Steve doesn't remember the first bruises. All he remembers is that one day he was fine, and then the next morning a bright purple and yellow bruise was blossoming on his chest and a small round one on his cheek.
He remembers running down the stairs to tell his mom, but finding an empty house. He remembers going to school and being stared at until his teacher pulled him aside and asked about it during lunch. She had then explained the concept of soulmates. When they bruise, you bruise. When they scar, you scar. There's no pain, they just appear.
After that, a new bruise showed up almost everyday. Then it slowed to once a week. They stopped appearing on his face when they slowed to twice every other week, but his arms, chest, and back were still bright colors.
"She must be tough." His father had said one day, barely looking up from his paperwork.
"Yeah." Steve spoke quietly.
Steve is 13 years old when they learn about child abuse in school. He immediately recognized the bruises in the pictures. He cried that night for his soulmate, whoever she was. He didn't know her yet, but he knew she deserved better.
He is 15 when two of the boys in his gym class realized they were both bruised on the same knee. That's when he first realized, his soulmate may not be a girl.
Steve is 18 when he wakes up to find the bruising is all over him, there is even a bright red scar on his back. His poor soulmate looked like he had been run over by a bus.
The next week the Hargrove family moves in. All the blue and purple had gone a dull yellow, but the scar was still an angry red.
At school Steve couldn't tear his eyes away from Billy. He couldn't pay attention to what his English teacher was saying because Billy sat two rows ahead of him and he was playing with his hair.
At lunch, Nancy had to snap her fingers in front of his face to get his attention. "Earth to Steve."
Steve jerked his eyes to her smirking face. "What?"
Jonathan had a concerned look on his face, "You okay?"
Steve cleared his throat, "Yeah, I was just -"
"Just daydreaming about the new kid." Nancy finished for him. Her smirk grew into a full smile as Steve sputtered.
"No, that's not - I wasn't - no." He hid his blush by shoving food into his mouth.
Nancy was the only person he had ever told that he liked boys and of his suspicion about his soulmate. Although the abuse he kept to himself, as much as possible. He also knew that she had told Jonathan not long after the two had discovered that they were soulmates because she had asked him first like the amazing friend she was.
Jonathan sat with his head cocked looking where Steve's eye had just been. "Billy? You think it's him?"
Steve shrugged a little, "I don't know," then he dropped his voice to just above a whisper, "I haven’t seen his back yet."
Nancy's eyes widened for a second, only long enough to shoot Steve a concerned look. "You've got a bruise?"
"Scar." Steve corrects with a quick shake of his head.
Nancy nods slightly. Jonathan was still staring at Billy, almost as if he could see if the boy was his friends soulmate without the normal outward signs.
"Stop staring." Steve hissed at the other boy.
"He's got nice hair." Jonathan mused, his attention returning to his table. "It's almost a shame you'll have to adopt. You've both got dominant hair genes, I’d like to see which one would win."
Steve groaned and Nancy laughed.
In the locker room Steve kept his eyes down and changed with his back to the lockers. It wasn't his scar to show off.
Billy didn't change because he didn't have the proper gym clothes on his first day. Steve couldn't decide if he was disappointed or not.
Billy caught him looking a couple of times before the class was over. His grin became more menacing every time he caught Steve's eye.
Steve lagged back when coach told them to hit the showers because he didn't want anyone, especially Billy, to see the scar.
After everyone else had left the locker room Billy cornered him. Literally shoved him into a corner.
Steve's breath caught in his throat. Billy's mouth pulled into a spiteful smile. "You got a bruise you’re too embarrassed to show off or something, pretty boy?”
Steve shoved at him, "Leave me alone, Hargrove."
Billy stepped back and winked, “I thought so.”
Steve shoved past him and left. His heart felt like it was about to beat out of his chest. One more class. He only had one more class.
When the day was finally over, Steve sat in his car and took a deep breath. His head was reeling.
The passenger door to his car opened and Nancy sat down. "You alright? You practically ran out of the school."
Steve shrugged, his hands white from the grip he had on the steering wheel.
She put a soothing hand on his arm. "Steve?"
She waited until he looked at her to finish. "What's wrong?"
Steve felt tears start to well up in his eyes. "I think I like him."
"Oh Steve." She pulled his hand from the wheel and pulled it until he was hugging her.
As soon as his head hit her shoulder he started hiccupping. "I don't know why I'm crying. I mean I know it’s not him, but I want it to be."
Nancy shushed him and ran her hand through his hair.
Steve shoved his face further into her neck, "But life not fair -" a sob broke his works. "Not for me or my poor soulmate."
Nancy hummed. She didn't know what to say, but she needed Steve to know she was there for him.
Steve avoided Billy when he could. He stopped staring, he would put his head down if he thought he saw the other boy look in his direction.
Then one day in the gym they were playing basketball and someone got the bright idea to play shirts vs skins. Billy immediately took his shirt off.
Steve didn't see the scar until Billy shoved past him dribbling the ball down the court. He froze and didn't hear when his teammates started yelling at him for not covering Billy.
His gaze was locked on the pink line of the other boys back.
Billy threw the ball and turned to see what the yelling was about. Steve schooled his face before Billy’s eyes landed on him.
Steve told coach he needed some water. He ran to the locker room and ditched the rest of the day.
Nancy and Jonathan showed up at his house right after school.
Steve was drinking from his dad's liquor cabinet when they found him. He had also been crying again.
