Boltedfruit Archive

First to Burn

Chapter 10: part vi: breathe

Published: 2020-11-07

Completed: 2023-03-20

Category: M/M

Rating: E

Chapters: 16/16

Words: 76,009

Fandom: Stranger Things

Ship: Billy Hargrove/Steve Harrington


Steve Harrington, Billy Hargrove. Tommy Hagan, Nancy Wheeler, Jonathan Byers, Neil Hargrove. Maxine “Max” Mayfield, Robin Buckley, Susan Hargrove, Jim “Chief” Hopper

Tags:Slow Burn, Childhood Friends, Friends to Enemies to Lovers, Prompt Fill, First Kiss, First Love, Panic Attacks, Emotional Hurt/Comfort, Billy Hargrove Being an Asshole and a mess, Canon-Typical Violence, Mutual Pining, Alternate Universe – No Upside Down, Oral Sex, Internalized Homophobia, Angst with a Happy Ending, Hurt/Comfort, Mutual Masturbation,Protective Robin Buckley, Mental Health Issues


Billy moves in next door on Steve’s tenth birthday. They grow up thick as thieves, sharing everything. When they become old enough to date…they turn to one another for practice.


“Since it’s us. Since I’m not Tina, and you’re not—you’re just you. It doesn’t count if we—if we practice.” Billy turns to face him, even though Steve can’t really make out his face yet in the dark. “Right?


Steve’s heart rate picks up. “Right. Yeah, that’s right.”

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.

“I told you five times already, it’s Buckley. Robin Buckley. I only have two books out, so why can’t I get a third?”


Steve stands behind Robin Buckley, who seems very upset and about two seconds away from zapping the school librarian, who’s about a hundred years old, into oblivion. He can’t really blame her. The lady moves slower than molasses.


Mrs. Gallodan pushes her glasses up her slanted nose. “As my records indicate, you’re flagged, Ms. Buckley. No two ways about it.”




“I’m afraid not. Are you sure you’ve not misplaced the other three you have out? They are all marked past due.”


Steve watches the girl in front of him straighten up, start tapping her fingers.


“No. I don’t have any other books out besides the two. Which is why I’m trying to check out this beast.” She pats the cover of the large, dusty text. A twin to the one Steve has tucked under his arm. “Come on, man. It’s required for english. I have this huge essay, and—”


Mrs. Gallodan narrows her eyes. “Do not man me, Ms. Buckley. I’m going to have to ask you to move to the back of the line. If you’d like to rethink your manners and try again, please, feel free. Otherwise, I suggest checking with records and admissions.”


The girl turns around after a long, tense, beat, sees Steve, and the subsequent lack of anyone else in line. Then she turns back around.




“Next,” Mrs. Gallodan calls and it’s a dismissal if Steve’s ever seen one.


He respectively keeps his eyes on the floor as the girl passes by, stomping her way off to somewhere that’s certainly not the back of the line. He checks out the book and makes a decision. It’ll  likely backfire with his luck.


He finds her slouched and frowning at a table nearest the fiction section. She’s glaring at the front desk as she spins a number two pencil between deliberate fingers.


“You look like you’re plotting something,” he comments.


“Who made you so smart?” Her frown deepens before she decides to finally look up and see who’s speaking to her. When she sees it’s him, she pauses, eyebrow arching. “You’re Steve Harrington. From the party.”


He offers her a smile, but it doesn’t seem to work on her like every other girl he’s ever met. “And from other things.”


“Yeah, but it’s not every day the famous schmoozer, Steve Harrington, gets outed. Makes for a memorable night. After all, outsiders like us gotta stick together, right?”


“I’m not a schmoozer, I—wait.” Steve blinks. Outed? “What do you mean? I don’t—don’t get it?”


She blinks then, slow. A dark flush rises to the tops of her cheeks. She stiffens in her seat, moves to stand up. “Forget I said anything. Catch you in class, or never.”


She’s mumbling something dark under her breath as she starts walking, but Steve steps in front of her.


