Steve can’t sleep, and for once, it has nothing to do with nightmares. It is the middle of the night, and the world outside his bedroom window is pitch black. His room is bathed in a soft warm light, though, as usual. He hardly ever sleeps these days without having at least two lights on – the overhead light and the lamp on his bedside table.
When Billy comes over, he often complains about the light; says it makes it impossible to sleep. So they’ve compromised. Whenever Billy spends the night these days, only the lamp by the bed stays on. It works for the both of them – Billy can sleep, and Steve … well, he can sleep, too. Because it turns out that having Billy there makes him feel safer than all the lamps in Hawkins ever could.
The overhead lamp is shut off, now. The only light source is the lamp on the bedside table, causing strange shadows to appear on the walls and in the corners of the room. Normally, those shadows would be the reason why Steve can’t sleep (or the reason why he wakes up with his heart in his throat).
Not tonight, though. Tonight, the reason why he can’t sleep is lying next to him with his face buried in Steve’s favorite pillow.
Billy is beautiful when he sleeps. He’s beautiful all the time – and Steve knows that Billy would laugh at him if he ever said it out loud, which is why he keeps it to himself – but he’s a particular kind of beautiful when he’s sleeping. He looks softer, less tense. Less like someone who wears a mask every day, even around Steve; even after everything they’ve shared by now.
Dark lashes – ridiculously long – against sunkissed skin, splattered with pale freckles that one can only really see if one gets close (and oh, how Steve loves to get close). Golden curls – now messed up and kind of unruly – splayed out over the pillow (Steve itches to reach out and touch them). And soft lips, half open, showing just the barest hint of teeth.
Billy is breathing deeply, lying on his side with one arm under the pillow and the other thrown out to the side, towards Steve; Steve’s shirt in a loose grip between sleep-slack fingers. He’s wearing one of Steve’s old school T-shirts, which has ridden up a bit. Steve lets his eyes roam over near-perfect skin, suddenly so grateful that he gets to see Billy like this. Laid bare, and with his guard down. Trusting Steve to be close to him while he rests.
It has taken them a long time to get this far. They fought each other constantly, until one day the fight had ended up with them kissing like they couldn’t get enough air unless they had their lips on each other. And for a time it was a toss-up if they would fight or make out when they crossed paths. But then one night, Billy showed up at Steve’s door and didn’t do either. He just stood there, and refused to look up. Steve had pulled him inside, and up the stairs to his room for the first time, and after that there had been no going back.
At first, they fucked with the same ferocity they had when they’d fought, but eventually, they started slipping up. A caress here, an endearment there, and suddenly they weren’t just fucking. They never really talked about the change – it just happened.
Billy still left, after. Every time. He never stayed around when they were done, so Steve found himself postponing the actual act whenever he could. They started talking, and sometimes they did their homework in Steve’s kitchen, and sometimes they shared a meal. They watched TV and laughed at movies and hung out, almost as if they were friends.
Some days, they didn’t even get to the sex part.
It was on one of those occasions that Billy first stayed the night. It’d been a Saturday, and he’d shown up unannounced at Steve’s door carrying a six-pack of beer which he wordlessly brandished as an offering when Steve opened the door. They’d spent the evening talking and drinking – just casually, not even to get drunk – and none of them had seemed to be in a hurry to take things further. Eventually, around midnight – around the time when Billy usually left – Billy started fidgeting. Steve had expected him to stand up and leave, but instead he leaned into Steve’s space and kissed him. It had been coming out of nowhere; no lewd comments, no smirks, no looks. It had been off-script, enough so that Steve leaned back and frowned.
“What?” Billy had said, and there had been something defensive about the way he held himself. And maybe it hadn’t been their intention, but they had gotten to know each other quite well by then, so Steve looked at him and saw someone who didn’t want to leave. Someone who thought that there was only one way he’d get to stay.
So instead of kissing back, Steve had leaned back in the couch and stretched out, faked a yawn.
“I’m kinda beat, man. Rain check?” Billy’s face had closed off and he stood up to leave, but Steve grabbed his wrist and pulled him down in the couch. “You don’t have to go yet. The movie’s not over.”
