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Divinely Human, Humanly Divine

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Winter of 1985. One of the worst that Hawkins had ever seen. A blizzard laid into the town with four feet of snow, winds hitting record speeds and rendering most cars useless without modified tires for the weather. The town was still recovering from the summer; the mall sat abandoned, a hole in the ceiling, snow piling on and making it even less likely to be renovated. The secrets of events now long past were buried under the snow, no one having dared to enter the structure even after the fire. The power had not quite yet gone out, but it was likely to go out soon due to the whole town using it for heat and lights.

 

Across the town, just on the outside on the road to a shitty little motel, there was an abandoned warehouse, one that was left for dead before the mall was even a glimmer of an idea. Holes littered the roof and rats dwelled in dark corners, making it the picture of “haunted midwest”. Rose bushes tipped in gold had attempted to grow outside, and still struggled to simply exist, but they existed nonetheless. It was the location of the catalyst event that snowballed towards the Fire of ‘85, even if no one but the victim had ever even known what happened.

 

The snow piled against the walls and where the roof was strong enough. The wind whistled and howled, constantly shifting the snow like perpetually changing desert dunes. The snow began to shift and crunch near the steps to the basement, as though a wild animal was coming back from hibernation.

 

And that was mostly true, because when the snow gave way, a hand burst through, covered in black sludge and grime. A man clawed and scraped his way out of the basement, his chest heaving as he got a breath of fresh air, even if it was icy cold. Crisp blue eyes glanced around his surroundings, and, with a fuzzy memory, he began trudging through the snow and wind in an effort to make it somewhere safe.

 

The weather didn’t change a bit- he slowly made his way through the snow, leaving a trail of dragging tracks and clumps of sludge in his wake. Every so often he’d cough up the sludge, puking it out onto the snow and letting it get covered in inch after inch of crisp whiteness. He couldn’t tell how long he walked- it felt like hours, especially after being asleep for what seemed like years.

 

That experience was one he did not want to recall. All that he remembered was driving in the direction of a motel to do something regretful, stopping at the warehouse because something hit his windshield, and getting dragged to the basement. After that, he had what felt like dreams- he was in his body, but there was someone, something, there with him. It controlled his body, what he did, what he said. He sat back on the sidelines, screaming, sobbing, begging to get even a word in.

 

He did. Once, in the sauna. It let him come out, let him cry. Let him tell her what he did, that he didn’t want to do any of it. Then it pushed him away again, using the rapport he’d built to take advantage of her and attack. 

 

And a second time, it was the man that pushed the thing back and away. He didn’t remember much, honestly- there were fireworks. A girl. The thing wanted the girl, but she did… something. Made him remember things. Mama. Neil. She made him feel again. So he pushed the thing back and protected her, gave his life- or so he thought. 

 

Since then, all he had seen was blackness, a dark void of horrific nothingness. Every once in a while, a glowing golden light appeared. It spoke, but not in words. It spoke of efforts to keep him alive, that it wasn’t his time, that the ones above were going to bring him back no matter what.

 

He shook the memories away and suddenly felt the numbing cold again. He could barely see as the wind kept making his eyes hurt and forced them to shut. The cold became a terrifying numbness, then evolved into a strange warmth. His arms and fingers curled into his chest instinctively as if it would help keep him warm. For a split second, he was able to open his eyes and, in the misty view he had, he was able to make out a large house- with its lights on, no less.

 

Desperation flooded through his body, and with it came adrenaline, pushing him to scramble towards the house. The cold meant nothing when he knew that he had hope, that there was a house so close to him. He hurried and trudged up the steps, leaning against the door and banging against it in a disorganised and offbeat fashion.

 

“H-Help!” He cried out in his hoarse voice, coughing almost immediately because he hadn’t used it in so long.

 

It took a few moments, but the door finally opened. The man had not thought to stand back up and thus collapsed to the ground in a pile of snow, ice, and sludge. A groan escaped his lips while his eyes peeled open to gaze at who had opened the door. He could make out another man, with what he assumed to be brown hair and a shocked expression. The stranger shouted something.

 

“Billy?!”

 

Billy groaned again, shakily nodding and weakly pulling himself up just enough to crawl inside so the door could be shut, trapping all the cold and the snow and the hell outside. He began shaking severely, coughing again as he went to lay down again. His muscles were so weak and tired after his trek and he didn’t want to stand anymore, but whoever let him in was just not having it. The stranger pulled him up and had him sit on the couch, which, thankfully, wasn’t far from the door. He didn’t seem to mind that Billy was covered in all kinds of fluids.

 

“God, what- I-” The stranger looked at him, and slowly, his voice became familiar to Billy. One he loved to hear, yet he’d never admitted it. The voice stopped a moment before footsteps receded, and there was muttering and cluttering from a room not too far from the couch. Billy’s eyes hurt too much to open them again, so he relied on his ears, listening to every click and clack. The footsteps returned and suddenly, a soft warmth took him over, something covering his body. 

 

“Here,” the stranger said, adjusting whatever was on Billy. “Had my heating blanket on. You need it more.”’

 

It was the kind gesture that finally made Billy remember. “Steve,” he croaked out, opening his eyes again for just a moment to solidify his guess. It was true; there he was, rolling his eyes and nodding before Billy closed his eyes again.

 

“Yeah, it’s me. Whatever. Just… stay quiet. I’ve got the heat on, and I’ll go heat some soup while we still have power.” With that, the footsteps receded again, and went just to the left of where they’d gone before. Billy listened- Steve huffing and grunting with a handheld can opener, the clicking of a lighter as he lit the gas stove, the gentle thudding of a spoon against the side while he stirred it in the pan. The sounds soothed him, letting the air become domestic and calm.

 

It wasn’t more than twenty minutes before Steve returned, his hand reaching under the blanket to grab Billy’s. “Oh, god,” he muttered. “You’re freezing… drink this.” He pushed a warm bowl into Billy’s hand, guiding it up to his mouth so he could drink from it. Steve watched carefully, making sure he actually drank some. 

 

The silence settled over them as Steve made sure Billy got the soup down, little by little. Billy was, internally, shocked that Steve would ever care for him, especially after what that thing made him do. Either way, he brushed those thoughts aside and ate quietly, slowly warming up and regaining feeling in his fingers and hands. His whole body went back to a more comforting warm, one that didn’t result from the cold and numb pain. 

 

And, you know, maybe this was meant to be, said a hopeful little voice in the back of Billy’s mind. Maybe he was supposed to die and come back in the middle of a goddamn blizzard to the boy- no, he was a grown man now, wasn’t he? Wait, what did Billy look like? His chin did feel a little weird, did he have a beard? Fucking gross. He’d have to shave it. Hell, he’d have to shower for half an hour to get all the grime and snow off and out of his hair. Either way, he felt fucking disgusting.

 

When Billy finished the soup, Steve took the empty bowl to the kitchen to place it in the sink for later. He came back to the living room and was met with those crisp, icy blue eyes, tired and quiet and staring right into him. Billy’s head lay on its side, his blanket pulled up to his nose after he’d had his revelation of appearance. 

 

“You know, if I were a dick, I’d say you look kinda creepy,” Steve said with a gentle chuckle. 

 

Billy grunted and, slightly, furrowed his brows. He didn’t say anything, but the movement wasn’t angry; it was playful, joking. It was ‘the fuck do you mean, Harrington?’

 

“Think about it,” Steve said and sat beside him on the couch, grabbing a spare blanket and wrapping it around them both, making sure the heating blanket still covered Billy. While Billy was internally panicking, Steve paid no mind; when you risk freezing to death, boundaries don’t exist. Either way, Steve continued; “Half frozen homeless guy shows up on my doorstep, coated in ice and sludge, and keeps staring at me when I bring him in.” A smile was on his lips. “Other people would think you were a homicidal maniac.” Billy did smile, just barely, and looked down, closing his eyes. 

