The curse on the Magee family was a town best-kept secret, not everyone believed in it but most everyone had heard the stories, it was hard not to. Old Elmore Magee was a crackpot believed best to be ignored, he left their house very rarely and almost completely neglected his daughter, she grew up ignoring what was running through her veins until she could marry away and never have to think about her bloodline again. She wasn’t the first with Magee blood to hide behind the family name of a man, they didn’t want to be implicated in the crazy. As soon as the only daughter of Elmore married away from her connection to his last name the town grew silent with the rumours.
It was known that Elmore was crazy, and it was known that many years had plagued their family with a curse that turned him so. But they also knew that his daughter wasn’t crazy, that maybe this was just an excuse for his actions. A preferable explanation to a complete change in behaviour than the idea that maybe he was just completely crackers.
It was hard to pinpoint the exact reasoning behind it all and rumours fell to the back of the Hawkins gossip mill, his daughter and his granddaughter lost their connection to his name and there were little but memories to tie them back there. The Magee curse became a tale told on Halloween and at campfire storytimes, there was no truth, no fact, no evidence. They only had the words of people older than them. Claims that Elmore could speak to the dead, that there was no other reasoning, he couldn’t have known that much about her husband without speaking to him and he had been dead ten years. It was a sick joke with the looming threat that maybe, maybe he was telling the truth, and that’s what scared them most.
Celeste Logan never believed in its truth, her mother, Leila, never believed her father’s tales. She couldn’t believe that her father really spoke to the dead, it was too crazy to even consider. If she played off the tales like they weren’t truth maybe she wouldn’t be as victimised as she was at school. She was just the kid of the freak. Leila didn’t want her daughter to go through the same issues, she’d vowed never to have a male child, she made Celeste promise too. The words were angry and manic, seven-year-old Celeste didn’t understand why her mother was so adamant that a male baby was bad.
She’d been struck faint when she’d been handed the little boy, her husband, Ford, had smiled proudly down at her for giving him a son. She couldn’t help but worry after her mother's words.
Crazy Leila’s words, crazy Leila who had told her that a little boy was devil incarnate, but who could look at this little boy and think any evil of him. But then again, crazy Leila had also thrown herself off Sattler Quarry when Celeste was seventeen.
Celeste couldn’t bear to think evil of her newborn son, the way her husband regarded him like he hung the moon only. It was calming, knowing that her husband knew nothing of the rumours that plagued her family, what was thought of about those men of the Magee line. But her little boy wasn’t going to be known as a Magee, he wouldn’t hear all those slurs about their kind, they wouldn’t get that. He would grow up taken care of, he wouldn’t need to worry, that is what she would do for him, he wouldn’t need to know about the wrongness of their ancestry.
Her little Steve wouldn’t need to worry, they’d keep him taken care of, he’d grow up well.
The first time that it became known that Steve was different than the other kids his age was when his imaginary friends became people they knew of. He spoke frequently with someone who used to live in their house, Celeste wanted to blow it off like it was nothing but something inside of her felt wrong. Ford had shaken his head and dragged his son away from his ‘friend’, no boy of his was going to play pretend when he could be toughening up outside in the world.
Steve had thought nothing of his friends, he spoke to everyone he came across even if they were shocked to be interacting with him. He was eight when he realised not everyone could be seen by everyone else. Some people, only Steve could see, and that only made it more exciting.
He knew that there were four people his parents couldn’t see that were in his house, there was a little boy down the street that was always sad, three people in the school and a whole number more around Hawkins.
He was ten when he learnt not to talk to anyone about those people he could see. His mom had wanted to know who he was talking to at the park, why he no longer asked to meet friends when he went out. His mother had slapped him, he’d looked up at her his eyes wide, he was so confused. She’d dragged him home from that park, the same way Ford had dragged him away from his friends in the house when he was younger. Ford wanted him outside and away from his imaginary friends inside and now Celeste didn’t want him outside. He didn’t understand what he was doing wrong.
His dad had taken him to the side after that day, no son of his was going to be weak, no son of his was going to be a freak and no son of his was going to be alone. He’d be popular, he would make a name for himself. Steve Harrington wouldn’t be the kid who spoke to ghosts, he’d be king of the school and his dad was going to make sure that happened for both of their sakes.
Steve learnt to hide his differences even as he aged his ability began to increase. He could sense when someone was close to death and how they were feeling because of it, he could speak to the dead in his sleep, he could speak to them awake, he could even speak to them in his mind. He didn’t have to be near them to speak to them, and he could find them wherever they were.
He felt sadness in waves, those who died in pain, those who died peacefully, those who died angrily, those who died happily, they all wanted to be alive still. That was something they all shared, no one Steve had met wanted to be dead even if he did. Their lives seemed so much simpler than his own, and yet from what they’d told him they all seemed to have had better lives than he. Steve was dealing with parents who didn’t believe in him, the complete absence of love that lived on in a house so bare. They didn’t believe in him so he wouldn’t believe in them.
They told him they wouldn’t be gone long when he was eleven, apparently, that meant a three-month-long trip with no one checking in on their son. They told him the trip would be as long as it took but it wouldn’t be long when he was thirteen, his mom came home after a month but was gone again in a week, his dad didn’t come home for another three.
Steve learnt to take care of himself, he could cook, he could clean and he wouldn’t make a mess. Without his parents he could talk to the ones they wouldn’t let him talk to when they were around, a woman who had lived there before the persons before them taught him how to make a mean lasagna that he could make once and then divide up and live on for a week without having to cook more. She was a brilliant cook with the mind of a sponge, she didn’t need much to get him cooking and he didn’t need many ingredients to do it.
He somehow managed to be completely self-sufficient, he learnt it over the course of those seven years he was periodically left more and more alone. He didn’t enjoy the silence but you didn’t have to worry about that when you could speak to the dead. People no longer questioned the absence, their answers were often found in the pamphlets that circled the Harrington business, their work available wherever you needed them and that often meant they couldn’t be back for parent-teacher business. Steve was almost certain none of his teachers had ever even met his parents even in passing, but even so, he hardly knew his parents either so he didn’t expect for his teachers to know them instead.
The first time Steve had even thought about someone else potentially having abilities like his own was when his father insisted he gets checked out. He didn’t like the idea that his son could be mentally inept but he also rather it would be him to find out if his son was wrong in the head rather than someone else trying to tell him instead.
The doctors had told him that his son was fine, that ten-year-old Steve just had an overactive imagination and that was common in children that grew up with no siblings. But that experience didn’t end there, his father had a friend in a lab that was working on looking at the brain waves in children or that was what his father told him. The lab had been quiet, but they’d wanted to know about the people Steve could speak to, the people he could see.
The ghosts of children told him to keep quiet, nothing good would come out of him talking to them. His dad had first seemed frustrated that he’d gone this far with his son to find out if Steve was telling the truth, but then he was smug, no son of his was a freak that was a certainty. And if it took him scaring the attention-seeking behaviour away then that’s what he would do.
Steve had been left in that lab for a day, he had his own bed in his own room with a locked door. He didn’t like it, he wanted to go home where the people were familiar and they knew him and they cared about him, they cared about him more than the people who called themselves his parents did.
The people here were sickly, and they were young, they were pained and they were scared. They’d been tortured here, they’d been broken and hurt and scared and Steve just wanted to go home.
They showed him their happy memories there, the days before they were seen as just objects, the days when their numbers were names rather than subject titles. The days when they were allowed to play with one another when they could make sure the others were safe when they weren’t just projects.
Steve traced their numbers with his finger, the bumps of ink jarring against his senses, the tears pooling on his shirt.
He met ONE and TWO that day, FIVE he would meet later on, the others he only hoped got out, he didn’t want for them what had happened to their siblings. He wanted them safe and he’d tried to promise them that, but they didn’t see anyone helping them any time soon. He wept for them every night. He’d seen faces while he was there, they were younger than him, and they were stuck. They were prisoners and his dad had finally come to let him out of this prison, he could escape and they weren’t allowed too. He felt sick to his very core and it hurt.
They wouldn’t let him promise to help, but if he ever could he would.
Sometimes all of this was a curse to him, he couldn’t be unaware of all the wrong happening in town. He knew when people were dying and they could tell him what had happened to them, he knew that Hawkins Lab was doing child experiments, he knew that there was a child-murdering rapist that lived in the woods, he knew that the railway had been shut down because too many people committed suicide. It was bleak to know what was happening in Hawkins, he couldn’t ignore any of this. He was a font of all knowledge and he couldn’t tell anyone about any of it because they would think he was crazy. His parents thought he was crazy and in response to that, they had not been home for longer than a week in four years.
He was alone in Hawkins, alone in the world everyone saw, his friends were two people who enjoyed getting drunk with him even if he maintained his sobriety in favour of making sure no one else died that he would end up talking to later. They didn’t really know him, they didn’t know that he could see dead people, they didn’t know that his parents didn’t trust him, they didn’t know that his dad sent him to a place that experiments on children just to find out if he really was what they thought he was.
He tried to mask the pain in pretence, he pretended to be the image his dad had crafted for him, he pretended to be the teenager that Tommy and Carol thought he was and he pretended to be the man that Nancy Wheeler wanted him to be. All of his insides hurt because of his actions but he couldn’t pretend. He didn’t need questioning about all of this, he had enough of that growing up, he knew who he was and who he would also be but he also knew who he had to be to get through his life alive. He couldn’t bear to end up in some lab getting tested for being a freak like ONE and TWO and FIVE, he’d promised to do what he could to protect them not to join them.
It was when little Will Byers disappeared that the first crack in his crafted facade appeared. He’d have a hard time trying to fix that before anyone saw.
Steve looked across at where Jonathan Byers was putting up posters for his brother, he felt sick just thinking about what might have happened to that little Will Byers out there in the woods. He could hear Carol and Tommy making shitty comments about his situation and Steve took his opportunity to enter his own two cents, he couldn’t stop himself from leaning against the locker even as he said it. He felt the ache of too many eyes on him, he was seen differently in two planes of existence.
Nancy stomped away from him at that, clearly feeling about as sorry as what was hidden behind King Steve. Tommy made a comment about her and Byers that had Steve wanting to deck the other boy but decided against it. He could feel the sadness rolling off of Jonathan even from this far away and it was hard not to get affected by it.
He’d actively been trying to ignore any new spirits, he just wanted to forget that someone might have gotten to the littlest Byers, it made him sick to think about. He wasn’t interested in hearing the sad tale of how he died, he couldn’t bear it. He couldn’t bear to be fully aware of what happened when his family still firmly believed that he was just missing. He’d find him eventually, they all did, right now he was just happy in pretending.
“So your parents are away, party?”
Steve barely heard what Carol was saying, her flirtatious smile at Tommy made it obvious to anyone paying attention, what her real intentions in suggesting this were. Steve nodded disjointly, he’d take the company of people who were just using him if only to distract himself from what he might find in his head.
His mouth moved against him before he had any control of it, he’d invited Nancy Wheeler to a party that he was likely going to be suffering through while attempting to put on a brave face. She didn’t need that. Her friend was coming too now, the friend that was staring intently at him from the corner of his eyes, no one else had looked at him like that ever. Could she see his pain?
Steve moved through the rest of the day as if something was dragging him back like he was trying to run through water or even better a swamp. His movements were sluggish and hard. A light had left his eyes and they were duller than they had been in a long time. The teachers ignored his depressive and unapproachable state, it wasn’t as if he’d ever interacted in those classes anyway, he appreciated it but he would just once have wanted someone to ask him if he was okay.
He wasn’t okay.
He rested on the couch gingerly his head in his hands and tears tracking down his face. Something was pulling at his gut painfully. Something was wrong and he couldn’t explain what. None of the spirits had been any use to him this time, they didn’t know but they could feel it too. Something was happening and he was useless to stop it.
The doorbell rang. His head snapped up from where it was hanging between his knees. He hastily rubbed at his eyes he could only imagine how red they were after the hour of just silently crying in his living room. The doorbell rang again. He pulled himself from the couch and tried to put on a brave face, not as if anyone would even care, no one has ever cared.
It was Tommy and Carol, of course it was Tommy and Carol. Steve greeted them with a grin but it was forced, they didn’t seem to notice. Tommy held up the six-pack of beers in his left hand where his right was wrapped possessively around Carol. Steve opened the door wider and allowed for them to walk through the house and through to the pool, he hated hosting parties inside, the pain of knowing what would happen if the house was to get messy was enough for him never to suggest it. So they would be by the pool, and hopefully, they wouldn’t need to go inside.
Nancy and Barb turned up a short while after them, Tommy and Carol were already on the road to being wasted while Steve looked out of it as he tried to separate two worlds he had always tried to keep together.
Nancy looked good, and Barb didn’t look impressed her brown eyes raking over him annoyedly. He welcomed them into his house with a flourish and yet another fake smile, he offered them both beers and was glad to see that Barb didn’t take one either. He hated forced social gatherings with alcohol, but it was more of a high school thing than it needed to be and he would only be more of a freak if they saw behind his mask to what was going on inside.
