Boltedfruit Archive

let the water rise

Published: Date

Category: M/M

Rating: M

Words: 2,473

Fandom: Stranger Things

Ship: N/A

Characters: Neil Hargrove, Billy Hargrove, Billy’s Mother

Tags: Psychological Abuse, Character Study, Plot Twist, Internalized Homophobia

Summary:

“Every man hates himself eventually.”

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.

i.

 

 

Billy’s mother named him. The name stuck, according to his dad. Couldn’t shake it for shit.

 

When Neil left Billy’s mom some eight or nine years ago, he came home from the court, documents all stamped and federally legal and smiled so big Billy could count his pop’s teeth. He smacked him lightly on the back and cuffed his chin, made Billy blush because his father never looked at him all kind and like he actually loved his only child.

 

“You know how proud I am of you?” his father asked, and Billy’s eyes watered. How pathetic, honestly. That so little could make him so happy. “Your good for nothing mama won’t be coming back to shove her nose ‘round my shit, or yours, anymore, boy. This is a man’s house now. What d’you wanna do first, huh? Catch a flick? Hit up that burger joint out off Johnson? Come on, anything you want, Bill. Just let me know.”

 

Billy wanteda burger, shake, and a flick for sure. They did all three. Even sat and listened to music for a while when they got back home. His dad had a few beers, like always. Stood and started swaying to the tunes that rolled on and on, even had Billy get up and join him.

 

He remembered laying in bed that night, unable to sleep. His mom was gone. Official and all. The house seemed colder, lesser, even with his father’s unusual good mood.

 

Neil hadn’t hit him once that night, which is all he could really ask for.




ii.

 

 

It didn’t last long of course. Neil got mad as often as the tides changed. He was a big guy, with heavy hands and a short temper. Bad combo.

 

Billy planned to join the army after school. Before, if he could swing it. Every day in the paper there were stories of boys being kicked out ‘cuz they got caught faking their ages.

 

Neil praised them. Said there was nothing wrong with being eager.

 

“Sooner or later every man who’s worth anything hates himself for what he’s done. When you’re my age, you realize how important it is to get shit done right the first time.” He sighed. Sniffed. Spit in the cup at his side. “Every man hates himself eventually.”

 

“Oh.”

 

The rambling always got worse with drinking, but Billy didn’t mind so much. He just thought of the boys going off to war.

 

Billy wondered if he’d get hit for doing the same thing, or praised so well like those determined boys in the news.




iii.

 

 

Neil smacked him across the face when he discovered an ounce of his chew gone. Quality stuff. Cost a pretty penny. Smarted like a son of a bitch and worse when Neil instructed Billy get on his knees and show his ass for the belt.

 

Neil lashed him until he bled. Only found out later, when he got up after home room and discovered little red dots of liquid collecting on the seat. Was confused until he saw another drop join the rest, a sickly little silent plop that had a girl in class pointing and laughing.

 

Billy rounded on her and shoved her face away.

 

At home, Neil made sure his punishment was worse than the suspension he’d gotten. But he avoided Billy’s legs.

 

“No good breaking broken goods,” his dad claimed, and laid into Billy like it was his favorite pastime.

 

Maybe it was.




iv.

 

 

Neil switched to cigarettes, thinking Billy wouldn’t catch the habit. Not with all the kinds of dip available out in San Fran these days. But lucky him, Billy did catch on. Actually liked the way cigarettes were small enough to hide away when needed. Easier to smell like smoke when the whole house wasn’t spared from his dad’s puffing away. It was his well kept secret, a late night delicacy, an urgent sneak under the bleachers between classes.

 

It changed when he hit sixteen.

 

“Bill,” his father said one Saturday morning. It was his birthday, and usually Neil wasn’t as much an ass as he usually was on Billy’s birthday. Like to pretend Billy mattered one day out of the year. Maybe it doubled as the anniversary of whatever guilt he may have rolling around in that mean brain of his.

 

Billy was still in bed. A mistake on his part. His old man didn’t like down time wasted. He expected to get a whooping.

 

Instead, Neil tossed him a zippo. It was heavy, well made, gleaming. Untouched and brand new. His.

