Boltedfruit Archive

Feast, Wolf

Published: 2023-09-12

Category: M/M

Rating: E

Words: 7,848

Fandom: Stranger Things

Ship: Steve Harrington/Billy Hargrove

Characters: Steve Harrington, Billy Hargrove

Tags: Violence, Murder of Minor Character, Choking, Dissociation, Grief, Guilt, Angst, Dubious Consent, Alternate Universe – No Upside Down, Mental Health Issues, Rough Sex, Protective Steve Harrington

Summary:

It happens on the shore. In the surf.

 

“Don’t want to push my luck.”

 

Harrington smiles a winning, beatific, smug prick of a smile. Leans in close and magnetizes Billy into his orbit, gives him a supersized dose of oxygen. Billy is Billy again and he tries to mirror the look. The pleased self-assuredness.

 

“Then let me push it for you,” he whispers and Billy is nodding, is gone, is fucked in the head.

Author's Note

I hope you enjoy! And consider leaving a comment at the end of the fic to let me know what you thought.

Hold.

 

Hold.

 

It happens on the shore. In the surf.

 

Hold. Harder. Hold. Keep holding.

 

Seawater laps at his heels. Fills the man’s mouth. Empties. Fills again. Over and over. The brine is heavy in the midnight air. Cold and brackish, makes constant shivers rake under his skin like the waves.

 

The man chokes. Coughs. Seawater hits his face. He holds tighter. He holds harder. His heels dig into the wet sand, so wet. Harder than stone to carve yourself into, inside, beneath. Hold. Hold.

 

Harder.

 

More coughing.

 

A nail catches his chin, his neck. The cold numbs any pain.

 

Fingers dig into his jaw. Find his mouth. He bites. Bites and bites and feels warm liquid fill his mouth, cover his tongue. He spits into the surf, red washing away.

 

They sink. The surf rises. Waves lap at his shins, his knees, his hips. The man’s face is blurred by water. Coughing turns to spluttering turns to gasping turns to an open mouth gaping. Open, open, seeking air. Swallowing cold salt and blood.

 

Hold.

 

Sink.

 

Be over already.

 

 

Hawkins is small. Barely large enough to hold one transplant, let alone two. Especially one as loud as Maxine, hair and personality included.

 

It takes her two weeks to find friends.

 

He’s jealous.

 

All he’s got after a few weeks is aching knuckles and a reputation.

 

 

Christmas is a small affair.

 

They’re alone. Or at least he is. Max has her troupe of boys he doesn’t entirely trust. Has the one who still wears the shadow of matching bruises hidden along his cheek, his chin. Maybe he’s just seeing things.

 

Maybe he’s just wanting something to look at. For there to be a reason.

 

He gives Max a cassette and she burns him dinner. He spends his last ten on a pizza delivery that’s cold by the time it hits their kitchen counter. He still needs to find a dining table.

 

She laughs at something he can’t remember saying. So that’s something.

 

 

Spring brings yard sales. Apparently Hawkins doesn’t mind selling second hand shit in a layer of snow.

 

But when he’s driving by the estate sale in Loch Nora, he can’t help but do a double take. It’s a dining table all right. He makes a u-turn at the end of the street and parks, eyeing anyone who dares look at the thing too long.

 

He digs his freezing fingers into his pockets and approaches the table. It’s round and real wood. Old. Chipped and scratched up a little. It’s not even thirty bucks.

 

He pulls out his wallet and finds the bills. He stalks around until he finds himself in the open garage, not doing anything to shield buyers from the cold weather. He finds the seller. She’s younger than he expected someone hosting an estate sale to be.

 

“It was my grandfather’s,” she offers. “Take care of it, will you?”

 

“Sure,” he says. He just needs a place to put shit. A place to have Max sit at and eat.

 

“Billy?”

 

He turns. He sighs.

 

“Harrington.”

 

Sometimes he doesn’t feel like a real person. That his legs and arms and body aren’t his own, and he’s just some schmuck shadow operating from the rafters. Pretending to be a person. Pretending to try.

 

But when Harrington looks at him, it’s different. Feels different.

 

His bones are real. His muscles and his skin and his hair and his brain are all real when Harrington blinks and smiles a little warily. It’s deserved. They haven’t spoken since the fight.

 

He scans for bruises, but Harrington’s face is long since healed. Perfect.

 

He looks older somehow. Like the break aged him. A few more months and Harrington’s free of school.

 

He still has senior year. He still needs to pretend.

 

“You grabbed the table?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Nice.”

 

“Yeah.

 

Harrington hands over a stack of worn paperbacks, all old scifi from the twenties and thirties. He didn’t know he read. Anything. Harrington follows it up with a whole dollar and the woman smiles at him like he’s done her a favor.

 

“You have chairs?”

 

“What?”

 

“Did you get the chairs too?”

 

No. He looks back at the table. Indeed, there are four matching chairs.

 

He looks at the snow on the ground. On Harrington’s sneakers. They crunch as they shift weight, a couple of ghosts wrapped around bones.

 

It hadn’t occurred to him to buy chairs. They have a ratty couch at home, a TV. Maxine has a shitty twin bed and he sleeps on the couch.

 

He works. He deals. He fights. Nobody’s come asking for anybody.

 

“I’ll sell them for fifteen dollars,” the woman offers.

 

“What about two for five?” he counters.

 

“Deal.”

