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Even When It's Different, Everything's The Same

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Steve frowned as he shoved his foot against the seat in front of him.

“Feet off the seats, Steven,” his father said. Steve rolled his eyes but put his foot down, crossing his arms and staring out the window at the passing cornfields. Not long now.

“I still don’t get why we had to move,” he grumbled. Claudia turned to look at him, a gentle smile on her face.

“We just think it’s good to get away from the city. You and Dusty are going to have to adjust, but I know you’ll love it. I grew up here and it’s way more fun than you’d think!” Steve gave her a strained smile. She meant well, he knew that. And she honestly believed that he’d find something fun to do in a tiny shithole like Hawkins, Indiana. Maybe she forgot that cow tipping wasn’t exactly the same as the clubs in New York.

“Sure, Ma,” he said, looking back out the window. “I just don’t get why we decided to move after school started,” he mumbled. Dustin was still conked out, having exhausted himself earlier going over the entire story of The Hobbit, down to the last tiny detail, otherwise he would have agreed. Steve had a bit more fun listening to the story than he’d like to admit, but Dustin had been so enthusiastic, it was hard to not feel the same. Unless you were his Father.

“Steven,” he said, voice tight, “I need you to try.” Steve rolled his eyes and slumped further in his seat. “No more fights, no more shirking off responsibility.” Steve mouthed the next part along with him, tired of this same fucking talk. “A man needs to be respectable and responsible if he wants to get a job.” Steve silently fake gagged, glad his father’s eyes were on the road. “If you want something more out of life than being a greasy trouble maker, you need to buckle down, you got that?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied. His father let out a sigh and the final hour of the trip was spent in silence except for the crackling radio.

Steve wasn’t necessarily impressed by the house when they arrived, but it was kinda cool walking in. He’d never lived in a house before, just apartments, so the thought that they had this much space to fill, that his room was actually gonna be bigger than a closet and he wouldn’t have to share with Dustin? That was definitely cool.

What small possessions they had were already in the living room, waiting to be arranged and unboxed. They would have to get more things to fill the house out, but that would be an ongoing sort of thing. His dad had to get his paycheck first. Before Steve could even make it up the stairs his father stopped him, face hard when he said,

“Dustin gets the bigger room. No arguments.” Steve bristled and rolled his eyes, but nodded.

“Fine.” His father narrowed his eyes, a warning, and Steve shrugged out of his grip, taking the stairs two at a time. The smallest room was in the back corner of the house with a shitty popcorn ceiling, but it was still bigger than his and Dustin’s shared room had been. Not by much, but Steve couldn’t complain. Dustin needed room for his science shit anyways. The walls were a soft blue, with one dark blue stripe going around the centerline of the walls. The beige carpet was lightly stained, but there weren’t any obvious cockroaches, so Steve was definitely not complaining. He smiled as he went to the lone window, throwing it open and sticking his head out. Their back porch was below him, a small overhang over the first half of the porch, and he smiled wide. Sneaking out from this room would be a breeze.

Honestly, he was pretty happy with it.

“Steve!” Claudia’s voice called up the stairs. He pulled his head back in, shutting the window. “Would you mind helping your father move the couch?” With a sigh, Steve dropped his bag on the floor and made his way back down the stairs.

--

Billy woke to his alarm, blaring in his ear. With a grunt he turned over in bed, slapping around to turn it off. Bleary blue eyes squinted up at the ceiling as he woke up, coming out of an unrestful sleep. Nightmares again, the sound of that thing in the night, the sound of what took Barb, echoing through his brain. Sunlight danced on his wall and he turned his head to watch, trying to will himself to get up. There was a gentle knock on his door and he pushed himself up.

“Yes?” Susan poked her head in, a small meek smile on her face.

“Morning, William,” she said. He gave her a thin smile, wishing she would just get it over with. “Sam and I will be going out to brunch before we leave, so we’d love it if you could make sure Max eats something besides waffles for breakfast?”

“Yeah,” he said, giving her another thin smile. “Sure thing.” Her smile was bright, but Billy knew it wasn’t bright for him.

