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Emotion Sickness

Chapter Text


 

"Emotion sickness 
Distorted eyes when everything  is clearly dying"

 


 

Exhaustion. Pain. Nausea.

 

Three fractured ribs, dehydration, a mild concussion, orbital bone fracture, and bruises too numerous to count, had been his preliminary diagnosis from the paramedics. They had wanted to give him IV fluids immediately but the minute the man came near him with a needle, he had flinched away violently and decided he had enough medical attention for the night.

 

To be honest, Steve Harrington had had enough medical attention to last him the rest of his life. 

 

Ignoring the warnings of the paramedics, Steve slipped a rough, scratchy blanket over his shoulders and hopped out of the back of the ambulance. The bright flashing lights from the multitude of first responder vehicles hurt his eyes but at this point, his head was already threatening to explode, what was a little more hurt? 

 

He passed Robin, pausing a moment to check in on her. An attractive EMT was pressing an ice pack to her cheek. Meeting his friend's (and wow, isn't that a crazy new truth) bloodshot eyes, he flashed his patent Harrington smile and a quick thumbs up. He also exaggeratedly looked from the pretty tech to Robin to drive home his intentions. Then he added a wink, with his non-busted eye for good measure.

 

He could literally feel Robin's disgust from where he was standing. 

 

Chuckling to himself, he passed Robin's ambulance to where Will was standing. Just beyond the boy, Steve could see Jonanthan and Nancy huddled together inside the back of another ambulance. Honestly, Steve had no clue that Hawkins even had that many ambulances in the first place. But then again, a tragedy this size had never rocked the town before. 

 

For a moment, the breath in his lungs seized up and he had to press a hand to his chest. 

 

He forced his mind to skitter away from the thoughts of all those people, surely dead now, that had melted (melted?!) to form the Mind Flayer. Or form his weapon; he didn't really understand the basics because, well, Russians. He also had to force the image of Billy Hargrove, standing there, a lone sentinel against all the terror the Upside Down could bring, above Eleven's small form. 

 

His mind really only held enough room for shock and exhaustion at the moment. The horror and grief, or whatever terrible emotion he could drown in, needed to wait. Wait at least until he was no longer wearing a bloody sailor suit.

 

Before he could reach the Byers and Nancy, Will dropped his own terrible blanket and took off across the parking lot. Steve followed his trajectory to see Mrs. Byers emerging from the crowd. She seemed to be dressed in one of the Russian guard's uniforms. Again his mind shied away at the thought of the guards he had encountered during his stay underground. Instead, he watched the youngest Byers get swept up in his mother's embrace.

 

"Steve," Nancy's quiet voice took his attention away from the reunion, "Are you okay?" 

 

"This?" He gestured to the bruising on his face, "Oh yeah, it's nothing."

 

"You look beat to hell," Nancy was kind enough to not voice the 'again' that he knew they were all thinking.

 

"Really, it's nothing, nothing too bad. Last year was worse…" he trailed off. Last year was pretty bad, for sure, because, Billy. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, a slight mistake due to all the pain, but it worked. "But what about you two? You guys okay?"

 

"Define okay." Jonathan scoffed quietly, watching his mother clutch Will to her chest over Steve's shoulder.

 

"Well, you're not dead." Steve tried for light hearted, but the statement fell flat. 

 

"No, not dead," Jonathan whispered.

 

Defeat and resignation seemed to fill the ambulance. It felt almost like a physical weight on his chest and shoulders, granted that could be the result of the cracked ribs, but still. Steve felt it deep in his bones, this overwhelming urge to make sure they were okay. Even though he knew they weren't.

 

Looking at the butterfly closures on Jonathan's face, he tried a more straightforward approach. "What's the damage?" He gestured vaguely with his hand.

 

"They think broken ribs and a concussion," Nancy answered for Jonathan. "I just have a sprained wrist and bruises."

 

"Hey, we're twins!" Steve opened the blanket he had clutched around himself and pointed to his own ribs. "At least three ribs and another concussion. I think this is becoming my thing. Concussion guy, I'm gonna be known as Concussion Guy."

 

Nancy's eyes were soft as she took in the damage to his face, "I still don't understand what happened to you guys."

 

"Oh you know, terrible job, awful customers, decoding a secret Russian code and discovering secret Russian base under said terrible job. The usual Hawkins deal." He sensed movement behind him, tensing up even as he recognized Eleven making an abortive step towards Mrs. Byers and Will.

 

He watched Mrs. Byers meet the young girl's eyes over her son's shoulders and he was suddenly hit with a crystal clear image in his mind.

 

Hopper. Standing with his back to the gate. Smiling softly, resigned. But filled with so much love.

 

Joyce. Watching, stretched impossibly thin. Understanding with a sense of grief, too terrible to name.

 

She turns the keys.

 

He doesn't realize he's listing until Jonathan's hand is gripping his bicep tightly.

 

"Steve?" Jonathan is half out of the ambulance, using all of his weakened strength to keep Steve upright. "What's wrong?"

 

He guides Steve to the bumper of the ambulance and forces him to sit down. Nancy, moving to the other side of the bus, lending a hand to help stabilize him.

 

"Hopper. It's Hopper. He's gone." Steve doesn't know how he knows it, but he does. It's concrete in his mind, an absolute fact.

 

"What?" Nancy looks from where Steve is seated to where his gaze is focused. Mrs. Byers hasn't really moved from where she clung to her youngest son, but her devastated stare is still locked onto Eleven. 

 

"Mom's alone," Jonathan whispers, watching his family. "I think Steve's-" his voice breaks, "I think Steve's right."

 

Nancy looks horrified at that prospect, "No, that can't be true. Hopper, he can't... Jonathan, Hopper can't be dead."

 

She might not believe it but Steve knew it, felt it deep within his fractured bones. Dropping the blanket from around his shoulders, he shakily climbed to his feet. Someone had to go to Eleven. She didn't know. Well, maybe she did, what with her telepathy or mind powers or whatever it was she could do. No one had exactly been clear on that for him either. But no way he was going to leave that small girl standing alone in the parking lot of the damn mall, waiting for a father that would never come.

 

Limping toward where Eleven was standing, his movement was stopped by a hand on his wrist. Jonathan. Steve had to suppress his first instinct to rip his hand away, knowing somewhere in his mind that Jonathan meant no harm but he had been tied up too much lately.

 

"Mom is going to her now," Jonathan explained as they both watched Joyce detangle herself from Will and walk over to Eleven with watery eyes. From where they were standing, Steve couldn't make out what she was telling Eleven exactly, but his feelings were confirmed when he saw the girl let out a wail and collapse into Joyce's arms.

 

A grief, stronger than he had ever expected to feel, crashed into him at that sight. Tears pricked in his eyes, stinging at the bruised flesh on his face. Hopper was a constant in their twisted Upside Down world for the past three years. He had kept everyone together, even if Steve didn't really know what was going on or where he exactly fit into everything. Plus, the Chief had been kind to him. Not something he could say about a lot of adults.

 

After Eleven had closed the Gate and the Mind Flayer had been exorcised from Will, when everyone had reconvened at the Byers' house and saw the damage that Billy Hargrove had done to his face, Hopper had been the one to who drove him to the hospital. He had been the one who stayed by his side when his parents missed the multiple phone calls the hospital tried. He had even driven Steve home after the hospital released him and they both realized no one else was going to come collect him.

 

After driving the dazed and medicated teen home, Hopper had pressed a phone number into his hand and made him promise to call if he ever needed anything. 

 

Over the following months, Steve looked at where he had stuck that phone number in the corner of his mirror frame, knowing he should make a call, but doubting himself before even picking up his phone. 

 

Even though he had never gone through with calling Hopper, it had been comforting knowing he had had that option.

 

Now it was gone. Hopper was gone.

 

He didn't know when he had started, but Steve realized with a jolt, that Jonathan's hand on his wrist had slipped down and Steve was now clutching it tightly in his own. Nancy had stepped down from the ambulance and stood closely on Steve's other side. She pressed her body along his entire side with her fingers twisted up in the hem of his stupid sailor top.

 

She was crying silently.

 

He was too. 

 

Jonathan looked wrecked, his face cracked and open in his grief, but managing to reign in his own tears. Steve knew that while the other man felt sadness in Hopper's death, he was focused on his mother and her devastation. The three of them all wanted to rush over to small huddle of Joyce and Eleven, but there was nothing they could do. There was nothing any of them could do.

 

We're just three kids, Steve thought wildly, we're supposed to be thinking about the next party, who was dating who, what can I buy with my next paycheck? Not dealing with another death. Not again.

 

Barb.

 

Bob.

 

Billy.

 

Hopper.

 

It was too much. And he was just on the periphery of things, he couldn't imagine what those with actual ties to those who've died were going through. 

 

(Well, he kind of did with Nancy and it was all bullshit.)

 

There was going to be more grief and sadness in the days to come, Steve realized. It wasn't going to be their own private loss, this time the Upside Down took more from Hawkins than it had in the past two years. How was the government going to explain away this one?

 

Beside him, he felt both Nancy and Jonathan stiffen. Someone had stepped up to their ambulance. 

 

"Steven."

 

Out of all the insanity that had happened in the past 48 hours, it was telling that the most surprising thing for him was the sight of his father in the parking lot of the Starcourt Mall.

 

"Dad?" He felt his body automatically straightening up into the correct posture that his father expected of him even though his ribs protested at the movement. "What are you doing- did someone call you?"

 

John Harrington was a tall, imposing man, and Steve spent whatever time he had with his father, trying to avoid his glare. He was never really successful.

 

And now that glare was laser focused on where Jonathan's hand was still clutched in Steve's own. 

 

"Yes, imagine my surprise when I received a call tonight, letting me know my son was somehow involved in a fire at the mall." His father raised his cold eyes to meet Steve's, disappointment and disgust plain to see.

 

You didn't care when they tried to call you last time I was beat half to death, he thought desperately, what makes tonight any different?

 

Without waiting for an answer, his father reached a large hand up and clasped it around the base of his neck, pushing Jonathan roughly to the side. The grip was tight and far too close to where the needle had gone into his neck for his comfort.

 

"Mr. Harrington," Nancy started, an impulsive urge to defend Steve from something she wasn't even sure of. 

 

But to John Harrington, Nancy was nothing more than an irritating fly, of no real concern. He brushed her aside, albeit more gently than he had with Jonathan, and propelled Steve forward and away from them. "If you will excuse me Ms. Wheeler, I need to take my son home now." His voice left no room for argument.

 

A part of Steve's mind revelled in the idea that his father cared enough to come get him from this disaster. He cares! He frantically chanted to himself and he was scruffed out of the parking lot.

 

"Say nothing until we are away from here." He father grit out when he saw his son start to open his mouth. "I will have no further embarrassment from you tonight."

 

Whatever brief sense of hope Steve had felt was doused with those words. That was why tonight was different. All of the first responders here, the army, the media that was swarming, even though they weren't being allowed in, all of eyes of Hawkins were trained on the mall tonight and John Harrington's failure of a son was at the center of it all, in a garish blue sailor suit. His father had to minimize the damage to his reputation. 

 

So Steve kept silent. He allowed himself to be dragged to the car that had been parked just out of sight. He allowed himself to be shoved roughly in, with no care to his obvious injuries. 

 

He allowed himself to be driven away from all of his friends.

 

"What the hell were you thinking?" His father exploded with they were far enough away from Starcourt. "How could you get caught all up in that mess?"

 

At his father's outburst, Steve had instinctively thrown his body as far away as could in the front seat. Which wasn't very far. He knew, daring a look at his father, that his reaction just deepened the disgust felt for him. 

 

"Answer me, Steven."

 

"It was a fire, Dad," he whispered, trying to stick to the flimsy cover story that the government obviously fed to his father. "I work there."

 

"Yes, you worked there." He sneered, "My brilliant, successful son, on his spectacular career path, scooping ice cream."

 

He couldn't have this argument again. Not now. Not tonight. "You told me to get a job." He still found himself whispering.

 

"I could not hear you, you know how I feel about your mumbling, Steven."

 

This time Steve didn't bother to answer, it would do him no good. Instead he pressed himself further into the passenger side door and wrapped his arms around his aching ribs. Of course, he really should have expected this. He really was that dumb. The bruises and nail bat in '83 were never acknowledged, the hospital bill and night terrors from '84 were brushed to the side, but his son at the site of a freak mall fire, that was too much for his father. Nevermind the fact that none of his injuries made sense. It was a miracle he was even allowed to leave the circle of government agents without any more of their disclosure statements signed.

 

Which in itself was pretty odd.

 

"How did they let you know I was here?" He asked instead of answering his father's earlier question.

 

"What?"

 

"I'm 19, they didn't need to call anyone for me and I refused medical treatment, so they didn't need to get any permissions for any medications. Who let you know I was here?" Steve asked, confused. It felt like he could see the larger puzzle at hand but the pieces he had were blurry and not all there. Something seemed off centered.

 

His father slowed the car to a stop, there was no traffic in the neighborhood at this time of night. After placing the car into park, he leaned over and gently cupped Steve's face, his thumb resting high on his cheekbone.

 

For another moment, Steve was foolishly lulled by his fervent desire for a caring father and he didn't resist.

 

But John Harrington's face held none of that parental concern that his son wished for. He pressed his thumb sharply into the bruised flesh, exactly where the bone was cracked. Steve hissed in pain and tried to pull away. But his father was too strong and there wasn't anywhere to go in the small car.

 

"Stupid child, the police got records of all the employees in the mall and notified their families." The fingers at the base of his skull pressed tightly over the needle bruise. "I told you not to get a job at that damned mall, and look what it got you. You disappoint me. You always disappoint me." With a final squeeze, his father let go and switch the gear back into drive.

 

It was hard to take a deep breath again. But it was more than just damaged ribs. When his father had gripped him tightly, Steve felt his anger as strongly as the fingers on his face. The burning, roiling rage that wanted to break out and destroy his son, it felt like a physical slap. But underneath that rage there had been a needle's edge of fear. Sharp and pricking.

 

John Harrington was afraid.

 

But Steve knew, he wouldn't be fooled a third time this night, he knew that fear was not for the safety of his son. So that begged the question.

 

What was his father afraid of?

 

Chapter Text


 

Had a dream that we were dead,

But we pretended that we still lived.

 


 

 

Fear. Horror. Shock.

 

It was that same dream again. Arms tied in front of him, bruised and numb between his knees. A hand alternating between gentle and rough in his hair. And that desperate feeling of wanting to give the right answer to make the pain stop, but even though the truth dripped like blood from his lips and they did not believe him.

 

Unlike reality, this dream always took a brutal turn. At his feet, just beyond his bloodied sneakers, he could see Robin prone on the ground. Blue eyes vacant and a gaping bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. For some reason, he always noticed the sprinkling of gunpowder that radiates out from the wound. That's what his brain focuses on, not the messy splatter of blood that dyes her hair dark.

 

He is crying in this dream. Sloppy tears and a snotty nose that he can't find it in himself to feel ashamed of. How could he, with Robin dead at his feet. And he knows it is his fault. He couldn't answer their questions.

 

"I don't know, I swear it!" He pleads. This dream is so vivid. So real. He can taste the copper blood in his mouth. There is a burning pain in his fingers where they have violently ripped his nails out.

 

He can feel the cold metal of the gun barrel that they place against his temple.

 

He always wakes when the man pulls the trigger.

 

It's 3:48am and Steve Harrington jolts awake, crying in the darkness. This isn't the first time nor even the fifth. It seems like he's dreamed this dream at least twice a week since that violent night at the Starcourt Mall. 

 

There is a routine now, when he wakes from that terror. First he checks his hands, to make sure he doesn't see the bloody nail beds of his mind. His fingers are fine, even if there is a distant ache to them. Some sort of residual dream pain.

 

Next, he grabs his nail bat from where it is propped up next to his nightstand and he makes his way out of his bedroom.

 

Steve Harrington has his routine. It's safe

 

He creeps down the darkened stairs and out the front door to where his car is parked. Well, he only has to creep on nights his parents are home. 

 

After that night, his parents refrained from leaving on one of their frequent business trips for almost two and a half months. Granted, there had been a weekend getaway here or there, but mostly the Harringtons stayed home to be near their son who had survived such a traumatic event.

 

Yeah right, he thought as he started up his car and backed out into the street. That was the story they had presented to the public, as the media was all over the survivors. Really, Steve was certain they were only sticking around to make sure he didn't go crazy and create some sort of scandal for them. John Harrington had many prominent business deals that were in the process of closing when the "tragic" fire of Starcourt Mall happened and if word got out that his son was messed up, then he could have potentially lost clients. For two months, Steve had been kept fairly isolated from everyone. The Party wasn't allowed over, Robin was once or twice, but his mom seemed to take some sort of imagined offense to the younger girl and had barred her from coming back. Nancy had received her lifetime ban earlier, the minute his mother learned that she was no longer dating Steve but rather Jonathan. Which also meant Jonathan was blocked as well. 

 

Dustin, of course, ignored all the rules his parents had put into place and barged his way in the minute they had left for one of their quick weekend trips. Using his brief moment of freedom, Dustin had smuggled him a walkie talkie with the strict instruction to keep up constant contact with the Party while under house arrest.

 

Steve had protested, called the curly-haired gremlin an 'paranoid dipshit' but then promptly messaged the Party that night after his parents had returned. It made Dustin feel safer, knowing Steve was still out there, even if he couldn't always leave his house.

 

But he missed the Byers' last day in Hawkins. His father had been on the warpath that day. Some land deal had fallen through and Steve stupidly asked if he could go say goodbye to the Byers. 

 

Steve did not get to say goodbye.

 

That night, when he knew that his father couldn't hear, he radioed out a soft goodbye, hoping the Byers were still range.

 

Through the static, Will's voice broke through enough to return the goodbye.

 

But for his routine after this same nightmare? Once he's in his car, he drives over to Robin's house and parks outside for a few minutes. She doesn't know that he does this, she'd probably think he's lost it or really hasn't given up on romantic feelings for her and is stalking her. But he won't get back to sleep if he doesn't do this. Even though he can't physically see her, he can see the soft light of the nightlight she refused to admit she has from her bedroom window.

 

They all had their ways to cope.

 

Tonight, the October air was damp and smelled of rain. Robin must have closed her curtains against the incoming storm but Steve could still see the nightlight through the cracks. Only then did his breathing begin to even out. 

 

Maybe when they started their new job at Family Video he wouldn't need to creepily sit outside her window to reassure himself that she was still alive. 

 

It was a miracle, really, that his dad was allowing him to get another shitty job. Granted, he was old enough to move out and do whatever it was adults did once they were no longer Kings of their high school. If they weren't going to college, that is. He really shouldn't be so dependent on his asshole of a father when clearly nothing he could do would ever be enough. 

 

He remembered briefly, one of the times he had gone to Hopper's cabin to pick up Eleven for one of the kids many get togethers, and the Chief pulled him to the side to talk. The older man looked awkward and gruff, but Steve was used to dealing with angry father figures, and Hopper was more of one that didn't know how to communicate without being in Police-mode rather than actual anger. He had looked at Steve and tried to seriously ask him what his plans were post-high school. 

 

"Oh I am considering playing ball at Tech," he had lied. He wasn't going to Tech. 

 

Hopper had nodded, taking what Steve said at face value, "Basketball, right?"

 

"Yeah, love football but never played it in school."

 

"Not gonna grow up to save our Colts?"

 

Steve laughed at that, "Nothing can save them, I'd be surprised if Dowhower makes it through this upcoming season."

 

"Still not used to calling 'em the Indianapolis Colts, been Baltimore's for too long." The talk about football seemed to have relaxed Hopper enough to finally ask Steve what he had been gunning for in the first place. "But if you aren't going to be the next Johnny Unitas-"

 

"Wrong sport, Chief."

 

"Fine, Billy Knight then. Have you ever considered a career in the police force?"

 

Steve scoffed in Hopper's face, "Me? Seriously? I don't know if you realize this, Hop, but I'm not exactly the smartest guy around and my track record in fights isn't that impressive either."

 

"I'm not asking you to design rockets or win a heavyweight championship. You have good instincts and you protect what you care about. And you care a lot. That's more than what can be taught from any book." The Chief placed a heavy hand on his shoulder and looked at him with kind eyes. "Just give it some thought, that's all I ask."

 

Not too long after that conversation, Steve's father told him in no uncertain terms, that the offer to come work for his company was no longer on the table. And if he still wanted to live in their house, he needed to get a job immediately. Attending police academy was not one of the options permitted.

 

No matter what Steve did, he could never make his father happy. When he came back to him, with the news that he had got the job at Scoops Ahoy, instead of being content with the job, it only seemed to make his father angrier. 

 

Steve would never win with him.

 

And maybe Steve was ready to stop trying. After the night at Starcourt, his father had been strange. Tense. Well, tenser than normal anyway. Like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, whatever that shoe may be. To be honest, Steve himself, was different after that night too. He felt raw, like an exposed nerve, sensitive to the emotions of his house. 

 

When his parents fought, and they did frequently, he normally could tune them out. But now, when hateful words were spat at each other over the dinner table, Steve felt like he couldn't breathe. It was like the anger was a physical thing settling into his chest and squeezing. For a while, he blamed his broken ribs, but the six weeks of healing time had passed and he still felt that pressure.

 

It wasn't just the anger that felt magnified. Nights like tonight, the terror he felt when he awoke seemed larger and more intense. Much more than it had ever been after the tunnels and the demo-dogs. 

 

When describing this feeling to Robin during one of their few moments they got to see each other in the past weeks, she had given him a look that clearly stated 'you're an idiot, Steve Harrington', but fondly and softly, before going into a list of all the possible symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She clearly had done her research.

 

But that explanation never felt quite right.

 

It was times like this when he wished he was still close to Nancy. They were still friends, of course, but it didn't feel right to go cry on her shoulder because he was feeling things too strongly. But Steve knew, her history with the shit that Hawkins dealt with, that Nancy would investigate the hell out of it if she thought there was something there.

 

Either way, Steve did was he was best at. Ignoring it.

 

He allowed himself a few moments to try and process it, when ignoring didn't really work. Like at almost 4am in the morning, making sure his friend was still in her room and not bleeding out from a shot to the head on some secret Russian lab floor.

 

It took a few minutes but his pulse returned to normal and his breathing evened out. The light remained steady in her window and Steve was able to drive back home.

 

--------

 

"Do you need me to show you again?" Keith's disgruntled voice broke through his thoughts.

 

"It's a VCR man, I know how to rewind a damn video." Steve brushed his hair out of his eyes and tried not to throw the videotape in his hands at his boss's head.

 

"I don't know, man, do you?" Keith made a face, "You looked a little lost there. But maybe that's your default setting."

 

Steve was tired of dealing with this guy. He got it, he really did. He had been a douchebag in high school and there was shit that you could never make up because you could hurt people on a level that could never be forgiven. But honestly? He never remembered being particularly cruel to Keith in the first place. 

 

Plus, he was different. He was trying. Doesn't that count for something?

 

"Harrington. Harrington! Are you even listening to me?" Keith snapped his fingers in Steve's face causing him to flinch back. Damn, he really needed to get a handle on that. Granted he wasn't King Steve anymore, but he didn't want to be known as a frightened little bitch either.

 

"I can hear you just fine," Steve took a step back to get further out of Keith's space. "I can handle rewinding the returns without your supervision, boss."

 

"Watch it Harrington, you're on thin ice here. Just remember, you're on probation status until I decide if I want to make you a permanent employee."

 

Jesus, give a loser a little bit of power and they will lord it in any way possible. But the shit thing was, he wanted this job. He wanted to slight mindless of customer service after the hell summer had been. He wanted to spend all the time he could with Robin, shooting the shit, checking out girls, being a damn teenager again. Ignoring any sort of emotional bullshit that was festering in his mind.

 

And if that meant swallowing his pride and taking orders by someone who took enjoyment by belittling his intelligence, then there really was no choice. Plus, he had 19 years under his belt of being told how stupid he was, Keith wasn't going to add anything new.

 

"Got it," he took the remote from Keith and settled down to start the long boring process of rewinding the stacks of returns. Family Video wasn't large so they didn't have multiple machines to do the rewinding and Keith had allowed a pile to grow, just for the sake of Steve's training.

 

There was a disproportionate amount of Revenge of the Nerds copies that Steve felt must be deliberate. And Friday the 13th. Joke's on Keith, he hadn't been popular in ages, not to mention he knew for a fact he could hold his own against a supernatural being. Probably even their mother.

 

Not that he really wanted to. But the shit that Keith and the rest of Hawkins didn't know…

 

"Hey dingus, why are you leaving me up front with the mouth breather?" Robin peeked her head into the backroom after a tedious hour sitting with the droning VCR. 

 

"The mouth breather thinks I need to learn how to use one of these," he held the VCR remote up as Robin made her way into the room and hopped up on a large cardboard box.

 

" Hmm, one of the older models, I could see why he thought you might need help, you silver spoon types only deal with the newest top-of-the-line shit, right?"

 

"What makes you think I even have to deal with that? Clearly I have my butler do it for me."

 

"Oh I'm so sorry, my mistake. How could I forget the butler or maids, chauffeurs, valets, and of course the nannies that the great Harrington Estate employs." Robin took a look at Steve's face and burst out laughing, "Shit, Harrington, you really had maids and all that bullshit?"

 

"No," he mumbled. "we didn't have maids. I had a nanny when I was young."

 

Robin brought up her hands to muffle the cackle that was threatening to burst out. "Damn, I knew you were loaded, but shit, Silver Spoon, really?"

 

"Yeah my parents traveled a lot for their work and they, uh, didn't really need a kid around to do so." There must have been something in his voice because Robin didn't pursue the joke.

 

"Hey Keith really sent me back here to start building the Ghostbusters standee, I figure, if the rewinding isn't too difficult for you, you could help me out?"

 

Steve got up from where he had been crouching in front of the VCR, wincing a little at the pull in ribs. Though technically healed, they still twinged in pain with certain movements. "Ghostbusters is coming out already?"

 

"Yeah, October 31st, of course." Robin rolled her eyes as she climbed off her box. Removing a box knife from her vest, she began cutting into the top.

 

"Ah hell, Dustin is gonna make me buy it. And then watch it over. And over. And over. Quoting. Every. Goddamn. Line."

 

"Hey, dingus. Has anyone explained to you yet, that he isn't actually your kid?"

 

"You try telling him no. It's impossible. I say no. He says yes. And in the end, he wins. Kinda how I got roped into hunting an interdimensional monster with him. I said no. He said yes. And next thing I know, I'm playing bait for a pack of demo-dogs. Such is my life."

 

"I hate that I understood all of that." Robin sighed as she began to remove green cardboard pieces. "Such is my life now."