 

Harrington ends up following him like a dog. Ends up tucking the nicer two of the four chairs under his arms while he gets the table. He muscles it over his shoulder and proceeds to his car, a matching set of crunching steps behind his own.

 

The camaro isn’t huge, but he stuffs the table inside. There’s only room in the passenger seat for one chair, and that’s him not being precious about the interior.

 

Harrington hums and shrugs and says, “I guess I’ll follow you?”

 

Then he just takes the other chair and loads it into the back of the beamer.

 

Billy breathes. Feels his lungs creak.

 

Harrington follows him home.

 

 

He dreams that night he’s surfing.

 

 

Maxine wakes him up making breakfast. It’s not a school day, and she’s being too loud. He needs to sleep in so he can stay up and make some money.

 

But she offers him two eggs. One perfect and one broken, the yoke running away along the rim of the plate. A piece of toast comes flying at him. He eats it all. Even says thanks.

 

 

Weeks pass by. Months. School crawls by. The sun comes out more and some trees dare to sprout leaves.

 

It’s the weekend and he drives out to the woods behind the school. Finds the bench the freak deals weed and pills at and smokes through half a pack before catching a chill. He pockets his smokes and takes off through the trees. Walking can be nice sometimes. It’s one thing they didn’t have back in the city. There was concrete, neatly trimmed parks, and homeless. No woods to speak of.

 

He gets lost in his own head. A squirrel jumps from a branch and scares him shitless, and it’s only then he decides to turn around and head back. He realizes he hadn’t kept track of any kind of trail.

 

A few wrong turns and he’s definitely lost. He’s no closer to the bench or the school than he is to anything else. It’s just trees and undergrowth, the lingering traces of snowfall.

 

He’s freezing his balls off so he keeps walking. If he dies, then he dies. But Max won’t know. Won’t know for a while. Then she will, and she’ll probably talk. Talk too much. Land herself in trouble.

 

He grinds his teeth. Feels hollowed out. Bones rattling against one another like some cheap Halloween decoration.

 

He walks and walks and up ahead there’s a break in the trees. They begin to thin out and he wonders if he’s glad he won’t really die today. He can’t pinpoint the feeling either way.

 

He blows air out when he comes out to a clearing. It’s a junkyard.

 

Max’s little gang are sprawled around the innermost clearing, leaning against wayward metal and old cars. He hopes one of them catches tetanus, but then remembers Max isn’t exactly a genius and might end up catching it too. Is it even contagious?

 

It’s what he’s thinking when he sees Harrington come out from an old school bus. He’s got his hands on his hips and is shaking his head. Is saying something too far away to catch.

 

“Uh, guys,” Max’s favorite blurts, eyes focused square on him. “It’s Billy.”

 

Harrington’s head whips up. He actually smiles. He waves, a one-handed thing. He starts jogging over and up the little hill and Billy remembers his own name, remembers his own skin.

 

“Billy! What’re you doing out here? Looking for your sister?”

 

The kids are all calling out after him like Billy’s a shark Harrington’s swimming right up to. Then again, there’s no real reason for them to think differently.

 

“No. Just walked here.”

 

“You…walked here.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Is Max with you?”

 

“She’s somewhere.”

 

An eyebrow goes up. “Okay. Where’d you walk from?”

 

“I dropped her off at the movies. She’s obsessed with Footloose.”

 

“Good movie.”

 

“It’s okay.” Then, “I walked from the school.”

 

“Jesus.” By the way Harrington’s reacting,he must know it well. “That’s a hell of a walk.”

 

“I got lost.”

 

“I can drive you back.”

 

“Sure,” Billy says. Tightens his fists and feels every joint pop. “Why’re you and the nerds out here?”

 

Harrington tosses his head back, sending a world weary look back at the boys still watching them nervously. “It’s kind of a hangout spot. When they get sick of the arcade, which is extremely rare by the way, they always want me to ferry them out here so they can talk my ear off about some new thing.”

 

“What is it today?”

 

Harrington makes a face. “A couple of astronauts floated around without a rope, or something? That’s about all I got.”

 

Billy nods. “Saw something about that in the paper.”

 

“Guess I’m the last to know.” He turns all the way around, cups his hands around his mouth to yell down, “Get your asses back in the car, we’re heading out in ten!”

 

A chorus of groans and complaints rise up while Billy appreciates Harrington from the back. He hasn’t had this much of an uninterrupted look since they shared practice. Before Billy quit the team.

 

It was better for everyone.

 

Billy follows Harrington down the hill. The boys circle like crows, picking and cawing at him with peculiar little looks and comments that do little to bother him.

 

But the longer he’s in their company, the more he listens to them ramble out warnings and trivia in equal measure, he feels like those astronauts spacewalking untethered. He’s floating again. He’s nobody. He’s just some guy in clothes a little too tight and not warm enough sitting in the passenger seat of a car that’s too nice for somebody like him.

 

“Because Dustin, we’re giving him a ride back to his car. That’s all. Now keep it down, you’re all giving me a migraine.”

 

“You sound eighty years old, Steve,” one says.

 

Another adds, “Why can’t his parents come pick him up?”

 

That’s a comment that sticks. Sits between his teeth like a loose corn kernel, waiting to rot or pop. He can’t swallow it. Can’t say anything to it either.

 

He just sort of assumed everyone knew his and Maxine’s situation. Or knew enough to fill in the blanks. Or to assume the opposite. That they had parents and they were loved enough to be picked up at all.

 

He finds Harrington looking his way. He turns back toward the street and pulls out onto the road towards the high school.

