Boltedfruit Archive

First to Burn

Chapter 12: part viii: boil

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.

Lunch brings with it two things.

 

One; Nancy’s pissed. Or maybe miffed might be the better word.

 

And two; a few tables over, Billy’s got his arm around a tall brunette and they’re sitting awfully close for two people who aren’t dating.

 

Steve’s never seen her before.

 

Nancy stabs her fork in her lettuce a little too hard, the crunch bringing his attention back to her, where it rightfully should be. He shouldn’t be so concerned with Billy and whatever girl of the week he’s decided to try and hook.

 

Only they’ve got plans to meet after school and he supposedly already has a girlfriend back in California.

 

So, what gives?

 

“Steve.”

 

He blinks, again turning back to his own girlfriend, who is definitely firmly in the realm of miffed-almost-pissed. If that’s a thing. He hasn’t ever seen Nancy get mad before, but he feels he might soon.

 

“We can go tomorrow, I promise. I know it’s last minute. I honestly didn’t have much of a choice.”

 

“You always have a choice, Steve,” she tells him, perfunct and logical. She spins her fork in her salad but doesn’t actually take a bite. It’s starting to look like rabbit food. “You really think it’s smart, working with him? I know you two have history with each other.”

 

History. Billy Hargrove was his first best friend in the world. The first friend to break his heart when he didn’t know friends could even do that. His first kiss.

 

He frowns hard down into his mac and cheese, doing little more than stabbing his fork around his plate too.

 

She sighs. He sighs. They sound like a pair of worn out lazy chairs.

 

“It’s just homework, and I really can’t skip it. Might send the guy home early, who knows,” he adds, because he just might. Letting the guy into his house isn’t exactly conducive to him cutting ties and moving on with his life. “I really am sorry, Nancy.”

 

Nevermind that if he doesn’t do the work, he’ll fail. He might have to stomach working with Billy at his house for the next afternoon or two to avoid having to repeat junior year.

 

Nancy is still pouting but it’s turned somewhat thoughtful now.

 

“If I was in your year I could help. Just stick it out. Who knows, maybe you two can work whatever it is out between you and be friends again?”

 

He wants to laugh. Or cry. He’s not sure which, really.

 

“Oh, well…that’s not really in the cards for us I think.”

 

Nancy is about to say something else when like a bomb going off, Tommy jumps into the seat beside him, wringing his neck in what he must think is playful, but really just serves to agitate Steve. He was tired, confused…but now he’s just annoyed.

 

He shovels a forkful of pasta in his mouth to keep from saying something stupid. Something mean.

 

Carol slinks into the space next to Nancy and, ever ignorant of the personal space of others, takes her plastic knife and sticks it into one of Nancy’s apple slices. She sticks it between bubblegum pink lips and laughs.

 

“Heya, Nance,” she singsongs.

 

Tommy has draped himself over Steve to the point he’s just sticking his fingers into his food. He fingers a noodle and pops it between his teeth, grinning.

 

Steve tightens his hold on his fork.

 

“What’s the king and the priss up to today?” he asks them, eyeing Nancy.

 

“Probably something stuffy,” Carol surmises. “Something very conservative.”

 

Tommy opens his mouth for the stolen apple slice Carol offers him. Steve is used to his friends behaving like this. It’s their way of initiating someone new in their group, but…there hasn’t been anyone new in years.

 

Not since Billy.

 

Now, seeing the way Nancy’s mouth hangs open a little until her expression morphs into something shaded and bubbling, he wonders if that wasn’t by design.

 

Nancy grabs her tray and stands primly, only looking at Steve when she says, “I’ll just get a ride home from Jonathan. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

Jonathan? Jonathan who?

 

She’s already gone when he catches back up to what Tommy’s saying.

 

Tommy’s eyes go wide. “Wonder what’s got little high-and-mighty’s panties in a twist.”

 

He and Carol laugh, smug.

 

And Steve wonders, why. Why has he put up with them all these years? Was he really always so blind, so deaf? Did he never realize?

 

Or worse, has everyone else seen him the same way too?

 

Steve shrugs Tommy off. “You can really be an asshole, Tommy.”

