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Things Can Only Get Better

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It's with a heavy heart that you walk up to the front door of your ex-friend's house. The thing is, it's raining quite heavily outside, and you're not fond of the idea of walking around at night in Hawkins, with all the weird shit that's happened the last few years; much less walking alone at night when it's raining heavily.

Knock, knock. You wait. It's likely his parents aren't home, but you're certain Steve, himself, is, because you've heard that he hasn't gone out partying as much recently, especially since Nancy Wheeler dumped him. After a moment with no response, you ring the doorbell, hoping you aren't waking him up, considering it's after 9.

“Come on, Steve,” you grumble under your breath, already starting to freeze half to death in the late October weather.

“Coming!” You hear him shout from inside. Oh, thank God. After a moment, he opens the door.

Your eyes meet his sheepishly, and a look of unmasked shock crosses his face. “Hey, Steve. Been a while, huh?”

He just nods; after a moment, it seems like he realizes that you're dripping wet. “Oh shit. Come on in. Let me get you a towel. What the hell happened?”

You follow him to the bathroom, explaining all the while that your car broke down a few blocks back, and his house was the closest of anyone you know.

“Shit. It's freezing out there. You're ice cold.”

“Thanks, Steve. You didn't have to do this. It's been forever since we were friends.”

He sighs as he helps you dry your hair, while you focus on warming yourself up with the other towel. “I'm sorry about that, you know. I've missed you the last few years.”

You glance up and accidentally meet his eyes, suddenly realizing just how close your faces are. Heat rises unbidden to your face. “I've missed you, too. What the hell happened to us, Harrington?”

Subconsciously, you pull away from him by a few inches, as he stops drying your hair to respond. “A lot of stuff, I guess. Once high school started, we sort of just...went our separate ways?”

You nod in agreement. “Yeah, you got caught up with those assholes and became King Steve, while I stuck around with my nerdy friends.”

Steve coughs and rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “My friends were idiots. I feel like a dumbass for even having hung out with them.”

“Shit happens, Steve. Can I use your shower?”

“Uh, yeah, sure. I can grab you some dry clothes, too.”

“That'd be awesome. Thank you.”

He tosses you a nod and half-wave as he walks out of the bathroom and shuts the door behind him, so you can undress in privacy. What a turn of events, indeed. Aside from a few awkward hellos and short conversations during shitty parties, you and Steve haven't talked since, what, '81?

As you wash your hair, you think over the last couple of years. Since Steve and Nancy had dated, you'd noticed a change in the boy, as had everyone else. It knocked him out of the “top tier” of high school popularity; but if you're being honest, for you, it feels like your old best friend is coming back. Maybe there's hope for your friendship, yet.

A few minutes later, Steve shouts through the door that he's putting clothes onto the toilet and not looking. You just laugh and thank him, imagining that awkward look from earlier painted across his face once again.

It's when you're half-dressed in Steve's spare pajamas (why'd he give you pajamas? Was he assuming that you'd just stay the night, like you used to do in elementary school?) that are about four sizes too big for you, that there's a frenzied rush of knocks and doorbell rings on the front door.

“Steve! Open up! It's Dustin. We have an emergency, and we weren't sure where else to go but here. Please hurry!” You're not a hundred percent sure who Dustin is, but it doesn't seem like Steve is going to answer the door, so you wrap a towel around your hair and run back to the front door.

When you swing it open, you're greeted by the surprised gazes of six fucking kids. “Who the hell are you?” asks a kid who sounds like the 'Dustin' from before.

“I'm F/N L/N. You could say I'm an old friend of Steve's. You guys okay?” It isn't hard to figure out that the kids are absolutely terrified.

“Just let us in.” A black-haired kid interjects, and you just nod. “Where's Steve?”

“He's around here somewhere. Go sit in the living room, or some—holy shit, are you okay?!” A red-haired girl is nursing a huge cut on her arm. “Oh shit, don't go to the living room. Mrs. Harrington will have a conniption, if blood gets on her carpet.” At least she will, if she's the same as I remember, you think idly. “Kitchen. Come on.”

The six younger teens follow you to the kitchen. As the redhead sits down, mentioning offhand that her name is Max, Steve happens to walk into the kitchen.

“What the hell are you guys doing here? Shit, Max, are you okay?”

“Does it look like I'm okay, numbnuts? I'm gushing blood right now, and you were the only place we could go. Hop would lock El back up for another year, if he found out.”

A chorus of agreements sound from the boys, while the other girl just nods silently. She must be El.

“How the hell did you do this to yourself, Max?” you ask her quietly, as you press a clean dish towel onto her wound.

She exchanges a meaningful look with her friends. “We can't tell you.”

“Look, dude, I'm not going to tell anybody. I don't really give a shit; it's just that I need to know how deep the cut goes and what type of cleaning I should do. Steve,” you address the slightly older teen, turning to face him. “I need you to get the purest alcohol you have, okay?”

He nods, while Max just stays quiet.

“Seriously, Max. You don't want me poking this thing to see how deep it is. Did you get stabbed or something?”

She shakes her head. After a moment, the other girl speaks up. “Demogorgon.”

You blink. “The demon prince? You hurt yourself playing DnD?”

“Oh my God, you play DnD? Steve finally picked a cool girl to date,” the curly-haired boy – Dustin – says, excitedly.

“Not dating,” Steve says with a tone of finality. “Here's the strongest shit my mom has.”

“Do you have a needle and some dental floss? I'm going to have to stitch her up. Max, you should really be in the hospital. This shit is bad.”

The girl gives you a look that brooks no argument. “That's out of the question. My stepdad would kill me.”

With a sigh, you nod. “Steve. Needle and floss. Quickly. The bleeding isn't slowing, and if this shithead isn't going to go to the hospital, we need to stitch her up.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Are you seriously going to stitch her up?” the African American boy asks suddenly.

“Yeah.”

“Be...be careful.”

“Boyfriend?” you ask Max in a slightly teasing tone. She just nods, with a slight blush. Cute. “Okay, Max. This is going to sting like a fucking bitch, but I don't have anything better. Steve's family isn't the best about keeping first aid kits.”

“Wait, I just found one under the sink,” says the only kid you actually recognize – the Byers kid. Will.

“Thanks, Will. Can you hand it here? Let me see if there's any alcohol wipes in here. Uses a different kind of alcohol, but it has basically the same effect. Max, hold the towel on your arm, okay?”

Not waiting for her to answer, you begin rummaging through the first aid kit. You find some gauze wrap, which will help a lot, as well as some antibiotic ointment. After a further few moments of searching, you find a singular alcohol wipe. That's not going to be enough for her giant cut – that thing spans nearly her entire forearm.

“Looks like we're using the vodka after all, Max. Sorry. Like I said, this is going to burn like a bitch.” You grab some cotton balls out of the first aid kid, before dousing three of them at once. “Breathe in, okay?”

She nods, as you begin gently cleaning the wound from the outer edges, inwards. As you take a closer look at it, with the blood being cleared off, you realize it looks like some sort of bite wound, rather than a slice or anything like that. You look up and make eye contact with Dustin, and he averts his eyes. Looks like the kid knows what you realized.

“What the fuck kind of animal in Indiana bites like this?” you ask under your breath.

Again, the quiet girl speaks up. “It's not an animal. It's a demogorgon.”

El,” hisses the kid you suddenly realize is Nancy's younger brother, Mike. “why are you telling her? We don't even know her. Party rules, remember?”

“Well, Mike...She's kinda involved now, isn't she?” asks Max's boyfriend.

Dustin and Will nod in agreement. “Majority rules,” El says simply, right as Steve walks back into the room.

“We telling F/N about our double life then?” he asks, almost jokingly, but, even after all this time, you know him well enough to realize he's dead serious underneath the sarcastic facade.

Mike sighs. “I guess. Who wants to explain this shit?”

“I'll do it. She's my friend, so it makes sense that I tell her, right?”

“What the hell is going on, Steve?” you ask, before realizing he brought the needle and dental floss. “Disinfect the needle. Boiling water, ten minutes.”

“How do you know all this shit?” he asks, complying.

“Don't worry about it. Why don't you start telling me about your secrets first, hm?”

“Okay, but you need to trust us. This is completely, a hundred percent true, no matter how crazy and unbelievable it sounds. We could literally be killed for telling you. We all signed documents and shit saying we wouldn't spill.”

You blink in surprise. You've never heard Steve so serious before. “Alright. I'll do my best to believe you.”

He takes a deep breath, turning to you after he starts heating a small pot of water on the stove. You briefly meet his eyes, before returning to disinfecting Max's injury. You've gone through at least 20 cotton balls by now. You're going to run out soon, at the rate this is going. Glancing up at Max, you give her a warning look, which she seems to understand, before you pour some vodka directly onto the skin surrounding the bite. She hisses in pain, which makes you wince, but she says nothing, instead choosing to clench her teeth.

While you finish up disinfecting her and Steve puts the needle into the now-boiling water, Steve explains what has allegedly happened over the last two years here in Hawkins, and that it's been a year since the last time anything happened – but it seems like that quiet is going, now that Max just got bitten by one of the sons of bitches; it sounds like she was lucky to survive and only did so because of Eleven – which is apparently El's full name.

“Needle's done,” Steve says, after a moment of silence.

“Okay. Wash your hands, then dry it with a piece of gauze. Then bring it to me. Max, you should probably take a shot of vodka. The pain's going to be way too much otherwise.”

“Are...are you sure? I'm only fourteen.”

“Do you want to be screaming like a little bitch?”

“No, not really.”

“Okay, then. You're gonna take a shot. It's gonna taste like shit, but it's gonna be nothing compared to the pain of getting amateur stitches with no anesthetic.”

She nods, understanding. Steve brings over the needle and a shot glass. You thank him with a smile. At the moment, you can't even fully comprehend the story you were just told – and you're a little shaky about the fact that you're about to stitch a kid back together, quite literally.

Even with the liquor in her system – and it definitely is, judging by her red face – Max is squeezing her eyes shut, with tears coming out of her eyes. Steve whispers to the boyfriend, Lucas, that he should go hold her hand, which he does after a moment. Max thanks him with a look of gratitude; it's obvious she doesn't quite trust her voice, at the moment, as her teeth are still clenched.