“Thank you, dear. Sam has some other things he wants to talk with you about before we leave. He’s waiting at the table for you.” And with that, she closed the door, moving onto Max’s room. Billy tried to ignore the cold chill running down his spine and focus on getting dressed. As he grabbed his khakis and a plain polo, pulling them on quickly, he heard Susan telling Max about her and Sam’s plans. ”Your father and I--” Billy ignored the little twist in his gut and instead made sure his hair was presentable. It was getting long, enough to cover his eyes, but Sam thought it made him look like a “hippie queer.”

Billy pushed his thoughts away, down deep inside him where he could bottle them, and made his way to the dining room. Sam was there, reading the paper with a frown, and Billy swallowed.

“Susan said you wanted to talk with me, sir?” Sam put down the paper and sipped his coffee before gesturing for Billy to sit. Once he had, Sam interlocked his fingers and rested his elbows on the table.

“As you know, Susan and I are spending the day out for our anniversary.” Billy didn’t answer; Sam didn’t want him to. “We’ll be staying in Indianapolis overnight, and I expect the house to be spotless when we return.” His eyes narrowed and his lips thinned. “No parties, no friends past 8, and I will know if you slack in your duties at all. Max should have her homework done before she hangs out with her friends; no exceptions.” He rubbed his temple. “I know she’s been upset since her friend Jane,” Billy smartly didn’t reply that she preferred to be called El, “Disappeared, but she needs to get back to normal.”

“Yes, sir,” Billy replied. Sam frowned.

“Don’t interrupt me,” he snapped and Billy looked down at his hands, biting his lip. “You can order pizza, but only one. None of this one sausage one pepperoni crap from last time. We won’t be back until tomorrow afternoon and I fully expect you to make sure Max is to school on time in the morning.” Billy bit his lip harder. Like he didn’t already do that. There was a loud snap next to his ear and he jumped, head snapping up. Sam’s nostrils were flared as he angrily looked at Billy. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, William.”

“Sorry, sir,” he replied, trying to not mumble. Sam hated when he mumbled.

“Now, you know your chores, you know what we expect. If I hear from either of the neighbors that you didn’t follow my explicit rules? You’re going to wish you had.” And with that, he stood up, folding the paper and putting it under his arm. “Clean this up.” And he was gone. Billy looked at his coffee cup and saucer, spoon set delicately on the edge, and wished, not for the first time, he had died with his mother.

Or that whatever had taken Barb had taken him.

--

“Okay, okay, okay,” Dustin said, bouncing on the edge of Steve’s bed. It was easy with the mattress so close to the floor, only set up on a box spring, and it was Dustin’s favorite activity. Steve let him bounce, focused on getting his James Dean poster straight. “So, we’re coming in late right, so people will already have their cliques--”

“In a town this size those have been decided since elementary school,” Steve said, frowning when the poster moved again.

“--they will have decided their cliques,” Dustin pressed, ignoring him, “And I need to know how to maneuver that.” He paused in his bouncing. “You want help?” Steve shook his head, smacking some tape on the corner as he finally got it straight. “Okay,” Dustin replied, immediately going back to his previous thought. “So I don’t think I’m one of the cool kids, despite rocking the hair and jacket--”

“You just copied me,” Steve teased, still actually kind of amazed that Dustin was so excited to be his brother. Dustin scoffed.

“Maybe at first, but I don’t see you rocking this dope Superman curl,” he replied, gesturing at his forehead. Steve snorted and rolled his eyes, grabbing his Rocky poster and looking around for the best place to put it. “Anyway, despite my awesome looks, I’m probably more of a nerd--”

“Definitely a nerd,” Steve mumbled.

“--But I know from experience that you gotta give off the right nerd vibe to be accepted.” Steve nodded, his tongue sticking out slightly from between his lips as he focused. “So like, how do I show that I’m cool, but also like, smart?”

“I’d say just open your mouth,” Steve replied. Something soft hit the back of his head and he looked over his shoulder, grinning at a perturbed Dustin.

