Boltedfruit Archive

First to Burn

Chapter 14: part x: bomb

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

Warnings: this chapter deals with some heavy topics such as mental health, discussions of offscreen child abuse/death, and is also from Billy's POV.

The thing about his anger is it’s never been fast.

 

His has always been volcanic. A steady build up over hours, days, weeks or months, always inevitably coming to a hot red tipping point. That last little push and all bets are off.

 

For him, it’s a relief. To finally be given the excuse to explode. To tell himself it’s not really his fault. Wasn’t really him that’s broken all those noses and twisted arms and stained all shades of skin with so much red and black and blue.

 

It’s not his fault.

 

It’s not.

 

He’s volcanic, and when it’s over everyone else is left to clear the ash.

 

He goes back to normal. To those routine hours, days, weeks and months that it takes pretending to be the perfect son, the perfect student, the perfect stud on campus. And everyone who doesn’t matter forgets just how terrible the heat before the ash can be.

 

Everyone but the ones he can’t help but think about. Obsess over. Fear.

 

Neil and Steve. Maxine.

 

His mother, who barely makes the list after his recent time spent with her.

 

She’d been thinner. Absentminded. Distracted by things she saw that no one else did. Maybe she was pretending too. Maybe she was building up to blow apart, he’d wondered. But she just fizzled out and became tired. A smothered grenade he didn’t recognize.

 

She used to throw plates and silverware. Furniture.

 

Defense.

 

Neil’s anger builds too. But Neil’s is always a slow burn, a terrible drawl into a lasting sting that hurts longer than the immediate flash of fire ever does. Can’t even come close. His father finds buttons, unthreads them with a practiced hand shaped into a needlepoint, before ripping off each one until all that’s left are tatters.

 

Tactical.

 

Billy simply explodes. Destroys entirely. Saves his obsessions the trouble of ever needing to simmer for days at a time, unraveling every new emotional blow like he’s always been left to deal with.

 

He simply bites and tears and bleeds. Then he moves to the next.

 

Offense.

 

A real beast doesn’t need to eat. It just needs to hunt.

 

“And is that what you think you are?” the doctor asks him quietly, patient in spite of the shame coloring his cheeks. He can hear Maxine’s bored voice pitched high from the other side of the wall, bored with having to wait for Billy to be done with his appointment. “A beast?”

 

He shrugs.

 

She nods. He can see it from his peripheral vision. He’s kept his head down, only enough he wouldn’t need to look her in the eye.

 

Dr. Toll is all big city and feminine grace. She speaks with a surety he’s never seen in Susan. Moves quick and determined like Max tends to do. But she’s kind. He can tell. Just can.

 

He’s always preferred female doctors. They just feel safer.

 

Not that Neil ever gave him much choice. Neil set Billy up with his own primary back in California. A rough handed man with cold hands and a pack of cigarettes in his coat pocket as he told Billy over the years for various fevers, breaks, and bruises that all he had to do was keep his head down and be a good boy and keep going to church.

 

Hawkins’ doctors weren’t much better.

 

But it’s 11AM and he’s been in Indianapolis for over two hours.

 

Susan made him this appointment. Last week, after a plate slipped while he was washing the dishes and all he could see was Steve, bleeding. He slipped away for a while. Came back to a trashed, glass-littered sink.

 

Neil waited for him to come back to himself. To be aware of the punishment he was ultimately due.

 

“How’s your sleep?”

 

“Shitty.”

 

Dr. Toll hums, amused maybe. “Define ‘shitty.’”

 

In the brief moment he closes his eyes, he sees Steve’s face again, bloodied and betrayed and worst of all, resigned. Glass cuts slivers into his hands. He sees red all over and lets the ash rain down on him for the first time in his life.

 

That was a hatchet he sent spiraling through the air, only for it to land in the last person he wanted. The one he intended.

 

He’s so goddamn stupid.

 

“I have nightmares,” he admits. “Bad ones.”

 

“About eating,” she asks, “or hunting?”

 

He swallows, pained. Why is she even humoring him?

 

Billy can’t look at her. “Hunting.”

 

She’s quiet as she writes her notes. She hums quietly as she does it, which Billy finds odd. Like she’s taking her time for some reason. Like she’s enjoying herself.

 

Something cold prickles at the back of his neck, raising a clammy sweat at his hairline–but he’s not feeling cornered. She’s not making fun of him.

 

But he still can’t calm down, even though he’s trying. He’s trying. Why is he like this?

 

“I just–” he starts, and feels outside of himself, an invader inside his own body. Talking isn’t his thing. “I can’t stop. I never can. I just get pissed and explode and hurt people. I don’t know why.”

 

She puts down her pen. “You mentioned the first time it happened was around eleven or twelve?”