She looks ready to murder him. He holds the book in front of his chest, the same one she’d been needing.


“Oh. You came to rub it in. Very nice. You’ll get a good grade and I’ll bomb, thank you so much for reminding me. Now outta my way.”


“Your name’s Robin, right? Robin Buckley? I’m Steve. But you—you already know that. I saw Mrs. Gallodan giving you a hard time, but I thought, if we’re both needing the same book anyway, why not share?”


“Share?” she repeats, eyeing the book, then him. “Steve Harrington wants to share with the geek?”


It hits him then. “Oh my god, you’re in band!”


Robin rolls her big eyes. “Move. I have places to be that aren’t here being diminished by an idiot. Goodbye.”


That stings, but it’s barely anything as Steve steps in front of her again. He knows he’s more than testing her patience. Will probably have a fist in his teeth in under a minute flat.


But something tells him to push his luck.


“I just meant you—I recognize you. From rallys and like, games and stuff.”


“Duh. You and your little group of howling apes make fun of our team every home game.”


He winces. “That’s just Tommy and Carol.”


“Well, they’re dicks.”


“They can be, yeah.”


Unimpressed, Robin adds, “And so are you. Big time. Major dick. Like, a huge asshole and a half.”


He lowers the book, frowning, but knowing she’s not really…wrong. He has made fun of her and her bandmates at games. At practice too, just walking by the field to the parking lot.


“Huge. The biggest.”


Robin considers him a moment longer before finally taking the book from him. She flips it open, eyes the table of contents, before slamming it closed. They get shushed, but neither of them acknowledge it.


“Can’t fathom how you manage to fit into a single pair of pants.” But she’s sitting and taking the book with her. And she’s even bringing paper out to join her pencil. “Sit, Steve Harrington.”


He does, a little too hard, but still. Robin gives him a look. “It’s just Steve.”


“Okay, just Steve.”


She begins flipping through to certain chapters, taking notes.


“And I’m sorry. You know. For the teasing. And…and for Tommy and Carol. I’ve been trying to get them to back off a few things for a while.”


“They’re chattering monkeys, those two. Absolutely hopeless.”


“Hey. They’re—”


“What? It’s true.”


“They’re still my friends,” he insists, because they are. Because he can’t afford to lose any more friends right now. “I don’t have to share the book, you know.”


He watches the frown reappear before she huffs. “Yeah, guess they are. You ever think about keeping better company?”


Steve pictures Nancy then. Thinks about their dinner tonight, where he’ll get to meet her parents and siblings. Two of them, apparently. He’s always wondered what it’s like having a brother or sister.


To not be so alone. Or bored.


It’ll be their fifth official date. Or is it the sixth?


“Yeah. I do.”


“Well that’s at least something.”


They sit in silence for a long time, nothing but the scratch of Robin’s pencil and the quiet sounds of others studying to listen to. Steve tries to take his own notes, but it’s hard when the book isn’t even turned his way.


“So,” Robin starts up out of the blue, quiet and low, “you’re not…you know.”


“Not what?”


The pencil lowers. She taps it twice before meeting his eyes. “At the party. That guy who called you… you know. I’m not repeating it.”


“Oh.” That. “No. He didn’t mean it. And I’m not—that. I’m not.”


He resettles his weight where he sits, shuffling, hunching. Feels like the closer he is to the table the less real Billy’s anger towards him is.


“Well, neither am I. I was joking earlier. Making a bad joke. Ha,” she adds, in a rush. “Anyway. Why are you defending that jerk?”


The conversation is moving too fast for him to get a foothold. He’s not a hundred percent sure what they’re even talking about. “Billy’s not a bad guy, really. He can just be…”


She waits. “A jerk?”


Misunderstood seems a stupid word to describe everything he’s thought about Billy Hargrove the last few…the last half year.


“Yeah. He was an asshole. I don’t know why he was acting like that. He was never—not before. He wasn’t like that before he left.”


“Where the hell did he go?”


