did everything in their power to keep him alive and fix him up to the best of their ability.

He had been in a coma- at first from the trauma of the incident and eventually medically induced- for a month and a half. For the first two weeks they genuinely didn’t think he would pull through, and even after that it was touch and go for a while. Eventually it was clear that Billy was a fighter, and that he was starting to recover. By mid August they were confident that he would make a full recovery, and that he would even be able to go home within a few weeks.

It was now mid September. Billy had been awake and out of his medically induced coma for about a month. He was still bruised and bandaged, and looked like hell. He was deathly pale, and the once hard muscled body was now weak and sickeningly thin. His fingers constantly shook and sometimes he would randomly lose his balance. His collarbones protruded and he had large dark bags under his eyes. It was obvious to anyone looking that Billy Hargrove had gone through hell, literally and figuratively.

It was for that reason that they called Jim in the first place. Technically, at 18 years old, the boy was legally allowed to go off on his own. The hospital could have sent him off to find his way in the world however he could manage. But they wanted someone to keep an eye on the boy while he recovered. They didn’t feel that he was ready to jump into the responsibilities of life on his own yet.

The doctors assured Jim that with time the boy would eventually be back to normal. The shakiness and the dizziness would go away. He would regain color in his face and his skin. He would even regain the muscle if he worked for it. But looking at the boy now, Jim couldn’t imagine it would be a quick and easy process.

The one thing that Billy would never be able to rid himself of was the big nasty scar across his chest.

The thing was almost sickly fascinating. His entire chest was covered in the remains of the deep tares where the MindFlyer had literally ripped through the boy’s flesh. The dips and curves of the scar were dramatic and striking. Every piece of skin had been ripped away from his body and then pieced back together to create the brutal cicatrix.

Jim found himself feeling terrible for whatever poor girl had Billy Hargrove as a soulmate.

“Did you talk to Neil yet?” the quiet voice of the younger boy snapped Hopper out of his thoughts. It was the first he had spoken since they got in the car and started the drive back to Hawkins. Only the second or third time he had spoken to Jim at all.

Suddenly a cold feeling settled over the man as he realized what the boy was implying.

Of course he didn’t know what had happened, he had been in a coma for god’s sake. Billy didn’t know that Max had told Jim what was going on, about the screaming and the fighting, about the physical and mental abuse. He didn’t know that Max had been removed from the house, and was living with Joyce. He didn’t know that Jim was trying to take Neil down for child abuse. Billy Hargrove had just about died and spent months in a medically induced coma in a secret wing of one of the most prestigious medical facilities in the country. Now, he was sitting in a car on his way back to the town that had ruined his life, thinking that he was about to be dumped on the front porch of the man would most likely beat the shit out of him for not actually dying.

“No, uh, kid, I’m not taking you to Neil. You don’t ever have to see that son of a bitch again.” Jim said awkwardly. He wasn’t sure how to do this, how to explain what had all happened. Would the boy be relieved, or would it set him off? Would he be grateful, or angry with Max? Would he even admit what had been happening, or would he be defensive and closed off?

Billy seemed to stiffen in the seat beside him. He hadn’t been looking at the man, gaze fixed out the window. But at those words he turned to the man, eyes wide with confusion and fear. “What does that mean?”

Jim didn’t answer him for a few seconds, considering how he should respond. After a few moments he decided to start from the beginning. “Look, son, I know what was going on in that house.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw the boy’s jaw clench, fingers tightening into fists. “Once everything with the summer went down, after you, uh, were gone… your sister, she let it slip that Neil had been doing. She told me what kinda shit had been happening in that house, to you and to your stepmother.” He paused, but the boy remained deathly quiet in the seat next to him. “We haven’t actually got anything pinned on him yet, it's uh, hard when one of the key players of your story is.. well… gone. But we kicked up enough of a fuss to get your sister out of the house. She’s living with myself and Joyce Byers now.”

The car was silent except for the hum of the motor and the sound of the wind. Jim thought that perhaps the boy wasn’t going to respond at all. But he kept quiet, deciding against talking just to fill the silence. It was a lot to process, afterall.

A few minutes passed before anyone said anything. Jim had almost forgotten that he was waiting for a response, mind lost in the continuous winding of the country road. He barely kept himself from jumping when the silence was finally broken.

“She had no right.” Billy spoke. That was all he said, but it was hard, certain.

 

Jim held back the urge to sigh. He wasn’t cut out to be a goddamn therapist. He found that out real fucking quick with Steve Harrington. But while conversations with Steve needed to be more compassionate, fatherly, Jim felt that Billy Hargrove would just shut himself off more if Jim tried to step in to comfort him. What Billy needed was guidance, tough love, a dose of reality.

“Kid, don’t get all prideful on me now.” Jim spoke with authority, “Your father is an angry, hateful, violent son of a bitch. I’m not pitying you, and I’m not trying to coddle you. What that man did is illegal, and what your sister did was try and protect her family. She knew that you didn’t want people to know, but son, you weren’t around anymore. By telling me what she did, she got herself out of a dangerous situation, and maybe your stepmother didn’t choose to take it, but Max gave her another option too, a way out.”

He could feel that the boy beside him was rearing up to argue, but he didn’t give him the opportunity. He wasn’t done yet.

“I know you want to get all defensive, but save your goddamn breath. No one is throwing a pity parade for Billy Hargrove, in fact no one is gonna say shit to you. But your sister did the right thing, and gave me the ability to get her out of that house, and the ability to open a case against Neil. Now you’re an adult, and if you want to go grovel at his feet that’s up to you. But the point is you never have to see that son of a bitch again, and I can’t see why you would want to.”

Billy left out a huff of air, but he didn’t say anything in response. He turned in his seat away from Hopper, eyes turning back to the road. They rode in silence for another few minutes before he spoke up again. “Could you drop me off at the pool then? It’s closed but maybe if they’ll take me back I could do maintenance over the winter.”

“Son, you’re in no state to be getting a job yet. Especially not one that involves physical labor.”

Jim could feel the tension and the frustration rising in the boy, building and bubbling like it was about to boil over. “What the fuck am I supposed to do then? If I’m not going back to Neil, then I need a job to get a place to stay.” His voice was calm, but purposely so. He was holding back the impending explosion.

Jim kept his eyes on the road, but watched the boy closely out of the corner of his eye. He started calmly, “Well for right now you’re coming with me. You’re going to stay with myself and the Byers.”

Billy whipped around in his seat, eyes blazing with an anger that, admittedly, made Jim a little nervous. But he was the chief of police and he had fought goddamn hell beasts, he wasn’t going to let some punk ass 18 year old intimidate him.

“Like hell I am!” He growled, fists clenching and unclenching, “I’m a goddamn adult and I can take care of myself. I don’t need you and Joyce Byers fucking cherity.” he spit out the word like it was poison on his tongue.

“I know you’re an adult now but you need someone to help you out right now! You’re still recovering! You can’t drive, you can’t hold a job, you can’t get an apartment! When you recover you are free to go but right now you’re staying with Joyce or I swear to god I’ll have your ass locked in a cell at the station.” Jim turned to the boy, letting himself be a little aggressive. Billy was the type of kid that would dominate you if you didn’t make it immediately clear that you were the one in charge. He was like a stubborn dog trying to establish himself as the alpha.

“You’ll lock me up?” Billy laughed bitterly, eyes challenging the man. He seemed to say, do it, you won't.

“You bet your ass I’ll lock you up Hargrove. I’m the chief of police I’ll have your ass behind bars before you know what the fuck happened.”

“Yeah, I bet you fucking will.” Billy spit out. He turned in his seat, unlocking his seatbelt as if he were about to get out of the car in the middle of the road.

Jim wished he could take back anything bad he had ever said about Steve Harrington. He would take the emotion and the neediness and the being way out of his depth any day over this stubborn asshole. He had dealt with more kids like Billy Hargrove than he could count, hell, he had been a kid like Billy Hargrove once. But that didn’t make it any less annoying and exhausting.

He sighed to himself before abruptly slamming on the breaks, sending the boy crashing into the dashboard in front of him. As Jim pulled onto the side of the road he couldn’t help but feel half bad for the kid. He already looked and felt like hell, and that definitely didn’t help, but ultimately he was fine, and he needed to be taught a fucking lesson.

As he put the car into park, Jim sprung into action. Billy, who hadn’t been expecting the sudden stop, was still pulling himself back into his seat when suddenly Hopper was on him. The man was leaning across the center console, arms reaching out to grasp the flailing boy. There were a few moments of struggling, and Billy put up a hell of a good fight. Jim was old and out of shape, and if Billy had been in peak condition the man didn’t doubt for a second he could have overpowered him. However, luckily for Jim, Billy had just gotten out of a month and a half coma and had the muscle mass to prove it. So after a brief struggle that wasn’t made any easier by the awkward angle of being in the front seat of a car, Hopper had Billy’s right arm handcuffed to the grab handle.

The boy tried to pull free for about five real minutes before giving up and settling back into his seat. Hopper had returned to his own seat and pulled them back into the road towards Hawkins.

They drove the final hour and a half in silence, the tension in the air slowly fizzling out the longer they drove. Jim knew that the only thing that had really been hurt was the boy’s pride, but it needed to be done.

Jim saw a good kid in Billy Hargrove, he really did. Deep down he knew that there was a genuinely good person behind the fire and the bite and the aggression. But Billy was the kind of kid who needed to be put in his place. He needed to be shown that you were serious or else he would continue to try and push you around, assert his dominance. Jim understood that, he had been around boys his whole life. He hoped that this was enough to get the boy to cool it at least for a while.

He hoped that if they could get through the first few weeks Billy would naturally settle in. At that moment he was angry, and defensive, and though he would never admit it, Jim was sure he was scared out of his mind. But maybe if they could just have the chance, he could start to trust them.

The car was still silent when they pulled into the driveway. Billy sat beside him, still handcuffed to the handle above the door, pointedly not looking at Jim. Once the car was in park the man unbuckled his seatbelt, turning to face the boy.

“So,” he started slowly but confidently, “are we going to have another problem? Or are you going to cooperate and let me open my goddamn house to you?”

Billy didn’t answer for a moment, eyes scanning the house in front of him. Finally, he turned to face the man, “No, sir.”

Jim nodded, “Good.” he reached across the boy to unlock the handcuffs.

Billy finally pulled his hand away, shaking out his arm and rubbing at his wrist where the metal had been digging into his skin.

“Now that you’re done being a little bitch,” Jim started, and Billy let out another huff, but the tension was gone. There was no anger to his composure, “let’s get in there and let your sister know that she got her brother back.”

-

All Max had wanted was to get another glass of water.

She had been peacefully minding her business. She was working on stupid homework for prealgebra, which she didn’t entirely understand the value of. Who decided it was a good idea to put letters in math anyway? It wasn’t like she was going to walk down the aisle at the grocery store and see that the price of peanut butter was .5(x)+.5 if x = 2.

Jane was totally useless. She was doing a lot better with her school work, but she had a tendency to grasp concepts in weird, round about ways that only made sense to herself. After listening to the explanation of one problem, Max had decided that a five minute lecture involving sleeping men, the buddy system, and something about trains wasn’t the kind of math help she was looking for.

Will was a lot more help. He had realized pretty quickly that she was a visual learner, like himself, which made him the perfect tutor. Will was really good at using little sketches to help Max picture the problems. That made the work a lot easier.

They had been working for about a half an hour when she decided to stretch her legs for a second and refill her glass of water. She rolled off the side of Will’s bed, which at the moment, was a smorgasbord of textbooks, notebooks, pencils, rulers, and a calculator. Will glanced up at the girl questioningly.

“I’m going to get more water. Do you want anything?” She asked as she retrieved her empty glass from the bedside table.

“No I’m good.” Will said softly over the scratch of his pencil. Max nodded before turning to make her way to the kitchen.

As she padded down the hallway she heard commotion in the kitchen. There was a knock on the door, and Max found herself wondering who would be visiting on a Tuesday afternoon. If it was the party they would have radioed, and Steve was working at Family Video tonight- and regardless he too would have radioed. As much as he pretended to hate it, and acted as though he was just humoring them, Max knew that Steve secretly loved the radio that they had given him.
The door opened and she heard two sets of footsteps making their way into the kitchen. Jonathan and Nancy? No, Jonathan was home.

She stepped around the corner into the entryway of the kitchen, curious to see who was at the door. She saw Hopper first, and was about to greet him when her eyes shifted to the person standing behind him. She felt as if the entire world stopped spinning and her body forgot how to breath. She heard the glass shattering against the floor but she hadn’t felt it slip from her fingers. The room was suddenly both too hot and too cold and infinitely too stuffy despite the fact that the door was still ajar, letting in the cool air from outside.

Suddenly all four pairs of eyes were on her, and she felt like she might vomit. This couldn’t be happening, this was a dream, this had to be some kind of fucked up nightmare. The second shoe was about to drop and she could feel it. He was still possessed, or he didn’t remember her, or if she tried to touch him her hand would go right through him because he wasn’t really there and she had finally gone crazy.

She felt the hot tears running down her cheeks, burning at her skin. She was about to wake up. Any second now she would bolt upright in her bed in the middle of the night with an ache in her chest like someone had reached into her body and pulled out her very soul.

Billy had died, Billy had sacrificed himself, Billy had died in her arms, Billy had left her, and now, Billy was standing in front of her.

“Max?” He spoke softly, almost so quiet it was inaudible. She hadn’t realized she had been holding her breath until he spoke that simple word and she gasped. She must have been holding her breath for longer than she realized, because she was now acutely aware of the burning of her lungs.

It was like the spell was broken. The tears rolled down faster and harder as she dashed across the room towards the boy. Broken glass be damned. All of the shards could impale themselves in the soles of her feet, draining all of the blood in her body until there was nothing left and she wouldn’t care at all. She crashed into Billy’s chest, and the world started spinning again. She couldn’t believe it. He was real, he was there, the solid weight of Billy was pressed against her. If this was a dream she didn’t ever want to wake up.

He stiffened underneath the force of her hug of a second. His knee jerk reaction was to push away, to tell her to get off of him, to spit out something nasty that would make her back off. But the relief of being there, being alive, being away from the grasps of the MindFlayer, won out in the end. He felt the way Max was literally shaking against him, tears wetting the material of his shirt, and he was overwhelmed with how much he had actually missed her. He had genuinely believed he was going to die, that he would never see her again.

Billy wrapped his arms around the sobbing girl, pulling her tight against his chest. He buried his face in the tangles of her messy red hair and inhaled, letting a few of his own tears fall.

“Please tell me you’re real.” the girl breathed out desperately, so full of pain. “I need you to be real.” The words were so soft that Billy wasn’t sure if anyone else in the room could have caught them.

Billy could feel that he was shaking himself now, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. “I’m real, Max. I swear to god I’m real. And I am so sorry. Fuck, I am so sorry Max.” he whispered to the girl. His own tears were falling hotly down his cheeks and into her hair. He held her tighter still. He wasn’t sure if he could ever bring himself to let go again, “God. I’m real, and I’m here, and I swear to fucking god I’m never leaving you again.”

Chapter Text

Every house has a room which feels just a little bit wrong. Some houses have a basement that never gets used, some a spare room that no one goes in, some even have secret rooms or closets that are never seen. Each of these areas are of course, just another piece of the house. There is nothing inherently wrong with the space, no reason for it to feel any different than any other part of the house. But nevertheless everyone can picture that one room which makes their heart race just a little bit faster.

For Jonathan Byers, that room is the attic.

Jonathan had lived in his house for his entire life. For nineteen years he had inhabited this space, stomped through every room, raced down every hall, explored every nook and cranny. He could tell you every crack on the ceiling and point out every place where the paint was chipping. Every scratch, stain, and scuff had a story, and Jonathan knew them all. He was intimately familiar with every piece of his childhood home.

Except the attic.

Joyce had always used the attic for storage. The attic was home to everything from clothes that weren’t being worn, to decorations on the off seasons. The attic held old furniture and a christmas tree and more bins than Jonathan would ever care to count. Joyce very rarely ventured up there to retrieve anything, and Jonathan was never allowed to explore up there. He would break something, or get into something he wasn’t supposed to, or even just get dirty from all the dust accumulating.

There was nothing inherently strange or frightening about the attic. But regardless, being up there always made Jonathan anxious, even to this day. He supposed it was due the fact that his entire life he had associated the room with being off limits. It was the place he wasn’t allowed to go. It was a room in a house which he had lived in for nineteen years, yet its walls were unfamiliar to him, its cracks and crevices foreign.

Jonathan could count the number of times he had been up in the attic. That included right now, cleaning and rearranging to make a space for Billy Hargrove to call home.

He had called off of work for a family emergency, and had so far spent his entire Wednesday clearing out the area with Joyce, Max, and Billy. They had spent hours going through everything. They had thrown away about half of the stuff, and compacted all of the rest into the smallest area possible, Tetris style. The attic was a rather large area, which meant that after they had done this, Billy was left with an area similar in size to an average bedroom.

Which was great, except the fact that Billy had nothing to fill it with.

It wasn’t really surprising, all things considered. But when it had first dawned on him it had stopped Jonathan in his tracks. It made him feel like an asshole in that irrational way where you feel guilty for having something that someone else doesn’t even though it has nothing to do with you. It was strange. Jonathan had never before found himself in a position where he felt privileged and spoiled. It was usually him feeling embarrassed about exactly how poor his family was. Of course, that is neglecting the time in fourth grade where Jonathan’s class was learning about third world countries. He had come home that night and broke down crying to his mom because he had a bed to sleep and there were kids in the world who didn’t. That was a bit of an extenuating circumstance though.

It wasn’t until Jonathan had started to point out where he thought Billy might want to put a bed or a dresser that it dawned on him. “So I was thinking if you put the bedframe there,” he gestured to the far corner of the attic, “and a dresser there, it would leave a nice amount of space for…” he had trailed off. A sinking feeling settled in his gut as he realized what he had been saying.

Billy had just returned from the hospital after just about dying, and then being stuck in a coma for months. It wasn’t exactly like he had waltzed into the Byers’ house with suitcases full of his most prized possessions. Neil was of course, a bit of a sore spot. They weren’t exactly about to knock on his door and say, “So surprise, Billy isn’t actually dead. However, we don’t trust you not to beat the shit out of him so he is going to be living with us. Do you mind if we pick up some of his things?” That is assuming of course, that the man hadn’t thrown it all out in the first place.

Billy had just raised his eyebrows at the boy challengingly, and Jonathan felt his heart rate pick up. He hadn’t had any personal altercations with Billy (not including the time that he was possessed, of course.) but he certainly had a reputation. “Yeah. Sorry to burst your bubble, Manson. I can tell that you’re just oh so passionate about interior design. Maybe you should go share all of your big ideas with your little twink boyfriend.”

Jonathan bit the inside of his cheek. He wanted to bite back, to challenge the boy. But he swallowed down the urge. He was used to being called a faggot, high school was a rough time for him. He also knew how frustrated and out of his depth Billy must be right now. In fact, it was surprising enough that this was the first incident that had occured since Billy arrived. He hadn’t spoken much to anyone but Max, just silently shifting around so far. However he had been very respectful to Joyce, and given his reputation and what Jonthan had seen of the boy at school, he had been expecting this sooner rather than later.

“Actually Nancy isn’t much into interior design,” Jonathan tried to keep his voice light. He worried that maybe he had genuinely struck a chord with the boy. Of course, he hadn’t meant to offend, but it couldn’t be easy to be in this situation. Regardless, he had dealt with this kind of arrogant asshole his whole life, getting worked up would just egg him on, “but if you’re ever looking for the latest on the political implications of the stock market she’s your girl.”

Billy however, didn’t take the olive branch. “Holy shit, your little play thing is a bitch? My apologies, I couldn’t tell since, you know, she has no tits.”

This stopped Jonathan in his tracks, and the boy saw red. Forget civility. Insult him? Fine. Call him a faggot? Whatever. But degrade Nancy like that, for no reason? No fucking way. He clenched his fists at his side, feeling the anger bubble up inside him, hot and acidic and ready to spill over. He bit his tongue so hard he drew blood, taking two slow deep breaths before he spoke. “Fuck you Billy Hargrove, don’t you dare talk about Nancy that way. She is an incredibly smart, ambitious, capable woman and she is ten times the person you will ever be.” he growled at the boy.

Billy took a step towards Jonathan, his eyes flashing darkly. “You want to start something?” He cocked his head to the side, staring at the other boy with a menacing gaze.

Jonathan just shook his head, laughing humorlessly, “No Billy, I really fucking don’t. All my family has ever done for you, all that we are trying to do is help you. We are bending over backwards, inconveniencing ourselves in every way to accomodate for you. But all you can fucking do is put us down and try to assert your psudo alpha male bullshit.” he stared back at the boy with all of the confidence that he didn’t feel. His heart was pounding in his ears, but Billy didn’t need to know that.

Billy practically snarled, “I didn’t ask you to-”

“No you didn’t.” Jonathan interrupted him. He already knew where this was going and he didn’t have time for it. “You didn’t ask. But we are doing it anyway, because believe it or not, some people actually give a shit about other people. I know you can’t fathom what it’s like to want to help someone out if you’re not getting something in return, but it’s called empathy, asshole.” Billy didn’t back away, but the fierce look on his face started to slip, the fire in his eyes going cold. “And even though you’re choosing to respond by insulting me and the people that I care about for no reason except to satisfy your massive ego, I still give a shit about what happens to you. So I’m going to go downstairs, and my mom and I are going to go out and go buy shit, with our own money, for you. But maybe in the future you should consider not shitting all over the people who are trying to do something nice for you.” Jonathan turned away from the boy, making his way down the ladder and out of the attic before he had a chance to respond.