“You’re absolutely no help!” Steve rolled his eyes with a smirk and finished taping up the poster before plopping next to Dustin.

“Look, the best way to find your group is to just be yourself. I know, I know,” he said, holding up a hand as Dustin rolled his eyes and opened his mouth, “You’ve heard that all before, but I’m serious.” Dustin looked down, worrying his bottom lip. Steve pulled him into a one armed hug. “You’re gonna be hounded by these small town hicks, okay? Everyone is gonna want a piece from the Kid From New York. So figure out who only wants to talk to you because you’re new, and who actually wants to talk to you. Because you’re really cool, Dustin. X Men obsession and all.”

“But how do I tell?”

“Trust me,” Steve scoffed. “You’ll be able to tell. Plus, if anyone gives you any trouble, you just send them my way.” Dustin finally smiled at that, tucking his face against Steve’s chest as he hugged him.

“But you’ve never won a fight in your life,” Dustin said, muffled by Steve’s shirt.

“I fucking take everything back,” Steve said, shoving at Dustin who had locked his arms around Steve’s middle. “You’re not cool, you’re a little nerd and I hope you never finish your campaign--”

“Steve! Leave Lothark’s Run out of this!”

--

Billy heard Max’s feet on the stairs, quiet as she tried to sneak out.

“Did you finish your homework, Max?” He called. He heard her curse under her breath, but she did come into the kitchen, scowling.

“I have one last project to finish but it’s a group thing, so--”

“Max,” Billy sighed, cutting her off. Her face went stormy.

“God, you suck just as much as Dad sometimes,” she snapped. A chill went down Billy’s spine, turning into a weight in his stomach, and he clenched his fist around the spatula, looking back at the grilled cheese he was making. He counted his breaths, in and out, so he wouldn’t snap. Wouldn’t yell. Because then he really would be just as bad. “Fuck,” she hissed. “I’m sorry--”

“It’s fine.” He heard her mouth snap shut with a click and tried to ignore the horrible pit in his stomach. “Just-- Just be careful, okay? Nancy said you guys were being weird lately, that Mike was being especially secretive and two people are missing--”

“I know!” Max snapped, voice wavering. “Do you think I don’t know that?” Billy sighed and turned, giving Max an apologetic look. She was red, eyes glinting with unshed tears, and Billy felt like shit.

“I know you know,” he said quietly. She rubbed at her eyes and Billy grabbed a paper napkin from the table, wrapping it around the fresh grilled cheese. “Here. I know you’ll forget to eat otherwise.” She took it and gave him an awkward one armed hug.

“I promise I’m being careful,” Max said, muffled into his sweater. He gave her a one armed squeeze back.

“Good. And you know you can talk to me, right? I know we’re not the closest, but you’re my sister. I’ll always have your back.”

“Unless I say The Beatles were the best band ever--”

“Listen--” Billy began, face already twisting into an annoyed grimace. Max cut him off with a laugh. She socked his shoulder, making him smile. “Call when you get to… Whose house were you going to again?”

“Mike’s,” she said, grabbing her backpack from where she had dropped it by the door. “And I’ll call.” She threw the door open and Billy called after her,

“Don’t forget to tell Lucas you like him!” She threw up a middle finger over her shoulder and Billy snickered, closing the door. Once he had made another grilled cheese, he grabbed the phone and dialed. “Heather? Yeah. Max went to Mike’s so we should be good--” He sighed, biting the skin around his thumb. “I mean, you can tell her, but I don’t think she’ll come. Why? Because she blames me-- Yes I do know that. No, she hasn’t said it-- You can see the way she-- Yeah, no,” he shoved up from his place at the table, trying to get his rage back to a simmer. “Yeah, but you invite her, okay? Okay. Meet at my place in 20.”