Ten minutes later, she's fully stitched. “Okay, Max. Almost done. We're just gonna put some antibiotic on it, then wrap your arm, okay? If you don't want your parents finding out, I suggest wearing long sleeves for the next couple weeks. We're going to need to change your gauze every few days, though. And I need to check on the stitches every few days, to make sure you aren't getting infected. Where do you live? Or do you just want to meet somewhere?”

Steve stares at you in a mix of shock and awe. “Seriously, where the hell did you learn this shit, F/N?”

“It doesn't matter, Steve. I'm trying to help her and make sure she doesn't get an infection, despite being an idiot.”

“Fair enough. You guys staying here tonight?”

After a moment, the kids nod. Steve sets them up in the living room to sleep, with the understanding that they'd explain exactly what the hell happened tonight in the morning; after all, it's after midnight, and the kids are obviously exhausted.

After they're set up, Steve comes up to you. “That was fucking amazing, F/N. Seriously, where'd you learn to do all that?”

“Look, Steve. I...don't want to talk about it right now. Let's just say it has to do with some serious emotional baggage, okay?” You give him a strained smile, as you clean up the massive mess in the kitchen. He moves to help you.

“Alright. Just...tell me when you're ready, okay? I think it's awesome that you were able to help them. I wouldn't have had any idea what to do.”

“They obviously trust you a lot, Steve,” you say, leaning against the counter and facing him with crossed arms, while he picks up some of the garbage you missed.

He awkwardly rubs the back of his neck before meeting your eyes. “I'm a damn good babysitter.”

You can't help but giggle at the look on his face. “I have no idea what the fuck I just got into, but I missed you, Harrington.”

“I missed you, too, L/N. Thanks. Seriously.”

After you've cleaned the kitchen, you look over at Steve. “Where should I sleep?”

You don't want to tell him that you're a little bit freaked out after their unbelievable tale, and that you don't want to sleep alone. Luckily – or perhaps, unluckily – he notices almost immediately that you're nervous. He comes close to you, so you can hear him whisper without the risk of the kids overhearing.

“You can sleep in my room if you need to, F/N. You look terrified.”

You try to break the tension with a little joke. “You won't try anything, Harrington?”

“Never. You need to be protected, right now. Not taken advantage of.”

It's at that exact moment you realize Steve Harrington has become someone worthy of every ounce of trust and care you could afford him – a dangerous feeling, indeed.

 

Chapter Text

You're not entirely certain how it happened, but the next morning, you wake up in Steve Harrington's arms. At the moment, you're utterly frozen, not sure how to proceed. Do you wake him up? Do you go back to sleep? Do you try to wiggle out of his rather...enthusiastic grip?

It turns out you don't have the freedom to choose, as he suddenly groans, his breathing pattern changing. If you thought you were frozen before, you become something even more rigid, when he plants a sweet kiss on the back of your neck.

“G'morning, sweetie,” he says groggily. Does he think you're Nancy? You certainly hope not – they broke up over a year ago. At the same time, he's moving more than a little fast, if he's already calling you cutsie nicknames less than 24 hours after reconnecting.

“Uh, Steve? It's F/N, not whoever you thought,” you say quietly. “Sorry to disappoint.”

Your words obviously shock him, as he yanks his arm away with fierce apologies. You just avoid his eyes and smile a strained, awkward grimace-type-thing. “Steve, do you remember if we tossed my clothes in the dryer last night?”

He shakes his head. “I don't think they made it, with how hectic everything was. I, uh, didn't want to be in the bathroom longer than necessary. Seemed rude.”

“Well, shit. Thanks for not staying in there, but fuck. Do you have any clothes I can borrow?”

He licks his lips, meeting your eyes after a second. Heat shoots to your groin as you realize he is thinking things that are probably not entirely appropriate – things you happen to be thinking, as well, if you're being honest with yourself.

“Yeah, I do,” he says, after a moment, his voice rougher than you've ever heard it. “Just take whatever out of my closet. It's all bigger than you, though.”

Bracing yourself for the cold, you follow his directions, before going to leave the bedroom. Before you can head to his bathroom to change, there's a fierce pounding on the door, followed by Dustin's voice.

“Steve, where's F/N? I think Max needs help.”

Shit , you think. There's no way in hell you're letting those kids know that you slept in the same room as Steve effing Harrington. Your eyes meet the male's, and you shake your head furiously, hoping that he understands that you being here is a secret.

After a moment, he clears his throat, though it still sounds a bit rough from sleep when he speaks. “Hey, Dustin. You check the bathroom?”

Uh...no, no I didn't. We all kind of just assumed that you two would stay together, 'cause, you know, she was here last night and all.”

Well she's not. Go see if she's in the bathroom or in the basement. Laundry room's down there.”

Uh, okay. Thanks, Steve.”

Yeah.”

When Dustin's footsteps fade, you sigh with slight relief, until it hits you that you're going to have to change here or spend all morning sneaking around. “Um...can you turn around, Steve? I'm just gonna change in here and sneak out.”

I'll do you one better, F/N. I'll just go ahead and go out. Just change quickly.”

You nod in agreement, trying not to stare at Steve as he stretches, revealing his abs. Good grief, how long has it been since you were last with a guy? It can't have been so long that you're drooling over Steve Harrington , aka the guy who is perpetually out of your reach, can it?

Last night, things had been too hectic for you to really notice, but Steve's clothes smell really nice. Shit, F/N. Snap out of it, you think to yourself, annoyed. Max apparently needs you, and it's far more important to focus on taking care of a young girl, who has a potentially life-threatening injury, than it is to dwell on feelings that you thought had gone away a long time ago.

Several minutes after Steve left, you sneak out of his room, wearing jeans, which are far too large and held up with a belt, and a blue polo. Luckily for you, it seems like nobody notices you leave his room, and you go to the living room.

Hey, I heard my name being called,” you say nonchalantly. “What's up?”

Max bled through her bandages. What do we do?” asks Lucas.

Shit, are you serious? Let me see.” You walk up to Max, who is gingerly holding her arm out to you, a grimace on her face.

You thought you had done her stitches thoroughly – after all, you'd done 15, total. Even so, you take her arm in your hand and cautiously turn it over in your hands.

So what's the verdict, Doc?” Steve asks in a faux-joking voice, the concern he is feeling over the girl more than obvious in his voice.

I don't know yet. Max, did you scratch it at all? I don't want to take the bandage off unless necessary.”

I don't think so, but I guess I might have in my sleep.”

You bite your lip, thinking. What was it your dad always said? Oh, right. Spotting and bleeding is normal, as long as it doesn't last. The bleeding doesn't look too bad – she only bled through in a couple of spots, so it shouldn't be anything to worry about.

When'd you notice the blood, Max?”

I dunno, maybe, like, uh...fifteen minutes ago?”

Hmm. I'm gonna have you apply pressure for a bit, okay? First, let's change the gauze, just to be careful, yeah?”

She nods, so you guide her back to the kitchen, before grabbing the first aid kit from under the sink. “For future reference, don't worry too much about little spots. It's big spots you have to worry about, and if the spot gets bigger, put pressure on it. With a wound this big, it's totally normal to have spotting, okay?”

Yeah, okay. Thanks a bunch, F/N.” She smiles at you, gratefully.

So you're one of the new kids in town, right?”

She nods. “Yeah. You might know my stepbrother, Billy Hargrove. I'm Max Mayfield, by the way. Dad's last name.”

That dick is your stepbrother? I'm sorry.”

She shrugs, before you shoot a glare at her. “Sorry. But anyway, it doesn't matter. I'm used to it, really. He's an asshole, but the guys and El make things bearable.”

That's good. Where you from originally?”

California. It's way different from here.”

You miss it?”

Nah, not really. I miss my dad, but I like it here a lot.”

Even with the weird shit?”

She chuckles. “Especially with the weird shit.”

You snicker in response to her sarcasm. “Well, I'm all done wrapping you up. Pressure for twenty minutes, just in case, okay? Then I want to take another look at it.”

She winces. “But what will I tell my parents?”

You bite your lip. “I was second in the graduating class last year. Tell them I was tutoring you, and you forgot to let them know.”

Holy shit, you're smart.”

Not really. I just memorize shit well. Come on, let's go back to where everyone else is.”

Twenty minutes later, you give Max the all-clear. “Now that it's daylight, I should probably go try to fix my car, or at least call a tow truck.”

Steve grabs your wrist before you can leave. “Probably best to call a tow truck. You're absolute shit with mechanical stuff.”

How do you know, Harrington?”

You always were. Plus, isn't that the reason you didn't get top of class? You got, like, a C, or whatever, in Shop.”

I'm not sure whether to be flattered, Harrington. You're right, though. Guess I'll call a tow truck. I'll ride back with the driver, though. My parents expect me home, and I'm not sure I can get my friend to cover for me again.”

Wish you could stay to at least help explain shit to Hopper and Mrs. Byers.”

Eh, you guys can catch me up later,” you say, fully expecting to never actually get the full story out of these people.

You were wrong.

 

Chapter Text

It takes everything in you not to scream at the top of your lungs when you once again die in Commando. You will not make a scene at The Palace Arcade. Not again. But seriously – how many quarters have you fed to the damn machine, by now?

“F/N, is that you?” asks a familiar voice. You spin around and pat down your hair, not having expected to see anybody you knew here – a stupid idea, honestly, since Hawkins is such a small town.

“Ah...haha...Hey, Dustin. Where's everyone else?”

“They're gonna be here soon, in theory. So you like shooters, huh? I like Dig Dug, myself.”

It shouldn't come as a surprise to you that the kids – are they still kids, if they're in high school? – are fans of playing games at the arcade, to be honest. Also, why are you so embarrassed to have been caught here? You enjoy video games – you always have.

“I'm a fan of pretty much anything that lets me get inherent aggression and anxiety out of my system,” you say in a deadpan voice, shrugging.

“That...makes sense, I guess. Can I play?”