 

"How are you doing?" He hesitantly asked, "With all of, y'know, the Upside Down thingy? I know I haven't exactly been around for you lately. What with my parents trying to actually parent for the first time in 19 years." He wasn't bitter, swear it.

 

"I'm fine, really, I am, Mom." She laughed and threw him a piece of the standee. " I mean yeah, do I get a nightmare once or twice with that giant human mashed potato monster in a starring role? Of course, that's expected. But it's okay. I have people to talk to."

 

Panic bubbled up, "People to talk to? But we aren't supposed to let anyone know! You haven't been talking to the kids, have you? They're too young for that shit!"

 

"Reign it in, Mom." Robin looked a little nervous as she dropped her eyes from his. "I've actually been talking to Nancy."

 

"Nancy?!"

 

"Yeah, Nancy." Now she looked defensive. "We started talking at the hospital that night. And she's helped me understand what we were dealing with, with the Upside Down."

 

"Oh," and yeah, that made sense. With his father forcing him to go MIA in the immediate aftermath, it would only make sense for Robin to reach out to someone else who knew what the hell was going on. She wasn't stupid, she wasn't going to lay her trauma on Dustin, she'd connect with someone her own age, someone who hadn't disappeared on her. "Is she doing okay?" He softly asked.

 

Robin met his eyes again, searching for something. Apparently finding it, she nodded. "She's doing as well as can be expected. It's been harder with the Byers moving away."

 

He nodded along, regretting even starting this conversation. "I get that. It may sound fake, but I miss Jonathan. Will and Joyce too. And Eleven." And Hopper.

 

Even Billy. Maybe he had lost it.

 

"Ow! Shit!" Robin exclaimed, suddenly. Dropping the box cutter, she gripped her hand. Bright red blood was welling up in her left palm. 

 

"Jesus, Robin, be careful!" Steve jumped into motion, grabbing a roll of paper towels that sat high on a shelf.

 

"Thanks for the warning, after the fact, dumbass." Robin's words held no real heat. She took the paper towels Steve had ripped for her and pressed it to her hand. The white of the paper darkened quickly into red.

 

Like the red in the blond of her hair. Steve stared blankly at the blood.

 

"Steve? You good over there?" Robin swapped out the wad of towels with a fresh bunch. "It's not so bad, just a small cut." 

 

It was a lot of blood for such a small cut. But Robin was right. Steve didn't answer her as she changed the paper towels three more times, to mop up the extra blood. But when she lifted the paper the final time, Steve could see that the cut was tiny, not even an inch long. But it had bled like she had cut down to the bone.

 

"Seriously, dude, I'm okay. Really." She flashed him her now dry hand, "Nothing life threatening."

 

"Do you normally bleed that badly?" He finally managed to ask, pushing thoughts of bullet wounds and pooling blood out of his mind.

 

"No, not really," Robin looked at her hand in thought. "Though I have been popping a lot of aspirin lately, maybe it's thinned my blood."

 

"Can aspirin do that?"

 

"Yeah, it's a blood thinner," Robin flexed her hand, but the cut already seemed to be scabbed over.

 

"Weird. Didn't know that," Steve felt that strangeness in his chest again as he watched his friend. It was like he knew that Robin was feeling more unnerved by the cut on her hand that what her outward appearance suggested. It was a bizarre sense of dual emotion. He felt his own concern and confusion but deep in his chest, a sense of shock and awe that distinctly was not his own.

 

He pressed his hand to his own chest, in a futile attempt to squash those secondary emotions. His movement caused Robin to look up and see his face.

 

"Are you okay? Are your ribs bothering you?"

 

Just like that, the shock and awe he had felt, slipped loose and was gone. Breathing felt easier.

 

"Uh, yeah fine. Good, I'm good. It was like a phantom pain or something. You should probably get a band-aid on that." He gestured to the cut.

 

"O-okay." Robin stood and rummaged around on a nearby shelf before finding an ancient looking first aid kit. Within moments, her hand was safely bandaged up. "You sure you're okay?" She asked again.

 

"Yeah, I think so." He took a shuddering breath, "Hey Robin?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Do you-" before he could finish his question, the door to the back room slammed open, startling both of them. Keith stood, backlit by the afternoon light.

 

"Harrington! Stop distracting Robin and get back to work! I'm not paying you to stand around watching her work!"

 

Robin, with her back to Keith, rolled her eyes. 'Later,' she mouthed, before lugging the Ghostbusters standee out to the front of the store to build.

 

With a final glare, Keith followed her back out, leaving Steve alone.

 

Yeah, he thought, later.

 

Chapter Text



Ah! well a-day! what evil looks 

Had I from old and young! 

Instead of the cross, the Albatross 

About my neck was hung. 


 

Fondness. Contentment. Slight exasperation. 

 

"Your group, after a long and treacherous journey through the twisted caves, finally enters a large cavern." Mike's voice, slightly muffled behind the Dungeon Master screen.

 

"Finaaaaally." Lucas sighed.

 

"If Max hadn't wanted to loot every possible corpse, we would have made it here faster." Dustin pointed out.

 

"Hey don't blame it all on me. Erica questioned every choice we made." Max aimed a Cheeto in the direction of Lucas' little sister.

 

"Someone had to be the smart one in this group. You nerds will believe anything told to you. Ever consider someone could be lying?" She sing-songed.

 

"Well, what do you choose to do?" Mike interrupted the growing argument, sounding more than a little impatient. It was a common argument but really, they should have all realized the effect of adding Erica (and Steve) to their Dungeons and Dragons nights.

 

"Well," Steve spoke up before anyone else could and moved his figurine into the cavern on the map, "I walk in, like a badass."

 

Mike sighed audibly but there was an evil glint in his eye, "Roll for it."

 

Steve blinked at him, "What?"

 

"You want to walk in 'like a badass'? Well, that's gonna be a Charisma check. Roll for it."

 

The whole party groaned in commiseration. Steve was fairly certain no matter how many times he played this nerd game with them, Mike was always going to hate his guts. And here, that little shit sat, in Steve's own living room, drinking Steve's soda and eating Steve's snacks. The ungrateful little monster.

 

"Okay, fine hand me that funny looking die." Steve made a grabby hand to Dustin.

 

"You know it's a D20, Steve, don't play dumb with me," Dustin lectured before dropping the die into Steve's hand.

 

"Every time I learn a term in this game, I lose a cool point. I can't afford to lose any more. So this?" Steve held up the twenty-sided die, "This is the funny looking die."

 

"What makes you think you were ever cool in the first place?" Erica asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

"I'll have you know, I was quite popular before I met these dipshits."

 

"Sounds like you fucked up there."

 

"Erica!" Lucas looked scandalized.

 

"Just roll the damn Charisma check, Harrington!" Mike exploded.

 

"Fine, Jesus Wheeler." Steve rolled the die. It teetered on the edge of the map before settling on the number 20.

 

"Shit! A nat 20!" Dustin crowed.

 

"Critical hit!" Lucas cheers.

 

"Plus your modifier! Plus your charisma modifier!" Max jabbed a cheeto dusted finger on Steve's character sheet. 

 

Mike looked like he was torn between wanting to rip up his Dungeon Master's notes or heaving his own dice at Steve's face. "Well with that roll, Steve- ugh, Steve walks in like a badass."

 

"I shall write songs of you glory," Dustin, ever the bard, mock bows as Steve moves his figurine further into the cavern.

 

"Well I don't see him do it," Erica mutters.

 

"Steve critted. Everyone saw it." Mike mumbles.

 

"Hah," Steve smugly popped a Cheeto into his mouth.

 

"I guess the rest of us follow," Lucas grabs the rest of the groups figures and places them behind Steve's.

 

"Everyone roll a perception check." Mike announces as he drops his head behind his screen. Steve learned throughout the few sessions he partook in, that the movement usually meant something bad was going to happen.

 

The rest of the group seems to agree with that assessment as they all hesitantly roll D20s.

 

Steve's own die lands on a 2. "Well shit."

 

"Way to waste your crit on a dumbass move, buddy." Dustin side eyes his die. Smug jerk, sitting there next to Steve with a 17.

 

"I thought you were going to write songs about my glory?"

 

"Yeah, after your untimely but totally expected death at the hands of whatever Mike has planned for you."

 

"Your faith in me is astounding. Besides look," Steve pointed to his little figurine. "I have my trusty nail bat."

 

"That's a mace, dude, not a nail bat." Lucas helpfully pointed out.

 

"And you don't even wield the bat that well anyway," Mike muttered.

 

"Hey shut it, dipshit, I fight damn well with that bat. Took out demo-dogs and demogorgons alike."

 

"One demogorgon."

 

"One is enough."

 

"He has a point," Max helpfully cut in.

 

"Still doesn't change the fact that your Fighter class actually is pretty shit at fighting." Mike was not letting this go.

 

"Hey Steve took out that Russian in the lab!" Ah, so Dustin still had faith in him.

 

"Winning one fight doesn't make him a hero!"

 

"Dude!"

 

"Not cool!" 

 

Now everyone was throwing in their two cents. Dustin and Lucas looked genuinely upset on Steve's behalf, Max looked irritated at the whole affair, while Erica was grinning, enjoying the chaos like the little psycho she was.

 

A headache was forming behind his left eye, "Hey shitbirds! Shut up!" Steve rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Let's keep this thing moving. Yes. I suck at fighting. Fighting humans at least, Russian guards notwithstanding. Now what the hell are we up against Mike?"

 

Dustin still looked like he wanted to argue on Steve's behalf but Mike took the opportunity to move the game along. He had looked slightly ashamed after his hero comment but Steve wasn't going to call him on it. 

 

Really he pitied the Wheelers, puberty with this kid has got to be a bitch.

 

"Well, while the rest of the party looks around the cave walls, Steve notices a pool of water, not too far away. Its shimmering waters call to him and draw him over."

 

"How the hell did that dumbass notice anything after rolling a 2?" Erica asked, giving voice to the very same question Steve was wondering.

 

But Dustin and Lucas were exchanging worried looks. "You don't think…." 

 

"Definitely a morkoth." Dustin nodded.

 

Steve felt more alarmed than a young adult should actually feel when playing a dumb game with a bunch of preteens. "What- uh what's a morlock?"

 

"Morkoth." Dustin corrected.

 

"I've heard it both ways."

 

Dustin looked so done with him, "A morkoth is a water-dwelling aberration that can hypnotize players."

 

"You're so dead, dude." Lucas added helpfully.

 

Mike was looking entirely too gleeful behind his screen. Steve knew the little bastard had it in for him. Hidden from view, Mike rolls his dice, "Steve, make a saving throw using your intelligence."

 

"Well, now he's definitely dead," Erica reached across the table and flicked Steve's figure over, "he's got no intelligence to save him."

 

Steve made a face at her and tossed his die. She wasn't wrong, he had focused on putting higher numbers in strength rather than intelligence when creating his fighter.

 

"Well shit, a 5." He stared dejectedly at the number. Seriously, he was caring way too much. Maybe it was because this was one of the few times he got to see the Party since the Battle of Starcourt. (That was Dustin's title for it, not his own) They had managed a few nights here and there, but always at the Wheeler's. Now that some time had passed, his parents had relaxed their prison sentence and left on a week long business trip. So his house was back as an option for game night. 

 

"A comforting song overtakes your mind and you feel the need to find out its source. You walk into the shimmering pool."

 

"Dude, did you just kill me?"

 

"You're morkoth food now, friendo." Max offered him more Cheetos in an ironic show of sympathy.

 

"Not dead yet, that is up to your companions." Mike moved Steve's toppled figure to the center of where the pool of water was supposed to be.

 

Steve slouched back in his chair, effectively sidelined as the kids began to debate their options. No surprise, but Erica wanted to make sure she was getting something out of this adventure-turned-rescue mission. 

 

It was relaxing, even with all of the bickering, just to sit here and let the kids be kids. The only monsters that needed slaying were the ones in Mike's manual. 

 

The nail bat still lay bedside upstairs, however, should the need arises.

 

It was nice seeing them in their element too. These kids were so much smarter than he ever would be. They could figure out solutions to dungeons riddles quickly while Steve would be sitting there, slurping a soda as cover for the fact that he usually had no clue what was going on. 

 

While the group worked well and played off of each amazingly, Steve could still tell that Will Byers was missed terribly. Eleven too, as they had attempted to have her join their campaign before the events of last July. Steve was a poor substitute.

 

But Will and Eleven were still Party members and therefore, still apart of this campaign. Steve didn't have clever ideas often (he definitely counted recognizing the mechanical horse music from the Russian code as one of his better ones, one he did not get enough credit for, thank you very much, Robin) but after a night of listening to the kids debate starting a new campaign without Will and all of the guilt that came with it, Steve had dug around in his room and came up with a tape recorder.

 

"Why don't we record your sessions and send Will the tapes?" Steve had been slightly manic in his excitement over his idea. "Will can be like a wizard studying his magic or some shit like that, who keeps a magical eye on our dumbasses and when he comes to visit, he can jump right into the game."

 

There had been an awkward moment of silence in which Steve regretted ever getting out of bed that morning because of course this was a stupid idea. All his ideas were stupid-

 

"Holy shit, that could work." Dustin was smiling that wide, toothless grin that often made Steve want to fight the entire world to ensure nothing bad would ever happen to this kid again.

 

Lucas was grinning widely while Max had even looked impressed. But it was the lack of disgust and thoughtfulness on Mike's face that really convinced Steve that his idea wasn't completely horrible.

 

"I think I can work with this. I'd have to add El into it as well…" Mike had tapered off, his mind already running through different story ideas. All of these damn kids were so creative.

 

Steve's own rescue was proving to be more convoluted than originally thought. A riddle had appeared written into the cave walls that was blocking their ability to enter the pool to follow Steve's hypnotized ass.

 

As Lucas and Erica debated over the importance of the riddle's syntax, Steve felt that creeping pressure in his chest again. It was becoming more and more frequent. He had suspicions but they were all so out there that there was no way he could ever share them.

 

But, if it was going to keep happening to him, maybe it was something he could control. Like that fluid dreaming, Dustin once told him about. Fluid? Lucid? He hadn't really been listening but he got the gist of it. But if you could learn to control your dreams, maybe this weird double feeling could be too.

 

Letting the kid's voices drift to a quiet murmur in the background, Steve focused all of his attention on the emotion behind the pressure in his ribs. 

 

Sadness. Sadness? He wasn't feeling particularly sad tonight. Quite the opposite actually, it was good being with people again. So it wasn't his emotion. It wasn't his emotion.

 

Holy shit.

 

Okay, okay you can do this, he tried to clear his mind of everything he was currently feeling and just feel the sadness that settled in his chest. The problem that emerged was the basic fact that Steve was terrible at concentrating. It had always been that way. No wonder not a single college would accept him. Every class he took, even the ones he mildly enjoyed like history, had been a struggle to focus on the lessons at hand. Which always led to missed homework assignments and empty test sheets.

 

Okay let's try coming at this from another angle. What are you good at? Steve asked himself.

 

Nothing. His mental voice sounded a lot like his dad sometimes.

 

Not true, now it resembled Dustin. You're good at basketball, no matter what Billy Hargrove thought. Look at it that way.

 

Okay, basketball. If he thought of the sadness he felt, like the ball itself that had been passed to him by another player, what would he do next? He imagined the Hawkins High basketball court in his head. The player, whose identity he needed to find, just passed the ball to him.

 

Eyes closing, Steve could see himself. At the top of the key, in motion; they are running a double. It was a common play, one he ran countless times before. After passing the ball, Steve knew to expect the player to be making a deep cut underneath the basket, behind the defense. Members of Steve's team would be ready, setting up a screen, creating a better protected shooting angle. This was familiar, this was muscle memory.

 

All he had to do was dribble, feel the emotion, dribble, then pass.

 

The ball sails to the open player who makes their shot and score!

 

Steve snapped open his eyes to see his where is pass landed. They focused on Max.

 

Max? As soon as he thought it, he knew it was correct. That the feeling inside, that was not his own, was Max's. It really couldn't be explained, the way that the emotion felt Max-ish once he narrowed the source, but it did. Max was sad.

 

Underneath the snark and Cheeto dust, Max was feeling crushed by a wall of sadness. It was a heavy weight. It wasn't just some fleeting moment of feeling low, rather something solid and crushing. It was like that dumb poem he had to read in English lit. Something about a sailor wearing a dead bird. Nancy tried to explain to him how the bird represented guilt and penance and some other shit, but he never quite saw how the bird meant all that.

 

It was then that Steve felt underneath the sadness radiating from Max, was an undercurrent of guilt.

 

Billy.

 

This was because of Billy. And no shit, of course it was. He saw her tears and heard her screams that night in the mall. Their relationship was fraught with violence, anger, grudging respect, even love, at least a twisted form of love. But Max missed her brother. Three months was not enough time to get over that loss.

 

Hell, Steve even felt some guilt at the thought of Billy. Because the Harringtons excelled at ignoring their emotions, Steve never dealt with what he felt at Billy's death. On one hand, Billy was his own private monster, who enjoyed the pain he could inflict but on the other side, knowing what he did now, there was some understanding. Billy threw off the control of the Mind Flayer to save Eleven, he showed that he wasn't just evil bastard, he was damaged and a victim, and so much more. Someone who could be gentle, who could be a hero. But Steve had never been on the receiving side of that Billy, not like Eleven or Max. All he knew were bruises and pain, insults and vicious meanness. 

 

It was all very confusing, so Steve stuck with the familiar Harrington standby and ignored it.

 

Max didn't have that option. Whatever Billy was to Steve, he was Max's brother. Stepbrother. But brother nonetheless. Who did she have to help her process his death?

 

Neil Hargrove? From what he heard, that man was less qualified to be a father than Steve's own. 

 

Max's mother said all the right words in the aftermath of the mall, but Billy wasn't her son and there was that shameful sense of relief that she'd never admit to anyone.

 

Lucas and the rest of the Party hated Billy. In their attempts to discover the Mind Flayer's plan, there had not been much concern for the fate of its host. 

 

Only Eleven understood her complex grief. The girl saw Billy, stripped of his too-cool Hawkins High bad boy persona and saw him free from the Mind Flayer's evil, saw him as the small boy basking in a mother's love. Max begged El to tell her what she saw in the Void, she needed to remember for Billy's sake.

 

How the hell do I know this? Steve never talked to Susan Hargrove or knew of any feelings of relief, he didn't know that the Party had been unconcerned about Billy's fate that night, and he definitely never knew Max had asked Eleven to tell her Billy's memories. How did I learn that?

 

It had to be because was focusing on the source of the emotion, right? Like maybe he was just jumping to conclusions based on the sadness that radiated from the red haired girl.

 

But that explanation didn't set right. It felt like for a brief moment, Max's memories were his own. Shit, his head hurt.

 

"Dude you're bleeding." Max was now staring back at him.

 

"What?" His headache flared brightly as he realized blood was running from his nose. "Oh shit," he jumped up from the table to grab some napkins left on the kitchen island. 

 

"You okay?" He heard Dustin ask from behind him. He apparently followed Steve's dash into the kitchen.

 

"Yeah, I'm good." Steve called back, voice muffled by the napkins pressed to his nose. He occasionally got bloody noses after suffering three concussions in so many years, he really should have realized it was going to happen with the headache he'd already been nursing tonight. "Go back to figuring out if I live or die."

 

"If we took a vote right now, I think the consensus would be letting your dumbass drown. But don't worry, I'm working my magic on them."

 

The blood was already dried. Not a bad one tonight. "Well if it helps, remember I still have that special dragon ball thing. Without this dumbass, we wouldn't have that shit."

 

Dustin's entire face lit up, "Oh shit you're right!" He took off back to the dining room where Steve could hear him shouting, "Guys! Guys! We have to save Steve! Remember he's in possession of an Orb of Dragonkind!" Steve could swear he heard Mike groaning from the kitchen.

 

That session had been a fun night, Mike nearly had an aneurysm when Steve landed the killing blow on some dark wizard and collect the dragon thing. It was apparently pretty powerful and a certain DM resented having to hand it over to a particular fighter.

 

As the debate picked back up in the living room, Steve tossed the bloodied napkins and checked his reflection in one of the kitchen windows. No trace of blood left. How strange.

 

By the time he rejoined the gremlins, Mike was wrapping up the session. "Alright, with that answer, Dustin the Bard solves the riddle and the pool of water shifts to show an entrance to a watery labyrinth. The Party takes stock of their gear, and with a sense of determination to save their friend, they set off to the abyss below." He finishes with a flourish.

 

Dustin and Lucas break out in applause much to the apparent embarrassment of both Max and Erica. Sometimes, Steve wondered if Erica got headaches from the amount of eye rolling she did during the day.

 

Mike and Dustin were biking home from Steve's home, but the Sinclairs and Max were his responsibility to get home. As he ushered the kids out the door, he realized that he could use the drive home to try and speak with Max. If it weren't for the double emotion thing, he never would have known of the grief she felt. Which was pretty shitty of him, really. 

 

But then again, he could be wrong about everything. (He usually was) Max could be dealing just fine and Steve was creating something out of nothing. Because, really? Sensing someone's emotions? Or sort of emotional memories? That was crazy.

 

Crazy like interdimensional monsters?

 

Crazy like a girl with mind powers?

 

Steve couldn't exactly be an impartial judge on craziness anymore.

 

After dropping off the constantly bickering Sinclair siblings, Steve waited until he parked in front of the Hargrove home. He paused a moment and turned down the radio. "Hey, Red?"

 

"What?" She looked irritated that he had lowered the music. Whenever the nerd patrol occupied his car, Max almost exclusively claimed rights to the radio.

 

"Are you doing okay?" He clumsily asked, wishing not for the first time, that he hadn't lost whatever smoothness he once possessed when he ruled Hawkins High.

 

"What do you mean?" She looked at him warily, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

Don't fuck this up, Harrington. And damn, if that didn't sound like Billy. "Well," he kept his gaze focused on his windshield, at the empty street before them, "I know I haven't really been out with the Party as much, or with anyone really, but being stuck in my house, made me think about the people we lost. Uh, the people we lost that night. Hopper. Billy."

 

He dared a quick glance at the passenger seat where Max was sitting ramrod straight and tense. He barrelled on.

 

"And thinking about Billy, it was hard for me. Because of our history. He, uh, he hurt me pretty bad and really wasn't nice to me. But he still lost his life saving some of the people most important to me. And that counts for something. At least, it does for me." He hopes he's making his point clear to her and it doesn't sound as rambling and worthless as it does to his own ears. "And thinking of all of that shit, it made me realize that I missed him. I missed that bastard and his terrible goddamn hair."

 

A wet sounding laugh draws Steve's eyes to Max. She's got tears in her wide blue eyes, pale freckled skin now a blotchy red, but she laughed nonetheless. 

 

"He loved that stupid mullet." She whispered. "But it was so bad."

 

"So, so bad!" Steve smiled, "I always assumed he hated me more because my hair was so much better than his."

 

"He didn't hate you. Not really." She brought up a hand to her nose and sniffled a little into her knuckles. "I think he hated the idea of you more."

 

"A lot of people do," he dropped his eyes.

 

"But do you mean that?" She asked, a bit of steel coming into her voice, "You aren't fucking with me? Do you really miss him?"

 

"I do." He answered firmly. To his surprise, it isn't a lie. In a weird, fucked up sort of way, he missed Billy Hargrove. Maybe he really was going crazy. "We weren't friends, I'm not gonna lie to you about that, Red. We didn't have some sort of man to man understanding and we never aired out all the shit that went down between us. But Billy made an impact on my life, literally." He gestured to his forehead where a faint scar ran into his hairline. "He was human and it's okay for me to miss him. It's okay for you to miss him too. You don't need anyone's permission to grieve for him. Billy lived, he lived and it would be a shitty thing to forget that. It would be a shittier thing to forget that Billy died for us too. He saved us all, not just El. He saved you. It's okay to remember that."

 

Suddenly his lungs were crushed, only this time it wasn't because of his dual emotion, but rather the form of a sobbing 14 year old. The position was awkward with the steering wheel of the car jabbing into him and Max's body bent over the center console, but he just let her cry.

 

"No one wants to talk about him," she mumbled into his shoulder, "it's like he never existed. Mom brushed it all to the side once the funeral was over. And Neil, that bastard seems happier now that he's gone. Lucas doesn't care. No one cares!"

 

"I care," he hugged her tightly, "I care and I know Eleven cares. You care. We'll make sure he isn't forgotten, okay? Whenever you need to, tell me about him, okay? No matter what time it is, if you need to walkie me or call me and let me know. We can have our own code for it, like, I don't know, how about Code B? Call out a Code B and we'll switch to our own channel and you can talk my ear off about him."

 

Max pulled back and leaned into the passenger seat, "You'd do that?" Like she still couldn't believe that Steve cared enough about Billy to go through that all. It broke his heart.

 

"Of course I would." 

 

"Thank you," she whispered before sparing a glance to her house. "I should get in before Neil gets mad."

 

"I get it," he really didn't like that guy. "Just remember, I'll be there if you need me."

 

She threw him a shaky grin and wiped some snot and tears on the back of her sleeve. Kids, gross. "I'll remember, Steve." She climbed out of the car before pausing, "How did you know this was bothering me so much? I thought I was hiding it well enough." She looked too ashamed of that fact for Steve's liking.

 

"You hid it well, Max, don't worry. Not that you should have to hide it but you did." He shrugged, "Like I said, I just knew what I felt about it and figured if I felt it that strongly, then you must be feeling it too."

 

This time the smile was less tear stained. She offered a small wave goodbye and Steve watched her straighten up and walk towards her home. The proud set of her narrow shoulders, one of the saddest things he saw that night. But she no longer looked like she was weighed down by her sadness and guilt. She did not have that dead bird around her neck anymore tonight.

 

But.

 

Holy shit. This thing he felt. It was real. Steve Harrington felt Max's emotions and some of her memories. He could focus it. He could sense it. But how? 

 

How did this happen?

 

Chapter Text


 "And I never thought that you

Would believe that I wasn't good enough?

Those things I never thought you'd do

You got the best of me

When you said you didn't love me anymore"


 

Weariness. Tired. Spent.

 

Max waited all of three days before calling a Code B.

 

"Code B? What's a Code B? Over." Dustin squacked over the walkie.

 

"None of your business, dipshit." Steve groggily grumbled into the communicator. The blaring beep of the walkie talkie jolted him out of a much needed nap. The night before had been a nightmare filled one with a midnight drive. After a dead morning shift of housewives renting Tom Cruise movies and insults from Keith, Steve made it as far as the living room couch before passing out. Luckily, or unluckily as it were, Steve had thrown the walkie talkie into the backpack he carried with him to work.

 

"Dude, Steve, how many times do we need to go over proper protocol? You say 'over' when you finish speaking. Over." Dustin chided, a familiar reminder. 