 

Now, he didn’t mean to, and there was certainly no helping it, but closing his eyes was what led into him falling asleep. His body was too worn out to stay awake, and it needed to digest the soup, which sat heavy and warm in his stomach. 

 

---

 

The blizzard had subsided, but the winds were still a bit too strong to leave shelter comfortably. Some poor saps were forced to go out and shovel their driveways in the wind and the cold, be they adults trying to get to one rare place that is open or a twelve year old twerp that will do nothing but complain for an hour. Most sensible individuals, however, stayed inside and bundled up to stay warm. Christmas was just a few days prior, meaning that the amount of fun Christmas movies on was dwindling fast, making for boring and endless days.

 

This was the world that Billy woke to. He was groggy, sore, and had a glowstick in place of each of his joints. Even shifting on the couch made his back pop oh so satisfyingly. His eyes didn’t hurt as much, and the sun wasn’t out, so he opened his eyes to get a better look at his surroundings. 

 

The house was a little messy, typical for a young man fresh out of high school. The appliances were higher end and the pictures on the wall looked like they were all staged. Billy had heard about Steve having more neglectful parents but never really believed it, mostly due to his situation with Neil.

 

A horrible feeling began to settle in his stomach as his mind filled to the brim with turmoil. Max was still in that house. Max was still there, with Neil . Billy had done a lot of shitty things, and he regretted all of it, but at the end of the day it was all to protect her. He did care, he just never knew how to show it and kept sticking his foot in his mouth when he tried to explain himself. 

 

He shifted where he sat and grimaced, feeling the wetness of melted ice and sludge squelch beneath him. “Ugh… gross…” He shifted again and, feeling a mass pressed up against his side, turned his head to examine said mass. 

 

Steve . Right. He was in Steve’s house. And Steve was currently asleep, pressing into his side while still being bundled in the blankets as well.

 

If Billy had blood to spare, he’d be blushing.

 

He supposed he should wake the man up; he did have to clean himself and chat with him, maybe figure out what the fuck happened. But Steve just looked so peaceful, Billy couldn’t bring himself to do anything. And so he sat there, an undetermined amount of time passing before Steve finally began to shift and wake.

 

“Morning, princess,” Billy mumbled, coughing into the blanket. He watched silently, an unreadable expression on his face. 

 

Steve blinked his eyes open and sat up, stretching out before quickly returning to the warmth of the blankets. He rubbed the crust from his lashes and looked at Billy, jumping just a bit, as though he’d forgotten that the man was there. “Shit… hi.” He looked away again, adjusting and cringing a bit when he got up close to Billy. “Gross… you need a shower, Billy.” Billy looked at him and cocked an eyebrow, not having the energy to speak. “Don’t bitch at me, you’re covered in guck,” Steve said plainly while he stood up, shuddering from the cold as he had to turn the heat off so the neighborhood kept enough power. “Come on, I’ll help you up.”

 

The brunette began uncovering Billy, feeling bile rise in his throat. The sludge smelled disgusting, for one thing; for another, the man’s clothes were ripped and his skin was covered in scars. He had, in fact, grown a beard, and his hair was long and ratty. It was full of the sludge, knotted and darkened from its old dirty blonde hue. 

 

“Damn, Harrington, didn’t know I was that ugly,” Billy muttered, coughing.

 

Steve frowned and shook his head, helping the man up to his feet. He had to bear most of the weight as Billy had not used his muscles since the summer. “Shut up, asshole. You smell like shit and look like a trauma victim.”

 

Billy just rolled his eyes and clung to Steve, walking with him up the stairs and into what he presumed to be the Harringtons’ personal bedroom. It looked untouched and there was enough space and storage for two people. “Mom and dad are never home,” Steve clarified, leading Billy to the master bathroom. 

 

He understood why Steve led him here instead of to the regular bathroom. The room was as big as his bedroom on Cherry Street and absolutely pristine. The tub could easily accommodate two people and had jets on the sides like a hot tub. Bottles of expensive soaps with French and Italian names sat on the rack, most completely full or barely used.

 

“Alright, I’m assuming you can work everything. Do you need help with anything?” Steve asked as he helped Billy sit on the toilet seat. 

 

Billy hummed and shook his head, grimacing when he felt his slimy hair drag across his back. That feeling alone made him reconsider, sighing and shakily pointing to his hair. “Help wash it,” he said with a coarse voice. He didn’t cough this time and was actually very proud of that. 

 

Steve nodded and turned the water on, making sure it would get nice and warm for him. “Okay, do you, uh…” He tried to play off his embarrassment as… actually, that’s all Billy would see, was embarrassment; “Do you need help getting undressed?” Billy never thought he’d have to be asked that, at least not until he was old and wrinkly, but here he was, nineteen years old and unable to undress himself because his body wasn’t used to being alive .

 

With Steve’s assistance, Billy stood and pulled his clothes off, letting the soaked rags fall to the floor. His shaking hand gripped Steve’s shoulder, using him as support while he pulled his jeans off. Slowly, he lowered himself into the bath, his shaking legs giving out mid-squat and letting him fall into the water with a splash and a whimpering grunt. 

 

“Hey, easy, big guy,” Steve muttered. “Turn around, I’ll wash your hair.” Once Billy listened and turned for him, Steve got a good look at all the scars that littered his back. He examined the raised marks that twisted around his back, resembling terrifying vines. Eventually he turned on the handheld showerhead, carefully rinsing the long and unruly curls. Black sludge ran down Billy’s back and into the bath, turning it a murky gray. “Look at all this… god, what the hell happened to you, Hargrove?”

 

All that came in response was a shaky shrug. “Some… thing … took me.” His speech was slow and deliberate; it was clear he didn’t want to speak. “It’s like I was held-” he coughed, spewing sludge into the water, “h-held like a criminal in my own body, but… not. Not my body…” He coughed again, hunching over. Steve gently patted his back, muttering quiet reassurances. After the little coughing fit, Billy sat back up and took a breath, relaxing just a bit when Steve continued to rinse his hair, feeling him begin to coat the locks with sweet smelling soap. Smelled like vanilla and strawberries.

 

“Not your body how?” Steve asked, his brows furrowed tightly in the middle. 

 

“”Like… like it made a copy. I saw it. It… spoke to me-” Cough. “The copy. Wanted to… to build , it said.”

 

Steve chuckled. “Definitely didn’t do that,” he muttered. “Want me to clean out that beard of yours? Looks kinda…”

 

“Gross?” Billy finished for him. “It is. I hate it.” He cleared his throat.

 

Steve cracked a smile, a bit wider than if Billy was facing him. “I’ll help clean it. Turn around.” Once Billy faced him, Steve’s smile fell, and he began rinsing and washing the hair there as well. He didn’t make Billy talk anymore, knowing it pained him to speak. Instead, he filled the silence with gentle humming, his expression blank. It didn’t take long for the beard to come clean, the water growing murkier. Steve leaned over and unplugged the drain, letting it drain just a bit so the murkiness didn’t upset Billy.

 

He filled it back up and stood up, sighing. “We have fresh toothbrushes in the drawer,” he pointed at the small cupboard under the sink, “and razors, too. I’ll get some clothes, just come out when you’re done. Okay?” Once Billy satisfied him with a nod, Steve stepped out of the room, heading to his room to get some clothes for him.

 

It took him a few minutes to scrub his scarred body clean; the ice had washed the sludge off onto the couch when it melted, and sitting in the bath helped to loosen the rest up. It didn’t take all that long, and once he was finished, he unplugged the tub and shakily got out. He needed to get shaved and then he’d be done, he thought.

 

Billy looked in the mirror at himself and shuddered. The image staring back at him was terrifying. The mirror world was dark and covered in black vines, the kind he saw in that horrible dead place. The man that stared back was Billy, but not quite. His eyes were all sclera, a piercing white amongst the dark environment. Veins filled with black goo twisted around his limbs and up his neck, resembling the vines behind him. Smaller veins fizzled golden, like a flickering light that struggled to stay alive. 