 

“Yeah.” He thinks back during a game of baseball. A kid stole second from him and he’d looked up into the stands and saw Neil glaring down at the field. Like his eyes might open a pit and swallow his only son whole. Then Billy broke three of the kid’s fingers. The kid had to wear an eyepatch for two months. Neil had sweet talked the coach into letting Billy off with a week suspension. Then he’d taken Billy out for ice cream. “Yeah. Around then.”

 

“And your current injuries,” she says, and Billy flinches. “These aren’t from your…hunting?”

 

The lie jumps easily to his tongue. To spit out a vitriolic you should see the other guy with a laugh he’s practiced in his vanity mirror. But that prickling over his skin tells him to look up. Meet her eyes.

 

She’s not glaring at him. She’s not frowning. She’s just…there. Listening to him. With genuine interest.

 

She’s not sad or pissed or feeling sorry for him. It’s like she just wants to know.

 

“My dad.”

 

She doesn’t react in any way he can see. “Did your usual physician do those stitches?”

 

A throb starts at his temple as if on cue. “No. Went to the ER.”

 

“Did they question him?”

 

“I drove myself.”

 

Her hand lowers. She points at the cast encasing his left wrist and half his hand. “And that?”

 

She glances back up at the stitches he’s sporting over his forehead.

 

“Can I take a look?”

 

He shrugs again.

 

She stands and pulls on a pair of gloves. The snap of the rubber has him remembering plenty of nights spent in the ER, alone, surrounded by the scent of rubbing alcohol and copper, wishing he could go to school the next day.

 

After standing and setting her clipboard on her stool, she approaches him. She’s focused on his forehead, rubbery fingers prodding gently at the shitty stitch job.

 

The small town staff threatened to get the police involved when he wasn’t budging on their probing questions. Billy had screamed every terrible thing he could come up with because like hell he was ever going to willingly be in a room with Chief Hopper ever again. He thinks fear made the doctor do a rush job.

 

He’d scar. But that was normal.

 

“Wiggle your fingers for me?”

 

He does.

 

“Cast doesn’t feel too tight or itchy?”

 

He shrugs again.

 

She nods. Sits back down after moving her clipboard to the counter at the back of the room. She peels her gloves off and tosses them into the trash by the door.

 

“The ER kind of sucks, doesn’t it?”

 

He lifts a brow. “Uh. Yeah, sure.”

 

“I hate the wait times. In school, doctors have to do rotations to get their hours in. I did a few in emergency, though I was focused more on critical care. Some of the stuff you see in there.” She shakes her head. “Some of the scariest and silliest situations you’ll ever see under one roof, I’ll tell you that much.”

 

It’s weird. He didn’t think much on what doctors did before they became, well. Doctors.

 

“Like what?”

 

She shrugs. “You want the silly or the scary?”

 

“Silly first, I guess.”

 

She grins. “You’d be surprised how many people come in, terrified and embarrassed because they…misplaced something.”

 

“Like what?” Billy doesn’t get it. “Their car keys? What does that even mean?”

 

“People sometimes get a little too excited when they’re in the bedroom. They happen to, well. Misplace certain shaped items they need help extracting.”

 

Billy’s mind works. Certain shaped items? Extract–

 

Oh.

 

He feels heat flood his face. He can’t help but laugh at the idea.

 

“Like up their–up their asses?” Then, because he can’t ever keep his stupid mouth shut, “Guys or girls?”

 

She gives him a chastising look, but her amusement doesn’t fade. Doesn’t tell him off for his language. “All sorts. Sometimes excitement can be a little too exciting, is all. I liked those cases because I got to help people and we all had a laugh.”

 

He can’t picture ever sticking something up his ass only to be stupid enough to get it stuck and then have to go to the ER and ask for someone to remove it. Because then they’d know. And they’d tell Neil. And he’d wind up right back in the ER for it.

 

But this doctor was smiling about it, like she had fond memories of helping people who did exactly that.

 

Came to her for help with something too embarrassing and–and shameful.

 

He can’t imagine doing that.

 

But…he’s here now, isn’t he?”

 

Can she see it on him? See it in the way he dresses, the way his hair is curled and coiffed, the way he sits, holds himself, breathes? The way he speaks, maybe? Or the piercing he stubbornly went ahead and got when he was fourteen because he was young and stupid and felt just a little less closed in when he could escape to the best friend he never expected to become the safe haven he had.

 

But all that’s over.

 

It makes him want to hit something. He doesn’t, flexes his fingers instead. Looks back at Toll, expecting that familiar ugly judgment to rear its head.

 

But something whispers she’s still not laughing at him. Not picking him apart like he’s some freak science experiment to figure out.

 

“Now how about a scary one?”

 

He nods, because he doesn’t trust his voice not to crack.

