Boltedfruit Archive

First to Burn

Chapter 8: part v: limbo i

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


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


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 still leaves his window unlocked sometimes. Once, he’d left it unlocked every night.


Every night for six months, a part of him hoped it would lead to the fever dream of his best friend climbing through, smiling, giggling, maybe drunk, maybe not.


Only he never did. Night after night after night, Steve’s window sat unlocked until it wasn’t.


Then Billy shows up and wants in, back in Hawkins, back in keggers, back in Steve’s window, back in his goddamned life.


Because it is damned, when it comes to the Hargroves. It took him a lot of years to figure that out, but the second he caught sight of a frowny little blond boy next door while he watered the roses his life was fucked.


He stands in briefs and a shirt, in the dark in front of his window, and wonders if it’s worth leaving unlocked tonight. It’s been a day since he saw Billy. Since Billy last stood, right here, smiling like everything was normal.


It’s not. Nothing is.


Steve is trying hard to keep that fact at the forefront. He can’t slip up and let Billy just beat him up and waltz into his everyday life like he deserves that anymore.


He doesn’t.


He doesn’t.


Steve sniffs and turns away. Ignores the shame bubbling inside him as he tries not to think of the unlocked window across the room.



Billy didn’t visit last night.


He feels stupid for hoping the awkward breakfast after Billy spent the night would have mended something. But it hadn’t. Billy had been short, abrasive, laughing too much at nothing and everything. Steve felt too off balance, too nervous and tired and sad to really contribute. To talk.


So, Billy didn’t visit again. Even though Steve waited. Hoped.


Steve finds out why at school the next day.


He’s sporting a busted lip and a nasty black eye. Steve did not give him either.


Something rancid spills over, makes Steve fist his hands in his pockets where he stands by Nancy Wheeler’s locker and watches Billy stride through the halls looking proud to be back with no notice, with a beaten face.




Steve hates Billy’s dad. Steve still wants to kill Billy’s dad. Not even he’s sure he doesn’t totally mean it.


He doesn’t want to see Billy hurt. But he also doesn’t want to really see Billy.


Billy, who’s apparently been kicking back in California for the last six months with a girlfriend who’s willing to relocate halfway across the country just to be together. It makes something large and empty inside Steve twist, pulling at his skin. Lonely.


Billy’s never had a girlfriend. He’s a self-addressed loner. He doesn’t do relationships. He likes to sleep with girls and not call them the next day. It got to the point it was what people expected of Billy Hargrove. A fun ride, but no follow through. And Steve remembers him being just fine with that. Unbothered.


Steve’s the opposite. Always has been. He sees his parents, how they despair every time they have to spend more than half an hour together. He wishes they’d call it and get a divorce already.


Steve wants someone who wants him back. He can’t imagine throwing something so precious away.


He debates stepping away from Nancy’s locker altogether, abandoning his plan to wait until she shows up and ask her if she wants to sit with him at lunch. He knows it’s weird, after only just meeting. But she’s pretty and she looked at him with what a lot of girls look at him with, just softer. Sweeter. Not as presumptuous.


He likes her. He thinks.


But Billy is striding down the hall straight for him. If Nancy doesn’t show up in the next minute, he has to bail, and Billy will have ruined the first two days he’s been back in town without so much as a hello.


Thankfully, just as Billy is breaching the last few feet between them, Steve hears the familiar disappointed sigh of Barb Holland, and a higher pitched, surprised little, “Oh. It’s you.”


Steve turns, giving them his best smile. It’s a killer, plenty have told him so. And it works to make Nancy blush above the binder and books she clutches to her chest. Barb is appraising him in the way she appraises everyone, guys especially.


Planting a hand on the lockers, he leans in close, makes her blush. Makes it his mission to ignore Billy just behind them and puts all his attention on lovely little Nancy in front of him. Plays with a dark twist of her nice hair. She smells like fresh laundry. There’s a warmth to her. Her nose goes red the longer they talk, and she has a hard time meeting his eyes. She’s sweet as can be, and he decides he does like her.


Making her go pink is easier than pretending he doesn’t hear the gruff way Billy swears as he walks by them, turns down the other hall, like the locker he’s always had isn’t a handful of rows down from Nancy’s, from Steve’s. Alphabetical order can really be hell, sometimes.


He watches the tense line of Billy’s shoulders for a moment before finally lowering his gaze to Nancy’s lips. Watches her talk instead. Eventually, even Barb warms up and joins the conversation.



They’re in chemistry together, a class Billy didn’t share with Steve before he left. But apparently his old schedule is null now, and he’s stuck at the same table with Steve. Because goddamn alphabetical order.