 

The one thing he and Max agreed on before moving was the story. That yes, they lived together. And their shitty little trailer wasn’t somewhere anyone could be invited to.

 

Let her friends figure out what that meant.

 

The other part of the agreement is that if anybody asked questions, no they didn’t. And if anyone pressed for answers, he and Max wouldn’t talk.

 

It hasn’t been a problem yet.

 

Yet.

 

Hold.

 

His joints burn.

 

“Will you guys shut up? I’m obviously closer, so I offered.” Harrington hits the gas a little, makes his blood start to sing. “What were you saying about the space rope thing?”

 

That sets the kids off again, completely derailing them. He doesn’t know how Max tolerates it. She’s at least able to keep a train of thought.

 

Harrington hits the gas again. Takes a curve a little too wide to be totally safe.

 

Billy breathes. He rolls the window down, and holds his fingers curled around the handle.

 

 

Harrington pats the side of his door when Billy gets out. He’s starting to fade again, without the wind in his hair, without Harrington’s voice egging the kids on into arguments over outer space, filling in the gaps when they were running out of steam.

 

But Harrington is looking at him now. Is watching him climb into the camaro. Billy feels like Billy. Turns the heat on and sits there idling, watching Harrington right back.

 

“I’ll come by later?”

 

It’s new. Billy has to pick Max up.

 

“Sure.”

 

Harrington nods and drives off, leaving Billy to himself.

 

 

Even though Harrington knows where he and Max live, he’s never been inside. He’d just dropped the chair off at the front stoop and helped him shoulder the table and other chair out to sit beside it. They’d said their goodbyes and he’d left and that was it.

 

Harrington doesn’t know. Just like nobody else does.

 

He breathes. He holds. He holds. He–

 

 

He leaves Max at the arcade with a few bills and a promise to pick her up in time for dinner out at Benny’s Diner. It’s not all the time he can foot that kind of bill, and she knows it. Knows it’s special.

 

Whether it’s special for him or her, he’s still not sure.

 

Harrington pulls up around five, sporting a six pack of beer and a joint sat in the nook of his ear. He holds out the beer and Billy takes it, no longer floating. Feels firmly planted with every step.

 

Billy holds the rickety door open and Harrington enters in behind him. It’s untainted, this place. It’s his and Maxine’s home.

 

It shows.

 

There are no pictures. No decorations. Maxine has a few drawings from her smallest friend with the bad bowl cut tacked up inside her room, but their shared space is barren. Save for the folded blankets and pillows stacked on the floor by the couch. Billy has a few bills stuck to the fridge with magnets.

 

Harrington takes it all in. Smiles at the table and two chairs.

 

He sits on the couch, in the spot Billy usually puts his pillow. He knows he’ll think about that later when he’s trying to sleep.

 

Harrington pops the tab on a beer and the sound breaks something open in the trailer. Suddenly Billy is there beside him, sitting and drinking down his own.

 

“Slow down, tiger,” Harrington laughs. Sets his beer down. He takes Billy’s beer too, and he’s kind of pissed about that, if not for the fact he was almost through. The few drops left ring between his ears and Harrington opens his mouth and lets the can drain down his throat.

 

Billy knocks the can out of his fingers. Throws a leg over Harrington’s lap and is so sick of this strange middleground they’ve been stuck in since the fight. He wants to know if his memory of warm skin and sharp teeth was real or make believe, borne out of his deepest fantasies.

 

Harrington’s hands land on his hips, squeeze at him, holds him down and they grind their hips together. Billy isn’t taking anything Harrington doesn’t want to give, so maybe it wasn’t all fantasy.

 

Harrington’s sharp teeth draw blood when their mouths meet. It’s not anything nice. Nothing Billy’s ever shared with a girl. He drives forward, hard in his jeans, feeling Harrington matching underneath him.

 

“Christ.”

 

Billy wonders if Harrington prays, or if that was just a Hargrove childhood thing. A way to wish monsters away. Maybe Billy is Harrington’s personal monster now, dragging him closer to the edge with teeth and rolling hips.

 

Maybe he’s trying to wish this away. Gone.

 

Harrington finishes and Billy’s mind sinks into quiet, carried along by the riptide. He draws back, fingers his zip open and lets himself bounce free. Shoves his head at Harrington’s gasping mouth until he’s surrounded by heat and waves.

 

Harrington grabs his ass, into it even though Billy didn’t ask permission. He drags the jeans out of his way, and a finger or two find their way to Billy’s center. One pushes in, even though Harrington didn’t ask either.

 

He dies a small thing, and the world shifts.

 

 

He shoos Harrington out before he overstays his welcome. He doesn’t seem to mind.

 

Billy is halfway to nothing again by the time he’s got Maxine in his car, chatting his ear off about a new high score. He’s nobody again when he nibbles away at a burger and lets her steal his fries. Like he doesn’t notice.

 

 

Tighter. Harder. Bloodier.

 

He should have made it bloodier.

 

But then the secret would have been harder to let waste away behind silent minds.

 

 

He wakes up aching. His ass. His fingers mostly. He flexes them, reliving a midnight so many months gone. Tries to recall how numb with cold he’d been. How he got back home to a crying little girl and a house he didn’t recognize anymore.

 

He didn’t hold her.

 

He got her in his car and drove and drove and drove until she fell asleep.

 

Like a baby.