He wasn’t worth any more breath.

-

“You don’t have the flu do you? Because I swear to god if you get me sick-”

“No! God, I’m not sick Mike.” Max interrupted the boy. She flopped down onto the couch in the middle of the Wheeler’s basement with a huff. This was the fifth time that they had this conversation in as many minutes, and she was about ready to scream.

The problem was that Max hadn’t been at school that day. Joyce had allowed her to stay home to spend more time with Billy and to help clean out the attic for him. She was grateful of course. There was simply no way that she would have been able to concentrate on animal classification while her undead brother was waltzing around Joyce’s house. The woman knew this, and had sent Will to school with a note saying that Max wasn’t feeling well and would be staying home for the day. It wasn’t a lie, Joyce had told her that morning, anyone would be feeling a little bit off in her situation.

She had considered skipping out on their Wednesday night plans as well, and she was starting to think that she should have. The party had been planning to head to the arcade after school and then hang out at the Wheeler’s for a bit. Frankly, she would have much rather tailed Billy like a lost puppy for the rest of the night, as she had been doing for the last twenty four hours. However, once Billy had noticed Will and Jane getting ready to leave and had all but threatened Max’s life if she “put her life on hold” for his sake, she ultimately decided to go as planned.

This of course, led the other three boys to practically cross examine her as to why she hadn’t been at school. It was as if they expected she had used her morning to commit a felony. (Which was stupid, if she was going to commit a felony she woud have invited them.) Or, in Mike’s case, it was as if he expected she had skipped school because she had contracted the Bubonic Plague and was now on a mission to give it to as many people as possible. (Which was still stupid, however, in this scenario she would not have invited them.)

She knew that she needed to tell them about Billy, she couldn’t exactly hide it. That would be complicated and messy and would never work. Besides the fact that the Byers’ house was a regular hangout spot, Billy wasn’t exactly going to stay put forever. He hadn’t even been back a full day and was already itching to get out of that house.

Also, they were her best friends and she was supposed to share important things like this with them. There was no reason for her to have to hide this from them. It wasn’t fair to anyone involved. But it was hard. There were going to be so many questions that she didn’t know how to answer.

Plus, it wasn’t as if any of them had been Billy’s biggest fans in the first place. She wasn’t exactly ready to hear Mike Wheeler deliver his dissertation on all the reasons that he thoroughly believes that Billy Hargrove is actually the antichrist.

Boys were so dense sometimes.

“Then why weren’t you at school today? You’re avoiding the question.” Mike fired back, moving to sit down on the floor beside Jane.

Max twisted the hem of her shirt between her index finger and thumb. She had no idea how to start this conversation. Should she start it? Should she wait?

“Mike, just let it go. It’s girl stuff, you really don’t want to hear.. about it…” Will spoke up, trying his best to help the girl out, But he trailed off as Max put a hand on his knee. She gave a small shake of her head. She really appreciated him, but she needed to do this. Will nodded softly.

“Actually, um…” she faltered, not knowing how to start. All eyes in the room turned to her expectantly. “Something, uh, happened yesterday.”

She saw the way that Mike, Dustin, and Lucas sat up a little straighter. Their faces started to twist with worry. Max hated that every time “something happened” everyone assumed that they were about to fight another hell demon. God, she hoped they weren’t about to fight another hell demon. If something happened, if something tried to take this away from her... God. Why couldn’t they just have normal lives? What kind of absolute monster had she been in a past life to be dealt such a lousy hand in this one? Was it too much to ask to live a life where when one of her friends says, “something happened” her first thought is that they said something stupid infront of their crush at school. Was it so outrageous to wish she wasn’t constantly expecting her life to be in danger from some interdimensional creature?

Will reached over and gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze. She smiled softly at him, grateful that he was there with her. She took a breath. “Not, uh, not like that. I promise.” She watched the way the trio started to sink back into their seats, relaxing. “I know that when I tell you this… you’re going to assume that it is like that.” she continued, “But I swear it’s not. I swear he’s..” she trailed off. She was getting ahead of herself.

“Max…” Lucas started slowly, a concerned expression pulling at his face. He was sitting on her other side. He looked as though he wanted to reach out to her but wasn’t sure if she would let him.

“Billy is back.” Suddenly Jane spoke up from her spot on the floor beside Mike. Apparently she wanted to put Max out of her misery, and to help the conversation along. Max wanted to be upset with her for that, but she couldn’t help but feel relieved. There. It was out there now. The band-aid had been ripped off.

“What?!” Mike all but screeched as Dustin’s breaths became quick and shallow. He was muttering “Oh my god oh my god oh my god.” over and over again. Lucas hadn’t spoken up, but he was now staring at Max with eyes the size of dinner plates.

“He is not flayed.” Jane spoke matter of factly, “I checked.” She held her hands out as if to calm the chaos of the room. To her credit, the boys shut up and turned to her, gaping like fish but at the very least quiet fish. Could fish be loud? Perhaps that was a question for another time.

“What do you mean?” Mike gripped her arm. His face was pale as a ghost. “How can he be back if he’s not flayed? I mean, he...”

“Died.” Lucas finished solemnly for the boy. His face was stony and serious, his fist clenching and unclenching at his sides.

“He didn’t.” Max spoke up, trying to take back control of the conversation. That definitely could have started better. It was important to lead this conversation in a productive direction. “Apparently he was on the verge of dying, minutes away actually. But those men who came and made everything disappear, I guess they took him away too, like we thought. Only they didn’t take him away to- to get rid-” she cleared her throat, as it started to tighten. She wasn’t going to cry again, not now. “Anyway. They took him to fix him.” she finished.

“Hopper got a call a few days ago, it was them. They needed him to come to the Cleveland Medical Center right away.” Will spoke up, giving Max a chance to breathe. “They wouldn’t tell him why. Mom didn’t even tell us that’s where he was. But I could tell something was wrong, she was so on edge. But um, I guess when he got there they needed him to bring Billy home. That’s what the emergency they couldn’t tell him about was.”

“Why didn’t they call his own dad?” Mike questioned, and Max felt a hot anger rising up in her chest. What the fuck was wrong with Wheeler? Seriously? Neil didn’t need to be anywhere near Billy. If that man never found out that Billy was back it would be too soon.

She started subconsciously grinding her teeth together. How insensitive can you be? He knows, everyone knows about what a literal piece of human garbage Neil Hargrove is. What the hell did he mean, why didn’t they call his own dad?

“Neil doesn’t know about any of the Upsidedown stuff. They know Hopper, so they called him.” Will responded calmly, and Max felt herself deflate. Mike hadn’t meant it like that. It was an innocent question with an innocent answer. It was all about who knows and who doesn't, she reminded herself. Wheeler is a dense, oblivious, dick, but he wasn’t purposely pressing buttons.

There was silence throughout the basement. No one knew what to say. Every creak from the ceiling or tick from the wall clock was amplified in Max’s ears. Her eyes darted around the room, studying the expressions of all the boys. The silence stretched into uncomfortable territory, the lack of conversation growing awkward and more and more obvious by the second.

Max picked at the nails that she didn’t have. She pulled at the skin of her fingertips until they started to bleed just to give her hands something to do.

Lucas seemed to take pity on her, or perhaps he was just trying to fill the silence that he could no longer stand. But either way, the boy turned to face her, resting a hand on her knee. “We’re really happy for you Max. It’s a lot of process. But we know how much he means to you.”

Max’s eyes darted up from her red and raw fingers to meet the boy’s own. She glanced down to her leg where his hand was resting and moved to grasp it in her own. “Thank you.” She said softly, leaning over to let her head rest on his shoulder.

“Yeah Max. That’s awesome.” Dustin spoke up. He still sounded a little nervous, a shakiness present in his voice. But he did his best to flash her a smile and she appreciated his effort.

Mike however, looked physically pained. His brows were scrunched up and his nose wrinkled as if he were pushing through a bowel movement. That thought made Max feel just a little bit better. He was staring at the floor, not making eye contact with the girl. Frankly, Max didn’t give a shit. Let him think what he wants.

Mike, to put it lightly, annoys the shit out of Max. He’s a part of the party, and definitely one of Max’s closest friends, that much is true. But he can be both someone that Max cares deeply about and considers practically family, as well as a constant nuisance that she often wants to punch square in the face. He was like a fungus that she couldn’t get rid of, annoying and frustrating, but growing on her nevertheless. She wondered absently if Billy often felt the way about her that she feels about Mike Wheeler. She hoped not, but the unfortunate reality is that she was most likely as much of a planters wart to Billy as Mike was to her.

“Mike?” Will asked softly, eyes studying him in an intense way. He looked fidgety, on edge, Max noted. She flashed him a questioning look, and when she finally caught his gaze Will’s face went bright red and he quickly turned away from her. Max wasn’t sure what to make of that. Whatever, boys are so dumb.

Mike still looked as though he were trying to mentally work out the square root of 289. He opened and closed his mouth a few times as if he were trying to figure out how to say what was one his mind.

Everyone in the room was now focused on the boy, waiting for him to finally spit out whatever was working him up. Seconds ticked by and Max was starting to grow impatient. She wasn’t the only one.

“What's up Wheeler? You look constipated.” Dustin spoke, earning a snort from Lucas (who in turn earned a small punch in the arm and a quiet “grow up Sinclaire” from Max).

Mike glared hotly at the boy before finally speaking, “I’m sorry.” he said, not sounding in any way sorry. “It’s just, well, Billy’s kind of a massive dick. He was always an asshole to all of us, even Max. I just don’t understand why…” he trailed off, staring at the ground frustratedly.

Max felt like she had just been punched in the gut. She wanted to kick him in the balls so hard that he saw stars. Her hands clenched into fists so tightly that they shook, tremors running up and down her arms. She could feel her fingernails piercing her palms but she only squeezed tighter.

“Dude.” Dustin spoke, staring at the boy with a shocked expression on his face, “Yeah, he was a dick, that doesn’t mean we want him dead.”

Mike chewed on his bottom lip, eyes glued to the floor. He didn’t speak, and Max felt herself growing more and more frustrated and apoplectic. She stood up from the couch suddenly, not saying anything before she raced out of the basement. She wasn’t sure if she was about to start crying or punching or both, but she didn’t want any of them to see her like that regardless.

As she took off Will jumped out of his seat. He glanced around the room, eye’s finally landing on Jane who was staring at him with wide eyes. “I’m gonna call Steve.” he said simply, before turning and following Max up the stairs and out of the basement.

-

Steve Harrington deserved a fucking medal.

8:30 is when the brats had asked to be picked up, that is when he agreed to. At 8:30 he had agreed to get up, leave the comfort of his house, drive the whole way across town to the Wheelers, and then the whole way back across town to the Byers. His old house was actually only a few blocks from the Wheelers, but what can he say? A Family Video salary is just enough to cover his and Robin’s coveted chateau in Hawkin’s own ghetto. But hey, his neighbors are cooler now. Who needs snobby middle class white suburban moms when you can have Screaming Dave, who steals your trash and earns his name every night from the hours of 11pm to 4am.

But anyways, Steve had, despite the now 15 whole minute drive to the Wheeler’s, agreed to give the brats a ride home. Again, at 8:30. However, despite their very clear and explicit agreement, Steve was now in his car, waiting outside for the kids at- he glanced at his watch -6:52pm.

Which apparently, everyone assumed wouldn’t be a problem. Oh yeah, it doesn’t matter, it’s just Steve. He’s not working. What else could he possibly have to do? No of course he isn’t doing anything important with his night besides waiting around for us. I’ll just call him and have him drop all that nothing that he's doing to come early.

Well as a matter of fact Steve had been doing something, something important, because he thought that he didn’t have to leave for another hour and a half, thank you very much.

So Steve had been sitting in his bedroom, Whitney Houston playing on his record player in the corner (fuck you). He had been a little preoccupied, door locked, music turned up, if you catch his drift. The window was cracked slightly to let some cold air into the room, but the blinds were drawn. He had just started to get- ehem, worked up, just found his groove, was just getting into it, when the phone rang.

No fucking way was Steve answering it, Robin could get it, he was busy. So he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to ignore the sharp ringing noise that was throwing him off his… rhythm. Eventually the line went dead, Steve wasn’t sure if Robin got to it in time or not, couldn’t really bring himself to care at the moment.

Back to it then.

He let his thoughts wander, head lulling as he eventually landed on… Harrison Ford, nice. He bit his lip as he pictured the man, big and broad, sun kissed skin and a smirk that made Steve’s gut twist. Those big, strong hands, wrapped around a lightsaber, fuck. A shudder wracked up Steve’s body as he swallowed down a noise that Robin definitely would have heard.

The phone started to ring again, and Steve had half a mind to unplug the damn thing. He started to reach across the bed, feeling around for a pillow or something to chuck at the thing when suddenly the ringing stopped. Steve hesitated for a second, fingers twitching at his side as he tried to listen for Robin’s voice in the living room to make sure that he wasn’t going to be interrupted again.

It was all of five seconds before there was an aggressive pounding on his door. Steve took a moment to glance at his sweatpants where they were discarded on the floor, relieved that he had remembered to lock the door.

“Dingus it’s the children!” Robin called through the door, “They need you to come pick them up early.”

Steve let his head flop back against the pillows, defeated. He squeezed his eyes shut as if that would make her suddenly go away, as if ignoring their phone call would mean the kids would respect their original agreement. “Tell them to fuck off.” Steve called weakly. He had half a mind to make them wait. It would serve them right, teach them to honor their agreements.

“Hold on Will,” he heard her mutter, quieter, obviously not directed towards him. “Steve,” she spoke again, her tone much more serious and without the playful humor, “it sounds like they actually need you. It’s Will on the phone, something about Max and Mike getting into a fight. I think she’s really upset.”

And of course, Steve was the best fucking babysitter in the world. So he had given himself only another second to throw a very small, very quick pity party, pulled on his sweatpants, fluffed up his hair in the mirror, and left to go pick up the kids. Even though he had been busy, even though they agreed on 8:30, not 6:52, and even though the kids were the literal bane of Steve’s existence.

So yes, Steve Harrington deserved a fucking medal.

He watched as the three kids made their way out of the Wheeler’s house and towards his car, and suddenly Steve found himself very glad that he hadn’t given the kids too much trouble. He saw the stiff way Max was carrying herself, and as she got closer, the way her eyes were rimmed with red. It must have been one hell of a fight. Steve wasn’t sure he had ever seen Max cry, not besides the whole Billy situation.

The two girls slipped silently into the backseat, Jane choosing to plant herself in the middle instead of one of the sides. She curled up against the other girl, head resting on her shoulder. Steve saw the way Max relaxed just a little bit.

Will climbed up into the front beside Steve. He smiled softly at the older boy, seeming to thank him with his eyes.

Steve wasn’t sure what to do. He wasn’t exactly the best in emotional situations. Comforting children was a bit out of his comfort zone. He was more of a tease them and let them know how much he hated them, kind of chaperone. Life advice was a little bit above Steve’s pay grade, hell he didn’t even know what he was doing with his own life.

“Everybody buckled?” He asked as he started to pull out of the driveway. There was no response, so after a grand total of 10 incredibly awkwards seconds of silence, Steve tried again. “How was the arcade?”

There was still silence throughout the car, but at the very least Will gave him a small nod this time. Steve glanced in the mirror to the two girls in the back. Max was staring intensely out the window, mind seemingly working one thousand miles an hour. Jane was still leaning against the girl, but now she had one of Max’s hands clasped in her own, playing with the girl's fingers.

Steve looked back to the road. The silence was thick and obvious, almost tangible. Every second that past felt like an eternity. Steve contemplated putting on some music just so that it wasn’t so awkward. But he decided against it once he realized that he had a Cyndi Lauper cassette in. Even if he changed it Will would definitely notice and then Steve would never hear the end of it from Jonathan. So they drove in silence, because Will’s brother is a dick.

Steve felt bad, but when they finally pulled into the Byers’ driveway, he felt almost relieved. It was as if everyone had been holding their breath the whole way there.

As soon as the car was in park Max and Jane jumped out, Max without so much as a glance in Steve’s direction and Jane with only a soft, “Bye Steve.” Will was just about to follow the girls out of the car when Steve placed a hand on his knee and the boy stopped, glancing up at him with a questioning look.

Steve waited until the two girls had entered the house before speaking softly, “What happened? Seriously. I don’t remember the last time Max was this upset. You said this is because of Wheeler?”

Will looked uncomfortable, as if he wasn’t sure what he should be telling Steve. But the older boy kept his gaze locked on the boy, and eventually Will sighed. “Look, it’s not really my place.” he started. “But… Billy’s back. Hopper brought him home yesterday.”

Steve felt a pit in his stomach drop open, his mind suddenly flashing through a million different instances. A fist to the face, a kick to the ribs, a plate smashed over his head. He thought about the Mind Flayer, smashing his car into Billy’s, he thought about the fireworks, about Jane reaching out to Billy. He thought about the Mind Flayer ripping through his chest, Billy Hargrove dying on the floor of the mall. He suddenly felt incredibly cold and incredibly hot at the same time, like he was coming down with a fever.

“Billy died.” Steve heard himself breathing out, barely audible. He felt like he might be sick, like he might bring up his dinner all over his lap and his car.

Will shook his head, “He didn’t. The Mind Flayer did. But they saved Billy.”

Steve didn’t know how to process this information. He felt dizzy, like he was spinning, around and around and around and around. His eyes flicked up to the window of the Byers’ house, his mind racing. Was Billy in there? Was he standing by the window, just hidden by Joyce’s ugly yellow curtains, but watching Steve and Will nonetheless?

“Mike was a total dick about it. I know it’s a lot to hear, and I know none of us were Billy’s number one fans. But he’s Max’s brother.” Will spoke softly, eyes fixed on Steve. He got the impression that the boy was choosing his words with a purpose. As if he was speaking as much to Steve as he was about Mike. Steve nodded shakily.

“Yeah, uh, you’re right. That’s, that’s great.” there were a million and one questions buzzing around in his mind. How had he survived? Who saved him? Where had he been for these past months? Why now? Were they sure he was himself? What if something bad was about to happen? But Steve pushed these thoughts to the back of his mind. This wasn’t the time.

Will sat in silence for a moment before speaking up again, “Steve?” the other boy hummed, letting Will know he was listening. He didn’t turn to face the boy, he kept his eyes trained on the window. “I should go… They’re probably waiting for me. Thanks again for the ride.”

“Any time Baby Byers.” Steve replied, but he was distracted, not really paying attention to the boy. Will hopped out of Steve’s car, making his way up the driveway and into the house. Steve barely noticed his departure.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat in the driveway, eyes studying the house in front of him. He must have spaced out for quite a while, because when he finally came back to it the sky was significantly darker and the lights from inside the house were visible through the windows.

Steve slowly backed out of the driveway. Robin was probably worried about him. He didn’t remember driving home but suddenly he was unlocking the front door and making his way into the apartment.

There was no way that he would be sleeping that night.

Chapter Text

It was dark, so incredibly dark. It was dark and damp and someone was screaming. It was ear piercing, terrified screams. They were screams ripped from someone’s very soul, desperate, hysterical shrieks of someone confronted with the reality of death looming before them. The screams echoed around from somewhere- right here. Who was screaming? Was Billy screaming? No. No the screams were coming from Heather Holloway, who was… on the floor, fighting, pinned down.

She was being pinned by a pair of hands. The hands holding her down were big, scarred, familiar. They were shaky and vein-y and darkening unnaturally. Billy’s? Yes. They were Billy’s. Billy was holding her down, snarling over her as she fought.

It was happening again.

Panic welled up in his chest as he pinned Heather Holloway to the ground, black ooze dripping onto her face as she screamed and screamed. Her face was red, her eyes bloodshot as angry, horrified, desperate tears rolled down her cheeks. Billy felt his hands tighten, pulling her up a few inches before smashing her back down onto the floor. He felt her head crashing against the concrete underneath them, heard the way her screams got louder, more painful. He watched himself do it again as she thrashed, sobbing more than screaming as the back of her hair grew wet and matted with thick red blood.

Billy felt like he might hyperventilate. He fought it with everything in him, trying desperately to pull his hands away, to jump back from the girl, but his body wouldn’t listen to him. He tried to scream, tried to loosen his grip, but it was useless. He was a prisoner in his own skin, unable to do anything but watch as her screams became gargles and red started to pool and spill from her mouth.

He couldn’t even close his eyes, couldn’t even look away. There was someone else, something else in control of his body, something that was not Billy. The hands before him were his own but the actions behind them were not. There was a sick feeling in his gut like he was about to vomit all over the girl. The panic was familiar, filling and vibrating through his whole body. He wanted to break down into sobs but even that he couldn’t manage to do.

The sick feeling traveled up his throat but he swallowed it down, even that was an action that he did not make the decision to execute.

The silence was louder than the screaming. Heather Holloway was quiet underneath him, eyes glassy and unfocused. His hands were smeared with black ooze and crimson wetness. He was crouching in a pool of mud and body fluids, but still he could do nothing.

Billy wanted to die. In that moment he wanted nothing more than to be dead. The Mind Flayer could have his body, as long as he didn’t have to be a part of it any longer. He wished that he still believed in a god so that he could pray for death. He wished that the stories he heard as a child were true, because Billy deserved eternal damnation for this. He deserved to sit and rot and burn in hell for everything that he had done, everything that he had to watch himself do.