Chemistry has never been Steve’s strong suit. He’s not even sure how he passed biology last year, honestly. Maybe he passed out and a smarter, more educationally-intune subconscious took over for him.


But then, he knows the real answer. He had Billy to help him. They would do their homework together and Billy would try his best to teach concepts Steve barely clung to during tests to barely pass. He scraped by, in the end.


But now Billy, this new, angry, hateful Billy, is his partner. And he’s always been so smart, so clever. He could probably watch a rocket launch and decide from afar how the math worked if he put himself to the task.


Billy’s flinging beakers around like he’s paid for it, and really Steve just stands there and watches, a frown on his face underneath the bulky plastic goggles they all have to wear.


Something starts bubbling after Billy adds a smaller vial to the bigger beaker and he laughs. Whoops. Fist bumps the beaker into the air.


He’s the first to replicate what their teacher demonstrated.


The teacher comes over to congratulate them. Steve stupidly says it was all Billy.


Which makes the teacher tell Steve to do it this time, without Billy stepping in.


Steve sighs. Billy chuffs at the sound.


“Christ, man, it ain’t that bad. It’s easy once you get the hang of it.”


“Tell that to my failing grade.”


Billy’s brows lift beneath his goggles. “You’re failing?” He seems to chew on that for a while as Steve listlessly weighs beakers in his hands, trying in vain to remember what order Billy did things in. “Want me to help you study—”


“Nope. I’m just fine. Peachy, even.”


Steve adds the first liquid. It’s slightly yellow. Billy makes a sound and Steve turns a hard look on him. He shuts up.


Steve is so not in the mood today.


Billy taps his fingers on the table as he watches Steve pour the contents into the biggest beaker, the one with the twirly, swirly bit. He can’t remember what it’s called.


“You can’t fail, man. It’s required.”


“I’ll figure something out. I always do.”


Steve’s reaching for the water next. At least, he thinks it’s water. It’s clear and the liquid’s consistency looks the same when he jostled the container around a little. He pours that in next, spilling a little when Billy startles him with a derisive little snort.


“Something on your mind?”


“Since when have you figured anything out without my help?” Billy asks and Steve could kick him.


“I’ve done pretty great for the last six months or so,” he snips back, and adds a little more of the maybe-water straight from the container it’s in.


Billy watches on, one cheek dimpling as he twists his lips. Like he’s holding back what he’s thinking.


Steve blinks hard, fast, freaks a little when he feels his eyelashes are wet. He’s so angry, all at once.


“Seriously? This again,” Billy mutters under his breath, but Steve hears, because how can he not , and god, it hurts. “Harrington, you know you—”


He licks his teeth, jerking another random vial into the beaker to throw it in the mix, because why the hell not.


“What, Billy? What am I? Stupid? You know it. Or were you gonna call me a fag again? Maybe throw in a few more just for fun.”


Beside him, he can sense Billy going rigid, stepping into his space. He’s too close. He smells too good. He’s Steve’s best friend in the world and he has no idea who he is anymore.


And it’s fucked up and he hates it.


Steve leans over the swirly beaker, glares because nothing is happening. Billy’s had bubbled like five steps ago.


Why is he such a fuck up at everything he does? Why can’t he ever get anything?


Without looking away, he reaches out for the yellow liquid again. Tips it all into the beaker and waits, nearly vengeful.


It bubbles and he can’t help but feel relief.


Then there’s nothing but bright, intense heat, and Billy is shouting something suspiciously close to, “Steve!” before hauling him back by the waist to avoid the fireball flying right for him.


Steve stumbles, flies right out of Billy’s less-than-secure-grip and falls on the hard linoleum. Cracks his head against the metal leg of the table behind them.


He sees stars as he lays there, not knowing whether he should clutch the back of his throbbing skull or make sure his eyebrows weren’t just burned off his face.


“Jesus, Steve, that was a close one.” Desperate, searching hands paw all over him, his face and head. Billy smells like his favorite cologne and nicotine and his goggles are big and dumb looking and he looks worried.


Steve sucks in a sharp breath. Pushes off the floor, past Billy’s hands and the teacher hovering above them, tears off his bullshit chemistry safety gear and leaves the classroom behind. He can take the students’ eyes on him, their shocked, awkward laughter smothered by hands, the teacher’s questions—what he can’t stomach is Billy pretending he cares.


“Harrington!” A curse, sounds of steps. “Steve!”


Steve jogs the rest of the way, fighting not to turn around and see who he knows is calling after him.


Where he’s going, he doesn’t know. He just needs to get out, get away.