Boltedfruit Archive

First to Burn

Chapter 13: part ix: break

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.

Steve wakes up early, unintentional and syrup-slow. Sleep clings to him even as he drags himself through a shower, getting dressed, grabbing something to eat. Eggs on toast doesn’t do much to wake up his tired bones and he wonders why. Why is he always so tired.

 

The last handful of months catch up to his brain eventually, like they always do. His toast has gone cold before he catches himself stuck on the loop of yesterday. Of Billy sitting here in his kitchen, in this seat, a shadow of what used to be.

 

Between agreeing to have Billy come back over today, having to deal with Tommy after yesterday’s whole lunch fiasco, and Nancy’s inevitable anger with him for repeatedly blowing her off, Steve wants to just crawl back under his covers and sleep.

 

So he does.

 

 

He gets up around noon already wide awake. He hops out of bed and pads down the stairs feeling marginally more alive than he has in a long time, but he chalks it up to just sleeping in for once. And gratefully, no nightmares.

 

No dream-Billy’s to run amok in his head. To wake him up sweat-drenched and wanting and–

 

No.

 

He has a few hours until Billy shows up, wanting to probably make even more excuses to get out of what he promised Steve yesterday. He’ll likely show up with that girl, Heather. Make some pathetic excuse to find a way to have her join them while Steve struggles through whatever that Luminol science stuff Billy mentioned. He’ll probably have to sit and watch them moon over each other, whispering secrets like he’d witnessed Heather do at lunch.

 

Heather, who Steve’s never seen before in Hawkins. Heather, who showed up right after Billy said he got a girlfriend in California. A girlfriend who’d be joining him soon.

 

A girlfriend who whispered in Billy’s ear while he looked at Steve so, so–

 

Steve goes to the phone and finds his favorite pizza place on the sticky note on the wall. He dials and orders a large pepperoni, all for himself.

 

He’s going to eat until his stomach hurts and watch a movie.

 

Then he’ll think about everything else.

 

Anything else.

 

 

Kurt Russell’s only just used his flamethrower when loud knocking jolts Steve from his seat. He’d nearly forgotten what the afternoon held outside of just lazing around.

 

He sighs and pauses the tape, not bothering to shut off the television before lugging himself to the front door.

 

The knocking gets louder and faster until he flips the lock and swings the door wide, feeling just a tinge better when Billy startles, faltering when his fist meets nothing but air.

 

And oh, he’s pissed.

 

“What the fuck, Harrington,” he bites out, pushing past him as he strides inside. “You sick or just decided to run away from your responsibilities today?”

 

Steve rolls his eyes, knowing it’s more Billy fluffing his own ego than anything real. Out front is the familiar blue Camaro, all lean steel and powerful engine, parked behind Steve’s car and empty.

 

No Heather. No Max. Just like Billy had told him.

 

“A little of both if I’m being honest,” he calls back, turning and shutting the door behind him. “Oh. I can order another if you want?”

 

Inside, Billy’s stopped behind the couch, eyes glued to the almost empty pizza box. Then he takes in the mess surrounding it. The case of beer Steve got a little tipsy working his way through and a couple of bags of M&Ms he’d picked up from the store earlier that week.

 

He feels a little sick just thinking about the idea of more pizza, but he’s not so much of an asshole that he’d refuse Billy food. If they’re going to be working on homework for the next few hours, he’ll probably want dinner at some point.

 

And besides, if Neil is the same as he used to be–which Steve is willing to bet his inheritance on that that’s the case–Billy needs all the warm meals he can get. Even if it’s a meal of warm grease and cheese.

 

Billy swings his bag from his shoulder, letting it dangle at his side. He gestures at the mess.

 

“Looks like you had fun while you skipped. What, did you have your new side piece over, throw a little party?” He almost spits the word out. Like the two of them haven’t gone to a hundred parties before.

 

He knows what a party Steve throws looks like and this isn’t it.

 

But before he can answer, Billy huffs dryly on his way into the kitchen.

 

And, what?

 

“Uh. No? I just felt like sleeping in. Didn’t want to deal with, uh–with Tommy’s drama today.”

 

Billy makes himself at home at the kitchen island like he had yesterday, pulling out books and paper and a plastic bag from Melvald’s. He drops his bag to the tiled floor and starts dumping the contents out. There’s bottles and rags and other supplies and a glass Steve doesn’t know the purpose for. He starts grouping them.

 

Against his better judgment, he feels self conscious over the mess now. Maybe Billy thinks he’s sloppy. Maybe he turned into a neat freak while he was gone.

 

Steve goes to the living room and starts piling trash inside the pizza box. Beer bottles and all. He balances most of it on a trip to the trash, not looking Billy’s way lest he meet something like disgust.