 

One which Steve heartily ignored. "Ignore him, Red. Code B? The parents aren't home, call on the landline."

 

"Repeat. What is a Code B? Over." Dustin tried again.

 

"You can't go around making up your own Codes!" Mike's irritated voice broke in, "They have to be Party approved. Over."

 

"I'm a Party member and I approved it. Over." Max snapped.

 

"I approved too." Steve pushed himself off of the couch and made his way into the kitchen. He slept past dinner time, maybe he should find something to eat.

 

"You're not a Party member. Over." Mike stated with finality.

 

"Only because you keep postponing the vote. Over." Dustin whined.

 

"Man, what's a guy gotta do to get your approval, Wheeler? I save your dumbasses in the tunnels, I help decode a Russian secret code, I keep Dustin, a founding Party member alive, I save your sister's and Will's brother's life by crashing a damn car, may the Toddfather rest in peace, and I let you guys host your nerd game here. If that isn't Party member material, I don't know what is. I'm at least Party member-adjacent."

 

There was a pause before Mike's droll voice broke the silence, "Oh? Are you done? You didn't say 'over', over."

 

"Fuck my life. Red, go ahead and gimme a call, I'm turning this piece of shit off. Over." He didn't wait for her reply before clicking the dial to the off position. 

 

Within minutes, the phone on the kitchen wall began to ring. "If this is anyone other than a certain Zoomer, I am hanging up." Was Steve's greeting.

 

"It's me."

 

"Why hello there Ms. Mayfield, how can I be of service?" Steve affected a terrible English accent as he stretched the phone cord it's maximum distance, in order to root around in the refrigerator.

 

"You know the guys are never gonna give up on what our Code B is."

 

"So?" Shifting the phone to his other shoulder, Steve pulled out a half empty milk carton. "Those twerps don't need to know everything, no matter what they believe. You don't want to tell 'em, you don't need to." He paused a moment, "You don't owe boys anything, you uh- you know that, right? Our half of the species seems to think that you do, but you don't."

 

"Steve?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"You aren't trying to give me the sex talk right now, are you?" 

 

The milk carton in his hand crashed to the ground, startling him. "Shit! No! I'm not- that's not- hey stop laughing at me! You're like three, don't say the word sex, that's not gonna happen for another thirty years!"

 

Max couldn't seem to formulate any other sound besides cackling. He used her laughing fit to clean up the milk he had spilled. 

 

"So I'm not allowed to have the 's' word until I'm 44? Seems a bit drastic, mom."

 

Steve sighed, "Two things here, Red. One. This is not an appropriate line of conversation between a middle schooler and an adult who is neither you parent or teacher."

 

"You started it."

 

"I was trying to point out that you are your own agent. Y'know, feminism and shit." Salvaging what milk he could, Steve began to pour himself a bowl of cereal. "And two! Why do all you idiots call me Mom? Why not dad?"

 

"Because Robin is clearly the dad in this relationship."

 

Steve paused with his spoon half way to his mouth, "Fair enough."

 

Max was quiet on the line.

 

"You still there, Mad Max?"

 

"Neil made me pack up Billy's room." Her voice was hesitant, seemingly still convinced that Steve didn't really care to listen to her.

 

"He made you do it?"

 

"Well he was going to just junk everything, but I told him I'd do it. That way I could save some things." Steve didn't comment on the sniffle he heard.

 

"Were you able to save anything?"

 

"Yeah, I saved his necklace that he always wore." And yeah, Steve remembered that St. Mary medallion, he remembered pressing his fingers against it and telling Billy to get out of the Byers' house.

 

"That's good, did you save anything else?" He asked quietly.

 

"Yeah, some of his shirts and earrings. I uh, found some of his notebooks. From school. He had writings in them."

 

Steve honestly couldn't remember what type of student Billy had been. He spent most of his senior year avoiding the other boy and his entourage. Besides gym, he had a couple of classes with Billy but Steve was not in any of the advanced courses and many of his classmates were underclassmen.

 

"I shouldn't have, but I read some of them," Max was continuing. "And I found one from when he was much younger. I think maybe in elementary school." 

 

"I can't imagine Billy as a child." Steve murmured into his cereal. 

 

"I couldn't either but El told me a little. He surfed. Did you know that?" Max's voice dropped to a whisper.

 

"I did," Steve could feel his ribs aching. It was a soft sadness. Melancholy? A sadness that while not crushing, ached from deep within. Yet it was softly sweet. "He was so proud to tell his mom." He said dazedly.

 

"Yeah, that's what El said." She fell silent and Steve let her control the conversation. "I found out that he wanted to be a truck driver when he grew up." A laugh escaped her. "Can you believe that? A truck driver!"

 

"I can actually," Steve smiled, "think about it. Freedom, with the open road. No boss staring down your neck? Blasting that terrible metal music as loud as he could? Seems Billy-like to me."

 

He could hear the smile in Max's voice. "That does make sense. I mean in his story he wrote about driving down the coast to see the ocean and using the giant truck to run over smaller cars. So there's that."

 

"See? Totally Billy." That melancholy swelled in his chest. Setting his spoon down, he closed his eyes to try and focus. Max wasn't in the same room as him this time. So while he could pick up on her emotion, it wasn't as clear and as pressing as it had been at the game session. But it was still there. Maybe he could still read her from this distance, if he focused. 

 

Instead of quick play, maybe this would be more like a half court shot. Max has grabbed a rebound and Steve is making a break down the lines to the front court, he's open, he's just has to be ready to receive her pass. He focuses.

 

There it is. 

 

She felt so wrong going through Billy's things. This wrongness was tied up in her loss and lingering fear of entering his room without his permission. But she knew it would be better that it was her rather than Neil. Through her memories, (memories, was he reading her memories?) he saw Billy's room, the posters on the wall, the unmade bed, even the small crack in the mirror that hung on the wall.

 

Billy's back had cracked it when Neil shoved him into it. Max watched, wide-eyed and horrified. Wanting desperately to intervene but one fervent look from Billy stopped her. It was better him than her.

 

"Steve! Steve!" Max's voice snaps him out of that sad room with that terrible cracked mirror. "Are you still there?"

 

"Sorry Red, I was thinking." There was blood dripping on the countertop. Shit, his nose was bleeding again. 

 

"It's okay. I can't stop thinking either," her voice was so small. She witnessed that. She saw Billy's father beating him. What's to stop that bastard from hitting her now that Billy's shield was gone?

 

"Max?" He tried to keep his tone casual as he reached for some napkins for his nose. "If you ever felt unsafe at home, you'd tell us, right?"

 

"What?" She asked, surprised at his subject switch.

 

"I know that Billy didn't always like being home and I just want you to know that if you ever feel unsafe, you can tell me." He had to reach over for more napkins. Maybe this distance thing is too taxing for him. Beyond just the bloody nose, there was a deep ache in his sinus, around the area where the Russians had cracked the bone.

 

Max seemed to be hesitating on the line. "I don't know how you know some of the things you know, especially because-"

 

"Especially because I'm such a dumbass?"

 

"Your words, not mine," he was glad to hear her laugh. "But thanks again Steve." In the background, he thought he could hear her mother calling for her.

 

"You need to go?" He asked gently.

 

"Yeah, but thanks for listening, Steve. I appreciate it.".

 

He bid her goodnight and replaced the phone on it cradle. Careful not to get blood anywhere else, he attempted to mop up the countertop.

 

With one was of paper towels still pressed to his nose and his other hand cleaning up the mess, he didn't hear his father until he was right behind him.

 

"Jesus, Steven! What the hell is going on?" His father's deep voice spooked him, causing him to drop the bloody napkins.

 

"Shit, dad! Sorry! I just got a bloody nose." He gestured to the blood still sluggishly dripping down his face.

 

There was a curious look in his father's face. Before Steve had a chance to decipher it, his hand snapped out and gripped Steve's bicep tightly. He stumbled awkwardly, getting his legs tangled up in the stool he'd been sitting in, as his father swung him around. 

 

John Harrington has never raised his hand to his son before. There had been some harsh grips and bruising fingers before, but never a slap or punch. Even that night at the mall, with Steve still flinching at any sudden movement, he never really thought his father would hit him.

 

This moment, he wasn't so sure anymore.

 

"Dad?" He honestly had no clue what set his father off. His blood wasn't going to stain the granite counters.

 

The grip on his arm was crushing. But it was the laser focus on his father's face that was scaring him more. It was like the man had seen a ghost. Almost unintentionally, Steve reached out mentally, to see what his father was feeling.

 

Denial. No. No. Disbelief. At what, Steve couldn't tell. Trying to read it all, mixed with the pain in his arm, the emotions blurred together. Was it his own disbelief, was he saying that mantra of denial? All he could say for certain was that his nose was bleeding again.

 

"What are you doing? What have you done?!" His father shook him, violently. Stumbling again, Steve felt his feet slip causing his body to drop in his father's grip.

 

"Nothing!" He tried to pull away but the hold was too strong. "Dad! What the hell?"

 

He was so focused on trying to pull away that he never saw hit. It just a quick slap. But it still sent him reeling to the ground. It didn't even hurt, not really. But suddenly he was in that grey room, hands tied, trying desperately to get them to stop hurting him. He didn't have the answers. 

 

Just like now.

 

Whatever strange emotion had come over his father, was drowned out by the sudden and complete terror he felt. Not noticing the blood dripping on the tiled floor, Steve scrambled back from his father, father just father not Russian not that general, until his back hit the refrigerator.

 

His father was staring at him in shock, like he was the one afraid.

 

For a moment neither said anything. 

 

As Steve tried to control his own breathing, he noticed his mother standing behind his father, in the doorway to the kitchen. Her eyes were blank and a careful look of disinterest settled on her features. 

 

What the fuck is going on? This had never happened before, he had no clue what his father was angry about. It couldn't be just because he had bled in the kitchen. Did they think he was doing drugs? Like cocaine and that's why his nose was bleeding. Some stupid shit like that?

 

Taking a deep breath, Steve's father seemed to collect himself and grab a handful of napkins. "Son, really, get ahold of yourself." He knelt down in front of Steve and handed over the napkins.

 

His calm expression flickered when Steve hesitated. Nevertheless, Steve accepted the napkins and mopped up the blood caked on his face.

 

"Why are you so angry?" He may be slow, he may be the idiot everyone says he is, but sitting at the kitchen island, eating cereal, with a small bloody nose does not seem like something that should have set anyone off. Muchless angry enough to strike your kid. And he had just told Max, he could be a safe place. Hah.

 

"I thought-" his father started, suddenly looking so old. "I saw the blood and thought, I don't know, that you had got into another fight or something along those lines."

 

"And another fight would cause you more embarrassment." Okay that made a little more sense. But still.

 

His father sighed and straightened up. Even knowing that he was in his own kitchen and not that small, underground grey room, Steve still felt a shiver of fear run up his back as his father stood over him. Was he ever going to get over that?

 

"Son, it was one thing when the Byers boy beat you up but then that Hargrove kid too? Your actions reflect on this family as a whole."

 

"I got beat up for protecting kids, Dad, how did that reflect badly on us?" His father's scorn did bring a positive for him, Steve's fear faded quickly. 

 

"You shouldn't have been at that house in the first place." His mother finally spoke up, striding into the kitchen. She sidestepped the bloodied napkins and her crouched son, to retrieve a bottle of wine from the wine rack.

 

Without even thinking about it, Steve reached out to try and read her emotions. Instead of accepting a pass, he viewed it more like stealing the ball from her. One moment, he was on the floor of the kitchen, the next, he was swimming in a thick, soupy, swill of blurred emotions.

 

The emotions couldn't be named.

 

It was weird, like he was drowning in a hazy bowl of Jello. But none of the emotions he felt could be identified. It was sickening. 

 

Pulling back, he wiped at his nose and eyed his mother warily. Meanwhile, she sipped her wine glass, like this was nothing but a normal night at the Harrington residence. 

 

"Generally, you have to be at the house of the kids you're babysitting." He stuck to the old cover story, albeit sarcastically. He'd been watching the kids while Joyce responded to an emergency involving her boyfriend, Bob Newby, when Billy Hargrove showed up looking for his stepsister. Billy, ever the troublemaker, took offense of his stepsister's choice of new boyfriend and Steve stepped in. He saved Lucas but lost the fight. His parents didn't care.

 

Until now, apparently.

 

"Don't be facetious, honey, it doesn't suit you." His mother finished her wine and carefully turned away from her son.

 

As she left the room, Steve turned back to his father. The man looked odd still. He eyed his son with a peculiar, searching look. "Have you been having nose bleeds more often?"

 

Okay so they weren't going to talk about the overreaction or the slap. Typical Harringtons. Harringtons don't talk. Not to each other at least. This family was a joke.

 

"A few times, here and there." Steve pulled himself back to his feet. "But that happens when you've had three concussions in less than three years."

 

"We should have you get checked by a doctor."

 

Steve threw his bloodied napkins down on the kitchen island, violently. "No Dad, we don't! I was checked out by the doctor. The night it happened. You would know that if you bothered to come pick me from the hospital! But no, Hopper stayed with me! He drove me home, after I spent the night, vomiting blood in the ER!"

 

"Steve, you know how busy I am," anger was flooding his father's face. 

 

"Screw your business! I was in the hospital!" He let out a hysterical laugh, "You couldn't answer the, like, twenty phone calls that they made at three in the morning?"

 

"Steven!" His father was angry, Steve could see that, but there was that wariness in there as well. "You need to calm down this instant!"

 

"No! You know what? I don't. I don't have to! I am out of here." Without waiting for a response, Steve stormed out of the kitchen, pausing only to grab his bag from where he had dropped it after work. 

 

Nancy was right, she always was. 

 

It's all just bullshit.

 

-----------------------

 

The last time he had done this, the world seemed so much simpler. The mother found her son. They vanquished a monster. He won the girl.

 

That's how the story is supposed to end. All the bad guys lose and the good guys win.

 

But a punchbowl of pure fuel and a small boy with questionable taste in pets later, the story ended much differently.

 

Maybe that's because he isn't the hero of this tale. Heroes don't lose every battle. They don't end up alone. They can save the girl, not need to be rescued by the children they were tasked to protect.

 

So clearly, not a hero here.

 

Heroes definitely don't find themselves sneaking into their ex-girlfriend's bedroom in the middle of the night. Well it was more like 9:30 but still not an appropriate time, if there ever was one.

 

Steve Harrington: King of Terrible Decisions.

 

He's here now, crouched on the roof, knocking softly on the window pane. He could see her, Nancy, ever the bookworm, reading at her desk.

 

She responded instantly, like she was always on alert. Which, considering events, she probably was. Whipping her head around and locking eyes with him, he could see the disbelief mixed with mild irritation flash across her face. He had to wonder, could he always decipher the emotions on people's faces or is this something tied to whatever the hell was wrong with him now?

 

"Steve?" She hissed as she opened her window, "What are you doing here?"

 

"Oh y'know, just in the neighborhood," he stumbled into her room. No matter how many times he did this, it was never done gracefully.

 

She fixed him with a pointed stare, one eyebrow arched delicately. Yeah, he wouldn't believe himself either.

 

"I uh-" he straightened up and brushed his hands off on his jeans.

 

"Is that blood?" Nancy darted forward and gripped his chin.

 

"What? Oh shit, I didn't really look at myself before leaving, I had a bloody nose. I thought I cleaned it all off."

 

"Here," she grabbed a tissue off of her dresser and dabbed at the edge of his nose. "You missed some spots."

 

"Thanks, Nance." He winced as her cleaning attempts pressed on his cheekbone. That's where most of his headaches seemed to form, deep in the sinus of his left eye. 

 

Tossing the tissue into the wastebasket beside her bed, she turned back to him with a determined look. "Now, what really brings you over here now? I haven't seen you in three months."

 

"You've seen me," he pointed out, "I have been at the dipshits' game nights over here." 

 

"That doesn't count. You barely talked to anyone."

 

"Not true. I've talked to Dustin and Robin outside of game nights."

 

Nancy leveled him with an unimpressed look. "I've been talking to Robin, and no you really haven't."

 

Steve flopped back on her bed and sighed, "Oh yeah, I forgot you and Robin were best friends forever now."

 

"Only because you pulled a Houdini act on us after that night."

 

Steve snapped his head up, "You know that's not my fault. You saw my father."

 

"Yeah he picked you up and no one heard from you for two weeks! Even after Robin finally got to see you, you kept away. I tried to visit."

 

"You did?" Steve didn't remember anyone trying to stop by, besides Robin and Dustin in the first few weeks after Starcourt. He knew his mother didn't like Nancy, so she must have intercepted her without telling him. "Damn it."

 

"What?"

 

"My mom, right? She stopped you?"

 

Nancy sat back down in her desk chair, "Yeah, she said you didn't want to see me. Or Jonathan."

 

"Jonathan came by too?" Of fucking course. His mom, she could be such a piece of work. If things didn't confirm to her perfect black and white world, then it must be removed. Nancy once fit that world but no longer. Jonathan never did.

 

"He missed you, you never came to say goodbye." Nancy clearly looked bitter about that.

 

"I know," Steve was ashamed. "I wish I could explain it, my parents have been, just so weird." They were chronically absent while he was growing up and yeah, it sucked but he learned to deal. It helped a lot during high school when he was trying to be a person he never actually wanted to be. But after everything that happened to him, sometimes he just wanted his mom and dad.

 

But now? All bets were off. It was like they were trying to parent but never learned how to. Their attitude never changed but their sudden concern for his whereabouts was disconcerting. 

 

"Why are you here, Steve?" Nancy tiredly asked.

 

I need to tell someone what is going on in my head, he thought wildly. Someone needs to help me figure out what the hell is happening.

 

But what he said, instead, "I got into a huge fight with my Dad. You're the only one who I've talked to about him and knows what he's like. Dustin's too young for this shit and Robin, she doesn't know."

 

Nancy's expression softened at that statement. "She would if you talked to her. And Dustin may be young, but he cares for you." She paused, a thought forming in her mind, a terrible worry. "Wait, the bloody nose, did your father hit you?"

 

"No, no, it wasn't like that." Well, technically he did slap Steve, but it wasn't like that. His dad was a grade-A asshole but he wasn't abusive. Not like that piece of shit that Billy and Max had to live with. "I've been getting bloody noses a lot lately. 'Cause of the concussions."

 

"You should get that looked at," Nancy echoed his father's sentiments.

 

But unlike when his father suggested it, it didn't bring the rush of anger this time. He shrugged, "What are they gonna do? They can only pack it or cauterize it, not much more to do."

 

She gave him a strange look.

 

"Bloody noses happen a lot in basketball. You learn what your options are real quick."

 

Nancy nodded, still looking worried. Steve loved her eyes, they telegraphed everything, huge and bright. Sometimes that wasn't a good thing. "What did you fight about?"

 

"My nose actually." He sat up fully on her bed, "He thought I got into another fight. Well, lost another fight. And that would embarrass him." 

 

It was interesting to see the emotions play across her face. There was the instinctive rush of pity for him, but then it was squashed almost immediately, because she knew how much he hated to be pitied. But there was also a fondness in her expression mixed with a bit of anger on his behalf.

 

"Your role at the Starcourt Mall disaster didn't help anything?"

 

Steve shook his head, "He doesn't really believe I am capable of saving any one, so even though the papers said I was one of the ones who helped get survivors out, he was more concerned that I was going to go crazy with, I don't know, the trauma or something. He can't have a crazy kid."

 

"Steve…"

 

"It's okay, Nance, it's how it is. Luckily, they're easing up on me now. I can see everyone again."

 

"Robin told me some of what you guys went through down in that base." She searched his face, "How are you dealing with it?"

 

"You mean getting the highest I have ever been in my life? Not gonna lie, Nance, those Russians have some sick drugs."

 

"That they used to torture you!"

 

"Whoa, whoa torture? Isn't that a little much? No one was tortured." A sudden fear seized him, "Wait. Did they do something to Robin when they had us separated? Is she okay?"

 

"Calm down, Steve, Robin is fine. I meant you." A haunted look settled in her eyes. "She could hear you screaming."

 

"Nance, c'mon, they just roughed me up. Nothing worse than what Hargrove did to me last winter. I'm sure it scared her and I am sure-as-shit glad Dustin and Erica weren't there for that but it wasn't torture."

 

"Did they not threaten to rip your fingernails out?" Nancy was relentless.

 

"Yeah but-"

 

"And they drugged you with an unknown substance to get you to talk?"

 

"Pretty sure it was LSD, but yeah-"

 

"And they threatened to do more, right?"

 

Steve vividly remembered the bonesaw and that general's thumb pressing into a bruise on his chin. "What do you want me to say, Nance?"

 

"I want you to recognize that you went through something traumatic and that you haven't dealt with it!"

 

"Jesus, Nancy, have any of us? We all went through hell that night! People died! Max saw her brother die in front of her. Joyce watched Hopper die! You, shit, you and Jonathan were almost killed at that hospital!" At some point, Steve has got to his feet and began pacing, "Shit, we took a fucking 10 year old into a secret Russian base! I think getting punched in the face a couple times does not qualify as traumatic for me. It's goddamn expected at this point."

 

"Steve, you can't compare trauma. We all have it and share it. We have to work through it."

 

"I'm dealing with it just fine, thank you." 

 

"How?" Nancy demanded. "By sitting in that huge house alone, feeling sorry for yourself and shutting everyone out? By not talking about it, trying to make everything normal? That doesn't work, Steve. It didn't work last year and it isn't working now."

 

Nancy's words felt like another slap to the face. He remembered, trying so hard to make things seem normal for her, to try and help her move on past Barb's death, the only way he knew how. But it wasn't enough. It would never be enough.

 

She seemed to read the devastated look on his face. "Steve, I know you don't like to talk about things and want things to go back to normal but it can't. Not after the things we've seen. The things we've done."

 

"This was a mistake. I'm sorry that I barged in on you tonight, I got to- I should go." With that stumbled apology, Steve rushed back to the window and climbed out with much more grace than he did climbing in.

 

"Steve, wait!"

 

"Night Nance." He mumbled, dropping down to the roof then to the ground. He didn't look back at where he knew she was watching him from her window.

 

"Steve!"

 

She was right, though. Nancy was always right. Things could not go back to normal. Maybe that's why he sought her out tonight. To try and grab back that fleeting feeling of normalcy, from the last time he had felt truly happy.

 

But that was never going to happen. The world moved on. People died. People moved. People could now feel others emotions.

 

Well, if this was how things were going to be, might as well get used to it.

 

Chapter Text

 


Why , bleeding is breathing

You're hiding,

Underneath the smoke in the room


 

  

Suspicion. Wariness. Concern.

 

Robin was acting weird.

 

She was always weird, Steve knew that for a fact, but she was extra weird today. First of all, she was late to work today. She was never late.

 

Not that Keith seemed to care what time Robin strolled in. The last time Steve has rushed in at two minutes past his start time, he'd got a lecture on punctuality and how this wasn't high school anymore.

 

Steve was trying to be the better man, but damn it, Keith made it so hard.

 

Beside the lateness, Robin was also distracted and spacing out. She'd missed two really terrible pick up lines, he tried out to zero success. And a third one he attempted on a lady old enough to be his grandma, just to see if her could get her to mock him. Also a complete fail.

 

Instead she just idly sorted returns with no actual awareness of where she was placing the VHSs. After Steve had to move a copy of Alien from the children's section, he decided he had enough.

 

"Rob, what's going on?" He never felt more like a mom, when standing there, hands on his hips, affecting the concerned parent tone with her. Sometimes he felt like he should own a minivan and have kid’s soccer schedules memorized. 

 

“What was that, dingus?” Robin blinked at him, wasting a perfectly good moment to mock him. Instead, she looked like she hadn’t heard a word he was saying.

 

“C’mon man, Keith is providing more stimulating conversation than you are today. What is going on with you?”

 

“Nothing is wrong, Silver Spoon. Nothing at all.” She turned her back on him and began restocking the shelves. Steve watched as she placed a copy of The Shining in the romantic comedy section.

 

“Hey, I am serious. Are you feeling alright?” Steve really didn’t want to try and read her. It was one thing when an emotion was strong enough to whack him alongside the head like it had with Max, but it was quite different to invade a person’s innermost feelings. His parents being the exception to the rule, of course.

 

Robin sighed loudly, "I'm fine, Steve, really."

 

"I don't think you are," he pointed to the copy of The Shining sitting next to Sixteen Candles. "You know you can talk to me, no matter what, right?"

 

"Do I?" Robin finally focused on him. "Because I'm not so sure it goes both ways, Steve."

 

"What?"

 

She leaned back against the sales counter and ran anxious hand through her hair. "Nancy told me you stopped by the other night."

 

Steve's stomach lurched. "Oh yeah?" He played dumb; not that he really had to play at that.

 

"Yeaaaaah," she drew the word out. "she's worried about you. Thinks some shit is going down with your parents."

 

His breathing eased up a bit, his parents was a topic he could handle. "Yeah, I fought with my Dad. Nothing unusual, really."

 

A raised eyebrow from her encouraged him to continue. "Look, if I give you all the gory details, will you share what's bothering you? Like a squid go pro?" He knew he fucked up the words but it was worth it to see her face at that moment.

 

"Squid go pro?" She laughed, "You mean quid pro quo?"

 

"I've heard it both ways."

 

"Sure dork, I'll talk to you. Now what happened?"

 

Steve joined Robin at the counter and hopped up onto it. "Nothing too crazy really. Just Dad jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst about me."

 

"Nice vaguity there, Faulkner, really made the story come to life."

 

"Who?"

 

"So not the point," Robin gestured for him to continue, the most animated she's been all day.

 

"What more can I say? He came in when I had a bloody nose, he assumed I got my ass kicked, again, and he laid into me about disappointing the Harrington name again." Steve shrugged. "After he knocked me down, my mom stepped over me to get to her wine bottle. My parents, ladies and gentlemen."

 

"Wait. Your dad knocked you down?" All traces of mocking disappeared from her face. "He hit you?"

 

"It was more of a slap, really."

 

"A slap- Jesus, Harrington, that's still your fucking dad hitting you."

 

"I've heard it-"

 

"You fucking say 'I've heard it both ways' and joke about this, I am going stick my gum in your hair." Steve believed her, wholeheartedly believed her. "Why are you just brushing this off?"

 

"Because it wasn't a big deal!" Steve threw his hands up. "He's never done it before and he was freaking out about the blood. This isn't child abuse, Rob. It was a fight. That's all. We're both adults."

 

"He still has the onus as the parent to not hit his child over a minor thing! Or anything!"

 

"C'mon don't say it like that! He's not abusive, this was just a freak occurrence. It was my fault, if it weren't for these damn bloody noses and my inability to ever win a fight, then he wouldn't have freaked out like he did."