Barb took a seat at the edge of the pool, her legs dangling in the water and she looked not at all interested in the goings-on around her. Steve felt a tingling in the back of his neck as he watched her but turned away so as not to confuse Nancy. His hairs were all standing on end, he didn’t want to think about why. He didn’t like to think about why.
Then they were wet and Tommy and Carol were herding him back into his house, even as he looked on broken to the situation, he didn’t like people in his house. They knew this, but they didn’t know him, so they didn’t care. Nancy was buzzed she didn’t see the look on Steve’s face she even ignored Barb which sent rolling nausea to his gut, but she was wet too and she was beginning to shiver so he took her up to his room to dry off.
He turned around as she got changed, his head resting on the cool glass of his window, he was becoming feverish in his saddened state, he was a conduit to the other world and something was happening, it was hurting him to get someone to notice. There was movement behind him and he rubbed at his eyes again, the pain in his body was no longer located in just one area, he was a walking beacon of pain and sorrow.
“Steve?” He looked back across at her with a small smile, “what’s this?”
His eyes strayed down to the big book in her hands, he hadn’t even thought to hide it, but he also hadn’t wanted anyone in his house. He never wanted anyone in his house, he didn’t want them to see this.
“A list of all the dead people in Hawkins.”
Her hand froze as it stroked the leather spine, her eyes blinked widely at him but he didn’t move to change what he’d said. He didn’t have to explain the real reason why he had it or why he'd made it, but he was truthful with what he said.
“Is Will in here?”
Steve froze, he hadn’t written the younger boys name into it yet, he hadn’t wanted to, the boy was still too alive to him. He’d know when he looked but he couldn’t tell Nancy that.
“No. He might be missing, I won’t write it in until it is confirmed.” He was adamant to that and he hated that she was asking him about it.
She opened the book and Steve nearly broke down crying. He hated that she was here. He hated that she found the book. He hated that he’d been careless enough to leave it lying around. There were too many secrets hidden in that book, a reminder to him everyone he’d spoken to in his life, what they wanted to talk to about what they wanted him to do for their families. He’d delivered flowers, he’d found lost objects, he’d donated to the church, all anonymously with those ghosts watching over so they could see their relatives in one ounce of joy that they contributed to before they were forced to watch on with no interaction.
Her fingers trailed over names and Steve felt the urge to scream, these were people he cared about and she just thought she could read his book. He liked her, he did, but they would have needed to be dating for a lot longer than a couple of weeks before he’d even considered letting her read to book or even see beneath his mask, this all just seemed a little bit forced.
“Did you find all of this in the library?”
“Some, I spoke to a lot of people when I was younger, now I just read the eulogies.”
“Someone should remember them.”
She blinked at him, she’d probably never heard him talk to her like he wanted her to stop talking. Something was different with him than the other dozen times they’d hung out, this time she was looking at him properly, the bags around his eyes, the way he held himself like his side was on fire, the brave smile. How had she missed all this before, Steve Harrington was never an open book and he still wasn’t but this book in her hands seemed to break something inside of him. She hesitantly shut the book and set it on the side, all thoughts of what could be that night disappeared, this Steve wasn’t her Steve and that worried her.
“Do you - would it be okay if I stayed over? Barb’s gone home.”
Steve nodded and motioned to the bed, “whatever you need. I’ll take the floor.”
It wasn’t what Nancy had expected from the night, and not from what she could hear was going on in the room Tommy and Carol were in. She should have just gone home with Barb.
Steve seconded that opinion when he woke up a scream on his lips and tears tracking all the way down his face. The spirit realm was up in arms, there was a destiny about things and whatever was happening was screwing with that and taking it out on him. He was the only one who could fix it and they were going to hurt him until he did.
He lay back down trying to stifle his sobs so as not to wake Nancy, he hated being more in the know than others, it hurt knowing that Nancy might forever be looking for Barb and he could probably speak to her in an instant.
Peeling himself up off of the floor he knew he wasn’t getting any more sleep that night, he moved out of his room and down towards the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water before he rested his head in his hands and took deep breaths to calm himself. He hated parties, he hated when people died, and he hated when those that died knew him. They knew him as an asshole, they knew him as someone that wouldn’t talk to them, he wasn’t that person, he didn’t want to be that person.
He sipped the water and allowed his breathing to steady, he breathed as he let his mind go blank as he searched, it was fruitless as he looked for Barb and then Will. He could sense them but he couldn’t summon them, they weren’t dead yet, wherever they were they were scared and they were suffering but they weren’t dead. Not yet. He let out a sob of relief, tears racing down his cheeks quicker as he tried to find where they were, he hated them suffering, he hated them in pain.
There was a barrier, the barrier hurt, it kept him from them. He’d try again, he was too emotionally drained from having people in his house to fully submerge himself. He couldn’t have them knowing, he could never have them knowing. He was a freak but they didn’t need to know that.
All he knew was if they did die at least one of them was on him, something he'd forever tried to avoid had happened in his own backyard and he felt sick even thinking about it.
The first time he saw Barb he tried to convince himself that he was just dreaming, he knew better, but he figured there was no way that Nancy Wheeler’s best friend was staring at him from across the road. One blink and she was gone. He ran a hand through his hair tugging at the roots painfully, he had to ground himself, he had to be okay.
Tommy shoved him and he was brought back into the present harshly, he was okay, he was okay, he looked across the road, it was empty of people no ghosts, no dead teenagers. He blinked away the tears and brought his focus back to the conversation that Tommy and Carol were having that was utterly uninteresting to him altogether.
The second time he saw her she was stood at his window, sweat slid down his back slicking his t-shirt to him as he freaked out momentarily. Words were stuck in his throat and he was caught just staring at the deathly pale complexion she wore as she stared right back at him. Brown eyes dull and blank. One blink later and she was gone.
He didn’t want to think she was dead. But what else could he think? She was torturing him for letting her die on his property. She’d died and he’d known it was going to happen, he’d felt the change in the wind and the distinct prickle at the back of his neck. The distinct prickle that hadn’t gone away since she disappeared, the distinct prickle that told him she wouldn’t be the last to die in Hawkins. A thought that had him emptying the contents of his stomach into the wastebasket beside his bed.
He wouldn't be getting any more sleep that night that was for sure. She had haunted his sleep away and he deserved it. She was providing him with the punishment for his crimes and he wouldn't shy away from it.
He wiped the remnants of his stomach contents from around his mouth onto the sleeve of his t-shirt and brought his eyes up to where she had last been. It was empty. She was gone. Tears streamed down his face as he caught the tail end of the pain she was still feeling in death. However she had died it hadn’t been nice, she’d been scared and alone and in pain and it was all his fault.
He buried his head in his arms and sobbed, Barb had died and he could have stopped it, he could have made a difference for the first time in his seventeen years of life. If only he wasn’t so interested in keeping up this blank facade. For the first time, he might have been useful.
The third time he saw her he grabbed at her, he’d freaked out and grabbed her. He’d always known he could interact with the dead but not all of the dead knew he could interact with them. Which is why she’d started screaming at him. His hand went limp where he was holding on to her wrist.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please stop. Please stop.”
He’d dropped her arm as he used his hands to block his ears, it was lucky they weren’t in public, instead, he’d been kicking leaves in his back garden trying to find any sense as to what had taken her, what had killed her. She’d appeared out of the darkness and instead of being normal he’d grabbed her, like a fucking psycho.
She looked at his smaller form curled up ducked to the floor and stopped screaming. She’d never liked him before when she was alive, she liked him even less now that she’d died at his house, and now he could see her ghost she’d never be rid of him.
“You can see me?”
“No one can see me.”
“No one else can see you, no.”
“I don’t know. I’ve always been able to see the dead.”
“So it did kill me? I was alive for so long as it tore into me, I didn’t know whether I was just dreaming.”
Steve shook his head, he hated hearing them talk about their deaths. Life was so precious, no one deserved to die so tragically and never so young.
“Will you show me?”
She blinked at him, confused. He held out a hand. She looked at him. He smiled, tried to reassure her. She didn’t believe him.
“What’s going to happen?”
“I want to see how you died, I want to know if I can stop it happening to anyone else.”
“You want to find Will Byers.”
Steve went cold, he couldn’t reach the boy, he wanted to find him. He wanted to find him like he tried to find Barb but he was too late to save her. If he could find him what would happen?
She nodded, firm and hard before she grabbed his hand. He hadn’t prepared himself for the tumbling that would entail as she allowed for him to see what happened, he screamed, he sobbed, he felt her pain.
When she let go of him he fell to the ground, arms around his knees where they were tucked up to his chest as he rocked back and forth trying to ground himself in this reality. He gasped in air, huge breaths of air and focused on his surroundings, there was no rotting air, no six-foot monster, no death. Barb was looking down at him as he fought through her death, he'd wanted to know what had happened to her but he hadn't thought she would have been conscious for so much.
He hated that her last words were her best friends name, he hated that she wouldn't have died if he hadn't been entertaining her best friend, he hated that she wouldn't have died if he hadn't invited them to his house, he hated that she wouldn't have died if Tommy and Carol hadn't listened to him all those times when he told them that he didn't like people in his house.
His breathing settled after a few seconds, and he stopped rocking himself on the floor. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and smiled as she finally sat down next to him.
“I am so sorry that happened to you.”
She blinked at him. She hadn’t thought he would care. She thought he would be Steve Harrington, she thought he would mock her, hurt her, scare her. But she was already scared, she was dead, and Steve was scared because he knew she was dead and there was nothing he could show to anyone to prove it.
She hadn't thought he would have the reaction he did at seeing her death sequence, she hadn't thought about just how much he was affected by seeing people die. She didn't think it would change anything for him, but he was softer and clearly disturbed by it all.
“Does that help you find Will?”
He shook his head, “I don’t know how to find him. I thought maybe you were still in this world and alive and that’s why. But I can connect to him, I can see him but he can’t see me and we can’t communicate. There’s like a barrier.”
“It’s a different world.”
Steve’s head snapped up to look at her, “what?”
“That monster took me somewhere else, it was rotten and just deathly. That’s where I died, I’m glad I came back here rather than staying there.”
Steve shook his head, “the dead go back to where they were most comfortable, or the only places they’ve ever known. If you weren’t comfortable there you wouldn’t stay put.”
“You’ve spoken to a lot of the dead?”
“Pretty much all of the ones in Hawkins, I miss a few because some don’t want to talk to the crazy medium Harrington kid, but most like me to do things for them so they can still think they’re interacting with my world.”
Barb nodded pushing her glasses up her nose, she knew that the only things she’d want Steve to do for her would be hard to do because it was very clear that no one except the dead knew that he could see them. He’d buried that secret so he didn’t get the judgement Barb was sure would come with it.
“You’ve been doing this for a while then?”
“I think I’ve seen them my whole life, I didn’t realise no one else could see them until I was eight. My parents didn’t believe me, I was taken from doctor to therapist to scientist until I convinced them that I was just imagining them. I stopped talking about it to other people when I was ten. Only the dead have ever seen who I actually am because no one alive would believe me.”
He looked down sadly and wiped a rogue tear from his eye. He felt wrong baring his soul to Barbara Holland like this but he knew he had to, just as he had to convince every other spirit that he wasn’t going to ignore them ever again. He could see them so he would speak to them. He wanted to be there for them and if he was there for them they would be there for him, and that’s all he wanted. Human contact. Even if they weren’t so alive anymore at least there was a connection of some sort.
Barb seemed to understand it, her brown probing eyes were following his every movement, they had when she was alive and they continued to while she was dead. He was glad for the consistency, but the continuous observation ran his blood cold, he hated that she could now see him at his worst and his best, neither were particularly flattering.
“No one knows.”
He shook his head, “no one. Not even Nancy.”
Barb nodded, seeming almost relieved to know that the difference between him and every other living person was a secret kept close to the vest, he told no one alive and that’s what he forever intended. He might have told Nancy if they’d been together any longer but he didn’t trust her, not with that, with everything else he trusted her, but his secret turned his parents against him he didn’t need it turning anyone else against him.
Steve sniffed and rubbed his nose against the sleeve of his t-shirt before he stood up and held his hand out for Barb.
“Do you want to come inside? I don’t fancy sitting out here any longer than we have to. Is that okay?”
Barb smiled, for the first time at Steve, she took his hand and allowed for him to pull her right side up. She didn’t like him when she was alive, but like this, she saw the real Steve and she finally could admit she might see what Nancy saw in him.
Steve woke to the news that the body of little Will Byers had washed up at Sattler Quarry, spirits chattered in his mind and he hated them for waking him up. His stomach was in his throat and last nights dinner was already in the wastebasket by his bed, by this point it had become more the sick bucket than anything else.
His body was slick with sweat and his t-shirt could probably be wrung out. He hated when he didn’t remember his night's wanderings, it always meant something bad was coming. He was usually scared shitless by what he saw in a nights sleep but waking up covered in sweat with the new knowledge that someone he’d tried to find was dead hurt more than anything.
He dry-heaved nothing into the bucket but his throat burned and he couldn’t help but think he deserved the pain.
Tears were leaking from his eyes as he stumbled down the stairs, his hand was slick with sweat and slipped down the bannister causing him to trip and nearly fall down the stairs. He was too distracted to focus on anything else, his entire being hummed with a different energy.