 

“So? You want me to order us another or not?” He gets no answer. He manages to get almost everything in the can in one go, bending over to get the rest. Still no answer. He bites the bullet and faces Billy, moving to lean against the island counter, all casual.

 

But Billy’s determinedly not looking his way, instead pouring liquid into the glass cup, blue eyes focused on his work. After each pour, he eyeballs it and writes a measurement down on a piece of paper. After that he adds some powder.

 

“Billy.”

 

Nothing.

 

“Hargrove.”

 

Billy’s mouth deepens at the corners, the hint of a frown.

 

“If you drove out here to be an asshole about helping me with this chem project, don’t bother. Sure, you offered, but I can figure something out on my own. Besides, I kinda want to finish my movie.”

 

Finally, after a long few minutes of silence, Billy breaks. Glares at Steve before reaching out to pull the stool out beside him as loudly as he can.

 

“Kurt can fucking wait his turn. You got shit grades. It’s embarrassing.” Then, “I could go for a cheese.”

 

In spite of himself, Steve smiles. It’s more like the Billy he used to know.

 

Nancy’s words come back to him. Maybe…maybe they can be friends again. One day.

 

He’s here, isn’t he?

 

That has to mean something.

 

Steve goes to the phone and makes the order. Then he takes his place next to Billy and tries to wrap his head around the swirl of numbers on the page.

 

 

They’ve managed to come up with a hypothesis and make the clear liquid turn dark after a few rounds on the stovetop by the time Billy leans back and cracks his neck. It’s been off the heat for a while, and their notes are starting to resemble something smart-sounding. Billy takes his third slice of pizza for the afternoon and jams half of it into his mouth, cheek going round.

 

He says around his food, “So we’ve proposed and proven half of your project. Shit worked.” More chewing. “Now we do the fun part, actually making the stuff.”

 

“More like your project. You’re doing the work.” Billy waves that off. “What is Luminol, by the way?”

 

“You never watch those late night crime shows?”

 

“I mean, sure. Sometimes?”

 

Billy sighs, meeting Steve’s eyes. He’s been dodgy since he arrived. Hasn’t wanted to meet him head on. Billy may be in a decent mood, be a tinier bit more like he used to be, but there’s still an underlying unease Steve can sense in him. Every movement is a little too jerky. Careful to avoid Steve if he moves too close to take up a bowl or grab the pencil.

 

Earlier, their fingers brushed reaching for the same slice of pizza and Steve ended up relenting, put off by how fast Billy was to move away.

 

So he doesn’t want to touch Steve. Fine. No big deal.

 

He’s not throwing punches or calling him names, so Steve figures it’s just Billy being weird about him skipping class.

 

“Well you know when they get a blacklight and the crime scene lights up like the fourth of July?” He reaches across to the stuff he poured out on the table earlier and picks up what looks like a blocky flashlight. “This is the stuff.”

 

“So what, we have to get blood on something?” Steve asks, unable to think of much beyond the night Billy came crashing back into his life at Tina’s. The way he knows just how hard Billy can punch.

 

Billy smiles a little before looking away. “What, you afraid to bleed a little for a good grade?” When Steve doesn’t mollify him with an answer, he sits back, taking Steve in. “Don’t worry, Harrington. We just have to spray it on a piece of carpet or counter or whatever and it’ll show old stains and shit. It’s basically a party trick.”

 

“Oh.” That’s a relief, honestly. More than Steve would have thought. “How long does it take?”

 

“A while. Needs time to get hot is all.”

 

“Then why do you keep taking it off the burner?” Steve asks as Billy slides from his seat and walks their concoction back to the pot on the stove.

 

“Because Harrington, it’s a process.” He throws Steve a smirk over his shoulder. He twists the dial and twirls on his heel, grabbing the pizza box up in both hands before heading for the living room.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“You said you want to finish your movie, didn’t you? Or would you rather stare at bubbles all afternoon?”

 

He’d rather not have to do anything all afternoon, but the idea of taking his eyes off their project seems dangerous, given his track record.

 

Still, he stands, if wary.

 

“Last time I wasn’t paying attention to a science project, I almost blew myself up.”

 

Billy moves over when Steve approaches to make room on the couch for him. At least he’s not plastering himself to the opposite end of the couch.

 

Still, there’s over a foot of space between their legs when he sinks back in the plush cushions. A year ago Billy would have been close enough to him to share his body heat. Would have bumped shoulders with him as he leaned forward for more pizza. Would have slapped at his knee and made some lame joke about ice aliens and argued with Steve about if they were more monster than alien.

 

He would say both.

 

It feels strange still, even though he’s had so much time to process how things are different between them. Nancy offering him her hopes for the best seem stuck between possibly to slim now that he’s spent a few more hours with the guy.