 

He looked over at his dad, wondering when the other shoe would drop. The beating for hiding the smoking in the first place.

 

“Have a good one, kid. Thought you might want to have something you can use and impress the ladies with at that school of yours. Cheap lights mean shit these days. This is the real deal. It’ll last you years if you treat her right.”

 

Neil’s had his since the war. Liked to say his lit more than a few pots of rice when rations just weren’t cutting it. Said he’d sneak over to the local village and bully bags of the stuff from hungry families that starved in the street because Americans, “Did that kind of shit all the time. Nothin’ else to do. It was a game, nothing else, Bill.”

 

Billy wondered how long it took to starve to death. But Neil said they deserved it, so maybe they did.




v.

 

 

Some girl made a pass at him during homecoming. He stepped away, smiling even though really he thought she was a slut for even asking. He wasn’t that kind of guy, thanks, even if he acted it.

 

He snuck in a flask of his old man’s bourbon, found a quiet reprieve out in the dark halls of the high school. Neil won’t miss a few sips of the stuff, after all, his current favorite had been a case of beer a night. Liked to toss Billy around a while after before nodding off. Said Billy’s to blame for all the ladies he hadn’t been able to snag of late.

 

Neil was as much an old crow as any of that generation. He’d bat his lashes and smile and get some poor woman strung along in no time. Then before long she’d share in the colors Billy sported, but by then it would be too late. More trouble to fight it once it was legal than to sit back and take it, be happy to have some sort of access to a bank account even if Neil had to be tied to her to have one. Billy always thought it was a silly rule. Something some old man in the oval office thought up to keep his old lady in line. Billy liked to think he wouldn’t want any broad up in his business, able to check his daily spending.

 

Billy was the kind of guy who liked to do what he wanted, when he wanted. If Neil had taught him anything, it was be your own man. To take care of yourself.

 

The last thing Billy worried about was some old slag convincing him to hang up his ways. He was a free agent. Had no plans to ever be otherwise.

 

“Hey, Hargrove,” Kenny said as he approached. The few seconds the door took to shut all the way gave the empty hall a fresh taste of unfiltered soft rock and oldies. Girls danced with boys and plenty were having punch and sharing kisses and whatever else hanky panky Billy had no mind to participate in. “Lookin’ awful lonely sulking out here all by your lonesome.”

 

Kenny was Billy’s one real friend. Billy was friendly with everyone, friends with few. Less people who knew his business the better.

 

“Who says I’m sulking?”

 

“Katie.”

 

“Ah, screw Katie. Katie can’t keep her trap shut.”

 

“Give it.” Kenny wagged his fingers until Billy passed the flask over. He took a swig and winced. “Yowsa. Shit, what’s in there, hundred dollar bills?”

 

“Pussy.” Billy took another swig. It hardly burned anymore. “Smooth shit when you drink it enough. What d’you want, Ken?”

 

Kenny hummed. Shook his head at the next proffering of the flask. He tapped his fingers all anxious at his side, not looking Billy’s way, a sign plain as day. Something had happened. Something he didn’t want to tell Billy.

 

“So. You made up your mind, huh,” Billy confirmed, because it wasn’t a question when he knew . “You’re really leaving me?”

 

Kenny shifted. Billy wondered if he had moved closer or if it was all in his sick, twisted head.

 

Pussy. Sissy. Faggot.

 

It was a mantra at this point. Years of his old man cursing him for it, like Billy’s ever made any slip up as bad as that, like he had some inkling of the disturbing things Billy hated himself for.

 

Kenny leaned in, lowered his voice. “You know I had to. Mom was having me close to swearing off the service, but I want to go, man. I want to fight.”

 

“Sure.”

 

Kenny leaned in, then. Really leaned in. Billy turned his way, not thinking more of it than maybe his friend wanting another sip. What he didn’t expect was Kenny to press his mouth to his, soft but urgent.

 

Billy nearly swallowed his tongue. He breathed out all at once, feeling something hard and dangerous smooth over his shoulders for the first time in his life.

 

Another breath. He was suffocating.

 

He pulled away. Finished the bourbon off.

 

He stood up even though Kenny was looking at him like he just pulled his heart out and stomped it to dust. Maybe he did.