 

Tommy’s mood falls instantly, going sour. “What? I’m just speaking the truth.”

 

Steve just watches Nancy hurry out of the cafeteria. It’s not too big, but in a room full of curious eyes, he knows how long of a walk it can really be.

 

“Not our fault Wheeler can’t hang with us. We’re too much for the princess.”

 

“I don’t know what you see in her.” Tommy grabs the fork out of Steve’s hand and proceeds to eat his mac and cheese like it’s been his all along. “Can’t be the sex,” he adds, mouth full.

 

Carol titters into her hand and Steve’s had enough.

 

Steve blinks, he’s stuck sitting and listening to Tommy and Carol, two of his oldest friends on earth badmouth the best person to ever happen to him. He blinks and Tommy’s wide eyes fill his vision, Steve’s got his fists twisted in Tommy’s shirt, and a number of lunch trays have been scattered to the floor.

 

Steve is so mad. So fucking mad.

 

The cafeteria is silent around them.

 

Tommy and Carol aren’t laughing now.

 

“Stevie, I just—”

 

Steve jostles him. Hoists him up and slams him back down just enough Tommy knows he’s not fucking around.

 

Steve looks up, away from Tommy’s surprised, red face beneath him. Sees the same surprise mirrored in most of the crowd around him. Sees it in—in Billy’s face, just across the way. Sees it settle into something serious. Dark.

 

He realizes suddenly what he’s doing now is something Billy would do—has done to others.

 

Steve lets Tommy go and straightens. Doesn’t know what to do with his hands.

 

The brunette is leaning into Billy, whispering something to him, lips probably pressed soft to his ear. He nods to whatever it is she says and Steve feels hollow.

 

Steve doesn’t look away from the pair of them. Says to Tommy, a little zoned out, a whole lot angry, “We’re done.”

 

And he leaves the cafeteria, wanting nothing more than to sit in his car and smoke the rest of lunch.

 

 

“Wow,” Robin says for the fifth time since finding him where he’s been hiding near his car since the whole lunch thing.

 

So what if he’s skipping next period? It’s not like he retains any of the information anyway.

 

He only just broke off his oldest friendship ever. Carol too, because if Tommy wasn’t around, she wouldn’t be. They come two in a pair and if you throw out one you might as well lose the other.

 

“You’re feeling sorry for yourself.” She takes the cigarette he’s been nursing–his third–and takes a single puff of her own before letting it drop to the cement. She stamps it out with her boot. “It’s not a good look on you.”

 

“Don’t pretend you’re not happy this happened. You’ve been gunning for them since we started talking.”

 

“Since before, actually,” she corrects. He gives her a look. “Hey now, I’m just saying…I get how big a thing it is what just happened. Breaking up is never easy.”

 

He rolls his eyes. Starts fishing around in his pocket for the pack so he can smoke another, but realizes it’s empty. He turns around, lets his forehead fall to the cool metal of the car and sighs heavily.

 

“We did not break up.”

 

“Who says ending things with a friend isn’t a breakup? It causes the same emotions.”

 

“Not really.” He’s never had a breakup with a girl as bad as–as a breaking off of a friendship. Like with Billy. Billy was, and remains, the worst. “They finally crossed the line with Nance. Said things that just aren’t…are never…it’s not worth going into all of it. They’re assholes like you said.”

 

Robin touches his shoulder, rubs lightly, if awkwardly. He sniffs a little, not so much startled to find he’s on the verge of tears as much as he is that Robin voluntarily touched him. She’s never been the type for physical affection.

 

“Sorry, bud.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

They’re both quiet for a long while. Robin pats his shoulder.

 

“Hey, you want to go make fun of the freshman running laps?”

 

Steve lifts his head, blows the fringe that falls in his eyes. “What?”

 

“The PE class running laps right now.” And sure enough, there was a class in the field. “Isn’t that like…a Steve Harrington pastime or something?”

 

She smiles and Steve shrugs her off, pushing at her arm. It makes them both laugh.

 

“You’re the worst.”