Little Will Byers had washed up on Sattler Quarry but he’d heard nothing from the ghosts about someone new. The back of his neck prickled like he was missing something and his entire body shook with the pain of all the spirits he’d ever had contact with. He was a failure at the only thing he’d ever had a connection with, he’d thought there was a reason he’d been given these powers maybe they wanted him to save people. He couldn’t even do that.
He was startled for a moment, his hands drawing into fists by his sides before he relaxed at the calming yet worried demeanour of his newest ghost friend, Barb.
“They pulled Will’s body out of Sattler Quarry.” His voice was mangled and broken as he kept his head tilted down to hide the obviously startling red rings around his eyes that would have decorated his face.
She frowned, “wouldn’t you be able to contact him now?”
He nodded his head although the migraine building pained him as he did so.
He sniffled and looked up at her, his arm wiping the freshest tears from his cheeks so he could look her in the eyes. “I don’t know if I want to. I thought we could find him, this just means I failed.”
“At least it means he wasn’t where I was. My body hasn’t been found and I’ve been dead a day if he’d been dead longer than me you would have seen him.”
Steve blinked and thought on it. It was a fair point, whatever had happened to Will wouldn’t have been as terrible as what happened to Barb and in some sick twisted way he knew that it made him feel a little better.
He lowered himself to the floor of his living room and motioned for Barb to join him. They sat facing one another, both with their legs crossed. He had a determined expression on his face where she just looked interested.
“I’m going to look for him, would you want to come with?”
She faltered for a moment before she nodded. Steve smiled reassuringly before he reached forward and took her left hand in his right and her right hand in his left, he rested their joined hands on his knees creating a ring of connected energy. He took a deep breath before he began to concentrate, Barb watched as his eyes turned a milky white colour before even the slightest colour of his eyes disappeared into the fog that overtook him. She sighed before closing her own eyes and wishing only the best for what they would find.
When she opened her eyes she stumbled in shock, dropping his hands and stepped backwards. He smiled where he stood in a foggier distorted version of Hawkins, it was unlike that rotting alternate dimension she’d died in but it was not the one she had lived in alive.
“What is this?”
Her voice echoed through the empty streets, she felt cold as she looked around it, the place becoming one with her memory as she tried to forget it and live it all at once.
“The Spirit Realm.”
He spoke quieter but it still echoed. His voice washed over her like a warm summer breeze and she found herself dropping her arms from where they were hugged around her in an attempt to beat off the cold of this new world.
He looked utterly comfortable in the place they had just entered yet out of place all the same. It was the first time she truly realised just how much time he must have spent with the dead in all of his years alive, he looked more comfortable here than he ever had when she’d seen him at school, or even with Nancy. Her heart hurt for a moment, he truly was a completely different person than he’d portrayed publicly.
“Come on, we’ve got a kid to find.” He held his hand out for her again, and she allowed for him to drag her through the empty streets.
Barb couldn’t identify how long they’d been walking, the spirit realm was the spitting image of the living and breathing Hawkins but it was completely empty. Steve was moving them through empty streets and through doorways like it was his job to provide tours. His hand was warm in hers but the rest of her was cold, she knew it was because he was alive in a world made for the dead but it made her glad to know that she was here because of him not because she was a new ghost.
“Where are we going?”
He smiled at her, it was cheeky and knowing, but he didn’t leave her wondering for too long.
“It’s where new spirits go to check-in. Only the dead who’ve been forgotten in the real world move on here, this is only a doorway to the rest of the world, but I can access this way-station to see if any new spirits have come into Hawkins.”
“You can find Will here?”
He shook his head, “he wouldn’t be here, he’ll be in Hawkins but I’d rather know he was really dead before I summoned him to the house. I don’t fancy stalking my way around the Byers house just to see if I’ll run into a ghost.”
She nodded, made sense.
Steve pushed through the doors as they got to the police station, he didn’t let go of Barb’s hand making sure that he didn’t lose contact with her after leading her this far. He hadn’t travelled with a ghost before and he didn’t want to lose her in this place when she still had a life to lead in his world.
He smiled as they entered the queue of ghosts, the ones in front of him froze up as they realised who he was and immediately scarpered to let him reach the desk that would have been one of the deputies in real Hawkins, but here it was for the Custodian.
“Magee. Holland. Why are you here?”
Steve didn’t react to the name but it was clearly directed at him, just as Barb was Holland, it wasn’t his last name but it clearly identified him.
“Just wanted to inquire about a new ghost in Hawkins, Custodian.”
The Custodian grumbled, adjusted the glasses sliding down her nose before she opened the biggest book Barb had ever seen. Her fingers found a specific page and groans of protest were heard as she turned to it. The book was groaning, faces were pushing their way out just as she was pushing them back in, like the most grotesque version of whack-a-mole anyone had ever invented. She sighed when the book had finally given up trying to do anything untoward and became just a book.
Her finger slid down the page to where names were newly written down the bottom.
“There have been five new ghosts in Hawkins in the past week, The Priest requests to speak to you up on this but I shall complete your request first. Your friend Barbara Holland is our most recent addition and I suppose you would like her returning to your world when all this is over.”
Steve nodded firmly, feeling out of sorts knowing completely that Barb was the last to die in Hawkins, then why could he not contact Will?
“Before Miss Holland, there was Devin Lloyd, Damian Burley and Benny Hammond all killed within minutes of one another, and a day before them Clyde Morris who died similarly to Miss Holland. Will that be all Magee?”
Steve shook his head, “Custodian, I’ve been trying to reach a Will Byers, they just fished his body out of Sattler Quarry.”
She shook her head, “you are mistaken, Mr William Byers is very much alive though we see his life force draining. The Priest has much to say about his condition if that will be all.”
She snapped her fingers and Steve felt Barb disappear entirely from the spirit realm as he was rushed away from the Custodians desk and towards a place he hadn’t encountered since he’d been younger and they’d attempted to teach him the rules of his new job.
The Priest was as you’d expect, a priest, but he was also one of the oldest spirits that remained employed in what seemed to be a committee to keep all the ghosts in line. They also remained the only ones who would even believe that someone like Steve existed.
He’d died in like the 1600s, if you got him talking about it like Steve used to he would have gone on for hours about his life, how he’d been a priest and how he’d been convinced that ghosts stuck around after death. He’d been one of those people who was lucky enough to be born with an ability, his wasn’t like Steve’s though, it was more of seeing through a window, he could see the dead but he couldn’t interact with them, he couldn’t hear them and he definitely couldn’t speak to them. It was also the reason he’d been drowned as a witch in England. Yeah he’d been born in the wrong time with the wrong opinions floating around.
So his innate ability to see the ghosts and really understand what had happened when he transitioned to the ghostly period of his life he’d been an easy choice as a therapist type to get most ghosts to understand what had happened to them. He’d played therapist to Steve too for a time as if he hadn’t already seen enough of those with his parents, but he’d helped. He’d shown him the ropes of what his life was going to entail, what he might be able to do when he got older and what he definitely could do age eleven.
The Priest greeted Steve with a sly cock of his head, an indication for him to sit in the seat that faced the priest. The seat that even in the living world Steve had sat in on a couple of occasions. It was the chair facing the high school principals. Steve was just lucky that he knew The Priest wouldn’t lash out at him as much as the principal had done in all the times he’d wound up in that chair.
“You wanted to talk to me?”
“Always, Magee. But now, more so. An evil from a different universe is plaguing your town, it is killing people out of the order that has been predestined. It is hurting Gods plan and we will suffer the consequences of it. I can tell you little of the future but know it is bleak if what is happening now is not stopped imminently.”
“Way to make a guy feel safe, Priest.”
“You shouldn’t feel safe, Magee. One of your friends is already dead and she will not be the last. Custodian alerted me that you are searching for the young Will Byers, another casualty if this is not fixed. I will give you advice, for all of us, not just Mr Byers. You will listen to me, even if you do not like it.”
Steve knew better than to interrupt the priest like this. It wasn’t worth it and it would only come back to bite him in the ass later. He could ignore it if he wanted but he also didn’t want to see Hawkins mourning another one of its people. He owed it to Barb to not let anyone else go the way of her.
“He is where Miss Holland met her end. You can find him by pushing through her death, you must use her to find him.”
He gaped at him, he knew what the Priest was saying, he understood. He’d also already considered it but he also knew how much strain on Barb it would cause and how much energy he would expend for it all to come together like that as they wanted it to. But if the Priest was suggesting it some part of Steve knew it had to work out, the Priest knew too much to give him bad information.
The Priest nodded in conclusion before he snapped his fingers sending Steve spiralling back to the real world but before he had time to prep himself for the journey.
He vomited blood as soon as he re-entered his body. It trickled down his chin and stuck to his t-shirt, his teeth glistened red and he felt utterly exhausted.
Barb was gone and the light of the day was slowly sliding away. He’d forgotten just how much time he could spend in the spirit realm. When he was younger he’d accidentally missed a whole week of school while he’d been there, well he’d only been there maybe three days but the effort of transporting himself there and maintaining the connection had him passing out for the rest of the week. He’d had to fake an illness to his parents over the phone after the middle school had phoned them to ask why he hadn’t been there. His father had called him weak and told him to get back to school, his mother hadn’t said anything. That was the day he realised the dead cared more about him than the living did.
He crawled back in the living room until his back was resting against the couch, his head was slick with sweat again and his body ached. The migraine was no longer there but he felt utterly exhausted and he just wanted to go back to sleep.
He dozed off after giving in to the exhaustion and when he woke up to a frantic Barb he only wished that he had a clock with the date on it in the living room. He shook off her worried gestures as he stumbled into a standing position. His head swam and he swore he could see little birds flying around his head.
“Wait, wait…lemme…one second…what day is it?”
She paused her nervous ramble to look at him, her eyes were wide as she took in his dishevelled appearance, she hadn’t expected him to be so broken after they came out of the spirit realm but he looked like he was barely hanging on.
“Have you not moved?”
He waved a hand for her to drop the worry as he fought to catch his breath and stop himself from vomiting again. He could feel the dried blood that caked his teeth and it took all his willpower to not throw up again.
“I passed out…what day is it?”
“You’ve missed a day. Are you okay?”
“Just need some more sleep. Whats got you all worked up?”
“Nancy saw the monster!”
Steve turned ashen as he looked up from where he was bracketing his arms against his knees, head tipped down in a position that looked like he was prepared to vomit again even if he didn’t want to.
She was gesticulating wildly as she spoke, a hurried and worried tone to her voice. “They were looking for me, her and Jonathan and she got pulled in.”
“Is she okay?”
“She got out if she got out does that mean Will could too?”
Steve pitched backwards his body falling heavily against the couch, he would have a job to clean the blood he’d been spreading about the house before his parents came home. His breaths were coming out fast and uneven, he just wanted to do all this without having to deal with everyone else. Knowing that other people were in danger too was straining to think about, he’d already missed out on keeping Barb alive he wasn’t sure what he would do if anyone else was to fall into the dead category.
He took several deep breaths as he tried to calm himself down, his hands were pressed into his eyes to block out the remains light in the house, his head really was spinning.
“I got told of a way to find Will, but I can’t now. I’m too exhausted. Give me a day or two and we’ll find him. Deal?”
She nodded worriedly. She worried for him, for little Will Byers, and now for Nancy. Everything really was falling apart around them.
He still hung out with Tommy and Carol, seemed futile with the amount he actually spoke to them.
He still fought to keep King Steve in the foreground and he hated himself for it. He’d told Barb that and the ginger had only frowned at him, she didn’t understand why he fought to maintain popularity, but her parents had never made her feel like a freak for being who she truly was.
He felt dead around them but he thought that was a little insensitive gathered that all of his real friends really were dead. He knew they were being outrageous and mean, he didn’t like it but he could be mostly absent during their hanging out sessions and they didn’t really care. He joined in just to put up a mask and keep it up, he didn't need them prying into his life and he didn't need them thinking they found anything either. He didn't need their pity nor their jeers, he got enough shit from his parents he didn't need it from his fake friends too.
They’d asked him if he’d been with Nancy during his period of time away from them, he’d said no, claimed illness. He hated the way they said her name and he wished he could tell them to stop, he wished he had the balls to stick up for the girl who was supposed to be his girlfriend. He didn’t see her as his girlfriend but that was probably because he had been spending more time with her dead best friend than he’d seen her in the past week. He was still reasonably exhausted and he hated that he’d gone back on his word with Barb. He’d made no attempt to look for little Will Byers and he would hate himself for as long as it took to find the boy.
Carol had wanted to know if he was still dating Nancy and he only shrugged, he didn’t feel like he was but he would have to speak to Nancy first to even know anymore. He mostly didn’t want to but he hadn’t found anyone he trusted enough outside of her to tell his secret. He had bigger things to worry about than that anyway. He couldn't help but resent Tommy and Carol for having nothing to give a crap about in the world, they didn't have some threat looming over their every action and they didn't need to pretend to be something they weren't. Yes, they were outrageous and mean without being prompted to.