And he couldn’t even cry for her.

Suddenly Billy was bolting upright in bed. There was a rolling in his stomach and a burning in his throat as he launched himself over the side of the mattress he had been sleeping on. The old ratty blankets caught around his ankles and he caught himself with his hands before his face hit the floor. He was on his hands and knees, only about a foot away from the bed when he started to vomit all over the wood floor.

His arms and his chest shook as he sobbed, his stomach contracting as the acidic, putrid sludge hit the floor. He gasped for breath, feeling as if he couldn’t get enough air. He was hyperventilating, his breaths were too quick and too shallow and his lungs burned. He heaved again and the splattering sound made the sick feeling in his stomach worse.

It was dark in the room, only the dimmest of light filtering in through the window. It must have been very early in the morning. It was just enough light for Billy to make out the room in front of him, the mattress he had tripped off of and the wooden floor under him.

He heaved once more before collapsing onto the floor, rolling to the side and onto his back to avoid the vomit beside him. He laid there on his back, shaking and sobbing and gasping and gasping and gasping and gasping. .

Billy thought that maybe he might actually die. Maybe this was how he would go. On the floor of Joyce Byers’ attic, suffocated by his own pathetic sobbing and laying in a pool of his own vomit. He deserved it. He deserved every fucking second of it and so much more. He deserved to be beaten, he deserved to be spit on, screamed at, burned in fucking hell for everything that he had done.

Billy could still remember all of it. Every goddamn second of what that monster made him do. Every person he murdered as he sat trapped in his own skin unable to do anything about it. It haunted him, loomed over his shoulder, flashed through his mind every time he closed his eyes. It made him hate himself, hate every second of walking this earth. He hated every breath he took because he didn’t deserve the fucking oxygen he took up. He was taking up too much oxygen now, gasping and gasping and gasping. God it was so much, but it felt like none at all. He felt like no matter how hard he tried he wasn’t getting any air.

He felt like the room was spinning. He was shaking and his vision was starting to blur. The putrid sludge was creeping across the floor, wetting the ends of Billy’s curls but he didn’t have the strength to roll away. The spots dancing across his vision grew. Billy blacked out.

-

When Billy woke up again, Joyce Byers was kneeling over top of him, gently shaking his shoulders.

“Billy? Billy can you hear me? I need you to wake up now.” her voice was soft, as if she was trying to gently coax him from sleep. However, there was an underlying nervous wobble to it, like she was anxious about something.

As he began to regain consciousness, the first thing he noticed was the smell. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter, face scrunching up as he groaned. The air was sour and pungent, it smelled as if someone had been sick. God why couldn’t she just let him sleep? He didn’t want to deal with one of the kids feeling ill. He didn’t know how to deal with the kids when they weren’t feeling ill.

“Hey Billy, that's right,” the woman purred, rubbing his arm comfortingly. He batted her arm away, confused by her actions. Why was she touching him? Why was she up here? He most definitely was not on this kind of level with Joyce Byers.

Billy started to peel his eyes open, hissing as he adjusted to the bright light pouring in the window. His eyes were itching and burning as he rubbed at them.

He was wet and sticky on one side, his curls crusting in the worst way. As he pushed himself into a sitting position he got his first good look at the room around him. He was on the floor a few feet from the bed which he had been sleeping on. There was a pool of vomit spread across the floor around him, and suddenly everything from the night before came rushing back to him.

Heather Holloway, the Mind Flayer, the panic attack. His eyes grew wide as the same fear started to claw at his chest. Joyce must have noticed his inner turmoil because suddenly she was springing into action from her spot kneeling beside the boy.

She stopped herself from reaching out again, refraining from the physical touch that Billy was sure she was used to providing. He appreciated that. Instead she spoke softly to the boy, positioning herself close enough to provide comfort but far enough to give him space. “Hey, it’s alright. You’re safe. Billy. Billy look at me.”

His eyes were fixed intensely on his lap, fingers twisting at his sweatpants. He didn’t want to make eye contact with the woman. He wanted to curl up into a ball and scream. He wanted her to leave the attic and let him wallow in self hatred alone.

She repeated herself, just as soft and slowly. Billy continued to breath shakily, mind racing with the worst possible scenarios. He had been in her house for just over two weeks, she had no obligation to continue to provide for him. Now she would finally see what a disgusting, fucked up, monster he was. She would finally tell him that she was tired of this bullshit. She would tell him that she couldn’t stand to harbor a murderer any longer. She would push him out the door, dirty and disgusting and with nowhere to go. Just like he deserved.

“Billy. Breathe for me. Please.” his eyes snapped up to meet the woman’s, heart racing in his chest. He expected to see anger, fear, repuslision, but instead he was met with a gentle, empathetic gaze. He felt his stomach churn dangerously once again. She still hadn’t realized, she still couldn’t see him for who he was. How much longer could this go on? How comfortable, how dependent, would she allow him to become before the other shoe would drop? How much worse will it be when she finally reaches her breaking point?

“Billy, I’m going to touch you. Please tell me to stop if you are uncomfortable.” She slowly reached out, placing her hand on his shoulder.

Billy felt all of the muscles in his body stiffen as her gentle fingers grazed over his skin. She wasn’t hitting him, and she wasn’t fucking him, and nothing made sense. Why was she still there? Why was she treating him so softly? Why wasn’t she screaming at him? How, how did she not see that he didn’t deserve her kindness.

She slowly started to rub circles up and down his arm, speaking again, “You’re okay. I’m here Billy. Please breathe for me.”

He felt like he was on fire everywhere she touched. When would the other shoe drop? When would she finally snarl at him and back hand him? Why was she sitting here on the floor in the middle of his disgusting sick, comforting him like he was one of her own? Why was she treating him as if he wasn’t someone who had taken lives?

She started to pull at his arm as if she was going to pull him into a hug. As if she were going to pull him close. As if she were prepared to hold someone as abhorrent as Billy to her chest. Panic clutched at his gut and Billy felt himself choking out, “Stop.” His throat was scratchy and raw and gravely from his pathetic blubbering. But Joyce immediately pulled away, returning to her spot a foot or two away, giving him space.

He took a shaky breath, wide eyes trailing over the woman. Even now she looked back on him with kindness and concern. Billy felt sick, but at least he could breathe again.

“Do you think you would be okay heading downstairs for a warm shower? I’ll get all this fixed up, but I think you could use it right now.”

He felt himself rearing up to protest. There was no way she would clean all of this up herself. Why would she do that? Billy wasn’t her son, hell she had barely known the boy two years and all she had heard the whole time was horror stories. Why would she do that for him?

“Billy Hargrove I swear to god if you’re about to protest I will call Jim right now.” She fired back. There was a motherly edge to her voice now that she saw the boy was through the worst of it. His breathing had returned to normal and he had stopped shaking. She pushed herself off the floor and reached out her hand to help the boy up. He ignored the hand, but followed her off the ground all the same.”Now go get a shower, clean yourself up, enjoy the hot water. It will make you feel so much better.” She said to him, kindly but firmly.

Billy was too exhausted to fight her any longer.

-

It had been exactly three weeks, two days, and twenty hours since Steve Harrington had been told that Billy Hargrove was back from the dead, and he was not obsessing over it.

Okay, maybe he was obsessing a little bit but it was absolutely not his fault. In fact, Steve would argue that he was thinking about it a completely appropriate amount. A dead kid was no longer dead and was apparently living in his friend’s attic. Forgive him if it was a little hard to stop thinking about that.

It took him about four days to finally corner Jonathan and force him to answer all of Steve’s most pressing questions. You know, the important stuff. Is Billy Hargrove really back? I thought he died? Who saved him? Is he still Flayed? Are you sure he’s not Flayed? Has he tried to kill you yet? Do I need to start wearing a helmet when I leave my house? Stop laughing Jonathan I haven’t been able to look at a dinner plate without flinching in a year.

Steve had thought that once he had a better understanding of the situation he would be able to take his thoughts back from the endless spiral of Billy Hargrove that they had been held captive by. This, as it happens, was not the case.

The boy had spent the last three weeks of his life in an all consuming haze of Billy. He couldn’t concentrate at work, he couldn’t focus while trying to kick Robin’s ass at Super Mario, he couldn’t even get a good night's sleep. His nights were spent tossing and turning thinking back on every interaction that he had ever had with the other boy and when he might possibly have his next encounter.

Would it be weird and awkward? Would he even say anything to Steve? Would he mention what happened? Would there be another fight?

Steve told himself- and Robin -that the reason that he was so concerned was the two’s less than friendly history. Steve wasn’t exactly ready to have the living shit beaten out of him again thank you very much.

He remembered when Billy had first come to Hawkins, so firey and angry and eager to prove himself. Steve was the king that he had to knock from his throne in order to get a leg up in this town. Steve hadn’t taken the peacocking and the aggressive competition to heart, he had much bigger things on his mind that year. Plus, that’s just how boys were. But Steve quickly found out that Billy Hargrove was quite possibly the most complicated and dangerous person he had ever met.

Some days it was all for show, all hormonal competition with no ill will or malicious intent behind it. Sometimes Billy would throw some good natured jabs at Steve and give him a hard time on the basketball field. Sometimes he would go out of his way to show the other boy up, shoot just a few more hoops, hold his keg stand for just a little bit longer, get just a few more girls than Steve. It was his way of proving himself. He was the new kid. He needed to make his place in Hawkins High.

But other times it was different.

Some days Billy would show up with a vendetta against the world. His competitive nature on the field turned aggressive. His teasing turned malicious. Steve never knew if Billy was going to waltz up to him and goodnaturedly knock his shoulder or aggressively slam him against the wall.

And then there was the fight over Max. Steve suspected that something else had happened that night, that the fire burning behind his eyes had been ignited by someone else. But that didn’t change the fact that Steve had gotten in the way, and had crawled back with two black eyes, a swollen, bloody lip, a slit cheek, and a goose egg on his head from where the dishes had made an acquaintance.

Steve tried not to hold Billy accountable for the Mind Flayer business, but it was hard not to let his mind wander there as well.

So the point being, it was totally normal for Steve to be a little bit nervous about Billy being back. It was completely acceptable if his gut twisted when he thought about the boy. His lip had been bloodied and his eyes had been blackened by him enough times to earn the right to obsess a little.

It also didn’t help that Billy Hargrove was completely and unapologetically Steve’s type.

He had noticed it the first time the boy came sauntering into Hawkins High. Big muscles under sun-kissed California skin. Crystal blue eyes that sparkle like the ocean that Steve had only seen in movies. Soft golden curls that fell down across his shoulders. God Steve wanted to run his hands through them. Perfect pink lips which so easily twisted into a smirk as if the boy owned the world and he knew it. He had certainly owned Steve’s world from that very first moment.

Back then he hadn’t let himself dwell on the way his chest got all fluttery and he felt as if the room had gone up five degrees as soon as the boy entered. He didn’t acknowledge how much he loved the competition they had going, how much he ached for Billy’s attention to be on him and only him. He was just defending his territory, he told himself when Billy pushed and Steve pushed back. It was adrenaline making his heart pound harder and faster when Billy shoved him and man-handled him.

But now, well, what was even the point of denying it? He had cried on the floor with Robin stoned out of his mind in a sick moment of deja vu where there was a lot of honesty and emotions only the rolls were flipped. He acknowledged the meaning behind the lingering eyes and the flushed faces. He had said the words aloud. He had masterbated to the thought of Harrison fucking Ford. So yeah, he had a bit of a crush on Billy Hargrove. Whoopdy-Fucking-Doo.

There was a lot of pigtail-pulling and rough housing and competition. There was a lot of energy between the two on and off the basketball court, like a magnet pulling them together and static which shocked them when they got too close. There were a lot of lingering looks when they passed in the hall. There was a lot of fighting between wanting to steal a quick glance in the shower after practice and absolutely not doing that ever for any reason. There was a lot of chest fluttering and heart pounding when they got into one of their face-offs. There were definitely a few extra long showers after Billy had pushed Steve up against the wall in his rough intimidating kind of way. There was a lot of pointedly not thinking about that during those showers.

But that was all before the Mind Flayer stuff happened.

Steve was pretty sure than seeing Billy Hargrove possessed and trying to kill everyone would be enough to kill a stupid school-boy crush. He wasn’t in love with the boy, he was infatuated. The vicious anger and the fighting and the screaming and the blood and the guts and the chest being ripped open and the dying was, kind of a lot. It was certainly much too terrifying, much too real, to not chase off any immature and irresponsible thoughts about what it would be like to give those pretty golden curls a little tug. He was over it.

Even if for months he couldn’t get the picture of Billy laying on the floor, dying, out of his mind. Even if his chest ached at the thought of the boy and the sacrifice he made. Even if he did sometimes wake up in the middle of the night from a dream that Billy was safe and alive and curled up with his arms wrapped around Steve.

Steve was pretty sure that this wasn’t a dream, like, 95% sure. He had pinched himself and it hurt like a bitch anyways. Robin had laughed and offered to pinch him again, just to be sure. Steve did not take her up on the offer.

For the first few days he was sure that he was dreaming. He was sure that at any moment he would wake up in his bedroom to a world where he had never gone to pick the kids up that night and Billy Hargrove was still dead and gone. After the first week he figured that it was pretty unlikely that he would still be stuck in one continuous dream. If it was a dream it was pretty boring anyway. He hadn’t even gotten to see BIlly yet and it had been three weeks. For all he knew this could very well be some long elaborate prank that everyone was pulling on him. That probably wasn’t the case though. That would be an incredibly mean spirited and distasteful prank.

Steve was suddenly jolted from his thoughts when the bell on the door of Family Video rang, signaling a customer had entered.

Right, he was at work.

It had been an incredibly long shift, and Steve was finally on the home stretch. In 45 minutes Daisy would clock in and Steve would finally be able to go home. There had only been a handful of customers all day, and now that Steve and Robin lived together, they really didn’t have too much to talk about when they worked together. The girl was currently manning the front register while Steve sorted through the returned videos for the fifth time. He could probably list off all the videos that had been brought back that day by heart. The point being, he wasn’t paying any attention to the customer who had just walked into the building until Robin gave his hip a hard kick with her boot.

“Ow! What the fuck Buckley?” Steve hollered, punching at her shin and glaring up at the girl. She didn’t say anything, but she stared down at him with wide eyes and made a wild gesture with her hand that kind of looked like she was playing a guitar really really badly.

“What are you doing?” He questioned. She still didn’t respond but she gave him a frustrated look and jerked her head towards the front of the store. Steve realized that she had been trying to motion for him to stand up. He gave an exasperated huff, pushing himself off the floor. When his head peaked up enough to see the front door, however, he knew immediately why Robin was acting so strange.

Steve felt like all the air had been sucked from his lungs. He had to grab the counter to steady himself and avoid going right back down on the floor with the return box. Standing at the front of the store, trailing behind Joyce Byers like a lost puppy, was Billy Hargrove.

“Breathe dingus. I swear to god if you pass out on me I’ll kill you.” Robin hissed lowley from beside him. Steve could feel his palms growing clammy, sweat spreading across the counter where he was clutching at it. He wiped his hands on his jeans, before running them through his hair, trying to look casual. His heart was racing at a mile a minute.

Billy looked, well, tired, but also so fucking good. He was pale, and much thinner than he had been before. He had scars across his face and the ends of his arms where they were visible under his shirt. He had obviously been in a bad sort of way when he had gotten back. But his eyes still shimmered and his hair still fell in those pretty little curls. His lip was split but it was still perfect for smirking in that mischievous kind of way and it was still Billy. Steve realized that maybe the Mind Flayer wasn’t enough to chase off his little crush.

“Steve! Robin! I didn’t know if you two would be working today!” Joyce exclaimed when she saw the two, a warm smile growing across her face as she made her way up to the counter. She was clutching three VHS tapes in her arms. It took Steve about five whole seconds too long to realize that she was there to return the videos that she had rented.

“Hey,” Steve started. His voice came out strangled and an octave too high. God he felt like he was going through puberty all over again. Steve started again, “Hey, Ms. Byers!” that was better.

Robin didn’t say anything, but her snort was enough of a jab on its own. Steve kicked her under the counter, not breaking eye contact with Joyce.

She set the three movies on the counter, beaming brightly, “I haven’t seen you two around the house lately.” she remarked, and Steve wasn’t sure what exactly he was supposed to say to that. He glanced nervously over to Robin, who was not helping in the slightest. She just stood there beside him, leaning up against the counter with a quirked eyebrow and the smuggest of grins. Well fuck her too.

“Uh, yeah,” he started, turning back to the woman. He let his gaze trail back to the boy behind her. Billy was standing there, hands tucked into his pockets. Even after almost dying and being stuck in a coma for months he still looked so radiant. Steve felt like he couldn’t breathe again. It was as if Billy was sucking up all the air in the room and he was left with no oxygen.

The other boy’s eyes sparkled. He smirked, raising his eyebrows at Steve. Steve had to remind himself to pick his jaw up off the floor where it was currently laying. He cleared his throat, realizing that he was gawking, “we heard, uh, that it’s been pretty busy around the Byers household recently. We didn’t want to intrude.” He finished, eyes just managing to break away from Billy.

It was like he was the sun and Steve was stuck in his orbit. Was that too cliche?

When his eyes finally found Joyce, she was pulling away from some kind of silent exchange with Robin. Steve wasn’t sure what that was about, but if Robin was involved he was sure that he wouldn’t like it. “Don’t be silly,” the woman said, “you two are practically a part of the family.”

Steve felt himself nodding, but his attention was starting to slip, drift back to Billy. He was hyper aware of every move he made. The way his fingers twitched at his side and the way his chest rose and fell as he breathed. His mouth felt dry and his Family Video polo shirt was suffocating. He had the sudden urge to pull it over his chest and away from his body. It felt like if he didn’t he would pass out. Except, god, that scar. No one was allowed to see his chest again, especially not Billy. Fuck. There was no way Billy would find anything about that scar attractive. Not that he would ever be attracted to a male chest, let alone Steve Harrington’s chest in the first place. God, focus.

 

Joyce spoke again and Steve found himself nodding along without really hearing what she had said. His eyes were still fixed on Billy, the long dark scars over his neck and his hands, god his hands. Big and strong, dark veins running across the backs on them and up over his wrists. Long fingers hooked into the belt loops of his jeans. Big hands with long fingers which could wrap so perfectly around Steve’s neck. God. Fear and arousal swirled around in Steve’s gut. He felt his face flush dark and- fuck, what did Joyce just say?

“Huh?” he tried, but his throat was hoarse. He cleared his throat as the woman spoke again.

“Sunday. I asked if Sunday worked for dinner.” she said, eyes shining with a glimmer much too reminiscent of a look that Robin would give the boy for him to feel comfortable about it. You two should come over for dinner soon. Steve suddenly remembered her saying, and yeah, he definitely nodded along to that. Fuck.

God, there was no way that he would be able to manage that. He had officially been in the presence of Billy Hargrove for less than five minutes and he was ready to throw himself off the roof. They hadn’t even spoken. How did he ever manage this before?

Maybe he could say he was busy, that he worked Sunday evening? But, god, Joyce would definitely swing by the store with a to-go box if Steve tried to pull that, and then she would know he had lied. Maybe someone would switch shifts with him for Sunday night? Who was working? George maybe? George definitely owed him one for that time he had covered for him when his girlfriend called drunk and crying. Maybe Steve could switch George for his close.

Before Steve got a chance to respond and tell Joyce that he was so sorry but Sunday just didn’t work, Robin decided to finally speak up from beside him. “Oh that would be great!” she exclaimed, shooting Steve a mockingly sweet look. God he wanted to punch it off of her stupid smug face. “Steve and I are both off Sunday night, so that works perfectly. What time should be over?”

Joyce grinned, “Oh wonderful! Dinner will be at six, so you two can come over whenever you’d like. I’ll tell Jonathan to invite Nancy.” and Jesus Christ this just kept getting better and better. More people to witness Steve making a total fool out of himself and Billy Hargrove finally catching on and beating the living shit out of him. It’ll be just like old times. Billy will feel right at home.

“Great!” Robin smiled, “Well it was so good to see you, Joyce. You too Billy,” he shot the boy a kind smile, and he nodded to her, “So we’ll see you Sunday then?”

Steve was seriously going to murder her. As soon as Joyce and Billy got out of the store they were going to have a long discussion about what an absolutely terrible friend Robin was. He seriously didn’t know why he put up with her. Apparently she was just jumping at the chance to do everything in her power to ruin Steve’s life.

“Yes absolutely.” Joyce nodded, “Well we better get going, we have a few more places to stop before the kids get home. See you two on Sunday.” and with that, she pulled her bag close to her side and spun around, making her way out of the store.

Billy’s eyes lingered on Steve for a second, and the boy felt every nerve in his body tingling. He was on high alert. His back straightened subconsciously and Steve resisted the urge to run his hands through his hair again.

Finally, the boy pulled his eyes away, nodding at Robin and Steve before turning to follow Joyce out of the store. Steve held his breath the whole way until the door closed behind him. As soon as the bell finished ringing, he physically deflated.

“Oh my god Steve.” Robin turned to him, he could hear the smirk in the way she spoke.

Steve spun on his heels to face the girl, hands raising to point accusingly at her, “You are such an asshole!” he shouted. His hands shot up to pull at his hair as he began pacing behind the counter. “You are the worst friend in the world. How could you do that to me?”