 

He just can’t figure it out.

 

It hits him all at once just then that maybe he should just ask. Ask Billy what happened. Get the story again, but more. Because he could tell there was more Billy wasn’t saying that first time. Get Billy to be honest. About that morning, with Hopper, about California, about Neil. About Heather and who she is to him. Maybe he could salvage–

 

Billy picks up the remote and with a click of a button, Steve’s million bright ideas die on the tail of a flamethrower.

 

 

Billy gets up a couple times to adjust the heat or stir their mixture. Every time he comes back he just hums an affirmative to Steve’s questioning gaze.

 

Nothing’s blown up yet at least.

 

Steve finds himself relaxing more with every hum, until he’s blinking sleep awake, suddenly bone tired.

 

He yawns three times over the course of a minute. On screen a head skitters up a wall.

 

Billy yawns and swears. “Cut it out.”

 

Steve yawns again. He laughs a little, wiping moisture from the corners of his eyes. “Sorry. Must not have slept as well as I thought.”

 

“That’s what fucking your chick all night will do to a guy,” Billy mutters, something in his voice prickly. It’s so left field, Steve sputters out a true laugh. Billy turns a strange look on him. “What’s up with you?”

 

“I’m sorry–It’s just,” Steve says, shaking his head. “Did something crawl up your ass today and die?”

 

As if to prove him right, Billy sits up straighter. “You’re the one bragging about having prissy Wheeler over all night and day. Seriously man,” Billy says, gesturing to the table, then the room at large, “not everyone’s got a big empty house to throw ragers in pretty as they please whenever they want.”

 

It’s got to be a joke, how much Billy’s brought up this imaginary party.

 

Steve takes the controller and pauses the movie.

 

“Billy. I told you a bunch, I just felt like being a lazy sack of shit today. No party, no Nancy. She’s pissed at me anyway.”

 

Billy’s eyes narrow. “Why’s the priss pissed?”

 

Steve shoves him lightly in the arm without thinking about it. “Don’t call her that. She thinks I blew her off to hang out with you.”

 

“Well, did you?”

 

“…Yeah. Kind of.”

 

Billy tilts his head, curls falling across his forehead. Humming, he reaches out and takes the remote from Steve, this time not flinching away when their fingers tangle for all of a moment.

 

He clicks the movie back on.

 

“Her loss,” he says, and tosses the remote back on the table. “Just thought it was weird, her skipping. Thought you must’ve corrupted her, seeing as how her friend was all pissy thinking Wheeler was with you. Kinda chewed me out, which is more than I can say for over half this town.”

 

“Her…you mean Barb?” Steve just looks at Billy, wondering what made him talk to Barb. “I wouldn’t take it personal, she barely tolerates me. She’d hate you.” For a heartbeat he wonders if he might’ve just tripped over and broken the strange peace between them by sticking his foot in his mouth like he constantly does.

 

But Billy just huffs, like he agrees.

 

“Yeah, I got that message loud and clear.” Billy fingers the hem of his shirt where it rests over the ridge of his belt. “So you really didn’t have your little girlfriend over for some orgy get together?”

 

He can’t help it. He reaches over and socks Billy in the arm, making him wince. He deserves a lot more.

 

“What the fuck was that, Steve?”

 

“Everything that comes out of your mouth one-ups itself on grossness. Seriously, how disgusting do you think I am? Shit’s not that deep. Just drop it.”

 

“Orgies aren’t gross. They’re cool.”

 

“Says the guy who wouldn’t even kiss the first girl who went down on him.” Steve scoffs, narrowly avoiding the punch Billy tries to land on his shoulder in retaliation.

 

He doesn’t know why that’s the first thing that comes to mind.

 

“That’s different,” Billy says, unaffected. “Orgies are what every guy dreams of.”

 

He laughs, breathless at the audacity of it. “What? Not even close.”

 

“Yeah sure, just ask every skin mag in print.”

 

“That’s porn, man.”

 

“Yeah,” Billy intones, like that’s the point. “What, like you don’t like porn? I remember you practically begging to get your hands on that one Playboy spread I snagged a couple years ago.”

 

Steve twists in his seat, rolling his eyes. “I was a kid!”

 

“Yeah and she had a cowboy hat on and not much else.”

 

Steve goes hot in the face, sliding down a little in his seat. Billy laughs.

 

“Shut up. That’s a magazine, not real life.”

 

“Yeehaw,” Billy adds, laughing all over again.

 

Steve throws a pillow at him. Billy grabs it mid-strike and hugs it against his chest.

 

“So you didn’t throw some massive orgy with every hot girl in town.”