 

The short glimpse made him stumble back and squeeze his eyes shut, breathing heavily. It took him a moment to recover, and even still, he refused to look in the mirror. He faced the draining tub and scrambled to grab the electric razor from the drawer, just wanting to get the shaving done and over with so he could leave the bathroom. He went right at it and shaved it off, not even trying to brush it or trim it. 

 

After all, he was staying in Steve Harrington’s house.

 

---

 

It wasn’t long before Billy emerged, seeing a pile of clothes on the floor. It was a Hawkins basketball sweatshirt and matching sweatpants- fucking tacky, if you asked him- with thick, fuzzy socks to keep him warm. He picked the pile up and pulled it all on, noticing his hands were still just as shaky as they were earlier. “God fucking dammit,” he grumbled in a low voice as though something would be able to here him.

 

He jumped out of his skin when he heard a clatter from downstairs. One would think that this situation would warrant him rushing down to check on Steve, but after all the shit he’s seen? Hell no! He started to slowly descend the stairs, his eyes frantically examining his surroundings and his ears ringing with the desperation to hear any noises.

 

“Ah, shit,” he could hear Steve saying. There were footsteps, only one set, and some rustling. The movements were frantic, just like Billy had been; however, this wasn’t a fearful kind of frantic; he could just… tell

 

Billy stepped into the room, quietly sitting at the kitchen table and watching the scene unfold. Steve was buzzing around the kitchen like a panicked bee. “You alright, Harrington?”

 

Steve jumped just like Billy had done, flipping around and slapping a hand on his chest to catch his breath. “Jesus, Billy-!” He let out a big breath and slowly calmed down, shaking his head. “Why are you so quiet? You were so talkative before…”

 

“Before I died?” Billy finished for him. Steve nodded, which prompted Billy to go on. “Shit happens, pretty boy. I’m not static. I…” He shrugged. “I’m afraid of talking.”

 

“Afraid?” Steve scoffed. “I thought Billy Hargrove wasn’t afraid of anything.”

 

“Dead wrong.”

 

“Clearly.” Steve turned and returned to what he’d been doing before; stirring what looked to be a milk-based pasta sauce. Billy sat and watched in silence, watched as Steve strained a pot of pasta and poured the noodles into the pan with the sauce. There was something domestic about this, something so incredibly personal, that Billy felt invasive for existing anywhere near Steve.

 

He didn’t notice a small crack appear in the wall behind him.

 

“Anyway, I made… something. Not sure if you can call fettuccine alfredo breakfast,” Steve said with a laugh while he put equal shares onto two plates.

 

“Anything can be breakfast,” Billy said simply while Steve placed the plates on the table.

 

Steve hummed. “I suppose that’s true,” he said while twirling some pasta onto his fork and shoving it into his mouth. “Does that go for absolutely everything?”

 

“Such as?”

 

Steve shrugged and grabbed two glasses, filling them with water. “Can I smoke a bowl and call that breakfast?” He asked, a smile on his lips at the absurdity of the question.

 

Billy chuckled while he began to eat the food. “Yeah, I guess. Don’t know why you would, though.”

 

“I know some people.”

 

“Of course you do,” Billy couldn’t help the smile that grew on his face, taking a bite of the pasta to hopefully hide the small notion. He took a big swig of his water, following it with a cough as his throat was drier than Karen Wheeler’s pussy.

 

Steve’s smile dropped and his eyes became concerned. “Hey, you alright, big guy?” He stood up and walked around the table to Billy’s side, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder only to have Billy tense and shove his hand off. The blonde faced him with a mean glare, pulling away and going back to eating his breakfast in silence.

 

The silence was a terrifying void that rivalled only the black void of death that Billy had experienced. The horrifying emptiness where you existed and yet nothing responded, nothing was there to see you or hear you. Really, you did not exist because nothing was there to perceive you, nothing was there to experience you. His only solace in that expanse of un-perception was the twinkling golden light. It rarely appeared- it would have rathered Billy marinated in the broth of emptiness for a while longer, apparently- and yet when it did, it brought comfort solely because it saw Billy. It was there, in the void, and that was enough to make Billy have hope. Maybe it was the light that brought him back. He wasn’t quite sure. 

 

Now that he was thinking about the light, more things came to mind, appeared in his memory. When the light appeared, it didn’t seem to be just a golden light. It reminded him of the mirror from earlier; from a glance it seemed perfectly normal, yet when he looked directly into it, the whole world seemed to change. In the light, he saw doves, rose petals, and the smell of beaches and vanilla engulfed his senses. These reminded him of his mother; the one that left him, the one that the brown haired girl saw and spoke to him about.

 

Billy hated silence, and yet he hated to speak. How ironic.

 

---

 

When Billy was a child, he loved to learn about Greek mythology. The stories always fascinated him- epic quests where the hero was gone for decades and was dedicated to returning home, kidnappings that resulted in loving marriages, magical gods that sat on their clouds examining the humans, et cetera. He found it all so interesting, which earned the approval of his mother.

 

“They’re real history,” she said. “No real dates or anything, just stories of the ways people acted so long ago.”

 

Billy dove headfirst into studying it, even after his mother had left. He found some strange comfort in stories of Aphrodite, a goddess of love and beauty, becoming everyone under her spell of infatuation. He loved the art and the statues, often recalling how similarly they looked to his mother. It was just a coincidence, but it always made him smile, just at the thought of his mother being some sort of goddess. He always saw her that way, that’s for sure.

 

---

 

It took a while for Billy to truly warm up to Steve again; but, seeing as they were stuck together since Family Video wasn’t exactly going to be open until the roads were safe enough for the ancient manager to get there, they were isolated for a week straight. Billy stayed in the guest bedroom- Steve had offered for him to stay in his parents’ bedroom as they wouldn’t be back for a while, but Billy refused, feeling a bit awkward sleeping where he assumed Steve had been conceived. 

 

The snow did not melt; when the blizzard ended, clouds rolled in and made their home deep in the sky, nestling there for days on end. The snow had been laid on thick, and Billy was sure that the rose bushes outside of the house on Cherry Street would be dead or dying because of it. Steve was the one who shoveled the snow from the front walkway and driveway, demanding Billy stay inside because he needed the warmth and didn’t have much strength after everything.

 

That little comment really got to Billy. You wouldn’t think that a boy with a perfect body would have self image issues, but he was a chunkier child and was bullied relentlessly for it. He began working out after his mother left because Neil “didn’t want a lard-ass excuse for a son anymore”. Hearing Steve say that- “ It’s been like, more than half a year since you were in gym class, ” were the exact words- really messed with him. He was right, of course, but the implications went deeper. Billy let himself go. He looked homeless. Helpless. Weak. Like some bum Steve picked up off the street and decided to rehome like a helpless animal. 

 

So here he was, sat on the living room floor in the borrowed clothes- they smelled like Steve and god, he never wanted to take them off- ready to attempt to start working out while Steve was out front shoveling the snow. He sat up straight and spread his legs to stretch, knowing he’d need it. 

 

He began to bend forward, grimacing a bit at a bit of soreness. He began to stretch to one side and yelped in pain, collapsing back onto the floor and gripping one of his thighs. Fire spread through his leg- he pulled a muscle. That’s it . But he hadn’t tried to stretch in so long, let alone had he ever pulled a muscle before, and this resulted in his underworked muscles being a bit tender to work with.

 

Billy laid on the floor with tears running down his face, shuddering and trembling in pain. He didn’t notice items on shelves chattering or the books that fell to the floor; he would barely comprehend the world for a while. It took fifteen minutes for him to recover from the pain and mental exhaustion. By then he’d berated himself enough, simply sitting up with his tearstained face. He gazed into the window and whimpered.

 

His reflection was worse than before. The sclera were wide open and tears of blood and sludge ran down his face. A wicked grin grew on its face and out from its mouth came the same mixture, dripping down its chin and oozing along his chest. The image rocked him to his core.