 

Robin looked even angrier at his defense. Her frustration and rage at his father was lashing out at his emotional defense. He was beginning to realize that each strong emotion he picked up from another person had their own sensation attached. Grief and sadness felt like a rock on his chest, squeezing the air out of his lungs. Rage and anger burned in his lungs, similar to the bronchitis he had when he was younger and each breath felt like fire. Fear, fear was a sharp stab, like a Russian doctor's need into the side of one's neck.

 

Steve did not want to read Robin, but the fire in his chest made it impossible to ignore.

 

"That's such a crock of shit, Steve. It isn't your fault. Are you that naive that you have zero idea of what bad parenting is?"

 

"Generally, parents have to be there to parent in the first place." He mumbled.

 

"Absent parenting is still bad parenting." Robin hopped up onto the counter next to him. "Your parents are shit at their job. Some how, they got you and didn't fuck you up completely. Just partially." She smiled to show no malice in her words. "They did a terrible thing, when they kept you from us after Starcourt. I know, I was out of my freaking mind, when all the adrenaline ran out. Monsters, Russians, a bunch of dead people," she shuddered, "kids with superpowers? It was a lot to take in. I'm not arrogant enough to think I could do it on my own."

 

"You saying I'm arrogant?"

 

"Ask me that last year and I'd say that you're the most arrogant person in Hawkins. Now? I know it's all for show."

 

"I'll have you know, my arrogance is not for show, I'm pretty freaking awesome."

 

"Steve, you were just saying it was your fault that your dad hit you. Because of a bloody nose. Think on that, dingus."

 

Steve was quiet as he pondered Robin's words. He could see what she was trying to get at but at the same time, they weren't her parents. It's easy to judge from the outside. Hell, he used to think that Joyce Byers was one bad day from the looney bin but then actually meeting her, seeing the shit she's dealt with; he knew himself well enough to know how wrong he was. He'd never stop feeling guilty for the things he'd said about that woman. It's so much easier to judge when you haven't walked in their footsteps.

 

"You don't get it, Rob, that's still my dad." He shrugged helplessly, "I still have to love him."

 

"Do you?" At his look, Robin nudged his shoulder, "Just because he's your dad, you're not required to love him or forgive him. Blood isn't always thicker than water."

 

"Gross."

 

"Steve."

 

"I know, I know. I get it, I do. But don't worry Robin, I can deal with it." The anger he felt radiating off of her seems to abate. "We Harringtons, we're a strong sort. Real big on not talking to each other. I'm sure my dad didn't want our fight to get as bad as it did and now he has no clue how to talk to me about it. So we won't. It'll go back to normal and my mom will probably be drunk."

 

"That's not a healthy home life."

 

"Do any of us have a healthy home life? The Byers are the closest one I know and that's including the interdimensional monster possession, superpowered kid, and magical Christmas lights."

 

Robin broke into laughter which set Steve off. Their giggles died down at the clearing of a throat. Looking over, Steve saw Keith looming with his hands on hips and a disgruntled glare on his face. 

 

"Do we need to go over reading comprehension, Harrington?" Keith picked up The Shining, from where Robin had left it in the rom-com section.

 

"Oh that-" Robin started.

 

"That's not a romantic comedy?" Steve cut her off and jumped down from the counter. He loped over to Keith and picked up the VHS and glanced at the back. "I mean, nice hotel, high in the mountains, clearly a setting for romance." He winked at Robin as Keith looked like he was in the middle of a stroke.

 

It wasn't until he had been banished to the back room to work on rewinds, that Steve realized Robin never told him what was bothering her.

 

--------------------

 

His parents finally left him alone for the evening. The empty house felt like a blessing for the first time in years. Steve never realized how much it felt like he was holding his breath around his parents until they were always there. 

 

As a child, he would have loved hearing his dad shuffling papers in his office or the sound of his mother's daytime soaps. It would have meant they were there for him.

 

Now those sounds were akin to a jailer's keys. They weren't actively keeping him locked inside the home. But the arguments that he invited, by trying to leave, meant it was easier to lay in his room, trying to read through some comics Will had gifted to him via Dustin. 

 

Steve always thought stories that were 97% pictures would be easier to read than novels but there he was, just as lost.

 

But even now, with his parents avoiding him, and he was certain they were avoiding him. Because, well, Harringtons don't talk. Nothing really came from the fight except for a new wariness between him and his father. Steve wasn't sure what unsettled his father but as for him, he wasn't 100% certain in the words he told Robin were true, that the slap had been a one time thing. 

 

What was his life anyway? Why cling so desperately to the mundane retail life of a former high school hasbeen, on the road to nowhere? He's fought literal monsters with nothing but a bucket of meat and a baseball bat full of nails. 

 

He infiltrated a secret Russian base with preteens, in a sailor suit. 

 

He might have super powers.

 

Steve gave up reading the X-Men comic. Maybe you had to read the ones before it to understand, but Days of Futures Past was confusing the hell out of him. Kind of like how Back to the Future did. How could the future be the past? It made no goddamn sense. Though he liked Kitty Pryde. The ability to walk through walls would be sweet.

 

Probably more useful than picking up strong emotions from nearby people. Not that it made him a superhero or anything, it really wasn't like that in the real world.

 

Though, Eleven was damn near close enough.

 

Leaving the slightly crumpled comic on his bed, Steve made his way downstairs in search of some food. It wasn't quite clear where his parents had jetted off to, just that they were going to be gone for at least three days. After barely being back from a week long trip before that. It looked like they were ramping back up to their usual month long excursions. 

 

As he scavenged for food, Steve dreamed briefly of living on his own, away from the stress of his family. Unfortunately, his father made it very clear, should Steve move out, all access to the family bank accounts would be severed. Family Video wages would not be able to support functional living. Plus, his job there was tenuous at best, with Lord Keith overseeing his employment status.

 

So for the time being, he was housebound to Casa de la Harrington. 

 

Truth be told, he could see himself and Robin being roommates once she graduates this year. That is, if she stuck around Hawkins. Nobody with her brain would ever stick around Hawkins, though. But if she was willing, maybe he could follow her around, to wherever she chose to go to college. That had been the plan when he had been with Nancy. It would be pretty much the same, only with less romance and more insults.

 

If Robin wanted him around.

 

Finding nothing in particular that he wanted to eat and feeling supremely lazy, Steve grabbed a ball of mozzarella that his mom had picked up for when she was feeling 'particularly Italian'. In reality, his mother's Italian nights were less authentic food and more red wine. But throwing in some cherry tomatoes, he had himself a quick caprese snack. Though Steve doubted eating the ball of cheese like a damn apple, while occasionally popping a tomato into his mouth was much more Italian than his mother’s wine nights.

 

Thinking of his bleak future plans, brought his thoughts back to Robin. He may be slow on the uptake, but he did recognize her effort to distract his concern for her issue by turning the entire conversation back on him. And immediately using the Keith-created exit strategy to avoid any possible follow ups.

 

Something was bothering her, causing her to act weirder than usual. It could be something as boring as issues at school, but Steve didn’t believe it to be so simple. Not with their luck.

 

He could always try and read her…

 

Robin’s house wasn’t too far away from his. Definitely closer than Max’s house on Cherry street. He totally was able to read her from here. The question really was, should he. 

 

The more he played around with what he was able to do, the more he questioned the larger issue of if he should do it. He fumbled his way through helping Max but that could have easily backfired on him and if she ever found out what he had done, the possibility of her feeling absolutely violated did not sit well. In Will’s comics, Professor X never seemed too bothered by peeking into other’s inner most thoughts, should Steve? 

 

But this wasn’t a comic book and he was no hero.

 

Either way, what he could do was more than just sensing what someone was feeling, some emotions had memories attached to them and in the case of Max, those emotional memories became his. So it was less like reading someone’s mind and more like reading someone’s diary. And that felt inherently wrong.

 

So should he only ever use this strange talent when a strong emotion bowls him over?

 

And that is a big enough conundrum without even trying to figure out where this ability came from. He was fairly certain that there wasn’t a number tattooed on his body somewhere and there were no memories of being experimented on as a child. 

 

Spontaneous super power acquisition? Hawkins was weird, but he didn’t think it was that weird.

 

So what in the actual hell?

 

Steve wondered if maybe it had something to do with the multiple concussions he sustained over a short amount of time. It was proabably a stupid idea, like all of his others, but what if the constant knocks to the head, shook something loose. And maybe all humans had super abilities that just needed something to jumpstart them. After all, Eleven didn’t have some super serum injected into her to give her the Professor X power, rather due to some seriously inhumane testing, her skills were unlocked. Like some god damned arcade achievement. As far as he knew at least, everyone had been pretty light on the details of Eleven's time in the lab, so Steve connected his own dots.

 

But wondering where the hell this all came from did nothing to answer whether or not he should actually use them.

 

Does he snoop on Robin to make sure she is okay?

 

It has to be intent right?

 

Like if he used what he learned to manipulate or twist to his own advantage? Then he should definitely not be using his powers. But if it were just to help people work through what was troubling them, then it would be good, right? Obviously there must be a reason he, out of all people, he was given this power. So he could either sit on it and deal with the odd sensations or he could try and help those around him.

 

So Robin.

 

Steve pushed the plate of tomatoes and cheese away from himself and settled in to concentrate. Once more, he visualized the Hawkins High basketball court. Robin, the center of his attention, was waiting for the right moment to pass him the ball. The distance between her home and his own, were the other team’s defenders, the obstacle that he needed to overcome, to make the scoring play. Focus, he thought, focus and make the catch. Here it comes now. Mentally, he reaches out to receive Robin’s pass, only to feel nothing in his hands and nothing, emotionally, in his chest.

 

Failure.

 

Huh. Why didn't that work? Granted, he wasn't an expert on this or anything, but he'd been able to fumble along just fine before hand. What was different?

 

With Max, he had first sensed her sadness in the same room. And next, over the phone. Could that be the key? A physical connection? If the person wasn't in eyesight then maybe he needed to be talking to them. But it was too late to call Robin now.

 

Or…

 

Eleven could use a picture when she was doing her finding magic. Since there wasn't exactly a team of X-Men around to get training from, Eleven was the best example he had. Why not try that? Better than just sitting here looking constipated at a ball of mozzarella.

 

Steve quickly cleaned up the remains of his dinner; his mother drilled into him from a young age that the house must be pristine at all times, even if no one was home. Once the last dish was carefully placed in the dishwasher, Steve made his way back up to his room. 

 

There, stuck in the frame of his mirror, just above Hopper's hastily scrawled phone number, was a Polaroid of him and Robin. It was taken shortly after the events at Starcourt, one of the few times that he was allowed out. The angle was awkward, Steve's own arm holding the camera upright, while Robin hung over his shoulders from behind. Her hair partially obscured his face, which was okay, since the bruising around his eye stood out spectacularly, even from behind the curtain of hair. He was laughing at something she had said and wasn't even looking at the camera but looked like he was trying to shrug the girl off of his back. Meanwhile, Robin stared directly at the camera, with a smirk that reflected in both lips and eyes.

 

Steve loved the shot. It represented the both of them perfectly. Robin, playful and plotting and himself, enjoying the moment, if not entirely sure what was going on. And beat up of course. 

 

Let's see if this would work.

 

He grabbed the photo and sat down on the floor with his back against the bed. Looking directly at Robin's face, he focused on that intangible feeling in his chest. Letting everything around him fall away, he closed his eyes and pictured her face in his mind. He kept his thumb over her in the picture as some sort of anchor.

 

Dustin told him once, that Eleven found people by focusing on them, with a scrap of fabric around her eyes and white noise playing on the radio. If this didn't work, maybe he would have to add that to his photo.

 

For now, he kept his eyes shut and let the familiar silence of the big house wash over him.

 

Focus.

 

Except the house wasn't as silent as he was used to. 

 

At first he thought it was ringing in his ears, the kind of mental echo in silence that isn't really silent. But it wasn't. It was more like a soft melody. Not quite humming or actual music; Steve did not have the vocabulary to describe it. It called him.

 

But it was soft enough that when he started to actually think on it, the notes seemed to disappear. Did Eleven hear this when she searched?

 

Maybe that was the reason for the radio static.

 

Shutting the mysterious music out of his thoughts, he refocused on Robin. That was his goal. Robin.

 

Though his eyes were still closed, he felt like he blinked and suddenly he was in a large dark room. No, it was more than dark, it was pitch black.

 

No longer sitting on the floor in his bedroom, Steve found himself standing in an endless room of blackness.

 

Taking a hesitant step in an unknown direction, Steve watched in awe as silver ripples fanned outward from his shoes. He was literally walking on water. It was such a bizarre feeling of dual sensation. On one hand, he stood in this darkness, seeing the water at his feet, but on the other hand, he could still feel his eyes closed and his back against his bed in his room. Unsettling. 

 

Forging forward, Steve could hear (sense?) that subtle music again. Was it even music? A tug in the center of his chest, pulled him forward but it didn’t feel like it was connected to his attempt of reaching Robin. This song was separate from whatever ability he had to read emotions. Steve did not know how he knew this, but it was. This was a song of the Void.

 

He couldn’t let it distract. Forcing himself to turn away from the song, Steve refocused on his objective. Robin.

 

Where are you?

 

He pictured her: Blue, mocking eyes. Freckles. Lips quirked up. Hair that started darker at the roots into that wavy blond mess. 

 

Before him, in the endless span of darkness, Steve saw her. Robin was standing in what seemed to be a wall-less bathroom. A vanity stood with a floating mirror, before which, Robin was studying her reflection. 

 

A separate portion of Steve’s mind, the part that still clung desperately to the vain self importance of a high school monarchy, that part was currently losing its shit. This is crazy, this is crazy, this is CRAZY! How the hell was this even his life? 

 

It was easier to push that side of himself down, it had been easier to do so ever since he chose to go back into that dark house, with its flickering lights and pick up a bat.

 

Robin appeared unaware that he was nearby. Her hands clutched the vanity top, shoulders hunched, as she searched her reflection for something unknown.

 

As he took another step closer, he was hit with a wave of emotion. Here, in this Void, Robin’s emotions rushed over him like a tsunami. He felt everything as vividly as if it were his own. Fear, sharp and piercing, mixed with an icy resolve. Robin had made a difficult decision but she was not going to back down from it. Goosebumps rose on his arms in the wake of her determination. Underneath it all, ran a confusing current of thrill. It reminded him of when his parents had taken him and Tommy to Kings Island and they rode the wooden roller coaster, The Beast. Not wanting to appear childish in front of Tommy, but terrified out of his mind of the looming coaster with its twisting track, almost fully hidden in the surrounding forest. Still, once Steve made up his mind to ride it, there was no turning back, and that conflicting sensation of thrilling terror followed him for the entirety of the ride.

 

Robin felt very much like he did on that day, so long ago.

 

But there was no roller coaster in sight. Just a girl in her bathroom. 

 

Was this happening currently? Steve wondered, or is this a memory? Why couldn’t there be some sort of manual for what to expect when dealing with sudden super powers? 

 

Keeping his eyes on his friend, while mentally swimming through her mess of feelings, Steve watched Robin take in a deep breath and begin to straighten upright. She reached a hand up to the floating mirror and opened it up. 

 

It didn’t really click at first, what it was that Robin withdrew. In the fathomless darkness, the scene before it was lit from no visible light source. It showed him what he wanted to see, but not very clearly.

 

It wasn’t until she brought the object down to the vanity’s surface, did Steve recognize the razor blade in her hand.

 

His mind didn’t process exactly what he was seeing right away. Not until she brought blade’s edge to the soft skin at the inside of her wrist.

 

For the first time since he entered the Void, did the strange music go silent as Robin took a steadying breath then dragged the blade sharply and violently down the vein of her wrist.

 

“NO!” Steve’s scream collapsed the Void from around him and he was suddenly back on the floor of his bedroom. He didn’t pause to think or consider what he saw, instead immediately grabbing for the walkie talkie on his bedside table.

 

“CODE RED! Anyone out there, this is a Code Red!” Steve wasn’t waiting for a response from the Party, already up and stumbling down the hallway. “I have a Code Red, repeat, Code Red at Robin’s! I need you shitheads to get over to Robin’s right away!”

 

“Steve? What is going on? Over.” Reliable Dustin was the first to respond.

 

It was frankly a miracle that Steve didn’t break his neck as he raced down the stairs. “Dustin! I need you to get over to Robin’s as fast as you can! All of you! Robin is in danger!”

 

“What kind of danger? Over.” Mike’s broke in.

 

“She’s hurt!” He found his keys and blew out the front doors without even bothering to lock up behind him. “I am on my way over there now, Mike can you get Nancy to drive over there? You guys are not that far from her by car.”

 

Mike must have picked up on the unadulterated terror in Steve’s voice and chose not to be contrary with him. “Yeah, Nancy’s here, we’re on our way. Over!”

 

“Dustin and I are not that far away by bike. Max is with me right now. We’re on our way too. Over.” Lucas updated as Steve peeled out of his driveway. God, he loved these kids. For all the shit they gave him, they took their Code Reds seriously.

 

“Steve, can you give us a status report on what we could be facing?” Mike demanded, “Is this Upside Down related? Over.”

 

With no regard to the speed limit or the color of the traffic lights, Steve floored it. It was a bit difficult, driving as recklessly as he was, to also answer the walkie talkie. “I don’t know for sure,” he admitted, fear sweat making his finger slip on the walkie’s button. “But I know she’s hurt herself.”

 

“Okay.” Mike was managing to sound incredibly calm during this chaos, “The ETA for Nancy and I, is 5 minutes. Over.” The Wheelers lived closer to Robin’s house than Steve technically did but at the rate that Steve was driving, he’d beat them there.

 

After swerving around a blue pickup that honestly had the right away, Robin’s house came into sight. Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, oh please I can’t lose you, ran on a frantic loop inside Steve’s mind. Robin was his closest friend, how could he have missed something like this coming? What the hell happened?

 

He barely let his car shift into park before he was out and racing to the front door. Dimly, he was aware of the Wheeler’s station wagon slamming to a stop, half up on the curb behind him. He was too focused on jamming the key Robin had given him into the lock. Once opened, Steve sprinted inside to the bathroom where he had last seen her, at least, last seen her in the Void.

 

Not bothering to knock, as the time for politeness had long been passed, Steve burst into the bathroom, screaming Robin’s name.

 

Blood coated the white marble countertop, filling the porcelain sink. It was everywhere. And there, directly in the middle of the sink, where she apparently dropped it, sat the horrid razor blade, half submerged in blood. For one brief moment, the bright red horror was the sole thing he could focus on. But then his eyes found Robin.

 

“Steve?”

 

He did not find her body crumpled, lifeless on the tile floor. Instead she stood exactly where she did in the Void, holding up two bloody wrists. He made an abortive move towards her. But was shocked into stillness.

 

Shocked, as both he and Robin watched the two ragged wounds knit themselves slowly back together, leaving pink, unmarred flesh behind in its wake.

 

“Holy shit.”

 

“Yeah. Holy shit.”

 

 

Chapter Text


 

And if I had the answers I'd have written them out

So I could tell you what to do and what this thing is about

But all I've ever learned comes second-hand

And I dare not preach what I don't understand


 

Confusion. Panic. Shock.

 

"Shit, Steve, you're bleeding!" 

 

"Bleeding- I'm bleeding?! It looks like a goddamn horror show in here! What the hell?!"

 

"Steve! Is Robin okay?" A new voice from behind him.

 

"Nancy?!" Robin looked more shocked that the other girl was behind Steve than with the blood coated bathroom.

 

"What the hell is going on?" Steve moved into the bathroom, more so give Nancy more room in the doorway. 

 

"Why the hell are you both here?" Robin demanded, gesturing with blood crusted arms.

 

"Nancy!" Mike chose that moment to barrel in behind his sister. "What's the status of the Code Red?"

 

"Why is he here?"

 

"Who cares why he's here, what the hell were you doing? How did that-" Steve gestured to Robin's healed wrists, "-how the fuck did that happen?"

 

A crash from the hallway prevented Robin from answering. The four of them all flinched with Nancy pulling Mike behind her and stepping up to guard them. It was moments like this, in the thick of a crisis, that Steve knew he'd never fully stop loving Nancy Wheeler.

 

Dustin burst in with all the force of a hurricane making landfall. "GUYS! Where are you?!"

 

Steve felt his shoulders relax as the remaining Party members crowded their way to the bathroom door.

 

"Oh shit, that's a lot of blood." Lucas, taller than Dustin and Max, spied over Nancy's shoulder. 

 

"Robin?" Dustin tried to shove his way past Nancy. It was quickly becoming too crowded in this small bathroom.

 

"I'm fine, dude." Robin gave a half-hearted wave, even though the dried blood seemed to send a different message.

 

"Are you?!" Steve felt like he was going to lose it. What the hell was going on? He ran his hands through his hair and tried to smother the urge to rip it all out in frustration. "Can we all just stop asking questions and get some goddamn answers?!"

 

"Technically, that was a question." Dustin piped up.

 

“Seriously dude?” Steve gripped his hair tighter. On top of everything that was going on at this moment, he could feel strong emotions radiating out from all of the people crammed into the small space. Confusion mixed with spikes of fear and panic, seem to be the dominant emotion from the group, but there was also a sickly sense of nervousness emanating from Robin. The nervousness also seemed to be intertwined with shame for some reason. But with everyone projecting, Steve couldn’t focus on finding out what it was that Robin was worried about. Nothing was getting answered. 

 

“Before we get anything explained, here.” Robin grabbed some toilet paper and handed a wad of it to Steve.

 

“What?”

 

“Your nose, Harrington, it’s bleeding.” Robin sighed and shoved him slightly out of the way. “Let me clean up a bit here, and we can all go meet in the living room. I’ll try my best to explain what is going on.”

 

The kids and Nancy nodded their agreement and filtered back out into the hallway. As Mike left, he paused in the doorway and gave Steve a searching look. It was unnerving and Steve felt a rush of suspicion that was centered on himself. 

 

He shook his head to clear it from all pressing emotions and wiped the blood off of his face. “Do you want me to help?” he asked Robin as he tossed the toilet paper away. 

 

She didn’t seem to want to look at him as she ran the sink faucet. “It’s not as bad as it seems, I should be fine,” she murmured as she carefully picked the razor blade up and washed the blood off. Steve averted his eyes.

 

“Okay, I’ll see you out there.” he gestured awkwardly towards her living room. He left quickly when she began to wash the blood off of her hands.

 

In the living room, the kids had commandeered the sectional couch while Nancy paced back and forth along the wall. She looked up when Steve walked in and he could read the question in her face.

 

“Robin seems fine right now, she’ll be out soon.” he offered and slouched against the mantelpiece. Steve always loved Robin’s home. It wasn’t one of the Loch Nora mansions like his own, or the firmly middle-class cookie-cutter that Nancy grew up in, rather it was small, with a collection of mismatched furniture crammed in together with no sense of style. It felt lived in. Like Robin’s parents filled it with objects that were intended to be used and well loved, not something that would resemble a magazine layout. 

 

It helped that whenever he visited Robin, her mom went out of her way to make him feel like he lived here with them. While he knew his charm worked on many Hawkins parents, he mostly thought it was because she thought her daughter finally brought home a boyfriend. For Robin’s sake, he never dissuaded her mom from that idea.

 

“What happened in there?” Dustin asked from his spot on the couch. “I just saw a lot of blood, was Robin injured?”

 

“I-” Steve paused, everything happened so fast, he wasn’t sure what Mike and Nancy saw after he had raced in. Was he the only one who saw Robin’s skin knit itself back together and heal? “I don’t know how to answer that.” he shrugged helplessly.

 

“I saw it.” Nancy whispered, halting her pacing. “She healed herself.”

 

“What?” 

 

“Are you serious?”

 

“No way!”

 

The kids all talked over each other. Mike, however, was silent, staring at Steve. Suspicion still rolling off the boy in waves. Too bad his own thoughts were swirling with barely disguised panic, he couldn’t spare much more brain power to try and figure out what was going on with the younger Wheeler. Too much shit was happening all at once. 

 

“She’s right.” Robin appeared in the room, all traces of blood gone from her arms. Steve had to admire Robin’s resolve, she didn’t hesitate or look unsure as she joined him in front of the mantle. “Look, this is not how I wanted to let people know what was going on, but here we are. I mean, this is all so strange.”

 

Nancy took a seat on the arm of the couch and smiled softly at her. “Take your time, we’re all pretty used to strange things at this point.”

 

Robin spared Steve a quick look before speaking again. “So I first noticed something weird the day after Starcourt.” she gestured to her cheek, “When the Russians had us, one of the guards hit me in the face.”

 

What?” Steve did not remember that happening. He always thought she had gotten the bruise when he crashed the Toddfather. “Was this when I was-” he trailed off, gesturing to his own face.

 

“No, uh, you were there, just kind of unconscious.”

 

“Oh.” He forgot that horrifying moment of waking up and not remembering what had happened or where he was. At least he had woken up to Robin’s voice.

 

“Anyways, when I woke up the next day, the bruise was gone. I thought it was kind of weird, that it should have healed so fast but maybe I wasn’t as bruised as I thought I was. That night had been such a blur, I could have easily been mistaken. But then other little things happened. Like at work, I cut my hand on a box knife.” she gave Steve a look when he jerked at that. “Yeah, I knew I cut myself pretty bad but it healed as I was cleaning up the blood. Within a few minutes, there wasn’t even a mark.”

 

“You knew something was wrong that day.” Steve whispered. 

 

Robin heard him and nodded. “I thought for sure you noticed that the cut had healed.”

 

“That’s putting a lot of faith in my skills of observation.” Steve said dryly.

 

Ignoring that comment, Robin continued. “After that I started doing small tests to see what I could heal from. I knew I could heal small cuts, but what about broken bones? I tested it out and slammed my finger in a car door and watched as my broken finger healed. I next tried breaking my leg by jumping from the second floor. That also worked.”

 

“Shit, you are like Wolverine.” Dustin grinned.

 

“Exactly!” Robin smiled back, “I only wish I had the adamantium claws to go with this.”

 

God, he was surrounded by nerds. Shit was going sideways and they still found time to talk about comic books. Then again, a year ago he never would have known that they were talking about comic books, just thought they were making weird references about animals. A headache was forming.

 

“So what was tonight? Another test?” Max asked.

 

“Yeah, basically. I needed to know how far I could go.” she looked a little sick as she described her own actions. “I needed to try something that could bring me as close to death as I could, and see if I could come back from that.”

 

Steve felt like his heart stopped. “What the fuck Robin? What if it didn’t work? You could have died!” Now he began to pace away from her and the kids. He couldn’t handle this. She purposely tried to kill herself so she could test some crazy theory that she could come back from death. “You just freaking slit your wrists in the goddamn bathroom to see if you could Lazerus your way back? Are you insane?” 

 

At everyone’s surprised look, he shrugged. “My family is Roman Catholic. It used to be important to them.”