 

 

He’s leaving the alley behind the bar when he runs into Harrington waiting to get in out front. He’s with a group, a girl and a few guys that don’t immediately come to mind. He’s done up nice, hair perfect, lips rosy. He wonders if he wears makeup.

 

He’s wiping the blood from his hands. His face hurts, and Harrington seems to understand just how much as his eyes rake over his face like he’s seeing him for the first time.

 

“Staying out of trouble?”

 

“Sure am.” His wallet is full. The bastard he knocked into next week left smiling. What else is there? “You getting into it?”

 

“Sure am,” Harrington says, leering. It’s a good look on him. Let the perfect king be a creep for a while. He’s into it. “Come join us.”

 

A few people ahead, he can see the bouncer. He and the bouncer have an understanding. Keep it out of the public eye and away from Hawkins PD and he can do whatever the hell he feels like for a few extra dollars.

 

“Don’t want to push my luck.”

 

Harrington smiles a winning, beatific, smug prick of a smile. Leans in close and magnetizes Billy into his orbit, gives him a supersized dose of oxygen. Billy is Billy again and he tries to mirror the look. The pleased self-assuredness.

 

“Then let me push it for you,” he whispers and Billy is nodding, is gone, is fucked in the head.

 

 

Harrington likes to drink and dance. Harrington without the kids towed after him is a beast of another breed. He moves all lithe and carefree. Slithers in and out of the spheres of others, all while drawing looks and leaving half full hearts rocked by what if.

 

But it’s Billy Harrington’s chosen to bequeath his attention unto tonight. Billy, with his barely clean hands, his filthy fucking hands, and two feet that suddenly haven’t the first clue how to dance when Harrington pulls him onto the dancefloor.

 

Music beats loud, thrums under his skin next to the blood, the lies, the secret. Harrington looks at him like he’s somebody to look at and Billy despises him for reminding him he exists.

 

He pushes, Harrington laughs. They end up in one of the bar’s less than clean bathroom stalls, the lock shaky but true in its bolts.

 

Harrington turns him around. Billy turns right back. Gets his tongue on a thundering pulse that’s the only giveaway Harrington is affected by this. By him. By Billy.

 

Harrington fingers him again. Billy pretends he’s fucking Harrington, whose got his thighs parted for Billy to rut between. Like this isn’t wrong and less than clean, less than good, less than horrid.

 

Little more than a riptide, little less than a tsunami, and Billy holds on.

 

Tries not to sink.

 

 

He wakes up hungover. He forgets until he remembers. Splutters into his cereal, spoon falling from his mouth and tense fingers.

 

Maxine looks at him like he’s crazy.

 

Maybe he is.

 

 

Harrington graduates.

 

He watches him walk, pretends he doesn’t.

 

Pretends he doesn’t see when Harrington finds him in the crowd, waves. Grins.

 

Pretends he doesn’t want to be a part of the group that grabs him up in tight hugs and kisses to his cheeks.

 

 

Harrington is at his front door a week into summer. Billy feels like himself a little more than other days, and Harrington’s eager face solidifies it.

 

They smoke on the couch. Find their way to the floor where they roll around for a while. A while where Billy pretends they aren’t kissing.

 

It stops when Harrington asks, “I ever have to worry about meeting the parents?”

 

He blinks and Harrington is holding his jaw like he’s in pain. He’s looking up at Billy, surprised maybe.

 

He blinks and they’re in the kitchen trying to scrounge lunch together.

 

Maxine is out with her friends. So Billy isn’t shocked when Harrington drapes himself over his spine, hips meeting his ass. He pushes down both their pants. For some reason leaves Billy’s underwear on even though he pulls down his own.

 

He fists Billy through his boxers. Does it so tight that it kind of hurts. He pushes his ass back and feels Harrington hard, hung and raw pushing where it feels nice. He wants to be naked too. Why didn’t Harrington make him?

 

Nothing breaches him. He’s close even though Harrington’s fingers twist hard, make him hurt.

 

Warmth spreads on his leg, staining the edge of his boxers.

 

Harrington gets dressed. Mouths something at his neck, his cheek. Places a touch that’s a little more solid. Pats his ass and leaves.

 

Billy stands there until he hears keys jingle in the lock. He runs to the bathroom.

 

“It’s just me!” Maxine’s voice calls out. “Ms. Byers gave me a ride!”

 

He breathes. He breathes. He breathes.

 

A gentle knock at the bathroom door. “Don’t worry. I made her park at the end of the street. She doesn’t know where we live exactly. I did what you said.”

 

He grunts something, maybe. He just knows she leaves.

 

 

It’s the end of summer by the time he gets the courage to drive to Loch Nora. He finds the house everyone always talks about. The one he’s never been inside, because the king’s partying days were over by the time he and Max showed up.

 

He rings the doorbell because Harrington has one. That’s his fault.

 

Harrington answers, dressed in an outfit out of a wet dream.

 

“Billy?”

 

“Nice dress.”

 

He rolls his eyes. “I can’t really get into anything right now. I’m on my way to work.”

 

Billy reads the nametag. Wonders when the last time he said Harrington’s first name out loud. If he ever has.

 

He rolls it around his mouth but doesn’t say it. He sees the ice cream patch embroidered on the sleeve. Sees the logo above his name.

 

“I like java chip.”

 

“Noted.”

 

“Get inside.”

 

Harrington sighs. “I’m gonna be late, man.”

