Boltedfruit Archive

First to Burn

Chapter 11: part vii: hold

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

Characters:

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

Summary:

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.

He blinks awake, half in between crying and feeling himself slide in his own mess inside the sweatpants he’ll have to change.

 

Steve blinks the dream away, wants it gone and out of his head. Wants the image of Billy’s soft and endearing eyes as far away from him as possible.

 

He’s not gay. He’s not into—into guys. He’s not into Billy.

 

Christ, he’s not.

 

Why is he crying? What the hell kind of nightmare even was that? How did his brain cook up something so mean, so strange?

 

The idea that Billy would ever touch him—ever just show up and do, do that. Run a hand over his junk and just—get him—want him to—want to put his mouth—

 

Steve flips over, eyes shut so tight he can feel the pinch of a headache start up at his temple.

 

He’s biting his tongue, because the pain of that is better than accepting how he’s hard all over again, like he didn’t just have a wet dream, didn’t just come in his sleep picturing Billy wanting to go down on him. Fuck. Fuck.

 

Driving his hips down hard into the sheets, Steve tries to imagine anything—anyone—else. His brain decides envisioning a random throat is best. He tries to picture someone he knows–someone he really likes, like Nancy—but she doesn’t like that stuff. He’s teased and flirted but would never force her into things she doesn’t want to do. What they do, what they’ve done—it’s sweet, it’s nice. Nicer than he’s ever had before. They’ve had sex, but it wasn’t like—wasn’t the rough, desperate need in his dream.

 

It wasn’t like waking with an animal burrowing under his skin, wanting out. Needing release.

 

And his brain is awful, is so goddamn mean and stupid and stubborn because all Steve can think about is the dream-Billy asking him if it was alright to touch him, to open his mouth and take him down, take him inside.

 

It’s imagining that warm, flexing heat that tips him over the edge for a second time.

 

And god he’s ashamed of himself.

 

He frowns, lifting his hips from the mattress to see the mess he made. There’s a sticky dark spot at his groin and his sheets are even damp. He can’t remember the last time he ever came so much. For a wild moment he feels like a girl—

 

No. Nope. No way. He’s shutting off his brain for the rest of the night—no, no it’s morning. It’s six and he’s got two hours before class starts. Before he has to go another day dragging himself through activity after activity to keep busy so he won’t think about anything like how much Billy’s hurt him, how much he felt alone for those six months, how the whole thing with Nancy is moving a little too slow, how—

 

No, he thinks.

 

He rolls out of bed, strips his pants and underwear off, and throws them in the hamper on his way to the shower.

 

Today won’t be like this. Today will be normal. Today he’ll ignore Billy like every other.

 

He draws the line at having weird sex dreams about his best–former best friend.

 

After all, he already decided. The Billy that came back isn’t the Billy that left.

 

I’m here. Okay?

 

He’s not worth it.

 

I’m here with you.

 

Even if Steve’s eyes still sting.

 

 

Nancy kisses him on the cheek in hello when she climbs feet first into the passenger seat. She settles in, buckles her belt first, even before she’s got her books figured out. She finally stacks them on her lap and proceeds to chat his ear off about her government and geometry classes. Topics he never really paid attention to back when he took them. He honestly can’t even remember if he took geometry last year, or if it was algebra or something else.

 

He just likes listening to Nancy talk. She has a nice voice.

 

“Steve?”

 

“Huh?” He glances at her as he prepares to take the turn into the school parking lot. Had they already arrived? “Sorry, wow. I must’ve spaced out.” He finds his usual spot and pulls in.

 

Nancy gives him a funny little look, one that makes her nose scrunch up in a cute way that reminds him of when she’s about to let go and fall over the edge in bed.

 

Can I, Steve? Can I?

 

Steve licks his lips, thoughts drifting to where they shouldn’t be. He parks.

 

Let me?

 

His knee hits the steering wheel. He sputters, scrambling to steady the wheel with both hands because he feels suddenly like the ground is falling out beneath him. He ends up hitting the horn by accident.

 

Nancy is just looking at him. Staring just like the rest of the parking lot is.

 

And Billy.

 

Billy is staring at him too, from his place sat against the hood of his Camaro parked in the row ahead of them.

 

Steve sucks in a sharp breath. Turns to Nancy and kisses her what he hopes is long and deep, but ends up being hurried, teeth clacking. She laughs through a groan, holding her fingers to her teeth.

 

He leans in close, grabs up her hand and noses at her wrist, focusing on only her. Blocking everything else in the world out except the way her baby hairs tickle around her ears, the delicate, dark bend of an eyebrow as it draws low. The blush across her cheeks is slow and pink and pretty, and Steve dots the moment with a longing stare at her lips.

 

Yes, look how much I want you, he wills her to understand.