 

“Nope.” Steve sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “No way. Nancy is my girlfriend, asshole.”

 

Billy shrugs again.

 

“Age and the shit life throws at you has zero to do with each other.”

 

Something about his tone has Steve looking at him a little longer than he usually allows himself. To linger on Billy Hargrove these days is like sticking your fingers over an open flame. It’s only a matter of time.

 

But Billy goes on, deciding not to burn him.

 

“So no wild and out orgy. Fine. But you also didn’t make sweet love to the priss, even though she skipped. Wonder what she was up to.”

 

Steve swallows, feels weird about that. It really isn’t like Nance to skip, for anything. If she was going to be out for a day or two, she always called to let him know.

 

He hopes she’s alright, and tells himself he’ll call her later.

 

“Hagan was looking for you.” Billy tells him, changing gears like he hasn’t been hounding Steve all afternoon about what he did all day. And just like that, the joking tone of the last conversation is gone, replaced by something less teasing, less prying. “What was that all about anyway? You looked like you were about to wring the guy’s neck.”

 

“Almost did,” he mutters, remembering it. Remembers Billy watching it happen. “He was being a dick about Nancy.”

 

“Ah. Makes sense. Better watch my mouth or I might be next, huh?”

 

It’s so casual. Easy. Like Billy wasn’t punching the shit out of him a few months ago.

 

“Maybe. Depends on how wide you open it.”

 

Billy tosses the pillow back at Steve, smacks him across the face with no real malice. He’s grinning when Steve recovers, grabbing at it too last minute to snatch it back. Billy pushes it under his arm, tucking it into his opposite side. Kicks his feet up on Steve’s mother’s coffee table.

 

“You’ve always had the bigger mouth, Steve.”

 

He thinks about roses and his mother’s garden and a plate of cookies, and how he still hasn’t eaten the snickerdoodle Billy bought him. It’s in the kitchen shoved away in the silverware drawer over the forks because he got sick of looking at it.

 

Is Heather your girlfriend, he almost asks. Even opens his mouth to start.

 

Instead, Billy points flippantly at the television. The group is arguing. Steve’s been hardly paying attention.

 

“Heather always goes gaga over Kurt Russell.”

 

Steve blinks back at the TV, lifting an eyebrow. He feels suddenly small, wants to hide and sleep like he did earlier. But Billy is still here, and their project is still in the works. He can’t just ask Billy to leave because he’s suddenly getting what, cold feet?

 

“Okay?”

 

“Apparently they think he’s a stud.”

 

Steve nods along, wondering why Billy’s all over the place today. Maybe he’s high or maybe he’s nervous too.

 

But Steve’s seen Billy nervous, and it never looked like this.

 

Instead of dwelling on all the ways Billy is different than before he left, he sighs and decides to just stick it out until he feels better…or their project is done and Billy leaves again. Steve can deal with his own anxiety once he’s alone.

 

“He’s a movie star, of course he’s good looking.”

 

Billy grunts. “Heather says it’s the hair. Chicks go nuts for a brunette.”

 

“Brunettes are pretty to guys. Guess it’s the same for girls.”

 

“Says the brunette.”

 

“Calling me pretty?”

 

“You said brunettes are pretty. Think you’re calling yourself that.” And Billy turns, looks at him, and smiles.

 

Steve can’t help rolling his eyes. “And how many times have you called me pretty boy? That nickname never stuck, by the way.”

 

“Takes a certain attitude to pull it off,” Billy says like that makes sense, and maybe it should. Steve still doesn’t totally understand it. “Can you believe Heather’s seen this flick more than me?”

 

“I mean, it’s a good movie. Plenty of girls like it–”

 

“Bet Wheeler gets her panties all in a twist over big ol’ Kurt too.”

 

Again with the Nancy stuff. Steve stands up, frustrated. Feels too big for his own skin. It’s the anxiety clawing away at him, building up into something familiar that will keep him up all night again. He doesn’t want to talk about Nancy with Billy.

 

Nancy is Steve’s. She’s his girlfriend. She’s sweet and charming and funny and smarter than he’ll ever be. He doesn’t want any of the good he feels when he’s with Nancy, when he’s thinking about Nancy, to be spoiled by Billy.

 

“Grab me a coke?”

 

Steve glowers towards the fridge but does as asked. He got up with no real goal in mind. Just couldn’t stand sitting in one place anymore. Had to get up and move.

 

He checks on the mixture. The heat is so low it’s almost off, but the darkness has begun to bleed away into something clearer. He wonders what it’ll look like when it’s finished.

 

He grabs two cokes. At the last second he slides open the silverware drawer and pulls the snickerdoodle out.

 

As he’s sitting back down, he hands Billy his drink before settling in. Commits to being more relaxed. More normal. If Billy’s even noticed.