 

Billy whimpered and scrambled to his feet, cringing in pain and bundling in the blanket that previously lay draped on the couch. He laid across the couch and rolled to face the back so he didn’t see anything. He did his best to pull his knees to his chest and curled into a fetal position, too scared to even witness the world around him. 

 

Time slowly passed, like thick, spoiled molasses. Billy’s mind tormented him, scaring him with thoughts of Steve ridiculing him, thoughts of Steve deciding Billy wasn’t worth it and kicking him out into the freezing snow, letting that thing get him again. Being less than worthy was one of Billy’s greatest fears, and the feeling of such was so thick and heavy over him that it felt as though he were drowning in the thick and spoiled molasses of time.

 

The front door clicking open snapped Billy from his state of fear and silence, making him quickly flip over and sit up on the couch. Blood rushed to his head and made him dizzy, his body swaying side to side for a moment. 

 

Steve entered the house, shuddering in his big, puffy coat and shutting the door with a shaking hand. “Goddamn, is it cold out there. Fuck…” He shed his coat on the floor and walked into the living room, looking at Billy. “I’m gonna light the fireplace, we need a fire. My mom is gonna get pissed if I drive up the bill again.”

 

Billy furrowed his brows together. “Thought mommy and daddy were rich, Harrington. What’s that about?”

 

“Kind of,” Steve sighed while he loaded various pieces of cardboard and chunks of wood he’d collected before the storm into the fireplace. “They’ve got plenty of money, but they still get pissed when I use any of it to, I dunno, survive in below-freezing temperatures?”

 

A low and bland chuckle came from Billy’s chest. “Ah, they’re not-parent parents. Gotcha.”

 

Steve turned back to him and cocked an eyebrow. “That’s a weird way to say it, but… yeah. Why, are yours like that?”

 

Billy was silent, his cold blue eyes turning away. He wasn’t sure how to respond to that. What, just admit that his dad used to beat him once a week for being a faggot and his mom just up and disappeared without so much as a ‘goodbye’? Hell no. He and Steve were never close in his first life, he’s sure Steve only let him stay for moral brownie points. 

 

The brunette let his expression fall to one that was more morose, confused, and frankly? Tired. “Whatever.” He faced the fireplace and flicked his lighter on, lighting the contents on fire before standing back up.

 

The blonde watched Steve as he walked closer, gently guiding him out of his seat and onto the floor beside the fire. “Sit. I need more warmth than just a fire.”

 

Billy looked at him with big eyes and furrowed brows, opening up the blanket he’d brought to the floor to use as a little nest so Steve could use some of it. He was expecting for the other man to just wrap it around himself and keep his distance, not for him to cuddle up to his side.

 

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Steve scooted up close and tucked up to him, bundling in the blanket as he tried to soak up both Billy’s warmth and the warmth of the fire. He paused then softly spoke, “Don’t take this any weird way, Hargrove. It’s cold as shit. Being close to someone helps.” Billy’s chest warmed just as fast as his outside. This was the ideal; cuddling in front of a fire with the boy that made his heart go wild. So, of course, it really wasn’t his fault that he fell asleep. It was just situational. He was tired. He was warm. He was held close to Steve Harrington.

 

He could have sworn that Steve wrapped an arm around him before he drifted off.

 

---

 

January sixteenth. He knew the date because Steve marked it on his calendar. The snow had finally melted enough and warranted a safe return to work for the town. Billy resented the day, knowing he’d be alone for the day. Most of his thoughts centered around Steve, wanting to be near specifically Steve- not much of a deviation from before he died, in all honesty- but still. When he really thought about it, he felt like some stupid child that was going to miss his fucking mommy. After that thought, he decided to attempt not to think about it.

 

He must have slept in later, because when he woke up and stepped out of his room, the house was dead. No warm smells of food. No humming from the kitchen. No lights on. It was dead. He explored the house to get used to the emptiness, the clock on the wall confirming his suspicions. Currently, it was half past noon. On the fridge, though, Billy found a note.

 

‘Hey Billy. I made pancakes, they’re in the microwave. The heating blanket is already plugged in by the couch and I left a pile of books there for you. Mom and Dad called while you were sleeping and said their trip was gonna last at least another month. (Complete bullshit, but whatever.) I’ll be home tonight, 9 or 10. I called Mrs. Henderson and she’ll be bringing dinner. See you soon!’

 

Mrs. Henderson? Who the hell is that? Billy hasn’t spoken to anyone but Steve since he came back and he wasn’t sure if he was ready for that quite yet. He pondered over this character he was supposed to meet while eating his pancakes, feeling a bit guilty for eating them. Over the past few weeks he’s been back, he’d been putting on a bit of weight, and slowly it started to upset him. It wasn’t that noticeable in passing, and even less noticeable when he was bundled all up in hoodies and sweatpants and blankets, so he did his best to ignore the self hatred returning to his mind.

 

The silence of the day left him with no one but his own thoughts, and his own thoughts made him want to puke. He was useless; that concept was front and center. He had done nothing but eat, read, and sleep since he’d returned and he felt like shit about it. There was no point to Steve keeping him here, and even worse, Billy figured he didn’t deserve to stay here. Steve shovelled the snow. Steve kept the house clean. Steve did the dishes. Billy wanted to choke himself for even thinking about it, but the fact, as he saw it, was undeniable; he was completely and utterly useless .

 

Since someone was apparently coming that afternoon to bring him food, Billy figured he should look presentable at the very least. This task brought him back upstairs to the bathroom once the pancakes had been eaten, drawing him to the showerhead that hung above the tub. The shower was short and hot- the thing liked cold things, he couldn’t bear being cold anymore- and once he got out, he decided to attempt looking into the mirror. He’d been avoiding mirrors and anything generally reflective for the past couple of weeks because of his other little encounters with them.

 

It was worse yet again, with the new twist being one of his own volition. If you’ve ever seen a corpse just a short while after its death, you’d know that the gases released after the body shuts down bloats the body. It gives it a softer and fuller look, like an overstuffed teddy bear. That’s what the thing staring back looked like. It was this bloated, gray corpse, grinning like some sadistic madman back at Billy. Disgusting, syrupy sludge poured from its mouth, its eyes, even leaked into its hair. And slowly, ever so slightly, it cocked its head, never breaking eye contact. Billy had not budged- the thing cocked its head and grinned when it spoke to him.

 

This is how they see you.

 

With no warning, Billy was back on the road by that abandoned building where all of this bullshit started. He was in the road, frantically looking around in the darkness. Dead doves and pearls laid strewn across the road. From the shadows, multiples of the bloated thing emerged, approaching, with one leading the pack. 

 

“What do you want?!” Billy screamed, his hands having clenched into fists so tightly that they trembled and shook. God, that stupid fucking pining bullshit was better than this, couldn’t he deal with that instead?

 

The bloated thing just stared, shrugged, shook its head. Didn’t answer him, even though it had proved it could talk. 

 

“Please!” Billy cried out. “Please, just tell me what you want!”

 

Just as abruptly as this little scene had started, Billy appeared back in the bathroom, but it appeared as though he had fallen to the floor. His whole body was shaking and his insides burned while his bare skin felt as cold as ice. He’d experienced this before- the shaking, the cold sweat, the close-to-death feeling- but it had never been this bad. For a time- he was not sure how long- he was paralyzed, frozen on the floor in the shaking vessel of a man that should have stayed dead. That’s all he was- the dead man walking, the faggot that burned like he deserved, the abusive and bigoted prick that ruined his sister’s life for no fucking reason at all-

 

The doorbell rang.

 

Billy cursed himself internally- was he really in here that long? Had he fainted? Was all that he saw just a dream? 

 

The doorbell rang again, prompting Billy to finally pull himself off the floor and dress himself in the usual; Hawkins sweatshirt, sweatpants, and soft socks to keep him warm. He made his way downstairs, grumbling to himself and rubbing his eyes with a short glance to the clock; 5 in the afternoon. So he’d fallen asleep after all. Groggily, he approached the door and opened it, being greeted by someone that definitely was not Mrs. Henderson.