He’d told them that Nancy had been spending a lot more time with Jonathan now anyway, it was a throwaway comment that he’d doubted they’d pay any attention to. It didn’t mean anything to him so why would it mean anything to them. He’d expected them to leave it alone, to not rock the boat, he was still out of it, his mind elsewhere. He hadn’t expected what happened next.
His eyes found Jonathan and Nancy before he’d even registered that they were there. Then Nancy’s hand was on his face, he found himself snapped back to the present as quick as the slap landed. Barb flashed to the forefront of his mind but just because he knew she was dead did not mean anyone else did. So she’d slapped him, Jonathan was loitering just behind her his expression serious, he didn’t understand why. Carol was making comments behind his back again but he still didn’t care to listen.
This seemed like something he should have known the answer for but his movements were sluggish and he felt like he was already saying words he didn’t mean again. It was an unhealthy habit and he knew he deserved to be punched, it didn’t mean he deserved to be beaten into the floor by Jonathan Byers of all people. His eyes glazed over as soon as the first punch hit, he fell to the floor and made no move to defend himself, really he didn’t have the energy too and he figured the younger boy deserved some way to get some of his frustration out with his brother being missing.
He didn’t miss the voices that began to cloud his mind as soon as his barriers were down. He’d allowed for Jonathan to lower his protection and now every ghost in a five-mile radius was shouting their problems into his brain all at once. He felt himself scream but he couldn’t hear anything over their voices. Something told him no one was sticking around for this.
No one living cared.
He gritted his teeth and flattened his hands against his ears, he knew that wouldn't stop the voices but he needed something to help, he wanted those barriers back up, he wanted to be able to be absent and listen to the silence. He missed the silence. He wanted Barb and he wanted sleep, he didn’t want to be here bleeding into concrete and he didn’t want to be carried to the back of the police car which is what happened next.
He came to properly, after a time he wasn't sure of, to find a jacket sprawled over his torso as he’d been laid across a small couch, so small his legs were dangling off the edge. His head hurt like crazy but there was silence. He’d managed to raise his barriers even in his fit of unconsciousness and he really thanked his sanity preserving instincts.
He sat up slowly blinking through the bright lights in the room he’d been lay in.
“Good, you’re up kid. Now you can tell me if you’re pressing charges.”
He shook his head, he wasn’t going to press charges, but he still couldn’t see the man that was talking to him. The lights were much too bright for his exhausted eyes. He didn’t blame the punches that Jonathan had laid into him, he blamed Tommy and Carol for not keeping their antics out of things that didn’t have anything to do with them. Anyway, pressing charges would bring attention back on himself from his parents, he didn’t need that. He didn’t need them and he definitely didn’t need their disappointment.
He needed to get back home, quell the residual pounding in his head with a few more hours of sleep before he settled down to what he really needed to do. Priest was relying on him to fix what was broken and he was only ruining that by letting the living world wrap him up and keep him fixed in the present. He never belonged here but he was going to save it anyway but not if he kept letting himself get pulled around.
“I don’t want to press charges.”
He shook his head and swallowed the bile that burned his throat as it rose and then disappeared, he was still dizzy but it definitely could have been a lot worse. His tongue rolled over the bulge on his bottom lip, it’d split and was now bruising and swelling. He didn’t want to think what he looked like in the mirror.
“Are you sure?”
Steve blinked past the blinding lights to get a better look at Chief Jim Hopper that was looming above him an exasperated look upon his face, Steve knew what was wrong. He was supposed to be out looking for a missing twelve-year-old but he was stuck inside because two teenagers had been caught fighting, one of which was the missing twelve-year-olds older brother.
“Positive, Chief. Jonathan’s got a lot more to worry about than busting up my face, plus I deserved it.”
Hopper nodded, “You’re free to go kid.”
Steve nodded, pushing the jacket off of his frame and onto the seat beside him, he stood up slowly eyes still burning from the light inside the station. His eyes flickered across to where Jonathan and Nancy still lingered, a shorter older woman was crying and looking completely frazzled where she stood beside them. Steve figured that was Mrs Byers, his resolve steepened, he had to find out what happened to her boy. They deserved that much.
He wobbled as he took his first step and Hopper grabbed his arm to steady him.
“You okay, kid?”
“I'm okay, just dizzy, Chief.”
Hopper let out a heavy sigh from between his teeth before he said something over his head that he didn’t catch. It wasn’t until the fingers tightened on his arm that he tuned back in, the voice was slow but agitated, Steve needed to stop becoming absent for conversations he was missing a lot.
“We couldn’t get in touch with your parents, are they home?”
He nodded, “I’ll take you back. You’re in no condition to drive.”
Steve thought about refusing but stopped and nodded, he was exhausted again and knew he wouldn’t be in a much better state if he drifted off while driving home.
He was escorted past Jonathan, Nancy and Mrs Byers, his head tilted down trying not to push it in that Jonathan had caused what looked like the first steps to a real concussion. He blinked and wobbled as they stopped, his feet not fully on the same wavelength as his brain. His ears still hadn't caught up on the memo that he was trying to be less absent, he'd missed a whole chunk of conversation again.
That was Mrs Byers and even though Steve knew she meant no harm he still flinched. His exhaustion was fraying his nerves and he could already feel the voices pounding at his barriers, he needed to get somewhere else before he lost it like before. If he hadn’t realised already, his King Steve mask had broken down to only a couple of fragments and he didn’t have the willpower to try and fix it, not when he had more important things to think of.
Jonathan was in front of him and Steve had to fight to raise his head to make it seem like he wasn’t playing the weak card. His eyes strayed to Nancy and her fixed jaw, he knew he would never make up his terrible words with anything, even if he did manage to find the littlest Will Byers wherever he was.
“I’m sorry, Steve.”
“S’alright. Shouldn’t have said what I said.”
If Nancy and Jonathan looked shocked by his complete change in personality, Steve didn't notice, and neither one of them said anything about it. None of them wanted to have a conversation about this right now, most of all Steve. Everyone had more important things to think about, especially more important than Steve.
No one living cared.
Hopper looked apologetic to Mrs Byers before he began to lead Steve out of the station again and towards his truck.
Steve was more or less out of it for the entire drive, his wits just about coming back when he noticed the ghost of Barbara Holland loitering on the pathway up to his house. His eyes widened for a split second before he turned to thank the Chief for the lift and climbed out of the car.
“I hope I don’t have to come back, kid.”
He waved one last time and didn’t look as the older man drove off. His eyes were purely on Barb as she headed up the path in a beeline towards him.
“What happened to you?”
She blinked at him then frowned.
“What did you do?”
He was gladdened with his relieved sigh to know that she was still exactly who she had been before she had died, she still believed in her friends and less so in Steve. It was a relief to know one person wouldn't change their perception of the world, and it hadn't even been as if she wasn't right, it had been his fault.
“Tommy and Carol did something. Nancy slapped me. I said some things then Jonathan Byers beat me up.”
“Sounds like you deserved it.”
He hummed in agreement with her assessment of his day's activities.
“You would be right. I’m going to go sleep this off now and then we’re going to find Will Byers.”
“You still want to do that?” She held her jaw fixed, they wanted to find that little boy, it was the only reason the two of them had become somewhat cordial after her death. She had hoped his altercation with the older Byers wouldn't have changed his opinion on the matter, looked like her hopes had been answered.
“Of course. No one deserves this shit.”
It was the only thing he believed in these days, and he would be dead before he stopped trying to find out what happened to that little boy.
Steve had tried his best to make Barb understand what searching for Will would entail. He didn’t want her to think this was easy, he didn’t want her to think that he didn’t care. He didn’t want her to think he was still exactly who he’d pretended to be in high school. He hated what he was then, and he hated that it had become his entire known personality.
Barb had been adamant that it didn’t mean anything to her, both of them cared about finding this little boy before he went down the same ending as she did. It was entirely something that they both agreed on. Her response to his complete and utter freak out about him wanting her to know that he wanted her safe, was, of course, to tell him that she was already dead and that she could handle this too. He’d blanched at her mention of her life status as if he hadn’t thought about it in a while. She figured he thought of all ghosts as people rather than the dead and the repetitive knowledge that they were still dead must freak him out.
He swallowed the panic attack that was rising in his throat and tried to quell his fluttering heartbeat. They sat in front of one another as they had when they were entering the spirit realm. Their knees were touching and their hands rested atop of them. They were closer than last time but there were higher stakes, neither one of them had done this before and they were only doing it under the advisement of a ghost, someone who didn’t have as many self-preservation instincts as someone who was still alive like Steve.
But Steve didn’t seem worried and Barb was unsure as to whether to take it as a reassuring measure or as something to be worried about herself. She took a deep breath anyway, the notion of a ghost taking a breath was not lost on her because she was dead and she didn’t need oxygen to live anymore, it was a human habit that she was not willing to give up on just yet though.
Steve’s eyes slid shut before Barb had the chance to watch them turn to pools of white, it had been chilling last time and she was gladdened to know she would not have to witness it again. It only reminded her just how different he was from the jackass she knew in high school, that Steve would not have let someone like Jonathan beat the shit out of him, that Steve wouldn’t have walked away with apologies on his lips, that Steve wouldn’t have been so broken to show all of his faults to Barb like he was presenting her with the book of his life.
He was different and he was incredibly sad, Barb wasn’t sure if Steve knew how much he’d given her just by treating her the way she deserved, but she saw a lot. She saw how much he craved affection, how much of it he only got from the dead and just how alone he was in this world. His home life was bare and his friendships were bare, he was a ghost living in a human body and it wouldn’t get any better if he only spoke to the dead. She only hoped them finding Will Byers alive might heal something within him.
Steve gripped her fingers as he set the pace to fall back into the place Barb had died to slow, he didn’t want them to fall back into her memories only to get spat back out on the other side broken and exhausted. He’d never done this before, he had to be careful to not overdo it.
The air was rotting and Steve made sure that he was still holding Barb’s hand. He could not let her get pulled away and into watching her death memories again, that wasn’t why they were here. He shared a reassuring smile with her and tried not to take too many breaths in the dead atmosphere.
He closed his eyes and pushed, he felt them moving their way through the new world. The snap of Barb breaking through her death memories and the shudder he felt of her hand in his reminded him just how physically exhaustive this was going to be for her. She squeezed his fingers obviously knowing where his mind had gone. He didn’t open his eyes but he appreciated what she was doing for him.
His hair blew around his face as they moved. It was like they were stood still and the scenery was moving around them. He was searching for a boys soul, the Custodian had mentioned something about his life force barely hanging on and Steve could search for that. He could always tell when someone was close to death. The back of his neck prickled and he figured they were as close as they were going to get, especially if the boy was still alive.
He opened his eyes at last and finally let go of Barb’s hand. He wobbled for a moment then righted himself. He could feel the blood flowing from his nose and ears, he knew it wasn’t here though, it was in his house. He’d detached his soul and as much as the Steve Harrington that was presented in this new world was a projection of himself, it was a projection of what he had looked like when they had begun their journey. He would wake with blood all over himself, but that didn’t matter for now.
Barb looked around looking physically sick. Steve had always wondered what would happen if you pushed the limits of a ghosts abilities, and it was clear that he might finally find out. It sucked that it had to be her that it was tested out on but she was the only ghost he knew that had physically any tangible connection to this rotting reality of Hawkins. He needed her for that but he felt bad about it.
“Do you recognise any of this?”
Barb shook her head, she’d died in the warped other world reality of Steve’s pool. She’d never had the chance to explore the new world, not like she’d wanted to even if she hadn’t wanted to die as she did. She pitied the boy for having to live through it where she seemed to have gotten the best deal of it all.
Steve pursed his lips, he didn’t know how he’d find the boy and despite being what one would now consider just feats of the imagination he worried about drawing the monster close by making any sort of racket in this warped reality.
He rubbed the back of his neck where the prickle was suddenly becoming painful. He hated to admit it but he was scared, he might even have said petrified but he needed to continue moving and not give in to the fear. If he admitted that he was petrified he feared he would never continue as he needed to.
He took a deep breath and held his hands out, palms upwards and head tilted to the sky, he breathed slow and even until his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he allowed himself to search. He hadn’t wanted to truly access the whole range of what he could do out of fear that he would pass out, he’d had a few close calls in the past but this one meant more than finding out how a ghost haunting Hawkins had died.
His eyes twitched beneath closed eyelids as he probed the minds of anything close, he physically recoiled when he found himself in the rotting corpse of Barbara Holland’s mind and felt himself relax when he may be found what he was looking for. The butchered lyrics of a Clash song floating aimlessly through his brain. He came to in front of Barb and those watchful brown eyes, his breathing was heavy and he looked almost drained, “found him.”
The prickle in the back of his neck eased up as they got closer and closer to a small house on the edge of the woods. Steve had created a bridge of sorts between himself and the boy it helped to locate him and it would help to keep tabs on him when they went back to their world, but he was alive, that was all Steve cared about at this point.
The voice was weakened in its fake strength due to the litany of coughs that succeeded his words. Steve couldn’t see where it had come from but he knew that he could be seen. He was unsure as to whether he could see Barb, it was hard to identify what was happening in his mind.
“We’re just looking for Will Byers.”
Steve made sure to keep his hands up and his voice low, he was still utterly worried about whatever could come out of the darkness.