California. Girlfriend. Beaten bloody, bruised, busted up, healed and returned like nothing ever happened.


“I don’t really know.”


Robin hums, leaning back enough to cross her arms. She wags the pencil at him. “So you two aren’t friends?”


“I—we—” What are they? They aren’t. Not anymore. Maybe not for a long time, and he’s just been in denial. Too slow to let go. “No. Not really.”


“Good. People like that aren’t worth knowing. They’re mean for no good reason and cause a lot of hurt.”


He thinks about Billy shoulder checking him that morning after class. Flipping him off. Steve still feels a pang in his chest. Of anger. Of sadness. Of something deep and unsettled.


He buries it down, away. For later. For never.


“He spilled your drink on you? At Tina’s party?”


“Nothing I don’t expect from some drunk asshole, but that guy…” She shakes her head, as if holding back from saying what she wants to. “That Hargrove’s got a huge chip on his shoulder.” She shrugs, resuming her note taking. But this time, she angles the book so they can both see, clearly inviting Steve into her space. “If you ask me, good riddance.”


Steve scans the first paragraph, then the second. Writes down notes he knows he only half understands. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”



Nancy adjusts her sweater for the third time in a minute. Steve smiles at her, strained. Stills her hand by grabbing it and lacing their fingers together. But she doesn’t get the idea and they fumble for an awkward minute before she finally huffs and pulls away. Starts fidgeting all over again.


“You look great, Nance.”


She gives him her favorite I know smile. Small. Uncertain. “Just don’t get my dad started on politics. Or baseball. My mom made cookies? Like two sheets worth. Eat them. Just eat them all. In fact, eat whatever she hands you, but don’t accept a beer if my dad offers you one. He thinks it’s cool or something. But he isn’t a fan of underage drinking. It’s a trick. And Mike better behave, I swear to god—”


“Nance,” Steve says, taking her shoulders in both hands to get her to still. She falls quiet on a pout. “Everything will be fine. I’ll love your parents. They’ll love me. I’m a genuine certified parent-pleaser. They can’t help but love me. Bet your dad will be planning our wedding before dessert!”


Nancy’s eyes bug out. “Oh god. Oh god, that’s the worst. I’m not even eighteen yet. He’ll freak—”


Steve sighs. Rubs down her shoulders again and again, kisses her forehead even though she continues her mild freakout.


It’ll be fine. Just peachy.


The lock turns. Nancy squeaks into silence. Steve takes a deep breath and feels his heart thump when Nancy slips her hand in his.


A pretty, older, blonder version of Nancy answers the door shadowed by a sour-faced boy.


“Nancy, he’s so…” The kid looks between his sister and Steve in displeasure. “Stringy.”




Steve paints on his best, most impressive smile, and braces himself for a long night.



Robin chews on her eraser like it’s candy.


“Stop that.”


“No. Don’t think I will.”


Steve has been studying with Nancy after school almost every day. It gives him an excuse not to spend every waking free hour he has with Tommy and Carol. And it’s helped raise two of his grades so far, even though the most input he gives during their study sessions is flirty innuendoes and cheesy pickup lines to make her smile and blush.


It’s been a happy time for once. For the first time in too long.


He used to share afternoons filled with laughter and books with Billy. Billy used to make him almost piss himself he’d laugh so hard. And always at the dumbest things. Billy hardly had to try, on his typical deadpan delivery.


But it’s a new day. A new month, even. He and Nancy are serious now. Tommy and Carol are even easing up on her a little, which is really all he can ask for with them.


He’s been moved off the bench in basketball.


Robin and him spend a lot of free periods together actually studying.


And Billy hasn’t been in his life. At all. He’s been a dark shadow in the halls, a wordless addition to classes.


Except in chemistry. Because they sit together. But damn it all if they haven’t tried their best to ignore each other while still getting work done.


And it’s worked, for the most part. Proved they don’t need to talk much beyond this assignment is gonna be a lot and no, you gotta add this.