 

He used to, is the thing.

 

Steve tears open the packaging and takes a bite out of the cookie. Brushes stray crumbs from his chest. He feels a prickle at the edge of his vision, turns and catches Billy staring at him, intense, like the day before at lunch.

 

He breaks off a piece and offers it over, but Billy shakes his head, no. Steve eats the rest in silence, hoping Billy finally got whatever it was out of his system.

 

It’s a few minutes into the next action scene when Billy says, “Bet Wheeler loves this scene. Bet she’s got a poster right over her bed, to give her sweet dreams.”

 

“No actually, she’s got one of Tom Cruise.”

 

“Wait, really?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

He huffs. “That makes sense.”

 

Steve finishes the cookie while Billy keeps talking. Says these offhand, strange things. Things that get weirder, more sexual, until Steve is nursing his own coke even though he’s feeling a little sick to his stomach from all the carbs and sugar and Billy just leans back.

 

Says, “You know girls love when you get them off while they’re talking about some hot stud they like to fantasize about? Shit turns them on so bad. Last time I got a girl talking about some Hollywood stud, she creamed herself. Right through her panties. Hottest thing ever.”

 

Billy.

 

“What? You never tried that?”

 

He doesn’t even want to look at him–even though he can tell Billy is looking at him. Trying to goad him into replying, probably so he can tease some more.

 

Just sometimes he’s not in the mood, and he gets tired, and he just gets so fed up. Especially when it comes to Billy. Even if a small–probably very, very large–part of himself still hopes they can be friends again.

 

Hanging out with Robin isn’t like this. Hanging out with Nancy or even Barb isn’t like this. And Barb really can’t stand him.

 

Which should tell him everything he needs to know, right?

 

“Harrington–”

 

“Hey, so maybe we should check on the project? You wanna do that?”

 

Billy doesn’t answer for a beat. But finally he gets up, sets his own coke down, and heads into the kitchen. Steve can hear him tinkering for a while. Hears him mumble something.

 

Billy comes back and Steve hopes he’s about to announce that the Luminol is done and they can start wrapping the afternoon up.

 

But instead all he does is walk in front of Steve as he comes back around, hand lingering near his crotch and–and he adjusts himself as he passes by.

 

And he sits down, spreads his legs wide, and just sits there like he isn’t.

 

Like he didn’t just walk in front of Steve with a hard-on.

 

Because that’s what he saw.

 

“Yeah,” Billy mutters, eyes on the screen. “Girls love that shit. Think they like working a guy up until he can’t stand it anymore. Until the only thing he can think about doing is getting his hands on her until she’s only thinking about him.”

 

Steve realizes he’s broken his own promise to himself of not to look Billy’s way. Now that he’s watching, he sees Billy brazenly palm himself over his jeans, like they’ve done this before. Like this is normal.

 

Like Steve didn’t wake up hard and rutting into his own sheets the day before.

 

Which Billy can’t know, right? It wasn’t like he climbed up Steve’s house in the early dawn hours just to perch in front of his window like some kind of creep.

 

They both know he keeps his window locked now.

 

So no, he can’t know. It’s impossible.

 

Something shameful and embarrassing and his until the day he dies. A secret he will literally be buried with.

 

It was just his brain playing mean tricks on him. Manipulating his sadness and anger over the whole situation until it was something that resembled a little too close to whatever this is.

 

“Billy, you’re–”

 

What? Drunk? He didn’t drink any alcohol. High? Maybe. Probably. Hopefully.

 

“You ever do that?” he asks again. He looks over, hooks Steve’s eyes with his own, fisher’s baubles. “No? You should try it out sometime.”

 

Billy’s burning blue eyes flick down his torso, hover over his lap. When he returns to Steve’s eyes again, Steve’s stomach flips, familiar heat pooling where he doesn’t want it to.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“What’s it look like? I’m just letting off a little steam. Probably talked myself up too much,” Billy says, like it was an honest to god accident. Like he didn’t mean to go on and on about how much his girlfriend likes Kurt Russell or apparently how much she talks about him in the bedroom. “You don’t mind.”

 

Steve scoffs. But he doesn’t look away, not from Billy’s face. If he looks any lower, he–he can’t. He won’t.

 

Sure, they kissed a few times over the years. Sure, he got hard that one time from it, but–but watching Billy touch himself, so obviously unbothered by doing it next to Steve, is worlds different than looking at skin mags together. Or kissing sometimes.

 

Or a stupid, irrational dream.

 

“Wanna practice?” A surprise sound leaves him and Billy smiles a little crookedly his way. “What? This shit’s normal. Talking about sex does that.”

 

“I–I–Billy–”

 

“Stop thinking so much. How’s this any different than any of the other stuff?”