The little voice coughed again, it shook him and echoed around the dangerous silence.
“You aren’t actually here?”
“No. It’s like a projection of the mind.”
The boy nodded as he stumbled out of the undergrowth, his clothes stuck to him like a second skin and if he didn’t die from the toxic atmosphere he looked like he’d die from lack of resources, the kid was practically skin and bone.
“I’ve been hiding behind my house.”
Steve nodded, “come on then, show me.”
The boy’s fingers wrapped around Steve’s own and used him as a crutch to move, he still wasn’t sure if he’d seen Barb or not but maybe that wouldn’t have been bad considering she’d died here and that may have been the next step for him.
They stumbled their way through the forest until they came to a crudely built safe-house under the name ‘Castle Byers’. The boy pulled him through the curtained door with Barb loitering outside. It was hardly better than outside but Steve figured this was his happy place enough that it made him feel safer than anywhere else in this warped Hawkins would.
Will rubbed at his face before he looked up at Steve, he squinted then weakly pointed at him.
“What happened to your face?”
“Ah, your older brother.”
“I was being an asshole, I deserved it.”
Will hummed in thought, his eyes worried and panicked as they flitted about the small space, they didn’t know what could be out there or even what could be close. Steve was just gladdened to know that the boy was still alive, he couldn’t have asked for anything better.
“How did you get here?”
“I can uh see dead people? Not like you’re dead, because you’re not. But I can sense when someone is close to death, and uh I had help from someone who died here so I could get to this plane of existence.”
“You’re a medium?”
“I mean I guess. But I keep a log of the dead in Hawkins and I didn’t want to have to put your name in the book.”
“They think I’m dead?”
“I don’t know. Someone tried to convince everyone you were, a body washed up in the Quarry.”
“How did you know that wasn’t me?”
“Because you weren’t dead? Kid, I can see ghosts you would have turned up.”
Will coughed and lowered himself down to the sleeping bag that was there, “I don’t know if I can stay awake much longer.”
“I’ll find a way for them to get you, they have to. You’re not dead.”
“S’okay, at least I got to meet a medium.”
Steve looked saddened down at the boy who seemed to be lulling himself into an exhausted rest, he didn’t want to think about what that meant but it was hard not to. The boy was getting used to the idea of being dead and then Steve would have two suffering ghost friends. That wasn’t what he wanted, he wanted alive friends over his dead friends, he needed to exist in both worlds, not just the dead one.
There was a tug in his gut and he barely had any time to do anything more than run his fingers through his hair as he was dragged away. He maintained his crouched position on the floor as the scenery moved around him. He squeezed his eyes shut as he thought about the boy he’d left behind.
He jerked to a stop and stumbled onto his ass. He blinked awake shocked to see Barb had been dragged away at the same time. They were present in a blackened space as what looked like a little girl screamed and cried into the abyss, hands smacking against a window into the warped reality they had just abandoned Will in.
Her hands faltered as she spun around to lay her eyes on Steve. They widened and then she was stalking towards him, hands on his wrist searching for something.
His eyes widened as he spotted the distinct 011 on her arm.
“You’re from Hawkins Lab?”
She nodded, looking flustered and angry.
“Looking for people in there?”
“Barbara Holland, and Will Byers.”
Steve’s mouth went dry as his eyes locked on Barb loitering behind her, well he was still the only one who could see her and that sucked.
“Here, take my hand. Channel me.”
He lifted his hand as she sat down in front of him and took his hand.
“Are they dead?”
Steve shook his head, “just look.”
He felt himself being pulled back into the world, the scenery flashing around them and fatigue creeping up his very skin. He would no doubt sleep forever after this.
“Dead.” Her voice cracked as she looked upon the rotting corpse of Barbara Holland, Steve had to squeeze his eyes shut to just focus on the ghost rather than that. He would never see her as anything else if he focused on it too much. He tugged on the girl's hand and pressed her focus elsewhere, elsewhere to the little boy that was barely hanging on in his own castle.
She ran her fingers through his hair as he sang the broken lyrics to another Clash song, it brought a sad laugh to Steve’s lips.
“Your mom, she’s coming.”
Steve stared wildly at her, he hadn’t known that. They’d been searching for him, of course, they’d been searching for him, he was their little boy, they wouldn’t have given up on him so quickly.
Will’s eyes barely fluttered as he spoke, “hurry."
"Just hold on a little longer. Will!"
The girl broke down crying and Steve flung himself around her, hands holding her close as the scenery vanished again and instead she was left suffering in a black abyss.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re okay.”
“It’s not okay, one is gone, we were too late.”
“She might be dead, but she isn’t gone. Open your eyes, kid.”
He gripped her hand in his own and allowed for his eyes to sink into that cloudy white that was entirely him at this point. She opened them slowly enough to scream when she saw Barb crouched in front of her.
“Told you, I see ghosts.”
His head swam and his body slammed to the floor. He couldn’t hear what they were saying around him but he knew they’d done too much. He’d overexerted himself and he was paying the consequences. He slid into blackness of his own and he knew then there would be some time before he awoke again.
The gang crowded around the kiddy pool they’d set up as a sensory deprivation tank in the centre of the middle school gym. Eleven was floating atop of the water as she found herself searching for Barbara Holland and Will Byers. The radio crackled and relayed what was being said to her in that world, it was full of static as she began what they assumed was her search.
She was fidgeting and nervous, the frustrated breaths told them something was happening but not yet something she chose to share with the group.
They all startled looking towards the radio as a recognisable voice picked up on the radio, it was without interference, and Eleven didn’t seem to recognise it.
‘You’re from Hawkins Lab?’
Hopper shared a worried look with the rest of them, whoever it was and they couldn’t place it, was more knowledgeable than they would have given anyone else credit for.
‘Looking for people in there?’
“Barbara Holland and Will Byers.”
It was the first time she spoke in response to the stranger on the radio. Her voice coming out loud and clear as if she was talking to someone in this room rather than in a completely different dimension.
‘Here, take my hand. Channel me.’
“Who is that?” Joyce asked looking round at Hopper then the kids then the teens. No one had an answer for her.
“Are they dead?”
“Dead.” Her voice broke and she seemed to let out a small sob at whoever she saw. There must have been some non-verbal prompting on the other end as she seemed to calm down almost straight after it happened and soon she was talking again this time with a better grasp on the situation at hand.
“Castle Byers. Will. Your mom, she’s coming.”
‘Hurry.’ That was Will, the other voice lay quiet amidst the nothingness, likely allowing Eleven the time allotted with Will that she could get.
“Just hold on a little longer. Will. Will!”
She started to whimper and cry and the group had to maintain a semblance of restraint not to pull her out right in that instant.
‘It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re okay.’
“Not, not okay. One is gone, too late.”
‘She might be dead, but she isn’t gone. Open your eyes, kid.’
The broken gasp she let out followed by her confusion were enough to worry the group.
‘I see ghosts.’
There was a period of silence before Eleven flung herself upright in the water, her eyes watery behind the goggles and her breaths coming out erratic and forced.
She leant back into the comfort that Joyce offered her as she tried to right herself after everything she’d seen.
They’d wrapped her up in a blanket and allowed for her to have some time to herself before they began to question her over what had occurred. It was a hard-fought battle, knowing that they all recognised the voice coming out of the radio and yet could not place it. Whoever it was had tried to keep her calm all the same and that meant they were on the same side despite everything. They should have thought about what they were going to be doing before they did it, foresight would have been helpful when thinking of the soggy clothes Eleven was now sitting in and would continue sitting in for the next number of hours.
“Who was in there with you, kid?”
Hopper squatted in front of her in an attempt to make himself seem less intimidating even if the scowl never left his face.
“No name. No number.”
“He was from the lab?”
“No. No number.”
“Why are you concentrating on that, kid?”
“He wasn’t dead but he was there. Barb was dead, Will was not. He wasn’t dead.”
“He said he could see ghosts, maybe he was a ghost?”
“No. He showed me, Barbara, I didn’t know she was a ghost.”
Joyce was pulling at Hopper, there were other things they needed to worry about other than the unknown voice on the radio, more importantly, her boy. Her boy who needed them imminently. The little girl was clearly stressed out and they were unlikely to find out who it was from a voice and an image painted by someone who knew less words than she should have for her age.
They would have to put this mystery on the back burner for now, they’d have time later. They’d have time when Will was safe.
Steve woke up in the hospital. His throat was as dry as the Sahara and he could almost feel the numbing drugs travelling through his body. He didn’t have a reference point for how long he’d been asleep but with the condition of his well being and feeling fully rested, he gathered it may have been longer than ever before.
No one was sat in the room with him. He hadn’t expected anyone to be there but he worried who’d gotten him here. Who had found him covered in blood and suffering in the middle of his empty house? What had he missed? Did they get Will out alive? There were too many questions to have answered in such a short period of time.
His head pounded as he thought over every conundrum he didn’t have an answer for and he felt like smashing his head into something to quell the thoughts.
There was one difference to his wellbeing though, he couldn’t feel the ghosts. His heartbeat quickened, he hadn’t lost the one thing that connected him to the world had he? He couldn’t have overdone himself on that one plan, that wasn’t how these things were supposed to happen. The monitor he was hooked up to on his left beeped as his heart rate increased and soon there was someone running into his room almost shocked as if they were surprised to see him awake.
“Don’t move too quickly, Mr Harrington, you’re in the hospital. You’ve been in a minor spell of unconsciousness for just over a week now.”
If that was minor he was certainly glad to have never encountered a major spell of unconsciousness, he had a feeling that would have equated to a number of months even a year and that would have sucked.
She handed him a plastic cup with a straw and encouraged him to drink. His throat praised her for the thought of it. It brought about some coughing and a brief encounter with choking as he reacquainted his body with liquids not entered into him via an IV.
She took a quick moment to look over his charts and his background before she looked up at him and began to speak.
“You were found unconscious in your house covered in blood that had come from ruptures in your ears, your nose and from your lungs. It is an inexplicable phenomenon that we have been unable to diagnose other than intense exhaustion and overexertion from which we cannot pinpoint. None of which can be explained by how you were found in your house. The ruptures in your ears have healed and we’ve been combatting the exhaustion with fluids. You should be able to leave in a couple of days after we run some tests and make sure you are not in risk of this happening again.”
Steve nodded in thanks, cringing at all the information about his unexplainable situation, at least they hadn’t thought he’d tried to kill himself, he’d heard that conclusion before now. He definitely did not want to see another therapist this late into the game.
He still wondered who had found him in his house because there was no way that Barb had managed to manipulate human objects this early into her existence as a ghost, that was pretty much dead a century living territory, not just weeks. Plus he knew literally no ghosts in Hawkins who actually could manipulate human objects, the only ones he knew of for sure were located in the Spirit Realm version of Hawkins, that being the Custodian and the Priest. §
He was in the hospital after waking up from his week of unconsciousness for another week of tests before someone even broached the concept of him going home, but they needed to know who to call to pick him up. His parents weren’t responding to their calls but he chalked that up to their work schedule and he was more than happy that they weren’t coming to get him. He didn’t need that.
But he also didn’t know who he could call, he’d ditched Tommy and Carol after finally figuring out just how bad they were for him. The next plan would have been Nancy but she didn’t have a car and he was slightly worried that she wouldn’t have even listened to him after that week that he’d spent accidentally ghosting her.
The nurse had given him a day to fill out the forms but he needed to write down a number at some point. Giving himself a day left him with more panic and more nervous energy to surround him, he seriously wished she had told him to give her an answer quick.
He’d been focusing on hiding the fact that he could see pretty much all the dead people that wandered the halls. He did not need them thinking he was crazy, he did not need them trying to put him in for psychiatric testing. Yeah, he did just want to leave.
He was becoming stir crazy after a week and he was seriously regretting everything, not finding Will, or helping that little girl find Will, but the fact that he was entirely too unpracticed that he’d fallen painfully unconscious and had someone find him in his house. He hated that this was entirely his fault, he was as much a mess as the situation he’d found himself in.
Waiting out the front of the hospital in clothes they’d fished out for him from lost and found was a huge low point in his mental health. He was also waiting to see if the person he’d called would actually turn up.
The car that came around the corner wasn’t one he’d expected, the people inside definitely didn’t add up to expectations either. Nancy Wheeler jumped out almost as soon as the car stopped but Jonathan Byers remained behind the wheel. Their eyes were wide almost as if seeing him properly waiting for them outside of the hospital was enough for them to be certain that he wasn’t pulling a fast one on them.
Her eyes scanned him, the way he leaned against a column to make sure that he didn’t careen over, he was utterly exhausted even after the two weeks he’d spent in the hospital. He just really wanted to get home and get himself back to himself.
“Are you okay? What happened?”
He shook his head, “Don’t remember. One minute I was home the next minute it had been a week and I was in the hospital with a nurse telling me someone had called in about me being covered in blood in my living room.”
Nancy seemed to share an equally worried look with Byers before she was helping him into the back of his car. He released a relieved sigh as soon as he was sat down, he really needed to be off of his feet but he hadn’t wanted the humiliation of the wheelchair the nurse had offered him.
“Any news about your brother?”