 

“Don’t care.” He bullies Harrington inside his foyer. Gets him backed up against the stairwell until he stumbles. He falls, and Billy doesn’t give a shit if it hurts. Harrington just glares up at him. “I don’t care.”

 

Something shifts behind those big brown eyes and Billy looks down, away. Gets his tense fingers hooked into Harrington’s funny little shorts and underwear and yanks them off in one. He’s not hard at all, but Billy doesn’t really care.

 

“Turn over.”

 

Harrington’s eyes narrow. He doesn’t move.

 

Billy manhandles him until he’s on his stomach, knees awkwardly bent to rest on whichever stair they’re level with. Billy kneels down, looks his fill. Wonders why he’s never tried this before.

 

The carpet feels like stone, feels like wet sand under his knees.

 

He stills. His hands twitch until he finds them running up along Harrington’s lower back. Reveals more and more mole-speckled skin by the second. He’s gorgeous up close, and he wonders again why he’s never bothered to try and see Harrington naked at a time and place he could appreciate it.

 

He lowers himself to Harrington’s back. Hears a long groan in response. Harrington swears and raises his ass up against Billy’s hips. Wiggles them back and forth.

 

Billy’s hands find his shoulders, trail down his arms to his elbows and back up. Find his neck.

 

He thinks of old stained underwear, of Harrington walking away.

 

He freezes.

 

Harrington notices after a long moment of unrequited wiggling. He angles his pretty long neck and glares at Billy’s motionlessness until he sees something. He must. Because then he’s gone still too, and he’s turned over and has his legs spread, cradling Billy’s weight like this is prom night in a nice bed.

 

Harrington nuzzles at his cheek. Gets him blinking.

 

“Billy,” he says, and Billy comes back. From where, he’s not sure. “Billy, come on.”

 

“Stop,” Billy orders, reaching down to pull himself free of his own clothes. He’s sweating already, and Harrington is sweltering below him. He touches Harrington’s face. Feels too close. Touches his neck and Harrington arches up, breath sounding raspy. He presses and feels Harrington hard and velvety beside him. “Oh.”

 

His eyes are saucers, like he didn’t expect this either.

 

Billy squeezes and ruts and Harrington gasps out his name.

 

It’s close to something else. It almost feels like something else.

 

Billy hears his name again. He holds Harrington’s throat, his hip, grinds down before lifting his hips and finding heat and tightness. He pushes, nothing serious, and Harrington’s spit flecks his cheek.

 

“Stop,” Billy whispers. Why does he keep saying it? “Stop.”

 

“More.” Harrington keens as Billy pushes, dares himself to, to gain ground, to make the body beneath his yield.

 

He holds.

 

Harrington does some sort of something. Makes his hips go tight. Holds Billy close. Finds the perfect angle to rub off against Billy’s stomach and makes a mess of both their shirts.

 

Billy returns the favor. Leaves him a mess in the worst place possible, and on the stairs too.

 

His knees ache the same time he releases the pressure on Harrington’s neck. He stares, looking for bruises like he had months ago. Unblemished.

 

Good.

 

Harrington’s single cough peters off into a shaky groan. “I don’t think I can stand.”

 

“Here.”

 

Billy lifts himself up even though he doesn’t want to. Harrington looks like the result of a wet dream now. He offers a hand and Harrington takes it.

 

He sighs as he takes his shirt in, stands on steadier legs.

 

“Now I’m really gonna be late.”

 

 

Harrington offers to let him stay while he’s at work for a few hours. Billy neither rejects or accepts the offer, but he doesn’t follow him out when he heads for the beamer.

 

He calls Maxine to let her know he’ll be gone a while. She’s moping lately, and her response is much the same. Pissy. Bitter.

 

He wonders why she isn’t like that more, considering.

 

He finds beer. Even better, he finds a ritzy liquor cabinet that’s unlocked in a study so old school classy, the only option is that it must belong to Harrington senior.

 

He takes a bottle of nice looking whiskey, drinks half, gets tired, and goes snooping. It isn’t hard finding Harrington’s room. It’s ugly. It smells good. Smells like everything he pretends not to notice.

 

He falls asleep.

 

 

He wakes up to a dip in gravity. He bounces off a cliff, blinks and sees it’s just Harrington sitting at his side.

 

He’s shirtless, in a pair of plaid pajama bottoms.

 

“Where’d the dress go?”

 

“Not a dress. And it’s in the laundry because of a certain someone.”

 

“Wonder who you mean.” He rolls over, yawning. Harrington’s hand lands on his chest. Rubs. Billy inhales and sighs out slow.

 

Laughter, quiet and smooth. “Want to stay over or have me give you a ride back?”

 

“I can drive.”

 

“You smell like a bar.”

 

“I didn’t have a lot.”

 

“You had enough,” Harrington says simply. More rubbing. Billy covers his hand with his own. “Stay.”

 

It’s a word that has him meeting Harrington’s eyes.

 

“There’s Max.”

 

“Give me your number and I’ll call her. Order her food.”

 

“She’s a kid. She can’t be by herself.”

 

“Says the guy who argues the opposite every chance he gets.”

 

Billy feels Harrington squeeze lightly at his chest. Feels similar to getting felt up. His blood flows a little faster.

 

“Fine.”

 

Harrington leaves for a few minutes, comes back with water and ice, and a couple of sandwiches.

 

They eat in his bed, which is a disgusting habit Billy never got used to.

 

“I never eat in bed.”

 

Harrington, mouth full and oblivious as always, asks, “Why not?”