 

Robin reached out and gripped Steve’s arm when he paced back near her. “I know it sounds crazy, but I had to know. I needed to know what I could do with these, well, with these powers.”

 

“How do you think you got them?” Lucas asked, “It’s not like you’re El or anything.” He paused and eyed her critically. “Or are you? Do you have a number tattoo somewhere?”

 

“Not that I am aware of.” Robin looked thoughtful. “I’ve been going over different scenarios in my head on how this could have happened. The only common denominator with all of them is Starcourt Mall.”

 

There was a moment of silence as everyone considered her words. Steve understood it, he really did. These were all the same questions he asked himself.

 

“Steve.” Mike spoke up, his voice flat. “How did you know to come here tonight.”

 

Steve stopped his movement abruptly. “What do you mean?” he tried to sound confused. He wasn’t sure why he was keeping his own abilities quiet, not after Robin proved that he wasn’t alone with this new strangeness. But he wanted to.

 

Looking back at Robin, Mike asked, “Did you call Steve, letting him know what you were planning to do?”

 

“No…” Robin was now also eyeing Steve sharply.

 

“Then how did you know Robin was going to hurt herself?” Mike glared at Steve.

 

“I had a bad feeling.” Was Steve’s basic answer. It wasn’t a lie. Just not a full explanation.

 

“No,” Dustin shook his head so violently, his hat tipped off sideways. “I know you buddy. You knew something happened. You were freaked. Like you saw exactly what she did. You can’t fake that level of panic to get us all out here on a feeling that you had.”

 

Everyone was looking at him. He saw no way out of this. Sighing, he dropped down on the opposite side of the couch from Nancy and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay. Fine. I don’t think Robin is the only one with powers.”

 

“What do you mean, Steve?” Nancy asked, her voice deadly serious.

 

“I mean, I can’t heal or anything like that. I can’t throw people with my mind. But I can feel other people’s emotions. And with that, memories associated with those emotions.” He kept his eyes glued to the floor in front of him rather than looking at the others around him.

 

“You can read people’s memories?” Mike asked. 

 

“Yeah, I can focus on people and feel what they’re feeling and if there is a memory or something attached to that, then it sort of becomes my memory too.” he threw his hands up, “I don’t know, okay? There isn’t exactly an instruction booklet to follow. All I know is that I was focusing on Robin and I was suddenly in some dark room. I think it was a room at least, there weren’t any walls that I could see.”

 

“You went to the Void, like El does!” Mike exclaimed.

 

“Sure, yeah I guess it does sound like what she described. But anyway, I saw Robin there and felt what she was feeling and I saw her cut her wrist.” he shuddered. “It was horrible.”

 

“You were focusing on me?" Robin asked quietly.

 

Steve looked up and met her eyes, feeling ashamed. "Yeah. I was worried about you. You were acting strange at work and I thought it was serious. I mean, I was right, but I'm sorry. I shouldn't have read you without your permission."

 

Robin's eyes looked soft and kind as she reached out and ran a hand through Steve's hair, straightening it out. "It's okay Steve. I know you're looking out for me. Thank you."

 

"Wait a minute." Max sounded shocked. "Did you read me about Billy?"

 

Steve flinched. This was exactly what he was worried about. The sense of invasion that even good use of this power would bring. Eleven could get away with it, she had been raised to use her powers for spying, she was just now learning about boundaries. He had no such excuse. Especially since he destroyed a precious camera under the same sense of violation.

 

"I'm sorry Red, but I felt your grief pretty strongly. In fact it was what made me realize that I could feel other people's emotions."

 

"So all that you said about Billy was a lie to get me to talk?" 

 

Steve looked up quickly, "No, Max, not at all." He had to make her understand that while his feelings on Billy were complicated, he never lied to her about them. "I meant what I said about him. I do miss him."

 

"You what?" He heard Dustin squawk in the background but he ignored it, needing to make Max understand him.

 

"I shouldn't have read you like that, I was fumbling through trying to figure out what exactly was going on with me and I stumbled upon you. I hope you can forgive me. But I meant everything I told you. Everything."

 

Max's blue eyes were like ice as she considered his words. Finally she spoke. "I don't care that you picked up on what I was feeling, I just don't want what you told me to be a lie." Her voice dropped to a whisper, "I finally felt like someone understood."

 

"I did. I do."

 

"Then we're good." Max gave him a small smile.

 

"Okay, okay so let me get this straight, both Robin and Steve have super powers." Nancy stood back up and resumed her own pacing. "But we don't know how. Neither of them went missing as kids, so lab experiments is out. And this all seemed to start after the events of Starcourt."

 

Steve could tell Nancy was going into her investigative mode. Once she started, he knew that she wouldn't finish until she figured out exactly what happened that caused these new powers.

 

Dustin looked thoughtful. "It has to be because of the Russians. Right? That's what they both have in common. Maybe it was that green stuff that was powering the machine that was trying to open the gate. Steve was the first to handle it."

 

Nancy looked sharply at Steve. "You handled some strange Russian substance? That was stupid!"

 

Wincing, Steve shrugged. "We didn't know what it was, to be fair I warned the others to stay back."

 

"I didn't listen!" Dustin sounded too proud at that fact.

 

Robin was shaking her head, "I thought that could be the case and it makes it a little more likely now that I know Steve is affected, but we all handled that cannister. And I don't think Dustin or Erica have any powers, do you?" She turned to Dustin.

 

"As much as I want to be apart of this Justice League, I don't have any powers."

 

"Erica would never have shut up about it, if she became superpowered." Lucas added.

 

"So it must have happened when you guys were captured." Nancy stopped in front of Steve. "You guys have to let us know exactly what happened."

 

Robin and Steve shared a look. "Well they did drug us. That has to be it." Steve pointed out. "Though I always thought it was just some form of LSD."

 

"Is that the only thing they did?" Nancy pressed.

 

Robin wrapped her arms around herself, looking a little sick. "They separated us pretty quick. They kept me in a room by myself and one seriously angry looking dude with a gun, until they were done with Steve."

 

"And you?" Nancy turned to Steve.

 

Steve felt cold and suddenly very irritated. "Nance, if this is your shitty attempt to be my therapist, you're gonna be disappointed. Clearly the only thing Robin and I have in common is the drugs."

 

"We have to be sure, Steve, and you're the only one who they tried to talk to."

 

"Hah, talk to. They really need to work on their communication, their tactics left a little to be desired."

 

"Steve, buddy," Dustin looked like he was talking to a wild animal. Steve realized with a bit of horror, that it was the same voice he used on Dart. Christ. "We need to know if the Russians did anything unusual when they had you."

 

"All they did was beat the shit out of me. No different than what Billy or Jonathan did." He absently rubbed his wrists, pushing away the memory of his hands tied behind back. 

 

Nancy sighed in frustration. "Okay, if you're sure."

 

"Oh yeah, pretty sure, I was there after all."

 

Robin bumped her shoulder against his in a quiet show of support. But in reality, it did little to quell his growing anger. By all accounts, what their little spy breaker ring went through was the least traumatic of the entire group. Nancy and Jonathan were viciously attacked in a hospital by their melting bosses, the kids hunted down by the Mind Flayer; getting smacked around by a Russian general with boundary issues shouldn't even register. And frankly, he was getting tired of being treated like he was made of glass.

 

"So the drugs are the only thing that could have possibly done this." Lucas mused out loud. "You don't think it could have been the proximity to the Gate?"

 

Robin shook her head, "Again, Dustin and Erica would be affected too." She sighed, "We just assumed it was some truth serum, it wasn't like they told us the ingredients when they injected us."

 

"That brings up another question," Mike spoke up. "Do you think the Russians knew that they could be awaking powers in you two?"

 

"The testing that the lab did on El's mom included LSD. In addition to sensory deprivation, abuse, hypnosis, and other chemicals." Nancy listed off. "We know that this was all done so that the government could counteract what the Russians were doing. Which resulted in the children that displayed abilities. Maybe they used their own mixture on Steve and Robin."

 

"I do think they were planning on keeping us longer than they did." Robin muttered.

 

"Plus or minus a few fingernails." Steve added.

 

"So if the Russians knew exactly what they were injecting you with, maybe they were planning on subjecting you to torture to see what results they could get. Because you get right down to it, the actions that they took doesn't make any sense." Dustin theorized.

 

Steve's stomach lurched. "What do you mean?"

 

"Look, they saw all of us, right? Two kids and two teenagers in sailor uniforms. Not exactly spy material. They capture you two and immediately separated you guys. Okay standard so far. But they only interrogate Steve? And then instead of just truth seruming him then and there, they put him back in the room with Robin, who still hasn't been questioned. Let them stew for a bit and then drug them?" Dustin threw his hands up, "They're either terrible at their job or they never believed you guys to be spies in the first place."

 

“So we were just some sick test to them?” Robin asked.

 

Mike nodded in agreement, “That makes sense, doesn’t it? You were convenient test subjects that fell into their laps. On one hand, they can interrogate you incase you really are spies and if you aren’t, they can see how their drugs work on more subjects.”

 

Nancy looked pensive as she evaluated the kids’ theory. “The research that I read at Bauman’s could corroborate that idea. If I remember right, the original results that the CIA was looking for when they did their LSD testing was for mind control. Which itself, originated from the idea of perfecting the best truth serums to administer to captured Soviet agents. It stands to reason that the Russians were developing their own version. And that their own drugs produced similar results.”

 

The anger that Steve felt seemed to curdle in his stomach at that thought. If that were the case, then no matter what he had told the Russians, it wouldn’t have mattered. They were just enjoying his frantic repetitions of working for Scoops Ahoy? That desperate fear and need to make them understand that he was just some kid who stumbled upon a greater mystery and not some American spy, was all for naught? 

 

It was just bullshit.

 

And wasn’t that just the shit truth. Steve Harrington, the dumbass kid who stumbles his way into terrifying conspiracies? All he wanted to do in the first place was for once in his miserable life, be a good person and apologize to Jonathan Byers. Enter the Demogorgon. Then the next year, there he was trying again to apologize, even though he really shouldn’t have, and there was Dustin and his baby Demogorgon. At least this year, no apologies and no Demogorgons, but still bumbling his way into somewhere he didn’t belong. 

 

If it was enough to make a guy want to move. Or at least become a hermit.

 

He stood abruptly and walked away from the group. He couldn’t handle their stares right now. Each pair of eyes on him felt like a physical burn. It was too much. Everything was just too much.

 

“Steve?” Robin reached for him as he passed her.

 

“I need air.” he managed to get out as he rushed toward the entry door. He needed more than air. He needed a new life.

 

Once outside, it felt like all the adrenaline that coursed through since seeing Robin cut her wrist open in the Void, simply vanished. Exhaustion, deep and bone weary, weighed down on him. He made it as far as the tree in the Buckley’s front yard and he dropped to the ground. Collapsing against the trunk and ignoring how the dewy grass soaked his jeans, Steve decided he was never going to move from this spot.

 

You couldn’t get in trouble, just hanging out in the front yard, right?

 

Leaning his head back against the tree, he pushed all the thoughts of Russians and their master plans out of his mind. He welcomed the blissful silence.

Maybe he cleared his mind too well because when he next opened his eyes, he was back in that endless black room. 

 

And it was no longer silent. That strange song played to him. Calling him. Sometimes he hated how stupid he was, if he were Dustin or Robin or Nancy, hell probably anyone but him, he was sure they would be able to put it to words what the song was. But he wasn’t them, and he was stuck with his inadequate vocabulary. Because it was a song and it wasn’t. It was indescribable. 

 

It tickled across his mind and it tugged in chest. And now that he wasn’t focused on finding Robin, he could listen better. He knew that it was separate from his reading of emotion, he’d sensed that the first time he dropped into the Void. It was even more obvious now. 

 

Walking through the darkness, with his footsteps sending out ripples of water, Steve felt strangely at peace. The stress, anger, and horror, he felt in Robin’s living room melted away with each note of the strange music. There wasn’t even a need to figure out where the source of the song came from. Just a peaceful desire to walk with it in his mind.

 

Familiar, he thought. I know this song. I’ve heard it before. Somewhere. But where? It wasn’t like he was a frequent visitor to the Void. He probably should ask El what she heard when she was here, because knowing that group, he was going to be talking with the Byers and Eleven soon. Maybe he and El could compare super power notes.

 

But for now, listening to the music was his plan.

 

“Steve!”

 

Steve jerked forcibly from the Void. “What the hell?” He looked up to see Mike standing in front of him. Out of all the twerps, Wheeler was the last of them he expected to follow him outside. Maybe that was a good thing, because frankly, Steve was a little irritated that he brought him out of the music.

 

“I’ve been calling your name. You were using your powers. Which one of us were you reading?” Mike looked as grumpy as Steve felt.

 

Using his powers? Oh, Steve could now feel the blood trickling down his nose. He wiped it away with his sleeve and shrugged. “I wasn’t reading anyone.”

 

“Then what were doing?”

 

“Honestly? No clue. I tried to just forget about everything that is going on and dropped into the Void. El never said how easy it is to slip into.”

 

Mike eyed him seriously, “That’s because it isn’t easy. She needs quiet, her vision blacked out, and white noise. You don’t need any of that?”

 

“No?” Steve didn’t sound too confident. “Granted I’ve only been there twice now, but I just needed to close my eyes and focus. Actually this time, music helped me.”

 

“Music?” Mike took this as his cue to sit down next Steve, against the tree.

 

Again Steve shrugged. “I really don’t know dude, this is totally beyond my grasp. I wasn’t trying to use my powers or anything. It just happened? I tried to blank out my mind and I was there. Not searching for anything.”

 

“I wish El was here to help figure things out.”

 

Steve scoffed. “I’m sure that’s why you wish El was here.”

 

Mike jabbed an elbow in his side. “Shut up, dumbass.”

 

“Hey, hey, I get it, young love and all that shit. I was your age once.”

 

“What, when Nixon was in office?”

 

Now Steve jabbed an elbow back, “Hey, now respect your elders.” Strangely enough, this was nice. Just sitting here, talking with Mike Wheeler of all people, was nice. He never really got why he hadn’t clicked with the younger Wheeler when with all of the other gremlins had been easy. He always thought it was some residual hatred of his relationship with Nancy, but he was never 100% sure on that. Most of the time, he just let Mike mock him and ignored it. But it did bother him at times. 

 

After a beat of silence, Steve had to ask, “Why did you get nominated to go after me?”

 

“I wanted to.”

 

“Why?”

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Steve could see Mike flush. “You, uh, you had that same look that El does sometimes. When things get too overwhelming for her and she doesn’t know what the correct response should be. Dustin wanted to go after you and yeah, he knows you better, but I think he wouldn have just continued to overwhelm you.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“It’s okay to not know how to react, you know.”

 

“Thanks Dr. Wheeler.” Steve tried to lighten his voice and not come off too harsh. 

 

“No seriously, Harrington, this is new to all of us. At least with El, she knew the terrible place she came from and why they were doing it. This is different. All of that in there,” Mike gestured back to the house, “that is all our own theories. It may be true, it may not but either way it’s fucked.”

 

Steve snorted. “And that’s your professional opinion Doctor?”

 

Mike has perfected the look of unimpressed teenager, Steve was almost jealous of that.

 

“Okay, fine, fine, I get it. I really do. And I can’t believe I am about to have a heart to heart with Mike Wheeler of all people. But I can deal with these strange powers. I’ve dealt with the Upside Down for three years now and all that comes with. I can even deal with finding out that Russians infiltrated our hick town in an attempt to reopen the Gate. But I can’t- don’t want to wrap my mind around the idea that I was some test subject that the Russians wanted to mess with. At least when they were questioning me, I could hold on to the hope that if I answered correctly, then it could be over.”

 

Did Steve’s new fangled powers deceive him, or was there concern radiating from Mike? Concern for himself? Would wonders never cease?

 

“Those Russians really fucked you up, didn’t they?”

 

“I like to think I was fucked up before they got to me.”

 

“You weren’t fucked up, just a douchebag.”

 

“Thanks, Wheeler.” Steve pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his arms on them, “So why do you hate me, dude? If I’m spilling my guts to you, I feel like I am at least owed that.”

 

Mike spared him a confused look. “I don’t hate you.”

 

“Could have fooled me.” he laughed, “You killed me in your nerd game.”

 

“Okay, first of all, not a nerd game. It’s a strategic role playing game.”

 

“I’ve heard it both ways.”

 

Mike sighed loudly in the way only teenagers could, “And second of all, you aren’t dead. Yet. Just trapped by the morkoth’s song. The rest of the Party can still save you.”

 

“If they do, I am gonna have to owe Erica so, so much.”

 

“And finally I don’t hate you. Really.” Now Mike looked a little embarrassed. “I mean yeah, I wasn’t exactly fond of you when you were dating my sister. Shit, I saw you sneaking into her room.”

 

“Then why are you such a hardass on me?” Steve had to wonder why it was so important to him that got validation from a teenager. Barely a teenager.

 

“I don’t know how to feel about you!” Mike suddenly explodes. At Steve’s silence, Mike continues in a quiet voice, “Look, I know you’re different now, but before everything went down, you were a real asshole. And you reminded me of all the assholes that picked on us. Especially Will. You are everything thing they’d grow up to be. And then you were dating Nancy and it was like, not only do I have to deal with the assholes at school but now in my house too.”

 

Steve racked his brain, “Did I treat you like the bullies did, in your school?” He honestly couldn’t remember how he’d treated Mike when he had first began to date Nancy. The kid barely registered to him, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been a dick to him. He knew what he’d said about Jonathan and his family, he’d never forget that as long as he lived.

 

“No, you never did but you still were like this vision of the future of what Troy and his groupies would be like. And that vision sucked.” Mike shrugged helplessly. “But then you saved Nancy and Jonathan. And then helped Dustin without question or hesitation.”

 

“Oh, there were plenty of questions and lots of hesitating.”

 

“You know what I mean,” Mike continued. “But worst of all, you jumped in front of Billy like it was nothing. Then came back for me in the tunnels. You kept us safe, while being concussed all to hell. How am I supposed to reconcile that Steve Harrington with the one I already knew?

 

“So you don’t know if the good I’ve done, makes up for all the bad I’ve done?”

 

“I know it’s stupid! I don’t know why I can’t get over it. The rest of the Party obviously has. And you continue to help us out. Dustin told me how you and Robin held the door so they could escape. That you didn’t think about it, just immediately held it while they found a way out.” Mike’s distress bled out of him, Steve was practically drowning in it. “I know, I know you are a different person now, you keep showing that, but it’s like my mind is blocked from ever erasing that early version of you.”

 

Steve realized with a jolt, that Mike’s feelings, to an extent, mirrored his own about Billy Hargrove. He knew the reasons for some of Billy’s actions now and he knew that Billy had saved the group, if not the world when he stood up to the Mind Flayer, but there will always be that part of Steve who remembered fists against his face and sharp words hissed on the basketball court. “Mike, it’s okay to not know how to react.” he repeated Mike’s own words back to him. “Believe it or not, I understand what you’re dealing with. You have this image of person who may not exist anymore, but for awhile they existed for you and that’s how you learned them. But now they’re someone different, because we all change either by choice or circumstance. And now they don’t fit within those lines you learned. You now have to adjust your view, because what is the real truth of that person? Sometimes it is easy for someone to learn the new view, like Dustin did. But others, it is harder. It just takes time Wheeler. I get it, I really do.” he reached over and clasped a hand on Mike’s shoulder. “I’ll keep putting myself between danger and the Party until you’re ready to see me.”

 

“I think we’ve had enough danger to last us for a long time.”

 

“You’re right. I don’t know how much more my face can take before I’m permanently damaged."

 

"Eh, it's too late for that."

 

"You're an asshole, little Wheeler."

 

"And I'm an inch shorter than you and still growing. Soon you'll be little Harrington."

 

"Don't test me, I'm super powered now." Steve stood up. "I guess I should head back in."

 

"You all done with your hissy fit?" Mike allowed Steve to help him up. Though, Steve wouldn't have minded dropping the dipshit back to the ground.

 

"Yeah I think I'm done. Plus, I can feel Dustin's anxiety from here. He wants to know what the hell we're talking about."

 

"That's so cool." The two of them made their back into the house. 

 

Steve's feelings were accurate as he saw Dustin moving anxiously between the living room and entryway. He looked up as soon as Steve and Mike pushed open the door.

 

"Steve. Jesus, buddy you done freaking out?"

 

"Can it, pea brain, I'm allowed to have a moment." But he reached out and fondly knocked Dustin's hat askew. "Thanks for worrying about me, kid."

 

"How did- oh yeah superpowers."

 

Steve laughed lightly, "I don't need superpowers to tell me that, dweeb, you're pretty predictable." Steve flopped onto the couch, next to Robin. He nudged her gently, "Sorry."

 

"It's cool, Harrington, leave me here to deal with the wolves."

 

"I got kid Wheeler, I think you still came out on top."

 

"Hey!" Mike looked scandalized. "We had a moment."

 

"And now that moment passed."

 

Ignoring the squabbling, Nancy looked up from where she had been holding a fairly serious looking staring contest with the brass clock on Robin's mantleplace. "I've been going over that night." She started, voice a bit distant. "And what if the US government didn't get all of the Russian conspirators?"

 

"They swept the labs, didn't they?" Robin asked.

 

"Yeah, but remember what Hopper and Mrs. Byers were looking into? The other transformer sites? We weren't exactly subtle in our efforts. There was plenty of time for people to evacuate."

 

"What are you saying, Nance?" Steve asked, feeling both his own worry and the entire room's worry spike. 

 

"If the Russians or anyone really, know that there were two more successful subjects, then you guys might still be in danger."

 

Blindly Steve reached out and gripped Robin's hand. Of course. He should have expected this. Why would it be any different? This wasn't over.

 

It never would be.

 

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Steve looked at the group. "Okay then. What do we do next?"

 

 

Chapter Text


 Yeah, I got to get the hell out of this town

Everybody's looking upside-down


 

 

Irritation. Fatigue. Optimism.

 

There were certain moments in your life that could be classified as before and after. In the course of Steve’s own, admittedly short life, there have been several before and after moments. Before he knocked on the Byers’ front door with an apology on his lips. After the word bullshit slipped from drunken ones. Before a curly haired child ripped a bouquet of roses out of his hands and asked if he still had his bat. After hearing his name whispered in a messy bathroom stall, begging to be understood. And those were just moments that defined his life with this group of hellions. 

 

That didn’t get into the moments of his life before his world got distinctly more upside down.

 

Steve knew the moment he asked what their next move would be that this one of those watershed moments. One of those crucial decision points that history classes loved to debate about when determining causality. 

 

To most of the group, the next obvious step was to call the Byers and let them know the recent developments. Mike, obviously, was very fervent in his desire to get Eleven back to Hawkins and on the case, and Nancy, to a lesser degree, was also on board with calling Jonathan. In fact the entire group was ready to call Joyce that very instant. 

 

Steve realized with a sinking feeling, that he was going to be the lone dissenter. 

 

“Do you really think this is a good idea?”

 

Five pair of eyes stared incredulously at him. “What the hell do you mean?” Mike snapped, all good will from their earlier moment gone in the face of teenage romance. 

 

“Look, I am not going to deny that having El here, would be pretty damn helpful for Rob and I. We’re clearly floundering with figuring things out. But there is a reason that they moved.” Steve leaned forward on the couch and rubbed his temples. “Mrs. Byers wants to keep her kids out of this shit. And El is basically on IR right now, she needs to heal.”

 

Dustin’s nose scrunched up, “IR?”

 

“Sports term, injured reserve. With her own powers out of whack, asking her to try and deal with our shit, could just make things worse. Y’know like playing on a sprained ankle? El’s gonna want to help and get out there, but it could be more damaging in the long run.” And Steve knew exactly how that desire to prove that you could still help, would play out. He’d been in that position before, in basketball, injured, but ignoring his own body’s needs in order to not let the team down. Eleven would be no different. He’d seen how hard she fought.

 

“I think I’ve been hanging out with you too long, that sports analogy made sense.” Dustin threw a surprised look to the rest of the Party.

 

“This still isn’t a dumb sports game.” Mike snapped.

 

“Dude, believe me. I know.” Steve sighed. “But if Nancy is right and there are killer Russians out there that might want to track us down, maybe we should limit the involvement of kids.”

 

“We’re already involved.” Max pointed out. “And El doesn’t need one of you guys to decide what is best for her. She can make that decision herself.”

 

“This time, I agree with Max.” Mike added.

 

Steve groaned as the ache in his head grew, “She is fourteen. Of course someone needs to make decisions for her, she isn’t legally an adult. And right now that is Mrs. Byers. So we really need to respect her wishes on this.”

 

“We don’t technically know what Mrs. Byers would say about us asking for their help.” Lucas reasoned.

 

“Steve’s right,” Robin spoke up. “But we can compromise here. What if we let Mrs. Byers know what is happening here and she can make the parental decision?”

 

Steve looked around the room and he could instantly feel the irritation and defiant feelings radiating off of the kids. Nancy, on the other hand, determination seeped from her and Steve knew that no matter what they decided at this moment, she was going to be telling Jonathan. 

 

Sighing loudly and probably with more drama than necessary, Steve flopped back against the couch. “It doesn’t matter what we decide, Rob, these shitheads are going to tell everybody.” he pointed a finger over Robin’s arm at Nancy, “I’m including you in that.”

 

There were several outraged cried around the room. 

 

“You can’t just do that!”

 

“No fair dude!”

 

“C’mon man!”

 

"Using your powers is cheating!"

 

Nancy didn’t even bothered to look ashamed. “Friends don’t lie.” she quipped.

 

----------------------

 

It took the group another half hour to finally agree to call the Byers at the end of the week and see if their group could come and visit for the weekend. Steve had been adamant that no school aged child or teenager would be missing any classes, not that Robin or Nancy put up much of a fight about it, the giant nerds. It also worked out that Steve had a weekend off for the first time since he’d started working at Family Video. (He was fairly sure Keith was doing that on purpose) Robin planned on calling out sick, confidant in Keith’s favoritism. 

 

The group also agreed to allow Nancy and Steve to make the call to Joyce, not wanting to make the call over Cerebro and leaving that transmission open to anyone listening.

 

The final task decided before the group dispersed was the vote to split their time in their free afternoons between training and research.

 

As it was the middle of the week and everyone besides Steve had school to attend to, it was decided that the afternoons would be regulated into two locations. Location One, known as the Bat Cave, which really was just Steve's house while his parents were out and the Wheeler’s basement once they came back. Nancy would be taking point on the job of researching all that they could find involving the Russian presence in Hawkins. 

 

Meanwhile, Location Two, the Danger Room.

 

("But we're not going to be meeting in a room, Dustin." 

 

"Oh my God, Steve have you read none of the comics Will left you?") 