Jonathan seemed to freeze up but then relax after sharing a glance with Nancy, “yeah, he’d been found wandering in the woods. He’s okay, just got lots of doctors appointments to make sure he’s right.”
“That’s good. I’m glad he’s safe.”
Steve had rested his head against the cool glass of the car's window. He wasn’t trying for the facade anymore, he didn’t have the energy for it. He just wanted to go home, update the book with Barb’s name and no one else’s and rejoice in the fact that little Will Byers had been found.
Steve was unaware of the looks that Nancy and Jonathan were sharing, they were clearly worried about his new change in attitude. It was not what Steve was known for, it was not the way he acted at school. Steve just wanted to get taken home with no more questions, it was hard to maintain a story about what happened to him by claiming that he didn’t remember, never mind having them trust him about seeing ghosts. Surely they’d trust him more if he was being evasive than truthful.
They pulled up outside of his house, the journey was silent since Steve had admitted his sincere thought about Will’s safety. It was silent until Nancy reached back to shake Steve back into consciousness after worrying that he was no longer there with them. He was but of course he’d seen the line of spirits all waiting on the horizon, he’d worried as he’d watched them watch him. He didn’t need them, not know, he needed some peace before he had to deal with all them. Of course, they’d get to him before he was ready and he would just need to deal with it.
“Yes sorry, thank you for the lift.”
He peeled himself out of the car and stood on wobbly legs. His head hurt and he really hoped he could get to another soft surface before he passed out again.
“Do you need us to come in?”
Steve thought about the blood that was likely marring the carpet, the possible papers with the information he’d written down about the other worlds in the kitchen. He shook his head but held in nausea at his quick movement.
“It’s okay, thank you.”
“Well, call if you need anything. Yeah?”
Steve nodded, looking back at them and shared an appreciative smile. He really did appreciate that they cared enough about him like this, or were at least trying to put on a facade of caring, either way, he was happy. He’d take them not really caring but asking over just ignoring his calls like his parents. Maybe there were some people that were living that cared about him.
The car lingered at the edge of his path until he’d reached his door and entered it. His chest ached as he thought of them making sure that he got to his house okay. That surely was a new feeling.
The smell inside of his house made his stomach turn. There was clearly blood on the oak wood floor, he was only somewhat glad there was no carpet. He could have gotten rid of the carpet, maybe even replaced it but he might just need to buy a new rug or pull out a rug from some other part of the house to cover up any stain he couldn’t get rid of. He was more surprised that that much blood had come from his nose his ears and from his lungs that had been coughed up out of his mouth. It was worrying to be fair, it also somewhat explained why he was so exhausted and had to have stayed in the hospital for so long. He’d clearly lost a real amount of blood.
He wasn’t freaked out when he found Barb sat at the end of his bed the next morning, he was still too exhausted to care. He greeted her with a smile and then shuffled backwards so he was bracketed against the head board of his bed.
“Are you okay?”
The first words from her reminded him why he preferred the dead over the living though Nancy and Jonathan were slowly rising in the ranks of the people he liked and that really was a short list.
Will was on there, that girl he met in that weird black place was on there and newly Nancy and Jonathan were on there too. He was slowly reconnecting with the real world and he felt good about it.
“Yeah, just tired.”
She nodded, worrying the bottom lip between her teeth like there was something on her mind. He gestured to her as if to say go for it, he couldn’t stop her and he couldn’t think of anything more important he could say than what she wanted to say.
“What happened? You fell out of that place, I was dragged back and the girl seemed to disappear.”
Steve nodded, a hand rubbing across his face. He knew that he’d pull everyone from the realm with his passing out stint but he hadn’t thought it would have been as jarring as the way Barb seemed to be reacting to it.
“Overexerted myself didn’t think about how much time I spent over there. Passed out because of exhaustion and the amount of blood I’d lost. I don’t know what would have happened if someone hadn’t found me.”
She pursed her lips, “it was Tommy.”
“Pardon?” Steve blinked at her.
“Tommy found you. He panicked and called the hospital. I hate that I couldn’t help.”
Steve shook his head, “I wouldn’t have blamed you. It was my own fault for not preparing myself for a stressful task. I’m more confused that it was Tommy who found me, I thought he wouldn’t be speaking to me for a while again.”
She shrugged, neither one of them had much of an explanation for why Tommy was the one who had found him, there was no explanation for why he’d been in his house nor for why no one in the hospital had told him that it was Tommy who’d come in with him. Knowing that Tommy had found him would have made the decision on who to call to pick him up would have been so much easier and then he wouldn’t have needed to bother Nancy and Jonathan with worry for him that wasn’t required.
He smiled at her as he remembered something grin widening, “they found Will, by the way, he’s safe with his family.”
She grinned back, almost gladdened to know that even though their actions had caused him two weeks in hospital but also for Will to have been found. That was nice, it was newly nice and it meant that at least they hadn’t fucked everything up.
It was nice, Steve thought, that they were two people in this, he was sure he would hate himself so much more if it was wholly his fault that he’d passed out even if Will had been found. The idea that he had in some way made Barb’s life in death have a purpose made his chest swell with pride, it was exactly the reason the Priest wanted him to help the dead in the first place. He wanted to bring back his attempts to help the ghostly population of Hawkins, it made something in him feel right, he wanted the purpose of it all. That’d be good to focus on, that so he didn’t have to focus on the fact that he couldn’t keep Barb alive in all of this.
He rubbed at his eyes and then his nose, he needed to get moving, he needed to do something, he was ultimately shattered but had entered real cabin fever stage of solitude. The school was still happening amidst his own trauma, which meant he was missing lessons, failing grades and really standing up to the whole Steve Harrington facade he'd been perfecting under his father's orders and he was pained to think of it.
He would have to sort that out, he wanted to break off from that ideal, he didn't want to be known around Tommy or Carol anymore, he wanted to be him and if that meant being a freak he'd take it.
If what he could do meant he was a freak then that's what he was.
Before Steve knew it, it was the Christmas season. Only two weeks after the events had passed. Houses were slowly becoming more decorated with fairy lights, Christmas trees were being purchased and presents were being picked. Steve liked Christmas and yet he didn’t, his only Christmas tradition was the phone call that came in late that year, obligatory words of sadness and pleas for forgiveness that had Steve rolling his eyes and wishing they never bothered to call at all.
His parents hadn’t spent Christmas at home with him since he was eleven, he’d been much more disappointed back then, he couldn’t understand why their work was so more important than their youngest son. He’d tried to make his own Christmas like they did when they were together, he’d tried cooking and wound up with a nasty burn scar on the top of his arm that to this day still lingered. Wrapping up old gifts had taken a toll on him, no one was there when he opened them and he already knew what was inside. He hadn’t tried anything like that again, hurt too much.
As he got older Christmas became the month that he consoled spirits, he attended nativity’s at the church with them, he attended carol singing with them. He would experience it for them so they had some connection to their living relatives. It made him feel needed, it almost made him feel loved though he was always a long way off of that.
It reminded him why he wanted to stop being his dad's puppet. He wanted to stop putting on this facade that he was entirely normal and the epitome of the Harrington name because he wasn’t. He was different and he was special and he was needed, he didn’t need to have a special Christmas to remind him that he was loved by his family because he hadn’t felt that since he was eleven. But he could be better, and he wanted to be better, he wanted to be who the Priest always told him he could be, and that was his New Years Resolution, he planned on seeing it through.
It took a couple of months after that for Steve to settle into a real routine, he wanted to be truly accepting of both parts of his nature, the living and the dead, and that’s what he aimed for.
He was quieter in school, a much more subdued being within the system. Looked upon in confusion over his sudden personality change. Tommy observed him with only a thin veil of worry that faded back to the intense dislike they shared over his sudden movement to drop his friendship. Jonathan nodded to acknowledge him in the corridors and he didn’t see Nancy as often as he should have but they spoke on the odd occasion that they did.
His grades increased and his social status decreased but that wasn’t his purpose. His purpose was being fulfilled separately under the vital supervision of the Priest and on other occasions the Custodian.
He was who he was when he was younger, full of intention to make good on what he’d been given his abilities for. He spoke often to ghosts, spent his time trying to make sure they were aware of their differences to the people in their lives and the awful truth that they wouldn’t be able to interact with them ever again. Most didn’t like it, most wanted him to fix it, some tried making him deliver messages, some tried to get him to end their observation early. Only a few got on with it, of those few stood Barbara Holland, someone Steve didn’t think he would ever be on good terms with in life or even in death.
He filled out his book, he made detailed notes on the dead, he wanted them to feel known and to feel important. If that meant him planning birthdays and remembering anniversaries then that’s what he would do. His once impeccably clean room was strewn with calendars filled with dates, notebooks of information and files pulled from the local library. He was becoming a true font of psychic ability.
He was practising his abilities too. Having Barb time his episodes, seeing how far he could look into peoples pasts. One book detailed his improvements and failings. And new ideas he wanted to attempt. Things he’d read about fictional beings with seemingly the same abilities as he himself seemed to possess. Characters such as Angelique Bouchard in the Dark Shadows TV show, and Brother Voodoo from the Strange Tales Marvel comic. He wondered about possessions and spirit contained objects, The Priest grinned at his questions but never answered straight.
The Priest wanted him strong before he tried anything too hard on himself. The fact that he could do an astral projection to even see just about alive beings was enough for them to have hope for him with his future in the ghost business.
In the back of his mind, there was always a space for thoughts of the little Will Byers and that poor girl who lived alive even what she went through in the labs. A niggling thought in him lasted about her number, he hated what had happened to ONE, TWO and FIVE, it hurt him to think that yet another had to have gone through it, even worse survived it. He feared that was worse. At least it seemed that she had some support within Hawkins, at least it seemed that way all those months ago.
He almost had the thought to try for them, but as far as he knew his abilities only allowed him to reach the dead, he had never found himself needing to locate anyone living. It almost seemed a myth to even think he would look for someone living. He feared he would be unable to find them even if he tried and that made him not want to, be feared he would be unable to stop himself hating himself if he couldn’t find them, so he hadn’t tried.
It was those thoughts that were there when he first felt the phantom pressure of someone proving into his own mind, searching for him. He hadn’t known what it was at the time, he’d had many a migraine in the months after his unconscious spell and he had chalked it up to that. So when it began to happen again and again on almost a weekly basis he began to note it down in his records, he began to think maybe just maybe it was a symptom to the strain he’d been placing his abilities under.
It was when he woke up from a fever dream and saw her for the first time he truly realised what had been happening. The girl from the lab whose number was unknown to him stood before him an almost pleased expression on her face, her hair was longer and Steve figured he couldn’t have added three months growth of hair in a dream to a figure he’d only seen for maybe ten minutes.
They hadn’t spoken but Steve could at least attribute the pressure in his mind to her trying to get in contact. He was pleased to know she lived too, it was enough to remind him that everything that happened included others too. He was not the only one broken down by a place he wished never to see again.
If this girl could reach him maybe he could reach Will. Though really that seemed stupid when he could very well go up to them in the local store and see if he was okay. He worried though, no one would understand why he was suddenly so worried about it after three months, and he didn’t know whether Will even knew he was a real person.
He let his worries rule his world, another reason he’d tried to run away from what he could do all those years ago when his father had made him run away from it and he hadn’t argued. Baby steps, he’d bring himself back slowly, he’d already fixed himself in the world of the dead, he had time before he would be broadcasting what he could do in Hawkins. There was time yet.
He sometimes saw them, glimpses of the Byers seemingly living normally after everything that had happened, he wondered abstractly if anyone had spoken of his existence, that little girl or Will. He could only suppose that if they did they didn’t care, that or they couldn’t place him, he was alone in knowing that he’d helped and even if he wanted no thanks for his part he couldn’t help but yearn for a conversation on what had happened. He wanted to know where they had been, what that monster tearing great holes in the spirit realm had been, why his head still hurts like two worlds are splitting apart, or worse merging. He was alone in his thoughts with only Barb to share his thoughts, there was little the two had learnt but they were mostly glad to have someone to rely on that believed them.
His parents had been gone nine months before he even realised they were back. A car door slammed outside and he looked up from the conversation he’d been having with Barb, notebooks were strewn across the surface of the kitchen island. They had never once warned him when they were coming home but he didn’t think he could ever have been so reckless like this to even forget that they still came home every now and again. He didn’t want to think of what his dad might do to him now that he was older than eleven and still pursuing this freakish hobby.
At least he didn’t have to hide Barb, that wasn’t an issue considering no one else could see her but him, he would just have to pretend she wasn’t in the room and he’d gotten pretty adept at that over the years.
By the time they reached the front door and Steve could hear the familiar sounds of them arguing even as they entered the house, he had stashed his notebooks as well as he could in one of the cupboards and pulled out a book that he had definitely read before. He hated needing to hide himself this way from even his parents, Barb hadn’t understood it either but his wide worried eyes had chased her into a silent observer.
“Steven.” His dad greeted him with a curt nod and his mother smiled, it was small and almost fake looking, he didn’t care as much as he used to about their fake attempts to pretend they still cared that he hadn’t died during the time they’d been away.