Hesitating, Billy had sat down again. Twenty minutes later, Steve was leaning on him, pretending to sleep. Ten minutes after that, the movie ended. But Billy hadn’t moved. It was maybe half an hour later when Billy’s breaths had evened out in sleep, too. Steve had smiled to himself before he got more comfortable, and drifted off to sleep for real.
Billy had still been there in the morning, and it had been the start of … something more. Nowadays, Billy would stay over at least one night a week, provided that Steve was home alone. Sometimes they had sex, sometimes they just hung out together, but when they fell asleep they always fell asleep together, either in Steve’s bed or on the couch. All wrapped up in each other.
And Steve never slept as well as he did with Billy by his side.
Tonight, he doesn’t sleep, though. Because there is a shadow on Billy’s face that isn’t caused by the bad lighting, but which Billy has worn since he showed up, hours earlier.
“Hey”, Steve said when he opened the door. “You’re early, you–“ The smile froze on his face as he got a good look at Billy. At the way he was fidgeting, at the way his shoulders were tense and his face was turned away. It was an all too familiar sight. Steve’s heart sank into his stomach. “What was it this time?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Steve got quiet. Bit his lip and took a deep breath, but opened the door wider in silent invitation. Some of the tension bled out of Billy’s shoulders and he went inside, brushing his hand against Steve’s on his way in – seemingly on accident. Steve closed the door behind him and watched as he kicked off his shoes and bent down to arrange them neatly by the wall, as per Steve’s mother’s instructions. His movements were stiff. Steve was pretty sure he knew why.
“You can’t let him keep doing this to you,” he blurted, and watched as Billy straightened up, his back to Steve. “He’s going to really hurt you, one of these days.”
“Don’t”, Billy said, again, but his voice was quiet.
Emboldened by the lack of raised voices, Steve continued; “You don’t have to go back there, you know that right? You can stay with me, and we can call Hopper and he can –“
“– he can help, Billy, he’s the Chief of Police, if anyone can help it’s him! I –“
Billy abruptly bent down again and grabbed his sneakers, before shouldering his way past Steve and back towards the front door, not saying a word. Steve, realizing he had fucked up, ran past him just in time to stop him from storming out.
“Wait”, he said, pressing his back to the door and putting a palm against Billy’s chest. “Wait. I’m sorry. Don’t go.”
Billy was clenching his jaw and frowning like he was considering just throwing Steve to the side and leaving anyway, but Steve raised his hand to Billy’s face – gently caressing the unbruised cheek with his thumb – and said, in an almost-whisper, “Stay. Please.”
And Billy melted into his touch. Closed his eyes and exhaled, and turned his face into Steve’s palm. Taking a step forward, Steve got close enough to embrace him, right there in the hallway. Billy didn’t reciprocate – was just standing there, stiff and unmoving, with his hands at his sides – but Steve could feel him trembling. When Billy spoke, his voice was trembling, too.
Steve closed his eyes too, and bit his lip to keep himself from arguing. It wasn’t a fight he would win. They’d had the same argument many times, and it usually ended either with Billy getting angry, or Billy leaving – or both. And, damn it, Steve couldn’t let him leave. Not when he was this close to breaking. So he took a couple of deep breaths until the urge to keep pushing passed, and then he took a step back and nodded. “Okay.”
Billy looked at him as if he didn’t quite believe him. To be fair, Steve almost never gave in this easily. But this time, Steve just smiled and asked, “Are you hungry?” After a breath, Billy nodded.
“Good. Pizza alright with you?”
Steve walked past him, and very deliberately brushed his hand against Billy’s on his way to the kitchen. He heard Billy’s amused huff of breath behind him, and felt relief wash over him. Crisis averted. Or at least postponed until another day.
And now here he is in bed, watching Billy sleep. He doesn’t know why Billy keeps refusing to let anyone help him, but Steve’s itching with the need to Fix Things. No one should be forced to live under the same roof as someone who keeps hurting them. Least of all Billy. Billy, who is … dear to Steve. Who started out an asshole, but who softened once Steve got to know him. Who now lets Steve clean up his wounds whenever he shows up bleeding.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Billy does let people help – he lets Steve help all the time. But it’s all temporary stuff. Sure, he will let Steve patch him up and fuss over him, and he will spend the night and eat Steve’s food and let Steve hold his hand and card his fingers through his hair … but as soon as Steve mentions getting anyone else to help, Billy will shut down.