 

“A girl came in once. It was around four in the afternoon. She was maybe ten years old. Her hair had been ripped out in large patches across her head and there were bruises all along her spine and hips. She’d been dragged down the stairs by her hair. Tossed around. Her mom brought her in, screaming, because her husband was angry their kids had been play wrestling and the girl had accidentally knocked a small hole in the drywall.”

 

Billy can’t breathe. He knows how it hurts to fall down the stairs. To trip. He knows what it feels like having his hair pulled, but never–Neil’s never actually ripped his hair from the root.

 

The strength and rage to do that–

 

To a child–

 

Seeing the burning in his eyes, she goes on. “I cared for her, calmed her mother the best I could. I called the police. And you know what happened a little over a month later?”

 

He shook his head, no.

 

“The girl came back with broken ribs and a swollen face. She finally died after coding twice.”

 

“W-why?” he stutters out, enraged all at once for some kid he couldn’t even picture. Instead, he sees Maxine, with her round freckled face and her angry little glower she reserves solely for him. If Neil ever– “Why didn’t the cops do something?”

 

“They did. After.” She holds his stare, his anger. “A lot of the time the protections put in place for society don’t do their job until it’s too late. I was so angry. I was heartbroken. I felt like there was no point to anything. How could someone do that to their own child? If I couldn’t help her, could I help anybody?”

 

Billy feels too big for his own skin. He needs to stand, to pace. Move around like a wild animal in a cage. Needs to get something firm and fragile in his hands so he can smash it against the ground, make it small, make it red.

 

Make everything about this easier.

 

Then a hand falls over his, her fingers gently clasping the ones he has tensed, curled around his cast.

 

“Have you ever heard of something called intermittent explosive disorder?” she asks him, and it’s a record scratch, fries his brain as he tries to remember if he has or not.

 

“I don’t think so?”

 

“It’s marked by frequent, seemingly random and unproportional outbursts of oftentimes extreme anger and violence. I’ve heard it described by those who don’t suffer from it as feeling like they’re struggling to stand in the eye of an ever changing hurricane. It can be hard to manage for the person going through it as well as those around them.”

 

Steve, underneath his aching knuckles, split open like a pomegranate spilling dark seeds, staining everything. His skin. His clothes. His memory.

 

Maxine, with her red knees after he told her a hundred times to take it slow. Her board snapping clean and loud under his hands and over his knee as she sobbed and stared up at him, skinned knees tight against her chest. Terrified.

 

Neil, angry when he accused Billy of not watching Maxine close enough as she learned to skate. That her wipe out was his fault. That Billy was irresponsible and–and Neil watching as Billy tore apart his room, breaking everything in sight except his own father because Neil was the one thing he couldn’t quite figure out how to hurt like he did.

 

Neil, breaking Billy’s nose that night.

 

And Neil, so many years later, leaving Billy with a slash across his temple and a broken wrist after taking a brick to the Camaro’s windshield, Steve’s face and the smell of chemicals stirring over the stove still stinging the back of his sinuses.

 

Mild mannered, mousey Susan, daring to tell him she’d made a call, made him this appointment. Begged him, shivering in her low heels in the doorway of his room, to give it a try.

 

Him, breaking his stereo right after she left for work, barely holding the rage back until she was gone to do it.

 

It sounds like him, and he hates it. Hates it. Hates it almost more than–

 

He doesn’t want to hurt someone again like he’s hurt so many others. Like he’s hurt Maxine.

 

Like he’s hurt Steve.

 

He’s tired of breaking everything he touches.

 

“Did that asshole have it? The…the explosive disorder?”

 

She regards him a long moment. “No. He was just an abuser. And sometimes that leaves scars so deep it takes years to dig them out. To begin to heal. Sometimes when people like that go on to have families, they pass some traits down to their children. Traits that might not show up until they’re a little older. Sometimes the things we feel, the things we do, are due to other causes.”

 

“Like what?”

 

It barely comes out a whisper.

 

“Long term trauma to the brain,” she says, point blank. Still not judging, or implying. Just a statement of fact. “Or any combination of both. The human mind and body is tricky to figure out, but I like to think medicine can help.”

 

“Like what, pills?”

 

“Not always. There’s different kinds of therapy, meditation, journaling–”

 

“None of that’s medicine, though.”

 

She tilts her head. “Oh really?”

 

“Medicine is like that awful stuff you drink for a bad cough, or shots, or good old fashioned pills.” He holds up his arm. “A cast. Stitches.”

 

“And why do you think different methods of getting your thoughts out and into the world isn’t medicine?”

 

“Because it’s just not.”

 

“Well, if you know so much what do you think you should be prescribed today?”

 

“Nothing,” he barks. “I’m fine.”

 

The silence between them hangs.

 

Dr. Toll is still holding his fingers. He doesn’t know why he hasn’t pulled away yet.

 

“You could also talk to your friends.”

 

“I don’t have any friends.”