 

“Sorry, Nance. I’m all over today. I—I didn’t sleep well. What was your question?”

 

Charmed, Nancy rolls her eyes at him but doesn’t remove her hand from his. “I was asking about your chemistry assignment. You mentioned it last week. It’s due in a couple days, isn’t it? You just haven’t talked about it lately. I wondered if you needed any help?”

 

No. No way. That huge project isn’t due until next week–

 

He thinks quickly on the last few days, envisions the calendar tacked to his fridge that he dutifully crosses each day off in the morning and realizes that yeah, he’s screwed.

 

He can’t even really think of what the assignment is on. How the hell is he supposed to scrounge up something passable?

 

“Oh, Steve,” Nancy sighs, like she knows him, what he’s done. It makes his heart pang with want and also annoyance.

 

He draws away, letting her wrist slip from his fingers as he reaches into the back for his book bag. He frowns out his window.

 

“I can help—”

 

“No, it’s not that. Really, Nance—I, I already started?” He hates it sounds like a question. He doesn’t even want to turn to see the look on her face right now. He can guess it’s something too close to disappointment. “I just realized I forgot to ask my teacher something about it. You reminded me.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah! Don’t even worry. I’ll uh…” He faces her only long enough to press his lips messy against her cheek, and ends up getting her forehead instead. Whatever. It works. “I’ll see you at lunch?”

 

“Sure. I was thinking we could get some food out, after school’s out? I wanted to try that new bananarama shake they have at the diner on second. How does four sound?”

 

“Perfect. It’s a date,” he says, grateful for something to do to look forward to. He kisses her a last time and starts out the door.

 

Nancy is already following his lead, which is good. All he wants is to lock his car up and get to class. Wants to escape the way Billy is still staring at him, cigarette between his fingers at a hip like he’s the king of the goddamn school and above the rules.

 

Nevermind he’s done exactly the same so many times before. It’s just—it’s different, okay?

 

He hates today.

 

By total accident, he meets Billy’s eyes. Like the universe is forcing even his eyeballs to adhere to a type of gravity personally set against him.

 

Nancy is saying goodbye, but it’s periphery. It’s nonsense words.

 

The universe is Billy’s eyes, is Billy’s red lips around the cigarette, is those lips forming a plush little alcove for smoke to reside, burrow, coax up and out of.

 

He hates Billy.

 

That morning he woke up with the shadow of Billy Hargrove’s name in his mouth, rutting into his own mess.

 

Steve rips his sight away.

 

He hates himself.

 

 

The only thing curtailing his anxiety over once again having to sit next to Billy in chemistry is the fact he managed to forget a major part of his grade is due in less than forty-eight hours. He’s one murder mystery away from passing or failing, and he’s not so dumb he can’t figure out which one.

 

If he fails…

 

His dad is going to kill him if he ends up needing summer school.

 

“What’s up?”

 

It’s Billy’s deep voice, cutting through the tumult in his head like a chainsaw.

 

Steve focuses back on the chemicals Billy is playing with. Really, they’re supposed to be observing metal changes. Or something. From the last twenty minutes all Steve’s managed to observe is that some metal blocks have bubbles when Billy uses the eyedropper and some don’t.

 

Billy glances up at him, then back at his little vial of hard-earned bubbles. He’s writing something down on their shared lab paper. Steve taps his pencil.

 

“What, Bil–Hargrove?” he asks, annoyed and catching himself.

 

The muscle in Billy’s jaw spasms. “Nevermind.”

 

“No.” Steve taps his pencil faster. “No fucking—No. Say what you were gonna say.”

 

Billy’s eyebrows lift. “Not if you’re going to chew me out for it.”

 

He’s still writing on their paper. Like there’s so much to say about bubbles in liquid.

 

Steve drops his pencil flat on the table. He picks up the vial and circles it around, bringing a little tornado to life. “I will if it’s stupid. You want to say something stupid?”

 

Billy hums a long, low sound. “What the hell’s gotten into you, Harrington?”

 

“Nothing. Just—god, I didn’t sleep well. Okay? Nothing new. Just fucking spit it out, man.”

 

Billy looks over for the vial, sees it missing, then finds it in Steve’s grasp. He grunts before he swipes it back. Their fingers brush.

 

Steve feels his face burn, a chill dragging up his arm from that small, meaningless point of contact.

 

Billy doesn’t seem affected by it at all, which makes it all the more ridiculous.

 

“It’s just…you look like a penguin slapped you.”

 

What. “What?”

 

“You just got this,” Billy says, holding his hand up, palm toward his face. He moves it around. “Look. So. What is it? What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing’s wrong.”

 

“Don’t bullshit me. I know what it looks like when you’re bugged by some kind of shit. Is it the misses?”

