Boltedfruit Archive

First to Burn

Chapter 7: part iv: not real

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.

Billy’s blood on his knuckles is colder than he thought it’d be.

 

His own blood is warm. A bloom of heat starting from his sinuses down to his throat, his heart. He’s on the floor and Billy is straddling him, is hitting him, is pummeling him through the fog of alcohol and anger that Steve doesn’t have the first clue to beginning to understand.

 

Billy’s pouring fire into him and he can’t catch a breath. He covers his face, can’t when Billy pries his hands away. There’s a crowd now, ogling and cheering and oohing and ahhing. Rejoicing in seeing their keg king beat bloody. Steve can’t breathe, can’t cover his face to try to, so he turns away. Focuses on the heels of one of the girls who clap and chant and laugh and howl and–

 

And he says, “Billy, Billy stop—”

 

Because Billy is his best friend.

 

And he missed Billy so badly.

 

He’s spent so long hurting, he’s not sure why Billy wants to make him hurt even more and—

 

And he did throw the first punch, he realizes. Because he’s hurt and he’s mad and Billy, before a lot of things between them, always pisses him off.

 

Steve did this to himself.

 

But still, he says, “Stop.”

 

And Billy hesitates. Blue eyes clear for a moment while Steve gulps in air. They’ve done this before. Billy taught him how.

 

Billy hesitates, unsure. Steve’s still fucking pissed.

 

Steve gets his knuckles in Billy’s right eye and he goes down cursing.

 

Tommy and one of the guys from the basketball team jump in then, get their hands around him and Billy. Pull them away, apart, up and at ‘em. Up and away from.

 

Looking away from the spot on the floor Steve’s got his eyes trained on is hard. He knows he’ll probably do something stupid if he even looks at Billy right now. Might say something worse.

 

God, he hates Billy so much right now.

 

Tears prick at his eyes and Steve hates himself for still being so affected. It’s been six months of moving on.

 

It wasn’t enough.

 

Steve retreats to the bathroom. Everything is still a little foggy, a little swimmy with drink. Everything hurts. His chest, his head, his hands. He pops his knuckles before gingerly touching his nose. It’s not broken, but it’s something.

 

 

He’s sitting with his back against the tub, tissues stuffed up each nostril and stained red when the door bursts open.

 

Steve watches the phantom of Billy Hargrove go to the mirror over the sink, pull at his face and wince and start swearing under his breath.

 

Billy doesn’t see Steve as he prods at the damage to his reflection. Hasn’t seen the bruised and tearful boy sat on the floor. Billy’s already starting to bruise, and the sight has Steve remembering a rainbow of colors over his friend’s ribs and he feels sick. Looks away.

 

That’s not his reality anymore. He hopes it’s not Billy’s.

 

But it’s been six months. He doesn’t have the right to hope for anything anymore.

 

Steve gets the toe of his sneaker on the door. Kicks it closed.

 

Billy jumps it startles him so bad. He meets Steve’s eyes. Scoffs.

 

“Ready for round two?”

 

Steve reaches out and pulls on the worn cuff of Billy’s jeans. “No. Come here.”

 

Billy stares at him. At the tug on his leg, like some stray animal decided to chew on him. Looks like he doesn’t know whether he should kick it or pick it up.

 

He lets Steve keep tugging.

 

“You don’t want that.”

 

“Sit down, Billy.”

 

Billy doesn’t. Steve takes a shuddery breath in.

 

Billy sits down on the edge of the tub. Steve dips his head forward, catches his breath.

 

“Breathe, Harrington.”

 

Six months. Of nothing. Not a word. No call. Nothing.

 

“You’re just a ghost,” Steve whispers, choked up more than he’d like to let Billy witness. “You’re not real. This isn’t real.”

 

Everything hurts.

 

Fingers card through Steve’s hair, but at least it proves that ghosts are just as solid as anyone else still living, still around.

 

Not gone.

 

 

Steve wakes up in his own bed around two. He waits until the next ping tink sound of a rock hitting his window comes. His heart does a little twinge before he realizes it’s still been six months and almost a full day and Billy throwing pebbles to come inside probably doesn’t mean what it used to.

 

Still.

 

Steve climbs out of bed. Goes to his window and slides it up. Sees Billy with his arm back to throw another before he drops the few rocks he still holds back to the ground.