Then the bell rings and Billy is the first out the door, Steve still left standing in his goggles and yellow rubber gloves.


It works.


Because then he usually sees Nance or Robin or Tommy or Carol and then more class and then more Nance or Robin or Tommy or Carol and then the occasional (re: frequent) party where he breaks his keg stand record, and Billy is off in the corner being loud and drunk and—bed. And then Steve sleeps and he wakes up, if he’s lucky enough to get to sleep at all, and does it all over again.


It works.


Robin takes the eraser from her mouth. Spins her pencil like a small baton.


“Wanna hit the movies tonight?”


She keeps talking. Something about some romcom she’s been wanting to see. Or is it that action one? He doesn’t listen really. Only half pays attention. Nods yes, because what else does he have to do?


He yawns. He’s tired. He’s got plans, because plans are good. The more plans, the more he has to keep busy, the better.


“That works,” he says. Because it does.



Midnight is smack in the middle of the anxious hours of night. Starts at the tail end of ten and crawls slow and unstoppable into eleven. Soon enough it’s one then two then three and Steve finds himself, once again, lying awake going over all the many mistakes he’s made in his life.


Nancy is asleep beside him.


It’s the first time a girl’s ever slept over. She’s small and beautiful, her skin pale in the moonlight streaming through his window. The curtain is open just enough to illuminate the edge of her ribs, her shoulder as they peek out from under the comforter. He’d pull the covers over her if it wasn’t for the arm she had hugging them to her chest. She’s faced away from him.


He’s never had sex with someone who stayed the night before. It’s different in a wonderful way. He’s always been a big dreamer. It’s easy to imagine this to be the first night of a thousand and one. Of more. Of late nights followed by early mornings filled with breakfast and coffee and life. Living. Of plans for the future he hadn’t really ever considered before.


Nancy is safe. Picturing a future with Nancy seems doable. Likely. Wanted.


Inhale, he wants it more than anything. Exhale, it aches that he doesn’t have it yet. Impatient, that’s him. He has an idea and immediately wants the end result. His dad’s complained about that personality trait enough for Steve to recognize when it’s happening.


Nancy mumbles and sighs in her dreams. Snuggles down into Steve’s bed. She’s safe here, next to him. He did that.


Everything about this moment is safe.


But why can’t he ignore the strange ache sleeping just under his ribs?



Billy’s in the locker room.


Rather, he’s changing into the green shorts and gray shirt Steve’s been wearing every other day for months.


For practice.


For basketball.


For the team.


But now it’s Billy in front of a locker, changing, brushing his hands through his curls, making stupid jokes at Tommy’s expense even as he laughs along. Like it’s so great to be made fun of, as long as it’s Billy Hargrove doing the teasing.


It’s pathetic, honestly.


Steve isn’t stupid contrary to popular belief. So what, Billy made the team? It’s not like the guy isn’t good at it. He and Steve played ball the first time they met. Played for years after. All the time.


Billy’s on the team.


Billy licks his lips and flips Steve off like it’s just another day when they lock eyes.


Steve slams his locker shut.





Billy is all over him. Seriously. What the hell is the guy’s problem?


“What the hell, Hargrove?”


Billy’s blue eyes light up all electric fire, a wire gone rogue whipping in the street. Careful, the sparks will catch, burn down the whole town.


The way Billy just grins at him then, Steve wonders how fast a city can burn to the ground.


Billy steals the ball. Throws from half a court away. Sinks net. Hollers and it’s Tommy giving him a high five.


Steve sighs and just tries to survive until Coach blows his whistle.



“Look who it is,” Tommy croons as Steve is soaping his hair. He’s got a lot of it and it takes a while. Everyone knows this. Billy and him flank Steve in the showers. Why Tommy all of a sudden decided he’s Billy’s best friend in the universe, Steve doesn’t know. Doesn’t care. Or at least tries not to. “Played like shit today, Harrington! Thought you were trying for captain next year. You’ll never get it like this.”