Robin scoffed, “Are you kidding me? I am the best friend in the world, who just saved your sorry ass and scored you some time to hang out with Billy.” She crossed her arms, leaning her hip against the counter.

Steve froze in his pacing, head whipping around to shoot her an incredulous look. Was she serious? What the hell kind of game was she playing? “I’m sorry Robin, I didn’t know that you don’t have fucking eyes and therefore could not see what an absolute mess I am. I need to avoid spending any time at all with Billy at all costs if I don’t want to die a slow and painful death.” he groaned, falling back against the wall dramatically. He let his head fall back, thudding against the drywall.

“Apparently you’re the one without eyes dingus.” he heard the girl’s cocky remark, “Billy was totally checking you out.”

Steve felt his entire body stiffen. His head shot up to glare at the girl. Whatever game she was playing at, Steve was tired of it. It wasn’t funny anymore. “Robin.” he said seriously, a pit opening up in his stomach, “That’s not funny.”

She rolled her eyes, arms still folded over her chest. “Good because I’m not joking.”

Steve tried to keep himself from growing angry, but it was hard. Why was she treating this like a big joke? Sure, she treated him like an annoying brother, teasing him and giving him a hard time. But normally, she knew when to stop, when it was time to get serious. It was one thing to be gay- or bi -in the 80s, and to acknowledge it and confide in a close friend (and even that was dangerous and risky at best). It was a whole other thing to let yourself imagine that you could ever act on that. To let yourself seriously think about what it would be like te be in a same-sex relationship.

It was so incredibly stupid and naive, and out of anyone Robin should know that. There was no way in hell that Billy Hargrove was gay, let alone interested in Steve. No sir, it would be a cold day in hell before Steve would even begin to imagine it. But forget stupid and naive, it was borderline suicidal to imagine a world where Steve should persue those feelings. Even if, in some strange, alternate universe, Billy was gay and interested, nothing could ever come of it.

Maybe Robin would be supportive, but no one else would. People were killed every day for being queer. Bars were raided, people were locked up or shot. Queers lived in constant fear that someone might suspect, and then they could be fucking beaten to death. There was no happy ending where they held hands and skipped off into the sunset. There was no happy ending for a gay couple. Especially not in Hawkins Indiana.

“Steve,” she said seriously, moving to stand next to him. She put her arms on his shoulders, resting their foreheads together so that Steve was forced to look at her, “I saw the way he was looking at you. Plus, I have never seen such blatant pigtail-pulling as you and Billy’s little rivalry.” Steve started to squirm away, but she tightened her grip. “Believe me, out of anyone in your life, I know how scary that is. I’m not saying that he’s your soulmate, and that you two are going to live happily ever after in your suburban neighborhood with your two dogs. You and I both know that’s not how life goes for people like us. But there’s something between you two, and you should trust me and see where this goes.”

Robin was all serious now, just as Steve had been wishing for before. But he still didn’t understand why she was doing this. Why was she trying to instill this false sense of hope in him? She was normally the level headed one. She should be telling him to get a grip, to move on. She should be telling him how dangerous his stupid crush was, how Billy would beat the living shit out of him if he ever found out. She should be telling him that he was lucky that he liked girls as well, and he should take advantage of that and settle down with some girl. She should be telling him that he shouldn’t be focused on Billy, that he should be trying to find his soulmate. It’s a big world with billions of people and most people never found their soulmates. Steve was lucky, with a scar like that there must have been some kind of huge accident. There would be a newspaper article or a story somewhere. He should be trying to track her down.

He opened his mouth to tell the girl as much when someone cleared their throat. The two pulled apart, spinning around to find Daisy standing in the doorway to the back room. She looked mildly uncomfortable, as if she had walked in on something that she hadn’t wanted to see. Steve just rolled his eyes. Everyone in their lives thought that they were dating anyways.

“Uh, sorry.” she spoke, eyeing her two coworkers, “Steve, your shift is done. You can clock out, or whatever.” She didn’t wait for his response, turning on her heel and making her way over to the comedy section, collecting tapes which were out of place as she went.

Steve glanced over at Robin. The serious atmosphere was broken, and she was once again smirking at the boy. “Well dingus, get out of here and go have your little crisis in the shower. You need to get it out of the way and over with before Sunday.”

Steve was seriously going to kill her one of these days.

Chapter Text

Robin Buckley had been watching Steve Harrington make a complete fool of himself in front of pretty women for months now. She had kept a running tally of every time the desperate boy had practically groveled at the feet of another uninterested patron. She had observed all of the trips, the stutters, the awkward puffing out of the chest, and more. By this point, Robin needed to purchase a new white board to keep tally. (That is, a new, new white board, the first one had been lost in the chaos of the Starcourt Mall Incident™.) Needless to say, the girl thought that she had seen the extent of Steve Harrington’s complete and utter gauche.

Apparently, she had been terribly mistaken.

The thing is, Robin knew that Steve had a bit of a crush on Billy. It was obvious. She had always kind of thought he was a bit obsessed with the boy. It was always Hargrove this, or Hargrove that. Robin had always assumed it was some weird alpha-male competitiveness combined with the fear of getting the shit beaten out of him again that made Steve so fixated. But it wasn’t until he had come out to her that she put the pieces together. After he had confessed that he was similarly attracted to men as to women, it didn’t take long for her to catch on.

And sure, Billy had returned from the fucking dead, anyone would be a at least a little bit curious. Robin had maybe had one real conversation with Hargrove in her life, and when Steve told her he was back, the boy was definitely on her mind more than usual. She had a lot of questions, a lot of theories, and a lot of concerns. But he wasn’t the center of her universe. She had other thoughts throughout her day. Billy Hargrove wasn’t at the forefront of her mind in every possible way at every possible second. She wasn’t sure she could say the same about Steve.

Every conversation they had after that night came back to Billy. Even when they weren’t speaking he would get some far away look in his eyes before bringing the boy up randomly. When she pointed this out, he was very defensive. Yeah of course I’m thinking about it a lot I thought he was dead Robin. God, stop being so weird. No it’s not an obsession, I’m just confused. Are you not confused Robin? But she wasn’t convinced.

Plus, Steve had a type. Extremely pretty but extremely stubborn and fiery. The boy couldn’t help himself around pretty people who aren't afraid to kick his ass. Like Nancy Wheeler with her big doe eyes and her million dollar smile and her fucking shotgun. Or apparently Billy Hargrove and his golden curls and his bloody knuckles.

So yeah, Robin had known that Steve had a bit of a crush on Billy. But still, she could have never foreseen this.

Steve was, well, gawking seemed like a good word for it.

Joyce Byers and Billy Hargrove were currently at Family Video, standing just a counter away from Steve and Robin. Joyce was trying to hold a conversation with the boy, but Robin was confident that he wasn’t hearing a word that the woman was speaking to him. His eyes were locked on Billy. His face was bright red and he was practically vibrating. He looked as if he might start drooling. Robin really wanted to kick him again, it might do him some good.

She was going to need to give Steve a long lesson in the art of subtlety. Even if she wouldn’t have known that the boy had a crush on Billy, frankly, even if she had still thought that he was straight, she would know now. Steve should count himself lucky if Billy himself didn’t know now. How did he ever survive without Robin?

Because they lived in the middle of Butt-Fuck Indianna. It wasn’t New York, or California, it was a small town, backwoods, Reagan country, Indianna, and Steve was going to get himself shot. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a choice and it didn’t matter that it wasn’t hurting anyone. No one cares if you’re in love. No one cares if it’s a stable relationship that’s more healthy than the majority of married heterosexual couples. No one cares if you share your lives as well as the scars on your body because even if it’s your god forsaken soulmate people say it’s wrong.

That part made Robin particularly angry. The whole thing made Robin angry. It was an issue that was kind of personal to her. But the fact that even if the person is your soulmate, the person who is destined to be your perfect fit, your other half, you are supposed to deny yourself that if they happen to be of your same sex. It baffled Robin that people could still call it dirty, and wrong, and shameful, and a sin.

It’s a mistake, they say. It’s just another temptation, that’s just some people’s cross to bear, they remark. God wouldn’t give you a challenge that you can’t overcome.

Robin found the whole argument unbelievably disgusting. Some loving creator. Designing the love of your life to be someone that you are never allowed to have.

She was sure that Steve knew all this, that he was aware of how gay people were treated. Especially in a small town like Hawkins. He needed to get his shit together and learn to pretend that he was someone else. In a perfect world things would be different. In a perfect world it wouldn’t make a difference if Steve was making heart eyes at Nancy Wheeler or Billy Hargrove. But it wasn’t a perfect world. It was a disgusting, horrible, backwards, world where if you were different you were bad.

Steve was lucky, being bisexual. His soulmate was probably a girl anyways. That is, if he ever even found her. There were seven billion people in the world, finding your one person in all of those people is incredibly lucky. Steve most likely had a female soulmate who he most likely would never meet anyways. It would be in his best interest to find some pretty girl to settle down with and have three kids and a dog. That’s what people want and expect from Steve, and he should count himself lucky that’s still a real possibility for him.

It sucks. Robin of all people understood how much it sucks. But Steve shouldn’t be staring at Billy Hargrove like he hung the moon and all the stars. It just wasn’t safe. Not in Hawkins Indiana.

But then Joyce Byers was kind of smirking in this motherly I-know-all kind of way, glancing back and forth between the two boys. Steve was still gawking, and maybe he wasn’t quite as bad, but Billy was staring back in this intense kind of way. He looked guarded, and certainly much more practiced than Steve. But there was a kind of enthrallment to his gaze and suddenly Robin was reminded that Billy Hargrove didn’t grow up in Hawkins Indiana.

She studied Billy curiously because there was no way. She watched the way he shifted from foot to foot. She watched the way his eyes started to wander down over Steve before he quickly brought them back to his face. She watched the way he seemed to chew on the inside of his cheek.

Robin was such an idiot.

Joyce’s eyes were shining. There was a kind of light humor in her eyes as she looked back from the two boys. When she finally met Robin’s gaze she seemed to study her for a second. Robin wasn’t sure what exactly she was looking to find, but she resisted the urge to stand up taller and straighten her polo shirt. After a minute the woman turned back to Steve, who was still oblivious to the rest of the world.

“You two should come over for dinner some time.” She said kindly. Steve nodded in response but his eyes never left Billy’s. Robin was positive that he had no idea what he was agreeing to.

“How about Sunday?” she inquired, and really, she had to know that she was talking to a brick wall right now. Steve’s eyes were starting to glaze over and his mouth hung open the smallest amount. Robin debated whether slapping him would end up saving everyone involved a lot of embarrassment.

Suddenly his face went about three shades redder and the distant look cleared. He made a noise in the back of his throat like he was trying to respond, but he sounded groggy as if he had just woken up from a long nap. He cleared his throat, tearing his gaze away from the other boy who was still shooting Steve an intense stare. Robin noted that if she hadn’t been thinking too hard about it, the look could almost be mistaken for challenging. She wondered how long it took Billy to learn to hide behind his fists. It was a good tactic, smart, safe.

“Sunday. I asked if Sunday worked for dinner.” Joyce said to the boy. She didn’t look upset about having to repeat herself. Her eyes were still glimmering in that knowing sort of way. It was comforting to know that Joyce was safe, Robin mumsed. She shouldn’t have doubted it, the woman was so incredible in every way. She was so lucky to have the woman in her life. But even incredible, protective, loving, fierce, super moms are subject to the horrible views of their time. It didn’t pay to be overly trusting.

But it was comforting to know that the woman who was like a mother to Steve wouldn’t turn on him for something like this. Something that was out of his control. She knew that his real mother would. Steve’s parents would completely disown him if they ever found out about this. God she hated the Harringtons, they didn’t deserve to call themselves parents. Robin knew how important Joyce was to Steve because of that. He had practically been motherless in any way that mattered for years, and this woman had taken him in, shown him the love and support that he needed.

It was remarkable really. It was not a secret that Steve and Jonathan used to hate each other. Even before Robin had really known Steve she knew that those two had some weird kind of rivalry going. Steve and Jonathan had gotten into their fair share of fist fights, and it was Jonathan that Nancy turned to when things with Steve were bad. Joyce Byers no doubt had heard all kinds of things about Steve Harrington from both her son and his new girlfriend for years.

But Steve had proven himself. He had fought alongside everyone during all of the Upsidedown shit. Plus he had practically adopted all of the kids. So Joyce Byers had probably heard a lot of bullshit about the kind of person that Steve used to be. But she had also seen the way he would make Nancy Wheeler laugh with her head thrown back. She saw the way he pulled Jonathan out of his shell. She saw the way he treated Will, kind and encouraging but not as if he were different from the others. She was given a look past the broken mask of Steve-the-Hair-Harrington to the boy inside and she had welcomed him with open arms.

Robin thought that it was Joyce that helped Steve to find himself the most. It was her guidance, her support, that helped him to really understand and accept that he didn’t have to try and pretend to be the person that his parents wanted him to be. He could just be Steve. Robin wasn’t sure that the boy would be able to handle it if Joyce didn’t accept him for who he was.

Robin saw the panic flash across Steve’s face at the question and she had to hold back a laugh.

Now that the attention wasn’t on him, Billy’s guard had seemed to drop just the smallest bit. His shoulders were relaxed and his stare was a lot less vehement. He hadn’t noticed Robin watching out of the corner of her eye. He allowed his eyes to wander over the boy, taking him all in. He was still chewing on the inside of his cheek. The flesh was most likely raw and tender it this point.

Suddenly Robin was overcome with what ifs. Because it was true, Steve was bisexual, and it would be much safer to just settle down with a pretty girl someday. His soulmate was probably a girl anyways if he even found her. But Billy was obviously nervous and his fingers were twitching by his pocket like he wanted to pull out a cigarette. It was stupid and dangerous and Steve might end up with a black eye or a bruised rib. But Robin would probably never find true love and she thought about that everyday, and it probably won't end in happily ever after but goddamn it Robin wanted Steve to try. There was a real, feasible opportunity in front of him and he would probably never get the chance again.

“Oh that would be great!” she exclaimed, shooting Steve a look. “Steve and I are both off Sunday night, so that works perfectly. What time should be over?” She felt her pulse racing. She knew that Steve was probably ready to shoot her. It was obvious by the bug-eyed look that he was giving her that he didn’t understand what she was doing.

Joyce grinned, “Oh wonderful! Dinner will be at six, so you two can come over whenever you’d like. I’ll tell Jonathan to invite Nancy.”

Robin wasn’t sure if Jonathan and Nancy would be a help or a hindrance. Jonathan was a guy, and would definitely not pick up on anything that Robin was trying to pull. God, guys were dense, what did Steve see in them? Nancy on the other hand, was extremely perceptive, and Steve was an absolute mess. Of course, Nancy wouldn’t exactly be on the look-out for any funny business, the way she might be if Robin was trying to help Steve get a girl. Ignorance was one hell of a drug. However, it would still be something to think about.

“Great!” Robin smiled, letting her eyes trail back over to Steve. The boy looked as if he was about to explode. Robin realized that it was probably a good idea to get the other two out of the store as quickly as possible, as she wasn’t exactly in the mood to scrape Steve Harrington from the wall. “Well it was so good to see you, Joyce. You too Billy,” She smiled kindly at Billy, who quickly averted his gaze from a jittery Steve when he heard his name. He pulled the corners of his mouth up into the faintest of smiles, and nodded to the girl.

“Yes absolutely.” Joyce nodded. She glanced at Steve before meeting Robin’s eyes. A look of understanding passed between them. “Well we better get going, we have a few more places to stop before the kids get home. See you two on Sunday.” The woman finished. She adjusted the strap of her purse before shooting the two one last kind look and making her way out of the store.

Billy didn’t immediately follow her. He stood there for another second. The intense stare was back. Robin wasn’t even the subject of that gaze and she felt her pulse racing. He looked like he was fighting with himself, like he wanted to say something but couldn’t bring himself to. Robin wished that he would, even if just to see Doofus die and come back to life in having Billy Hargrove speak directly to him. The tension in the room was so thick that Robin felt like she might suffocate. There was a strange kind of electric energy vibrating through the air between the two boys. Like they had been shuffling around on the carpet with only socks on. She felt as if the air should be crackling.

Finally Billy tore his eyes away, and Robin couldn’t help feeling disappointed. She felt as if she had just witnessed a pivotal moment in the future outcome of their relationship. Robin firmly believed that there were hundreds of moments in your life that decide your fate. Decisions you make, questions you ask, actions that you do. This felt like one of those. What would Billy have said if he could have gotten it out? How might that have changed things going forward.

But he didn’t. He turned on his heel and followed Joyce out the door. As it swung shut behind him, the sound of the bell cutting through the air, she saw Steve physically deflate out of the corner of her eye.

“Oh my god Steve,” She started as soon as they were alone in the store. She couldn’t help the massive grin that was spreading across her face. Never in a million years had she allowed herself to imagine that she would ever find true love. Maybe 50 years in the future something like that could be a possibility, but not in the 80s and especially not in Hawkins fucking Indiana. But as it would seem, it could be a possibility for Steve. So Robin was going to help him and live vicariously through his pathetic attempts at flirting goddamn it. The fact that she wouldn’t be the one with a black eye if it all went south was just an added bonus.

Suddenly Steve was whipping around to fix his bug-eyes on her again. He raised an accusing finger at her. “You’re such an asshole!” He exclaimed. He glared at her with what Robin imagined was supposed to be eyes throwing imaginary daggers. But the execution was a bit off, and he just looked a bit constipated. “You are the worst friend in the world. How could you do that to me?”

Robin felt herself scoffing, letting herself fall to lean against the counter. She crossed her arms. Steve was so, so dense. What would he ever do without her and her expertise? Obviously not suavely score his dream boy and embark on a dangerous but passionate adventure of forbidden love. No, that’s why he needed her. “Are you kidding me? I am the best friend in the world, who just saved your sorry ass and scored you some time to hang out with Billy.”

Steve had been pacing, running his hands through his hair in that stupid nervous way that he does. But suddenly he froze, turning once again to look at her like she was insane. To be fair, the jury was still out on that one. “I’m sorry Robin, I didn’t know that you don’t have fucking eyes and therefore could not see what an absolute mess I am. I need to avoid spending any time at all with Billy at all costs if I don’t want to die a slow and painful death. He groaned before falling back and letting his head thud against the wall behind him.

Steve Harrington was an idiot. It wasn’t surpringing that he hadn’t noticed, with the way he had seemed to be having some kind of out of body experience while in Billy’s presence. But it was still a bit exasperating that he was such a clueless guy. She rolled her eyes, “Apparently you’re the one without eyes dingus.” She glanced around the store for a second just to quadruple check that they were alone. Despite what you may have heard, Robin really wasn’t looking to get Steve brutally murdered. “Billy was totally checking you out.”

Steve’s response was, really, exactly what you would expect. His entire body went rigid when he processed her words. All of the theatrics drained from his posture, his face going stony, “Robin.” He spoke, and his voice was too low, too serious. “That’s not funny.”

Robin found herself wanting to slap him for the umpteenth time that afternoon. Forget the “You Suck” count, Robin needed a “Times-That-I-Almost-Slapped-Steve-But-Didn’t” count because frankly, her absolute mind boggling levels of self control were going unrecognized, and that was completely unfair. She almost wanted to be a little bit insulted that Steve would think that of her. Actually, scratch that, she was a little insulted. Maybe Tommy or Carol would make some kind of distasteful joke about Billy being queer for Steve to rile him up, but Robin wasn’t Tommy or Carol. Out of anyone in Steve’s life, Robin wouldn’t make jokes about that. Especially not when it was so obvious that Steve really did like the boy.

“Good, because I’m not joking.”

Steve didn’t say anything, didn’t even look at her. He got this far away look in his eyes like he was stuck in his own head again. Robin hated when he got like this, she knew that whatever thoughts were swirling around in that mind of his, they weren’t good.

Most people don’t realize how sad Steve Harrington is. At first he was the rich, preppy boy who had it all. He had the money and the girls and the hair and how could anyone like that be sad? People loved to flock to Loch Nora for Harrington’s big parties every weekend, but no one ever stopped to think about why he was able to throw those parties. No one wondered why Steve had an empty house every weekend. No one wondered why it didn’t matter if someone broke a good vase or threw up on the nice carpet and why no one would miss it when it was thrown out. No one stopped to wonder why Steve Harringon was known to get so black out drunk at his own house parties that someone else had to play host and kick everyone out when it got too late and rowdy.

He wasn’t King Steve anymore, but still, people had a certain idea about him in their minds. He was theatrical, always laughing. He was the kind of guy who danced when there was music playing and sang in the shower even though he knew Robin could hear him. He was kind, always sacrificing his own time to drive the kids all over Hawkins. He was funny, and kind, and pretty, and everyone saw him as such.

He wasn’t supposed to be sad, and broken, and lonely, and lost.

A lot of times he wasn’t, or at least he didn’t let on if he was. But Robin had noticed more and more as they grew closer, that Steve Harrington had a lot more layers than people gave him credit for. She noticed the far-away looks he would get when he got wrapped up in his head. She saw the way he got twitchy and anxious when his old house or his parents or his highschool days got brought up. She saw the bags under his eyes when he didn’t sleep at night. She saw how some days his smile just didn’t reach his eyes.

Robin hated when he got like this. She just wanted to pull him into a hug and squeeze until he couldn’t breathe because of her embrace rather than his own panicked mind. But that was a little bit too mushy for her. She would die before she let Steve in on that little bit of internal monologue. But she knew from experience that Steve responded most quickly and positively to physical touch when he was like this. The boy tended to be incredibly clingy. Robin thought that it was probably because he had been left alone for so much of his life.