 

Leading the charge was a curly haired boy holding what looked like some kind of casserole. Behind him was a gangly black haired boy, then behind him was… Max and that boy she used to hang out with. They all stopped chattering and looked up at him, their eyes widening upon realizing who it was. The curly haired one screamed and ran off, clutching the casserole in his hands while the others backed up. 

 

“Dammit,” Billy grumbled, rubbing at his face. “Was that supposed to be my dinner?”

 

No one answered, too stunned to do anything. Billy was about to shut the door when Max ran up and hugged him, her spindly arms wrapping around his thicker waist. Billy was, of course, taken aback, looking at her with big eyes and a reddened face. “Wh… Max-” Sniffles came from where Max had her face pressed against Billy. Billy frowned and furrowed his brows when he felt a wet spot growing there. 

 

“Max!” Max’s boyfriend hissed a whisper at her. “Don’t touch him! It might be the mind flayer!”

 

Billy cringed at that notion, frowning deeper and glaring at him. “I’m not. I don’t even know what that is.” He looked back at Max and slowly laid a hand on her back. “I… thought some Henderson lady was coming?”

 

The gangly boy nodded. “Dustin’s mom. He just ran off.” He glared at Billy. “How do we know we can trust you?”

 

Billy thought for a moment, and couldn’t come up with anything, really. “You don’t…” He sighed. “Can someone go get that kid so I can have dinner? I’m getting dizzy, I need to eat.” With that, the gangly boy huffed and ran off after Dustin.

 

Billy looked at Max again. “You can… come inside,” he said. “We should… we should talk, I guess.”

 

---

 

Thye kids crowded around the table while Billy scarfed down a piece of the baked macaroni casserole- He hadn’t meant to become such a sloppy eater, it just kind of happened. The bloated thing in the mirror was having a field day with it. Each of them had a plate of their own, silently watching him like he was some alien. The blonde wiped at his mouth and looked around the table at them, his brows tying together. He absolutely hated being stared at; he felt like some lab rat, some guinea pig fresh for experiments. “Quit that,” he growled, shoveling another forkful into his mouth.

 

“Quit what?” Dustin piped up, his glare intense and, honestly, kind of hilarious.

 

“Staring,” Billy grumbled with a full mouth. “I hate it.”

 

“We’re being safe ,” Mike said. “We’re not just gonna instantly trust the guy that tried to run us over and tried to kill us.”

 

Billy cringed, looking down at the small chunk of food he had left. He’d almost completely forgotten about that, tried to erase it from his memory. But, he thought, he’d have to face the truth at some point.

 

Max watched him and sighed. “How are you back, anyway?”

 

The blonde shrugged. “Dunno. One second I’m being impaled by some creepy-ass tentacle monster, and the next, I’m crawling through the ground in the middle of a fucking blizzard.” He didn’t mention the terrifying void of death or the golden rose filled light he saw in the between stages because he really didn’t feel like scarring the kids too much. They knew what that thing was, they had a name for it; Billy was nothing but a victim that got dragged into all this.

 

Max sighed and looked ahead. “That doesn’t give us much to go off of. Great.”

 

“Us?” Billy asked in confusion. 

 

Max’s boyfriend gestured around the table at everyone sitting there. “We’re always the motherfuckers that have to fix this shit. We need to know as much as we can about you so we can fight that thing in case it comes back.”

 

Billy hummed and ate the last of his dinner, putting his dish in the sink to be washed later. “Well, you won’t get anything from me. I don’t want anything to do with that shit anymore.” He turned back towards the group and just examined them for a moment; he noticed Max holding her boyfriend’s hand and some weird feeling inside of him told him that they just… weren’t right for each other. He’d always had this instinct- who belonged with who- and always felt guilty saying that about Max and her boyfriend. He felt like he was becoming his father, and his shoulders always weighed on him about how he’d treated the boy. 

 

Speaking of… “Hey… you.” He pointed at Max’s boyfriend, who looked surprised and a little scared. “Yeah, uh… I’m sorry.”

 

“Sorry?” He seemed skeptical.

 

A knot settled in Billy’s chest; god, this was hard to get out, and his speech was slower and more deliberate to compensate. “I lied a lot in my last life, and I treated all you kids like shit, but I said some shit about you that just… wasn’t right. Sorry doesn’t mean shit, I know that, but… I want to make it better.” Billy took a breath and looked away, walking out of the room before the kids could even reply.

 

They all hopped up and walked after them. “Hey, get back here!” Dustin called to him.

 

Billy sat on the couch and turned the heating blanket on, groaning and covering himself up. “The fuck do you want? I said what I wanted to say. Now leave me alone. Go home or something.”

 

Dustin crossed his arms and stood his ground. “Why? You’ve been an ass to fucking everyone you meet!”

 

“Yeah. And I’m working on being better. It’s a gradual process.” 

 

Max shrugged and nodded in agreement with him. “Come on guys. I tried to keep telling you he was worth a try! Give him time,” She said to the boys, then went to sit down beside Billy. 

 

Billy was surprised that she sat there, that she didn’t stay with her gaggle of nerds. “You… what?”

 

Max turned back to him and paused, slowly but surely nodding. “I… they kept going on about how you were… I dunno, not worth trying to help, I guess. Not worth trying to be nice to.”

 

“And you’re not,” Dustin growled at him. “How can we tell you’re not lying to us to get a rise out of us?”

 

Billy looked at him, silent and tired. The expression on his face could also be seen on that of a seasoned veteran, years of trauma and PTSD weighing on his tired soul. He just wanted to sleep. “Toothless, I’ve had to see more shit than you ever will. That thing was in me last summer, dumbass. I fucking died . You really think I’d lie to you just to laugh at it later?” The boys were silent, and Billy nodded triumphantly. “I’ll take your fucking apology.”

 

Dustin narrowed his eyes. “We’ll give you a chance. Alright? That’s our apology.”

 

Billy shrugged. “Fine by me.”

 

---

 

It took ages for Billy to get the boys to leave him and Max alone. Despite what they said, none of them trusted Billy, and they didn’t want to leave one of their own alone with him. He could sort of understand it, but that didn’t mean that the implications hurt any less. They all saw Billy as either a cocky, bigoted prick that hated everyone and everything, or as some sorry sap that got possessed by a tentacle monster and caused the deaths of basically half the town. It didn’t bode well for his self image.

 

But, the boys went to Steve’s basement where they supposedly had one of those new game consoles to play on. Finally he and Max could just talk.

 

“So, uh-” Max began, but Billy cut her off.

 

“What’s Neil like?” He asked abruptly. “At… at home, I mean. Is… is he worse?” He looked at her, genuine concern sparkling somewhere in his eyes. He knew what Neil was like, the shatter in one of his ribs from before Hawkins was enough to know what he was like. 

 

Max seemed surprised and a little confused. “Uh… y… yeah, kinda… What do you mean, exactly?”

 

Billy sighed and his next words were spoken in a slower and more deliberate manner. “Does he… is he angrier? More hostile? Does he-”

 

“Hurt me?” Max asked in a more hushed tone, watching Billy for a moment before shrugging. “He tried a couple times… tried to smash a bottle on me, keeps threatening me and jerking like he’s going to hit me…” She looked down. “One, uh, one time, he… he managed to hit me with some civil war book he was reading. Threw it at my shoulder, not my head or anything-”

 

“He still hit you,” Billy said quietly and slumped back into the couch, defeated. “This… this is why I was such a dick to you, Max. When you acted out of line, he…” Billy didn’t need to finish for Max to understand what he was going to say. 

 

“What… some of what you did was… fucking wrong,” Max admitted. “Some of the shit you said about Lucas was just inexcusable. I can see where you were coming from, but…” She shook her head. “An explanation would have been better. Not some rude ass remarks.”