 

“Hey, I’m just trying to feed the dragon. I’ve never had one of you before,” she says. “Do I feed you cereal or pork chops or the souls of small crying children?” He slaps at her again and she dodges him. “So it is the children! I thought so!” She spins out of reach, cackling. “Watch out everybody! The jock hungers for freshman tears!

 

“Oh my god, Robin!”

 

 

There’s no practice today, which is just as well. Steve isn’t sure what Tommy will do after lunch today, but he knows the guy isn’t one to back down from a fight he knows he can win. And he has won, several times, against Steve. And that wasn’t even anything serious. Little fights over the years, play wrestling, whatever—it’s not what Steve had done today.

 

It was a threat. A punctuation to too many years placating behavior he shouldn’t have indulged. And Tommy is going to be pissed once it catches up to him that Steve was serious.

 

Steve was so mad. He’s not used to being mad like that. Mad like Billy gets mad, and it’s messed up. He’s messed up.

 

It’s not even a question of should he move forward with his life, it’s a necessity. He doesn’t like what the aftermath of Billy leaving town has done to him. Made him into this sad, sorry, yearning, angry creature. Sad for obvious reasons, sorry because he obviously knows he didn’t do enough to keep Billy from leaving in the first place…yearning for what? For more–more practice? No way. And angry.

 

All of it just makes him angry.

 

The solution is moving on from all of it. Tommy, Carol, Billy. His own sadness.

 

He just needs to focus on Nancy and move on.

 

Just needs to move on.

 

Yeah.

 

 

The doorbell is ringing a second time when Steve finally gets the door open. It’s Billy. Not that he expected anyone else.

 

Behind him the house is dark, and he sees Billy taking that in.

 

He closes the door, boxing himself in. In the street sits his car, and Steve can see his stepsister, Max, and the girl from lunch.

 

The girl from lunch, who’s sitting in the driver’s seat and revving the engine like she knows what she’s doing.

 

Billy turns around at the sound, and it’s strange seeing Billy reacting to his own car, grinning like he thinks it’s cool. He gives a thumbs up and, what?

 

Like he’s allowing this.

 

Billy never would have let Steve drive the Camaro. Not in a million years.

 

“I think that girl is stealing your car,” Steve says, because what else could it possibly be. “And Max.”

 

“Maxine’s fine. Heather’s just driving her to the arcade. She’s gonna watch the brat while we work.”

 

It’s only because he’s distracted by the sight of the Camaro driving off without its owner that Steve doesn’t refuse Billy as he pushes past him to get inside. It sets his side tingling, but even that’s not enough to pull his attention fully away.

 

What the hell.

 

“H-Heather?” he asks, breathing the name. “Heather who?”

 

“Holloway. Close the door, it’s cold.” He does and turns to the sight of Billy adjusting the thermostat his dad is so strict about. “That should do it.”

 

He’s got his bag with him, and he slides it off his shoulder and onto the kitchen island. Hoists himself into the stool like he’s never missed a day of being here. Of dropping by after class to work on homework together, to help Steve study.

 

Steve feels like he’s walking through mud. His legs are slow, stuck.

 

The last people to mess with the thermostat were his dad, and himself…by way of Hopper.

 

Chief Hopper, who’d been here just a few feet away arguing with a concussed Billy about his dad beating on him.

 

Billy’s face is unblemished now. He’s setting his chemistry binder on the marble countertop and reaching back inside his bag.

 

He brings out a bar of soap, lopsided and blue.

 

They’re different people now.

 

“I—” he starts, walking over. He looks down at the soap. Billy made this. Billy said he ruined his kitchen and made his dad mad over this. Did his dad hit him for it? Make him spit up teeth and blood over it? Over homework? “Open your mouth.”

 

Billy lifts an eyebrow. “What?”

 

“Open your mouth. Come on, open up.”

 

Billy’s laughing smile fades until he rolls his eyes and obliges. His once missing tooth isn’t missing anymore. Steve knew that, he did. But it never really occurred to him now that Billy had to go somewhere, to someone and get that fixed.