 

The Danger Room was actually going to be the junkyard, much to Steve's own confusion. This, strangely enough, was headed up by Dustin, who besides clearly being the nerd who created the team names ("We need code names, Steve, we need to protect our identities!") volunteered himself to be Steve and Robin's personal guide. Even if said guide had no clue where he was to be leading them. Their objective was to train and learn the full abilities of their new superpowers. 

 

Too bad no one knew how to do any of that.

 

"You clearly have no clue what you're going to do, huh?" Steve asked as he watched Dustin righting his bike from he’d dropped it on the front lawn.

 

"Hey now, I've got years of seeing how Professor X trained up the X-Men, I got this." Dustin stood in front of Steve and Robin, looking resolute.

 

"This isn't a comic book, dork." Robin pointed out exactly what Steve had been saying all along.

 

“But you guys, this is your origin story!”

 

“Our what?” Steve looked to Robin to see if she had any clue what he was talking about, but she just looked resigned.

 

“Your origin story, dude! After you, Robin, and Eleven eventually form your own superhero squad, you’re gonna look back at your training sessions with me, your Jedi master, as the beginning of your hero's journey!” Dustin grinned as he hopped on the back of his bike. “Face, it buddy, I’m your Obi Wan, and I’m New Hoping you.”

 

“Way to mix medias there, Kenobi.” Robin’s tone was drier than a desert.

 

“Okay, but didn’t Obi Wan die?” Steve raised an eyebrow, “I’m pretty sure he got dusted by James Earl Jones. That’s the future you want for yourself?”

 

Both Robin and Dustin stared at him. 

 

“Dude, did you just correctly get a nerd reference, and then make one of your own?” Robin smiled widely.

 

“I’ve never been more proud of you,” Dustin mocked waved tears away. “Welcome to the Dark Side.”

 

“He’s come a long way from referring to the Ewoks as ‘the teddy bears’.”

 

“He what?” all trace of pride disappeared instantly from Dustin’s face. 

 

“It was painful to witness.” 

 

He is right here and is not impressed with either of youright now.” Steve leaned back against the door frame. “Don’t you need to be getting home? Lucas and Max are still waiting for you.” he gestured to where the other two were waiting at the end of the driveway.

 

“Fine, fine. I’m leaving, but I’m half tempted to make your first training lesson be to rewatch all of Star Wars.”

 

“Yeah, that’s a no.”

 

“Why do I put up with your shit, Harrington?” Dustin asked as he began to pedal away.

 

“Because I drive you shitheads everywhere!” he called out after him. 

 

Nancy appeared in the doorway behind Robin and Steve wished he could say he didn’t jump slightly when she made to leave the house. She placed a small hand on his shoulder, thumb moving in soothing circles on the fabric of his sleeve. “Do you guys need anything from me, before we head home?”

 

“No, I think we’re okay.” Robin gave her a small half smile. Steve realized, a bit belatedly, that this was the first time he had spent any time with both Robin and Nancy together. The two women in his life that he’d loved with all his heart. Maybe in different ways, but loved nonetheless.

 

“Call me if anything come up. Okay?” she looked between the both of them, focusing a little more heavily on Steve. He could feel her worry. Though it had been Robin who raised a razor blade to her wrist, Nancy still seemed more worried about Steve’s own mental state. With no indication of why.

 

“We’ll call, Nance.” he assured her. 

 

"Okay," she still looked uncertain. "I'll hold you to that." She darted forward and pressed a light kiss to his cheek and Steve had to press the longing that surged, back down. He'd never truly be over Nancy Wheeler. But it was more okay now.

 

To his mild surprise, she repeated the same motion with Robin, while also embracing her in a strong hug. He'd missed more than he thought; they were obviously closer than he realized.

 

"I'll see you two later." She slipped away from them, as incorporeal as the wind, leaving the two of them alone in the night.

 

"So…" Robin started, watching the Wheeler station wagon pull away. "You often stalk me?"

 

"Just, light stalking. Nothing serious."

 

"Ah I see. Well since you're already here, do you want to spend the night?"

 

Purposely misinterpreting her words, Steve turned to her and braced a forearm on the door frame, oozing the sleazy King Steve charisma, "Stay the night, eh? Thought you'd never ask."

 

"This?" She gestured up and down at him, "This? Gross. But yeah, dingus, stay here tonight. I got either a free couch or a comfy spot on the floor in my room." She led them back inside.

 

"Won't your parents care that you got yourself a boy here?"

 

"You know my mom is already planning our wedding, right? The colors are burgundy and gold."

 

"Hm, as long as I get the dress, I can live with that." He followed her upstairs. "White really brings out the highlights in my hair."

 

"Dustin would make a beautiful flower girl for you."

 

"He better not, I need to be the most beautiful." He paused in her bedroom doorway. "But seriously, where are you parents?"

 

"Believe it or not, date night." Robin grabbed several pillows off what looked to be an inordinate amount of pillows on her bed. "Once a month, they like to do something together, even if it's just staying a night in Chicago. Just to keep the romance alive, I guess. They'll be back tomorrow."

 

"That's sweet." Steve made himself a nest with the pillows on the floor next to her bed. "Sweet but rather morbid that you chose that night to kill yourself."

 

"There it is." Robin sighed. She gestured in his direction, "Turn around and close your eyes." 

 

He did as he was told. "What do you mean, 'there it is.'" he could hear the rustle of fabric as she changed into her night clothes. He debated a few moments before going for it and shucking off his own jeans. A t-shirt and boxers wasn’t going to be too awkward. Granted, this was his first time that he was staying a night at Robin’s, at any girl’s really, where sex was completely off the table. He’d stayed a few nights at Nancy’s after the events of the first Demogorgan attack, where all they had done was simply lie together, trying to assure each other that the night was safe. Staying here with Robin, after so many confessions and realizations, reminded Steve of those nights past, with Nancy.

 

“I know you’re mad at me, Harrington, I can see it in that little furrow between your eyes.” Robin plopped down on her bed, now dressed in an oversized Indiana Pacers t-shirt. At Steve’s raised eyebrow, she shrugged. “My dad’s a fan.”

 

“I do not get a little furrow between my eyes,” Steve scoffed, with great dignity. Robin passed down a fluffy down comforter to add to Steve’s nest. 

 

“You totally do. It’s a variant of the Stressed Out Mom look you frequently give.” She was trying to keep her tone light.

 

“Well if those little shits wouldn’t keep trying to get themselves killed, maybe I wouldn’t need to make that face.” Steve grumbled as he wrapped himself in the comforter. He cocooned himself in the blanket until only his face showed.

 

“Either way, I know you’re mad at me. Or worse, disappointed.” a small laugh escaped her lips. “So let’s just get the Harrington lecture over.”

 

“I’m not going to lecture you.”

 

"But?"

 

"But? There's no but. I'm not going to lecture." He paused, debating, "Okay maybe not lecture too much."

 

"See? I can read you like a book, Harrington." She propped herself up on one elbow to look down at his blanket pile. "Except for getting your own super powers, I apparently missed that chapter."

 

"Don't worry, I didn't do the reading either. Totally lost."

 

"So which is? Disappointed or mad?"

 

"Scared, actually." Keeping the blanket wrapped around himself, he laid flat on his back. "When I saw you make that cut, my mind just blanked. I couldn't think."

 

"How is that any different from your normal day to day?" He could tell she was trying to keep the mood light.

 

"Hah, bite me, Buckley." He continued, "I don't really know what I am capable of, that was the first time I'd ever tried finding someone through a picture, which by the way, weird as shit thank you very much. And so I didn't know if what I was seeing was what had happened or was happening now. All I could think of was getting to you."

 

He didn’t want to see her face with that confession. He never understood why it could be so difficult to tell someone how much you cared for them. Maybe it was some sort of fucked up residue from the way his parents raised him. Maybe it was because whenever he did finally tell someone how he really felt, it blew up in his face. Either way, the words often felt clunky and weighted when he tried to push them out.

 

“I’m sorry Steve,” Robin’s voice was serious, “I mean it. Now, that doesn’t mean I am sorry for what I did, because I’m not. What I can do with these, with these powers or abilities, whatever the fuck to call them, I needed to find out what the limits could be. I don’t regret it. But I am sorry that I scared you.”

 

Steve turned his head to look at her. She pulled herself up from her prone position on the bed and was watching his face, her blue eyes boring into his. “Robs, you don’t have anything to be sorry for,” he tried to explain, if only to get her to stop looking at him like that. “How the hell could you have known that I knew what you were doing? Neither of us are particularly good at cluing the other in with what is going on.”

 

“No kidding,” she finally stopped staring at him and laid back down. “How did you figure out you could do what you do?”

 

“At our last D&D game, actually.” a small chuckle escaped his lips. “We were in full on nerd campaign when I felt something weird.”

 

“Wait, you’re actually playing the game with them?” Robin screeched, “I just thought you were, I don’t know, like babysitting them or something. Letting them game while you watched football or something.”

 

“Have you seen any of the Colts games recently? You’d want to play a fantasy game too.”

 

“What?"

 

"Oh my God, I need to get new friends. Friends that watch sports. Friends that know sports. At least understand me when I make sports analogies." He sighed dramatically, "It's my one thing. Sports are my thing. Well that and getting my face bashed in. But I think I like sports being my thing better."

 

"Hey now, I played soccer."

 

"Yeah but you cancelled it out by being in band. And drama, you're in the negative, Buckley."

 

"Look at you understanding the Rule of Positives and Negatives."

 

"Shut up." He threw one of the many pillows back at her face. "What in the hell were we even talking about?"

 

"How you recognized your powers." The same pillow flopped back down onto Steve's face.

 

"Oh yeah." Steve moved the offending pillow back to its mound under his head. "Well we were playing the nerd game and I was totally winning."

 

"You don't win in D&D, you survive."

 

"Anyways, I suddenly felt really sad, but not like my own sadness. It was here," he gestured a blanket draped arm to his own chest, "and it felt like a vice on my ribs."

 

"It was Max's sadness?"

 

"Yeah, the poor kid has no one to talk to about Hargrove's death. And whatever bullshit was between them, Max still loved her brother. We all just kind of just pushed that to the side 'cause we all mostly remember Hargrove being a dick. And Red is pretty good at hiding her feelings. She wants to appear strong. But it still seeped out."

 

"I think it's good that you of all people, got the touchy-feely super power." Robin leaned over to hit the light on her nightstand.

 

"Why?" He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.

 

"Because as much of a dumb bitch that you often are, you're damn good at reading and understanding people's feelings. So this gift of feeling what others feel? It's good that you're the one interpreting them. Even if you're shit at dealing with your own."

 

Steve was quiet for a moment, taking in Robin's words. Except in cases that concerned his own emotional well-being, he was pretty good at reading people. He always has been. From a young age when he learned to stay out of his parents' way based on the tension in his dad's shoulders or the grip of his mom's hand. To using that same gift to get ahead in the high school rat race, which teachers to charm, which coaches to snap at attention to. Even holding court with Tommy and Carol, and the rest of those teenage sycophants, he used his innate understanding of people to maintain his dominion. 

 

Maybe the Russian drugs just amplified what was already a part of him.

 

"Steve?" Robin's voice was quiet in the darkness of her room. "You OD down there?"

 

"Just thinking," he murmured.

 

"'Bout what?"

 

"How offended I am at you," he groused, "I'm often a dumb bitch? I'll have you know I am a dumb bitch all the time."

 

---------------------------

 

His wrists were tied. Same as before. Fingers bloodied and aching. One wrist broken, the skin swollen and tight under the zip tie holding it.

 

His dream again.

 

Steve could make out Robin's limp form on the ground behind the imposing form of the Russian general in front of him.

 

It didn't matter how many times he saw her broken body, each time the rush of horror and grief overwhelmed him. It overwhelmed his fear, his pain, even his anger at her loss. 

 

The general before him was more abstract than corporeal. He was rage and wrath, sadism and glee. This shadow, cloaked in military grade wool and brass medals, enjoyed the pain he inflicted. No matter how Steve answered his question, this monster won. 

 

"Tell me where he is." Was hissed into his face, spittle raining down onto bruised cheeks.

 

"I don't know! I swear it! I don't know!" Evening knowing what he did, Steve tried desperately to explain that he knew nothing.

 

He always knew nothing.

 

"If you do not know, then what use are you?"

 

The gun appears, like always does. And for the first time, fear overrides the grief at the sight of Robin.

 

The gun fires.

 

Steve jolts upright from his nest of pillows and blankets. Heart racing, the phantom ache in his fingers fading into the night. He automatically reached for the nail bat, that normally would be right there at his bedside. Only he wasn't at home, his routine was disrupted.

 

He was at Robin's. 

 

There it was, the faint glow of the nightlight near her window. The soft glow looked sickly as it reflected dust particles into the night.

 

Steve blinked. The window above the nightlight looked wrong. Black, grimy residue caked the window pane, obscuring the view outside. The walls were also streaked in black.

 

Jumping up, Steve realized the blanket he was wrapped in was no longer thick and fluffy, but sodden with damp ash and dirt.

 

It was Robin's room. And it wasn't.

 

He was in the Upside Down.

 

At least, he assumed he was, based on the brief exposure he had it in the tunnels and the descriptions Nancy and Will provided. There was that same rotten smell in the air as the tunnels and everything looked twisted in away, like a filter over an underdeveloped photo.

 

Don't freak out, don't freak out. It must be another dream right?

 

But it didn't feel like a dream. When he dreamed of the Russian general questioning him, it felt hazy and incomplete at times. But this. This was in focus. He could see the flakes of ash or dust or whatever the hell it actually is, drifting in the air and landing on his skin.

 

Looking around, he saw that Robin's bed was empty, he was alone.

 

Was he?

 

Much like when he'd slipped into the Void, music floated along with the ash in the air. In fact, it seemed clearer here. 

 

Without realizing it, Steve followed the music to the grime encrusted window. It was hard to see outside, the window coated as it were in addition to the darkness of the Upside Down. But he could see something.

 

There, some distance away, a hulking figure slinked from shadow to shadow. Merging with the darkness. Fear gripped his mind and Steve could feel his hands begin to shake.

 

Was this a Demogorgon? A flayed? Some other terribly named monster?

 

Steve could not bear to watch the figure's jagged movement but he could not look away. The music pressed into his mind, the notes both soothing his fear and piquing his curiosity.

 

That separate part of his mind, the part that never calmed down, that always freaked out and doubted what he was seeing, fell silent.

 

He found his hands, though still trembling, reaching for the latch on the window and sliding the sash up. The music reached a crescendo. 

 

Below him, in the street, the figure stopped it's creeping movement as it seemed to become aware of Steve in the window.

 

The soothing music tamped down on any panic or fear, Steve surely should have been feeling at this point. Instead it seemed to bolster his courage to lean forward, out the window and begin to climb out.

 

Something grabbed his shoulder from behind, shattering the song in the night and pulling him back.

 

"Steve! What the hell are you doing?!"

 

With the silencing of the music, the Upside Down disappeared in an instant and all that panic and fear that was kept at bay, crashed back into him.

 

Steve found himself half crawling out Robin's bedroom (totally clean and ash free) window. Robin clutched at his shoulder, stopping him from making his exit (jump? There wasn't a ledge that would have stopped his fall if he would have made it out all the way)

 

Steve stumbled back, body shaking so badly, he wondered if he was starting to seize. He wanted to assure Robin, whose eyes were wide and terrified, that he was okay, was going to be okay. But his mouth couldn't form the words.

 

Will had spent days in that place and Steve couldn't spend five minutes without completely losing it?

 

"Steve, c'mon man, talk to me. What happened?" Robin guided his shaking form to her bed and pressed him down (not on rotted, soggy blankets) on it. "Was it a nightmare?"

 

Was it? The Russian part definitely was, but everything that followed? Could it have been just a dream? It didn't feel like it. It didn't sound like it.

 

"Steve, say something, you're scaring me." Robin gripped his hands tightly.

 

Steve opened his mouth to try and answer but the nightlight under the window flickered. He flinched, wrenching his hands from Robin's and backed himself to the corner of her bed.

 

"Steve! It's okay!" Robin followed him across the bed and pulled his body towards her. "Breathe with me, please, just breathe in with me." She pressed his face to her neck and encircled him in her arms.

 

He could hear her heartbeat and he could feel her concern. The emotion was wrapped around him, like he had done earlier with the blanket. That more than anything, helped him begin to calm his nerves.

 

When he brought his own arms up around her, Robin moved a hand to his hair. Running her fingers through it, helped settle him even more, enough to where he felt he could finally speak.

 

"I dreamed that you were dead."

 

She made a small noise in the back of her throat. But he continued on before she could say anything.

 

"But that's normal, I dream that every week."

 

"Steve…"

 

"It's okay, really, I'm used to it now. But this time was different."

 

"How so?"

 

"When I woke up, I woke up in the Upside Down. I don't know how that was possible, the Gate's fucking closed, but I did."

 

"Are you sure it just wasn't a dream within a dream?" 

 

Steve leaned back so he could look her in the eye. "It was real. I felt it. And I heard that strange song again."

 

"What strange song?"

 

He shrugged, "I heard it when I went into the Void each time. But it was louder here. More intense." He shuddered, "When I looked out your window, I saw something out there. Alive."

 

"Was it the Mind Flayer?"

 

"No, not that big. And not small enough to be a demodog. It could be a full grown demogorgon but I couldn't see. But it was out there. And it looked like it was trying to find something."

 

"Here, lay down." Robin pushed him down onto his side and curled up behind him. She kept her arms tight around him. "What do you think it was looking for?" Her voice was small and quiet in his ear.

 

He brought his own hands up to hold hers, though the tremors still rattled them. "I don't know. I don't think I want to know."

 

"Okay, well with that horrifying thought in our minds, let's try and rest. We can talk about it with the group tomorrow afternoon." She tightened her hold on him when he tried to get up from her bed. "Just stay here and sleep dingus, but don't read too much into this."

 

"You're in luck, I don't know how to read." He grinned at her huffing laugh in his ear.

 

"I knew it all along," she whispered, sleep taking over.

 

As he listened to the sound of her breathing behind him, he could only think of one thing.

 

The Morkoth had come. 

 

Chapter Text


 Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead


 

Distraction. Preoccupation. Worry.

58.

 

74!

 

"Steve, what do you think?"

 

"74!" Steve looked from the pen in his hand and grinned. "New record!"

 

"Son of a bitch, Steve, have you been paying attention to anything Nancy has been saying?" Dustin elbowed him roughly from his position next to him at the Harrington dining table.

 

Up until that very moment, Steve had been focused on how many times he could successfully flip his pen around the back of his thumb without dropping it or sending it skittering across the table. After each drop, the counter started fresh. He was pretty proud at his 74 consecutive spins. 

 

But as for what everyone else was talking about, not a damn clue.

 

Nancy stood at the end of the table, at his father's spot, whenever he deigned to have a family meal. A look of irritation marred her features as she rubbed the bridge of her nose.

 

That spike of frustration he felt from everyone in the room, yeah it was probably due to him.

 

Currently, Nancy, Dustin, and Mike were convening at the Bat Cave , and he would never stop thinking that was a dumb name. Max and Lucas were coming over later after each attending to 'family' obligations. Steve knew Lucas was just babysitting Erica while his parents enjoyed a free night, and no one really wanted to drag a ten year old back into a Russian spy conspiracy. Meanwhile, Max had explained that after Billy's death, her mom has stressed the importance of family dinners, to 'help Neil grieve' which was a bunch of bullshit according to her. Neil did no grieving, rather seemingly just enjoying the tight reign he held over the Mayfields. 

 

Steve didn't often hate people, it took a lot to make him wish violence (and yeah, that's probably why he can't fight worth shit) but damn if he didn't want to take his bat to Neil Hargrove's face.

 

Robin was stuck at her after school shift at Family Video, more than likely trying to dodge Keith's heavy-handed flirting techniques.

 

Which just left the rest of them to go over some research Nancy had managed to wrangle up. She tried to explain about her connection that she had hidden somewhere, unnamed which intrigued Dustin and Mike but Steve was in full denial mood today.

 

Waking up in Robin's bed that morning had been a trip. The first moments upon waking, tangled up in her arms and sheets, caused a freak out of epic proportions as he had temporarily forgotten the events that led up to their bed sharing the night before. And Robin, with all of her charming tack, laughed so hard at him that she toppled off the side of the bed. 

 

Still cursing his so-called friend, Steve worked the morning shift at Family Video. In between renting out a copies of Firestarter and Red Dawn , Steve decided the best course of action concerning the Morkoth, was simply to ignore it for now. For all he really knew, the stress of all that happened the night before (which was pretty crazy) tricked his mind into really believing that he'd woken up in the Upside Down. But in reality, that was impossible. The Gate was closed. No way anyone could just blindly stumble into that. (Though if anyone could, it'd probably be his dumbass) So why freak the kids out and cause another Code Red?

 

Harringtons don't talk, after all.

 

"Steve, damn it, pay attention! Jesus Christ, you have to have some undiagnosed attention deficit disorder." Dustin grumbled.

 

"Sorry, dipshit." Steve felt a little bad, though not too bad, 74 flips! New record! But the group was trying to help him out and make sure he wasn't about to become an unwilling Russian comrade. It wasn't like he wanted that outcome, if it were possible, he'd never have anything to do with Russia ever again. For all intents and purposes, that country didn't exist to him any more. Gone. Poof. Northern Asia just sank into the sea. China can have new beach front property.

 

Denial was a sport he could have lettered in, in high school.

 

Nancy sighed, some of her curls fluttered with her breath. "I was saying that I was able to get a map of the lands that the former Mayor Kline sold to the Starcourt shell company. Plus a few of the names of the higher ranking Russians that were working in the lab at that time."

 

"And how the hell did you manage that, Nancy Drew?" He blinked at the sudden flinch and spike of fear that he felt from her. "Nance?"

 

She rubbed her forehead again, "Sorry, I have some bad memories associated with that nickname."

 

"Sorry, I get it." Now he felt even worse. They're doing this all for me, he had to keep reminding himself. Try and not be an ass about it for once in your worthless life. "But seriously, how did you get all that info?"

 

She smiled a small superior smirk, "I have my contacts."

 

"It was Bald Eagle, wasn't it?" Dustin grinned, still almost four months later, amused by his vaguely insulting callsign. 

 

"I can't reveal my source."

 

"Totally Bald Eagle." Mike agreed.

 

"Any way, here is the map of the farmlands that were sold to Starcourt. Here," she gestured to a red circle on the map, "here is Hess farm, where Hopper and Joyce found the Russian scientist that helped them out."

 

Steve nodded as he took in the large map of Hawkins. “So what is it you’re thinking of doing with this?” he pointed to the red circle, “It’s not like we can just go check out that site, the government people have been all over it. I doubt a plucky reporter and her sexy friend can find anything new.”

 

“Aw, thanks man, I have been working on my look,” Dustin let out one of his ridiculous purr/growl thing of his.

 

“Look, no- I meant-” Steve sighed, “Don’t do that.”

 

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Steve’s right.” Mike interjected.

 

“Dude!” Dustin protested, “Suzie loves my purr.”

 

“No, I wasn’t talking about that, no one is talking about that.” Mike groaned, “I meant about investigating Hess farm. He’s right, for the first time in forever.”

 

“You couldn’t have just left it at, ‘he’s right’.” Steve rolled his eyes.

 

“No, never.” Mike moved on quickly. “Whatever the Russians had at that site has long been seized by the government. It would just be a waste of our time.”

 

“I don’t necessarily think so,” Nancy answered. “We don’t really know what they were planning besides the basic ‘re-open the Gate’ move they were making. Plus, we know about the Upside Down than they do, we could look at the site with fresh eyes and see if they missed anything.”

 

“You really think we know more than they do?” Steve didn’t hide his skepticism. He wasn’t exactly waving around an American flag in blind patriotism, but he was fairly certain that the US government knew more about what was going on in Hawkins than even their merry band of monster hunters thought.

 

"Clearly. The US government never interviewed you, didn't they?" Nancy looked smug.

 

And damn it, she was right. Because of his father's ego, Steve had been plucked from the scene of the crime before the mountains of paperwork could descend. Which was pretty odd when he thought about it. He never knew how his father swung that. Steve knew John Harrington has clout in Hawkins but enough to get his son out of a government debrief? The last few times the Upside Down intruded on their town left Steve with hand cramps from signing non-disclosure agreements in addition to his usual concussions. 

 

"You're hinging your hunch on what this guy can remember?" Mike didn't look convinced. Privately, Steve agreed.

 

"I'm not expecting to find anything revolutionary there," Nancy defended, "but maybe something would look familiar to Steve and could bring up a memory of that night."

 

"For what purpose though?" Steve asked, flipping the pen over his thumb again, anxiety creeping into his bones. "So I remember that some machine left behind looks familiar, what then? That doesn't tell us if some Russian hitman is gonna hunt me and Robin down. It won't even tell us if they know about us."

 

Nancy was beginning to look uncertain. "It's some place we can start."

 

Steve felt it then, her desperate need to do something . To not just sit and wait until the next bad thing strikes them. That was her MO, she needed a cause, a crusade, something to focus her beautiful mind on and solve. Finding out what happened to Barb, fighting to bring justice for her friend, to understanding what was going on with the infected rats, Nancy needed this. Needed this to feel useful, to help. He wanted to reach out and ease that tension from the sharp lines of her shoulders. But he didn't have that right. Not anymore.

 

So did the only thing he could.

 

"You're right Nance," he swiped underneath his nose, feeling a light trickle of blood, "what could it really hurt, to just check it out at least, right?"

 

Her smile was so grateful that something within him hurt at the sight of it. That just the simple act of validating her could bring it out. Nancy should never have to feel like that.

 

"Okay, so I'll scout out the farm and let's see if we can break into it Thursday night. I'd like to try and have something concrete we can tell Joyce and the others when we call."

 

"I'll go with you." Mike volunteered.

 

" No. " Both Steve and Nancy didn't hesitate. Even in the face of Mike's teenage rage.

 

"Why not? I'm perfectly capable of holding my own!" His anger was like a flash of flame in a pan, sudden and bright.

 

"Dude, we know that, but the less of us getting in and out, the better." Steve reasoned. "Nance has the maps and you all need my brain to remember things, God help us all, and that is enough. Any more of you dipshits tag along and someone is bound to take notice."

 

Nancy flashed him a look of pride. Sometimes he could say the right thing. "Exactly. Plus, I have a mission for you and the rest of the Party. Here." She pulled from her book bag a series of photos. Each one showing a black and white portrait with a name and information scrawled in red ink underneath. "These are some of the Russian that were working at Starcourt. Some are in detention while others are not. We need to research what we can on those that the government doesn't have eyes on."

 

"And how are a group of fourteen year olds gonna manage that?" Steve couldn't help but ask.