 

A million attempts at excuses ran through Billy’s mind before he just accepted it, nodding just a bit. “Yeah, I… I figured. I’m sorry…” He wasn’t sure what else to say, despite so many thoughts running through his head in a jumble of words and ideas. 

 

Max understood his speechlessness and nodded, patting his shoulder. “I’ll help you. We all will. We’ll call you out on your shit.”

 

Billy nodded in thanks and checked the clock on the wall, relieved when he saw that Steve would be home soon. He didn’t know that nine hours could move so slowly, but apparently they could. Regardless, Billy nestled back into the couch and hummed. “You don’t have to stay with me… you can go play with the others.”

 

Max shrugged. “I don’t want you to be alone.”

 

A small smile did creep onto Billy’s face. He hated being alone, and finally someone wouldn’t leave him be. Sometimes, kids insisting on staying could really be a good thing. “Well, uh… thanks. I hate being alone.” He refused to look her in the eyes, feeling awkward if he did so. Instead he glanced up, catching his reflection in the window across the room and felt his breath get caught in his throat. 

 

For the first time since he got back, his reflection got better. It was still that terrifying thing, but it was dry, and the bloating had gone down. He looked so much more human- not completely, but he was getting better.

 

He jumped when he heard the door open and looked towards it, relaxing when he saw that it was only Steve returning home. “God, you always scare me when you get home,” he muttered at Steve. Still, both men smiled slightly just by seeing the other, an action neither had noticed but one that had become habit every time Steve returned from work.

 

Steve looked at him and lightly chuckled, looking at Max next. “What’re you doing here?” He cocked his head, not meaning it in a rude way, but concerned and confused.

 

Max hummed. “Dustin’s mom couldn’t make it here, so she had us bring him dinner. We weren’t told that the guy you had here was Billy!”

 

“Well,” Steve said, “I figured that Billy wasn’t ready to see anyone yet, so even if I asked one of you kids to do it, you guys might have overwhelmed him… Claudia’s the nicest mom I know, and it’s not like she gossips, so it would be like Billy was still dead.”

 

Both Steve and Billy could tell that Max was beginning to get a bit angry. Billy wasn’t sure why, he figured he didn’t matter that much, that she didn’t really miss him. He never really valued his life, and considering all the bullshit he’d pulled before he died, he didn’t think he should.

 

“Look, I was trying to help him, okay? Just…” Steve sighed and changed the subject. “Are you and the boys going to stay here tonight? It’s late and cold as hell, I don’t want you biking home.”

 

Max was silent before she let a breath and stood from the couch. “Let me go ask them…” And with that, she walked off, heading downstairs to check on the boys. 

 

Steve watched her leave, then walked over and sat beside Billy. “Hey, man, you… you alright?”

 

Billy shrugged and looked away, bundling up tighter in his heating blanket. “Kinda tired, I think… not a lot before they came, then so much…” He referred to how much emotional output he just went through. He was used to being quiet, not speaking for hours on end. 

 

He and Steve had gotten to a nice routine. In just about a week after Billy had arrived, Steve had understood that Billy didn’t like speaking, and began working with him. Steve did not push him to speak and asked simpler questions that didn’t require long, drawn out answers. Mornings were for sleeping, and when they woke, Steve made a warm breakfast and either turned the heat on or made a fire with junk wood he kept in the garage or boxes from food they’d eaten. Steve would occasionally chatter about what he was thinking- it was never the same- and it made Billy relax to simply hear stories. He didn’t have to talk, just listen. 

 

One day, he recalled, Steve was talking. Billy couldn’t remember what about- maybe about his manager, maybe about that Robin girl, something- and Steve asked him something. “Do you want to choose dinner?”

 

Billy had not meant for it, but in his head, so fucking loudly, he said, “sure, I want fettucine alfredo. Yours is the fucking best.”

 

Somehow Steve heard him, even though he had not spoken. They stared at one another, both of their expressions equally shocked and Billy’s twice as terrified. The moment seemed to drag on forever, and the tension built up, which Billy absolutely hated. Steve broke the silence by clearing his throat. “Fettuccine alfredo sounds nice,” he said. “I’ll start on it.” They never talked about it, and Steve never made Billy talk if he didn’t have to.

 

---

 

Apparently, the kids devised a plan with Steve without Billy knowing. They had a new little system, and Billy kept track of it. Since Steve had to go back to work full time, he must have wanted someone with Billy so he wasn’t alone. Max and Dustin would come one day, and Lucas and the gangly one- one of the Wheelers, if Billy recalled correctly- would come the next. They cycled, and Billy kind of appreciated it, but his stupid mind made him feel awful about it. 

 

This, of course, was reflected in his reflection. The bloated thing was back, its arms more spindly than they had been before. It terrified Billy whenever he looked into any kind of reflective surface and only made Billy feel worse.

 

It was the end of January. Steve had a shorter shift, and Billy woke just after ten in the morning. It was a weekday so the kids couldn’t come over since the winter break had ended. He woke up, went to the bathroom, covered the mirror with a towel- something he recently started doing- before he even started the water to the shower. He worked on making himself look nice. He brushed his hair, shaved his face, used that fancy strawberry soap that Steve had. Maybe, just maybe, this would help with the thing in the mirror. 

 

Once he was all done he stood in front of the mirror, took a deep breath, and took the towel down. He just wanted to cry when he looked into the mirror and saw that bloated thing again. It stared back, grinned like the evil thing it was, and spoke in its demonic voice, “ You can’t get rid of me, William.

 

Billy hated that name. So much. Neil always called him that, said it was a man’s name. Billy was a name for a boy, William was for a man. That thing was in his head, it knew that Billy hated that name and used it against him.

 

He had to shake it off and leave the room as quickly as he could, hurrying downstairs with an elevated heart rate. His eyes searched the rooms, his feet glued at the base of the stairs, and slowly his mind returned to normal. A deep breath entered his lungs before exiting again, and he took another breath just the same, and another, and another. He focused on his surroundings and began walking, heading to the kitchen to start on dinner.

 

He wanted to make life a bit easier on Steve. Guilt weighed heavily on his shoulders because of how much of a mooch he’d become- just some fat, lazy mooch, his mind told him. So, he got out all the pans and ingredients and such, and began making potatoes and steak for dinner. 

 

Cooking was surprisingly relaxing. He knew the recipe by heart since he always wound up making dinner when he lived with Neil- Susan was shit at cooking. He was pretty good at it, smiling when he tasted the potatoes. They were fucking perfect. He hoped that he’d impress Steve with the food, or at least help him relax after his day at work; he was always complaining about people annoying him anymore.

 

Billy didn’t even notice when Steve arrived home that time- Steve had been doing it quieter lately, not wanting to scare Billy, as he’d stated- and was quietly humming while he finished cooking up the two pieces of steak. A soft smile had settled on his face and his whole body just seemed less tense than it had before. 

 

Behind him, Billy heard someone take a deep breath and whipped around, relieved to see it was just Steve. “Hey, I… I made dinner. Figured I’d give you a break since you always cook around here.”

 

Steve took a whiff and grinned at the man, just staring for a moment. Billy wasn’t sure what he was thinking in that moment- he couldn’t read Steve like he could everyone else- but his eyes said they were just… admiring. Billy refused to believe so, of course, but that’s the kind of look he had in his eyes. 

 

“Well,” Steve said, “it smells delicious. Thanks, Billy.” He jerked forward like he was going to approach Billy for a hug or something similar, but must have decided against it and simply sat at the table instead, setting down an envelope he’d been holding. “Oh, and, uh… you look nice.”

 

Billy sputtered, his cheeks darkening to a warm red. “E-Excuse me?”

 

Steve chuckled. “You cleaned yourself up, I can tell. You look nice.” He paused. “Not that, uh, you don’t always look nice, just…” It was Steve’s turn to blush. “You put effort in today and I want you to know it wasn’t in vain, I guess.”