You nod and step away from the machine to give the younger male a chance to put some quarters into the machine and play. After the events of the other day, everyone involved deserves some sort of break, even if it's just at the arcade for a couple of hours.

“Ah, shit!” he exclaims, as he dies within mere moments.

“You've got this, Dustin. I believe in you!”

The brunet shoots you a grin before a look of determination crosses his face. For the next several minutes, he plays enthusiastically, with you cheering him on for every successful maneuver. Of course, he dies a few more times, but he doesn't seem to mind too much.

“Hey, Dustin! Oh, hey F/N,” says Lucas as he walks up with Max. “Mike, Will, or El here yet?”

You answer for him. “Nope. Haven't seen them.”

“Is Steve coming, too?”

“Why would Steve come?”

“Aren't you guys, like, dating, or something?”

You scramble for words, flustered. After a second, you just wave your hands, spluttering something about that not even being remotely the case. Not that you don't want it to be, necessarily, but...

The attendant of the arcade, Keith, comes up to you. “Hey there, F/N. How about that date?”

“Not happening, Keith.”

“Come on; why not? We have such similar interests.”

It takes a lot of willpower not to audibly gag at the lecherous look Keith is giving you. “I'm just not interested, Keith.”

“I can let you in after hours, though.”

“I literally could not care less about that. I really don't want to go on a date with you, okay? Please stop asking me.”

“She asked you to stop, dude,” Max says fiercely. Seems the girl has really taken a liking to you, since you stitched her up. The feelings are mutual; she's becoming like the little sister you always wanted.

“Stay out of it, twerp. This is an A and B conversation, so C your way out of it.”

“Real clever. Aren't you into Mike's sister?”

“She's with that weirdo Jonathan, these days. Miss L/N here is totally single, or so I've heard.”

“Whether I'm single or not doesn't matter, Keith. I don't want to date you.”

“C'mon, why? Sometimes I even slip you some quarters to play.”

So because he has given you a couple quarters here and there, so you could try to beat a level, he thinks he's entitled to a date? What the fuck is wrong with this dude?

“Keith, back the hell off. F/N said no. She's not the type of girl to play hard to get, okay?” You're surprised to hear Steve Harrington's voice, of all people. Why's he at the arcade, of all places? As far as you know, he's never even walked into an arcade before.

Finally confronted with someone who could actually kick his ass, the creepy attendant backs off, raising his hands in a defensive position, bag of cheetos still in hand. After he's well out of your sight, you turn to Steve, a hand on your hip, an eyebrow raised.

“What on Earth are you doing here, Harrington? Seem a bit out of your element.”

“Thank you so much for getting the creep off my back, Steve. You're such a life-saver! How could I ever repay you!” Steve uses a falsetto voice, obviously making fun of you, causing to roll your eyes.

“Thank you, Steve. But seriously, what are you doing here?”

“Jonathan was a bit busy with Nancy, and Mrs. Byers wanted someone here for Will, just in case, so it fell to yours truly.”

You look behind Steve and see Will and Mike with him, with El a few paces further back, seeming to be taking everything in. Poor kid's probably struggling with some sensory overload.

“Gotcha. I'm sure they can handle a bit of space, though. Wanna go play something else and give the kids some privacy?”

Steve nods, but before the two of you can walk away, Dustin cheers loudly. “F/N! I did it! Did you see that? I shot the commander in the back, and everything!”

You rush over to see Dustin's score. “Hey, that's amazing, Dusty! I'm so proud of you,” you say, putting a hand on his shoulder and smiling widely at him.

His eyes widen, and he blushes slightly. “It's...it's nothin'. Thanks for cheering me on, F/N.”

“Sure thing, kid. I'm gonna go play Pac-Man with Steve, so you guys can play together without us breathing down your necks.”

“Oh, you don't have to g--” Before Dustin can finish speaking, he's smacked in the arm by Lucas, who gives him a Look-with-a-capital-L, before hurriedly and harshly whispering something to him.

Your eyes meet Max's, but she just shrugs, giving you a look that says she has no idea what's going on, either. Brushing off Dustin's odd behavior, you toss a wave towards the kids.

Before you have a chance to lead Steve away, he turns to speak to the kids. “Make sure you don't leave the building without telling me, Will. I'll be with F/N. We should be able to hear you, if you shout. Seriously, don't disappear, or your mom will kill me.”

Will nods solemnly. “I won't leave. Promise.”

“Okay, good. Guess I'm gonna go play, uh, Pac-Man, then. Whatever the hell that is.”

You stare incredulously at the big-haired teen. “You don't know what Pac-Man is? It's literally one of the most popular arcade games? Dude, Harrington, do you live under a rock?”

“I just like sports more, okay? Basketball has always been more my thing than...this kinda stuff.”

“Guess you're getting a crash course in gaming today, Steve. I'm gonna kick your ass!” You toss him a wink, while you fist pump the air.

He just chuckles and follows you. “Whatever you say, L/N.”

Much to your chagrin, Steve is not a particularly quick learner, even though you explain the controls at least ten times. It's actually kind of cute, if rather exasperating.

“My how the mighty have fallen,” you say, teasing. “King Steve is worse than F/N L/N at something!”

“I'm worse than you at a lot of shit, F/N.” Whoa, wait. This got serious, fast. That wasn't your intention, at all.

“Hey, hey. Don't get all sad on me, Harrington. You're a super talented guy, and everyone loves you.”

“You sure about that?” he asks, as he quietly leads you away from the machine and over to a bench, from where you can easily watch the Party playing what looks to be Galaga.

“What's bringing this on, Steve? You okay?”

“I, uh, I've just been thinking about the last few days, much less the last couple of years. I feel pretty damn useless and stupid.”

“You're neither. Those kids look up to you, Steve Harrington, and, y'know, so do I.”

You look up to me? Miss Salutatorian of the Class of 1985 looks up to my dumb ass?”

“Sure, Steve. You may not be the smartest, but you're obviously a very thoughtful person. Even though you're busy with your own shit, you're out here looking after Will, so his mom can work and his brother can go on a date with your ex-girlfriend.” Though you said it calmly, you internally wince at the fact that you referenced his ex; however, Steve doesn't even seem to flinch.

“You mean it?”

“Of course I do! Look, I know we haven't been, y'know, super close, but I, uh, I've really missed you a lot, Steve. I want us to be able to go back to how we used to be.”

“I'd like that a lot, too.” And just like that, the distance between the two of you begins to vanish.

 

Chapter Text

It's two weeks after Max got injured that the next weird event transpires. Your mom calls you down from your bedroom, where you're doing your junior college homework.

“Honey, when did you reconnect with that Harrington boy? I haven't heard his voice in years!”

“Is...is that him on the phone, Mom?”

“Oh, right, right! You go ahead and talk to him. I want to know all the details later, missy!” You roll your eyes at her, as you take the handset from her.

“So your mom is the same as ever, isn't she?”

“Same as your mom, Harrington. What's up?”

“Are you free right now?” If it weren't for the tone of his voice, you would get your hopes up that he's asking you out.

“What happened?” you ask, suddenly serious.

“How fast can you get to the Byers' house?”

“My car's still kind of out of commission. My mom's only letting me use hers for school.”

“Shit. Okay, I'll be at your place in fifteen. Wait outside, okay?”

“Um, yeah, okay. I'll see you in a bit.”

Your mom walks back into the room as you hang up the phone. “So you're going somewhere, young lady?”

“Mom, it's an emergency.”

“Is that what you kids are calling a date, these days?”

No, Mom. It's not like that with Steve and me.”

She must notice the tone of your voice, because her face softens. “Okay, honey. I trust you. Just don't fail your classes over some boy, okay? I know it's only junior college, but that doesn't mean you can slack off.”

You nod, tossing her a thankful smile, before you run back upstairs to double-check your appearance before Steve shows up. Thinking quickly, you also grab a first aid kit, a flashlight, and your trusty pocket knife. Checking your bedside clock, you realize that it's almost time for Steve to get here, so you toss everything into your backpack, along with your homework, and go outside to wait.

Thankfully, you're wearing pants and a sweater, because it's fucking cold out here – almost unseasonably so, even for November in Indiana. Anxiously, you toss your hair up in a messy ponytail, tightening it right as Steve drives up in his dad's BMW.

C'mon, hop in,” he says, leaning over to unlock the door.

I brought supplies. First aid kit, knife, flashlight. Care to tell me what happened? Is Max okay?”

Max is fine. It's Will. The kid seems to be a goddamn magnet for trouble with the Upside Down, I swear to God.”

Shit. Is he okay?”

Kid's completely out cold, for no reason. Everyone's at the Byers house. It felt wrong to leave you out, when everyone else involved is there. El and Max thought so, too. Actually, the only ones against it were Lucas and Mike. Mostly just Mike.”

By everyone, do you mean...”

Yeah, Nancy and Jonathan are there, too. Seriously, don't worry about that, F/N. It's been a year. I'm over it and happy for them.”

You lay your hand gently over his, which is resting on the gear shift. He glances over to meet your eyes, in response.

“Well, I'm here for you,” you say, smiling softly. Steve returns your smile with a small grin of his own, before he returns his attention to the road.

So did something trigger whatever happened?”

I honestly have no idea. All I know is that everyone agreed, after last year, that we'd contact each other if shit happened.”

Oh, okay,” you say, right as Steve parks in the Byers' driveway. You never realized before how close your house actually is to the Byers'.

The two of you slam your doors and rush inside, where you're greeted with wide eyes and silence, before Max rushes over and hugs you.

What's going on?” you ask as you return the shorter girl's hug.

Will...Will started saying shit in a creepy ass voice about how you were going to be the next one to die.”

Whoa, whoa, what? Wasn't he, like, not responding to anything?” Steve asks before you can get a word in edgewise.

As soon as you left, his eyes shot open, he sat up in his bed, and he started speaking in this demonic voice. It was some creepy shit.” Dustin answers.

So...some goddamn demonic entity possessed Will and wants to kill me. Um. Am I safe here?”

Will's out cold right now, F/N. In the past, he's never been able to do anything while he's asleep,” Dustin says.