Perhaps it’s not that Billy doesn’t want help. Perhaps it’s a matter of who can provide that help.
Steve thinks back on every time they’ve had this argument. Steve will rant at the injustice of it all, and Billy lets him. Steve will tell him that he deserves better, and Billy scoffs. Steve will tell him that he should let Hopper –
Hm. Steve frowns as the thought occurs to him.
It’s always Hopper, isn’t it? Because Hopper is the only one Steve knows who can actually help – who has the authority to actually make a difference in Billy’s situation. When Steve thinks about it, it’s always at the mention of Hopper that Billy puts his foot down, or leaves. But … Hopper’s a good guy. What can Billy possibly have against him?
Steve’s brow furrows as he mulls it over. He only knows of three instances where he has seen Hopper and Billy interact. The first time was the night at the Byers’, and Steve doesn’t want to count that one because Billy was unconscious and Steve was concussed. The second time was when he and Billy fought in the alley, in that in-between period when they didn’t know if they were friends or enemies or something else. The third time was a couple of weeks after that second time, when Hopper had inadvertently made them play nice for a whole hour, and which kind of pushed them firmly into at-least-friends territory. And while Steve doesn’t know what went down after he left them in the alley that second time, he was there for the entirety of their brief interaction that third time.
Steve looked up when Hopper approached him. It was a Sunday, and Steve had just given Dustin a ride downtown to meet up with the rest of the nerds. Steve was currently leaning against his car, considering the pros and cons of going grocery shopping at eleven am on the weekend. Pro: he’d get it done, and wouldn’t have to go again until his parents came back later in the week. Con: the store would be full of chipper old people, several of which he’d have to talk to, probably.
He was just about throw caution to the wind and grab his wallet from the car – prepared to face the older population of Hawkins – when Hopper approached him. Secretly relieved to have a reason not to enter the store yet, Steve looked up at him, eyebrows raised in question.
“Hey Hop. What’s up?”
“Are you busy right now? I need a favor.”
Steve straightened up, then.
“What kind of favor?” he asked, immediately thinking it must be something bad. The kids were safe, he’d just seen like all of them but … Demo-dogs maybe? Government goons? Some kind of otherworldly trouble, for sure.
“I need you to give someone a ride. I was going to, but Flo called and there’s been a car accident outside of town and I need to leave, like now.”
Hop did seem a little stressed, looking back at his truck with a serious expression on his face. Steve frowned. “Yeah, sure. Of course.”
“Great, thanks.” And Steve didn’t have time to wonder who needed a ride, before Hopper waved someone over. Steve turned towards the car and froze when Billy Hargrove slunk out from the passenger’s side of Hopper’s truck. His shoulders were hunched up and he wouldn’t meet Steve’s eye even as Steve stared at him in incomprehension. Why did Billy Hargrove need a ride? He had his own car! And what was Hopper doing, giving Hargrove rides anywhere? And why was Hargrove even with Hopper in the first place? Had he been arrested?
Steve had about a hundred questions, but had no time to ask them, because Hopper walked up to Hargrove and started reaching out to put his hand on the guy’s shoulder when he seemed to think better of it, and instead turned in an awkward half-circle and gestured vaguely at Steve.
“I gotta go, kid”, he said, obviously to Billy, “but Steve’ll drive you to your car.” At this, he gave Steve a look as if to confirm this, and Steve nodded hesitantly, because what else was he supposed to do? Billy glanced at him but quickly looked away, back at the Chief of Police in front of him. Hopper cleared his throat and lowered his voice, obviously trying to keep it between the two of them. Steve still heard, though. “You gonna be okay, kid?”
Billy clenched his jaw and gave a sharp nod. Hopper sighed and walked past him. Threw a “Next time, do what I say, okay?” over his shoulder, before getting in the Blazer. He started the engine, but before he drove off he waved Steve closer. Steve, slightly bewildered, passed Billy – who was busy pretending he didn’t exist – and walked up to the car. Hopper rolled down his window all the way.