 

Billy just kind of stood there and stared, eyes wide and a small smile creeping back onto his face. He was quiet, letting all that sink in. Glancing to the window, he could have sworn he saw a dove, but dismissed it and turned back towards Steve. Besides the feathery intrusion, the vague silhouette of his reflection was finally… normal. No bloating, no ooze, and his crisp blue eyes stared right back into him. It was a beautiful relief after all that he’d seen. 

 

He looked nice. Steve said that he looked nice. His brain couldn’t do anything with such a blatant statement like that; all it could do was give it to his heart, which took that and ran with it. Maybe he had a chance? Maybe he got something good? Maybe, just maybe, he could have a chance at confessing to Steve? No, his brain tried to silence his heart on that topic, as it tended to get very carried away. 

 

“Uh- thanks,” Billy finally said, focusing back on the present and on Steve.

 

Steve was staring back, eyes wide as if he were in shock. He very shakily pointed at Billy, whispering, “holy shit!”

 

Billy cocked his head at him and frowned a bit. “What? What’s wrong? Is there something in my hair?” He lifted his hands to check his hair and noticed that his hands were… they were glowing ! Actually glowing, emitting a golden light just like the light he saw when he was dead. His eyes widened just like Steve’s did, staring in pure shock just at his hand. “Oh… that’s, uh, weird,” he muttered, pausing. “I swear it wasn’t like that before…”

 

“You think?!” Steve whisper yelled, looking over Billy’s body fully. There was a thick silence for a moment, Billy examining himself and Steve trying to rationalize it. “Well,” Steve began after about thirty seconds, “I think it kinda suits you.” He finished with a huff of a laugh.

 

Billy blushed again and rolled his eyes, crossing his arms. “Don’t flatter me. It doesn’t make this any less terrifying.” He sighed and tried to loosen up, turning back to the stove to plate everything up for each of them. He tried his best not to freak out while he slowly set everything at the table, trying to act as he usually would. 

 

“Eat,” Billy insisted and sat down, beginning to eat his dinner. “We can figure it out later.” Steve just nodded in response, taking a bite before pushing the envelope towards him.

 

“Max brought this to me at work,” he said. “Came in the mail for you. Apparently your dad tried to burn it.”

 

Billy hummed and grabbed the paper, opening it up. “Honestly kinda hoped the bastard kicked the bucket while I was gone…” He pulled the letter out and quietly read it. 

 

‘Billy, I’m so sorry for not being able to reach you before this. Susan was the one that got ahold of me. I tried calling the house but your father picked up and refused to let me go there to visit you. I didn’t want to anger him again and risk your life. 

 

‘All that aside, I want to tell you how much I still love you. You’ve always been my boy and I feel so awful about leaving you. I can’t imagine what Neil has done to you in my time away… But that’s not the point of this. I heard about the fire and checked in on you, when you were dead. I know what happened. I know you’re still alive. I know why. You're different. Because of me, you’re not entirely human. Don’t worry, not like that thing that killed you. It’s more divine than that. You have special abilities and they should be more enhanced when you come back. I remember when you were a boy- you had the abilities but didn’t know that they weren’t normal. You could sense who loved who, and it caused you a lot of distress when you noticed that your father held no love in his heart. 

 

‘My name is never the same. Some call me Aphrodite, some call me Venus, some have other names. You are a demigod. If you need me to help you, my number is attached to this letter.

 

‘Remember baby, mama loves you.’

 

Billy was silent once more, confused and startled. His disbelief shone bright in his expression as the glow faltered and faded. Steve could see the emotion in his expression and spoke, “What is it? What does it say?”

 

There was a pause. “Nothing,” Billy muttered, folding it up and sliding it back in the envelope. “Nothing of interest, really.”

 

---

 

Night came, and so did Billy’s slight fear of the dark. Of course he’d be at least a little unsettled by the dark; he spent over five months in an all consuming void of nothing but darkness. He still saw things out of the corners of his eyes- little creatures that his mind would make up just to trick him and frighten him like an insolent child. It always worked, unfortunately; this ultimately lead to him always hurrying to bed at night and leaving the lamp beside the bed on so that it wasn’t completely dark. 

 

There he was; curled up in his bed and huddled under his covers. His glow had long since faded and his fear took over his mind, making him feel weak and meaningless. The feeling was similar to the one he felt while that thing- the mindflayer, as the kids called it- was parading around as him.

 

“Billy?” 

 

The blonde jumped out of his skin and flipped around, looking at Steve, who stood in the doorway. “You fucking scared me, Harrington,” he grumbled and turned back over, curling up tighter.

 

Steve rolled his eyes and approached the bed, sitting on the edge. “Are… are you okay? You look scared out of your skin.”

 

Billy grumbled again. “I’m fine. Just… I’m fine.”

 

“No,” Steve shook his head, “you’re not. I’ve spent at least a few hours a day every day with you since December. I can tell when you’re unsettled.” There was a hesitant pause before Steve laid his hand on Billy’s shoulder. “Do… do you want me to stay with you?”

 

Billy froze up a bit, his breath catching in his throat when he felt Steve’s hand. He didn’t say anything, too scared to trust his mouth. Though, whatever that… thing had awakened in him was throwing a monkey wrench in the operation of communication, because without warning, the voice in his head screamed, “Please. Please stay, Steve.”

 

The brunette looked at him with big eyes, shocked not only that Billy actually wanted him there, but also because of the whole talking in his head. He paused, swallowed a lump in his throat, and nodded. “Let me get some pillows and a blanket. I’ll sleep on the floor-”

 

“No!” The voice from Billy’s head screamed. Billy cleared his throat and blushed, scooting over to one side of the bed. “It’s too cold for that,” he said aloud. “Get over here. I’m not letting you freeze to death on the floor.”

 

Steve slowly laid in the bed, humming with a smile. “Damn, this is warm… did you turn your heating blanket on?” All he got in response was a hum, Billy’s beautiful mess of hair still facing him. “Good… keeps you nice and toasty-”

 

“Are we not gonna talk about that?” Billy interrupted him. “The fucking… mind talking?”

 

Steve paused, sighed. Looked down at the bed and shrugged. “Well, for one, it’s called telepathy. And two… I wasn’t really planning on it, no.”

 

“Well, we have to,” Billy growled. “I’m turning into a goddamn freak, Steve. I… I keep seeing shit, in the mirrors, and then there’s the fucking telepathy, and- and I saw something, when I was dead. I saw a golden light and roses and doves and now I keep seeing those things out here, too, and now I fucking glow sometimes-”

 

“Billy,” Steve interjected. “Calm down, please… we’ll… we’ll figure this out. Okay?”

 

Billy shook his head. “ You don’t have to do shit, Harrington. This is my bullshit. I’m not letting you get roped into something that I need to figure out for myself.”

 

Steve hummed and, assuming by the way the bed shifted, scooted closer. “Too late, Hargrove,” he said, nestling into the pillows. “I’m going to help you. You can’t stop me.” He shifted closer, and Billy could swear that he felt Steve’s breath on his back. His suspicions were confirmed when Steve’s arms wrapped around him, pulling the man securely against his chest and burying his nose in the blonde’s hair. Billy was tense just for a moment but let it happen; it actually calmed him down after a few moments and, when he closed his eyes, he actually felt safe.

 

Billy just stayed quiet, curling up tighter and keeping his eyes closed. It didn’t take long for Steve to fall asleep, leaving Billy not quite alone, but stuck in the deafening silence of the night. He focused on Steve’s breathing, the gentle breaths that signalled he was peacefully asleep, and the gentle but sturdy weight of the man’s arms around him. Believe it or not, the situation calmed him, and soon enough, the blonde drifted off to sleep. 

 

He saw the golden light in his dreams. That’s new.

 

---

 

1976.

 

That was the last year Billy got to spend with his mom, and he remembered so much so vividly. He remembered her taking him to the beach, sitting in a chair and knitting or reading out of a magazine while keeping an eye on her boy. She loved the beach and passed that love onto her son; it was damn near ingrained in him, like it was just his genes. It reminded Billy of the origin story of Aphrodite, how she emerged in a big shell from the sea foam. 