“Steve,” she said seriously. She made her way over to him, resting her hands on his shoulder and pulling him in to rest their foreheads together. She didn’t want him to pull away, she needed his full attention for this. “I saw the way he was looking at you. Plus, I have never seen such blatant pigtail-pulling as you and Billy’s little rivalry.” Steve started to squirm away, but she tightened her grip. “Believe me, out of anyone in your life, I know how scary that is. I’m not saying that he’s your soulmate, and that you two are going to live happily ever after in your suburban neighborhood with your two dogs. You and I both know that’s not how life goes for people like us. But there’s something between you two, and you should trust me and see where this goes.”

Steve’s eyes ran up and down her face, seeming to be searching for the punchline. It was if he still couldn’t believe that she was serious, as if he was waiting for her to shout, Aha! Gotcha!

He looked as if he were working himself up to say something when someone cleared their throat. Robin released Steve’s shoulders as he pulled away quickly, spinning around to find Daisy standing in the doorway of the back room. Robin couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed. This was important, and she felt as if they had finally started to make some progress in the conversation. By the time Robin’s own shift finally ends Steve will have had enough time to either work himself into a panic attack or close himself off to the idea completely.

“Uh, sorry.” she spoke, eyeing her two coworkers, “Steve, your shift is done. You can clock out, or whatever.” She didn’t wait for his response, turning on her heel and making her way over to the comedy section, collecting tapes which were out of place as she went.

The serious atmosphere had been broken, and it wasn’t as if they could continue this conversation with Daisy in the store anyway. So she settled on her signature smirk, feeling as if Steve needed a bit of a return to normalcy. Guess it was time to give him a bit of a hard time, can’t have people thinking that she was going soft. Not after Daisy walked in on what Robin was sure looked like a lovers embrace. Their coworkers would be talking even more now. “Well dingus, get out of here and go have your little crisis in the shower. You need to get it out of the way and over with before Sunday.”

Steve rolled his eyes, flipping her off as he made his way to the backroom.

-

Billy Hargrove had not been prepared to run into Steve Harrington at Family Video.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Billy vaguely remembered hearing something about Steve and the video store from one of the little assholes that were always hanging around. They seemed to be crawling all through the Byers like an infestation. Children every goddamn place Billy looked. But anyways, maybe somewhere he had heard it mentioned, but it hadn’t sunk in, he hadn’t registered it. So when he agreed to go run errands with Joyce Byers just to get out of that god forsaken house for a few hours, he wasn’t adequately prepared to come face to face with the boy.

He hadn’t seen Steve since that night.

Even before Starcourt, Billy and Steve had kind of a strained relationship. When Billy first came to Hawkins, he was the no-name new kid from California. Maybe he got a few interested looks, but in every way that mattered, he was at the bottom of the food chain. Hawkins was a fresh start, a clean slate where Billy could be anyone that he wanted to be. He needed to establish himself as somebody, and he had to go through Steve to get there.

Steve was King Pretty Boy. He had the hair and the girl and the basketball team and the rich fucking parents. Billy was nothing compared to him, but no one knew that yet. This was Billys chance to be the top dog. So he practiced every goddamn day to be good enough to try out for the basketball team even though he had never played before. He flirted with all the girls even though it made him want to throw up because no one at that goddamn school knew he was a freak yet and getting girls was another way to climb the social ladder. He drove the cool car that made him look like he was worth something and no one needed to know that he had scraped up every penny for years to afford it.

His plan was going so much better than he had allowed himself to hope. Then he came face to face with Steve for the first time. The boy was so much better than he had thought. So fucking pretty. So fucking good at basketball. So fucking perfect with his hair and his smile and his perfect fucking life. It made Billy’s gut do that stupid swooping thing and his throat get to dry. But this was Indiana and people may not have liked queers back home in Cali but they probably hunt them for sport in Hawkins. This was a fresh start, a new page, and Billy sure as hell wasn’t going to waste this opportunity on a dumb pretty rich boy no matter how much he wanted to kiss him.

So instead he punched him, and maybe that wasn’t the smoothest move Billy had ever pulled but it worked in some kind of sick way. They had a weird kind of thing going, some kind of rivalry. They were always trying to show eachother up. They would throw insults and punches and there were a few too many basketball incidents for a non-contact sport. Billy was always trying to beat Steve in every way. There was so much energy between the two and Billy found that that was the safest most productive way to channel it.

Some days felt more friendly-competitive than others. Some days it felt like Billy could sit down and have a beer with Steve. Other days it was different. Other days when Billy had a big fight with Neil and was sporting fresh bruises on his ribs the insults got a little too personal and vicious. Other days when Billy found himself getting just a little too sucked into the thought of Pretty Boy’s lips he found the best thing to do was to punch them bloody.

Some days it went too far.

Billy still remembered Steve on the ground, eyes black and blue and angry red. He remembered the way the blood spilled out of his split lips. He remembered the ear piercing sound of a plate crashing against his head. He remembered Steve just laying there and laying there and laying there and- god, Billy though he had killed him.

He hadn’t meant to, fuck. He hadn’t meant for it to happen. But he was panicked and looking for Max and he was so angry and Steve had been there and- fuck. Why had he been there? He wasn’t supposed to be there. But he was and Billy didn’t remember much of what happened until Steve was on the ground and Billy thought he might throw up all over him.

There were no friendly-competitive days after that. After that day it was anger and resentment and guilt. God, Billy had wanted to say something, wanted to explain. But how could he explain without explaining? Steve wouldn’t get it. The pretty rich boy with everything he could ever ask for would never get it. He would be back to where he started. All of his work would be for naught. People would stare, whisper, snicker at him in the hallway. Neil would know, because Neil always knows. He would kill Billy for it. He really would.

But then the Mind Flayer bullshit thing happened and- fuck. Billy had died and things were still weird with Steve. He wanted to apologize. Still. He just didn’t know how the fuck he was supposed to do it.

He hadn’t been ready to face him again at Family Video.

When he saw Steve standing there he felt like all of the air had been sucked from his lungs. He couldn’t move, couldn't breathe, couldn’t do anything but stare. He was sure that all of Indiana must have been able to see how pathetic he was. He must have practically had a big flashing sign above his head that said Queer! He wanted to punch someone.

But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t. Punching people wouldn’t fix what a fucking screw up he was. He had died with Steve Harrington hating him and that wasn’t going to happen again. Goddamn it he had killed people had he could never fucking fix that or even apologize to their families because he had a big fat NDA and about ten thousand dollars in a savings account to ensure that he could never fucking do that. All he had ever done was destroy things, he wasn’t going to do that again.

Joyce invited Steve and Robin over for dinner and Billy thought that was maybe the best and worst thing that could ever happen to him. He needed to talk to Steve. He needed to do whatever he could to make something right. And maybe Steve would never forgive him. Hell, Billy himself wouldn’t forgive him. Maybe Steve would laugh in his face and punch him until he choked on his own blood. Billy would deserve every hit. But he needed to try.

He just didn’t know how he was going to manage that. If the short interaction at Family Video was any indication, Billy was going to be an absolute mess in front of Steve. He couldn’t help but feel like his apology might be underminded a little bit if Steve reailzed that Billy was a big fucking queer with a pathetic crush on him. If that happened, there was no way Billy could stay in Hawkins.

He would have to leave as soon as he could get away. He would take his hush money and go back to California. He could use it for a few months rent while he got a job somewhere. California was a big state, he would find work. He would finally be away from Neil. He could have his own life, away from his father and the monsters and Indiana and Steve Harrington with his dumb hair and his even dumber face. He could have a small place by the ocean, just how he remembered when he was a kid. God, the more he thought about it the more he wanted to get out of this god forsaken town. He could do it too.

But first, apparently, he had to survive Sunday.

Chapter Text

It was 4:52pm on a Sunday evening in October of 1985. It was a cool evening, overcast with a breeze meaning it was just on the side of too cold to justify leaving the house without a jacket. The sun was descending in the sky, getting ready to set, covering Hawkins in an orange-y haze.The hum of the beemer’s engine sputtered to a stop as the key was pulled from the ignition, parked at the end of the Byers’ driveway. It was a peaceful sort of night. The trees swayed in the breeze of the fall evening, and the only noise filling the country air was that of the rustling leaves. It was a picture perfect Sunday afternoon, but Steve Harrington felt as if every nerve in his body was on high alert.

Robin was sitting in the passenger's seat, patently refraining from jumping out of the car as Steve sat, unnaturally still. His hands were still clutching the steering wheel and his eyes were glued to the house in front of them. She turned in her seat to face him.

She was dressed casually, with jeans and a white t-shirt, which was tucked in with a thick black belt. She had a jean jacket with the sleeves rolled up, and her hair fell messily around her shoulders. It was a casual night after all, a simple dinner at the house that (a few weeks ago at least) he and Robin could be found at at least twice a week. A dinner at the Byers was nothing that Steve wasn’t used to, in fact it was more unusual to go a few days without visiting. But still, Steve had spent at least an hour on his own outfit. Everything that he put on felt either too casual or not casual enough. He felt as though he needed to dress up, look his best. But now that they were sitting in the Byers drive-way, he felt overdressed.

Steve had eventually decided on a nice pair of jeans and a maroon button up shirt. Robin had made him lose the slacks from the original outfit, and now he felt as though he should have given in on the t-shirt as well. But you could see Steve’s big ugly scar through the plain shirt that she had wanted him to wear, and no matter how many times she promised that no one would give a shit if he had a scar from his soulmate on his chest, Steve didn’t want Billy to see it. But maybe a button down wasn’t the right alternative. God, he was going to stand out like a sore thumb. Will was probably in freaking sweatpants. He fiddled with the ends of his sleeves, debating how much trouble he would ultimately get into if he turned the car back on and went home.

“Steve,” Robin spoke from her place beside the boy, “are you ready to go in?”

“I look like an asshole.” he said instead of responding. He took a breath, eyeing her out of the corner of his eye. She smirked at him, giving him a little half shrug as if to say, If you had just listened to me in the first place…

“Everyone in there already knows you’re an asshole.” she quipped. “I promise you that this is of no surprise to them.

Steve didn’t even roll his eyes. His mind was going a mile a minute. Was there a spare shirt in the back? No. He had used it to mop up that coke that Dustin had spilled on the seat. Damn it, why hadn’t he just washed it and put it back in the car?

“Steve.” Robin started again, more serious this time. She paused after that, waiting. When Steve realized that she wasn’t continuing with her statement, he turned to look at her. It wasn’t until he met her eyes that she continued. “No one is going to mention it, I promise.”

He took a deep breath. He felt his lungs expand in his chest as they filled with the cool air, and the way that it was pushed back out his nostrils, the organs contracting behind his ribs. She was right, he was overthinking again. No one cared that he had chosen a button down instead of a t-shirt. No one would be able to see the way that he spent 45 real minutes in the bathroom trying to make his hair fall just right. No one would bring up the way that he couldn't keep his hands still. He was all up in his head again, and he needed to come back to earth. He nodded.

Robin smiled, giving him a second before she spoke again. Her tone was light, “But they will mention it if we are late because we sat in their drive-way for half an hour while you had a crisis. So maybe we should head inside.”

Steve did roll his eyes at that. But he unbuckled his seat belt and pushed the door open to get out of the car, so ultimately it was a win for Robin. When he finally stepped out of the car he shook his arms as he jumped in place, as if to get out the nervous energy. It helped for all of three seconds before he realized that there was a real possibility that at least one of the kids was watching him out the window. He immediately stopped his bouncing, smoothing down the too formal shirt and touching at his hair to make sure that nothing had fallen out of place.

Robin raised her eyebrows at him, a smirk creeping across her face. She was walking past him towards the porch, leaving him no room to back out at the last minute.

The short walk up to the Byers’ front door, no more than a handful of yards, felt like an eternity. He was hyper aware of every step he took, every crunch of the gravel beneath his feet. However, while the walk to the door seemed to take all the time in the world, the time it took for someone to answer it seemed to take no time at all. Seemingly before Robin had even finished knocking Will was pulling the door open, further confirming Steve’s suspicions that the boy had been watching him. The little asshole.

“Hey Byers!” Robin greeted the- as Steve suspected -sweatpants clad boy brightly. She reached out, messing up his hair as she stepped past him into the house. He rolled his eyes, pushing her hand away, but there was a fond smile creeping across his face.

From the time that Robin had been introduced to the party, she and Will had formed a kind of instant connection. She had seemed to click with Will in a way that even Steve hadn’t been able to manage. It was nice to see her fall into the same kind of protective roll that Steve had with the kids. Even if it did take a little bit of getting used to when Will started calling their apartment or even showing up at the door looking for Robin instead of Steve.

Steve smiled kindly at the boy as he followed Robin into the house.

Will gave Steve a strange look as he paused inside, slipping his shoes off and hanging his jacket. He looked as if he were itching to say something, but couldn’t decide if he should. Steve stared back at the boy, mirroring his quizzical look. Apparently he decided against voicing whatever concern he had, because he eventually broke eye contact with Steve, turning back to face Robin when she spoke.

“So I saw Nancy’s car in the drive-way.” She said as she hung her jean jacket on the rack. “Is Mike here too?”

Steve hoped to god that Mike Wheeler would not be joining them for dinner. He liked Mike, he liked all the kids. But, well, he was kind of an asshole about the whole Billy situation. Of course, he had gotten a bit better. He had a few weeks to adjust by this point. He had also noticed how much his comments really upset Max, and was attempting to tone it down a bit. But he was still extremely critical of Hargrove, and a lot of times borderline rude. Even when he refrained from saying the terrible things that he was thinking, you could read it in his face like an open book. It would just be better for everyone if Mike skipped out on this particular dinner.

Will shook his head, and Steve couldn’t help but feel relief. “No. He uh.. He doesn’t really come over here anymore, because of Billy... I think.” He sounded disheartened, and almost upset about it. Steve felt guilty for a split second. Mike was Will’s friend, Steve would even say his best friend. The amount of times that Steve drove one of those two over to the others house rivaled even the amount of times that he drove Dustin to get milkshakes. That is to say, practically every day. But now that he was thinking about it, it had been a while since he had made the trip across town and back for the two. Steve knew that Will was probably beating himself up over it.

Robin turned to him, “Mike Wheeler is an asshole. He’s just scared that Max is going to kick the shit out of him for talking bad about her brother.” Steve wanted to kick her for making jokes like that when Will was obviously upset about the situation. But apparently her comment worked, because the smile was creeping back across Will’s face. Steve found himself amazed for the umpteenth time at how Robin seemed to connect with Byers on a level that he just couldn’t.

It was at that moment that Joyce rounded the corner, a warm smile on her face as she noticed Steve and Robin standing by the door. “You’re here!” she greeted, moving to pull open the oven and peer at what appeared to be roasted chicken. “It’s so good to see you two again.”

“You too, Joyce.” Steve smiled politely.

She stood back up, grabbing the spoon on the counter and stirring a large pot which was simmering on the stove. “Everyone is in the living room right now. Dinner will be ready in about half an hour.” she spoke without turning away from her cooking.

“Great. Thank you so much.” he replied, turning to follow Robin and Will out of the kitchen.

It wasn’t until they reached the living room doorway that Steve was hit with another round of intense nerves, reminded of exactly why he had been dreading this evening. Billy Hargrove was right through that doorway, or at least, probably right through that doorway. Billy Hargrove with his rouged scars on his pretty face, and his bouncy blonde curls and his big blue eyes. Billy Hargrove with his spitfire attitude and his arrogant smirk and his vehemence for showing up anyone who looks his way. God, Steve was going to make a complete fool out of himself.

He stepped through the doorway, taking in the living room.

Jane and Max were sitting on the floor on the side of the room, talking amongst themselves, and giggling at something that one of them had said. Probably something that Steve wouldn’t understand anyway. Will moved across the room to take a seat beside them. Jonathan and Nancy were sitting on the couch. Nancy with her legs crossed, leaning back into Jonathan’s arm, which was laying casually across the back of the couch behind her shoulders. There was something playing quietly on the tv, but Steve wasn’t sure that either of them were actually paying any attention to it. On the far side of the room, on the beanbag next to the couch, sat Billy Hargrove himself.

Billy wasn’t wearing sweatpants like Will, which was relieving to say the least. He had on a Motley Crue t-shirt and a pair of jeans which actually looked pretty new. His hair was styled neatly, but when was Billy Hargrove’s hair ever not. His posture was relaxed. He sagged into the beanbag, a hint of a smile lingering at the corners of his mouth. This surprised Steve, although maybe it shouldn’t have. He had been living with the Byers for almost a month, it would be more troublesome if he hadn’t become more comfortable in their house.

When Steve and Robin entered the room, all eyes turned to them. Jane and Max simply smiled, turning away just as quickly to return to whatever conversation they had been in the middle of. Jonathan lifted his arm from the back of the couch to give a small wave while Nancy gave the two a bright grin. She greeted them fondly, but Steve was more focused on the way Billy’s relaxed posture had stiffened when he saw the other boy. He was doing his best to look casual, but Steve could see the way he had tensed up, the way the small smile had disappeared from his face. A nod in their direction was the only greeting that he gave.

Robin tossed a glance in his direction that he hadn’t quite caught the meaning of before she quickly claimed the seat beside Nancy as her own. He realized much too late that this was the beginning of her evil scheming. There wasn’t room for him to squeeze onto the end of the couch beside the three of them. It would very obviously look as though he was doing everything in his power to avoid sitting close to Billy. He was, mind you, but he didn’t want it to look that way. So his only option was to pop a squat down on the floor beside the bean bag. The Byers desperately needed more seating in their living room, Jesus.

He made his way over towards the boy in what he hoped resembled an amble fashion instead of the panicked march that he felt like he was doing. His eyes fell to the floor, studying it in an offended way, as if it would suddenly open up and swallow him if he glared hard enough. How far away could he sit without it being obvious? What was a natural distance to pick?

He eventually let himself settle onto the ground, lest he stand in the middle of the room looking like an idiot forever. It wouldn’t matter how perfect his equation for the perfect distance between being close enough that he wouldn’t be able to think straight and being so far that it looks rude if he gave away that game like that. He felt fidgety when he settled. Was he too close? Should he move away? No that would look strange and obvious.

“Long time no see.” Nancy grinned, and Steve snapped his head up to look at her. He tried for an easy smile, but based on the way her eyebrows scrunched up and Robin looked as though she was going to smack him, he figured he was probably doing a pretty shit job.

“Yeah, we’ve just been crazy busy. You know how it is.” he tried. He saw the way that Billy shifted in his seat out of the corner of his eye.

Nancy eyed the two curiously. Steve could practically see the gears turning behind her head. Nancy was always too perceptive for her own good. But there was no way she could have picked up on what was happening, Steve reasoned. He had just sat down. Plus, there was no way that everyone else had just immediately known how to act around Billy. Nance lived with Mike for God’s sake. She probably just thought that he was still weirded out about the idea of Billy being alive. Which, to be fair, he absolutely was.

“Hmm.” she hummed, “Well we were actually just talking about you.” Steve felt his stomach jump up his throat. “Jonathan was talking about his photography and how you sometimes go out to take pictures with him. I was just telling Billy that it’s actually a really fun time and that we should all go out sometime soon. It’s going to get too cold to do outside shoots soon, but the leaves are so pretty right now.” She eyed him curiously as if to gauge his reaction.

Steve felt as though his stomach was crawling with a million ants. Why did everyone in his life insist on him spending as much time with Billy as humanly possibly? Everywhere he turned someone was orchestrating another get together where Steve would be forced to go through hell on earth once again. He couldn’t keep up this exhausting dance of struggling every second just to function like a normal human being.

He was too obvious, he knew that, but he was trying, okay? Steve wasn’t used to being afraid that the person he liked would figure it out. In high school if he wanted to go out with some pretty girl, he would just ask her, and she would say yes. If he found himself dreaming about what it would be like to press a kiss to her pretty little lips, he would do it. He had been the pretty, popular, rich boy who everyone wanted to have a story about, and if they didn’t, then he could just move on to the next girl.

This wasn’t like that at all. Sure, he wasn’t quite sure that things would work the same even with ladies anymore. He wasn’t in high school with the basketball team and the friends and the rich parents. He had been rejected more times than he could count over the summer at Scoops. But this wasn’t even like the risk of being rejected. This was the risk of being beaten and ostracized. If anyone found out, especially if Billy found out, Steve’s life would literally be over. Everyone that he knew would turn him away, they would sneer at him, threaten him. Steve was sure that Billy himself would be first in line to throw a few fists. It wouldn’t be the first time, and Steve knew first hand how hard those fists were.

But it would be weirder still if he made some big deal out of it. He could only hide behind being uncomfortable and an assole for so long. People would notice, and the jig would be up anyways.

“Oh. Would Billy, uh, be interested in that?” Steve questioned. He tried to keep his voice level, normal sounding. He wasn’t sure if he was succeeding, but Robin looked a little less like she was about to rip her hair out, so that was a good sign.

Bill spoke up, addressing Steve directly for what he realized was the first time since Billy had come back. “I would, actually. Believe it or not I know a thing or two about photography.” He raised his eyebrows at the boy, “Unless you don’t want me around, King Steve.” He presented it as a challenge, but something was off. There was none of Billy’s usual fire, no real weight behind his words. It was as if he was just going through the motions, pretending, just like Steve, albeit with much more success.