“Don’t start shit this time”, he said, and pointed at Steve with a meaty finger. The words sounded gruff, but there was a glint in his eye that made Steve relax. He thought back to a couple of weeks ago when he had admitted to starting the fight between him and Hargrove, and gave a crooked smile.
“I’ll do my best”, he said. “But no promises.”
Hopper gave an exaggerated sigh, but followed it up with a smile. “I’ll take it.”
And then he drove off, leaving Steve with Billy.
Billy had gotten in Steve’s car, then, without saying a word and without looking at him, and Steve had had to ask where he needed to go. Turned out Billy had left his car at the quarry last night. When Steve asked him why, he’d mumbled something about having car troubles the night before and Hopper passing by and giving him a ride into town.
Steve didn’t react to it then, but now he knows that Billy had tried to spend the night in his car. Again. He never mentioned any details, but Steve knows it was because of his dad. Back then, though, he didn’t know what was going on, and just took it at face value – even when the first thing Billy did when he unlocked his car was to throw a random blanket off the driver’s seat.
Steve looks at Billy, now. Lying in a soft bed, indoors; warm and safe. His heart clenches when he thinks about the nights before they started hooking up – before they grew close enough that Billy chose his place over wherever else he would go on the nights he couldn’t stay home. He wishes, irrationally, that he’d been there for Billy earlier.
He knows that he couldn’t have been. They weren’t friends, then. They didn’t like each other. Billy would have clocked Steve on principle if Steve had suggested they hang out at his place. But still, looking at Billy now, knowing there are bruises under his T-shirt … Steve wishes things had been different. That he could have helped earlier.
Billy scrunches his nose up in his sleep, looking like a particularly adorable lion cub, and something warm blooms in Steve’s chest. He smiles to himself before he continues his earlier train of thought.
Hopper hadn’t said anything after he made Steve act as a chauffeur, and neither had Billy, which is why Steve hasn’t really thought about it until now. He can’t imagine what could have happened to make Billy hate Hopper so much – from what he had seen back then, they had been civil to each other. More than that, even. Billy had been bordering on respectful, and that is saying a lot, considering it’s Billy.
Unless something happened when Steve wasn’t there. It’s entirely possible, of course, that there is a legitimate reason why Billy shuts down at every the mention of Hopper. Steve isn’t with him twenty-four hours of the day. There are still a lot of things that Billy doesn’t tell him. But despite how much Billy clearly wants to avoid Hopper, and despite how gruff the Chief can seem to an outsider, Steve just can’t imagine that Hopper could have done anything to evoke that kind of reaction in Billy.
Steve regards Billy’s sleeping form next to him, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Unless it isn’t Hopper, the person. Perhaps it’s Hopper, the Chief of Police?
Because it was a while ago, now, but Steve suddenly recalls one of the last parties he’d been to before he realized the party scene wasn’t for him – and the first one where Billy had also been present.
He was hanging back, floundering a little as Nancy hadn’t wanted to go and he didn’t know how to act at parties anymore, when she wasn’t there. So he kept to the sidelines, drinking out of a red cup and watching people from a comfortable spot next to a bookcase, bopping along to the too-loud music half-heartedly and scream-talking to a couple of people who came up to him to chat for a while.
He noticed the new kid right away. Billy Hargrove from California, apparently. Hargrove carried a presence that wouldn’t let anyone ignore him, so of course he noticed him. But the dude was hanging around Tommy and some other guys from the team, doing shots in the kitchen, and Steve –
Steve wasn’t about that anymore.
Maybe Steve just wasn’t about parties anymore. He didn’t see the point of them. People just got drunk and made out and hooked up and threw up and – uh, speaking of which, Michelle F just threw up on the coffee table. Gross.
Some people cheered, some people laughed, even more people didn’t seem to care, and Steve was done with it. His head hurt with the loud music, he was halfway-drunk but not drunk enough, and he missed Nancy. Someone stumbled into him and when he righted them, he saw that it was Julie – Julie who he had hooked up with last summer. She gave him a drunken grin and leaned in close enough that he could smell the alcohol on her breath, and Steve straightened up. Fuck this.