“Welcome back.” Steve tried to smile in the most sincere fashion he could muster, he’d set his book down and he managed to make sure his eyes didn’t drift to where Barb was watching the most awkward family interaction of the century.
“Shouldn’t you be out with Tommy or Carol?”
Steve blinked at his dad, not ten minutes back in the house and around his son was he already wondering why he wasn’t gone, real stellar parenting there.
“It’s a school night.”
Ford Harrington fixed his son a hard glare, his beady eyes running across every surface and across his son, analysing everything to fit into one category or to disprove that, his eyes landed on the book and he almost became more intimidating.
“You’d better not be falling into bad habits again, Steven. We cannot afford for you to be seen, I received a call from your principal about your grades. You weren’t this smart before you cannot be this smart now. They are paying attention to you.”
Steve sunk in on himself as his dad's words hit him hard, as much as his family had never wanted to believe that he was different they had always fought to hide the possibility. They had perfected the idea that Steve could be average, he wasn’t smart so he didn’t get that attention and he wasn’t stupid so he wasn’t needing extra help. The Harrington name was safe under the guise that they needed nothing, they were perfectly average, and so was their son.
There was nothing different about Steve Harrington, he was purely average and he was happy that way. He would come out of school with average grades, with average friends, with average life experience, and he would waltz straight into a job under the watchful eye of his father. A watchful eye that would make sure none of his bad habits would ever be seen in the world.
Ford nodded, face impassive, “you should call for Tommy and Carol.”
Steve shook his head, “family dinner, I was just getting some reading done for class tomorrow.”
Ford regarded the book with disdain, he couldn’t tell him not to read it because then he would fail and that would ruin their routine. “Take it upstairs.”
Steve bowed his head, he couldn’t wait for his parents to go back out for another business trip, he looked across to where his mother was standing meek and mild, she never tried to change her husband's thoughts, there was always something she seemed to want to say that she never got around too. Steve feared she might have been worse than him so he never said anything. His family sucked.
Barb followed him and his book back up to his room, she finally understood why he was the way he was, her parents had never wanted her to be anything but herself and she thought most families were the same way. Yet here was Steve with his parents trying to mould him into something else and hide away the purest part of him, it was sickening to think of.
He set the book down on his bedside cabinet and sat down on the bed. His breaths were coming out fast as he tried to ward off the most recent panic attack. He hated his family, he really did, there was nothing they could to change his mind about it.
“Steve…Steve…Steve!” Her hands were a welcome pressure against his arms, he couldn’t focus on much and his head just hurt. He tried to reply but his words were thick with pain and he couldn’t get a breath out properly. He had to sort himself out, his dad would never regard him as anything other than weak if he found him suffering like this.
His breaths slowed eventually and he managed to pull in several ragged breaths that brought him back to the present, tears decorated his face as pain pounded in his brain.
Barb was looking worriedly up at him from where she was crouched on the floor before him, he hated that look, he didn’t need help, but he was weak. He had grown up weak and broken down by his father's words and the lack of help from his mother, there was no one he cared about in the world and no one had ever shown him the time of day to find that out about him. Ghosts knew him and he knew them, he cared for the living but no one living cared about him, that much was evident more and more every day.
He wiped at his eyes and pushed away from where she was in front of him. Barb shook her head and stood up allowing him the distance he wanted to get himself together.
“I’m sorry they made you feel like that.”
He blinked up at her and nodded. He didn’t want to have a conversation about this, he couldn’t have his parents overhearing him talking to no one, that would only worsen his already bad mental state. He couldn’t have them taking him elsewhere, this was already bad enough.
“Used to it. I’m - I am just going to go to sleep. Tomorrow?”
She nodded, understanding easily that the situation was difficult in the Harrington house right now for a ghost to even think they were safe inside. He always worried more for others than himself and she wished she had seen this side of him when Nancy had first started dating him, maybe then she wouldn’t have been so against it.
He watched her disappear into nothingness and he only wished he had that ability too, it would make living with his parents so much easier to deal with if he could vanish when he wanted.
Settling himself into sleep he couldn’t think a more awful time for anything to happen than right now with his parents back in the house, and yet, of course, it would be the day the girl reappeared to him in his dreams.
She was, of course, older again now, her hair beginning to become curly at the ends and she looked a lot happier now, wearing clothes that didn’t look right on her small frame but she looked happy nonetheless.
She grinned when she saw him, they were stood in that blackness that they had been when she’d been trying to find Will last November.
He couldn’t help the little bark of laughter that left his mouth at the strange innocence that coated her words. He nodded and allowed himself to fold into a weird bow before her, all in good fun.
“Pleasure to see you again.”
She blinked at him, then smiled.
She pointed at herself, “Eleven.”
He blinked before pointing at himself, he hadn’t been wrong she had been from the lab, “Steve.”
“The lab? You were there?”
“Just a day. But not like you or your siblings. My dad wanted to know if I was like you. I don’t think so.”
“You can do stuff?”
“Sort of. I can see the dead, find the dead, talk to the dead. That’s pretty much it, you?”
“I find people. Move stuff with my mind too.”
“Like a Jedi.”
“Yeah?” She shrugged and Steve laughed, he had to have guessed she might not have picked up on that reference but at least she was open to it.
“If we ever meet again, Eleven, I know some people who might like to speak to you?”
“One, Two and Five.”
Her face grew sad as she thought of the implications of him knowing them. They were dead, they were clearly dead because he could speak to them, but it also meant she could too, it meant that he could show her some of her family that she had so clearly been craving for so long.
“As okay as they can be, kid. They kept me quite safe in that place, I’m sure they’ve been watching out for you too.”
A sad smile graced her face as she thought of them taking care of her even from the grave. It was a comforting thought at the least.
“I can see you again?”
He nodded with a small smile, “for as long as you want to, kid.”
He awoke to harsh screaming in his ear, his dad had his hand on his arm and he’d pulled him crashing out of his bed and onto the floor of his room. It wasn’t unknown for his father to get angry at him like this but he also had never come at him while he was still asleep either.
He hadn’t fully grasped what it was about either and that sucked hugely. From what he could tell he’d done something horrifically wrong and his parents were probably considering picking up an earlier flight out of there. They were angry with him for something.
His father threw him down the stairs, and Steve tucked into a tucked position to protect himself. Stairs digging into his ribs and arms as he tumbled down. His mother watched everything with hands pressed across her mouth and wide eyes. He hated to think what they looked like, clearly not a family that loved one another, that was for sure.
He was grabbed by the back of his neck and dragged further into the room. He was once again thankful for the distance between them and their closest neighbours, he didn’t need them hearing any of this. He was thrown down to the floor by a familiar rug. The rug he’d dragged out of the back room and into the living room to hide up the remaining blood that he had spilt during his first spell of unconsciousness.
“What is this!”
Steve was dripping blood from his mouth and onto the floor once again, not making the situation any better. He hadn’t thought they would have cared to look under the rug never mind question him about it.
He choked on his words as a boot slammed into his ribs.
The hand grabbed at his hair bringing his watery eyes up to stare into his fathers, “With who?!”
“T-tommy! Head wounds bleed a lot, we were play fighting, he hit his head on the side of the table, I couldn’t get the stain off of the floor, so I covered it up.”
He hated that he had to blame it on that if he had said it was his own head his dad wouldn’t have stopped until he had found the wound on the side of his head just to believe his story.
Steve was thrown to the floor, forehead bouncing off of the hardwood painfully. He didn’t miss the footsteps walking away even as he tried to stay as still as possible, head positively swimming with pain.
He had to get back upstairs, if he went to sleep as much as he wanted to on the floor, his parents would only punish him again, he couldn’t be weak.
He couldn’t be weak.
He woke up on the floor of his bedroom, the carpet stained a mottled red, drops of his blood staining from the moment he’d dropped to the floor at the door to his room. His whole body ached and it was very clear to him that he was missing school, light-flooded in through his window and blinded him, and the clock on his cupboard read 10:43.
He groaned and lay his head back down on the floor, he’d always tried never to anger his parents when they came home, but he’d tried to be a new Steve Harrington and that was entirely against what his dad wanted him to do. There was no way around that and it sucked.
Reaching up he bracketed his arms against the bed and lifted, he cried out at the stretch and the jostle of his ribs but he needed to get to the bathroom. He needed to get to the bathroom to wash off the blood, check his wounds and with all necessity wrap and bandage what he could reach.
His dad was an asshole there was no way around that. He could not wait for them to decide that Hawkins was too boring for them and move on to somewhere more exciting leaving Steve to put himself back together again.
His ribs were sore and he hoped they were just bruised and not broken that would have sucked more than before. His face was just swollen and none of the skin had broken so there wasn’t much he could have done about that. He had bruises up and down his legs from the stairs but none of it wasn’t anything he couldn’t deal with. He had time to recover before the school even realised he hadn’t turned up so he would just have to wait it out for awhile, even if he did just want to get as far away from his home at this point.
He stumbled down the stairs though on his feet this time, he could hear people talking in the kitchen and with all hope, it would just be his parents.
He stood confused as he looked upon the people in his kitchen, he had truly forgotten the level to which his father was committed to making sure his son would never be seen as a freak. The dedication could have been commended if it wasn’t for his complete aim to make his son as sad in life as possible.
Tommy was sat eating pancakes at the kitchen island while his father sipped coffee beside him and his mother stirred her tea beside him.
Tommy locked eyes with Steve and his widened. He took in the appearance of his old friend and near choked on his pancakes.
Ford looked up from his coffee, evil eyes looking over the damage on his son, “I thought you would want Tommy over as company for your day off school.”
Steve nodded with a fake smile, his mouth dry, he hated his father.
“Thank you, dad.”
Choking out ‘dad’ nearly turned into a growl and it was clear his father knew it as his evil smile only deepened and Celeste averted her eyes from the evil actions of her husband. He hated them.
“Good, well we’ve got to go out this morning, so you boys behave.”
Steve watched his father stalk out of the kitchen followed by his mother, he watched the space they’d disappeared into until he heard the front door open and then they were gone. He sagged in relief and found himself taking in large gulps of air before he even realised Tommy was in front of him again.
“Steve? What happened?”
Steve shook his head, hands pressing into his temples as he tried to stop himself self-combusting. He hated them.
He calmed himself down eventually, enough to see how freaked out Tommy was in front of him and how much he hated the pity that came with people knowing.
“It’s fine. You can go, you don’t have to be here.”
Tommy shook his head, “I’m not going anywhere if they do this kind of thing to you. I didn’t know what to think the first time but I can tell that they did it this time. I’m not leaving you alone with them.”
“The first time?”
Steve looked up at him through teary eyes and choked breaths.
Tommy scratched the back of his head before he motioned in the direction of the living room, “I found you covered in blood in your living room. You were barely breathing but I couldn’t find the source of the bleed so I called the paramedics.”
Steve nodded then stopped, “thank you. I was in a week coma with that, it could have been worse if no one had found me.”
“Wouldn’t your parents have called?”
Steve shook his head, but spoke before Tommy thought too far into it, “they weren’t there, it wasn’t them. It was me, I exhausted myself through little sleep and then paranoia and over exerted myself with stress. I was bleeding out of my ears and nose, you couldn’t have stopped it. So thank you.”
Tommy regarded him with disbelief, there was no way that much blood could have come from exhaustion but Steve didn’t trust him with his truth. He didn’t trust anyone with his truth, not with what his dad had done just because of some blood on the hardwood floor.
Steve looked at him before his old friend could try to dispute his lie, “why were you round?”
“Wanted to see if you’d host a party, didn’t think I’d see you covered in blood on your floor. Why did your parents do this to you?”
“Found the blood stain on the floor. I told Ford that we fought and you hit your head and that’s where the blood came from.”
Tommy blinked at him, “why didn’t you just tell them about the exhaustion.”
“I don’t want them knowing. They’ll be angry I was even at the hospital. It’s easier to clench my teeth and deal with it until they give up on me and go away for the next nine months.”
“That’s shit Steve, do you want to stay at my house until they leave?”
Steve shook his head, he wouldn’t be able to hide what he could do in someone else’s home. He didn’t know who had died in that house, he didn’t know if he talked in his sleep. He needed to be at home and comfortable even if he was at risk of being hurt.
“I’ll be fine, thank you.”
Tommy nodded, he knew he couldn’t force Steve out of this situation but he hated that he was staying there anyway. He looked over the smaller presence of his old friend and frowned, Steve shot him a puzzled look and Tommy only smiled.
Steve looked down, a lot more shy and downtrodden than Tommy had ever seen him.
“It’s a good thing. Is it because of Nancy, her hanging around with Byers?”
Steve shook his head and messed with his fingers, “I’ve been meaning to break up with her but I haven’t spoken to her since November. I’ve just had a lot of things going on and I realised I didn’t like how I was.”
Tommy nodded, he wasn’t into changing his personality for the sake of anything, he liked who he was, but he could see how Steve might want out of their way of life, especially when it corresponded with the disappearance of Barbara Holland right out of his back yard. Tommy couldn’t judge him for that.
“Fair enough, but you should know you can still talk to me if you need to. I was worried you were off with us because of what we did to Nancy before Byers kicked the shit out of you.”
Steve frowned and looked up at him properly, eyes swimming with confusion, “what did you do?”