 

They’d spend hours at the beach, Billy’s toothless grin wide on his cheeks. His adult teeth were still coming in, all perfectly straight and beautiful. He was a cheerful child, excitable and energetic. 

 

Everyone absolutely loved him; anyone that met him praised him for being a sweetheart, a gentleman, that he’d ‘bring in the ladies’ when he got older. Whatever his mother passed onto him, it had an influence over everyone he met as well. It made people adore him, and any of his peers would say that he was absolutely the coolest. Billy, of course, didn’t mind. This just meant more people loved him. 

 

That’s all Billy had ever wanted, for people to love him. He worked through self hatred since he was small, since before his mother left, and an outpouring of love from people around him was the only thing that kept him from spiraling into oblivion.

 

Maybe that’s what the thing in the mirror was, he thought; maybe he’d finally spiralled, maybe the love was all faked. If what his mother had written to him in the letter was correct, then all the love was fake, constructed by his own mind to fulfill the selfish desire to love himself. He could not love himself; he was bad . His insides were rotten and his actions were abhorrent. He had turned into what Neil wanted him to be; he’d abused his sister and his friends, and at the very drop of a nail, he was ready to fight whatever had made such a small noise.

 

This revelation came to him while staring in a mirror, watching his reflection get worse and worse. It had gotten better; a perfectly normal reflection of himself, simply staring back at him. But, as he stared, the mirror world grew darker, and the thing’s veins filled with the black sludge. The eyes rolled back into its head and it bloated up like some dead balloon, a maniacal grin stretching across its face.

 

Billy only stood, mentally exhausted and frozen in fear while staring into the dead eyes of this thing. Baybe, he hoped, if he stared long enough, it would go back to normal…

 

But it didn’t. Not as long as his thoughts went on a rampage of hatred and loathing towards himself. He was frozen, his arms shaking as items around the bathroom rattled and fell to the floor. He felt like he was suffocating, like the thing in the mirror reached out and began to choke him against the wall. It filled him with paralyzing fear while the thoughts still lurked. The sweatshirt and thick pants he wore suddenly felt so hot against his skin, like some kind of cage.

 

He felt like he could see the words in his head by now- ‘useless’ and ‘disgusting’ were painted in the black sludge across the bathroom walls as he fell to his knees. Billy’s whole body shook and trembled and, in some twisted kind of rescue, he suddenly was no longer in the master bathroom of Steve Harrington’s house. 

 

He was back on the road by the abandoned warehouse, where this all began, where that thing came to him and said it wanted to build . Disgusting copies of him shambled towards him, all grinning maniacally while whispers surrounded the air. “Failure, nothing, worthless,” the whispers chanted. “Give up, stop trying, let death come again. It still wants you dead.”

 

Some part of him wished that spite alone could keep someone going, because he hated that thing just enough that if it was possible, his only fuel would be spite. But it wasn’t, and some part of him genuinely feared that he was going to choke to death on whatever was clogging his throat, stuck in this strange limbo surrounded by these disgusting things. 

 

Through the whispers, he heard something new. Something familiar. Something- no, some one - that he loved.

 

“Billy!” It was Steve. His voice was muffled and, when Billy glanced about the terrifying limbo, he saw no such person. 

 

“Billy, can you hear me?” It was still muffled, and now he could feel steef, feel his arms being gripped. Steve was right there , how could he not see him? The plane of existence he was on began to falter and, like a television struggling to change channels, he began getting glimpses of the bathroom, all pristine and white.

 

Billy tried to speak, tried with all his might, but nothing came out. Steve must have seen his pathetic attempt at speech and deemed him conscious enough, because Billy would feel his wrist being grabbed and pulled forward. It pressed flat against something warm and steadily moving up and down.

 

“Follow my breathing, Billy. Listen and breathe.” Steve’s voice seemed calmer now, much less frantic. Billy began to oblige as best as he would, forcing air in and out of his lungs. It was offbeat and labored but, as the minutes dragged on, he managed to get into the rhythm of Steve’s chest.

 

As he breathed, the bathroom came fully into view and the terrifying limbo faded for good, or at least for the moment. Everything had fallen from its spot on one of the counters or cabinets and the water from where he had gone to wash his face was still running. With another few blinks, he saw Steve, crouching down to Billy’s level and focusing completely on the man in front of him. He had not taken off his Family Video vest, apparently having arrived home from work shortly beforehand.

 

“Thank god,” Steve muttered, apparently realizing Billy had become more conscious. “You scared me, Billy…” He still had his hand around Billy’s wrist, keeping it there, because he noticed the blonde still seemed to be struggling with his breathing rhythm. The brunette paused and examined the man before him, slowly letting go and tucking his arms under Billy to lift him up.

 

“Come on, big guy,” Steve mumbled as he slowly lifted Billy in his arms. “I’ve got you. You’re safe with me.”

 

Billy let out a groan and shook his head a bit. The voice in his head spoke; “don’t call me that.”

 

Steve, still shocked by the appearance of a mind voice, hummed as he walked Billy to his own room. “Sorry, man,” he said. “Can I ask why?”

 

“Makes me feel fat,” his mind voice said. “Fat’s ugly. I hate it.”

 

Steve frowned a bit and laid Billy on his bed, letting the blonde look around the room. It was messy, but not unusable. Some papers were strewn across a desk, his bed was tucked against a wall, and a bat was leaning against the bedside table. “Not necessarily,” Steve said, knowing that Billy had gained weight in the past month or so. “Do you want my honest opinion?”

 

Billy didn’t even look at him when his mind voice spoke next. “I don’t want you to lie to me, so. Duh.”

 

“I think it looks nice on you, the extra fluff.” Steve smiled where Billy would see before sitting on the edge of the bed. “Can I touch you?”

 

Billy paused, trying to steady his still shaky breathing. “Sure,” his mind voice said. “I’ll try to tell you if you should stop, though. Sometimes touch makes it worse.”

 

Steve nodded and laid beside him, slowly wrapping his arms around his midsection. He felt the blonde tense under his arms, gently rubbing his side to calm him down. “Yeah… you look nice. Really.” Ever so gently, he nudged Billy closer, his arms holding him just as securely as he did a few nights ago. “I mean… I always thought you were hot, but I don’t think that’ll ever really change, if I’m honest,” he chuckled awkwardly. “Beautiful, more like it. And I would just… tell that, somewhere inside you, there was someone good.”

 

Billy just looked up at him, his curls shifting ever so slightly. He seemed confused. Unable to wrap his head around what Steve was saying.

 

The brunette kept going, beginning to stroke his hair. “I’d say that I loved you, but… I’m not even twenty yet. I have no idea what love is. All I know is that you make me feel… right. Like all my future would ever be is one where I’m with you.”

 

The blonde’s eyes went wide, the crisp blue color piercing through the beautiful, murky voids that stared back. “Love can be whatever we make it,” his mind voice said. “Love can be that… what you described. Cause maybe…” He paused. “Maybe I’ve been scared you’ll leave me alone.” He averted his eyes.

 

Steve just smiled. Tucked a finger under Billy’s chin and tilted it up to look him in the eyes again. “Then I love you, Billy. I’ll never leave you.”

 

Billy could feel himself begin to cry. And finally, he spoke aloud. “I love you too, Steve. I fucking love you.” He leaned up just a bit more and connected their lips.

 

Some say that a first kiss is like fireworks, like an explosion of emotion, but that’s not what he felt. Their first kiss was golden, it was silk sheets and white curtains and blue skies. It was doves and roses and gardens they could walk through on sunny days. It was sea foam and waves and surfing. It was huddling by a fire to stay warm and comfort the other in silence. Their first kiss was home, it was warm and happy and full of love

 

Billy never wanted it to end. He’d stay, not out of spite, but for Steve.