 

“Other stuff?” he asks, feeling smaller and smaller with every passing second.

 

“How we used to,” he says, moving his palm in a circle until he groans, “How we used to practice.”

 

“We were kids.”

 

“We were friends.”

 

“Friends do this together?” he asks, and he doesn’t mean for it to be an actual question. Because Tommy’s never asked to make out. Tommy’s never started rubbing his erection when he got bored one afternoon.

 

Tommy never got hard around him.

 

But then, Tommy isn’t Billy.

 

And Billy’s always been a little wild.

 

“Come on. Think about it. Wheeler whispering all sweet in your ear about how she wants Tom to touch her. Only you’re the one actually doing it. You’re letting her live out a little fantasy.”

 

Steve doesn’t exactly want to think about Tom Cruise when he’s in the mood. But he supposes there is something attractive about the trust of the whole thing. That she would ask him to help her with something so personal.

 

His dick gives a little kick and before he even realizes his hand has moved to his lap, he hears Billy give an appreciative groan.

 

“Hell yeah. You’re getting the picture now. Shit’s hot as fuck.”

 

“Just shut up.”

 

“It’s just practice, Harrington.”

 

It’s his last name that does it. That tips him over from tired and almost fed up to pissed off.

 

Maybe his problem is he just needs to jerk off. Get his head back on straight, clear his mind.

 

Fine.

 

Steve turns away, looks up at the ceiling. Grinds his palm against the base of his dick.

 

He hears Billy suck in a breath. He closes his eyes.

 

“That’s it. Bet you I just opened a whole new world for you.”

 

“Do you ever stop talking?”

 

“No. You know that.”

 

He laughs. He can’t help that either.

 

“Race you.”

 

“Huh.” Steve blinks, turns to see Billy popping the button of his jeans open and–and slipping his hand into his briefs. He’s pulling the band away from tan skin and Steve looks quickly away again before he can see exactly what Billy’s doing.

 

He hears Billy spit and then a sigh of pleasure–then wet slicked skin sliding and Steve can’t stop the little strangled sound that worms its way from his throat.

 

“Feels better like this. Bet I can finish before you.”

 

He can feel his pulse through his pants, which is never great. He aches. “When–when is being first ever a good thing?”

 

“When it’s a race, duh.”

 

He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what to feel, or think, or do.

 

Then Billy says, “I’m not looking. It’s just a dumb game, man. Practice.”

 

For what, he wonders.

 

But he aches and it hurts and he needs to just not think anymore, about anything.

 

He undoes his belt and shoves his pants down only far enough he has room to take his erection out of his underwear. He doesn’t spit on his own skin, because he’s not gross like Billy is.

 

He listens to Billy’s breathing. The curse he mutters as he resumes stroking himself.

 

He sounds so wet. Like a girl–

 

Steve feels himself pulse, dribble a little precum out like it’s nothing. He uses it to ease the way and sets a pace he knows works quick.

 

It’s a race, and he’s competitive. And Billy’s the worst, the best at egging him on when it comes to beating one another at old games.

 

Practice. Practice, sure.

 

“That’s it, pretty boy. Come on. Get there.”

 

He imagines Billy climbing through his window, crawling into bed behind him–

 

He can’t.

 

“Point of a race isn’t to help the other person win, I thought?”

 

“This helping? Me talking to you like you’re a girl?” He can almost hear the way Billy licks his lips. “Want me to talk you up? Say how–how big you are? How good he’d–how good Kurt would make you feel?”

 

Steve scrunches his face up. “No–no.”

 

“Bet you love a strong hand around you, huh?” And it’s–it’s quieter than the rest of all the filthy Billy’s spouted. Like he’s not sure what to say. “Bet you love when a girl wraps her pretty little hand around your pretty little cock until you’re just begging to slip inside her.”

 

Christ. “Shut up.”

 

A breathless laugh leaves Billy beside him. “You like me talking about your little–Oh.”

 

The slick sounds have ceased.

 

Steve blinks again, wondering what’s wrong. If something happened. A sinking feeling has him jolting in place, snapping to Billy’s face to see if he’s been tricked somehow, so cruelly.

 

But Billy’s fixated on his lap, on how he’s paused holding himself. He feels more warmth pulse out of him, and he moans.

 

Billy’s eyes latch onto his, and he bites his bottom lip.

 

“Not little, then,” he almost whispers, and resumes his own pace without looking away.

 

And Steve–he can’t. He can’t, not anymore. He holds Billy’s eyes and they race.

 

Billy gasps out of nowhere, lips red and bitten slick, he can see the indents. “Shit. I’m–I’m close–”

 

Steve sits up, body deciding where he’s going before his brain even knows.