 

“The—the who?” He chooses not to comment on Billy still seeming to think he knows Steve. He doesn’t. They’re different people now.

 

“Wheeler,” he says, his face doing something…interesting.

 

His chin is hiked up, a pink spreading at the top of the ear that Steve can see. His fingers work over the pencil he’s still scribbling with, the other hand clutching the vial until the knuckles are white.

 

And Billy’s tight-lipped through the whole thing.

 

“It’s got nothing to do with Nancy…no. We’re—we’re great. Yeah, things are perfect there. I just didn’t sleep much. I haven’t been sleeping. I’ve just been tired.”

 

“Tired or not sleeping, which is it?”

 

“Tired because I’m not sleeping.”

 

“I sleep when I’m tired.”

 

“Well,” Steve says, “congratulations. Good for you and your, your…” he waves a hand flippantly in Billy’s general direction, “metabolism processes.”

 

Billy stops what he’s doing suddenly, turning a slow, amused look his way. “My what?”

 

“Your, you know.” Steve grasps for the right word. He knows he’s wrong. It’s just a bad day. “Your body process or whatever. That makes stuff work inside you.”

 

Billy seems to think a moment. He taps his pencil now, looking thoughtful. Steve’s hit with a wave of nostalgia over what it used to be like between them. Easy, simple. Like breathing. They could joke around and fight and argue and tease and still laugh at the end of the day because it wasn’t serious. It wasn’t whatever it was now.

 

It’s why he looks down, away from Billy’s almost playful smirk. Like he’s not the guy who called Steve names in front of everyone at a party, who’s been so mean to him—

 

“You mean physiology?” he asks abruptly.

 

Steve shuffles out a rough sigh. “Sure. Yeah, that. Let’s just get this done okay? I have a lot of work to catch up on.”

 

“Like what? We have the same homework, man. I see you turning in shit.”

 

The teacher walks by and Billy makes no attempt to lower his voice or hide the fact they’re just talking and not really working. But whatever their teacher sees over his shoulder on their paper is enough he keeps walking.

 

Steve, however, slouches down in his seat, starts tapping his knee. He almost bumps into Billy’s beneath the table but moves too quickly to be embarrassed.

 

It didn’t used to be like this.

 

“Nothing,” he says. “Just nevermind.”

 

It’s Billy leaning into his space then, smirk on full cocky display. “No way, Jose. Your turn to share with the class. What the hell are you missing?”

 

“I’m not missing anything. I just—I thought that midterm project was due next week. I was planning on staying after and begging for an extension.”

 

He hums. “Interesting.”

 

“What?”

 

“The Harrington I knew wasn’t one to beg for anything.”

 

Billy. Billy.

 

His stomach twists into knots.

 

What the hell is he doing?

 

He’s friends with Robin now. And Nancy. And sometimes Barb, when she isn’t scowling at him. He’s trying his best to stay friends with Carol and Tommy, trying and failing because he knows how they are.

 

It really boils down to Robin and Nancy. Mostly Robin. Robin has made him realize a few things about people he’s kept around himself since he was a kid, and for what? To be teased, to be let down, to let others hurt without him stepping in to stop it?

 

What the hell is he doing, and why is he still doing it?

 

“Steve?” Billy asks, and it’s little more than a whisper. And how dare he sound worried.

 

“You know, Billy,” Steve says, tired more than anything in that moment. More than caring about keeping up appearances, more than maintaining the game of Hargrove-instead-of-Billy, more than his memory of gasping awake with thoughts of Billy touching him so sweet and hungry.

 

He’s just exhausted.

 

“You know…” he repeats, “were you ever really my friend?” He asks it because he used to count the hours of difference between the before and the since, until Billy showed up stoic and burning like a firecracker stuck in Indiana grass so that the clock finally started to slow, to tick down, backward, flashing all at once into the future again. Until there was an after. “Did I somehow make it into this big thing it wasn’t? Gave you those stupid cookies when you moved in next door and just—just assumed?” He takes in a shaky breath and hates how his gut flips over, how he feels sick. He can’t even look Billy in the eye, let alone his face. “Or was I really just that stupid all these years and never knew how much you hated me?”

 

The silence is heavy. Steve didn’t really expect a deep response, not even necessarily a lengthy one, but nothing? At all? That’s just shitty. Embarrassment piles on top of the exhaustion, and he wonders how he’ll be able to stomach the rest of the year when it’s like this.

 

Maybe instead of asking for an extension after class, he’ll just go to admissions and ask to transfer. It’s just a few months until the end of the school year, but maybe they’ll make an exception since his dad donates money to the district every year.

 

Maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and write Billy off.

 

The bell rings. Steve takes a moment to steady himself. He fists his pencil and pretends it’s his own personal lightsaber. Nobody can fuck with him if he’s got one of those, right? He’ll be able to walk out into the hall and into his next class and leave Billy Hargrove in the past where he belongs.