 

"Buddy, have you met us? We figure the shit out of things." Dustin grinned, reaching for the photos. "We can start by seeing if Steve or I recognize any of these guys."

 

Nancy nodded, "That's what I am hoping for. Each of the photos have been marked either, 'detained', 'deceased' or 'unknown'." 

 

"Steve look! It's the dude you knocked out!" Dustin threw down a photo of a Russian technician. The photo was obviously taken after the man had been apprehended by the US government, his eyes angry and a large bruise on the side of his face. Underneath the man's name, in red, was scrawled 'detained'. Steve quickly averted his eyes after taking in the face.

 

"Great." He muttered, "At least we know he isn't out for revenge."

 

Dustin was quickly flipping through photos, trying to recognize some other faces, when he paused. Steve picked up on his hesitance and silently offered a hand. 

 

"Um, I'm pretty sure you'll remember this guy." He handed over a photo.

 

And yeah. Steve definitely did. He saw those sadistic eyes in his dreams almost every night. He could still feel those rough fingers in his hair and on his chin. 

 

And wow. His monster had a name. 

 

Colonel Ozerov.

 

"I always called him, the General." He murmured, touching the picture lightly.

 

"Steve?" Nancy's voice was soft and gentle. 

 

"He was, uh-" he took a deep breath to steady his voice, "He was the one who questioned me."

 

Everyone fell into an awkward silence. Steve could tell they were all waiting for him to continue, to explain more, but what was there to say? He really didn’t understand everyone’s need to get him to talk about what he experienced at the hands of the now named Colonel Ozerov. No matter how many times he explained that it was just a beating, everyone acted like he was hiding further trauma from them.

 

Looking at the cold eyes of the picture, Steve thought himself lucky that it had been just a beating. Closing his eyes, he let his fingers press against the photo. Almost instantly he felt overrun with a sense of sick joy. Laughter echoed in his mind as he saw a vision of himself, hair dark with sweat and blood crusted over his mouth, with wide eyes filled with desperation. This is what Ozerov felt when he’d questioned Steve. Not a drive to find answers, not a sense of duty, but glee. Sick, sadistic joy at watching a teenager beg. There was no expectation, no answer he was waiting for, just cruel amusement. 

 

“Steve, stop!” Dustin’s voice and hand on his wrist broke him out of his mind. 

 

Steve blinked down at his wrist in Dustin’s hand. His fingers were no longer touching the photo, but there was a fine tremor in them, that surely wasn’t missed by Dustin. He was also vaguely aware of blood creeping down under his nose. 

 

“As much as I want you to use your powers to find out information, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Dustin explained, keeping his fingers wrapped around Steve’s arm. 

 

“I-uh, I didn’t even realize I was doing it.” Steve admitted. “I just slipped into a memory.”

 

“What did you see?” Mike asked.

 

“Mike!” Nancy shot him a pointed look. 

 

“What?” Mike barreled on, “Steve doesn’t want us treating him with kid gloves, if he saw something when looking at that guy, maybe it could help us.”

 

Steve pulled his arm away from Dustin and wrapped his arms around himself. “It doesn’t really change things, but I saw what he felt when he was questioning me. He was enjoying it, the sick bastard.”

 

“Is that everything?” Nancy seemed resigned to Mike’s logic. 

 

“It was like he didn’t care how I answered him, he was just looking forward to order the next hit.” Steve let out a mirthless laugh. “He was enjoying watching, he didn’t even bother to hit me himself.”

 

He couldn’t stand the pity that clouded Nancy’s blue eyes. It filled her face and rolled off of her in waves. It made him ill. “If what you’re able to see and feel are in fact Ozerov’s memories, then it does help us.” Nancy started. “His lack of care for your answers go along with the theory that they knew they were going to inject you with a drug that could stimulate powers.”

 

“Shit.” Steve hissed out. “Shit. Fuck.”

 

“I second that.” Dustin sounded sick himself.

 

Steve reached out, his intent to shove the photo of that bastard far from himself, when he caught sight of something that froze his entire being. Underneath the name and rank of Ozerov, was the bright red word ‘unknown’.

 

“They didn’t arrest this guy?” Steve’s voice hitched over the words. “Wait, I thought they got all the top rank guys? How the hell is he unknown?”

 

Nancy looked sharply down at the bundle of notes she’d complied. “It looks like, while the government swept the lab and got most of the workers there, an evacuation alarm had been set prior to Hopper’s infiltration. He must have escaped shortly after you guys did.”

 

“Motherfucker!” Steve exploded, jumping out of his chair. “Holy fuck, I am so fucking screwed.”

 

“Calm down, man, it’s okay. We can deal with it.” Mike raised his hands up placatingly, 

 

“No, Wheeler, you don’t get it. I gave him my name. Fuck. I gave him Dustin’s name! If even the slightest whisper of Robin or I having super powers gets out, they can track us down in no time flat! I’ve fucked it all up!” he began to pace the length of the dining room, panic rising. “What the fuck can we do?”

 

“Steve, that’s what we’re working on,” Nancy kept her voice quiet and calm, trying to sooth Steve’s frazzled nerves. “Just knowing the little that we learned just now, helps things out immensely. And we will keep researching and learning. We will keep you safe. We’ll keep all of you safe.”

 

“You can’t promise that,” Steve shook his head. “No one can promise that. Any asshole with an access to a phone book or the library, or even shit, a passing knowledge of Hawkins, can find out information on the Harringtons. My dad made it his life’s mission to be known. This place isn’t safe. Dustin’s home isn’t safe. I did this!

 

Amidst his panic, Steve could see the stricken look on Dustin’s face. “Steve, man, I didn’t mean it.”

 

“What in the hell are you talking about, Henderson?” Steve didn’t stop his pacing, wrapping his shaking arms around himself.

 

“That night, when I blamed you for talking, I didn’t mean it.”

 

“You were fucking right though. I should have kept quiet. I should have manned up. I brought you into this shit show.” He fucked up, fucked up royally. What kind of shitty excuse for a human names a fourteen year old boy to an evil fucking Russian? Turns out he’s a pretty good babysitter? What a freaking joke. 

 

“Dude, no!” Dustin jumped out of his chair and stood in front of Steve’s path. “I brought you into it in the first place. Remember? I heard the transmission.”

 

“But-”

 

“No! This isn’t on you. You were drugged. Drugged with something crazy and unknown, you cannot be held responsible for what you said under its effects. I was the asshole to blame you for it at the time. I don’t believe that anymore. You have to stop blaming yourself.”

 

Steve stopped and stared at his friend, his small, so very small and young, friend. “But what if they come after you?” he asked quietly. “I couldn’t live with myself if something happens to you.”

 

“That’s why you have us,” Mike interjected with a fierce look on his face. It was so reminiscent of Nancy that Steve had to smile. What did he ever do to deserve the fervent protection of the Wheelers? “We’re all in this together. No matter what. When a Party member is in danger, the rest will be there for the rescue.”

 

“Am I a Party member now, Wheeler?”

 

“Party Member Adjacent.” Mike grinned. “We still need to have the vote.”

 

Sensing that Steve’s freak out was near its end, Dustin retook his seat at the dining table. “Finally agree to set a date for the vote, man, it’s been almost a year.”

 

Nancy’s all-knowing eyes watched Steve as he returned to his seat as well. “Do you want to take a break from this?” she asked quietly.

 

Steve shook his head, “No, I’m good. Still convinced that I’m a shit for bringing this all down on us, but I’m good at the moment. 

 

He forced himself to take in air slowly, to try and calm his beating heart. They had to move on. They needed to look at more photos, try and remember more faces. He couldn’t let this continue to overwhelm him.

 

No sooner than the tremors in his hands calmed down, he felt a spike of shock flare through him. His hands jolted from where he’d rested them on the table, knocking over the can of Tab that had been nearby.

 

“Steve!” Nancy cried, darting for the roll of paper towels. “What the hell?”

 

But he wasn’t paying any attention to widening pool of soda, rather it was Dustin that drew his focus. Dustin’s pale, bloodless face as the boy stared at a new photo in his hand. 

 

"Steve?" Nancy tried again but paused at his up raised hand. 

 

"Dustin, let me see that photo." The shock that Steve first felt was now being rapidly taken over by guilt and shame. It was an almost physical feeling, in his throat, choking him. Without even seeing the photo, Steve knew what he'd see.

 

Dustin, full of fear, fear for Steve, fear for his brother, and fear for Robin, and full of determination to save them, burst screaming into the room. He doesn't think, just acts. 

 

The stun baton, already charged and emitting its deadly shocks, is rammed directly into the chest of the man looming over Steve. 

 

Steve. Who is bloody, tied up, and so very beaten again. 

 

But alive.

 

So is Robin. She's alive too. They both looked bruised and worn, but strangely enough, laughing.

 

It doesn't matter why. Nothing matters besides getting these two out of here immediately.

 

Everything he did was for them.

 

The photo he plucked from Dustin's lax hand reveals the name Dr. Zharkov and the large red word: Deceased.

 

"Steve?' Dustin's voice was the smallest Steve had ever heard. "Did I-?"

 

"It doesn't matter." Steve said with finality. Whatever emotion Steve might feel at seeing that sadistic doctor’s face again needs to be pushed down and forgotten, he needs to focus on Dustin immediately. "Dustin. I know what you're thinking and it doesn't matter."

 

"But it was me, wasn't it?" Now his voice shook and Steve could hear the tears forming. "I killed him."

 

"What?" He heard Mike gasp in the background but Steve was solely focused on Dustin. 

 

"Listen to me kid," Steve moved from his chair to kneel next to Dustin's. "C'mon, look at me." He waited until the kid looked at him, eyes wide and glistening. "First of all, take a deep breath. Follow me. Okay? Good. I can feel your panic buddy, you can't let it overwhelm you." Steve only felt slightly hypocritical, calming Dustin down so soon after his own freak out. But his emotions didn't matter, this was a kid (just a young, so very, very young kid) dealing with the sudden realization that he may have killed somebody. And that was the more important issue at hand. It was time to push aside whatever lingering trauma of his own and help Dustin.

 

He felt both Mike and Nancy's concern pressing on him but they wisely kept back and allowed Steve to talk to Dustin.

 

"I want you to listen closely to me, buddy." Steve continued without breaking eye contact. "If you hadn't come in when you did, doing what you did, that man right there would have hurt me. Badly. He was already starting to." He reached out and gripped Dustin's shaking hands. "I cannot say how much I appreciate what you did for Robin and me. You saved my life. You got that, Henderson? You saved both mine and Robin's life. I'll never be able to thank you enough for that." He didn't know if his emotion sensing abilities could be turned around and allow others to feel what he could, but if on the oft chance he could, he tried to flood the room with the gratitude he felt for Dustin's actions in that Russian base.

 

"I know it helped you and that guy was an asshole, but I still feel bad. Wrong. " Dustin gripped tightly at Steve's hands. "And I feel bad for not feeling bad enough!"

 

Steve pulled Dustin to his chest and hugged him fiercely. "It's okay to feel bad. And it's okay if you don't. Because what matters is your intent with your action. You acted out of desire to protect, not to hurt. You didn’t do this and enjoy it, you had to, to save us.”

 

“Am I a murderer?” Dustin asked, from the circle of his arms.

 

“Do you think El is?” Mike asked.

 

“What?” Dustin tried to raise up from Steve’s embrace, but Steve kept his arms tight around him.

 

“Do you think El is a murderer?” Mike asked again. “Because she has killed too. To save us, remember? From those Lab guys at the school? She protected us. Like you did for Steve and Robin.”

 

“But that’s different!”

 

“How so?” Steve asked. “She knew it was either them or you and she chose to save you. It was the right thing to do.”

 

“None of us ever blamed her for that or thought she was a monster for it.” Mike had that Nancy-fierce look to him again and Steve never wanted to hug that little shit more than he did right at that moment. “We also didn’t blame Will, either.”

 

“What?” Dustin sat back a little bit from Steve, looking at Mike like he wanted to argue.

 

“When the Mind Flayer possessed him, Will led the Demo-dogs to the lab guys, remember? I know how much that ate Will up, he felt so guilty for that, but it wasn’t him, he didn’t want to do it. Like Steve said, it’s all about intent.”

 

Dustin took a hiccuping breath. “I get what you guys are saying, but I still feel like shit.”

 

“I understand, dude, I really do. It’s okay to feel that way. But you got all of us here to talk to, if you need to.” Steve reached up and ruffled his curls. “I’ll always be here for you.”

 

“Thanks, Steve.” Dustin gave him a grateful look, “Same goes for you.”

 

“Sure buddy” He stood and looked down at the dining table, taking in the mound of soda-soaked paper towels. “Hey Nance, can you help me clean this up?” he asked with a nod towards the kitchen. “I’ll be right back, bud.” he mussed up Dustin’s curls again. He headed back into the kitchen, out of earshot from the kids.

 

Gathering up the wet paper towels, Nancy met him in the kitchen. “Subtle move there, Harrington.”

 

“Listen Nance, you saw what just happened.” he gestured back to the dining room. He could see Mike trying to engage the somber Dustin in conversation. “We can’t let them get any more involved than they already are.”

 

“You know how they are, they are going to involve themselves whether we allow them or not.” She leaned back against the counter top and arched an eyebrow. “You more than anyone, know they don’t listen when we ask them to stay on the sidelines.”

 

Steve felt a flash of frustration that was purely his own. “This is getting so much bigger than us, Nance! This is larger than a Demogorgon or closing the Gate. This is government conspiracies and the fucking Cold War. It’s one thing when it’s my ass on the line, but come on, we can’t risk them.”

 

“I know you want to protect them, Steve, I really do. But they will do their own thing. The minute we tell them they can’t be apart of this, they will make their own plans. At least this way, we can kind of control what they’re working on.”

 

Steve sighed and slumped back against the refrigerator. The shit thing was, Nancy was right. The last time they made plans to stay out of it, ended with his unconscious ass being crammed into the back of a stolen Camero on their way to an underground hell. “But isn’t that just kind of a lazy sort of responsibility?” he asked, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “‘Eh they do what they want so, just fuck it?’ We’re supposed to be the adults here.”

 

Nancy was smiling at him. Why was she smiling at him?

 

“What?”

 

“You sound like such a dad right now.” Her grin lacked the mocking tone that Robin’s usually held when she called him on his parental actions. 

 

“I thought it was agreed I was the mom.” he sighed, knowing his argument was already lost.

 

“Oh you still act like a mom at times, but this blustery sense of control you’re going for right now? Pure dad material.”

 

“Thanks, Nance, it’s good to know that my concern is so worthless.” he crossed his arms and cupped his elbows, hunching in on himself.

 

“That’s not what I meant at all.” she shook her head, “It’s great, how much you care for them. But no matter how much you try to set limits, you still let them walk all over you.”

 

Steve groaned. “They’ve all seen too much. They act like little soldiers. Why can’t they just be freaking kids?”

 

“The same could be said for us.”

 

“We’ve at least been through puberty before the world decided to shit on us.”

 

Nancy pushed off of the counter and stepped in front of him. “I know you’re worried Steve, I am too. But we will figure this out. We will keep each other safe.” There it was again. That determination that he fell for. All steel and fire in a tiny little frame.

 

“Is that so, Nancy Wheeler?”

 

“It’s a promise, Steve Harrington.”   

 

--------------------------

 

The Morkoth called to him that night.

 

After the excitement from that afternoon, Steve passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow. He'd been certain dreams of Ozerov and Zharkov would flood his mind but those ghosts were blissfully silent.

 

Instead he opened his eyes to ash and a rotten smell. His room, already lined in a dark pattern, turned into a dark cavern with its infected walls. His normally warm and comforting blanket was now damp and suffocating. He threw the mess off of himself quickly and stood.

 

Take a breath. This is a dream. He stood in his room, which was not his room, trying to make himself wake up. There was no way he could be in the Upside Down. The Gate was closed. This was just his own messed up mind playing tricks. 

 

But everything seemed so real.

 

The particles in the air clogged in his lungs and the iciness in the air caused goosebumps to form on his arms. If this wasn’t real then his mind was pretty vivid in its imagination. He could hear that strange song again.

 

The Morkoth’s song. 

 

It called him. 

 

The panic that welled up as soon as he opened his eyes, bled away when the music filled his mind. Objectively, he knew that listening to the song could only end up badly for him, but at that moment, he couldn’t remember why. He let wash over him and began to follow it out of his room.

 

Somewhere, in the rational part of his mind, he knew nothing good could come from following the song.

 

But then again, when did Steve ever do anything rational?

 

The song soothed him. Soothed him so much that he didn’t realize he was standing outside his home, at the edge of his pool. Vines covered the concrete, spreading everywhere like some fetid disease. At first glance, it looked like the pool was filled with some sort of shallow, mirky brine, but as Steve crept closer to the edge, he could see it was actually more vines. They criss-crossed over themselves so much they created a solid layer the lined the drained pool. 

 

The swelling song couldn’t drown out the sudden realization.

 

This is where Barb died.

 

Horror, the horror he should have been feeling, came surging back as the Morkoth lost its hold on him. This pool has been a source of guilt and terror since he learned what really happened to Barb that night. He never used it again, not since that night. 

 

Now he was here. Not just the location where she disappeared. 

 

She died, right here.

 

In his mind the song roared louder, trying to move him from his spot. Did it want him to walk into the pool? No way. He would be stronger. He needed to wake up. 

 

Instead, he felt his feet move, song filling his veins. 

 

No, no, no. Not there, please don’t take me there! He begged in his own mind, not really sure who or what he was begging to.

 

Almost if the Morkoth listened to him, he moved around the edge of the pool and out towards the woods that backed up to his house.

 

Well, that wasn’t really less terrifying. But at least it wasn’t a head-first dive into that nightmare that was now behind him.

 

The music led him to the tree line. And stopped. Just. Stopped.

 

Steve blinked, looking around. It was the first time that he felt fully alert and awake. He was barefoot and jacketless, standing in an alternate reality.Cold and afraid, and so very confused. Why was he brought here? 

 

He listened, trying to tell if he could hear the familiar chirping of any nearby demo-dogs. But it was silent. He had to have been brought here for a reason, right? Why? 

 

And how could he get home?

 

He looked around, taking in his surroundings. Maybe if he just headed back to his room, he could wake himself up from whatever the hell this was. 

 

He took a step and immediately stumbled, as his foot landed on a sharp rock. As he glanced down to see if he’d cut his foot, he saw something. 

 

Maybe this was what the Morkoth wanted him to see.

 

There in the mud, heading in the direction of the woods, was a footprint. 

 

Not a weird claw shape of a demo-dog or demogorgon. But a bootprint. A human bootprint.

 

And it looked recent.

 

Someone else was here.

Chapter Text


 There's somethin' wrong with this world

I feel it comin' on

And contradictions take their toll

Is that where we went wrong?


 

Agitation. Distress. Compelled.

 

Will and Nancy never once described the sound of the Upside Down. The smell, yes. The bleakness of the surroundings and the taste that somehow managed to coat your tongue: that was described in vivid detail. But sound was one sense not touched upon. 

 

Once the Morkoth's song ended, Steve became aware of how the Upside Down sounded.

 

Everything seemed muffled. As if he was listening to it through a door. The drip of the dirty water sounded hollow. His own breathing seemed distant. When he took a step, his feet barely made any noise as he began to make his way through the woods.

 

When his foot landed on a branch, the resulting crack seemed weak. Pallid, almost. Everything about this place seemed wrong.

 

Seemed, and that really was the word for it, Steve realized, because everything here is unnatural, so everything I see or hear seems strange, even if it's something I've seen or heard before. Like a broken tree branch underneath his foot.

 

Maybe sound stood out so differently to him because the first time he awoke here, the Morkoth sang to him. Comforted him, in a strange way. Then when song ceased, the silence left behind made Steve unnerved. 

 

He should be trying to find a way back. A way to wake up. Try as he might, he couldn't remember how Will managed to wake himself when he had episodes prior to his possession by the Mind Flayer. Steve knew the doctor's still believed those episodes to be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but those close to him knew it was the Upside Down bleeding into their world.

 

Much like it was doing now.

 

Yet Steve found himself following the footprints deeper into the woods.

 

Yes, Steve felt terrified. This was a stupid move. About be demo-dog fodder for sure.

 

But.

 

If there was someone out there. Stuck. Or hell, investigating something, maybe Steve could help. 

 

So even though he had begun to shiver in the freezing air and his bare feet were scratched and dirty, he pressed on.

 

He lost the trail a couple of times. Once due to the ground becoming coated in slippery, rubbery vines that made Steve's skin crawl at the feel of their texture. Another time, the air was so thick with ash and fog, he could barely see past the end of his nose. But each time he managed to somehow find the trail again.

 

It was an odd sensation, really, to be walking somewhere familiar yet so alien. Steve grew up playing in these woods. Often as an only child with, at best, absent parents, he played by himself out here with no concern for safety. The woods of Hawkins never held any fear for him until a girl disappeared in his pool and a photo was taken in the dark. So his childhood playground turned into a forest of nightmares.

 

He just never thought he'd see the nightmare quite so literally.

 

In real Hawkins, he knew he should be coming upon a stream soon. There were little pockets of ponds all along the woods that were connected by spiderwebs of water. This one, he had named the River Thames because at the time he'd discovered it, when he was younger, his parents had been on a three month stay in England. His mother had described the Thames to him on one of her weekly calls and the idea of the river stuck with him. He'd braggingly told Tommy the stream's name in a bid to sound worldly but he always knew it was a sad, pathetic child's attempt at keeping his parents close.

 

From that moment on, the tiny tendril of water that ran through here bore a majestic name. Steve felt hesitant to find it here, in the Upside Down, know that it's clear waters would be black with disease.

 

His fears proved correct as he climbed over a decayed log that crumbled as he scaled it. There was the River Thames, swollen with silt and other unknown rancid materials. The smell that emanated from the stream nearly bowled Steve over. 

 

Everything about the Upside Down seemed to be rotting from within. 

 

But there, in the grime along the banks of the Thames, were more bootprints. And they lead straight to something in a cluster of skeleton-like trees a few yards away from Steve.

 

As Steve drew nearer to the trees, his apprehension grew. Why had he followed the tracks? What good could come from this? It was a miracle that he hadn't been eaten yet by a stray demogorgon. 

 

But he had to know. What if someone needed help?

 

That's been the driving question for him. It always has been. Even when his mind screamed at him to run away, the need to help others, drove him forward. It turned him around at the Byers' house and it made him follow Dustin back to his car. Steve was fairly certain he was a piece of shit, but he needed to try

 

That strange clump between the trees? A tarp. 

 

A tarp.  

 

A tarp, strung up between barren branches, creating a little shelter.

 

Holy shit .

 

Investigating further, Steve could see what looked like old coffee cans, scrubbed clean of the Upside Down filth, filled with relatively clean water. This wasn’t a Hawkins mirror image. As far as Steve knew, there wasn’t an improvised campsite behind his house. This looked lived in. Recently.

 

Steve might not be the brightest crayon in the box. But he was fairly confident that a demogorgon did not make this shelter. This was further proof that there was another human, here in the Upside Down.

 

Steve moved in closer, to see if he could find any sign that would point him to who was here. Besides the cache of water, there were traces of where a fire had been built. Steve could see that there had been an effort to build the fire in an area that would have shielded the flames from most directions while also not funnelling the smoke directly back into the shelter. This told Steve two very important pieces of information. One, this person clearly had basic survival skills; the boiled water also pointed to that. And second, they were either familiar with the dangers that the Upside Down presented or have been here long enough to learn those dangers first hand.

 

Steve pushed an overhanging corner of the tarp out of his way as he knelt down underneath it.  He could see a bundle of fabric folded up just beyond the water can. A slash of red on the dull fabric stood out sharply in the world of grey and black. Something familiar about it tugged at his memory. 

 

His hands seemed to remember before his mind did, shaking as they were, as he unfolded what he could now see was a jacket. 

 

It clicked.

 

An army jacket. A Russian army jacket. 

 

Steve dropped the jacket abruptly and stumbled backwards out of the shelter. Were those bullet holes in the sleeves? Jesus Christ!  

 

Russians. Here. In the Upside Down. What the hell does this mean?

 

As Steve fumbled his way back to the shore of the Thames, he realized that there were now two terrifying threats he could face here. The Mind Flayer and his ilk and now the Russians. But did this mean that they had found some way to open the Gate? And that they were back in Hawkins?

 

It was too much. Too much.

 

His legs abruptly gave out beneath him and Steve crashed to the sooty ground.He wanted nothing more than to just curl up and will himself back to sleep. This couldn’t possibly be real. Horrors on both sides of his mind. Awake and whatever the hell you could call this nightmare. 

 

Steve had once begged Nancy to go to a party so they could pretend to be normal teenagers again. Nancy knew, then, what would take Steve another year to fully comprehend. There was no going back to normal for them again. There would always be another threat. Another monster to fight. 

 

What he possibly do now? Steve knew of no way to get out of this hellscape. He barely understood how they got Will back the first time. There was no gateway in a tree trunk that he’d seen. And Robin wasn’t anywhere nearby to wake him up. 

 

He was well and truly fucked.

 

The universe, in all of its karmic glory, decided to reward Steve at that moment in the form of a chirp in the distance. For all of his freaking out, Steve instinctively froze at that sound. He knew that sound. It echoed in his dreams for the past year. 

 

A demo-dog was nearby. 

 

Steve had the sudden certain knowledge that he was going to be dead before his 20th birthday. How could he expect anything different? Russians in Hawkins, trapped in the Upside down with more Russians, and now demo-dogs. Maybe Eleven could handle this. Nancy sure as hell could. Hell, Will would be better at this than he could. What was Steve, but a false king ruling over a wasted kingdom?

 

Maudlin thoughts aside, Steve’s body did not want to become a demo-dog snack and he was scrambling back to his feet. With the way the sound echoed dully in the Upside Down, it was hard to tell which direction the chirp had come from. So he ignored his fervent desire to start running, and forced himself to stand perfectly still. He needed to know where it was. 

 

There. To his left. Looking down the black vein of the Thames, Steve could see a hunched figure of a demo-dog. It looked like it was sniffing the ground, if you could call it that, since Steve wasn’t exactly sure that demo-dogs had noses to sniff with in the first place. Since their entire face consisted of horrifying teeth and seemed to lack the basic humanoid features like eyes or noses.

 

Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing to have preserved that one demo-dog that Dustin tried to save in the Byers’ freezer. For science.

 

Eyes and nose aside, Steve still forced himself to freeze. Maybe it was like a T-rex thing and if he made no movement, the demo-dog could pass him by. There was no nail bat to protect himself with and he didn’t want to find out if his poor hand to hand skills translated over with interdimensional monsters as well. Nor did he want to try and read the thing and draw its attention to him because he needed to find out if demo-dogs had feelings .