 

Maybe he was right in the middle of it.

 

He tucked the flask in his inner breast pocket. Ran a finger across his upper lip, the thin moustache he’d been working on growing for a few months.

 

He could kill him.

 

“You’re shaking, Bill.”

 

Billy hated him.

 

Billy was going to kill him if he didn’t move away. If he didn’t leave, right then.

 

“Don’t know why you’re all pissed,” Kenny went on, like he wasn’t upset as he looked. As embarrassed because he didn’t get what his pansy ass wanted so bad. “You said yourself you’re signing up the day you hit eighteen. Why’s it such a big deal, huh?” And he was right, Billy was signing up. Next week in fact. He just never thought the army would be so stupid to let in a fag.

 

Panic spiked hard. His pulse hammered.

 

He thought maybe Kenny was asking him another question, hidden behind the casual first.

 

“Why’s it such a big deal, Bill?”

 

“Don’t call me that,” he said curtly. “Hope when the enemy finds you in some bush they make it quick.”

 

He stepped around Kenny and opened the door. Went back inside, to the music and colors and banners and streamers and bowls of punch and potato chips and all the girls in his year wanting a piece of the Hargrove genes.

 

He found a girl he’d been eyeing for a while. Thought about asking her out for a shake and fries a few times over the year. She was blonde, didn’t moon over him like the others. She was timid, though, and that was just fine. He knew from experience loud mouths get fists in their teeth.

 

Billy was different.

 

Billy wasn’t some sissy pansy pussy. He was strong.




vi.

 

 

His old man was proud when he finished boot camp. Even more so when he got his assignment, didn’t see him for a few years, and then when he’d been spit out almost a carbon copy of the man himself. Cropped hair and bare chin save for the moustache. The morning he got back he’d been so shocked at the likeness to his father he saw in himself, he took the clippers first thing and went bare faced for a whole year.

 

His father finally respectsed him enough to let him sleep a restful night. No more bruises.

 

He’d earned that.

 

He got a job. Reinvented himself. Stopped holding onto the name his mother gave him. It had never done him any good in life. Being a man, being strong, meant more than what his mother failing the standard had. Being a man meant embracing the family name, because yeah, he’d earned it.

 

He reunited with the girl from school. She wasn’t a slut like the girls he remembered. She was serious, classy, not unadventurous. She wasn’t afraid to lay with a man like the girls in the jungle were. She was better. She followed orders.




vii.

 

 

He married her, even though sometimes when he woke up to her hand over his he thought, absurdly, of Kenny. Then he’d wake her up, wear her out. Chase away the sickness inside him.

 

She looked good as a Hargrove. His name sounded strange in her mouth, but she’d never questioned the change, or the reason for it. Back in high school she’d been fine with Billy. Now she’s fine with the real him. Fits him better after all these years anyway, especially now his old man’s been dead and gone a few years. Now it all seemed trivial, the hell he lived through as a kid. All of it served to make him the man he was today. Prepared him for the medals he kept in the green suede box in his desk drawer.

 

They bought a house. They get pregnant. He caught her smoking once, just once. He raised a hand and caught himself. She never smoked again. He saw the fear there in her eyes. The what if. All the uncertain horrors of what her husband had almost done.

 

But she was smart. She carried through a successful, full term pregnancy.

 

And when the doctor handed Neil his son, he looked into those deep eyes under their wisp of angel blond hair, and he thought:

 

I will make my son even stronger.

 

“What’s his name?” every nurse and every doctor asked the new parents while they bustled around, bees in a hive.

 

“William,” Neil said. “William Neil Hargrove.”

 

“A handsome name indeed. Is William a family name?”

 

Neil handed his son to his wife, who looked on their boy in awe, tears in her eyes. “On my mother’s side. Went by it myself for a long time. Never quite fit.”

 

The nurse smiled warmly at him, then rounded the bed to lay another blanket over his wife and child.

 

The nurse patted his son’s head, sharing a smile with his wife.

 

“I think you’re onto something, there,” she said, going back to her business. “Billy suits this little guy just swell.”

 

Neil pressed a kiss to his wife’s cheek, then to Billy’s head.

 

Billy began to cry.

 

Neil frowned.