“Captain, huh?” Billy grabs Steve’s bar of pink soap, shoves it under the spray. It’s too fast to linger, too much a play at getting inside Steve’s head. He knows Billy, and Billy’s just fucking with him. “Nah. Harrington doesn’t have the cajones for that.”


Tommy gives a pointed look between Steve’s legs. He doesn’t try to hide anything. He knows what he’s working with and nobody really cares anyway. Billy starts washing his hair.


“Hm, don’t think he does. Wonder when they shriveled.”


“Probably around the same time I got back in town,” Billy says, eyes closed and curls a soapy halo around his ears. “He went and turned bitch when he didn’t have me covering his ass all the time.”


Steve sighs again. Steps under the spray. Steps back out and relathers. Two lathers equals good lift. That’s just science.


“Harrington’s always needed somebody on his ass. It’s a wonder he hasn’t really turned full bitch yet. Bet you any day now he’ll get on his belly and spread his legs just begging for someone big and strong to come play guard dog just to get him through to graduation.”


Steve opens his eyes. It’s almost boring, really. Tommy’s never branched far in comedy. So many areas to draw from and yet he just…stays an asshole.


Watching his friend laugh now, like a pig in slop, Steve wonders when he outgrew that. Him. And Carol.


He slides his gaze to Billy. Billy laughs, husky and deep, as he finishes washing his hair. Steve thinks it’s mostly an accident that Billy meets his eyes again at all, as he’s pulling his fingers through his tangles. His mouth forms a small o. He frowns.


Then the grin is back full force. Painted on. Slathered even.




“That right, Harrington?” Billy asks. “You waiting for a nice jock to give it to you good, make you a real woman?”


Tommy snickers. Steps under the spray.


But Billy isn’t laughing and neither is Steve.


It’s just them then. In the showers. In the gym. In the whole school. The whole world.


Steve shrugs. “Wouldn’t know. After all, it would just be practice, right?”


It doesn’t make a whole ton of sense. Not really. He knows that.


But then, it does. It makes all the sense in the world, just in the world they made. The one two kids crafted out of ideas and half baked stupidity. A game. He barely thinks about it anymore.


But Billy gave him his first real kiss. And he was kind. And he was funny. And once, Billy was the kind of person who stuck up for him.


He wants to ask Billy then what happened. Why did it all fall apart? Was it his fault, like things usually tend to be?


Billy goes from neutral to furious all at once. His expression crumples. He swipes out and slaps Steve’s shower’s faucet off.


Tommy’s sensed the change in the air. He’s watching now, showering faster now that whatever tension had been brewing has clearly switched into danger territory.


Steve gives Billy a smile when he doesn’t move to do or say anything else. He just stands there, wet and fuming.


And Steve thinks, good.



He wakes up. It’s two am. He sighs and wonders what did it this time. Can’t remember any bad dreams. Does remember he doesn’t have anyone over. No Nancy or friends—because fuck Tommy and his attitude lately—and his parents are gone again on some faraway European vacation.


So, what woke him up?


Something slams against his window, rattling the frame. His whole wall shakes.


Steve’s up and in the middle of his room in a heartbeat.


For a beat he thinks he’s hallucinating. 


Then it’s Billy impatiently slapping his window again, wanting in.


Steve knows that drop is a bad one. Once upon a time, he worried about Billy falling and breaking his neck if he wasn’t there to help him in. Maybe all that new anger inside him has made him super strong. Or super long and suddenly he doesn’t need Steve’s help to sneak inside his room at night.


But Billy goes to slap the pane again, wavers, and dips out of sight.


Steve’s at the sill with the window wrenched to its limits in the span of a breath. He grabs the first part of Billy he sees and yanks, doesn’t give a shit if the guy gets a dislocated shoulder or whatever else.


Billy swears as they scramble to get him inside. He clambers over Steve once he has purchase on the sill and then he’s jumping with just enough force to knock them both to the floor.