Before the kids can continue to inundate you with information, Chief Hopper and Joyce Byers lead you away, along with Steve. Nancy and Jonathan follow not far behind.

So I guess you're in the know, now?” asks the Chief.

You nod. “More or less. I sewed up Max.”

Gotcha. Well. That's appreciated, but I hope you don't come to regret it.”

You shake your head, before responding with vehemence. “Never. She could have died, and she was terrified of going to her parents or the hospital. Considering the asshole that is her stepbrother, I can't imagine her stepfather is much better. I'd never do that to someone.”

Hopper raises an eyebrow and appraises you, his arms crossed over his chest. After a moment, he nods in what you assume to be approval. “We have no idea what we're up against, and it wants you dead. Are you ready for that, Miss L/N?”

You bite the inside of your lower lip. “I can't say that I am, but everyone in this house has dealt with the Upside Down before. If a bunch of thirteen year olds can defeat a nameless monster without dying, well...I, uh, I'm probably not with the wrong group of people.”

Steve sits down at the kitchen table, motioning with his head for you to do the same. Joyce and Jonathan follow your lead. Nancy stands next to the table, while Hopper remains leaning against the wall, his arms still crossed.

How the hell are we going to keep F/N safe?” Steve asks, finally, after a moment of silence.

I'm not going to just stay locked up in a house or some shit; just so you know, Harrington. If this...this thing, whatever the hell it is, wants to kill me, I'm going to go down fighting.”

Steve grumbles, rubbing the back of his neck angrily. Idly, you wonder if he's ever developed a rash due to that nervous habit.

I agree,” Nancy says, suddenly. “We've learned before that the only way to defeat this shit is to bring the fight to it.”

Whoa, I didn't say that, Nancy. I just said I'd go down fighting. We don't even know what we're up against. How the hell do we bring the fight to it, if we don't know what it is?”

We...have an idea what it is.” Joyce Byers pulls a picture out of her pocket and puts it in front of you on the table.

A spider shadow?”

The kids call it the Mind Flayer.”

As in Dungeons and Dragons?”

Nancy snickers quietly. “You still play that, F/N?”

Just because you think you're too cool for it, Nancy, doesn't mean I do.” You stick your tongue out at her playfully, before turning serious again.

So it's a hive mind type of entity, then?”

Joyce nods. “It...well, it possessed my baby last year.”

Right, I got the Cliff's Notes version a while back. So you think it possessed him again?”

I'm...not sure. H-he's not experiencing the same symptoms.”

And, of course, the scientists aren't here anymore, after that big reveal last year.”

Thanks to us,” Nancy says, gesturing towards Jonathan.

Well, I think they'd probably be helpful, right about now, but whatever,” you say with a note of derision. “So is he going to kill me, if he wakes up? Do I need to sleep in, like, a goddamn bunker?”

It might be for the best, right now, if you're kept far from Will,” the Chief says, quietly, which is a bit distressing. “I can handle your parents. Tell them you're in police protection. Not exactly a lie, either.”

Shit. “Will I be...by myself?”

The Chief sighs. “I'm sure you'll have volunteers to keep you company, judging by the kids eavesdropping in a very obvious fashion. Come in here, kids.”

Dustin and Max walk in, heads down, followed by Mike and Lucas. Eleven trails behind them slightly. “Where's she going to go? Will knows where the cabin is.”

You raise your hand. “I have a place.”

Steve and Nancy both look over at you, surprised; Nancy moreso than Steve. “You don't mean --”

Before Nancy can finish speaking, you cut her off. “My dad has a bunker. It's not legally reported to Indiana, and it's not on our property. Will that work?”

Hopper nods. “It's best if as few people as possible know about it. You shouldn't have to stay there more than a couple of days, at most, but even so...With Will the way he is, it's just better to keep things quiet.”

Well, obviously, I'm going with her,” Steve says suddenly.

You look over at him, surprised. “If Steve's going, so am I,” Dustin says.

Hopper nods. “You guys are both capable.”

What about me? She needs to keep an eye on my arm.” Max sounds slightly concerned as she speaks, as if she doesn't want to admit that she wants to go, too.

Actually, Max, your stitches can come out at any time. I wanted to wait a little while, before, but you should be good to go. I can take them out before I leave.”

She scrunches her face, then nods in acceptance. You ruffle her hair slightly.

So...Dustin, you sure you wanna go with them, man?” asks Lucas.

Yeah. Steve is useless without me, and since F/N is the newest member of our group, somebody's gotta look out for her!”

Useless?!”

 

Chapter Text

“Okay, Steve, park here. We should walk the rest of the way. Chief Hopper was right. We should be as secretive as possible about all this. I'd rather not die a terrible death.”

The three of you trek into the woods at the outskirts of Hawkins, mostly silent all the while. Under your breath, you hum “The Boys of Summer,” by Don Henley.

“I wonder how many secret hideouts there are in the forests. Will had one, Hop has one, F/N has one,” says Dustin after about five minutes of hiking. You ignore him, as you continue to lead the way through the forest.

“Probably a lot. Back in the mid-sixties, I heard a lot of people became super paranoid and started hoarding a bunch of living supplies.” Steve responds with a quiet enthusiasm that you would not have expected from him.

“Weird.”

“Guys, hush. I need to concentrate. I'd rather not get lost in the woods and die of hypothermia,” you say, mildly annoyed.

The two males with you stay quiet for all of two minutes before they start whispering to each other again. With a sigh, you just roll your eyes and focus on ignoring them, until an unearthly screech resounds through the forest.

“What the fuck was that?” you ask in a whisper-yell.

Um...F/N...how far is your dad's hideout thing?”

Probably another half a mile north. Why, Dustin?”

Because I think a demogorgon, maybe a demodog, is near us.”

Steve grabs your hand. “Dustin, come on! We need to run. Now . You said north, right? That straight ahead, F/N?”

Um, yeah?”

The fluffy-haired teen cricks his neck before dragging you straight ahead, forcing you to keep pace with him. Dustin is on your heels.

The entrance is under that tree trunk, over there,” you say after a few moments, pointing. “It's a hatch.”

God, how fucking paranoid is your dad?”

Extremely. Help me lift the trunk,” you whisper fiercely, right as a shriek resounds again, this time sounding closer. “Do you think Will somehow knows where we are?”

There's no way. Remember, there were already Demogorgons wandering around. Don't worry, F/N. Everything's going to be okay.”

Yeah, as long as we get in there before the piece of shit sees us,” Steve says in response to Dustin.

Even if it does see us, you've got your kickass bat, Steve. Seriously, don't worry, F/N.”

Moments later, the hatch is open, and the three of you rush down, slamming it closed above you. With a sigh of relief, you look for the light switch before flipping it on.

What the fuck?” Steve asks, when he sees your dad's bunker.

Why does this look like those creepy government guys' shit, F/N?” Dustin asks at almost the exact same time.

You bite your lip before wiping your hands on your pants. “Because my dad is one of those creepy government guys. Before you ask – no, I have no idea what my dad does; or, well, I should say what he did , considering I haven't seen him since '83. I just know that he's a high-ranking scientist with the government.”

Is that why you know so much stuff?”

You nod. “My dad has always been big on me following in his footsteps. He's also super fucking paranoid, as you can see. This place is pretty big, by the way. There's way more than one room in here. Want me to show you guys around?”

Dustin nods; Steve just shrugs, still seeming to be in awe of the high-tech equipment stored in the first room.

He's got guns, food, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a research room,” you say while walking.

How often did he take you here?”

Not much. Last time I came here, I was a little bit younger than you, Dusty.”

Dusty? What kind of nickname is that?” asks Steve, nudging the younger teen playfully in the side.

My mom calls me Dusty, so I don't mind if F/N does. It's totally okay.”

You grin and ruffle his curly hair. “Thanks, kiddo. Anyway, though, maybe we can use some of his guns against this shit?”

Steve nods, thoughtfully. “That'd really be helpful. My bat's seen better days.” He pulls the aforementioned object out of his bag, and you have to agree. It looks deadly, but it also looks like it might fall apart with too hard of a swing.

So how long do you think we'll be stuck here? Dusty, how good is your walkie-talkie signal down here?”

Not great. But like the Chief said, it can't be longer than a couple of days. And Steve and I are here to make sure you don't, like, die, or whatever.”

I'm pretty sure I'm the reason Max didn't die, so...”

Steve playfully pushes your shoulder. “But you couldn't hurt a fly, so you're kinda shit outta luck on fighting these shitbags.”

You push Steve back, sticking your tongue out at him. “I bet I could kick your ass, Harrington.”

Doubt it, since --”

Hey, F/N! What's this?” Dustin's voice is farther away than you expected it to be. You and Steve exchange a quick glance before following the kid's voice.

In his hands, he's got a thick file, filled with pictures and handwritten notes. The file, itself, isn't the weird part. The weird part is the picture held to the front of the folder with a paperclip.

It's of your mom, pregnant, with several other pregnant women, dated in 1971. You don't have any siblings.

Isn't that your mom, F/N?”

Um, yeah, yeah I'm pretty sure it is, Steve.”

I thought you didn't have siblings.”

So did I. Let me see that folder, Dustin. Let's all go sit somewhere and go through this,” you say, your voice faint and nearly monotone. Both of the boys shoot you a concerned look.

In the bedroom area of the bunker, you spread the contents of the folder across the double-sized bed. There's a stack for papers, one for pictures, and another for what seem to be your dad's notes.

Any idea what all of this is, F/N?”

Nope, not really. A lot of the shit written about is way above my head, to be honest. Weird theorems and shit. Sorry to disappoint.”

Dustin shrugs at your non-response to his question, choosing, instead, to look at the pictures, himself. “So is this one your mom?” he asks, pointing to your mom.

Yeah. Only explanation, unless Mom's got a doppelganger.”

What if she's a clone?”

Is cloning even possible, Dusty?”

I mean, it hasn't been done yet, but technically, the Upside Down doesn't exist, either, and that's definitely real, so...”

After the three of you skim through the documents a bit more, Steve leads you away. “So when are you going to tell me what the hell's going on with you, F/N?”