 

He doesn’t even think about it. The implications. The fallout. “I got beat if I did. So I didn’t.”

 

Harrington’s chewing slows. Billy sees his throat bob when he swallows. Watches him nod. Watches still, always watching. Is his own personal lighthouse, keeping an eye out for the shore for everyone but himself.

 

“Is that why you live alone? You and Max.”

 

At least it’s not I’m sorry. He can’t fucking stand that.

 

“I’ve always been alone.”

 

“You’ve got Max,” Harrington says. Then, “And me.”

 

Billy snorts. They finish their meal in easy silence.

 

 

He must fall asleep because he wakes up. He’s always waking up. Sometimes he wishes he didn’t.

 

Harrington’s a clingy sleeper. They’ve somehow enveloped one another. Harrington is flagging at his thigh. Billy gets an idea.

 

He untangles himself, which proves easy to do since Harrington is apparently a heavy sleeper.

 

He slides down the bed until he can gently slide Harrington’s underwear down and out of the way. He tastes like sweat, musky with the hint of salt that only comes from other guys. He’s hard in a moment, awake the next, hands finding Billy’s mussed hair just to tug and pull and make it worse.

 

He tastes normal. Not good or bad. Billy pulls off and finds big eyes shining at him in the dark.

 

“Come here,” Harrington says and Billy goes. He’s undressed by careful hands. A mouth brushes over his skin in slow pathways. Billy’s hard and leaking a mess by the time Harrington is hovering over him, renewed interest poking at his center.

 

It’s new, being completely in their own skin. It’s different.

 

Fingers find him, move away, come back spit-slick and prodding. Billy heaves and waits and wills himself to relax. He can’t. It’s new. It’s too new.

 

When Harrington presses in, his forehead is wedged hard between Billy’s shoulder and neck. His mouth works, breath hot and teeth catching on the swell of his chest.

 

He holds. He holds and holds and he holds on too. With his hands. His legs. His temple pressed steady against Harrington’s messy hair.

 

Harrington needs to shower. Smells like day-old skin and sweat and Billy too. Like he wore him all day and didn’t bother showering before finding Billy in his bed.

 

Lips find his own and it’s a kiss. It just is.

 

Billy indulges before his reflexes kick in. He pushes. Away. Gone.

 

When he blinks, after he blinks–again and again and again–he’s not sure where he is. Blank ceiling. Plaid walls, curtains. Bedding. The dip of gravity. The groan and muttering of someone beside him. The ghost of movement between his legs.

 

Copper in the air. Blood on his fists.

 

The world turns right side up again and Billy is Billy and he inhales, sharp and shallow.

 

Harrington is holding his nose. Pinching it, really. There’s blood on his upper lip, bright on his teeth when he smiles a little weird. Gives Billy a raised eyebrow, like here we are again. And aren’t they?

 

And Billy is Billy and Billy is fucking stupid.

 

And Harrington just laughs once. Asks, “You okay?” Then, “Was it that bad?”

 

And Billy can’t help but laugh. Harrington’s entire expression morphs. Billy’s done something now, he knows it.

 

“Hey, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry if it hurt–are you–god, did I hurt you?”

 

And he’s laughing, so why is Harrington worried? Why does he care?

 

Billy licks his lips. Tastes blood and salt. The salt throws him off.

 

He laughs again, his breath hitching.

 

And oh, he’s not laughing.

 

Harrington’s fussing now, hands flitting about his face like flies. Billy smacks him away.

 

It wasn’t bad. It didn’t hurt.

 

He can pretend though.

 

He can, can’t he?

 

Instead, he reaches out, fingers wrapping briefly around the base of Harrington’s neck. Brushes his jaw with his thumb.

 

It takes time, it must. But he blinks and he’s in bed with Steve Harrington, and then he blinks and he’s in his car driving.

 

Somewhere.

 

 

There had been no blood when he’d found her. That had been confusing.

 

Maxine had been catatonic in the hall, standing straight-backed like a razor and just staring at her mother on the kitchen floor.

 

A few hours later he’d come back to her sobbing, his pant legs still drying.

 

 

They see each other sometimes. Here and there. An inevitability living in a small town like Hawkins.

 

Harrington leaves Scoops at some point. Starts wearing an ugly little green vest instead. Fills out. Gets hairy. Makes Billy feel like nobody and himself at the same time, especially when he dreams.

 

Billy graduates.

 

Maxine is waiting for high school to start.

 

They see each other sometimes.

 

 

Billy gets a job where he has his own name embroidered on the front of a few pairs of tough, flame retardant jumpsuits. The coveralls are thick, hard to break in. He gets home and has to experiment how best to scrub off car grease.

 

A few months into Max’s freshman year of high school, a familiar BMW pulls into the shop.

 

The owner tries to upsell Harrington on needing a new carburetor.

 

Billy approaches after the owner steps into his office and says, “You don’t need anything but new tires and some detail work.”

 

Harrington nods, looking tired. “I figured. But I figured I’d try this place out. Robin’s dad says you guys do decent work.”

 

“Decent, huh.” He huffs. “Robin your new girlfriend?”

 

Harrington gives him the same soul-splitting I know you, you idiot look that Billy hasn’t seen in a long time. “No.”

 

He hums, intending to go back to work.

 

Harrington catches his wrist. Doesn’t care he’s getting grease on his fingers.

 

“When do you get off work?”

 

It’s almost rote after that.