Steve groans and lifts his head. Billy’s legs are in a tangle over his chest, and he’s pretty sure the guy landed an accidental shoe to his balls. But fine, whatever, at least he didn’t die.


Steve grabs Billy’s legs and pushes them off, to the floor. Why are his damn boots so heavy? Billy pushes himself up on his hands and knees and glares at Steve as if this was all Steve’s idea.


“You gotta go, man.”


Billy just keeps glaring.


“God, don’t you ever get tired of that? Being angry all the goddamn time? Just looking at you gives me a headache.” Steve rubs at his forehead, because he is starting to feel a headache coming on, and he’s just now remembering the conversation they had in the showers earlier in the day.


But still, Billy just stares and stares. At some point hating someone so deeply must break a person apart, right? That would only make sense.


The thought sends tears pricking sudden and terrifying to Steve’s eyes. He turns away and covers by running his hand over his face.


“Go, man. Just,” he says, breathing and hating the way his voice threatens to shake. “Go.”




It’s been weeks. Months. Not since the chem lab, he thinks.


“Leave, Hargrove.”


It’s not nearly as biting as he wants it to be.


“Billy,” Billy mutters.


“No.” Because they’re not doing this. Whatever this is. The middle of the night is not meant for hashing out things like the failure of friendships, the loss of the right to use each other’s names. What the fuck. “No.”


“Come on, Steve.”


Steve can hear Billy as he shuffles around, comes closer. If it’s a ploy to get close enough to knock Steve’s teeth out, he doesn’t get the angle. The why. But he can’t say it isn’t smart.


Billy knows him, even after everything. And that’s why he should have made it clear, earlier in the showers, that no, they aren’t friends anymore. They can’t be. He promised Nancy, in the way he likes the way her fingers fit between his. He promised Robin, in the way she was so confident in saying good riddance, like it was a fact of life nobody ever received anything good by being friends with a guy like Billy Hargrove.


He promised himself. Silently, between every moment he was left alone and clueless during those six months when he had to count his breaths. Billy taught him that. Silently, when he found himself smiling at something funny Robin said. Silently, when he woke Nancy up some mornings with a raspberry against her sternum, even though her giggle would turn into a rushed frown soon enough. It was all better than how Billy made him feel.


Billy very gently grasps Steve’s wrist. Pulls at it until he realizes it won’t budge.


Billy used to be his best friend in the world.


“Come on, Steve. Come on, please.”


Something small inside him—something unburied and raw and broken—cracks open. Enough to let in just enough light, just enough sound that he lets Billy pull his hand away.


The sound that escapes Billy is small and broken too.


But he still hasn’t said sorry. Not for any of it.


“Go,” Steve says, trying again. Steeling himself.


Billy keeps pulling, keeps pulling until Steve is left with nothing but the barrier of his legs between them. But Billy pushes too, and pushes and keeps pushing until Steve is pushed up and sitting against his wall, knees to his chest. It’s uncomfortable and he tries to knee Billy but Billy just keeps pulling. Keeps pushing. Moves between his legs and it’s weird and it’s new and Steve hates him for making him so unafraid of clearly frightful things.


Billy crowds in close. Steve expects to smell cigarettes and alcohol, but all he smells is cold leather and familiar hair product. A little—no, way—too much cologne.


For an insane moment, one where time ceased over a year ago and he could expect Billy to dream up the idea to kiss each other in the dark, Steve forgets himself. Forgets where he is. How old they are. All that’s changed.


But Billy’s blue eyes are dark and soft and he’s here, even though Steve locked his window. Even though they somehow piss each other off more than they make each other laugh.


They aren’t friends.


But Billy still brushes his nose across Steve’s cheek like he once did, and he can’t stop his breath from catching in his chest.


“Steve,” he whispers.


Steve feels a hand, firm and warm, cup him where he’s soft. They’ve never—Billy’s never—


“Are you crazy?” Steve gasps, when he feels his blood start moving in the wrong direction. Billy notices, because how can he not. He jostles his hand, but not in a rough, unknown way.