 

“Billy,” she says, squeezing his fingers a final time before moving away to grab something from one of the drawers behind her. “What do you want to do after high school?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“After school. What do you want to do when you’re eighteen and legally an adult?”

 

He can’t figure her line of questioning. “What’s that got to do with anything about today?”

 

“You said you’re on the basketball team. Ever think about what a scholarship could mean?”

 

“I–I don’t think that far ahead.”

 

“Because you don’t know if you’ll live to see it, right?”

 

Billy goes tense all over, feeling adrift, yet still chained down. Left to swim in a choppy circle he can’t get away from.

 

“I don’t know.” It’s hard to admit. “Why’s it matter?”

 

“Because having dreams and goals keeps us alive. It’s something to keep going for. They keep you focused on the future instead of bogged down and lost in the present.”

 

He almost never thinks about what life could be without Neil over his shoulder. He had a taste of it when he was sent back to live with his mom but she was mentally checked out to the point Billy still wonders if it was drugs or something else.

 

But she’d eventually found just enough awareness to kick him to the curb, so his focus switched from obsessing over her headspace to obsessing over how to avoid Neil’s wrath now that the court cleared him.

 

If not even a judge could help, what the hell could a doctor do?

 

But.

 

She’s been speaking to him all morning like he’s a person worth caring about. Like he isn’t some dick-loving piece of shit freak who deserves worse than the worst thing someone could come up with.

 

She’s just been…a person.

 

A person treating him like another person.

 

She’s not sent him a mean look once. Hasn’t asked him to give her something in exchange for her time.

 

She’s just…been normal.

 

He can’t remember a time when someone treated him like he was normal.

 

Bitterly, like a viper at the meat of his heart, he thinks of Steve before pushing him away.

 

That was never real. It was never going to be real. It was over.

 

He made sure of that.

 

“It’s either me or him,” he finally tells her, muttering it aloud like the poisonous thought it’s always been. Billy or Neil. Neil or Billy. “He’s going to win.”

 

The doctor turns back to him, and in her hand is a folder. It’s open and inside is a spread of sheets and a colorful pamphlet advertising the larger hospital they’re in. A network.

 

The titles are big and bold, and hook him in different places, pulling him in different directions. Doesn’t know whether to be mad or relieved, or confused more than ever.

 

Recovering From Intermittent Anger Disorder; Your Next Steps

 

Resources for Domestic Violence Survivors

 

Transitioning From Teen to Adult and What to Prepare For

 

Domestic Violence and How to Break the Cycle

 

Ways to Deescalate Anger and How to Conquer Your Triggers

 

How Psychotherapy Can Help Your Teen

 

Billy stares down at sheet after sheet after sheet, his face heating more with each one and feeling smaller too.

 

He’s pathetic.

 

He really does have a problem. It’s spelled out plain as day under his fingers when he takes the folder from her. Therapy. Not even just the regular kind, either. Psycho-therapy.

 

He’s a psycho.

 

Psychotic.

 

Intermittent explosive disorder.

 

At least there’s a fucking name for it.

 

He lets out a slow breath, feeling defeated yet strangely a little lighter.

 

“What do I do now?”

 

When he looks up, she’s smiling at him.

 

 

In the end he, Susan, and Maxine get breakfast at a small diner after his appointment. He’d spent four hours inside talking about his problems. His nightmares, his anger, his likes and dislikes, his–his fucking crush on Steve Harrington and how he fucked that up. How much of a monster he was. Is.

 

It was like a fucking floodgate opened. He sat there and unleashed.

 

She’d only listened through his shame, unmoved by the confirmation she was speaking with a f–with someone like him.

 

When he was done, when he had to stop and catch his breath to keep from crying, she told him nothing is ever set in stone.

 

Then she wrote him a prescription for two low-dose meds and made him promise to start writing down his thoughts in a journal when he felt anything less or more than content. The idea was to purge the bad and revisit the good.

 

She also said she’d be referring him to a psychotherapist who specializes in teens like him, another doc in Indy. He supposes it can’t be any worse than what he gets in Hawkins, so he accepts it without argument.

 

Now, he’s poking around a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon as he and Susan listen to Maxine ramble on about her friends and how annoying it was waiting for Billy for so long, and what was he doing in there anyway, and what was going to happen now that Neil broke his wrist–

 

His fork clatters to the plate. Susan shushes her daughter as he stands, mutters something about needing air before stomping out to the parking lot. Ten minutes later they’re all in Susan’s car on the highway heading back to Hawkins.

 

He’s sitting in the backseat, looking out the window when a familiar song catches his attention. Heavy guitar thrums low from the speakers up front and he watches Susan carefully as she finds a good volume; high enough to hear, low enough to focus on the road.

 

“You like this song, don’t you, Billy?” she asks, and finds his eyes in the rearview mirror.

 

He swallows, wet pricking at his eyes.

 

He looks away from Susan’s soft smile.