 

They don’t say anything.

 

It’s been a few hours since they fought. Since the bathroom. Steve had left Billy sitting on the tub, felt fingers drag harsh through his hair as he got up and fled. Ditched Tommy and Carol and drove back home. He got into bed and forgot the world.

 

Until now.

 

A rush of breeze chills his bare chest. He’s in his briefs. He’s staring down a crossroads. Either he can shut the window and effectively tell Billy to go fuck himself, burn whatever remains are left over of the smoldering bridge between them. Or he can not do that.

 

Billy’s looking up at him. Waiting so well. Patient and neutral and quiet in spite of the hour and chill in the air and, well. Them.

 

Steve nods, sees Billy’s shoulders slump with a sigh, and goes back to bed. Listens to Billy scrape and crawl his way up the siding of the house until he’s grunting, climbing in, sliding the pane shut. Steve lies chilled to the bone over the comforter, facing away.

 

He can sense Billy just standing, just staring. At him, maybe. Most likely. Hopefully.

 

Billy lets out a soft uh, followed by the creak of a step forward. Steve can feel him hovering.

 

“Can I?” Billy asks, voice muted.

 

Steve doesn’t turn to see what he means, what he’s asking for. At this point Steve will do anything just to have Billy in his orbit again. He’s tired of being a piece of rock circling a cold star.

 

He nods. The bed dips.

 

Billy lies behind him. He can tell Billy’s facing him by the hot puff of air against his nape. It sends a chill unbidden down his spine and he shivers.

 

Steve doesn’t know if Billy falls asleep, but he does. And he dreams.

 

 

“…the waves were so cold. Colder than I remember. Guess Indiana heat does that. Fucks with you, your head. Even takes the good memories and turns them inside out until you don’t recognize them.”

 

Billy’s talking and for a long, held breath, Steve thinks he’s still in a dream. That the Billy in his head is speaking to him and not the phantom from earlier. The leather wrapped lump behind him in his bed, like not a day passed and Steve’s never had to miss Billy a day in his life.

 

Billy’s talking. “When I first got back, it was nice. Hadn’t been down to the pier in years because of Neil. He hated it. Hated the noise, the smells, the people. Hated the sun and the sand too, probably. The son of a bitch sure knows how to hate.”

 

Something moves behind him. Behind his head. Steve huffs, feels Billy freeze. The movement starts up again and only after does Steve realize Billy’s got his fingers toying with the ends of his hair. Barely feels like anything at all.

 

Billy keeps going, talking even quieter. “My mom would always take me swimming off the pier even though it was dangerous. On the best days, when Neil was on call all week at the factory and couldn’t take off, she’d load up the car and drive just me and her all the way to Stinson. Now those were some decent waves. Caught a great one once. It was high as shit. Felt like flying. Same weekend I ended up wiping out so bad I skinned my knees bloody. Neil beat her until she couldn’t leave the house because she wasn’t watching me right. She’d been watching me just fine. I was the dumb shit who waded out too far. Got brought back in like a fucking tsunami…”

 

The fingers keep petting, smoothing, twirling. Billy’s presence has filled the room with the smell of cigarettes and whiskey and it’s stuffy and comforting and he falls back asleep.

 

 

In the morning, he’s alone. But a look out his window shows him the Camaro and Billy leaning against the hood smoking.

 

Steve pulls jeans and a new shirt on, squirts on his best cologne and runs downstairs.

 

Billy’s closing the front door when Steve skids to a halt.

 

He can’t just keep staring at Billy. He can’t. It’s weird.

 

But Billy’s staring too.

 

“You were in California?”

 

Billy blinks. “I needed some time.”

 

Steve vaguely recalls Billy talking about waves and the beach and what must have been California last night. He doesn’t remember much else.

 

He tugs at the ends of his hair. Billy traces the movement with his eyes. Meets Steve’s.

 

Billy approaches him. Puts on a smirk a shade away from sleazy. Looks weird on Billy’s usually laughing face.

 

“Why did you leave like that? You didn’t even call.”

 

Billy only stops when Steve is backed against the banister of the stairs. He folds an arm behind his back to squeeze the top until his fingers feel numb. Feigns casual with all the rest of his gangly body.

 

“You sound like a girl.”

 

Steve frowns. Decides to get right to the point.

 

“I thought your dad killed you.”