Biting the inside of your lip, you respond. “You really want to listen to all my emotional bullshit, Steve?”

He rubs the back of his neck, yet again, avoiding your eyes. “You're important to m—to the Party. It might be easier to, like, tell me first, or whatever, right? We've known each other longer.”

I mean, I guess. Um...I'm honestly really not comfortable telling you everything, right now, but I guess I can explain a bit about why I know what I do about medicine.”

Yeah, sure, go at your own pace. I just want you to know that I'm, you know, here for you. And stuff.”

You sit down on the floor against a wall, patting the ground for him to sit against. Suddenly, your weariness hits you, and you slump against Steve slightly.

My dad's a super important scientist-dude for the Department of Energy, okay? I don't know how high up he is, or what his work entails, but sometimes he'd come home with really bad injuries. My mom has always been faint about blood and shit, so it fell on me to help me dad.”

Why didn't the people at the Hawkins lab just fix him up?”

I have no clue. Not told that shit. Dad was always super secretive. Hell, for all I know, he's a traitor to the government, which is why we haven't even been told if he's dead or not.”

I'm sure he's not dead, F/N,” says Steve in a comforting tone of voice, as he throws an arm around you and gives you a gentle side hug, which you tiredly lean into. Platonically, of course.

Not like it matters. He was never much of a dad, anyway.”

How come you never said anything?”

You shrug. “I dunno. Embarrassed, I guess. Nobody wants to be the kid with shitty parents, right?”

Nobody's life is perfect, F/N. My dad's a class A asshole, too.”

You lean your head on Steve's shoulder. “I'm sorry to hear that, man. That fucking blows.”

Dustin runs into the room suddenly. “Oh shit , am I interrupting something?”

You sit up lethargically. “Of course not, Dusty. Just got tired. What's going on?'

I think I found a connection between this file and Eleven!”

 

Chapter Text

“What do you mean a connection, Dustin?” asks Steve before you have a chance to get over your shock.

Look at this. So Hop told us about how El's mom was a part of MKUltra and whatever, right? So, like, I was wondering why this woman looked so much like Eleven. And I think this person right here is El's mom. Nobody's named, or anything, but when we get a chance, we can ask El if this is her mom.”

Okay...and...?”

If this is El's mom, that means that El's mom knows F/N's mom. That means Mrs. L/N was part of MKUltra, somehow.”

That makes no sense. My mom's too old to have been part of MKUltra. Wasn't it a bunch of college students? My mom was almost 30 during those tests. Mom and Dad had me late.”

Dustin sighs. “Look, this is our only solid connection, until we can show this to everyone else. Isn't this awesome?”

I'm sorry, Dustin. I really appreciate you trying to help. I'm just super tired. It's been ages since I last slept.”

Ah, shit, yeah. We need to sleep, huh. It's pretty late. How should we do this?” Steve asks.

Well, obviously F/N should get the bed. We can't make a girl sleep on the floor.”

Aw, that's sweet, Dustin. Maybe we can take turns using the bed? Sorta like sleeping in shifts? Two people awake at a time? That way, one person can hold off any monsters, the other person can run and wake up the sleeping person.”

Sounds good to me. Go sleep, F/N. Dustin and I will sit and watch.”

Are...are you sure? You guys don't wanna, like, vote on it?”

Dustin shakes his head. “I'm cool with that. I'm too wired to sleep, right now, anyway.”

It's settled then. Go sleep, F/N. You're barely even walking straight, right now.” Steve gives you a gentle push towards the bed.

Figuring that it's not worth it to fight the siren's call of sleep, anymore, you go ahead and fall flat onto the bed, passing out nearly as soon as your head hits the pillows.

Some time later, you come to, slightly, to the sound of voices, though you're still barely conscious and quite groggy.

So, looks like you're crushing a bit on L/N, huh, Dustin?”

W-what? M-me? With F/N? No no, she's way out of my league.”

Steve laughs. “You've got that right. She's out of everyone's league. She's a fucking genius, man. Still, though. You've been super sweet towards her. Think you've got a chance, kid?”

I...I mean, I don't know. She's, like, four years older than me. And I'm pretty much the least cool member of the Party.”

What? No! Dude, you're cool as shit. Just because girls don't notice it, yet, doesn't mean you're a loser.”

Dude. Steve. I'm the least cool member of the least cool group of friends at Hawkins High.”

Yeah, well, I was the coolest member of the coolest group of friends at Hawkins High, for three years. And I'm telling you, dude, you're not a loser.”

So you're saying you think I have a shot with her?”

Maybe in a few years.”

You start to get up, wide awake after listening to Dustin and Steve for the last few minutes. However, before you can leave the bedroom compartment, Steve and Dustin continue onto a conversation that you're pretty certain you're not meant to witness.

What about you, Steve? You finally over Nancy?”

Hmm...it still hurts sometimes, you know? Full fuckin' year of my life, wasted on dating someone who was faking the entire relationship. That's a pretty deep blow. Really below the belt, right?”

Yeah.”

But, you know, I'm not as upset over her, anymore. That faded after a few months.”

Anybody new in your life?”

I'm not sure that right now is the best time to focus on dating, you know? We're at risk of, like, dying and shit. Until shit's figured out here, I feel like pretty much any relationship would be a waste.”

But isn't the most important time to find love, like, right before you're about to die, or whatever?”

Deep, Dustin.”

Sensing a lull in their dialogue, you make a show of being loud about “waking up”, so that they're not surprised by your appearance and so that they have no idea you overheard them.

Hey guys,” you say, running a hand through your messy hair and walking into the main area, where they'd been hanging out. “did ya have fun while I slept?”

Oh, tons. We counted all the ammunition and guns. You're dad's crazy, you know that, F/N?”

Thanks, Dusty. Whose turn is it to sleep next? I have no idea how long I slept, but you guys have to be exhausted.”

You were only out for about three hours. We would have come and gotten you, if it was too long.”

I'll go sleep first,” says Dustin. “I'm super tired. I've been up since 6 AM yesterday.” Checking your watch, you realize it's either 10 AM or 10 PM. Jesus.

Sleep well, Dusty. Have sweet dreams.”

Thanks, F/N.”

With him gone, you settle on the floor across from Steve, stretching your legs out in front of you. “Is it morning or night?”

Morning. Don't worry; kid hasn't been up too, too long.”

You're like an older brother to him, Steve, you know that?”

Nah, I'm just a babysitter.”

No, I mean it. It's really sweet. I wish I had an older brother like you,” you say, only slightly teasingly.

I mean, I am older than you by a few months, so I guess that could be arranged.”

You kick his foot gently. “Don't be a doofus, Steve Harrington.”

Nice 60's slang, L/N. You're such a mom.”

Thanks. I'm proud of it.”

After a moment of silence, Steve speaks up again, though in a quieter voice. “You, uh, wanna talk about our conversation from earlier?”

Which one? The one where we basically bared our souls to each other about our daddy issues?”

Heh. Yeah, that one.”

Not really, no. That's a touchy subject, you know? I need to sorta mentally prepare myself for that shit.”

Well, I want to talk about it a bit. You know, my dad taught me that to get a girl to like you, you had to treat her like she didn't matter.”

That is...terrible advice!”

Well, it worked pretty damn well all through high school.”

Until Nancy.”

Yeah, until Nancy. She was different. Is different.”

I'm not sure that she's different, Steve. I think she just wasn't immediately charmed by the fact that you were the most popular guy in school. Not everybody cares about the popularity contest that only matters for four shitty years.”

You sure didn't.”

Nope. Not my scene.”

You were always so busy trying to get into a good college. How come you ended up choosing a junior college, instead of going to any of the schools you got into?”

Honestly? My parents won't help me pay for school, and I didn't win any full scholarships. So I figured that if I did two years at a junior college, I could save myself some money. It won't look that different on a resume, anyway, right?”

I guess not.”

It's so weird, knowing that my dad was this super important dude, but we always lived paycheck to paycheck.”

Steve reaches over and lays his hand over yours. “Your dad was kind of a dick, especially for keeping secrets from you. You never deserved that.”

You smile gently up at him. “Thanks, Steve. And, for what it's worth, I'm sorry your dad is an asshole who gives you shitty advice about girls.”

I've mostly grown out of that, though I kinda...maybe...sorta accidentally gave that advice to Dustin a while back,” says Steve sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck again.

You roll your eyes. “Are you shitting me, Harrington? Did you at least tell him that that's shitty advice, after the fact?”

I mean, yeah, of course I did. Like, later.”

Then I guess it's okay. You dork.”

You're literally the only person who could get away with calling me a dork.”

That's because I know you, Steve Harrington. You're a big softy who pretends he doesn't care about a group of kids. You care way, way too much about other people, and you don't fight back unless you feel like someone close to you is being threatened. That's the Steve you were before high school. It's the Steve I missed for the last few years. I'm really glad that Steve Harrington still exists. Steve Harrington, my dorky friend.”

The other teen just blinks dumbly at you, at a complete loss for words. Silence reigns for the next several minutes, the awkward tension thick enough to be cut with a knife.

I, uh, sorry. For making things weird,” you say quietly, after a moment.

Steve's head shoots up, his eyes meeting yours. “What? No. Don't apologize. What you said was...really nice. It helped. I just don't really, uh, know how to respond.”

Much to your surprise, the slightly older teen runs a hand roughly through his hair, which he just never does.

I meant every word, just so you know. I've always wished I was as cool and outgoing as you.”

Steve lets out a self-deprecating, forced chuckle. “Being outgoing is easy; being smart takes effort. I've never been any good at that.”

You sure, Harrington? I feel like it's the exact opposite. Knowing stuff is just memorization.” You pause for a second, thinking. “You know, I could help you study. Didn't you go to a junior college, too?”

He nods, a flush spreading to his cheeks from his neck. “Same one as you, actually. I'm in all entry-level classes, though.”

Me too, actually! I was only able to test out of English. College classes are a lot harder than high school classes, I guess.”

Ugh, seriously. You'd...be willing to help me out, though?”

Of course, Harrington. It would be my pleasure.”