He raised his hands in mock surrender, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. “Of course not.” He felt the adrenaline coursing through his veins, as if he was balancing on the top of buildings, thousands of stories high. “I just never pictured you as a photographer.”

Billy smirked, and Steve felt a jolt up his spine. He couldn’t help but count that as a success. “There’s lots you don’t know about me Harrington. I’m full of surprises.” and that there was a challenge. Billy’s posture was relaxing. It felt as if they were easing into a routine, returning to something normal in a universe where literally nothing in their lives is normal.

Jonathan hummed from his place on the couch, nodding. “Yeah he was showing me some stuff the other day. He’s actually pretty good.” Steve turned to face him, but he could still feel Billy’s eyes burning into the back of his neck. His fingers twitched at his sides. There hadn’t been any kind of major disaster yet. How has there not been any kind of major disaster yet? The night was almost going, dare he say it and risk jinxing whatever stroke of luck he was riding? The night was almost going well.

The conversation eased after that, and Steve felt himself becoming more and more relaxed as the four of them spoke. The nervous energy was dissipating out the tips of his fingers as he drummed them against his thighs. The conversation traveled from photography, to Nancy’s internship, to Family Video. Billy spoke up more and Steve even managed to make him laugh once or twice. He reminded himself not to get cocky.

Eventually Joyce called them all in to eat, and even that went over well. The food was delicious as always. Homemade chicken salads, with one sans chicken for Robin of course, and garlic bread. The conversation flowed easily, even though Robin had once again managed to secure Steve’s seat right next to Billy. He was hyper aware of every move he made and how much space he was taking up as he ate, but nothing detrimental happened.

In fact, the only incident came after Jane sat down across the table from Steve and made a rather blunt inquiry about why he looked like he was “going to a fancy party”. His red faced floundering only lasted a few seconds however, before Robin saved him. She explained that she had spilled her fountain drink on Steve on the way there, and that the only spare shirt he had in the car was the button up from when they went to dinner with her Mother a few days ago. Steve decided then and there that he would never say a bad word about her again. That lasted all of five minutes.

Before he knew it Joyce was ushering him out of the kitchen as he tried to help wash dishes. He was laughing as she shooed him out the door with a dish towel. His eyes were fixed back over his shoulder, neglecting to watch where he was going. It was then that he walked right into something, or rather someone.

“Oh shit!” Steve shouted, head whipping around to apologize to whoever he had just barreled into. When his eyes met those of Billy Hargrove, he felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

“I see you’re still just as graceful as in high school Harrington.” Billy quipped, quickly pulling away the hand that had grabbed onto Steve’s arm to steady himself.

Steve laughed nervously. All of the nerves in his arm were tingling, he could feel the spot that Billy had grabbed like a burn. “Yeah, uh, sorry.” He gestured back behind him towards the kitchen, “I was just-”

“Listen, Steve.” Billy interrupted him, and Steve forgot about everything else that he was about to say. He snapped his mouth closed, eyes fixed intensely on Billy. He never called him Steve. It was always Harrington, or occasionally, if Steve was especially lucky, pretty boy, but never Steve. “Can we talk? I mean, alone.”

Suddenly Steve felt as if he were going to hyperventilate. He felt his pulse racing in his chest, as if his heart had decided to run a marathon and leave his body behind. He felt light headed, as if there wasn’t enough air in the room to fill his lungs even once. His head was spinning, what had he done? Was he that obvious? How had Billy known? Things had seemingly been going so well. God this was it, Steve was going to walk away with another black eye and bloody nose.

Billy seemed to notice his panic because his eyes widened and he threw his hands up. “Jesus Harrington, calm down. I just- it’s nothing like- fuck.” He breathed, and Steve was not feeling reassured. “Can we just.. step outside? I promise I’m not going to hit you.” He tried for a small smile, but it was pathetic and fake. Steve felt himself nodding, but he couldn’t tell you why. He was an idiot. He was about to die because he’s a fucking idiot.

Billy pushed past Steve, making his way to the front door. Steve followed closely behind him, he could hear his ears ringing and his heart pounding.

“Be right back Joyce, just stepping out for a cigarette.” Billy called as they passed the woman at the sink. She nodded towards them without really looking up. She was humming something that Steve knew, he just couldn’t put his finger on. It was lurking somewhere in the back of his mind, just out of reach. He wished that she would spin around, ask them for something, save Steve from his fast approaching peril.

When they stepped out the door, Billy shut it behind him. The sun had set and the air was cold. Steve found himself wishing for his jacket which was still hanging just inside the door. He stood frozen in place as Billy paced in front of him. The only noises that could be heard were the chorus of crickets and the shuffle of his feet against the gravel. Billy pulled out a cigarette, lighting it and inhaling deeply. Steve felt as though the other boy had the right idea. He pulled out his own cigarette, and Billy paused his pacing just long enough to hold out his lighter for him.

The two stood in silence for a while before either of them spoke. Billy looked as though he was still figuring out what he wanted to say, his mind spinning at a thousand miles an hour. Steve knew the feeling. He was doing everything in his power not to lose his mind. The cigarette helped, if only a little bit.

Billy had blown through two of his own, chain smoking them, one after the other, before he finally spoke. “Look, I-” he started before pausing again, running a hand through his hair, “ I don’t know how to do this.”

Steve didn’t know what was happening. If Billy was going to hit him he would have by now, right? Like, how hard was it to say, fuck you faggot, and then punch? He didn’t really seem angry either, conflicted maybe? Steve was so confused.

Billy was looking at him, but he kept glancing away, as if it was making him nervous to hold eye contact. It reminded him of something that Robin sometimes made him do when he was in the middle of one of his episodes and he needed to talk but couldn’t look her in the eye. He debated bringing it up. He was probably going to get hit anyway, and really, a black eye was worth what was obviously a really important conversation for Billy. He sighed, good bye eye sight, here goes nothing.

“Billy.” Steve spoke, and the boy stilled his nervous fidgeting, eyeing him warily. “Look, this is going to sound really strange, but trust me.” He slid to the ground, sitting cross legged in the gravel. He turned to the side. His heart was still racing in his chest. How would Billy respond? Would he even give it a shot? Or would he laugh and call Steve a stupid queer? “Sit down, with your back to mine. Face away from me.”

Billy stood there in his place, unmoving. He wasn’t responding, but he wasn’t throwing insults yet, so that was a win. Steve glanced up at him, raising his eyebrows and tossing him a glance loaded with all the confidence and fortitude that he didn’t feel. Neither of them moved. They stared at each other, refusing to break eye contact for what felt like an eternity. This, Steve recognized, this was one of their games, and he knew how it was played. His palms were sweating and he felt like he might throw up, but Billy didn’t need to know that. So he sat, staring back at Billy Hargrove as if he were the one asking for something crazy.

Eventually Billy broke eye contact, and Steve knew that he had won. The boy rolled his eyes, muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like “What the hell.” before he took a seat on the ground opposite of Steve.

They sat there in the middle of the Byers’ driveway, in the cold, dark, october night, back to back, neither of them speaking. The only sound was that of the crickets and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. Steve could hear his heart pounding in his ears.

“What now, King Steve.” Billy finally breathed, and Steve knew he was nervous. He only called him King Steve when he was defensive, reflecting. He understood how Billy felt.

“Now, you tell me whatever you wanted to say.” He responded. He knew that this probably wasn’t going to work, that Billy would roll his eyes and walk away. But at this point, what did he have to lose? “It’s a lot easier to say something to someone when you don’t have to look at them. You can even pretend I’m not here if it helps.”

Billy let out a breathy laugh from behind him, Steve felt it on his back and all of the nerves in his spine tingled. “It’s impossible to pretend you’re not here, your ego is too massive to ignore. It fills entire rooms.”

Steve didn’t respond. He let the silence stretch out into the night until it became uncomfortable. If you want someone to talk, don’t try and dig it out of them, just don’t say anything. People are uncomfortable with silence, they will fill it. Robin had taught him that.

It seemed to work anyway, because after a minute Billy was speaking up, his voice ringing out over the too quiet night. “I did a lot of really shitty… shit.” He started, and Steve refrained from interrupting. This was good, he wanted Billy to keep talking. “I just. I was angry. I had a lot of stuff going on and I was so full of this, rage at the world.” he sighed, “whatever, that’s not the point.”

Another pause. Steve waited.

“I hurt a lot of people. Some of them.. I couldn’t do anything about it. It was that.. that thing. Those people, I didn’t mean to- and I- I can’t fix that. I can’t even begin to- fuck. This isn’t what I-” he stopped, letting out a frustrated breath. Steve wanted to say something, even just a hum to let him know that he was listening, that this was good. But he felt like he was paralized. It was like this whole situation was constructed out of glass, and if he so much as breathed it would all shatter.

“But, but some of the people I hurt, well, it was my fault.” he continued. His voice was still shaky, but he sounded a little more confident this time. “I was a complete asshole, and I hurt so many people for no reason other than my own bullshit problems. And it’s- it’s whatever, but then I, I died practically. And the thing is I deserved it. Every single thing that I went through I deserved. Every second that I had to live, trapped in my own body with that thing, I deserved that. The people that- god they didn’t deserve it. Heather-” he stopped again, and Steve felt Billy shaking softly against his back. Could he be crying? Holy shit. That wasn’t, that was not the point of this.

“Billy.” he breathed out, his voice coming out raspy and dry. This wasn’t a good idea. Fuck. He shouldn’t have recommended it.

“No.” Billy interrupted. His voice sounded hoarse, and yeah, he had definitely been crying a little bit. But he cleared his throat and started again. “It’s fine.”

“Okay.” Steve said softly.

“All of that shit that happened, I deserved it. I had done so many terrible things to people who didn’t do anything to me. Like you, Steve.”

Now he really felt as if he was going to throw up. Was Billy.. apologizing? His pulse raced, pounding in his ears. He felt like the world was spinning out of control. Billy Hargrove didn’t apologize. Although, Billy Hargrove also didn’t sit back to back with Steve Harrington alone in the dark and start crying. So apparently this was just a night for firsts.

“So I deserved all that shit. But then, I didn’t die. They, those people, they brought me back, and I can’t help but feel like.. God this is stupid.” he breathed out, and Steve felt as if he was going to explode. “I can’t help but feel like this is some kind of fucked up second chance.

“When I was laying there, in the mall, with Max, and all of you guys, I guess.. I just kept thinking that I was going to die, and I would never be able to apologize. All of that anger, all of that fighting it was so- fuck, it was so stupid, and I would never get to tell you how fucking sorry I am, Steve. I thought, fuck, I really thought that I killed you. And, and, and, I don’t know what i would have done if I had.” His voice was picking up speed, he sounded as if he was getting frantic, as if he were going to start panicking. “And it hadn’t even been about you Steve, fuck, you were just there, and I shouldn’t have- fuck. But I did, and I was so fucking angry, and I just couldn’t stop. And then you were just laying there and not moving and there was so much blood-”

“Billy!” Steve suddenly shot up from his seat on the ground. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. Fuck he was definitely getting punched again for this, no matter what Billy said. He shot around to Billy’s front, grabbing his shoulders and staring him dead in the eyes. Billy was shaking. There were no tears but his eyes were rimmed in red, his breath was uneven and shallow. “It’s okay Billy. I swear to god look at me, I’m right here, good as new. Look.” He took his hands from Billy’s shoulders, grabbing his shaking hands in his and pressing them against his chest. “It’s water under the bridge Billy. Please breathe for me.”

Billy wouldn’t make eye contact with him, hanging his head and squeezing his eyes shut. But his shoulders sagged and he nodded his head, so Steve felt a little bit better.

He sat there for a few moments, not moving, just sitting there in front of Billy with his palm pressed to his chest, letting him feel the rise and fall of his breaths. He remembered the scar on his chest and quickly dropped Billy’s hand away. The boy looked up at him, quizzically but nervous and vulnerable. Steve met his eyes with a comforting look, a small smile pulling at the end of his lips. “Are we okay?” he breathed.

“I should be asking you that.” Billy responded weakly, but his breathing had returned to normal and he was no longer shaking, so Steve counted that as a win.

He smiled at the boy for real this time, “Yeah, we’re good.”

He wanted to pull the boy into a hug, but he felt like that would definitely be too much. He was still amazed that he had so far avoided getting decked through out all of that. So instead he stood from his crouched position, walking over to settle back into his place behind Billy, backs resting against each other.

They sat in silence once again, but it was a comfortable silence this time. The air was cold and there was practically no light left in the sky, only the warm glow from the windows of the Byers. The crickets’ songs filled the night, and Steve couldn’t keep his mind off of the warm pressure against his back. He couldn’t help but feel as though he would stay right there forever if given the opportunity.

“This is really fucking wierd Steve.” Billy finally broke the silence. He was right, Steve mused. The two of them, old school rivals, known for sharp words and fast fists, sitting on the ground in the middle of the driveway. They were back to back, leaning heavily against each other in the cold October air. If anyone had been watching them out the window they would have a lot of explaining to do.

Steve laughed, “You’re right Billy. This is really fucking weird.”

But I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

Chapter Text

It doesn’t pay to be overly trusting, and the more relaxed you get the easier it is to get stabbed in the back. Billy Hargrove reminded himself of this as he laid on his mattress in the Byers’ attic, staring up at the ceiling and running through the events of that evening in his mind over and over. Steve and Robin had just left a few hours ago, and slowly the Byers household winded down and everyone settled into their own rooms for bed. Billy had retreated to his own space rather quickly after their departure, convinced that any one of them would know what had happened just by looking at him. He had needed to be alone, but now that he was, he was wishing that he wasn’t stuck with only his thoughts.

The thing is, Billy fucked up, badly.

All he was supposed to do was tell Harrington that he was sorry for knocking the shit out of him and that as long as he stopped being such an idiot he would try not to do it again. He was supposed to be aloof, unfazed. He was supposed to be tough and mean as nails and too rough around the edges for people to feel quite comfortable. He absolutely was not supposed to lean against Harrington like some fucking fag, and start crying.

Why the hell had he done that? Steve had obviously been intimidated by him, scared almost, and he should be. Billy didn’t take shit from anyone especially not Steve fucking Harrington. He had made that very clear from the second that he stepped foot into Hawkins High, and now he had gone and messed everything up. Steve probably saw right through him now. He could probably glaze right past the snarls and the smirks and the arrogant pomposity to all of his guts and blood and bones and study every piece that makes up Billy Hargrove. He could see the fear and the anger and the regret and the hurt and Billy wanted to hit someone.

Why hadn’t he just punched Harrington the minute that he sat on the goddamn ground and looked at Billy like what he was doing wasn’t absolutely insane. As if the two of them were old friends who braided eachothers hair and made fucking daisy chains while they talked about all of their feelings. God. He had thoughts about it too. He thought about punching those pretty little teeth out of his mouth for thinking that Billy was some prissy bitch who would just let him pull some shit like that. What had Harrington been playing at anyway? Why couldn’t he have just stood there like a man? Or better yet, why couldn’t he have told Billy to grow up and stop acting like a bitch? Why couldn’t he have punched him in the face and told him to stop being such a fag? At least Billy would have known how to deal with that.

But no. Instead, Harrington had been so fucking nice to him. He had sat down in the cold, the dirt, in the dark, and turned his back to Billy because he had thought it would make him feel better. He had listened while Billy spilled his guts and bared his soul like some kind of desperate chick. When Billy started crying Harrington just spun around and comforted him. Why couldn’t he have told him to go fuck himself? Why did he have to sit there with his stupid kind eyes and his stupid comforting hand while Billy’s pulse raced out of his chest and his heart swelled like a ballon?

God, he needs to grow up. Nothing good could come out of this, it was all going to be trouble. Sure, he decided that he was going to do his best not to fucking kill anymore people but that doesn’t mean that it’s time to start crying on Harrington’s lap. It wasn’t hard to see through him, and now he was in danger, and he knew this, he knew it, but he did it anyway. Apparently Billy can’t ever learn his goddamn lesson.

Look at him, finally out from under Neil’s goddamn thumb and what is he doing? Apparently he’s trying to put himself right back into that position all over again. You’d think that all of the psychological and physical torture of living with a father who beats the shit out of you for breathing too loudly would be enough to knock some sense into you. But as it turns out Billy is just that fucking stupid. Sure, the Byers had been nothing but kind to him since the moment that they took him in (and Billy still didn’t understand why), but if they caught him making fucking heart eyes at Steve Harrington while crying on his shoulder? There’s no conceivable way that they wouldn’t ship him right back to Neil. Or maybe they would let him stay and take it upon themselves to discipline him for being a queer. Hopper was nice enough but he was the chief of police and Billy had seen first hand that he wasn’t afraid to lay down the law.

All of this was running through his mind when he heard a soft knock on the door at the bottom of the attic steps. His entire body tensed up, anxiety shooting up the base of his spine and settling into his gut. Had he been making some kind of noise? He had just been sitting there. Had he been speaking out loud? No. What time was it even?

He flipped on the small lamp beside his mattress, eyes moving to the clock resting a few feet away. It was a quarter after one in the morning. Who the hell needed him at one in the morning?

The door was out of his line of sight, hidden beneath the floor at the base of the descending steps. He didn’t see who entered, but he heard the soft creak of the door opening and footsteps padding softly up the first few stairs.

“Billy?” It was Max. Her voice was soft, cautious, as if she wasn’t sure if he would be awake. If only Billy could make his mind shut up long enough to fall asleep before the sun comes up. If he could get more than an hour or two of sleep at night then maybe he wouldn’t be so emotionally drained that he sat on the ground and cried to Steve Harrington.

“Max?” He answered. He couldn’t help the nervous energy buzzing through him. Sure, he and Max had been a lot closer over the past few weeks. Basically dying for a few months and then coming back really puts into perspective how completely pointless the majority of their feuds were. Sure, she was still an annoying little asshole who sometimes made Billy want to strangle her, but he also realized how much he really cares about that little asshole. They were really the only family that they had left anymore. But despite their new-found truce, they weren’t exactly at the come-visit-at-the-ass-crack-of-dawn level yet, so Billy couldn’t help the dread settling in his gut. He had a feeling that whatever conversation was about to happen, he wouldn’t like it.

He saw her messy red hair peeking up over the stairs, she must have just crawled out of bed. Slowly, the rest of her body emerged from the floor. She was dressed in ruffled pajamas, but she was barefoot. She slowly padded across the attic floor towards Billy where he sat on his mattress. As she approached he saw the way her eyes were still heavy with sleep in the dim lamp light.

Her eyes were darting around the room, never quite landing on Billy. Her fingers twisted at the ends of her knotted hair as she slowly lowered herself onto the mattress beside him. He could feel her anxiety filling the room with a thick, tense atmosphere.

“What do you want, shitbird?” he asked slowly, trying to keep some element of noralicy through this whole experience. He felt completely out of his depth, and was becoming more and more worried by the second. She shifted in her seat, eyes still fixed on the floor. When she spoke she didn’t answer his question.

“I wasn’t sure if you’d be awake.”

Billy let out a soft huff, “So you thought you’d swing by just to check? The middle of the night isn’t exactly prime time for a little chat.”

Max ignored him, still pointedly avoiding eye contact. “I wanted to ask you about tonight.” Her words sounded rehearsed, as if she had been going over them in her head for a while. Her voice was soft, but to Billy they rang out through the room at a deafening volume. He felt his stomach plummet and his pulse skip several beats as it shot up like a bat out of hell. She couldn’t know, there was no way. Nothing had even happened. They just talked. It was so dark, anyway, no one could have actually seen the two of them in the driveway, could they?

“Well Max, Steve and Robin came over. They ate dinner, and then they left.” he responded. He could hear the sarcasm in his own words. He could feel his defenses rising up, his walls closing off. Not again. Deny everything. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. “Really Max, it was only a few hours ago. You already need a refresher course?”

She turned her head, eyes finally meeting his. He could see in her face that she was already becoming annoyed with him. This felt like their old relationship, he thought to himself, this was the dynamic that bred such animosity between them. He felt guilty, but a part of him felt like this was good. Maybe it had been a mistake to let Max in. She was so much smarter than he gave her credit for, and this was dangerous. Maybe it was better when she shut her out completely.

“You were acting weird tonight Billy.” she challenged. He could still feel her anxiety but there was a new kind of determination settling into her voice. She wasn’t as fidgety, and her eyes held his gaze this time.

“Yeah, maybe that’s because I was uncomfortable, Max.” He wished that she would get off of his bed. He was never claustrophobic, but he felt as if he were being suffocated. He felt trapped, cornered. “Harrington has never been my biggest fan, if you haven’t noticed. It was really awkward. Neither of us wanted to be there.”

Maybe it was something in the way that she set her jaw or the way she hunched up her shoulders, Billy wasn’t sure. But in that moment, something in the back of his mind was telling him that it was useless. He was trapped. She had figured him out and there was nowhere to go. It was happening again because Billy is a complete idiot who still hadn’t learned to be careful. His stomach churned and suddenly he was reminded of the night that Joyce found him up here, passed out in a pool of his own vomit.

“See that’s what I thought at first.” She started, “You were both so tense, and neither one of you could stop staring at the other for half a second. I could practically feel Steve shaking from across the room. But then you went outside after dinner.” she paused, and in that moment Billy felt every last stitch of hope seep out the bottom of his stomach and onto the floor. The most intense feeling of dread settled over him, Max had seen, she knew, it was happening again. “I was seriously worried that you two were going out there to fight again, and I’ve seen you two fight, I was terrified. So I went out the back door and watched you from the trees. I wanted to be there to step in if the fight got too bad. But you didn’t fight.” Max stopped, crossing her arms as she continued to stare at him. Billy felt as if she could see into his very soul. He felt sick, he felt exposed, he felt vulnerable.