 

He expects something. Anger. Wide eyes. A sneer. A snarl. Something. Anything other than nothing, which is all Billy gives him.

 

It’s infuriating.

 

“I fucked around in California for a while. Got myself a girl and stayed longer than I thought I would.”

 

Steve feels the pit of his stomach give out.

 

“What?”

 

“Got myself a girl, weren’t you listening?” Billy snips.

 

“I…I thought—”

 

Billy toes the carpet. “She’s pretty cool. Gonna be moving out here soon so we can be together.” He puffs his chest out.

 

Steve deflates.

 

“She’s moving out here?” he asks, only slightly wild. “To Hawkins? Why?”

 

Billy snorts, sight fixed annoyingly on the carpet. “All its charm and it even wears on pretty boy King Steve? Huh.”

 

“Billy—”

 

“Yeah, she’s moving out here. Thought if it worked out I’d get a job and a place. Get away from my old man.”

 

Steve’s reeling.

 

“You—you’re not even eighteen!”

 

Billy just shrugs. Like it’s a nonissue.

 

“Stay here,” Steve hears himself say. He sounds terrified. He doesn’t want to sound terrified. “The guest room. My parents don’t care, they won’t even know. You can move away from Neil now, just—”

 

Billy rubs at his chin. Steve sees stubble.

 

“Hold your horses. You’re sounding like you’re sweet on me.”

 

It’s said as a jeer. Because Billy laughs when he says it and it’s mean, it is. So fucking mean.

 

But Steve’s heart thumps and he feels like running away, to the woods.

 

He can’t. Not like that.

 

“No,” he mutters, trying for anger instead of shame. Instead of shock and terror because suddenly everything he ever knew just got flipped upside down and he only just saw Billy again for the first time in half a year last night.

 

Too much to drink, maybe. Hopefully.

 

“No,” Steve repeats. “I just didn’t think you were the type of guy to marry a girl to get out of your dad’s place.”

 

“Whoa, nobody said I’m marrying her. And please, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. We never even talked about Neil. You don’t—”

 

“I know you—”

 

“—know shit!” Billy finishes in a shout and it’s his turn to steam, red in the face and embarrassed.

 

“Billy,” Steve says, holding his hands up. Billy crowds him back, gets in his face. Steve refuses to flinch. He’s not Tommy. “One minute we’re talking to Hopper and figuring things out and the next you’re gone. For months. You just up and disappeared. Hopper wouldn’t even open a missing person’s case. You were just…just gone!”

 

“Missing pers—Seriously? I wasn’t missing, asshole. I was in—in California.”

 

“Did Hopper know?”

 

Billy pokes his chest. “Harrington, will you stop chatting my ear off with a million questions? I’m back.”

 

“Just like that?”

 

“Just like that.”

 

“And I’m supposed to pretend you didn’t call me a fag in front of everybody last night, too, or what?”

 

Billy takes a step back. “I was drunk.”

 

“No you weren’t.”

 

“You were drunk.”

 

“Don’t recall ever calling myself names when I polish off a keg stand.”

 

“I was—look, Harrington—Steve, don’t look so fucking pissy, Christ. I needed time. I’m back. Let me deal with my own bullshit, alright?”

 

“No.”

 

Billy groans, running his hands down his face. “I don’t get this. I don’t get you. What’s your fucking problem, man?”

 

He crosses his arms. They can’t keep doing this dance around…around whatever it is they’re dancing around. Steve’s tired. He’s mad. He’s missed Billy more than he can put into words.

 

And that last part is only starting to make sense.

 

“Fine. Fine, whatever. Welcome back.”

 

Billy glowers his way for a moment longer before the edge of a smile starts up. Blooms big and real and like the Billy that never called him a faggot, or looked at him like leaving didn’t mean shit.

 

Still. And still, he just wants to believe that Billy is back for good.

 

“Come on, let’s go take a drive? I’ll buy us some breakfast or burgers or something.” Billy ducks his head, smiles big and soft and full of everything Steve is suddenly hungry for in a way he somehow missed. “God man, your hair’s a mess. Here.” Billy gets his hands in Steve’s fringe, pushes it back, brushes a sure and quick touch through to comb it into something better than whatever it was. His whole head tingles in the wake of Billy’s hands.

 

Joke’s on him.

 

He goes.