"Why'd you leave?" Jonathan sat next to him on the couch and held his hand out for the bottle.
"I saw it." Steve closed his eyes to the tears. "It’s him." He shoved the bottle into Jonathan's hand with too much force.
Nancy, who had been straightening the coffee table where two empty bottles lay on their sides, sat on his other side.
"Isn't it a good thing? You found him?" Jonathan took a swig from the bottle before setting it on the table in front of him.
"I don't know." Steve groaned, letting his head fall into his best friends shoulder.
Nancy ran her fingers through his hair. "I think will be, even if it's not right now."
Steve groaned again, "I think I drank too much."
"Yes, you did." Nancy agreed.
Billy had beaten the shit out of him. The kids drove him home (he would have to deal with that later). Steve laid on his couch with every ice pack he owned on him somewhere.
All the kids wanted to know why he didn’t even try to fight back. Steve kept replaying it over in his head, Billy charged and swung. Steve ducked, but refused to swing back. He knows this boy is the one who he shares all of his bruises with. He can’t raise a fist to the boy who he knows takes a beating from someone who is supposed to love him too often. He can’t hurt Billy the way his dad did.
Steve also knew that Billy would find out what Steve has known for a while as soon as his face turns its final shades of black and blue.
Steve sighed and tried not to think about the beating he is going to get from Billy next.
Nancy had driven to Steve as soon as Mike called her. She had only left him alone on the condition that he call if he needed anything, even if it was just more drink and he was too tired to stand up. He laid on the couch and fell right asleep.
He woke up to someone banging on the front door. He groaned and slowly stood to go answer it before they broke it down.
Steve squinted at the light as he opened the door. “What?”
“Fuck.” Steve froze when he heard the voice and forced his eyes to focus on the figure in front of him. Billy was standing outside his door, with a mass of bruises on his face.
Steve cleared his throat and moved aside. “Want to, um?”
Billy moved past him into the house. Steve stepped in front of him and lead him to the living room.
Steve sat on the couch where he had just been sleeping. “So… I guess it’s obvious now.”
Billy froze where he was halfway sitting in the chair across from the couch. “You knew?”
Steve ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah. You’ve got a small scar on your back.”
Realization showed on Billy’s face, “Locker room.”
They sat in silence for a long while. Billy studied Steve’s face, and Steve tried not to think about how the bruises mirrored on Billy’s face made him look like shit, he can only imagine how bad he looks.
Steve is the one to break the silence. “I hope you know you didn’t deserve any of it.”
Steve looked down at his hands, “Your dad.” Steve met Billy’s wide eyes. “You didn’t deserve it.”
“I - shitfuck.” Billy looked like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders, then he looked at Steve pleading, “Did you -?”
Steve shook his head. “Not a soul.”
Billy’s shoulders sagged in relief. Steve spoke again, “Did he -?” he didn’t know how to phrase it. “Just before you moved here… it was bad.”
Billy had tears welling up in his eyes. “Can we not right now?”
Steve nodded, “Right, sorry.”
“Don’t be, it’s just - we just - “ Billy made a vague gesture to his face.
Steve smiled a little, “Yeah.”
They spent the next few hours in silence. The only sound between them was the tv, and the occasional snort of laughter.
Nancy stopped by around lunch time and was only a little surprised to find Billy in the kitchen fixing food for both of them.
She leaned on the couch next to where Steve was still sat. “So, he knows.”
He snorted, “Kinda hard to miss this.” he waved a hand in the direction of his face.
She grinned, “That’s very true. Are you okay?”
Steve smiled fondly, “Yeah Nance, I’m good.”
It took almost three full weeks for his face to get back to normal.
Billy was around all the time now, they did everything together. One month after the bruises had faded he kissed Billy for the first time on the hood of the Camaro while they were parked at the quarry.
Two weeks later, Max catches Billy sneaking back into their house after spending the night wrapped in Steve. She just rolls her eyes at his panic and tells him to get ready for school.
The ride to school is quiet. It isn't until he pulls into the parking lot that Max spoke. "Did you find your-?"
Billy nodded, keeping his eyes on the dashboard.
Hs could see her red hair bounce as she nodded back. Then she got out of the car.
Max learned from Dustin that Steve had found his soulmate and was happy. It took her another day to put two and two together.
She surprised Billy on the way home from school the next day. "I will keep my promise."
Billy glanced at her, confused. "What?"
Her face scrunched. "Steve."
His grip tightened on the wheel, but he tried to keep it off of his face. "What about Harrington?"
She rolled her eyes so hard it hurt. "I know, dickhead."
Billy's eyes widened as he looked at her in panic. "What?"
She sighed, hard. "Dustin was telling us about how happy Steve has been lately, and when he called his the other day he clearly caught him at a bad time. And you came home late that night. And well," she looked at his profile and watched his nostrils flair. "You're happier than I've ever seen you."
Billy's lips pull up just slightly. "Damn. Detective Max, you cracked it."
His fingers are white from where his grip has not loosened on the steering wheel. "Please don't -"
"I'm not gonna tell Neil. Or the party."
He nodded in gratitude and they rode the rest of the way in silence.
Later, he whispered what she told him into Steve's neck as they cuddled after sex. Steve laughed, "Happy, huh?"
Billy licked a stripe up Steve's neck making the other boy groan, "Very happy, pretty boy."