Chapter Text

For the next couple of hours, you and Steve mostly just shoot the shit, not really wanting to talk about anything serious, anymore. After having two heart to hearts in less than 24 hours, you both felt a tad awkward continuing in that sort of vein.

After a while, Steve goes to quietly wake up Dustin, to which Dustin responds with a few loud, choice curses. A few moments later, Dustin is sitting in the hallway, across from you.

“Hey Dusty,” you say with a small smile. He grins in return, a bashful look on his face. “You sleep well, kid?”

“Yeah, I did. Thanks. What’d you and Steve talk about?”

“Hmm…a little of this, a little of that. Have any good dreams?”

“Not really. But, you know, that’s a good thing. A lot of the time, I get nightmares. I guess having you and Steve here, watching the door, kept them from getting too bad.”

You wince. “The nightmares…do all you kids get them?”

“Yeah. I think Max gets them the worst, actually, especially since she got bit a couple weeks ago.”

“Poor thing. All of you, really. Are the monsters really that bad?”

“Imagine the scariest thing you can think of…Then imagine it’s real and wants to kill you.”

“I’ve never really gotten scared easily, but I’ll take your word for it.”

Dustin sighs. “I wish I was like Will. I’d draw out what a Demogorgon looks like, and maybe the Demodogs, too.”

“Think you could describe them for me, then?”

“Like a flower of death? I guess?”

You raise a brow. “A…flower of death?”

“Yeah, but with hands and feet and shit. Look, they’re hard to describe. I guess like an ugly ass Venus Flytrap, but for humans instead of flies.”

“Oookay…I’ll take your word for it. Any particular way to kill them?”

“Fire. Beat the shit out of them. Honestly, the only one who’s ever killed one is El. The rest of us have just sorta…survived. I don’t think there is a way for us normal people to kill them.”

You scrunch your brows. “Do…do they sense anything special?”

“Blood. Noise.”

“Well…shit. So basically it’s an impossible fight against supernatural forces.”

Dustin nods. “Sounds about right. Oh, also, they can sorta…just port through the Upside Down and here.”

Taking a deep breath, you lean your head against the metal wall with a light thunk. “I need to pace a little bit. Get the blood flowing. Think for a bit.”

Before Dustin has the chance to respond, you just get up and begin stretching, before walking to the armory. Your dad used to have you do target practice with him, as a kid. It’s been a while since you shot a gun, but you think you can handle it again.

You strap a shotgun over your shoulder and grab some spare ammo, tossing it into a belt pouch. Next, you grab a revolver and a pistol, as well as plenty of ammo for each. Then, you strap your trusty knife back to your leg.

“What are you doing, F/N?”

You spin around, making eye contact with the younger teen. “I figure we need to be ready for anything. If these fucking things can just…teleport…we need to be ready. I’m not sure being in a bunker like this is smart.”

“As long as Will doesn’t know where we are, it should be fine, though!”

“Dusty. You just told me that these things are impossible to kill. I won’t go down without a fight.”

“Do…do you even know how to shoot a gun?”

“My dad was paranoid enough to have an illegal bunker, Dusty. He had me learn how to shoot. I admit, I’m probably a bit rusty, but I can hold my own. Want me to teach you?”

The kid looks at you with wide eyes. “Are you sure?”

“Well, I’m not going to let you shoot inside, but I can prepare you for it.”

“Okay then, yeah.”

You walk up behind him, handing him a revolver. “This is how you load it. This model of revolver doesn’t have a safety, so do not put your finger on the trigger unless you plan to shoot.”

Dustin swallows loudly, nodding. He watches closely as you aim the gun for him, in a way he can see. “You want to aim slightly off-target. If you only aim where your eye can see, the trajectory will be off.”

“Yeah, I think Lucas has said something about that before.”

“All that said, you just point and shoot. Revolvers don’t have too bad of a recoil, but be prepared for it, okay? You don’t want to keep your arm too locked up or too loose, or your shot will be off.”

“Okay. Aim slightly off-target, point, shoot. Don’t put my finger on the trigger unless I plan to shoot. Anything else?”

“Nope. Practice unloading and reloading. You can have the gun. My dad’s not gonna use it, anyway, and I’d like you to be protected as possible.”

“Why unloading and reloading?”

“…Are you seriously asking that right now, dude?” When Dustin just gives you a questioning look, you sigh. “You need to be able to empty the chamber and reload it within a few seconds, or you could die.”

The kid just gulps and nods, immediately practicing what you’ve shown him. With a deep breath, you leave him in the armory. For a while, you just wander around, before you decide to go clean yourself up a bit.

In the bathroom, you look over yourself. Steve’s nice polo is stained with dirt and sweat, and it’s ripped in a few places. Part of you feels a bit guilty, because this shirt was probably twenty dollars or more. Oh, well. With a sigh, you put your hair up messily and attempt to clean yourself with a pseudo sponge bath.

Just as you’ve wiped the last bit of dirt off of your face, you hear loud pounding on the roof, which shouldn’t be possible, as the bunker is several feet underground. Whatever’s up there must weight several hundred pounds. A surge of real fear rushes through your body.

As soon as you’ve opened the door to the bathroom, you’re face to face with Dustin, whose look of terror matches your own. You hiss a whisper to him, to wake up Steve. As he does that, you grab more ammo. As an afterthought, you grab a rifle for the older teen, as well. His bat has seriously seen better days.

“What the hell’s going on, F/N?” Steve asks you in a fierce whisper.

You shake your head, shrugging your shoulders almost pathetically. “I have no fucking clue, but take this. Whatever’s up there is going to kick our asses.”

Dustin waves his hands in your faces. “Um, hello. We have massive firepower. We should just go out there and take the fight to them, like Nancy said back at Will’s house.”

Steve glares at the younger boy. “Uh, yeah. That’s a no.”

“But Steve! That’s been the only way we’ve won, before!”

“I’m not going to let you get your dumb ass killed, kid.”

As they squabble behind you in the hallway, you gulp. “Uh…guys…”

“What?!” they ask in unison, Steve annoyed, Dustin curious.

“W-what the fuck is that?”

In front of you, there is a large, clawed hand poking through the hatch.

Chapter Text

Hey guys. I've gotten a lot of messages here and on tumblr about updating.

 

I'd love to, but here's the thing.

 

I went from working ~10 hours a week to working 10+ hours a day, 5 days a week. In addition, I am studying for licensing exams and certifications for my job.

 

Last week, I passed my Delaware insurance licensing exam, which means I'm licensed to adjust claims in DE and soon to be NC (they go hand in hand). I will have paper licenses in hand by around June.

 

In addition, my car died, so I'm running around daily trying to get it fixed.

 

On top of that, SHINee's Jonghyun, one of my favorite, most influential artists of the modern era, committed suicide on Dec 18, 2017, at the international age of 27.

 

It triggered a severe bipolar low for me.

 

So I'm sorry that I'm not keeping my promise about updating, but my mental health is more important to me than fanfiction.

 

I'm sorry to disappoint the 150 or so subscribers to this, but I just felt I should make some sort of attempt.

 

I promise I'll uodate eventually, but I'm just trying to stay afloat.

Chapter Text

The three of you had been too busy talking to notice the screeching of the metal tearing through the ceiling.

Steve stupidly pushes you behind him, an unreadable but determined look on his face. He twirls his nail bat (When the hell did he find it? you idly wonder.) in a ready position.

“Stay behind me, Dustin. You too, F/N. I’ve got this.”

His words knock you out of your frozen stupor, and you roll your eyes. “I’ve got a gun, numbnuts.”

Steve glances over his shoulder at you. “Numbnuts, F/N? Really? Tryin’ to save your ass, and you call me numbnuts.” Despite his words, he still maintains a protective stance in front of you and the younger teen.

Dustin cocks his gun, and you shoot him a grin before doing the same. “Come on, Steve. Your bat’s falling the fuck apart. At least let us use the guns on that thing.”

From beside you, Dustin grunts. “Just because I have this thing in my hand doesn’t mean I know how to use it, F/N. If Steve wants to be ‘dog bait, he can.”

Guys. Focus. This thing is breaking through the goddamn ceiling.”

You bite your lip. The only options are to try to get out and fight it on open ground or to stay in here, waiting for death.

Only its hand...paw...thing is in here right now, right?”

Dustin looks over at you, a questioning look on his face. “Yeah, why?”

Don’t you guys think that if we stay in here, we’re just fucked at this point?”

But we’ve got a ton of ammo and a solid amount of space,” says Steve, before he takes a big swing at the hand coming out of the roof.

No, I think F/N is right. We need to get out of here. Think about it. When the guys and I play Dungeons and Dragons, it’s always better to have more room to move, especially with ranged weapons, which, I’d like to remind you, Steve, are the only weapons F/N and I have.”

God, you’re such a dork,” Steve mutters under his breath. “So, what? We just go out there and hope the fucking thing doesn’t eat us?”

Better than waiting for it and its friends to kill us slowly down here. We can always come back for supplies after it’s dead, right?”

Theoretically,” you say in response to Dustin. “I mean, as long as the place doesn’t flood or burn, the guns aren’t going to, like, disappear.”

The real issue is that this proves Will knows where F/N is,” Dustin says, a somber tone to his voice. “How did he know?”

A spark of real fear runs through you. Dustin is right. How does the Byers kid know where the three of you are?

Scent tracking?” you ask, a note of uncertainty painting your tone.

That would be new, but what the shit do we even know about these things, right?”

Steve finally speaks up again, after a moment. “Don’t you have a knife or something in here?”

I have a pocket knife, but that’s about it.”

Damn it,” he says, running a hand through his mussed up (!!) hair. “I was hoping to maybe at least cut its hand off or something.”

Dustin rubs his chin, thinking. “Yeah, if we could remove its hand, somehow, before we leave the bunker, we might have a bit of an edge over it. What do you think, F/N?”

You blink at the two males, both of whom are staring at you, waiting for your response. “What, you expect me to cut through that thing’s huge ass paw-thing with me piddly 4-inch knife?”

It’s worth a try, right?”