 

He’s standing and Billy hasn’t moved. He wonders if he should turn the work in, even though Billy usually does it.

 

Steve notices then that Billy already wrote his name down, as if he contributed anything but confused pondering when it was really Billy who did all the work yet again.

 

“Your cookies weren’t stupid,” Billy says once the ringing has stopped, and that’s what he’s been hooked on?

 

Steve shoulders his bag, finally looks down at Billy and the strange expression he has.

 

“See you later, man,” he says quietly, and goes to turn their paper in.

 

Billy’s up in a flash and behind him when Steve turns around. He jumps, startled. Billy grips his elbow to stop him from tumbling over the poor girl behind him, but drops it just as quickly.

 

Steve doesn’t know what’s happening.

 

“I don’t,” he says, low and urgent. “I don’t hate you.”

 

No. No, no, no.

 

“I—that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter anymore, okay? Forget what I said.”

 

But Billy doesn’t want to forget, apparently, because he’s stepping in front of him again. And his eyes are burning, and he just looks so—so dead set on whatever it is he’s trying to get out.

 

This is really ruining his plans.

 

“This isn’t,” he stops then, and they both turn as a couple of girls titter as they pass Billy, one passing her hand over his waist like he’s free range meat. Steve frowns. Billy ignores them, only continuing once they’re gone. “We should talk.”

 

“A little late for that, don’t you think?”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I get that. Listen, I—” More girls walk by, throwing flirty farewells at them both. Billy’s mouth flattens into something just shy of angry, Steve recognizes it instantly and hates that he does. “Can I come over later? To talk.”

 

What else would he come over for, his traitorous brain asks, and Steve wishes his pencil-saber had a real shining beam to wield. It would probably be more helpful than looking like a nerd ready to take notes.

 

“Why not here, at school?”

 

“Because it’s not for them.”

 

Them. The school. Not for everybody else.

 

For someone. For him.

 

For Steve.

 

A girl full on bumps into Billy on her way out and Billy snaps. Loses it.

 

Half shouts, “Can I help you!”

 

The girl scurries away, startled and called out. The others still gathered in the hall to see just when Billy and him will actually leave the class laugh at her.

 

But their teacher takes it as his cue to come over. “Is everything alright over here, Mr. Hargrove.”

 

It wasn’t as much a question as an attempt to see what kind of detention needed to be given. But Billy was always as slick as they come, and even now, in the midst of whatever kind of anxious conversation they were having, he turns it on like a superpower. He paints on a wide, welcoming smile, throws his shoulder into Steve’s like an old buddy would.

 

“I just was offering to help Harrington here with his midterm.”

 

“Ah, right. That’s very kind of you. Remember, as long as you both complete separate projects, I don’t oppose working together.”

 

“No, yeah, totally. I’ve already finished mine.”

 

“And what have you come up with, Mr. Hargrove?”

 

“I made soap,” he announces, like he’s proud. And maybe he is. Steve doesn’t totally recognize the tone in his voice. “Kind of ruined my kitchen though. Man, was my old man mad.”

 

He laughs lightly, easily. And the teacher laughs with him.

 

The knots in Steve’s stomach have overturned, unwound and reached to claw up his throat. Made it hard to breathe, to speak.

 

Automatically, Steve starts going back and cataloging every wayward mark he’s seen on Billy in the last week. Nothing serious on the face. Had a pretty bad red bump when Tommy nailed him in the head with a basketball on Monday, and it had faded just as fast. But other than that? Nothing Steve can recall. Nothing he’s seen before and known.

 

He’s watching every minute twitch in Billy’s face when Billy suddenly turns back to him. It catches him off guard, those blue eyes of his widening.

 

“I was just asking if we can hang after school to work on it together,” he explains, searching Steve’s eyes like he’s honestly asking. “How about it? You free today?”

 

Steve only nods because he doesn’t trust his voice just yet. Can’t trust himself not to just blurt out a million questions about Neil and if he laid a hand on Billy.

 

About if Billy needed a place to stay for the night, to get away, to breathe, and found a locked window instead.

 

“Great!” he says, clapping Steve a little too hard on the back. There and gone. “See you at four?”

 

“Uh huh. Yeah. Yep. Perfect.”

 

Very smart reply. Incredibly smooth.

 

Another clap on the back and Billy’s turning out into the hall to walk straight past the girls angling for his attention. It would be funny if it wasn’t sad.

 

He offers a small smile in goodbye and follows Billy out, going the other direction to his next class when it hits him.

 

He has a date with Nancy at four. Bananarama shakes.

 

Steve wants to bang his head against a locker.

 

He’ll just have to reschedule with Nancy.

 

She won’t mind.