He turned and walked away without so much as a word – he didn’t think Julie would remember it tomorrow, anyway – and walked out the front door without anyone calling back for him.
It was a relief to get outside. Closing the door behind him muted the blaring music somewhat, and made it possible for him to hear his own thoughts. He stretched, took a couple of deep breaths, and then started walking down the driveway when a cop car drove up to the curb and stopped. Two cops walked out. One was Powell, Steve knew, because the dude had been the one to drive him home to his parents the first time he’d gotten blackout drunk outside of Tommy’s tree house, at 14. The other one, he recognized but couldn’t name. Powell must have remembered him too, though, because he stopped him and raised an eyebrow.
“You okay there, kid?”
And Steve knew what he was getting at, but for once he didn’t feel like playing up to his role of rambunctious teenager. So he just shrugged and said, “Yeah. Going home, actually.”
“What, party too boring?”
Steve huffed out a laugh. “Too loud.”
Powell grinned at that and indicated his partner, who was walking up to the house. “That’s what the neighbors think, too.” He patted Steve on the shoulder and nodded to the road. “Get out of here, kid.”
Steve nodded in thanks, and Powell went after his partner who was now knocking loudly on the door. When Steve got to the road, he turned around to watch what was sure to be some highly entertaining mayhem. Whoever it was that opened the door – Steve couldn’t see them from where he was standing – wasted no time in turning around and yelling into the house:
The music stopped, but it was barely noticeable because fifty or so drunk teenagers started screaming excitedly at the same time. Powell and his partner stepped into the hall, so Steve couldn’t see them anymore – but he did see people flee the premises, while laughing and yelling and trying to save the alcohol. Steve sighed. He’s been there, but from the outside it looked ridiculous. It wasn’t like the cops were going to do anything other than ask them to turn it down, and maybe confiscate the alcohol. But now, people were pouring out of the house through the front door, through the back door and –
– was that Hargrove, crawling out of the kitchen window and clutching a beer can in his hand?
Yup, Steve thought, eyebrows raised. That was definitely Hargrove, falling on his ass into a flowerbed before getting up and brushing the dirt off his jeans. He stumbled out onto the lawn while looking back at the house over his shoulder, and then he turned around again and spotted the police car by the road. With a whoop, he ran at it and swung his arm around like a windmill, throwing the beer can at the windshield with such force that beer exploded all over the front of the car.
Steve took a step back – not wanting anyone to think that he had any part in this – but it looked like the windshield didn’t crack, at least. The same couldn’t be said about the passenger side mirror. With another loud whoop, Hargrove kicked the mirror so hard that it broke. Shards fell to the asphalt, the metal and plastic bent backwards at an odd angle, and Hargrove himself only barely kept his balance.
Then, three things happened in quick succession:
Hargrove looked up and locked eyes with Steve – and there was an intensity in his eyes that made Steve take another step back, suddenly inexplicably afraid that Hargrove would attack him.
A loud “Hey!” came from the house, and both Steve and Hargrove turned to see Powell’s partner raise his nightstick while running out on the porch, obviously having seen what happened to his car.
And Hargrove looked back at Steve, gave a grin and a salute, before shouting “Fuck you, pig!” at the uniformed man and taking off down the street. The cop ran after him, and Steve turned around and started walking quickly in the other direction. He didn’t want to be there when Powell or his partner came back, in case they thought he had anything to do with what he just happened.
Hargrove must have outrun the other man, because no one at school mentioned him getting arrested the following Monday – and that would have been the talk of the town. So he must have gotten away with it.
Billy sighs in his sleep, and Steve is brought out of his reverie.
At the time, Steve had chalked it up to Billy being, well, Billy. Bad boy extraordinaire, new in town with something to prove. But the penetrating stare that Billy had leveled him with after vandalizing the cop car that night … it makes more sense, now, when Steve is putting the pieces together. Billy doesn’t like cops. Hop is a cop. That’s why Billy is always shutting him down when Steve suggests going to Hopper for help.
The only question is why.
He looks at Billy, peacefully sleeping by his side, and gently touches his hand to Billy’s. Contemplating.