--

When Steve walked into the school, he could feel the eyes settling on him, taking him in. He kept his sunglasses on, allowing himself the privacy to take everyone in without looking like it. The cliques were pretty obvious, even within the cramped hallway, and Steve immediately spotted what he assumed were the Prom King and Queen wannabes. Popped polos, pastels, and one too many scrunchies. There was a loner, shoulders hunched in as he looked at Steve over his shoulder. Or maybe not a loner, as a cute nerdy girl approached him and touched his arm, dragging his attention away from Steve.

By the time he reached the main office and had gotten his locker number, combo, and new schedule, Steve knew the word had spread. Eyes looked for him, widening when they found him to be just as cool as he’d been described. Or, at least, that’s what he assumed. No one had said a word to him, but Steve also knew he was good to look at, and had maybe made sure he was looking his best today. Had maybe spent a little extra time getting his hair slicked back just right, picking out his best jacket, and squeezed into his tightest jeans. He swaggered down the hallway, ignoring the looks while silently preening. His locker was near a door, which was absolutely fantastic. It’d be easy to slip out and skip if he ever felt the need. And he was positive he would.

“Well,” a voice drawled from beside him. He looked up and over the rim of his sunglasses, The Prom King Wannabe himself standing in front of him. His arm was around his girlfriend’s shoulders and she popped her gum with a smack, lips curled into an almost mean smile. It suited her, oddly enough. “Welcome to Hawkins High. I’m Tommy and this,” he gestured with a nod, “Is my girl Carol. We’re kinda in charge around here and figured we’d give you the old Hawkins welcome.”

“And that would be?” Steve asked, already kind of bored. Carol smirked at his comment, giving him a blatant once over. He wondered if she knew her boyfriend was doing the same thing, albeit slightly sneakier. But the boy obviously didn’t know the meaning of the word subtle.

“Spunky,” Carol replied, smacking her gum some more. “We figured we’d let you know who to spend your time with.” Tommy grinned.

“We’re definitely top of that list.” Steve wanted to choke on the air of entitlement surrounding the two, but instead he just shrugged and gave a relaxed grin. The one he knew usually worked highly in his favor. If the light flush on Tommy’s cheeks was anything to go by, it was working, too.

“Plus,” Carol added, “You should know who around here will bring you down. Word spreads fast, here,” she said. It was a warning and Steve raised a brow.

“Oh yeah?” Steve closed his locker, leaning against them with his arms crossed as he pulled off his sunglasses and stuck them on the collar of his shirt. “So who should I stay away from? Which is no guarantee I will, since I can make decisions for myself.” Tommy let out a short bray of laughter while Carol snorted.

“You’ll make the decision yourself, trust me.” She snatched his schedule from him and scanned it. “Sweet, you have most of your classes with us so we’ll show you around. And on the way, I’ll fill you in on Hawkins High.” It sounded fucking boring, but with the berth other kids gave them and the way Tommy and Carol held themselves, it was probably his best bet to stick with them. For now, at least.

“Sure,” Steve replied with a shrug. “Ain’t got anything else to do.” He pushed off of his locker, gesturing for them to lead the way. Carol looped her arm in his and pulled, Tommy falling in behind them.

“So, that accent,” Tommy said, moving slightly closer, almost stepping on the back of Steve’s shoes. The two of them obviously had very little understanding of personal space. “New York?”

“Brooklyn,” Steve said, getting a little thrill from the pair widening their eyes almost in sync. “Bit of a change.”

“I bet,” Carol whistled. She nudged Steve with a sharp nail, pointing to the loner he’d seen earlier. He was arguing in hushed voices with the same nerdy girl from before, as well as another. “Stay away from the prudes over there.” Steve watched as they argued, the smallest brunette with bobbed hair snapping at the blonde boy. Who looked away from her and locked eyes with Steve. He almost tripped, the boy’s eyes were so blue. The Not Loner Maybe A Prude widened his eyes a little before looking away, drawn back in by the nerdy brunette in pink cat eye glasses. Steve wrenched his eyes away, trying to focus on Carol. “--say they’re dating, but they barely even hold hands. Like, there’s waiting for marriage and then there’s weird.” Carol and Tommy snickered, letting Steve take a final glance behind him. The brunette with a bob was storming off, leaving the other two to whisper to each other.