 

Of course, because of his shit luck, the demo-dog turned its head in Steve’s direction and began to slink its way down the Thames.

 

Just as Steve decided it was going to make a break for it back to his house, or at least the Upside Down equivalent of his house, the Morkoth’s song slammed back into his mind. It was like someone switched on a radio in his mind, mid song, with the volume turned all the way up.

 

Steve couldn’t control his flinch nor his slight wobble of his feet, but to his amazement, the demo-dog seemed to jerk to a stop at the same time. As if it heard the Morkoth as well.

 

The monster raised its head and turned in several directions, as if looking for the source. It was then that it seemed recognize Steve standing wide eyed, like a deer about to be hit on a country road. It let out a chirping cry before resuming its path towards Steve. This time at a run.

 

The Morkoth’s song blared louder in his mind, like Steve pressed his ear to a speaker. It drove out every thought from his head, even the one of running from the oncoming demo-dog, leaving him rooted to his spot.

 

To his shock, the song had an effect on the demo-dog. It came to a crashing halt, stumbling on the muddy banks. It let out a whine, like an injured dog. 

 

Steve watched in shock as the demo-dog tried to claw its way to him. But with each step, the song grew louder. Almost angry in its cadence. 

 

It hurt. Everything was too loud, too pressing. Steve couldn't do anything but watch the demo-dog struggle closer. Until it finally gave up.

 

With a whimper, the demo-dog turned and scrabbled away. The Morkoth's song ebbing with its retreating figure. 

 

What the hell?

 

Steve, never known for his strategic planning, took a step to follow the demo-dog. The Morkoth was helping him? It led him to the bootprints. Now it diverted the demo-dog away from him. At least that what it seemed like. What the actual hell?

 

But his dumbass wasn't using this small blessing to hightail it out there, rather he began to follow the demo-dog. Where was the Morkoth leading it?

 

But the moment it became clear that he was following the demo-dog, the song in his mind flared to life again, stopping Steve in his tracks.

 

It was hard to explain but there were two songs playing in his mind. Like if he had one earphone popped off his ear and was listening to someone talk to him while a song played on his Walkman. He could hear the song and conversation but his mind couldn't completely focus on or the other.

 

Either way, he couldn't move his feet forward.

 

The Morkoth didn't want him to follow. Why?

 

He struggled, using all of his strength just to edge his foot along the dirt. The song burned across his mind.

 

It felt like the Morkoth was struggling too. Trying to hold two separate songs away from each other, like magnets on their reverse sides. If Steve kept up his fight then maybe he could break the Morkoth's hold on him.

 

But why do I want to?

 

Things were a bit fuzzy. The song in his mind, overriding his responses even as he fought it. Every muscle in his body was screaming at him to stop moving, to listen. To obey.

 

Steve never really liked following the rules.

 

With a barely restrained scream, Steve jerked his body forward with enough force that the song in his mind actually stuttered. Which brought autonomy back into his limbs. Using that momentary distraction, Steve surged ahead and began chasing the demo-dog down.

 

But the Morkoth wasn't done with him.

 

It turned its entire attention back to Steve and the song hit his mind with all the force of train.

 

His vision whited out and pain lanced through every muscle. His legs spasmed which sent him careening into the blackness of the Thames.

 

Steve knew nothing more.

 

When he opened his eyes, Steve found himself face down in the dirt, half submerged in the Thames. The real Thames, well the real Hawkins Thames, Steve did not wake up in England.

 

Though he would have been just as confused as he was now.

 

Everything ached. A deep bone ache in every joint. Compounded by the freezing water.

 

What the hell? 

 

He shakily pulled himself upright and took stock of his surroundings. Hawkins. The real Hawkins. The barren trees around him were white in their end of fall nakedness, not coated in Upside Down infection. The mud between his fingers was dark not because of some vile sickness but cause it was flush with fall rain. Even the freezing waters that soaked his pajama pants was free from the rotting other world.

 

Was it a dream? Did he sleep walk out here?

 

Steve wanted to be believe that a night terror brought him from the safety of his room to the middle of the forest. It was the simplest explanation. Like that Occult guy's razor or whatever, (he really should have paid more attention in science if he was going to continue to wake up in alternate dimensions) and the simplest answer was usually the right one.

 

But that didn't sit right with him, not when he looked down at his feet which were scratched and dirty.  The dirt that still clung to the soles of his feet was darker than the mud that surrounded him. 

 

They were stained by the Upside Down.

 

-----------------

 

"Okay, keep your dominant hand on top, yeah like that. Now, remember to keep your hands close to your body when you swing. If you extend them too far out, you're gonna lose power." Steve stood closely behind Robin as she adjusted her grip on the baseball bat. "Now swing it slowly so I can see your form."

 

"Sure, you just wanna check out my form, I see your moves, Harrington."

 

"Baseball was the best sport to check out another's form." He eyed her hands as she extended the bat. "Well, not as much as swimming but damn close."

 

"I should have been an athlete instead of a band geek then, huh?"

 

"Yeah, the one pro of a sports team, the nakedness. You would not believe the amount of naked dudes I've seen. However, the con, you're all naked together in a smelly locker room." He reached out and tilted her right hand to a more palm up position. "So your power is gonna come through your hips and wrists, don't tighten up your muscles when you hit, it's gonna hurt more in the end."

 

"You're oddly comfortable talking about naked dudes," Robin raised an eyebrow at him.

 

"And you're oddly comfortable ignoring my good advice," Steve took a step back and examined her critically. "Bring your hands down a bit."

 

"Like this?" She adjusted her hands, keeping her right palm upright. 

 

Steve nodded. "Hitting a baseball is a bit different than when you're hitting something living. Like a demogorgon or demo-dog."

 

"Or a Russian."

 

"Exactly. Hitting a ball, it's fast, sudden, and over. But when you hit something living, it's solid and jarring. And if your bat has nails in it, then it could stick." Steve grinned ruefully at Robin's look of disgust. "Yeah, so you're gonna have to have the arm strength to rip the bat back out."

 

Robin looked a little ill, reminding Steve that while she had been a full fledged member of Scoops Troop and present for the final showdown with the Mind Flayer, she never actually fought the horrors of the Upside Down up close and personal.

 

"So you really fought that shit?"

 

Steve nodded, taking the bat from her hands. "Here, watch my form." He widened his stance and slowly swung the bat so she could watch his movement. "See? Keep your muscles loose. If you're tensing up, any hit you strike is gonna rattle back up your arms and hurt you."

 

He turned back to her, taking in her faraway stare. "Rob's?"

 

"I just keep thinking of what you guys described, monsters with flower faces full of teeth. I mean, I've seen you trip over your own goddamn feet, and yet you fought those shits."

 

Steve gave her a mock glare. "Are you more shocked about the monsters or that I actually won several fights against them."

 

Robin wiggled her hand in a half and half gesture.

 

"Dustin back me up here!" Steve called back to where Dustin was perched on the trunk of a rusted Chevy. He had been observing Steve's little training session in the junkyard, taking notes in a battered notebook.

 

"It's true, Robin," he looked up from his writing, "Steve can't throw a punch to save his life, but he's fought off several demo-dogs. Right here, in fact."

 

"Could have really done without that sidebar about my hand to hand technique, but yeah, see?" Steve grinned. "Certified demo-dog slayer, right here."

 

"He didn't actually kill any," Dustin clarified, going back to his notes. "Only El has."

 

"Still saved your ungrateful ass."

 

Robin laughed. "Okay, fine, I believe you. Let me try hitting something now." She gestured to the bat.

 

Steve handed it over. "You're lucky we're just practicing with an ordinary bat, my bat is special. She takes a certain sort of finesse to handle her."

 

" Her?"

 

Steve laughed at the look on Robin's face. "Of course. She isn't just some simple tool. She's saved many an ass in the past few years. My girl needs to be respected. She deserves it."

 

"If you tell me you've named the nail bat, I will throw this bat at you."

 

Steve cackled as Robin lined up to hit a dilapidated Ford. He hadn't named the bat at all, giving it a gender had just popped into his head that moment and he ran with it just to ensure Robin would keep giving him that exasperated look and stopped focusing on the horrors she was training to fight. 

 

"You haven't quite gained the experience points needed yet to learn her name," he laughed again as Dustin's head shot up.

 

"Did you just make a D & D reference?" There was that smile that Steve loved so much.

 

"Maybe I did, maybe you're hearing things." After the night he had and the morning as well, Steve needed this jovial, relaxed atmosphere. He relished the laughter and lightness. Sure, they were still ostensibly training to fight the possible Russians that could be coming after them or any sort of monster that the Upside Down could spit out at them, but they were having fun and not dwelling on the horrors they've seen.

 

It was nice.

 

With a loud clanging noise, Robin swung at the Ford. Steve could see that she ignored all of the advice he'd given and just wailed on the rusted car. The bat struck the frame of the vehicle and the force of her hit reverberated up her arms. Her hold on the bat was all wrong and Steve suspected she felt the hit deep in her wrist.

 

“You feel that? Yeah you do.” he walked over and took the bat from her so she could rub at her wrists. “Look at ya, thinking I am nothing but a dumb jock who’s full of shit.” he grinned to show no malice in his words. “Maybe you ought to, uh, listen to Ol’ Steve.”

 

“I hate that you’re deservedly smug about this,” Robin groaned. 

 

“Not all of us know seventy different languages, okay? While you studied art and culture, I learned to make the ball go fast.” Steve took a swing at the car, handling the blow with perfectly planted feet that even-

 

“Plant your feet, Harrington!”

 

-Billy Hargrove would be proud of. He turned, propping the bat up on one shoulder. “See? By using the power that your hips can create and staying relaxed through the swing, it’s easier on your joints and you deliver a stronger hit.”

 

Robin was eyeing him strangely again. 

 

“What?”

 

“You’d be good at this.”

 

“What? Monster training camp? I feel like there would be a limited amount of people who would be hiring for that.”

 

“No dingus, this, teaching.” she shrugged and bumped her shoulder into his. “You’re patient, you explain your actions well, and you don’t condescend. I could easily see you coaching kids in little league or something. Probably way the hell better than my old soccer coach was.”

 

Steve dropped the bat from his shoulder and idly swung it around in the dirt. “Yeah but I am pretty sure most teachers need some sort of college education. We all know I’m too stupid for that.”

 

“You’re not stupid!” Dustin fiercely broke in. “Sure, you aren’t going to be winning the Nobel Prize for Physics any time soon, but you aren’t dumb.” The boy hopped off the Chevy and stalked over the two of them. “You need to lighten up on yourself.”

 

Steve laughed, a bit embarrassed. “Sure, Henderson, I’ll get right on it.”

 

“I’m serious though,” Robin punched his arm. “You should at least look into it. See if you could help coach at the Rec center or something. We all know you’re great with kids.”

 

Crossing his arms, with the bat still resting lightly against his hip, Steve considered her idea. It wasn’t too out there, really. And it would be awesome to not feel so out of his depth in a job. To feel confident again. Something that had been missing for almost three years now.

 

“You know Hopper once asked me to consider the Police academy?”

 

“What, seriously?” Dustin looked intrigued. “I could see that.”

 

“Officer Harrington? Or Coach Harrington?” Robin’s eyes crinkled mischievously. “I could see either. What do you prefer?”

 

“I’m gonna end up Comrade Harrington, if we don’t get back to training.” Steve swung the bat back over to Robin. “Isn’t that why we’re here in the Action Room, or whatever?”

 

The Danger Room, Steve! DANGER Room!” Dustin looked scandalized. 

 

“I’ve heard it both ways.”

 

Steve was still laughing at Dustin’s indignation when he heard another car pull up to the junkyard. For a brief moment, the three of them froze in anticipation. But they all relaxed when the Wheeler’s station wagon parked. Nancy emerged alone, dressed too nicely for a junkyard meeting, in a soft pink skirt and matching cardigan. But her whole demure look was thrown off by the handgun she held at her side.

 

“I thought I’d join your training session.” She smiled, joining the group. “Anyone up for a bit of target practice?”

 

Robin’s eyes lit up at the sight of the gun. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try shooting!”

 

"You haven't even learned to swing a bat properly." Steve reminded her.

 

"Oh come on, there can't be that many lessons," Nancy smiled.

 

"You'd be surprised." Robin rolled her eyes. "But I need a break from baseball, maybe it's time to try some ranged fighting."

 

Nancy turned her bright eyes to Steve, "How about you? Think you could beat me in some sharp shooting?"

 

Something twinged unpleasantly in Steve's gut, "I don't know, Nance, we all know the nail bat's my weapon of choice."

 

She eyed him like she knew what he was thinking. Which wasn't very fair, he rarely knew what he was thinking. "It's okay, if you don't feel comfortable, but you should get some basic training just incase."

 

"Incase of what, Nance? I need to shoot someone?" He lowered his voice, hoping Dustin would take his words the wrong way. He knew that one conversation of reassurance wasn't going to assuage Dustin's guilt over killing that doctor but at the same time, he didn't want to bring it back into focus for him.

 

Nancy seemed to consider his words before replying, "Are you concerned about the effects of your ability to feel what others feel will affect any possible fight we might have?"

 

Shit. He never even considered that. Would there be some sort of emotional backlash if he engaged in any sort of fight with the Russians? God, he hoped not. He wasn't too fond of inflicting pain on others as it were (his bullying past notwithstanding) if he could feel what someone was feeling when he smacked his bat into them...the connotations of that were too awful to imagine. He felt sick.

 

"Well I am now, Nance, thanks for that." Steve scrubbed an anxious hand through his hair. "It's just, I don't know, a gun seems a little more permanent that fighting with the bat, y'know?"

 

"Steve," Nancy began patiently, "you can still kill somebody with a nail bat. More violently as well."

 

"I just don't want to if I don't have to, okay? I'd rather aim to disable, than to end." He shot a worried glance down at Dustin, though he didn't feel any waves of distress from him.

 

In fact, the kid looked like he was about to burst out in laughter.

 

"You got something you wanna add, Henderson?" Steve asked.

 

"Shit Steve, I've got it! You're freaking Bruce Wayne."

 

Steve blinked at him. "What? What does that have to do with anything?"

 

“Think about it, dude. You are both rich. Both orphans.”

 

“Uh, I’m pretty sure both of my parents are still alive. Shit, they’re both supposed to be home tonight.”

 

Figurative orphan. In the barest sense of the word.”

 

“Still pretty sure, in no sense of the word.”

 

“Whatever, shut up.” Dustin barreled on. “You both live alone in a giant mansion.”

 

“Disagree, but continue I guess.”

 

“Both fight for the greater good in a city plagued with creeps.” Dustin grinned as Steve shrugged in agreement. “But more importantly, you have your own moral code that prevents you from killing people.”

 

“Batman can win in a fist fight, though.” Robin helpfully pointed out.

 

“Shut up, Buckley.”

 

“BUT! Best of all-” Dustin raised his voice over both Steve and Robin and gestured to the nail bat in Steve’s hand, “Look! You’re literally Bat-Man and Robin!”

 

Steve groaned as Robin bent over in unrestrained giggles. Even Nancy let out a surprised peal of laughter. “Jesus, shithead, how long have you been holding on to that one?” Steve shook his head.

 

“Far longer than I wanted to admit.” Dustin hopped back up onto the trunk of the Chevy. “I really was hoping to pull it off when more of the Party was around to appreciate my wit, but this whole gun thing, really presented me with the best setup.”

 

“Haha.” Steve dry laughed, “Was it worth it, to finally get that terrible joke out there?”

 

“Y’know, not really.” Dustin sighed, “I don’t know why I try with you, Steve, you never appreciate my jokes. But then again, you don’t have much of a sense of humor yourself.”

 

“Fuck you guys, I’m funny.”

 

“A real laugh riot, Harrington.” Robin rolled her eyes and turned to Nancy, “Can we get back to our training?”

 

Nancy nodded and inspected the gun in her hand. “I can go through some basic techniques and some target practice with Robin, if you really want to opt out of it, Steve."

 

Steve waved her off, feeling exhaustion deep in his bones. "I'm good, I'm sure Alfred over here has some lesson plan for me."

 

Dustin lit up at being called Alfred. "I do have some things I want to try with you, Steve, to test the limits of your powers."

 

"See, Nance, I'm all booked up. Go be Bonnie and Clyde." He watched the two girls move off to a safe distance and begin to set up some targets.

 

"So I've been trying to think of the best ways to test your abilities," Dustin began, looking down at his notebook. "And I think it's gonna have to be tried on two different paths. First seeing how to fine tune your reading ability when the subject is in the same room as you. And then the other path will focus on your memory reading with photos. Make sense?"

 

"Not at all but I'm game."

 

"Good. I figure, we'll start by reading me. I'm gonna focus on feeling an emotion and you tell me what you feel?" Steve watched Dustin school his face into an intense look of concentration.

 

"Maybe I shouldn't be facing you," Steve pointed out.

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because I can't tell exactly what emotion I am feeling from you verus what I can just gather from your facial expression. Plus you just look constipated and that's distracting."

 

"Oh that makes sense and fuck you." Dustin made a spinning gesture with his hand, "Go ahead and turn around and let me know when you sense something."

 

Steve did as he was told and turned away from Dustin. He cleared his mind of everything. Well tried to at least. He still hadn't decided on what to do about the Morkoth and the knowledge that the Russians were inside the Upside Down, here in Hawkins. He knew he needed to tell the Party, they could be in more danger than originally thought. But part of him still worried that it was all in his mind. That he was going crazy. Everything was just so fucked up and it was making him exhausted.

 

"Steve are you even trying?" Dustin broke into his thoughts.

 

"Yeah shithead, you're irritated with me."

 

"I am now. But that wasn't what I was projecting. Try it again and pay attention this time."

 

"Jesus, alright already." Steve focused. Going back to that mindset of being in the game. Dustin was making his pass to him, he was ready.

 

"You're projecting um... dude! I don't need to feel your mushy love for Suzie in my brain. Gross, you're like two."

 

"I'll have you know that that I am almost fifteen and need I remind you of when you first had sex?"

 

" Dude! That's not- I mean-" Steve sputtered. "I should have never told you that story! You are too young for this conversation. None of you dipshits should be dating until you're thirty. How is this my life?"

 

Dustin didn't bother to respond, just hunched himself over his notebook, laughing.

 

There was a wave of fondness coming from him, however, that Steve picked up on easily. It was a bit different than the fondness that sometimes emanated from Robin when she looked at Steve. Hers was always a bit surprised, like she would still look at Steve and think 'Wow, I'm friends with this dork and I am totally okay with it.’

 

Dustin's had a hard to describe familial feel to it. Maybe because he never really felt that from his own parents, which made it harder to understand it coming  from Dustin. But there was love in that fondness. A love Steve never knew before.

 

Love for a brother.

 

--------------------

 

Steve would deny it until the day he died, but he spent the evening after a tense dinner with his parents, trying to read through his old high school history book. He really should have returned it at the end of the year but he just recently unearthed it from underneath a pile of clothes in the back of his closet where he must have thrown it earlier in the semester. He’d never be a nerd and read this kind of shit for fun, but with the hell that his life had turned into lately, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to try and read about the beginning of the Cold War and other crap dealing with the Russians.

 

He kind of liked history class when forced to admit it, but he was terrible at it. His teachers loved to focus on the dates of important events and never really explained why things happened. Just jumped from thing to the next. Like sure, it was important to know when World War I officially started but what the hell did Germany have to do with Austria?

 

He was fairly certain the countries were like best buds or something to that effect but Mrs. Click never went into much detail. Nancy or Robin could have explained it but it was better for Steve’s reputation to just not bother.

 

Smooth move that was.

 

Being more self-aware now didn’t really help Steve with this post-high school study session. The words still swam on the page like it had done when he was in class. And it took him ages just to make through a single paragraph. Really, all this learning just made he want to give up.

 

But that small feeling in the back of his mind, the one that said that something he might read here in his book, could end up saving his life in the end, kept him going. Possible death was a good motivator to study.

 

If only he would have that when he actually had been in school and needed to study.

 

Actually scratch that, the threat of death would have just made high school even more unbearable, college wasn’t worth that.

 

Not that he’d ever know that for sure.

 

All this history book seemed to be informing him of, was that the Russians couldn’t just make up their minds. First they were the good guys in World War I, then nope, going swap sides. Oh wait, here is another world war? Let’s be the good guys again! Then forget you, team bad guy again! Steve couldn’t keep up. Russians: good, bad, or just indecisive? 

 

He just decided to give up after struggling through a frightfully boring section on Kennedy and Cuba and the threat of nuclear war (and who would have thought that the inclusion of nukes and spy planes could still not make history any less boring?) when he heard his father’s voice calling him.

 

The sound of his name echoing in the big house startled him. So used to the silence as he was. It never meant a good thing when his father summoned him like this. His father’s office was just down the hall from his bedroom and unlike a normal, civilized person who would just get up and knock on his son’s door when he wanted to talk, John Harrington liked to shout for him like the damn evil stepmother from Cinderella.

 

Steve threw the history book onto the foot of his bed and dragged himself to his feet. It would be better to get this over with quickly instead of delaying the inevitable. Though he didn't know what that inevitable was. It wasn't his failing grades or lack of job anymore. For the life of him, Steve couldn't think of how his disappointed his father this time.

 

John Harrington sat at his large, imposing mahogany desk, signing some papers with an air of decisiveness. Without pressing too much with his powers, Steve could tell his father was filled with tension. It must be a stressful time at work.

 

"You called for me?" Steve asked quietly, stepping into the office.

 

His father looked up and met Steve's eyes, "Yes, Steven, there was something I wanted to discuss with you."

 

Steve knew better than to take a seat in the chair that sat on the opposite side of the desk. That chair was reserved for clients not sons. So he took his spot in front of the desk with his hands clasped behind his back. 

 

His father strongly disapproved of fidgeting.

 

"What did you need?" Steve prodded when his father stayed silent. Steve didn't look his father in the eyes, not here, in his domain. Rather Steve often focused on the large framed map of Hawkins that was prominently displayed behind his father's back. Everything in this office was presented in away that no one could forget the Harringtons' importance to the city. The map noted the many pieces of land that were owned by his father or was once owned by the family. Going back several generations, and it could be conceivably argued that the entire town was once owned by a Harrington.

 

"I've been thinking more on our conversation from several days ago," his father set down his pen and filled his hands in front of his face. A deliberate show of contemplation. Those measured words surprised Steve, after all, Harringtons don't talk.

 

Also, Steve was fairly certain conversations shouldn't include slaps, but what did he know.

 

"What about?" Steve still knew to play his part.

 

"It's been alarming to your mother and I, that you're continuing to have issues with bloody noses this long after that Starcourt incident." His father pointedly ignored the scoff that Steve couldn't smother, "So I've made you an appointment with a doctor I know from Chicago."

 

Alarm bells went off in Steve's mind. On one hand, he didn't believe it would be difficult to explain away chronic nosebleeds by detailing the many concussions he's had over a short amount of time but who knows what kind of tests they would do and what could be possibly be revealed when those results came back? A nosebleed, simple. Sudden mind powers? A bit more complicated.

 

And Steve really didn't care to see another doctor for the rest of his life.

 

"Dad, it's no big deal, really." Steve kept his voice light. "I don't have them as often as you think. Besides, we know it's just a side effect of the concussions."

 

"This is isn't up for debate, Steven." His father's eyes narrowed as he inspected his son. "You will go with me, to this appointment next week. Non-negotiable."

 

"But dad-"

 

" No! You are going at that is final." He sighed. "Why is everything a struggle with you? Can you just once in your life, do something simple without issue? Is that really so hard?"

 

Steve grit his teeth in frustration, "No, dad."

 

"Check that attitude, son." His father turned back to his paperwork. "You're dismissed, I have a contract I must finish."

 

Steve didn't want to risk his nose bleeding in front of his father, but he did reach out anyway. Behind the tension that was bleeding out, Steve could feel an anxious sort of nervousness in his father. It was a familiar feeling, one that Steve felt often. In an odd sort of way, it made him feel better, that his serious and calm father could feel the same anxiety that his son lived with on a daily basis. It kind of made his father appear more human.

 

But that didn't mean that he wanted to go see this random doctor in Chicago.

 

As soon as he left the office, Steve slipped downstairs to the phone in the kitchen. His mother was nowhere to be seen, probably already sleeping off her wine from dinner, so Steve wasted no time picking up the receiver and dialing a familiar number.

 

Nancy picked up on the second ring. "Wheeler residence."

 

"Hey Nance, it's me."

 

"Steve! I was just about to call you!" Her voice dropped to a quiet whisper. "I checked the security on Hess farm. It's roped off, with a bullshit warning about a gas leak, but other than that, it's pretty empty. I think tomorrow is a go, for some reconnaissance."

 

Steve's stomach clenched at the thought of breaking into another Russian lab, but if it made Nancy feel good in her investigation, then he'd do it for her. "That's cool, Nance, let me know when and I'll be ready."

 

"I'm thinking late tomorrow night. I'll sneak out around midnight, if you can pick me up."

 

"Sounds good, I'll be there." Steve sighed. "Listen Nance, I called you for another reason."

 

"Oh yeah, that's right, what's going on?"

 

"My father, he uh-"

 

"Your father did what?" Nancy's voice was ice.

 

"Chill Nance, nothing like that." Steve sighed again and leaned heavily against the kitchen counter. "He's concerned about my health and is making me go see some doctor he knows in Chicago."

 

"Okay…" she sounded confused. "That's kind of nice, he's worried about you, right?"

 

"Yeah normally I'd be over the moon about him finally giving a shit about my welfare, but one big problem Nance. What if that doctor finds out that the root of my nosebleed problem isn't the frequent head trauma but because of some secret Russian super drug?"

 

Nancy was quiet, "Oh."

 

"Yeah. Oh. "

 

"We'll figure something out. Maybe we can talk to Dr. Owens."

 

"Yeah, letting more lab people know seems smart." He couldn't hide his sarcasm. 

 

Nancy sighed. "I see your point. But don't stress, Steve, we will figure something out. Trust me. Let's focus on checking out Hess farm tomorrow night and then we'll tackle what can be done about this doctor."

 

He couldn't deny it, Nancy's confidence always soothed his doubts. She would always be the strongest of the two of them. Not that they were the two of them anymore. 

 

But it was nice to be apart of her investigation this time.

 

"Alright Nance, I trust you. I should go, I'll see you tomorrow night."

 

"Yeah, get some sleep Steve, and good night."

 

Steve smiled into the quiet kitchen. God he missed her so much, sometimes. Like a gaping wound in his chest that would never heal or like a broken bone that didn't set right and would ache for the rest of his life. But he wouldn't change things. Not now.

 

As he went to hang up the receiver, another click sounded over the line just before the dial tone blared to life. The implications, stopping his hand in mid motion. He stared at the phone in shock.

 

Had someone been listening in?