You huff. “Fine. You guys can use my knife, but I’m not doing it. That thing is horrifically grotesque, and I’m more than a little freaked out by it. Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t broken down in some sort of panic attack, yet.”

Steve chuckles at your sarcastic tone. “I’ll do it.”

Thanks, Steve. I need a couple of minutes alone, though, okay?”

Sure thing. Dustin, stay with me for cover, ‘kay?”

You got it, Steve.”

You hand him your knife and walk out of the room while he chops the hand off. You head to the bathroom and take a look in your own eyes in the mirror.

For a few moments, you take deep breaths, calming yourself out of the near-panic you’d allowed yourself to get worked up into. Your father taught you better than this.

Fear is a natural response to the unnatural, F/N, but you have to fight past it,” he’d said. “Can you promise me that you’ll always be brave? No matter what?”

Why, Daddy?”

Because, princess, if you don’t fight past the fear, it controls you. You can never let yourself be controlled by anything or anyone but yourself, do you understand?”

Yes, Daddy.”

That’s my good girl. Come on, then, let’s go practice with the pistols, okay?”

Still, though, things are oddly quiet. There’s no sound coming from the roof, and you can actually hear yourself breathe and hear each heartbeat in your ears. Thump. Thump. Thump. It’s quiet. Too quiet. Even if you weren’t on the verge of a panic attack brought on by sheer paranoia and shock, you’d likely think it was too quiet—right?

Frankly, you’re surprised that the demo-whatever hadn’t fully come through the ceiling yet. It was so frantic to get in, then it just...stopped. Did it die after putting its hand through the ceiling? No...that doesn’t make sense – the hand is still moving. Maybe it was waiting for something?

Your eyes widen. It’s waiting for something. That has to be it. “Wait, Steve!” you shout, hoping he hasn’t hacked the hand off yet.

As you hear the scuttling from the roof pick up the pace, you realized that the three of you have fucked up. Badly.

Chapter Text

When you were seven years old, your father came home with a deep cut in his arm, but your mom was at the grocery store. That was the first time you saw blood, and it was the first time you felt real fear.

It was also the day your father decided you needed to learn how to shoot a gun, “even though you were a girl.” That day was the first time you learned how to help stop blood, and it was the first time you realized that the things your dad did may not have been normal.

As you listen to the sound of multiple beings scuttle about above your head and feel your heart race, you are reminded of that first rush of fear from your father. You haven’t seen him in who even knows how long, and he’s still haunting you with his bullshit.

“Son of a fucking bitch,” you whisper harshly under your breath.

Uh, F/N, you hear that, too, right?”

Yes, Dustin, I hear it. We need to get the fuck out of the bunker. Now.” You rush by the boys, grabbing the younger teen’s arm and pulling him along as you go.

Steve pushes in front of you. “I’ll go first. I’ve got the bat. You guys only have guns, remember? You won’t do well against them head to head.”

You bite your lip. He’s right. Putting a hand on his shoulder, you look in his eyes. “Be careful.” He nods. “Also, kick ass. Dusty and I will be right behind you.”

Steve smirks at you and nods again, hefting his bat over his shoulder and beginning his ascent up the ladder.

As he climbs, you glance at Dustin. “Is your walkie-talkie working?”

He shakes his head. “No, I’ve been checking as much as I can, but nada.”

You squeeze the curly-haired boy’s hand. “Be careful, okay?”

You, too, F/N. Steve and I have fought these things before, sorta, but you haven’t.”

Taking a deep breath, you grin. “Eh, I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”

Before Dustin has a chance to respond, you heft yourself up the ladder and out the hatch behind Steve.

The scene in front of you gives you pause. It’s dark, but you can tell that Steve is surrounded by at least seven humanoid...dog...things. You hear Dustin climb up behind you.

They’re demodogs,” he says simply. “So I just cock it and shoot, right?”

You nod absentmindedly. The boy looks over at you in concern. “Hey, are you okay?”

It’s obvious you’re not, but you shake yourself out of it. You have to put a brave face on. Your dad would murder you, if he found out you didn’t. “I’m fine. Guns are loud, Dustin, keep that in mind.”

He shrugs. “What else can we do? Calculated risk, right?”

Steve shouts over his shoulder. “Uh, guys, a little help? You just gonna stand there and watch ?”

Something about his tone finally sets you slightly at ease, and you chuckle. “Sure, Stevie-boy. It’s a great view, after all!”

You think you see him roll his eyes, but you’re too busy readying your gun. It’s been a while since you actually had to use one, much less with moving targets, and you know you only have one chance to get this right.

When you get your gun out, F/N, you always need to be prepared to kill. A gun’s main intent is to kill. Not to scare, not to hurt, not to protect. It is to kill. I pray you never have to use one.”

Then why am I learning how to use one, Daddy?”

Because, princess, if you aren’t prepared, I’ve failed as a father.”

That’s impossible, Daddy! You’re the best!” In response to your eager praise, your father had just smiled and ruffled your hair.

If you don’t manage to take one of these out in one shot, Steve is screwed, and they’ll be on you. However, if they’re like normal animals, they might go running as soon as they realize there’s a chance for serious injury or even death. Self-preservation instinct, or something. Your dad never taught you about hunting, so you honestly have no clue if your theory is correct. All you know is that it’s your only chance.

When you aim, you need to aim just off-center. Your eye-line is never exactly correct, F/N.”

You should always breathe in right before you shoot, in preparation for the recoil.”

Never pull the trigger until the last possible second. If you pull it too early, you ruin the element of surprise. The element of surprise is your best chance of survival.”

Aim for the center of mass, not for an extremity. An injured enemy is an angry enemy.”

It will probably take more than one shot to kill something, so make sure the first shot counts.”

Your father’s voice runs through your head repeatedly as you aim your shotgun. It’ll have a better chance of killing than your other weapons on hand. There are five ‘demodogs’ surrounding Steve, at varying distances. In addition, there are at least three climbing out of the hole they must have dug to get to the bunker. How long were they digging?!

For a hair’s breadth of a second, you glance at Dustin. “Aim for the furthest ‘dogs away. It’s your best chance of survival.”

But what about the ones near Steve?”

I’ll take care of those. You’ve never shot a gun before, kid. It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

But you said--”

I don’t care what I said before,” you say, raising your gun to your eye-line again. “just listen to what I’m saying now.”

In the next instant, your gun goes off, and the forest goes silent. The growling from the otherworldly beings stops all at once, and they look over at you, their eyes narrowing. Great, so they’re smart.

They’re fast, too, you realize, as all of the ones, which had been surrounding Steve, come barreling towards you. Your shot gun severely wounded one, though, and Steve nods towards you before getting to work on that one. You toss your shotgun to the ground and switch to your pistol. It’s faster, but does a lot less damage.

You begin unloading a clip into the one closest to you, but it just seems to be getting angrier. Fuck . “Do these fucking things have any weaknesses?”

Dustin yells back to you, “We’ve been over this already, F/N.”

You growl in pain as one of the...beings...bites your leg. “Not today, Satan.”

Steve makes his way to you. “We need to get back to the car, F/N. You know that, right?”

You nod. “I’m hurt, though.” You gesture down to your leg.

God damn it.” Steve looks behind him. Dustin has managed to avoid being surrounded. “Dustin, we need to go, now!”

But what about the bunker?”

Are you insane?”

But it’s got so much stuff...”

We’d just be sitting ducks, dude. F/N is injured, and we need to help her.”

Dustin jogs to your shotgun, as you continue shooting your pistol at the devil-beasts, before he meets Steve. Glancing at the weapon in the kid’s hand, Steve yanks it from him and drops his bat on the ground. It had pretty much fallen apart after the first ‘dog, but he hadn’t had any better options at the time.

Using your dad’s precious gun, Steve forces his way through the pack of demonic entities and gestures to you. “Get on my back, come on.”

You give him a look before complying. “I’ll keep shooting them,” you say. “Dusty, you should help, too.”

You got it!” he shouts, as Steve begins jogging back towards the car.

 

Chapter Text

“So did your dad have any other hideouts that you know of, by any chance?” Steve asks after he gets behind the wheel of the car and speeds away from the forest.

You shrug, uncertain. “Dad was always kind of a mystery to me. He never wanted to tell me anything.”

“Probably because if you knew, he’d have to kill you,” Dustin mutters under his breath. You hear him, but you choose not to respond, finding it difficult to focus on anything but the pain in your leg.

Steve, however, chuckles breathily, enjoying the chance to not focus on the fact that the three of you could die at any time. “So, F/N, how the fuck are we supposed to help your injury?”

You grunt. “I need to disinfect it. Dusty, there should be a first aid kit in my bag. Unlike the Harringtons, I keep disinfectant and antibacterial ointment in it.”

The taller teen huffs, as Dustin just laughs out loud. “ Burn , Steve.”

You can sense more than see Steve’s violent eye roll in response to the gentle ribbing you and Dustin are giving him. “Would you just help her, shithead?”

The younger teen shrugs before digging through your bag. “Do you always over-prepare like this, F/N?”

You nod, gritting your teeth. “Yup. And good thing, too, else I might die from gangrene or some shit.”

So what should I do?”

I need you to listen closely and do everything I say, regardless of whether I wince or even scream in pain.”

Hey, don’t scream, okay? I’m driving.”

Sorry that my immense pain might interfere with your focus, Harrington,” you say, a sarcastic bite to your forcefully grunted words.

Steve doesn’t respond, chastened by your words, so you return your focus to Dustin. “You understand? Do everything I say, no matter how much it may make you feel guilty.”

The kid gulps, a slight look of panic flickering across his face, before it is replaced with a firm, cold resolve. “Got it, F/N.”

Good. Help me roll up my pant leg.”

He has the decency to blush in embarrassment, which you would find cute in a little brother kind of way, if it weren’t for the fact that you really don’t have time for embarrassment. What had started as light bleeding has become a rather steady flow since you’ve sat in the backseat of the car.

With that, you take in a calming breath. “Okay, next, we need to clean the wound. Try to keep your hands clean in some way. Maybe use one of the wet wipes on your hands.”