 

Billy makes an aborted attempt at leaning forward, falls to the side a bit.

 

His lips are parted, his eyes steady on Steve’s mouth.

 

He falls apart just like that, braced on an elbow, close enough that Steve can feel the ghost of his breath across his overheated face.

 

“Shit.” Steve’s close, he’s so close. “Shit–”

 

Billy startles with a grunt when Steve turns and falls into him, nudging Billy’s face up with his nose until their mouths meet, and Steve moans, full-bodied and too loud as Billy immediately licks past his teeth.

 

Steve seizes up just like that, their chests pressed together, the feel of Billy’s hands gripping hard at his shoulders, his lower back as Steve makes a mess between them.

 

He can’t stop himself, and he knows it’s a pattern. He’s helpless really, when it comes to listening to himself.

 

He kisses Billy long and deep, angles himself between Billy’s legs and keeps kissing him.

 

It’s nothing they’ve ever done before. And it’s certainly not practice for anything Steve’s ever needed help with.

 

Billy moans sweet and clutches at Steve a little stiltedly, unsure. So different than the loud asshole who was bragging about everything he’s done in the bedroom only minutes before.

 

And Steve realizes he wants more of this Billy.

 

The Billy beneath him who’s clinging to him, who’s keening into his mouth, who’s thigh is shaking beside his–

 

Until he’s shoving Steve off with a shout, like he’s been electrocuted.

 

Steve lands hard between the table and the couch, his chin getting a bad case of rug burn on the way down. His hip lands the hardest.

 

When he pops back up, wondering what the hell just happened, he sees Billy already sitting up, eyes wide and fixed on the mess on his shirt. He wipes at it with his hands, makes it so much worse.

 

“You can borrow a shirt–”

 

“Shut the fuck up, Harrington,” Billy hisses.

 

Ice settles under his skin. Steve feels his face fall.

 

He hadn’t realized how unbothered he was by what just happened until that moment.

 

And a few things make sense that hadn’t before. Things he didn’t want to.

 

Billy shoves away before Steve can push himself to his feet. He rubs the throb away in his hip, ignoring the stinging along his chin. Billy’s more important, because he looks ready to bolt. He looks furious.

 

But he looks scared too, and Steve’s never really thought of Billy as someone who could get scared.

 

Not so easily.

 

They’ve kissed before. It never scared Billy so bad.

 

So why now?

 

“Billy, it’s just,” he tries, thinking of the least inflammatory thing he might say, “it’s just practice. Come here, sit back down. Let’s just finish the movie–”

 

Billy rounds on him, charges back into his space and hits him square in the nose.

 

Steve splutters. It surprises him more than it hurts, and makes him fall back until he’s sitting on the couch again. He knows he’s bleeding because he can see red on Billy’s knuckles.

 

Billy looks shocked, like he didn’t expect himself to punch Steve either.

 

Then he turns and goes into the kitchen.

 

Steve isn’t exactly sure what the hell that was, other than Billy is freaking out more than Steve is–a whole lot more, which is reason enough to freak out. Later. Much later.

 

But he can’t just let this go. He’s not willing to lose six plus months all over again.

 

He follows Billy, holding his nose as he goes.

 

Billy is standing, shoulders tense, facing the stove.

 

Steve stops at the island. “Billy, can you…can we just talk? For once?”

 

“I’ve talked enough.” Under his breath he mutters, “I can never keep my fucking mouth shut around you.”

 

He’s red in the face. He’s–he’s blushing. His shoulders square off and he grimaces like he’s said too much, again.

 

Steve thinks of Billy suggesting they practice, every single time. Billy the one sneaking through his window. Billy the one showing up hurt worse than Steve’s ever seen him to try and make it for his sixteenth birthday.

 

Billy leaving and then coming back, different. Angrier.

 

At Steve.

 

“Oh.”

 

Billy turns on him, eyes wild. “Oh? What, oh?”

 

Steve walks around the island, stopping only when Billy takes a step backward.

 

“You like me.”

 

Billy scoffs. Goes even redder.

 

“You’ve liked me a long time.”

 

“Shut the fuck up. No I haven’t.”

 

Steve walks closer, until Billy’s pressed back against the corner of the counter, trapped. He’s looking anywhere but Steve.

 

“You like me, Billy.”

 

“No I fucking don’t.” He tries to press even further away when Steve’s less than a foot in front of him. “No I don’t, Harrington. Fuck off.”

 

“Billy–”

 

“I’m fucking warning you.” He starts looking around, at the counters.

 

“Can we just–”

 

Billy snatches the closest thing he can reach. It’s a plate.

 

Steve stumbles back.

 

Warmth splits open at his scalp. He blinks liquid away, confused why it’s raining.