 

Had to go and explain himself, explain how it happened. Had to sit in a dentist’s chair and lay out how his dad beat him so bad he knocked a tooth free. Maybe he didn’t explain at all. Maybe all he did was lie. Even though he knows Billy doesn’t like liars or lying.

 

But Billy knows how to toss around a fake smile. Knows how to fool people. People like Steve. Someone he used to share his loneliest moments with.

 

Billy’s become a liar. And Steve’s gotten wise.

 

They’re different people.

 

“I think you should say what you came to say and leave.”

 

Billy’s teeth click shut. His brow lowers, menacing. But Steve knows that look, he still knows Billy in spite of everything, and he’s not afraid of him. He never was. Maybe somehow, somewhere along the last half year, Billy forgot that about him.

 

“Actually, maybe you should just go. I only agreed to this because our teacher was right there.”

 

“Steve.”

 

Steve’s still just looking down at Billy’s handmade soap. How long did Billy work to make it? Did he fail a few times, or did he nail it right off the bat like he always does when they’re messing with chemicals in class?

 

“I rescheduled a date with Nancy for this,” he says to himself more than anyone else. “You should go. You know where the door is.”

 

He hears Billy give an impatient little huff. He’s heard it before, when Steve is being stubborn about something mostly. Or stupid.

 

He’s not being stupid now. He’s not.

 

God, he blew off his girlfriend for this.

 

He starts walking away, intending to loiter in the living room until he hears the front door open and shut.Then he can lock it, make something to eat, and shower, and—and go to bed. And probably not sleep because for all he’s tried to ignore it all day, the dream from this morning is still just right there at the edge of his vision. He doesn’t want to think about it.

 

It’s why he has to do this.

 

It’s why it has to be hard.

 

Of course it feels like a breakup, he thinks, and laughs under his breath.

 

Maybe Robin was onto something.

 

“Steve,” Billy repeats, distant now. Then, louder, “Steve, come on! I do want to talk. Just…just come back. Please.”

 

He doesn’t, but he does stop. The thick mud his body insists he’s walking through has drawn up to his knees, suctioning him to his mother’s ever pristine carpet. He wants to kick at the whorls of white and cream, call her up and tell her it’s an ugly design.

 

There’s the rustling of plastic and then Billy is just there, whipping him around, fingers gripping hard at his shoulder, his bicep. The plastic hits his chest, and when he looks down all he sees is Billy holding something wrapped against him.

 

He brings his hands up, takes it. When Billy draws away, he sees it’s a cookie. Just the one. It’s got a label from the store, and when he reads it, he snorts. It’s a snickerdoodle.

 

“I don’t hate you, man. You’re—you were my best friend.”

 

Were.

 

They’re different people.

 

When Steve doesn’t say anything to his claim, Billy starts to fidget.

 

“I knew this was a stupid idea,” Billy’s saying quietly, running a hand over his chin. “I know it doesn’t beat your recipe, but. It’s the best I could think of on short notice.”

 

“We’re different people.” Steve feels the plastic crinkle under his fingers.

 

“Yeah.” Billy sighs. “Yeah.”

 

Soap. Snickerdoodles. A brand new car left abandoned at the quarry because he was only hours into sixteen and scared for the boy who decided to hate him.

 

“Say what you’re gonna say,” Steve says, tone flat.

 

“Now’s really not the best time,” he says and Steve can only laugh. He might honestly be losing his mind. Billy holds his hands up. “I didn’t realize Heather was going to be here today, and then I had to deal with Maxine, and there was—there was just too much shit today. The thing at lunch with you and Hagan, and—”

 

“That didn’t have anything to do with you.” Why did he even care? Steve still doesn’t totally understand the dark look Billy was giving him then. “And you always drive her, what does that have to do with anything? You’re the one who brought them here.” He pushes the cookie back into Billy’s hands. “Stop—stop bullshitting me, Billy!”

 

“Steve, seriously. I thought we could work today and get this project shit done and over with and tomorrow we could talk.”

 

He really can’t believe Billy sometimes. He always had a way of doing what he wanted when he wanted, but it usually coincided with Steve’s tendency to do exactly the same thing. They worked around one another.

 

Right now, Steve needs Billy to do what he wants, not what Billy wants.