 

 

They get burgers and fries. Harrington drives them to the quarry, a place Billy hasn’t been to since he first moved here. Billy lets him take the camaro, a treat. They share three beers between them on the hood of the car.

 

It’s late. The stars are out. Billy doesn’t look at them.

 

“Why do you do that?”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Look away.”

 

“Who says I’m not looking at something else.”

 

Harrington doesn’t have an answer to that.

 

“Max seems like she’s doing well.”

 

“She’s the same.”

 

Harrington shrugs. “She seems less angry I think.”

 

Maybe. Maybe that’s true. Maybe she’s better at hiding it.

 

“You know her and the boys are constantly trying to rent R-rated movies?”

 

“They’re just movies. Let her live a little.”

 

“The boys get nightmares.”

 

“She doesn’t.”

 

“No, I guess she doesn’t. She’s made of stronger stuff.”

 

They trade a beer back and forth a few more times until it’s empty.

 

“You are too,” he adds a while later. Billy almost forgets what they were talking about.

 

“She wrote me a letter, you know.”

 

“What?”

 

Harrington crumples the can up and tosses it into the abyss before them. It’s a long throw. Safe sitting where they are, the edge still feels too close.

 

“Max wrote me a letter. I’m kind of worried about her.”

 

This is the first he’s hearing of any letter. “Why’d she write you a letter?”

 

“She wrote everybody their own,” Harrington says, like duh. And no, not duh. Billy has no fucking idea what he’s talking about. “You didn’t get one?”

 

Instead of answering, he demands, “What did she write you? Was it some little love confession? My little sister have a crush?”

 

He laughs, mean. So mean.

 

Harrington shakes his head. “I think she needs to talk to someone, Billy.”

 

Billy chugs the last beer and throws it like Harrington had. It falls short, getting caught by the wind. It rolls in a slow arc before stopping on a rock.

 

“No I didn’t get a fucking letter, and no, she doesn’t need a fucking shrink.” He glares into the darkness. “She’s fine.”

 

He’s up and pacing before he registers himself doing it. Harrington’s still sitting on his hood, food forgotten.

 

“It sounded like she was saying goodbye, Billy.”

 

Billy blinks. Blinks again. He’s here and gone and then he’s somewhere else. Further away. Too near the edge. A hand finds his and snaps him back to reality. Drags him back to the car. Beyond it.

 

Harrington pins him with nothing but his presence to the camaro’s trunk. Billy stands there not unlike a chastised dog.

 

“She needs someone to talk to. If it’s you or me, or a doctor or something, fine. But kids don’t just write letters to their closest friends telling them it’s for the best for no goddamn good reason, Billy. So wake up and realize something is going on. Something is wrong.”

 

He looks at the ground. Between Harrington’s shoes.

 

“Something’s been wrong for a long time, Harrington. It doesn’t matter what I do or say. I can’t. I can’t.”

 

Can’t. Can’t what?

 

Harrington waits for the same answer. Billy can’t give it. Doesn’t have it.

 

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

 

On reflex, he says, “Nothing. Doesn’t matter. She hasn’t said anything to me.”

 

“Maybe because she knows you’d stop her dead in her tracks.”

 

He hates that word. Dead. The image of Max being afraid of him, sure it’s there. It’s been a reality a long time, her being afraid of him. But they have an agreement. An understanding. A peace, he thought.

 

A secret.

 

Has he really been so fucking blind?

 

“I’m not doing this anymore. I’m driving you back,” Billy mutters, shouldering his way past Harrington to get behind the wheel.

 

Harrington lets him.

 

 

When he confronts Max, there’s a lot of screaming. More screaming than there’s been in over a year.

 

It ends with a call in to the doctor, because he doesn’t believe her when he says there’s some new shrink at the school. No fucking way.

 

She argues when he asks what she’s planning. If it is what he thinks it is. If it’s worse than what she says–that she’s just planning on getting a bus ticket and hitchhiking her way back to the west coast. He can’t trust that. He just can’t.

 

She hits him when he locks all the knives in his car. She spits when he tosses her room upside down looking for anything lethal. The best he comes up with is removing a few framed pictures of Susan that he forbade from the living room, and a loan system for any writing utensils.

 

Her appointment is a week away, so he pulls the couch into the hall and sleeps there so he’ll know if she tries anything.

 

 

The months pass by slowly.

 

Maxine cries more. Is less blank behind the eyes when they spend time together. Is more angry, so much more angry.

 

The doctor says that’s good.

 

He’ll believe it when they’re on the other side of whatever this is.

 

He just knows it’s his fault.

 

 

Nobody ever asks him what happened to their parents.

 

He doesn’t bring it up to Max. She doesn’t either.

 

 

He looks up at the midnight sky once. Forces himself to.

 

Wonders if that’s what it looked like back then, over the waves.

 

What had the sand felt like, then?

 

 

He sees Harrington again over the summer. He’s at work, manning the register. A pretty girl with dirty blonde hair is talking behind him. She’s sitting on the counter sorting through VHS tapes.

 

Billy walks in under the trill of a bell, Max a little ahead of him already. She waves at Harrington and vanishes into the rows of movies.

 

Harrington stares and stares at him.

 

“Long time.”

 

“No see,” he agrees, fingering a packet of M&Ms. He tosses them on the counter and adds, “This and whatever she wants.”

 

“Okay.”

 

The girl looks between them. She leaves her spot on the counter and goes around the corner, presumably to do whatever work a video store entails.

 

“She’s doing better.”