“Max, what the fuck are you talking about?” he growled, deep in the back of his throat. He wanted her to leave, or at least to back down. She needed to drop it, move on, forget about it. Sure he had been a little pussy but that didn’t prove shit. They didn’t do anything, they didn’t. Hell, Steve himself didn’t know that there was anything more to it than Billy being fucked up and emotionally damaged from dying. Or at the very least, he wasn’t sure. That much Billy knew for a fact, because he hadn’t walked away with a black eye and he still had a fucking house to live in- for now. There was no way Harrington would have let that shit slide if he knew that Billy wasn’t just a damaged, pathetic, pussy, but a damaged pathetic faggot.

“You know what I’m talking about Billy.” she glared at him, “ I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish by being such a dick.”

“I’m not being a dick, Maxine.” he spit out the name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth, just the way that he knew she hated. He could see the way she bit down hard on the inside of her cheek. He felt like he might pass out. But this was good, if she was angry then she would leave, she would walk away from the conversation. If he was going to lose her than he would rather lose her on his own terms. “I don’t know what you want me to say. Nothing happened last night. Steve and I went out for a smoke.”

Max’s eyes blew wide with exasperation, the irritation was clear on her red face. Her hands bunched up into fists around the thin bed sheets. “Billy, I saw you.” she stressed, her words were strained. She stuttered as if she was so frustrated that she couldn’t articulate herself. “You- you were crying, and you don’t- you don’t cry. Not when we left Cali, not when Neil would- would hit you, fuck Billy, the only time I remember seeing you cry was when you were possessed. And Steve was- just- he was comforting you, and looking at you like he could feel your pain. And you told him so much, BIlly you’ve never even said that stuff to me, and I just- I don’t understand because I thought you hated each other. But last night it felt like-” she hesitated, staring into the space in front of her, as if she were looking to pull the words that she wanted from thin air. “It didn’t feel like you hate each other. It felt like, like something else.”

Maybe if they had been two girls, he could play it off. If Nancy and Robin decided to have a little cry together in the driveway while they talked about feelings then it would be okay. No one would bat an eye. But guys didn’t do that. Especially not guys who have a history of beating the shit out of each other. They had friendly days but the fact of the matter was, Billy Hargrove and Steve Harrington were not the kind of guys who could get away with that kind of shit. Especially not with Max, who had grown up with Billy. Everything about that night screamed guilty, and Steve was going to get dragged down into this shit just because he was a nice person who didn’t know how to push him away.

Her eyebrows bunched up, she looked confused and frustrated and hurt and Billy really wished that she were Steve or Jonathan or fucking Tommy Heagan because then he would punch her square in the face. He wouldn’t have to deal with all of these feelings and the talking and the fighting and the denying, just punch. God he wanted to hit someone. “I just want to understand, Billy.”

You don't. He felt panicked. All of her anxiety made sense now. She knew. She just hadn’t known how to ask him, how he would respond when she did. He could see it in her face, he couldn’t talk his way out of this one. Max wasn’t an idiot. She had been watching him all night. She saw the way that he couldn’t keep his eyes off of Steve. She watched as he crumbled at his feet. She probably heard every desperate pathetic word of what he had cried to the boy.

Was everything clicking now? She had been so young the first time, when they were still living in California. They had tried to keep her out of it, oblivious to what was going on. Neil and Susan didn’t want her to be “negatively influenced”. She was too young to understand. But Max wasn’t an idiot, even as a child. She had to have some idea, especially now.

He would have to leave much sooner than he had thought. He wasn’t ready. But he couldn't stay, not now. They would all know soon enough, and then he would have no choice. At least if he left quickly it could be on his own terms.

“What do you remember about why we left California?” he felt himself breathing out without even making the conscious decision to do it. He needed to tell her before he left. She wasn’t backing down, and she had been there, he could deny everything until he was blue in the face but Max had seen. At least if he could explain what had really happened then he could spare Steve. He didn’t deserve his life to be ruined for simply being too nice to a fucking fag. Max needed to know that it was all Billy, that Steve had nothing to do with it.

She looked even more confused by that, as if she didn’t understand why that was related, as if she still couldn’t quite connect the dots. “Mom and Neil wanted to get away from my dad, to have a fresh start.” she said slowly. He could feel her mind turning. He didn’t respond, just looked back at her, silently staring, so she continued. “But… you were doing really well in school. Mom said that your coach thought you might even be able to get a basketball scholarship, so she told Neil that we should stay, let you stay with your team.” she frowned as she spoke, eyebrows furrowed, as if she were examining every aspect of the story that she had been told so many times.

Billy nodded, “But they changed their mind.” he said simply, staring at her intensely.

She didn’t respond, just sat there quietly, which was actually pretty ironic as that’s all that Billy had wanted her to do all night. But now, as she sat there, just staring at him, Billy wished that she would say something, fill the silence which was ringing in his ears and driving him absolutely crazy. She didn’t though, she just sat, staring at him as if she were trying to work out some kind of difficult math equation, only the math equation was actually a dead dog. She looked so confused, and hurt, and small. Billy felt as if he could relate to that.

“Do you remember Christopher?” he chewed on his lip. He had never imagined having this conversation with Max. He had never imagined having this conversation with anyone, but, well, leave it to life to fuck you up the ass while your back is turned. He didn’t feel any more prepared the second time around than he had the first. In all fairness, the first time wasn’t exactly the civil, sit down conversation that this was. There was no explaining, no listening, just screaming and beatings and wild accusations. Billy almost wished for that again, somehow, actually having to talk about it, tell the story, explain himself, was so much worse. He knew how to take a kick to the ribs, he didn’t know how to have an honest conversation. That much was made very clear earlier that night.

Max nodded slowly, “He was on your basketball team, right?” there was a new kind of nervousness to her features. Billy wondered if she was starting to connect the dots, if she was slowly piecing together the puzzle and becoming more and more anxious by what she was seeing.

“Yeah he was. But he was so much more than that.” he choked, his voice suddenly gone. It was as if he couldn’t physically speak any louder. His heart ached, thinking about Chritopher, and Cali, and basketball in the hot, dry heat. He thought about secret looks in the halls of school that only they knew the meaning of. He thought about big toothy grins around melty chocolate ice cream, and sticky sugary fingers meeting under the table. He thought about walks on the beach after dark, when there was no one else around to look and see and care. He thought about bare feet in the hot sand and half assed surfing lessons in the beating sun. He thought about long drives in Christopher’s old beater truck with the windows rolled down and the music turned up way too loud. He thought about sick, fluttery chests, and the adrenaline rush that came along with all the secret stolen kisses. He thought about disgustingly sweet and cheesy notes that he would hide in the pages of his books. He thought about all of the fear and the sneaking and the danger, but not giving a fuck because Chris was the best damn thing that had ever happened to him.

He and Chris weren’t soulmates, and they knew that. Chris had a big ugly scar down his ankle from an accident with a lawnmower and no matter how many times Billy laid in bed and prayed that he would wake up with a matching one it never happened. They knew that they weren’t each other’s soulmates but they loved each other more fiercely than they had ever loved anything. It didn’t matter if fate or god or the universe or whatever the hell decides that shit put on their signature stamp of approval. Hell, they would never get the approval of anyone anywhere so why start caring about it then?

Realistically, they would probably never meet their soulmates, and neither of them cared much to know which prissy bitch was supposed to be their perfect match anyways. They had each other, and in the small worlds of a 15 and 16 year old that’s all that mattered.

Until they had been caught.

“Billy,” Max whispered, as if she were afraid that speaking too loudly would shatter whatever delicate atmosphere was surrounding them. “What are you saying?”

“You know what I’m saying, Max.” he stared her dead in the eyes with a kind of bravery that he definitely didn’t feel. He was about to lose his sister. There was no going back now. The anger had melted away and now he was stuck, hovering in some strange sadness, like he was already mourning the relationship that they had built. He was so scared, so unbelievably mind numbingly terrified, because as much as he threw a fit about coming to the Byers in the first place, he wasn’t ready to leave. He wasn’t ready to be thrown out onto the streets again. He wasn’t ready to fend for himself.

“I don’t know if you remember that night,” he started, “you were going somewhere with Neil and Susan. I don’t remember where. It doesn’t matter.” his ears were ringing, it was so loud. The silence of the room was worse than any noise. “Chris was over, he had dropped me off after practice and was kind of hanging around. Or, well, we were planning on hanging out after you all left, but he didn’t say that, because Neil was always weird about Chris.”

“I think I remember.” Max spoke up, her voice was so small, she sounded just as anxious as Billy felt, which- he wasn’t sure why. She wasn’t the one on the fast track to losing everyone important in her life and getting kicked out. “That was the night that you and Neil got into your first big fight.”

Billy nodded, “You guys had left, been gone about five minutes. We were normally so careful. We would wait a lot longer, and always, always go to my room. But we had just come from practice, and we were both still high on adrenaline, so we were stupid.” he swallowed thickly, “You had forgotten something at home, a book or something, and so you came back. You hadn’t been far anyway. Neil ran in the house to grab it, and Chris and I were right there, on the couch.” he didn’t say anymore, he didn’t have to. He couldn’t bring himself to say more to the girl, whose eyes were rimmed red and whose face wore the most crestfallen expression. It was as if Billy had just kicked a puppy, right there in front of her. The look she gave him, the most heartbroken look he had ever seen, was worse than any beating. He would have rather laid on the floor and let Neil kick him until he was spitting blood than sit there while Max looked at him like that any longer.

“Neil said that he caught you smoking weed.”

Billy laughed bitterly, “He wouldn’t have given a shit if I was on drugs. He would have rather me been doing lines of cocaine off of the fucking bible. But no, Max, I wasn’t doing drugs.” he glared at her, but the anger wasn’t directed at her. She knew that too. “I was sitting on my boyfriend’s lap and kissing him. Right there in the living room like some fucking idiot.” the anger was directed at himself now. He was so fucking stupid, and apparently nothing ever changes. He doesn’t even have a boyfriend and somehow he is still so much of a flaming fucking homo that he managed to go down and drag some normal kid along with him. “So Neil beat the shit out of me. That was the first time he really hurt me. I really thought he was going to kill me. But he didn’t. I could barely move for the next week, I still think he broke my fucking ribs. But whatever. He pulled me out of school, said he didn’t want me around that goddamn queer, and the next week he and Susan had signed a lease on a house in Indiana.”

Max had real tears in her eyes now, it made her look so much younger than 14, sitting there in his bed, crying like she was seeking comfort after a nightmare. Only in this case Billy was the nightmare. “I didn’t know.”

“Yeah,” he spit out, as if the word offended him, “they didn’t want you to know. Said they didn’t want it to be a negative influence for you.”

It was quiet for a moment, which was fair. What do you even say to all of that. Max probably needed some time to figure out the most appropriate version of fuck off you faggot, for this particular scenario. He wished that she would hurry it up. Every second that she just sat there was another second that he was losing on his head start. He wanted to be out of there before a word of this got back to Joyce or Hopper.

“Are you…” she trailed off, “Are you and Steve-”

“God no!” he rushed, cutting her off, “Fuck Max, god no.” he wouldn’t let Steve’s life be ruined over this too. “Steve is normal Max, not like me, he’s not fucking bent.”

“But you like him.” she said it so simply, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, as if he had a big fucking sign pained above his head that said Thirsty-For-Steve-Harrington’s-Cock. And honestly? He might as well have.

“Look Max,” he started. He was tired, emotionally and physically drained. He just wanted this conversation to be over with. He wanted her to go away. He wanted her to finally tell him that she was disgusted and never wanted to see him again. He wanted her to tell him to stay away from Steve, to keep his disgusting little hands away from her friend. He knew it was coming, at this point the dancing around was the worst part. “I know that it’s wrong, and disgusting, and sinful or whatever the fuck. I know. I tell myself every goddamn day. So if you’re going to-”

“Billy.” she cut him off, watery eyes and crestfallen look still staring at him as if she were seeing his very soul. “I don’t care.” and that was… not what he was expecting. If this were a movie, at this point the script would read ‘queue record scratching noise’. He felt like he had been slapped in the face. This was not what was supposed to happen. In fact, he was supposed to get slapped in the face. “I mean, I don’t-” she continued, struggling to find the right words. “I don’t get it, okay? Like, it’s weird. It’s really, really weird to think about, and I don’t-” she gave a frustrated huff, “But it doesn’t matter, okay? I- you’re my family Billy, and maybe it’s weird, and I don’t really want to think about it, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand, but you’re still my family.”

Billy didn’t even have words. He didn’t think he could find the right ones if he tried, hell, he didn’t think he could find any ones if he tried. But Max just kept staring at him with those big expectant eyes, very obviously not hitting him and screaming at him. Why was she not hitting him and screaming at him?

“I love you, Billy.” she continued, “And, I’m not saying that I think it’s wonderful and I’m so happy for you and this is so fantastic, but it doesn’t matter. I lost you Billy, for months. I thought I was never going to see you again, and it made me want to die. I am never, ever losing you again. Not over anything, and especially not over this.”

Let it be known that Billy Hargrove is not a hugger. He and Max had hugged a total of two times. Once when she was 11 and he was 14 and they had gotten into some big fight over something stupid and Susan made them hug and make up. The only other time that Max and Billy had hugged was the day that he had shown up in the Byers’ kitchen after Hopper had handcuffed him to his car and practically forced him inside. Max and Billy did not hug. But when the girl and her too wet eyes and her too snotty nose shot across the mattress to wrap her arms around his chest and tuck her face into his neck, Billy let her. He sat there, frozen, mind somehow running a million miles an hour while not moving at all. He didn’t know how to comprehend it. Never in his wildest dreams had he allowed himself to so much as entertain the thought that she might not be furious. Why was she sitting there, hugging him, nuzzling into his neck? Had she not heard what he said? Had she still not comprehended that he was a dirty queer?

“Max, I don’t-”

“Stop.” she said from the crook of his neck, “Stop thinking. Stop beating yourself up. Neil is a fucking asshole who deserved to rot in hell, and fuck you for thinking that I am anything like him.”

Billy felt the pricklings in the corner of his eyes, but he refused to fucking cry again. This whole dying thing really fucked up his whole, unshakable hardass thing. But god, it was hard. He didn’t deserve Max. Not after how he had treated her for years. Not after he had done everything that he had done. He didn’t deserve her hugging him, crying for him, telling him that she is still there for him.

Neither of them spoke for some time. They just sat there on the mattress, holding each other in their arms, the soft ticking of the clock was the only thing keeping Billy from floating away. Max was the first one to break the silence.

“I’m sorry I asked. I just, I thought that I was crazy, and I… it doesn’t matter. I’m sorry for causing this.”

Billy shook his head, even though there was no point to it, Max couldn’t see him. He wrapped his arms tighter around her, pulling her close and feeling her weight against his chest. He tucked his head into her messy red hair, inhaling her flowery shampoo. He closed his eyes, realizing how heavy they were for the first time that night. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Buoyancy came and went with the appearance of a new razor thin scar along Will Byers’ hairline.

He had woken up that Thursday morning feeling unusually refreshed for someone who had stayed up until one in the morning working on a new sketch. He had an image in his mind and he knew that he would never have been able to relax enough to drift off to sleep if he didn’t first get the idea onto paper. So he had sat at his desk, working diligently with the new charcoals that Jonathan had gotten him for his birthday last year. As he worked his eyes became heavier and his fingers smeared with messy black pigment, but he had needed to get it finished. By the time he had made his final touches the clock read quarter after one and Will felt as though he could have slept for 48 hours.

It was now 6:30 am, and Will was rolling out of bed to get dressed for school.

He pulled his comforter up and tucked it under the pillows. His fingers left a soft grey smear on the fabric, and he realized that perhaps he hadn’t cleaned up as well as he normally would have the previous night. He looked down at his hands. His fingers wore a few light smudges and there was black caked under his fingernails.

WIll sighed, making his way into the bathroom to scrub off the charcoal. The hot water felt wonderful on his sleep stiff fingers, and he couldn’t help but sit at the sink for a few moments, just enjoying the way the water ran over his palms and between his fingers.

He had gotten a shower the night before, so instead he grabbed the comb out of the drawer and waved it under the water for a few seconds. He turned his attention to the bathroom mirror, starting to run the damp comb through his sleep tousled hair.

As he brushed through his hair, his eyes caught on something on his forehead, at the base of his hairline. It was thin, and at first Will had thought there was a stray piece of hair. But as he fixed his gaze more intently on the spot, he realized that what he was looking at was a new thin scar.

Will let out a small, almost inaudible gasp. He couldn't help the way his gut twisted at the sight. He hadn’t done anything to his forehead. The scar was from his soulmate.

It was illogical, he knew, to let his mind immediately drift to Mike. He didn’t mean to, it wasn’t a conscious decision. But still, he couldn’t help but run through everything that the boy had been doing last night, thinking of any way that he could have given himself a new scar.

After school he had simply been heading home to have dinner and presumably spend the evening playing video games on his NES. Could something have happened that evening? Could he have fallen down the stairs and hit his head on the banister? Or maybe Karen had finally made good on that haircut that she had been threatening for months, and there was an incident. Maybe Holly had brought home a stray cat which could sense Mike and his irrational fear of felines and attacked him with its razor sharp stray cat claws.

He wanted to squash down those thoughts. It was impossible. There was no way that Mike Wheeler was Will’s soulmate. Not in this universe at least, and Will had seen a different universe, it wasn’t exactly a preferable reality. But he couldn’t keep his mind from wandering through what ifs.

Surely Mike would have radioed the party if something had happened that would result in a scar. Maybe it had been something embarrassing, and he hadn’t wanted to tell them. Or maybe, Will thought to himself with a giddy feeling in his chest, he had already figured out that Will was his soulmate and he didn’t know how to tell him.

Okay, he really, really needed to stop. He was feeling good, hopeful, nervous, and he was going to end up crushed. Mike Wheeler was not his soulmate. Mike Wheeler was straight and normal, and definitely not the least bit interested in the likes of Will Byers. Hell, they weren’t even good friends anymore, let alone each other's perfect match. Ever since that night that Will had realized that he was maybe possibly a little bit in love with his best friend and abruptly kicked him out, things had been awkward. Willl hadn’t even really seen Mike since then, not in a one on one situation anyway. Things just didn’t click right anymore. Conversation was strained and difficult, and there was a tension in the air that only Will could fully comprehend. Mike Wheeler was absolutely definitely not his soulmate. There was no way.

But, he could be. It wasn’t impossible. No matter how outrageous and outlandish and totally improbable, there was a chance that Mike could be his soulmate.

What would he say to him if he waltzed into school and came face to face with the boy with a matching razor thin scar at the top of his forehead? How do you even react in that situation? Will liked to think that he would say something clever and flirty and Mike would break out into that big contagious grin that Will had been a little bit in love with since the first time he saw it. He liked to think that Mike would slide their fingers together, rub the pad of his thumb over the back of Will’s hand. He liked to think that Mike would look at him with those big brown eyes that made Will’s heart melt. He liked to think that he would give him this look that only he knew the meaning of. He liked to think that after school they would sneak away and Mike would finally show him if his lips were really as soft as they looked.

Although, Will was much too awkward for that and Mike would be much too panicked, he thought to himself.

In all reality, Will would probably just stand there frozen, staring at Mike like he had grown an extra head. Mike would be confused at first, but then his eyes would find the small scar on his friend’s head. He would panic, probably run off. Will wouldn’t see him for a day or two. That was okay. Mike would need time to adjust to that kind of idea, and Will was really good at giving people space. Eventually he would come around though. He would slowly start hanging around Will again. He would act as though everything was normal, as if they hadn’t just experienced the most important moment of their lives. Will would let him. After a while, Mike would casually start to ease into it, sitting closer to Will, grabbing his hand under the table, hugging him more often for just a bit too long to be normal. Will wouldn’t make him move any faster than he was comfortable with. But then finally, one day, he would go for it, kiss him, hold him, tell him that he was all that he ever wanted, and Will Byers would probably die just a little bit in the best possible way.

He took a deep breath. His heart was fluttering, he felt as if it were going to race right out of his chest. His gut was swooping and his palms were sweaty. He needed to get a move on.

He thought about Mike Wheeler and the razor thin scar the entire time he was getting ready. Minutes felt like hours as they ticked past, and the closer it came to 7:15, when Will and Jonathan would usually leave, the more nauseous he felt. By the time he was dressed and packed up for school, it was 7am, and his stomach felt so twisted that he couldn’t bring himself to eat breakfast.

“Feeling okay Will? “ Jonathan questioned from his seat at the table, where he was finishing off a bowl of what was obviously a generic rip off version of Frosted Flakes. “Icing Flecks” the box read in the big white font that was just on the side of too blue for the company to be sued over. Will hated Frosted Flakes. It was gross and bland and felt like eating cardboard that someone dipped in watered down sugar. Plus, it got soggy in like five minutes. He didn’t imagine he would like “Icing Flecks” any better.

He hummed affirmatively as he swirled around his glass of orange juice. He hadn’t even attempted to pour himself a bowl of cereal (one of the obviously superior cereals, like Lieutenant Crackle) because he knew that he would never actually eat it, and he hated wasting. So instead he sat with the world's smallest glass of orange juice, staring at it as if it would give up and drink itself.