 

But Billy is just standing there, eyes big and open and pleading and Steve hates that look. He hates it to his core.

 

He takes a breath, because that same anger from lunch is bubbling inside him and he doesn’t want to pop.

 

“Why should I?”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

Steve closes his eyes, walks around Billy to the fridge. He pulls out a beer and pops the cap off on the edge of the counter and chugs a few gulps. It only settles his nerves a little, and that’s just great.

 

Billy’s staring at him when he’s done.

 

“You were fucked up when I saw you at Tina’s. You were a bastard to Robin. You called me a fag and you—you’ve never done that. And maybe, you know, maybe we’ve joked like that in the past. Maybe Tommy and you and everybody—maybe that’s just what we do. Or did. But maybe—maybe today I realized I don’t like being that guy. Maybe I can’t fucking stand it anymore. And I can’t stand it when people just spout bullshit at me all day every day and make me think I’m going crazy because I, what, get angry when it happens? You think I’m being stupid when I get mad my best friend calls me something I’m not? You know I’m not a f—that I’m not one, Billy. You know that. And I feel so goddamn stupid, I really do,” he admits, and it feels good and sour all at the same time. “I feel so stupid because I know now how everybody else felt when I did the same thing to them. Maybe I finally realized I’ve been the bad guy all along, and everybody around me was just fine with that. Maybe I’m just sick of it. Of Tommy and school and you and, and…”

 

“And what else?” Billy asks, and it’s so soft and wondering and wounded and Steve swallows down that anger all over again.

 

“Me. Maybe I’m sick of myself.” He takes another swig. “I’m just so fucking tired.”

 

Billy is standing still, strangely wordless as he watches Steve work on the beer in his hand.

 

Sixteen’s been a bad year.

 

“So don’t bullshit me, Billy,” he finally says. “I don’t have the energy for it.”

 

Billy sets the cookie down on the counter, next to his bar of soap. It’s going to make the marble waxy. He gently slides onto the stool again and lays his hands flat over his work.

 

“I had a plan today. I know it doesn’t seem like it…but I,” he says, inhaling fast. “I planned to come here, have Heather drop me off. She’d screw off for a few hours while I helped you make something so you won’t fail chem and be held back, and then.” He breathes out just as rough. “Then I’d say it was getting kind of late, and could we talk about things tomorrow. All of it. Just lay it all out. Every single thing. I thought you’d forget for a while today, while we were working. Forget who I am, and how I’ve been. Lately. But that—Christ. Obviously I fucked up my plan.”

 

Steve lifts his eyebrows. Brings the bottle to his lips and says, “You think?” But then Billy doesn’t say anything else and Steve drinks until there’s nothing left to drink. And he allows himself to wonder what if Billy is serious right now. What if he really did come here with a plan in mind, wanting to relive a little of what they used to have. That ease between them. What if he does know how awful he’s been? “So. We make some sad excuse for a science project and then we just go our separate ways?”

 

“Just until tomorrow, when we can really talk. I won’t have Maxine or anybody else around to—” He stops himself, licking his lips. Resetting. “And I mean, it won’t be sad if I have anything to say about it. I don’t want you to fail, man.”

 

“Nance offered to help me.”

 

“She’s not even in our year.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

Billy just ignores that, barreling into the next. “Steve. We’re in the same class. Let me do this. Tomorrow I’ll tell you whatever you want.”

 

“Anything?”

 

Billy claps his hands together. “Anything.”

 

Steve sets down the bottle.

 

Billy Hargrove is sitting in his kitchen.

 

He blew off his girlfriend for him to make excuses. And maybe it’s all hot air he’s blowing, or maybe he’s telling the truth. Maybe he means it.

 

This morning he woke up hard, thinking of Billy’s mouth on his skin.

 

Steve opens the fridge back up and grabs two more beers.

 

And he sits down on the other side of the island.

 

“What kind of science project were you thinking?”

 

Billy seems to relax a little, gesturing while he talks. “I was thinking luminol.”

 

“Lumi-what?”

 

Billy grins.

 

He doesn’t touch the beer.