His fingers stroke then, purposeful, and Steve slides to his haunches. Tries to get some distance. Maybe it’s all a bad dream.


Billy drops his hand. Moves away to give him space.


For long moments they just breathe.


“What the fuck, Billy?” Steve finally voices, and sees an old smile cross his face.


Billy moves like lightning. Kisses Steve harsh and full and Steve groans, kisses back. Because he’s a fool. An absolute, total idiot.


He winds up on his back, legs spread around Billy’s bulk. Billy kisses him while he works on Steve’s pants, and he doesn’t want to know what’s happening, even though he does. The air is cold when it hits his skin, but only until Billy can wrap his hand around his length again. But this time is different. A whole world different. Billy’s working him over and it’s embarrassing how good it feels.


Steve grips at Billy’s shoulders, winding his fingers tight into his leather jacket. He’s panting, trying not to thrust into Billy’s touch. But it’s hard, so hard not to.


Then Billy’s mouth is off his, skating along his cheek, biting at his jaw, his ear. He moans, just from that. God.


What the fuck are they doing?


Then he’s locking eyes into endless black, a deep blue he’ll only ever associate with this moment now. A breadth of time both intimate and sinister.


Billy stops.


Drags his hand away from Steve’s overheated flesh. He’s made Billy’s palm sticky from how worked up he is. And it’s like Billy doesn’t even care .


“Can I, Steve? Can I?” He looks almost pleadingly down at his handiwork. Licks his lips. “Let me?”


“Let you w-what?”


They’re both heaving. Billy is red in the face, his shoulders are quaking. He’s as much a mess as Steve is.


Steve can’t bear to look down and prove himself right. Or worse, wrong.


Maybe this is all a joke to Billy. Maybe he’s just doing this to make a point, to prove something cruel from practice. Make him a woman.


Make sure Steve gets off but not himself and brag about how queer Steve Harrington is so nobody in all of Hawkins will ever respect him again.


Why would Billy do that?


Steve blinks more tears away.


He can’t begin to think of what the alternative would mean. If Billy wants this too.


Because what the fuck are they even doing?


They’ve kissed, sure. They’ve never done this. Never done anything close. Practice makes perfect but this is taking the concept a little far, he thinks.


“You’re thinking too loud, Harrington,” Billy tells him. But it’s soft. Not mean like the name has been. Teasing. Fun. Like this is funny.


God, maybe it really is all a joke to him.


Then Billy’s mouth is on his own again. And Billy’s kissing him deep and careful until Steve can’t think of anything at all. All except Billy.


Billy pulls away. Spits into his palm and slicks Steve up in one firm stroke. He winces from how good it feels, how hard it is not to move with it, to ask for more, more, more, Billy.


Billy scoots back. Drops his shoulders a little, his head even more. Steve can’t help but follow him down until he feels hot breath fan his skin and then he’s biting his lip.


“Billy. Billy.”


Why can’t he just say anything else?


Billy hasn’t looked away from his eyes. From him. Like this means something.


It doesn’t. It can’t. This is a joke. A nightmare. A dream that isn’t real, and just as terrible for it.


“You’re a ghost,” Steve whispers. “This isn’t real. You’re not—not really here. You hate me now. You went away and came back and you just—God, you despise me.”


Billy’s eyebrows twist together. “Steve, come on. Breathe.”


“I am breathing, asshole.”


Billy smiles, lopsided but there. “I’m here. Okay? I’m here with you.”


Steve can’t think of what to say to that. How do you address what’s too good to be true? His friend isn’t his friend and they don’t do this and this is crazy and feels amazing and he’s not Billy’s friend.


Not anymore.


“Do you want me to stop?” Billy asks then, and Steve didn’t expect that. It doesn’t seem the kind of thing a dream would ask.


They aren’t friends.


They haven’t been friends.


This isn’t practice.


Billy doesn’t need him.


And Steve already decided Billy shouldn’t matter as much as he used to.


Steve holds Billy’s gaze. Breathes.


Says, “No.”