“Where do you guys smoke around here?” Steve asked. Carol hummed and pulled him towards a set of doors.

“Under the bleachers is best,” she said, voice low and sultry. Tommy seemed unbothered by the obvious flirting and Steve tried to ignore what it might mean. Carol’s grip on his arm didn’t loosen until they reached the bleachers and she needed it to shoo someone else away. “Move it, Buckley. Find somewhere else to read your weird poetry.”

“It’s not weird poetry, Carol,” the girl droned, snapping her book shut anyway. “It’s weird prose. Get it right.” Steve snorted and Carol huffed, crossing her arms as the girl stood, snubbing out her cig with the toe of her converse. Steve eyed the drawing of a woman’s torso, boobs out, that decorated the toe of her shoe. When he looked up, she was eyeing him, unimpressed. “Found a new victim to convert to the darkside?”

“Just get lost,” Tommy snapped. Buckley, which Steve was assumed was her last name because her parents couldn’t be that cruel, rolled her eyes and left, walking around them. Steve watched her go, flipping his zippo. Carol cleared her throat to grab his attention.

“That’s Robin. She’s another one to look out for.” Steve lit his cigarette, inhaling deeply.

“Why? Seems fine enough.” Carol made a face. “She’s an art geek. A band geek too. Pretty much a nobody.” Tommy nodded.

“Definitely not worth your time.” Steve though they were probably wrong about that, seeing as she was the first person here to make him genuinely smile. She seemed fun, interesting, and Steve made a note to seek her out later, when he could get away from Tommy and Carol. It was pretty obvious he was the most interesting thing to happen here in a long while and the two of them wouldn’t let him go without a fight. Steve took another drag, eyeing them both. They were sharing a cig, both of them watching him, and he decided to let himself enjoy the attention.

“So,” he said, smirking slightly. “What do you hicks do around here for fun?”

--

“I told you,” Billy hissed, watching Nancy storm off. “I told you she blames me.”

“Billy,” Heather sighed, exhaustion seeping off her, “She’s just upset--”

“And I’m not? You’re not? Barb was our friend too,” he snapped, glancing to see if Tommy and Carol were still hovering with the new guy. They weren’t. “I didn’t-- We got separated and I didn’t--” His stomach turned and Heather took his hand, pulling him towards their first period.

“It’s not your fault, Bills,” she said softly. He gave her hand a squeeze, letting out a shaky breath. “Seriously.” Billy decided to change the subject.

“Any other news about El?” He regretted it when Heather deflated, pushing up her glasses to rub away a tear.

“Not yet. And Dad is working with the Chief, but she’s reaching dead ends pretty much everywhere.” Her voice shook and Billy squeezed her hand again. She squeezed back. “I’m worried that if they find her she’ll-- She’ll--”

“They’re gonna find her,” Billy said, firm and sincere. They sat in the front, their usual seats, and Billy gave her hand one last squeeze before letting go. “And they’re gonna find her alive.” Heather gave him a weak smile, but it morphed into something a little brighter as she looked at the door.

“Hey,” she wiggled her brows. “Looks like that new kid is in our class.” Billy looked over his shoulder, remembering those beautiful brown eyes and plump lips, watching as the guy strolled in behind Tommy and Carol. They were talking to him, probably saying stupid shit, and Billy narrowed his eyes.

“I see Tommy and Carol already sunk their claws in,” he grumbled. “He looks like an asshole.” Heather tsked him.

“You’re the asshole. You haven’t even talked to him.” He followed Tommy and Carol to the back, looking around the room. He sent a wink Heather’s way and she giggled. “I dunno, he seems pretty charming.”

“They always do,” Billy said, annoyed. He turned to look forward, tapping his pencil against his desk. “He’s probably just another party loving dickhead.” Which is why Billy needed to stop thinking about that wink. Thinking about it being directed at him. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

“Well, either way, he’s pretty cute.” The bell rang, saving Billy from needing to answer, and he let himself get lost in Chemistry.