There are no bruises on Billy’s knuckles – there never are, when he shows up at Steve’s at night – so Steve doesn’t feel bad about stroking his thumb over them, as gently as possible.
Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the light touch still wakes Billy up. He takes a short breath and shies away a little before blinking his eyes open, but relaxes visibly when he sees Steve in front of him.
“Hmm”, he says and closes his eyes again. “Nightmare?” He nuzzles closer, reaches out for Steve’s hand. And Steve loves him in this moment; loves him fiercely in these few seconds between sleep and wakefulness – the only time when Billy is unguarded, and free with his affections.
“No”, he says, softly, as Billy pulls his hand to his lips. “Just can’t sleep.”
“Why can’t you sleep?” Billy murmurs against Steve’s knuckles. It doesn’t sound as if he is waiting for an answer. He doesn’t open his eyes. Perhaps he, too, is wishing that they could stay in this moment for a while longer. Perhaps he, too, wishes that he didn’t have to put his walls back up.
Steve runs his thumb over Billy’s bottom lip, and Billy chases it with his lips and presses a kiss against the pad of his thumb. Then he opens his eyes, and they’re crinkling at the corners from his smile. Steve is helpless against it, and feels his own face split in a grin.
And there must have been something in his voice that did it, or maybe Billy just woke up properly, because Billy’s smile dims and his grip on Steve’s hand lessens. Instead of letting him pull away, though, Steve grabs his hand and doesn’t let go. It makes Billy wrinkle his eyebrows in confusion and make a questioning noise in the back of his throat.
“Why don’t you like cops?” Steve asks, in a soft voice but bluntly, and he could kick himself because it’s not what he was planning to say at all. He prepares himself for anger, for Billy to shut down or push him away – like he does every time Steve says the wrong thing.
But Billy does none of those things. Instead, his mouth drops open and his eyes watch Steve and his whole face is open and –
“What?” He sounds small.
– and perhaps Steve hasn’t been asking the right questions until this very moment.
It’s in the way Billy’s mouth opens and closes – he wants to deny it, Steve can see it. He wants to fight back against it, wants to push back and leave – but he doesn’t. Steve brings Billy’s hand to his mouth, kisses his palm. Says “Baby”, all muffled. And he sees the moment when Billy gives up.
“Please tell me”, he says, entwining his fingers with Billy’s.
Billy shakes his head, and turns so that he can bury his face in the pillow. He doesn’t pull his hand back, though – and Steve chooses to take it as a sign that a part of Billy wants to tell him. Needs Steve to pull it out of him, maybe.
So he does.
“Please, baby”, he coaxes. “I know something must have happened. I’m sorry I didn’t get it until now.”
Billy’s voice is muffled from the pillow. “Not your fault.”
Sometimes, simply waiting someone out can be more effective than talking. So Steve waits, and says nothing. He is rewarded when Billy glances up, and sighs.
“It’s not like … it was just this one time.”
Steve doesn’t take his eyes off Billy’s face. He says nothing.
Billy wets his lips, and maybe he’s pretending he’s still half-asleep. Maybe he tells himself that it doesn’t count when they’re lying in this bed, close enough to touch. Either way, he keeps talking. “It was years ago, now. I shouldn’t let it … I’m probably just being a pussy about it.”
Steve doubts that. He still doesn’t say anything.
And Billy … deflates. Gives up. Gives in. “I don’t know where to start.”
Steve’s heart jumps in his chest, because it means that Billy will tell him. Will at least try. “Start wherever you like.”
Curling up a little – pulling his knees up towards his chest and his shoulders up towards his ears – Billy grabs onto Steve’s hand with both of his, and looks down at their entwined fingers. He is silent for a long time, but it’s not the angry silence Steve is used to. It’s not the sullen silence that tells him he fucked up. No, for the first time it’s the contemplative silence of someone trying to figure out where to start unraveling a story.
When Billy starts talking, Steve lets out a silent breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. And here, in this moment between sleep and wakefulness – the moment that is more than a moment, because Billy has chosen to let him in – Steve loves him. And his heart bleeds for him.
“It was back in California”, Billy says. “I was fifteen, and there was this boy, named Daniel …”