 

“I know,” Harrington says, and that’s an entire conversation in itself.

 

He’s thankful for that.

 

 

Billy hands Max a fifty for the arcade. She’s a little old for it, has been outgrowing the high scores for a few months now, but when she gets her grimy hands on the bill he can see her almost vibrating with energy. Tells her to find a ride back home with one of her friends when she’s done, and she agrees. He feels comfortable enough they’ve come that far to trust her with that.

 

He lingers, chain smoking, until Harrington’s off work.

 

Harrington sees him sitting there in his car when he locks up. He and the girl say their goodbyes and then Harrington is doing what Billy hoped he would. He goes to him.

 

Harrington leans in his window. “Thought you didn’t want to do this anymore.”

 

Billy thinks back. “Not what I meant and you know it. Get in.”

 

He does.

 

 

He doesn’t know why he chooses it. He just drives and then parks and he steps out into the early evening air and sees nothing but old hunks of broken metal.

 

The junkyard is empty. Harrington walks to a spot on a stump like he owns the place, like it’s his spot. Billy follows him.

 

Harrington sits and waits. Looks up at the darkening sky, maybe counting the first stars peeking from the void.

 

Billy finds the space between Harrington’s knees like it’s not been a day since they’ve been so close. He steps into him and sees those eyes shift from the sky to him. To his mouth.

 

Billy leans down, holds Harrington’s face in both hands. Moves them away when their lips meet and he swallows down a gasp. It’s quiet, hardly a thing at all. A dream, maybe. Harrington grabs at his shoulders, pulls him down.

 

It’s awkward and a little hard on the back, but they find their way to the dirt. Harrington is underneath him, and Billy feels real. More real than he ever has. He’s a person, and he’s making Harrington make those sounds.

 

It isn’t fast, but it’s not slow either. They find skin between folds of clothing, between reaching hands and tugging fingers. Spit finds him hot and like an old memory he never lived, Billy sinks down on Harrington slow. Watches his neck strain, a deep flush spread. His mouth hangs open while Billy bites his tongue. Keep the sounds back, bite it down, hold it together.

 

Hold.

 

He squeezes his eyes shut. He’s nothing. He’s himself.

 

Harrington is splitting him apart, but it feels far away.

 

“Hey.” Hands at his chest, under his shirt, pulling at his nipples. “Billy, come on.”

 

He blinks and he’s right where he was before. Sat on the best seat in town, in his life, where warmth meets him from below and across his heart, tracing nerve-wracking patterns that make his breath tremble. He focuses on Harrington, on him alone. On the way he smiles and cranes up to get a nipple in his mouth. He sucks and Billy moans. He’s never moaned in his goddamn life.

 

He wants to run, to hide. Cover his face, because this is embarrassing. But Harrington just moves to do the same to the other and gets the same response. Jerks his hips and makes Billy melt.

 

Billy can’t fall apart like this. He steadies himself with his hands on Harrington’s chest, and as he pulls and twists the fabric to a mess, he sees the hair. He snakes a hand through it and tugs and gets a breathy little ow in response. He laughs.

 

But it reminds him of the last time they were like this. The last time he thought he was laughing. The last time he thought he had everything and crushed it into dust. Washed it away with the tide.

 

He feels tendons flex under his fingers. Blinks and Harrington’s neck is under his hands. Both of them. He presses harder on accident, feels Harrington buck up hard in response. Remembers vaguely that Harrington likes this.

 

He tightens his hold.

 

It grows desperate. Just a little.

 

He’s close. Always feels close when Harrington touches him. But he isn’t, too. Part of him isn’t here. Isn’t in the dirt with his hands around the neck of the guy who kisses him like he means it.

 

He’s somewhere else. He’s an ocean away, on a shore in the surf. His hands are at another neck. The waves are cold at his knees. The sand is hard beneath his dug in heels. He’s numb, inside and out, but he has to do this. He has to.

 

Hold.

 

Hold.

 

“Billy.”

 

“Be over already.”

 

“Billy.”

 

Billy blinks and Harrington’s beat red underneath him, he’s choking. Not quite spluttering, but almost.

 

His fingers dig in tighter. If he lets go, Harrington might know. Harrington might figure it out. Probably already has.

 

He can’t let go.

 

But Harrington is still moving beneath him, inside him. Is letting his hands roam, a little too indirect to be entirely coherent. But he’s trying. He’s smoothing down Billy’s front, is tugging him off so gently. Is moving one hand buck up to cover his racing heart. To press.

 

He mouths the word, “Billy.” Can’t even get sound out.

 

This isn’t what he thought it was, before. This is what he pretended it wasn’t.

 

It comes pouring out.

 

“He killed her.”

 

Brown eyes lock on his.

 

“He almost killed me.”

 

Hold.

 

Harrington slows, gasps. Makes Billy groan because he won’t stop.

 

A hand presses his heart down.

 

Holds it there, in place.

 

Drops of liquid hit Harrington’s cheek. Billy blinks and he’s crying.

 

The hand holding his heart moves to cup his cheek. Wipes under his eye.

 

“Steve.” Billy falls still. Says, “I killed him,” but it sounds a lot like three other words.

 

The hands on his body move to the ones tight at his throat. And Steve Harrington manages to get out, “I know. I know, Billy.”

 

He gasps and lets go. Falls forward. Steve coughs and coughs and wraps shaking arms around Billy’s back.

 

He tells Billy things. Says things that make him weep.

 

And he holds him.