He nods, tearing a packet open with his teeth and quickly disinfecting his hands. “So do I just...rub it?”

You bark out a laugh. “No. Start by cleaning the outside gently. Here, pass me some, and I’ll help.”

You can barely see straight, F/N.”

That may be so, but -” You pause with a grunt, throwing your back against the driver side window that you’ve been leaning against. With a sigh, you assent. “Fine, you’re right. Just be careful. Don’t rub like you’re washing dishes. Start on the outside, then move closer to the bite, itself.”

With every swipe of your young friend’s hand, you wince in pain. On swipes particularly close to the deepest parts of the wound, you audibly gasp.

Jesus fucking Christ,” you say, a bead of sweat rolling down your face. “How deep does it look, kiddo?”

You glance up in time to see Dustin bite his lip. “I’m...not sure. I don’t know how to tell.”

Can you see bone?”

No.”

Do you see any yellow tissue?”

Um...I’m not sure. I don’t think so.”

Has the bleeding slowed down at all?”

Yes, definitely. It’s not as bad as Max’s was,” he says, a definitive note to his voice.

Well, that’s good. It probably doesn’t need stitches then.” You gesture to the first aid kit sitting in his lap. “We need to wrap it in gauze, though. It has to be tight enough to prevent further bleeding, but not so tight that it cuts off blood flow.”

He does as you say, tightening it when you gesture for him to do so. Under your breath, you mutter that you really should be going to the hospital for this.

What are you going to tell a doctor, though, F/N?” Steve asks, reminding you he’s in the vehicle.

You shrug nonchalantly, still a bit woozy. “I dunno. I was bit by a wild animal.”

That might be true, but it’s not like we have a bunch of wolves and bears in Hawkins,” Dustin says, obviously agreeing with Steve.

You’re supposed to go to the hospital with animal bites, though.” There is an obvious pout on your face, and you see Steve glance at you in the rear view mirror, grinning slightly at you.

After a moment spent pouting, you readjust yourself to sit fully face forward. “Dustin, hand me the bottle of Advil.”

He assents, and you pop two pills, before handing the bottle back to him. Once you’ve swallowed, you take a deep breath, sighing. “So, Stevie-boy, where the hell are we going? You’ve been driving for at least half an hour, now.”

His eyes meet yours in the rear view mirror once more. “Somewhere Will isn’t expecting.”

Which is...where, exactly?”

Dustin crosses his arms, his brow furrowing in thought. “You can’t mean...”

Steve nods. “Yep.” He pops the ‘p’.

In a voice quieter than you’ve ever heard the boy use, he whispers a faint, defeated ‘no.’ When you look over to him in confusion, he pointedly avoids catching your eye.

Come on, guys, where are we going?”

The worst place in town. The one place that kid would never go.”

No, Steve. It’s the one place we all know you never want to go to again,” Dustin says, annoyed.

You bite your lip, annoyance now overtaking your prior pain. “Where the fuck are we going?”

Scoops Ahoy,” Steve says, sounding completely and utterly dead inside.

Chapter Text

“Please,” you say, after a moment, “enlighten me. What’s so bad about Scoops Ahoy?”

 

Dustin glances over at you, a grimace still painted on his face. “This past summer was hellish, okay? It wasn’t as bad as last year, so none of us really thought to bring it up to you.”

 

You nod, motioning slightly for him to continue; he does. “Steve worked there with a girl named Robin, and some weird shit came about.”

 

Steve speaks up, after a pause. “Robin found out some scuzzy stuff involving the Mayor and the creepy science dudes. The entire mall was just a front for more research.”

 

“Is that why it got so suddenly popular?”

 

“Well, I mean,” Dustin says, “it’s still a mall , so people kinda just like shopping.”

 

“So how do you know creepy shit is happening?”

 

“We found a hidden passageway in Scoops Ahoy, itself.” Steve glances at you through the rearview mirror. “There was some bizarro shit going on, dude. Before we got the chance to really go through it, Robin and I got some seriously fucked up warnings from the Mayor.”

 

You frown. “Just how deep is this conspiracy?” you ask, biting the inside of your lip. “Like...I’m struggling to wrap my mind around all this. It can’t seriously all be connected.”

 

He sighs. “It is. Nothing else makes any sense.”

 

“Steve’s right, F/N. We don’t have a lot of proof, but maybe the files we got from your dad’s bunker will help.”

 

You bite your lip. “I think we left most of them there, in the rush to get out.”

 

Fuck , F/N, are you serious?” the teen questions, his voice cracking.

 

“Calm down, Dustin. F/N, did you save any of them?”

 

“A few. The one with the picture of my mom, and at least a few of the documents that came with it, but the majority of paperwork and stuff got left.”

 

“Well, that’s a start at least. Maybe your mom has some answers.”

 

You roll your eyes. “My mom is worse than my dad at answering questions, Steve. The woman could sell beef to a vegetarian, but she’s never been straightforward. We’d be better off trying to ask the demodogs to tell us about their homeland.”

He shrugs half-heartedly, not wanting to jerk the wheel. “Well, maybe the files themselves have some answers. We can check, when we’re in the shop.”

 

“By the way, isn’t the mall closed right now?”

 

“It’s only 6, F/N,” Dustin says, giving you a weird look.

 

“Then why is it so dark?”

 

The younger teen just blinks at you. “It’s...almost winter...it gets dark earlier...did you hit your head during the fight?”

 

You feel heat spread across your cheeks and neck. “Oh, right. I guess the craziness left me a little disoriented. That’s all.”

 

“Anyway, the mall is open, and Robin should be able to help us out.” Steve cuts in.

 

“Why do you think Will won’t think to check there?” you ask.

 

This time, Dustin answers, allowing Steve to continue focusing on the road. “Some creepy guy tried to kidnap him from the arcade there. It’s why we go to the real arcade, instead of the one in Starcourt. If Will has any control at all, he’s going to avoid the mall. Especially Scoops Ahoy.”

 

“And why did you get all weird about going, Dustin?” Steve asks, glancing at the boy.

 

He flushes in response. “Robin doesn’t like me very much. She’s nice enough and all, but there’s something in her eyes that I don’t like. I know you guys are friends and all, or whatever, but she makes me feel like a total loser. Plus, the whole kidnapping thing.”

 

You bite your lip, zoning out, while the two boys continue their conversation. How come nobody had told you about this Robin girl? Are she and Steve an item? He talks really fondly about her. And, like, why do you even care if they’re an item? You and Steve haven’t been friends in years ; you have exactly zero claim over him and whom he hangs out with.

 

After a moment, you begin to nod off slightly, leaning your head against the window. The guys seem to notice, as they start speaking in whispers, rather than the loud voices they’d been using prior. You sleep soundly, until someone starts shaking your shoulder gently.

 

“Hey, wake up, F/N,” whispers a voice. As you gain more consciousness, you vaguely recognize it as Dustin’s.

 

You blink your eyes a few times before rubbing the sleep from them. “I’m up, I’m up.”

 

Steve glances over you. “You know, I just realized. How are we supposed to get you in the mall? You’re covered in blood, and we’re covered in dirt.”

 

Dustin’s eyes widen in realization. “That’s not good. Do you have a spare shirt, Steve? My pants are pretty clean. Maybe I could run in and buy some clothes for us. I just got my allowance the other day.”

 

“Actually, I think I do. I was going to go to the gym the other day and completely forgot.” He rustles through his trunk, before pulling out a duffel bag. “It’s probably too big for you, but it’s relatively clean. I’ve also got like thirty bucks I can loan you.”

 

Dustin grins. “That’ll work. Hey, F/N, what size clothes do you wear?”

 

“Um, like, a medium pants, medium shirt? That should work. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

 

“Same for me, but men’s sizes,” Steve says, handing the kid the shirt and money.

 

“Okay, turn around, you guys, so I can change.”

 

Steve shares a teasing grin with you, before the both of you assent. “Okay,” he says, “I’m going now.”

 

“Stay safe,” you say.

 

“I will.”

 

Steve climbs in the backseat with you, as soon as Dustin begins walking away. “You know, I just noticed,” he says, “that you’re wearing my shirt.”

 

Your eyes widen, and heat once again spreads to your face unbidden. What is these boys and embarrassing the daylights out of you? “Well, I left my sweater in the bunker, and…”

 

“But that still means you were wearing my shirt underneath it.” There’s a teasing lilt to his voice and an unrecognizable glint in his eye.

 

“I just threw on the first clothes I found, when you called, okay?”

 

“So you weren’t dressed before?” His voice is getting progressively more teasing, the smirk widening on his face.

 

With a huff, you throw your hands up. “Okay, fine. I was wearing your shirt. It’s comfortable and way better made than any clothes I own. Plus, it smells nice, okay?”

 

“So I smell nice?” The smirk on his face has grown so wide that you actually, actively want to smack it off of him.

 

Your brow furrows, and your cross your arms defensively across your chest. Avoiding his gaze, you nod once.

 

After a moment, he laughs quietly and pulls you into a hug. “That’s really sweet, F/N.”

 

Mumbling some nonsense and shrugging, you noncommittally return the hug. You want to just nestle in his arms, the crush you’ve felt brewing for the last few weeks bubbling to the surface, but something holds you back.

 

You pull away slightly. “This Robin girl,” you say, moving to look Steve carefully in the eye. “are you guys close?”

 

Steve’s brow furrows in confusion, as he searches your face. For what, you aren’t certain. “I mean, maybe a little bit. Shared trauma tends to do that, but I honestly barely know her. Why?”

 

You bite your lip. “It doesn’t really matter. I just figured a girlfriend wouldn’t be too happy about a girl - even an ex-best-friend girl - hugging you.”

 

Steve’s eyes widen in realization, and he barks out a laugh. After a moment, he ruffles your hair. “There’s no need to worry even remotely on that front, F/N. I’ve gone on a date here or there, but nobody’s quite caught my eye, you know?”

 

You nod. It’s been the same for you, for a while now. “And, Steve, I hope you don’t think there’s any deeper meaning to that, okay?”

 

The smile falls from his face. “Of course not,” he says, his tone unreadable.