 

He remembers he’s inside. That Billy’s got a piece of ceramic in quaking fingers. There’s a blurry edge to him, to both of him.

 

Steve says, “Ow,” clutches his head. Tries to will his vision to stop doubling.

 

“I fucking warned you,” Billy tells him, and it’s wavery.

 

Steve’s biggest mistake is he tries again, to talk, to open his mouth, says Billy’s name–

 

And Billy snaps. Fists are landing on him in a flurry, and Steve tries to defend himself, tries to get in more than two good hits, but Billy’s always been bigger, stronger, meaner than him.

 

And Steve’s always been a little slow to keep up. And he thinks it’s never been more clear than when he’s on his back on the tile, Billy straddling him, a couple of his teeth feeling a little more loose than they used to be, and warmth and pain littering his whole face–he’s made a mistake in trying to be friends with Billy Hargrove.

 

He should have just stuck to watering the roses.

 

And he’s crying. Just like that. And it’s embarrassing, even when he’s in the middle of having his teeth shoved down his throat, he’s embarrassed, because even in spite of everything else, everything physical, this fucking hurts.

 

“You were my best fucking friend,” Steve says between hits, between trying to push Billy off him, because fighting back never really went his way when it came to Billy Hargrove.

 

And that’s what stops him in the end. What has Billy looking down at him, at his handiwork. Like he’s just realized what he’s done. What he’s been doing.

 

In a breath, Billy’s weight is off him. The blows have ceased to land.

 

Billy turns his rage on Steve’s kitchen and his mother’s pristine catalogue-esque decor, and Steve can’t find it in him to care. He just lays there and focuses on Billy’s voice, his shouting, the way things sound when he breaks them. Focuses on the tears leaking steady down his own temples, drying cool in his hairline.

 

But he stays put, above all, because if he intervenes, Billy might just kill him.

 

But all things must end, and Steve knows that. Knows it more than anything, in the way he’s been listening to any chance of a friendship being repaired between them crumble into dust. Billy eventually calms, half sobbing. He collapses to the kitchen floor when Steve first cornered him and covers his face with his hands.

 

Steve tilts his head, watches Billy from the floor.

 

“There’s no girl. There’s no fucking girlfriend in California, Harrington.”

 

“H-Heather,” he tries, but it sounds like a gurgle. He swallows several times but it all tastes coppery.

 

“Heather’s from Hawkins, she’s not–fuck. What does it even matter.”

 

He laughs, and even Steve isn’t stupid enough to admit it doesn’t sound deranged.

 

“I didn’t run away to California. That pig chief got the state involved. Had me sent back to live with my mom while they looked into Neil. But turns out she didn’t want me either. Didn’t know what to do with me when she left the first time–turns out not much changes when your fag of a kid turns into a fag of a teenager. Said I was old enough to figure things out myself. Sent me back when Indiana couldn’t find shit wrong with Neil.”

 

He blinks away more tears.

 

“Nobody fucking wants me, Steve. Not even my own mother. So there. There’s my sob story. I’m stuck in this bumfuck nowhere town until I graduate or Neil kills me. Whichever comes first.”

 

Billy finally looks at Steve then, sight trailing over the damage he’d done.

 

Steve very slowly raises himself up on stiff elbows. Everything everywhere hurts. He takes a deep breath or five, and lifts himself up until he’s sitting against the bottom of the island counter.

 

Billy just laughs again. It cuts off as abruptly as it came.

 

“Steve, I–” He stops, swallowing. Steve hears his throat click. Finally, he says, “You know…I think if you were dead, things wouldn’t be so hard for me. I’d be normal.”

 

It settles over him like cement. Threatens to drag him into something small and crushed. And then, almost like relief, everything goes numb.

 

Steve wipes at his eyes, wicking away what he tells himself will be the last tears he ever cries over Billy.

 

He was right before, about not knowing who Billy was anymore.

 

Maybe California was when it happened. Or, no. It was before he left. Before he was sent away. The friend he knew died when Hopper first walked into his house and Billy had looked up at Steve, betrayed.

 

This was his fault.

 

He just had to live with that.

 

Steve forces himself to stand up, even though he feels ready to crack apart like an eggshell. He forces himself to look at Billy, to show nothing.

 

“Get out.”

 

Billy chews his lip.

 

He’s up and grabbing his bag and is out the door before Steve counts to twenty.

 

The front door slams closed and he sags, wondering if it’s worth it to call an ambulance or just pop a few Tylenol and sleep it off.

 

That’s when he sees it.

 

Billy left his soap.

 

When he turns around, in the chaos of his destroyed kitchen, Billy didn’t lay a finger on the Luminol.

 

It’s clear.

 

The heat is off.