Jonathan gave him a quizzical look, but he didn’t push him any more. He grabbed his now empty bowl and rinsed it off in the sink before grabbing his car keys off the wall beside the front door. “Well if you’re not going to eat breakfast finish off your juice and let's head out. I’d like to get to work a little bit early today so that I can work on some prints in the dark room.”

Will felt the jolt in his stomach as he stood from the table, walking his glass over to the sink. He was leaving now. He was going to school, where he was going to see Mike. He tried to push down the nervousness in his gut, he really did. There was no reason for him to work himself up like this. Mike was not his soulmate. But no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get the image of Mike with a small matching scar on his forehead out of his mind.

The ride to school seemed to take a millenia and no time at all. His mind was racing and his gut twisting the whole time. He couldn’t stop his thoughts but at the same time it was hard to think with Jonathan’s Mötley Crüe blaring through the car speakers. It felt like he had woken up on the morning of a trip, like he was waiting to go to the amusement park or something. Will had never gone on a big family vacation, he had never stayed in a hotel. He had never seen the ocean or even a different state. But every other year his mom saved up enough money to take him and Jonathan to the amusement park for the day. It felt like that feeling again. He was incredibly nervous but excited. He couldn’t wait to get there, but he was also a little bit terrified.

Finally the car pulled up to the school parking lot, but before Will could jump out of the car, Jonathan put a hand on his knee, turning the speakers way down.

“Seriously Will, what’s up? Is something going on at school? I feel like you're jumping out of your skin.” He looked so earnest, so concerned, and Will felt a little bit guilty. He wanted to be able to talk about this stuff with Jonathan, and if the circumstances were different he could. He wanted to go to his brother with questions and worries, he wanted to get advice, and support. He wanted to depend on his big brother. But he can’t, not about this. Maybe if Mike was a girl, maybe if Will was normal, then he could talk to Jonathan. But he wouldn’t understand. All that it would do was cause problems.

“Nothing’s wrong.” He responded, trying to give his brother his most reassuring smile. He hoped that Jonathan would let it go. He had never been too overbearing, but he was always a little overprotective.

Jonathan gave him a bit of a sad smile, and looked as though he were about to let the boy go when suddenly his eyes narrowed, his eyes focusing in on WIll’s face. “What did you do to your head?” He asked, concerned. Will felt his gut twist. It was okay, it was normal, it happens to everyone. Will wasn’t doing anything wrong by having a soulmate, and Jonathan would have no idea that that soulmate isn’t some respectable, pretty, girl next door.

“It’s not from me.” he said in a small voice, and suddenly Jonathan’s face lit up with a bright smile.

“Oh! Congratulations man.” He lifted his hand from Will’s knee, patting him once on his shoulder. “Guess it will be easy to recognize.” he grinned at the boy, and Will gave him a small smile in return. Let's hope not, he thought to himself.

Jonathan stared at the scar for another second before nodding, the smile still lingering at the corners of his mouth. “Alright, well, you better get in there. Wouldn’t want you to be late.” he said before turning back to his dashboard, turning the music back up loud enough to make the sides of the car rumble when the bass was hit.

Will nodded, thanking Jonathan for the ride before he hopped out of the car and making his way into the building. He felt like he might throw up again. God, that would probably genuinely be the worst thing that could ever happen to him. His whole body was practically vibrating. He wanted to turn around and run back out of the building.

Every time that someone looked at him he thought that they must be staring at his forehead. The scar was mostly hidden behind his hair. It was long and fell in front of his forehead naturally, his mom called it a mop. He knew that no one at school paid enough attention to his hairline to even register that there was a new scar there, but he still felt exposed.

When he finally made it to his homeroom, he stopped in front of the doorway. He had to physically take a few deep breaths before he could make himself enter. Mike was in there. There was no going back after this. It was the moment of truth.

He pushed the door open and was met with the waves of high school chatter. He was still a bit early, so everyone was out of their seats, talking amongst themselves as the rest of the class poured in. Will’s eyes scanned the room until they caught on Mike. He was in the back corner, sitting on top of Lucas’ desk as he flipped through what appeared to be a new comic book.

Will made his way over to the two of them. He felt like his backpack weighed a million pounds but his chest was even heavier. It was like there was a sea of anxiety rolling around in his lungs weighing him down with every step and hindering his ability to breath.

When he made it within a few feet from their desk, the two boys looked up to see who was approaching. When they recognized Will, they nodded, tossing him a respective good morning and what's up?

Mike was looking up at him, and Will couldn’t help the way his eyes immediately went to his forehead. His heart felt as though it was beating so rapidly the entire room must be able to hear it. His eyes traveled over the pale freckled flesh, searching the area just below his hairline where he found…

Nothing. Not a scar or a scrape of even a smudge. Just pale, milky skin, not yet blemished with pubescent acne and oils.

Will felt his heart drop through his chest, past his feet and through the floor. There was a pit in his stomach, opening wider and wider, and if he didn’t act quickly all of his insides would spill out onto the floor. He felt like he was going to throw up, he felt like he couldn’t breath, he felt like he was going to burst into tears at any second.

God he was so stupid. He knew that Mike wasn’t his soulmate. He knew that there was no possible way that he could ever have something like that in his life, something good. Fuck. Why was he such an idiot? Why had he let himself hope like that? Hadn’t he realized by now that people like him don't get happy endings? Not in Hawkins fucking Indiana.

Why hadn’t he squashed down all of those thoughts? Why had he entertained them even for a second? He had known not to hope like that. All he was doing was setting himself up for this exact situation!

He felt his book bag slip off of his shoulders and fall to his feet. It hit the ground with what he was sure was a rather large bang, but he barely registered the noise. His ears were ringing too loudly. Fuck. He needed to get out of there right now before he did something that he would regret, like crying in the middle of homeroom in front of Mike fucking Wheeler.

Mike’s face twisted into one of deep concern and anxiety as he watched his friend. Will wanted to scream. “Will?! Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

Will didn’t respond and he didn't give him a chance to ask anymore questions. He turned on his heel and he ran.

-

Steve Harrington was about three hits into some wack ass weed from California or some shit when he decided that he should be president of the United States.

His first order of business would be to make a law that every high tension and devisive decision must be made while stoned out for your fucking mind.

It would solve so many problems! Nothing in government actually gets done because everyone is so busy fighting. It’s like they all collectively decided to shove polls up their asses before going in to work. Everyone would be so much more laid back and willing to work together. Hell, they’d even come up with better ideas! Steve had definitely come up with some of his best ideas while floating through another dimension- not literally, because he had done that too and that was not fun- but figuratively. Of course, that is also when he had made some of his worst decisions. But there would be enough people with good and bad decisions to balance it all out in the end.

It didn’t just work for passing laws either. Steve figured that he could realistically end the Cold War after one meeting with Gore Back Chev or whatever if they got stoned. He had seen the footage, he watched the news and shit. He and Reagan were always so stiff. Even when they tried to act natural it was like, painful to watch. Steve would put money on coming to an agreement after one meeting while stoned.

Really, how hard could it be? Reagan did it, and all he had ever done was like, play a cowboy in some movies or something. Apparently all you needed to do was play a convincing enough American dream boy, and like, Steve had been doing that his whole life. Who knew that having parents that couldn’t give a shit about him unless they needed him to look pretty for a promotional picture or dress up for a company dinner could actually be preparing him for such a future?

He should thank them, he thought to himself. He never thanked his parents for anything. He should call his mom and let her know that she is the best mom in the world and that because of her he could totally be the president. Steve would make a really fucking good president too. He should tell her, she would agree with him, or maybe not, but he should still tell her.

Where were his parents anyway? They normally let the housekeeper know, for emergencies. Damn, if only Steve still lived in Loch Nora. What number would he even call? He could probably guess. How long would it take to guess what number to call to reach his parents? Probably a long time. There were like, a million billion phone numbers.

“Hey Robin?” He asked. They were driving to the lake in Robin’s old minivan. She was driving, the wind blowing her short choppy hair back and around her face, tossing and tangling it. There was a lazy grin on her face as she drove down the long country road, her eyes fixed on the asphalt. Steve was in the passenger's seat because he had called shotgun, damn it, and even though Nancy had tried to run to the car and snag the front seat like an asshole, who ignored shotgun rules, Steve had got there first. So Nancy and Jonathan were sitting in the very back on the bench seat. Nancy was lying lazily across the seat, her hair sprawled out across Jonathan’s lap. Billy was sitting in the middle, head resting against the window and eyes studying the passing trees.

Robin hadn’t answered him, eyes still fixed on the road in front of her, so Steve tried again, his voice rising in a high pitched, sing-song tone. “Ro-bin.” He reached over to flick her cheek, but his arm was heavier than he remembered and he ended up simply batting lazily at the air in front of him.

She didn’t answer immediately, and Steve thought that he was going to have to try again. But after a second she finally spoke up, “What do you want, dingus?”

Steve hesitated, what had he wanted? His eyebrows scrunched up in concentration as he tried to remember why he had wanted the girl’s attention in the first place. What was he going to ask her? He was going to call his parents. Why was he going to call his parents again? Oh right, he was going to be president. If he were president he would change phone numbers so that you just typed in someone’s name, that would be a lot less confusing. Why was it numbers anyway? Who remembers that shit? If it was just your name you would never forget it. How stupid would that be? If Steve didn’t know his parents’ names. That would be kinda funny.

Although, there were probably some people in the world who have the same name. That’s stupid, they probably got mixed up all the time. That should be illegal. Steve would do that too. Make it illegal to pick a name that someone else already has. That’s like, stealing, and stealing is bad. So why can you take someone’s name? If phone numbers were your name and someone else had your name that wouldn’t work. Maybe he could number them, like, Steve Harrington 1 and Steve Harrington 2. Then you would just have to remember one number instead of… 10! Ten numbers! That’s fucking crazy. How is anyone ever supposed to to remember so many different sets of ten numbers?

Oh right, that's what he had wanted.

“How many phone numbers do you think there are?”

Robin glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Her face twisted up in thought. Steve couldn’t help the giggle that came out of him. She looked kind of stupid. It was like she had smelled something really bad. Holy shit, had she smelled something bad? Steve had gotten a shower like, right before they left. But what if he had forgotten something important? Like… like when his grandma had always told him not to forget to wash the inside of his belly button but he always forgot anyway. Maybe he had forgotten about washing his bellybutton for so many years that it could stink up the whole car but Steve didn’t even notice because he was so used to the smell.

Oh fuck. If his belly button stunk that bad Billy would never like him. Billy was so pretty. Steve didn’t want Billy to think he was smelly and gross. He glanced back at the other boy who was still watching the passing trees out the window. His sandy blond hair fell in rings around his face and shoulders. His blue irises stood in stark contrast with his bloodshot eyes. His eyelids drooped lazily and his soft, pretty lips were turned upwards into the faintest of smiles. He looked like an angel or something. Steve just wanted to sit and stare at him forever. That was a lie. He wanted to do a lot more than stare. He wanted to run his fingers through his blond curls, they were probably so soft. He wanted to press soft kisses all over his neck and shoulders and face. He wanted to loop his fingers through his belt loops and pull him closer, feel their hips and their chests press together. He wanted to press their lips together, kiss him softly and slowly, then harder and faster, taste him on his tongue. But none of that could ever actually happen. So instead, he would just stare, and hope to god that his face didn’t give away everything that he didn’t want anyone to know.

“I don’t know, that’s a stupid question.” Robin spoke up from beside him.

Steve didn’t think that was stupid question, although most of his questions were stupid questions, so maybe he was just stupid. He rolled his neck, feeling the weight of his head. His head was so heavy. Robin was right when she said that he had a big head. How did his neck carry that around all day? His neck was so strong, his neck must be, like, the strongest neck ever. Were heads supposed to weigh that much? That couldn’t be good for his neck. What if his head was actually abnormally heavy? What if his head was so heavy that one day it just fell off of his neck and then he died?

“It’s not stupid,” he countered after he finally remembered that he was in the middle of a conversation and if his neck had supported his head for 19 years it was probably not going to give out any time soon. “There’s probably like a million billion phone numbers.”

Nancy bust out laughing from the back seat, as if that were the funniest thing she had ever heard. “There’s not a million billion phone numbers, Steve. There aren’t even a million billion people!” She had a pretty laugh, Steve noted. It was so light, so genuine. Although, she was wrong, of course. There were so many people in the world, like, so many he couldn’t even count. He had definitely been told how many people there were in the world before, and there was definitely a billion in there somewhere. Did Nancy even understand how many people there were all over the world? Like, so many. The world is so big, there were definitely at least a million billion people in the world.

“There’s definitely a million billion people all over the world Nancy.” he countered, turning in his seat to look back at the girl.

Billy turned away from the window, eyes moving to meet Steves. He had such pretty eyes, like the ocean. Or, probably like the ocean. Steve had never actually seen the ocean. That’s a lie, he had been to the ocean once when he was really little. He had probably been five or six years old, and he had gone to the beach with his parents. He only knew that from the handful of pictures that he had from his childhood. By the time he was old enough to really remember things, his parents had stopped bringing him along to places. Anyways, Billy’s eyes looked like what Steve imagined the ocean looked like. Deep and mysterious, hiding so many secrets.

“There are five billion people in the world.” He spoke confidently as if it were just a fact that everyone knew. Steve thought that there should definitely be more people than that in the world. The world is so big, you can't even walk around it! But Billy was so confident, maybe he was right. How did he know that? He was so smart. He was like, the smartest person that Steve knew.

“How long do you think it would take for me to call five billion phone numbers?” he asked earnestly. Billy was like a genius. If anyone would know the answer it would be him. Why couldn’t Steve be as smart as Billy? He could be like a rocket scientist or something. If Steve became president then he would make Billy his head rocket scientist. Do presidents have head rocket scientists? Probably. Reagan’s trying to make a space force like fucking star wars to fight the russians or some shit. Reagan probably has a head rocket scientist.

“Why do you need to call all five billion phone numbers?” Robin questioned.

Steve’s eyes shot back to the girl who was staring at him quizzically. He had the sudden urge to reach out and grab the steering wheel from her to keep the car on course. He squashed that down though. He had made that mistake the very first time that they had ever gotten stoned in Robin’s minivan. She was talking to him, and she kept glancing over as she talked, which made Steve really anxious. He started thinking, she’s not paying attention, she's going to drive off the road, or hit someone, or hit an animal who ran out in front of her. His brain started spiraling into all of the different things that could happen in Robin didn’t keep her eyes on the road at all times until finally he had convinced himself that the only logical thing to do was to take the wheel and keep them driving in the right direction. Robin’s steering was perfectly fine, however when Steve had abruptly tried to hijack her car in the middle of driving, they really did almost crash. He reminded himself of this. Robin was fine. Robin knew how to drive.

“I need to call my parents.” he responded, still eyeing the girl who had turned back to the road. She looked concerned when he said that, shooting him a questioning look out of the corner of her eye. She knew that he hadn’t spoken to his parents since the big fight he had with them when he finally left to move in with her.

She opened her mouth to respond but before she could Nancy spoke up from her place in the back, “Why don’t you just call their number then? Why do you have to call every<:em> number?” she was still laying across the seat, staring up at the ceiling.

“Uh, cause I don’t know their number, duh.” he said. Really, Nancy was supposed to be the smart one. Guess she better watch out for Billy, who was now taking her spot as Steve’s smartest friend. Maybe they could battle to the death for the position. Ha! That would be hilarious. Except… maybe not. Steve knew first hand how good of a fighter Billy is. Nancy wouldn’t stand a chance. Guess Billy wins by default. Unless Nancy could come up with some super sneaky fighting tactics, like in the movies when the little guy has to fight the big tough guy but he always wins because he outsmarted him. Or maybe that doesn’t work either, because Billy is, as previously mentioned, like, a genius. “They usually leave a number with the housekeeper for emergencies, but I don’t live there anymore. So I don’t know it.” He added with a shrug.

Billy leaned forward in his seat to hand the half smoked blunt up to Steve and Robin. It was the third one, but there were… one, two, three, four, five! Five of them. So Steve didn’t feel too bad about it. He grabbed the joint, pulling it to his lips and inhaling deeply. He held in the pungent smoke until his lungs burned and he slowly exhaled, managing to hold back all but a few coughs. He gave himself a mental pat on the back as he passed it over to Robin.

“Why don’t you just call your old house and ask the housekeeper for the emergency number?” Billy asked, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and Steve felt as if he had just been slapped in the face in the best possible way. Of course! Billy definitely wins the spot for Steve’s smartest friend. How did he come up with such genius shit? He must have, like, an IQ of 5,000.

Robin put the van into park as Steve realized that they had arrived at the lake. It was the end of October, too cold to swim, but they would be able to take a lot of pretty pictures there. He pulled off his seat belt, hopping out of the van and into the grass, watching as the others piled out as well.

When Billy stumbled out of the car Steve marched over to him, grabbing him by the shoulders and staring intensely into his big startled eyes.

Billy was standing frozen, he looked as if he were holding his breath. “Steve,” he spoke low and darkly, his voice had a kind of growl to it that Steve hadn’t heard since before Starcourt. “Let go of me.”

Steve immediately released the boy, taking a few steps back. “Sorry, sorry. No touching, got it.” he rushed. He had obviously upset the boy, and that had not been his intention. All he wanted to do was tell him how fucking incredible he was. Maybe that would make him feel better. He should still tell him. “I just wanted to tell you,” he looked into Billy’s big blue eyes pointedly. “That you are like, literally the smartest person on the planet. Like, you could be like, Albert Einstein, if Albert Einstein was a lot cooler and a lot hotter.”

Billy, who had been staring at Steve with what was obviously a very guarded expression, suddenly flushed red. His lips fell apart just the smallest amount and in that moment Steve had really, really wanted to kiss him. He set his jaw, firing back sarcastically, “Careful there Pretty Boy. You going all Elton John on me? Gonna write me a love song?”

And the thing is, Steve knew that he was just being an ass, but he couldn’t help but think, yeah, he could definitely write Billy a kick ass love song. It would be like, wicked sweet and all mushy and shit, but with a lot of guitar and bass because Billy loves that shit. It would be like, the best fucking love song on the planet. Of course, that was a really queer thing to say, and Steve knew that if he told Billy as much he would get his teeth knocked in. But Steve had already known from a long series of incidents, and therefore should not have been at all surprised, that his brain and his mouth tended to do their own thing when he’s stoned.

“I could,” Steve fired back, in what he hoped was a tone just humorous enough to pass as sarcastic. “I could write you a kickass love song. Super sappy and shit. I would fucking knock you off your feet Hargrove.”

Billy, surprisingly, didn’t punch him. Instead he threw his head back and laughed good naturedly, so Steve figured he was doing something right. “Yeah?” he questioned through his smirk, “You gonna lay one on me at the end? Show me that Harrington charm I used to hear so much about?”

Let it be known that Steve Harrington did in fact recognize that it perhaps wasn’t the best idea to allow himself to get high around Billy Hargrove. He was playing a very risky game here, just toeing the line of giving too much away. But he hadn’t gotten shot, yet. “Why?” he questioned, “Hoping for some action?”

Yeah, Steve definitely should have declined to partake when the blunt started to get passed around. But Jonathan had legitimately said the words, “good shit from California,” and what was Steve supposed to do? Say no? Yeah right.

By this point the rest of the gang had climbed out the van, and they were now making their way over to the lake, where Jonathan was hoping to snap a few pictures with the water. The two boys were walking side by side, their bickering starting to feel more and more natural by the second.

“With you?” Billy raised his eyebrows, no longer fighting the smile spreading across his face. He took another hit of the joint before passing it over to Nancy. “Course not. If I wanted a high maintenance bitch I’d fuck Carol.”

Steve hummed, they were on the edge of the lake now, staring out over the water, “That’s fortunate, because I can’t get down with someone who thinks looking like Jon Bon Jovi is a legitimate fashion statement.” this of course, was a complete lie. Steve lives for Billy’s whole glam rock thing. It made him absolutely crazy.

Billy turned to him, arms crossed over his chest, “S’cuse me?”

Steve shrugged with all the nonchalance that he didn’t feel. “Yeah, sorry man. It’s just like, can you be any less original? The tortured bad boy musician thing is so tired, and no offense, the music kinda sucks.”

One moment he was picking at his nails, pointedly not looking at Billy and feeling pretty proud of himself. The next moment, there were two strong hands on him, pushing him forcefully forward, towards the freezing lake water below. Luckily, Steve managed to get a grip on the wrist of his attacker as he went down, pulling the other party into the water with him.

The water was practically icey, the cold seeping into his bones. His heart was racing with adrenaline and it took him a few seconds to overcome the disorientation and break through the surface of the water. Billy was beside him, wading in the chilled lake water. His hair was plastered down across his face and he looked like a drowned rat, but he was laughing. Robin, Jonathan, and Nancy were standing at the edge of the water, staring at them disapprovingly. But all that Steve could focus on was the sound of Billy’s laugh. It was so full, so genuinely happy, more so than Steve thought he had ever heard from the boy.

His face was lit up and his eyes were sparkling. Steve couldn’t help but think that he looked more alive than he had ever seen him, before or after Starcourt.

Steve wasn’t sure when he had started smiling, but it was plastered across his face now. He probably looked like a maniac, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. His chest felt lighter than it had in ages.

He looked back over to the boy trending water beside him and his chest filled with a kind of overwhelming affection that he couldn’t describe if he tried. He never wanted to lose that feeling. It felt like safety. It felt like joy. It felt like something real and good and authentic.

It felt like coming home.

Chapter Text

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.