Tommy blinked, “we spray painted derogatory words on the movie theatre sign, you didn’t know about that?.”
“Oh. Yeah, didn’t know. Passed out after he beat me up, woke up in the police station.”
Tommy had the balls to look guilty, he and Carol had run away as soon as the sight of cops even appeared.
“You’ve not had much luck with getting hurt recently, have you?”
He shook his head, the ghost of a smile on his lips, “I don’t suppose it will be the last time either.”
The next time Steve saw Tommy it was in the school corridors the next time, they shared nods of acknowledgement, they weren’t really friends but they had mutually agreed they didn’t hate one another. Carol tugged at Tommy’s sleeve her face hard towards Steve, she was still on the outs with him as she thought Tommy still should be.
People looked him over like he was an animal at the zoo, his face had lit up in many different coloured bruises, he almost resembled an animal’s fur pattern. He walked stiffly with little weight on his left leg, he was stiff and sore but he could get on with it. He wanted to be away from his parents even if it meant attending school, he could deal with the looks of his peers if he could get away from his parents.
He’d stashed his notebooks in his locker at school aware that his father would do everything in his power to keep his son away from the dark side of his freakish nature and if he found those books he was sure his life would be more over than it ever had been.
Nancy cornered him after his third period, Jonathan hovering a few steps behind her, his eyes concentrated on the floor. It was clear she had dragged him for the moral support that he clearly did not want to provide.
“What happened to your face?”
“Just a fight, I’m fine Nance.”
“Is this why you weren’t in school yesterday?”
Steve shrugged, he did not want to have this conversation with the girl he’d been trying to find a time to break up with since November.
“Who did it?”
“No one you know. It’s fine Nancy, just leave it be.”
He pushed past her trying to ignore the hurt look he witnessed on her face as he tried to get away. Jonathan grabbed at his arm and stilled him, his grip loosening after he saw the flinch that Steve had absolutely no control over.
“You know you can talk to us if you need to?”
Steve looked him straight in the eye and nodded, the hand fell from his arm and he headed for English, his breaths quickening to an extent, tears flooding his eyes. As soon as he turned the corner he made a beeline past his English classroom straight for the male restroom. He hunkered down in the corner ignoring the pain that twinged through his limbs as he curled in on himself, his bag discarded at his side. He ran his hands through his hair and tried to calm his breaths. He was having more and more issue with panic attacks as his days went on.
He heard the bell for the lesson he was clearly going to miss and let out a breath as he remembered he shouldn’t be interrupted for the next hour that he could hide away and collect himself.
He relaxed substantially at that fact and sat crosslegged with his back against the cool wall. He set his hands on his knees and breathed, one breath, two breath, three breath, eyes closed.
He fell into the spirit realm with absolutely no gracefulness, he stumbled, tripped then fell on his face. He hadn’t been back in so long it almost looked somewhat different to his mind but it would take him a few minutes to recalibrate himself with this realm.
He climbed up from the floor and set about exiting the school. It was a ghost town, very few spirits liked to even come back to the school, it always would be a place that caused no one comfort, no one dead wanted to relive the years they most likely spent being bullied and failing classes.
Walking to the police station he found himself a lot more confident than he had previously when he’d walked these roads of this realm before. Ghosts ignored him to some extent but he knew they were watching him. They knew who he was, they knew what he could have done for them if he had been alive when they had existed in the human realm.
The Custodian smiled from where she was sat marking papers for a ghost that was clearly hoping to transition past this way station.
“The Priest is waiting for you, Magee.”
Steve nodded his thanks as he bypassed the queue and headed straight to where the living realm's Chief's office lay.
The Priest was watching him enter from where he sat in his chair, his presence commanding yet also welcoming and he had an easygoing smile on his face.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in school, Steve?”
“Yeah,” he scratched the back of his head, “I am actually, skipping English. Needed to clear my head.”
“This about the condition of your face?”
Steve shrugged, “some. I’m okay with it, it just makes people treat me differently and I don’t like it.”
The Priest nodded, leaning back in his chair to look over Steve properly, “your dad again?”
“Of course. It was because of the blood though, he doesn’t know I’ve been doing this again.”
The Priest hummed, “are you sure this is a good idea?”
“I want to get better, I want to help everyone, I don’t care if my dad finds out.”
He nodded, lips pressed thinly together and he regarded Steve carefully, “I don’t want you doing any training until they’re gone. We cannot have you disappearing on us because he has beaten you into oblivion. We will be here when he’s gone, just go about your life as normally as you can manage. We’ll discuss what you can attempt next once they are gone. And do not think about lying to me, remember I can still bridge the void to your realm, don’t push it, Magee.”
Steve bowed his head, his ears rung as the Priest turned from calling him Steve to the more formal name that indicated his heritage and the reason why he was even allowed into this realm.
He hated the name, he hated the way the ghosts regarded him with authority just because of his ancestry, but he also hated the Harrington name, if he could just be called Steve with no last name he would be ever so pleased. But life didn’t work that way and no ghost was going to treat him so informally when they forever feared gifts he didn’t yet possess.
He had little other choice than to abide by the law put down by the Priest in the police station, there was a lot worse things that could have been said to Steve and he was glad it was only a minor banishment from the realm, just until his parents decided Hawkins was too boring for them once more.
The Priest leaned back in his chair and then motioned to the door, “you’d better get going then, kid. Wouldn’t want you to get in any more trouble.”
Air rushed through his hair and breath was sucked into his lungs, his head smacked into the wall of the bathroom and his eyes opened. He snuck a glance to the watch on his wrist and felt relieved to know that there were only ten minutes of English class remaining, he could stay put for that time. If he could stay in the high school bathroom until his parents left again he would but he knew the world didn’t work that way.
The second time Steve saw and spoke to Eleven she almost immediately demanded the identity of his attacker, he was almost scared for his father with an angry little thirteen-year-old after him. Her hand had come up to caress the colourful bruises that littered his skin, he was more than thankful for the pyjamas hiding the extra shades across hidden skin. He’d laughed and told her, like Jonathan and Nancy, that he was fine and they’d best just leave it at that. He'd smiled and pulled her hand away from his skin giving it a little squeeze in false reassurance, he knew she wouldn't give up on him but he at least had to try to stop her worrying too much about him.
She’d grunted her lack of amusement at the situation but said little more about it all, she'd let her hand fall limp to her side. She hated that he was so accepting of the hurt he must have felt to look as he did.
They’d talked about mundane things after that, sitting side by side shoulders pressed against one another, as if they were just two friends that didn't have anything more in common than that they cared so much for one another. They spoke of the tv shows she liked watching when she was alone in her home, the specific rules her guardian wanted her to keep in order for her to stay safe, how much she missed Mike and the other kids.
She’d blinked up at him then, eyes wide with intrigue, “how are they all?”
He shrugged, head downcast and eyes away from her own, he was unsure of how to formulate an answer to that loaded question, “I wouldn’t know, I keep occasional tabs on little Will Byers but I don’t know about any of the others.”
Her face fell, “you helped!”
She nudged him then, elbow grating into sore ribs causing him to grit his teeth and bare it. He didn't want her to worry for hurting him, she didn't need that burden that was for sure. He knew she was only caring about him with her actions, he knew she thought everyone who helped her should have kept together but she was the only one who knew about his assistance in the matter, no one would believe him if he came out of the woodwork now.
He nodded, “I did, but no one else knows.”
“Bad. Wrong.” She shook her head clearly unhappy with him.
Steve shrugged, “I guess, but no one really knows what I can do. It’s easier this way.”
“But - they accepted me.”
Her eyes pleaded him to speak with them, he knew she cared, she was like his little sister at this point and he hated disappointing her.
“Yes, but I was not a great person before all this went down, I’m not sure they would believe me.”
She sulked then, her new friend so sad and so alone. And she was trapped in a cabin in the woods with little to do to help. Her friend Hop couldn’t help him if she didn’t know who hurt him, and he didn’t want to say. She felt sad that he was like this, she would look for him again. She would not leave him alone when they could see one another this way, she promised herself she wouldn’t leave him. They were friends now and friends never left one another alone, and friends didn’t break promises.
Steve found himself in direct contact with Mrs Byers after six months of observing around corners and checking up on them via Eleven. It was purely accidental and he hadn’t meant to actually speak or bump into her the way he did.
He’d been shopping for groceries, his parents forever eating out and leaving Steve alone to do as he always did and fend for himself. He liked it that way though, less time for bad experiences. He’d been reaching for tinned peas when he’d heard her across the aisles arguing with another customer.
He’d frowned and followed the sound of the argument and found himself face to face with a distraught Joyce Byers and a judgemental elderly woman walking away smugly with the last tin of plums. Yeah, he’d heard worse arguments in the grocery store, but over tinned plums, he figured there must have been an underlying issue leading to her recent meltdown.
He set his basket down and placed his hand gently on her back, “are you okay, Mrs Byers?”
She sniffed and looked up, her face pinching as she recognised the young man reaching down to help her in the store, “my son beat you up last year.”
Steve laughed and nodded, running a hand across his bruised face, “Yeah he did, don’t worry this particular damage wasn’t him.”
He liked that it was the way she recognised him, something so shocking on Jonathon's part that she had burned the face of the boy her son beat up deep into her mind that it was the first thing she said upon recognising him. Steve couldn't help but laugh.
She frowned at him then, obviously not used to Steve’s particular brand of the spoken word. He chose to ignore her silence as he helped her up, people were still looking across at them from the ends of the aisles but Steve paid them no mind silently wishing for Joyce to follow suit.
“I don’t have any tinned plums but I do have peaches if that fixes anything, Mrs Byers?”
He plucked the aforementioned tin from his basket and held it out for her. She smiled and then there were suddenly tears and she broke down crying all over again, a tin of peaches clasped in her hands like they were the most precious object in the world.
He looked on at the sobbing woman wide-eyed and confused, did he do something wrong?
“Hey, hey, hey, Mrs Byers? What is it? Are you okay?”
“Sorry, honey, it’s just been a hard and long day.”
He nodded and awkwardly patted her back until she calmed down substantially. She went to hand the peaches back and he shook his head picking his basket up off of the floor.
“No, no, it’s okay. I didn’t need them for anything particular, just stocking up just in case. You should have them. But I’ve got to go, are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Thank you for helping me.”
He smiled, patted her arm one last time before he stalked off down the aisles and away from her, something in the way he acted and his voice twigging something buried deep within her memory. Something she hadn’t thought on for some time, an insubstantial issue buried deep in more pressing matters of the previous six months.
There was something she’d forgotten, a jigsaw piece she’d just found to fix into a puzzle she’d long since buried.
She stilled in that aisle, clutching those peaches, for another silent thirty seconds before she shook away her confusion and moved on a silent thrumming memory of something she would perhaps look back onto soon.
Joyce had that kind young mans voice repeating around her head as she did her housework for the day, she recognised it, but why couldn’t she place it? What was wrong with her, why was she thinking about this?
It had been but a week and something was still bothering her. She did remember him even if she couldn’t place it.
It came to her when she saw her sons radio, her eyes widened and she ran to the phone. She had to call Hopper!
Her fingers fumbled over memorised numbers, her entire being thrumming with excitement. She knew she remembered his voice, she’d known his face from Jonathon’s brief disappearance down the violent street but she remembered his kindness from that radio. Hopper had to understand, he had to care.
“Joyce, what is it?” He sounded tired but equally worried, could they not catch a break in this town.
“The voice on the radio, Hop, I know who it is!”
“What voice, Joyce, what’s happening?”
“The one we heard comforting Eleven when she was looking for Will, in the middle school gym! I bumped into him in the store a week ago!”
“Really, are you sure? It has been six months.”
“Hop, I’m sure.”
“Who is it?”
“I-I don’t know his name, but Jonathan beat him up last year. If I remember correctly you took him home?”
“The Harrington kid?”
“I don’t know Hop. I just know it was him. He was all beaten up again when I saw him last week.”
“We’ve not been called in for any more fights. are you sure Jonathan didn’t do this again?”
“He said no. We have to speak to him if he sees ghosts maybe we can find out if that poor girl is still alive.”
“You should check with Will whether he recognised him. We cannot rush into this if he isn’t lying about seeing ghosts.”
Joyce let out a worried breath as she heard him hang up the phone. She looked around the living room worriedly, she needed to speak to Will and she needed to speak to Jonathon. It just happened to be the time of day that both boys were out there where she wouldn’t be able to track them down. She would have to wait.
Hop hung up the phone and turned to Jane his gaze fixed and her eyes down almost as if she was sure what was going to come out of his mouth next.
“That boy who was with you in that place while you were looking for Will, do you know who he is?”
Jane shuffled her feet and avoided Hopper’s gaze. He grabbed her softly by the arms and brought her gaze up to his own.
Jane shrugged, “he’s sad.”
Hoppers gaze softened, “what do you mean?”
“He was hurt but he didn’t say who did it. He didn’t think you’d accept him if you knew.”
“Knew what?” Hopper questioned it but he had a feeling he knew the answer to that question.
“He can see ghosts. He can find the dead.”
Hopper’s mouth went dry, to think that kid had been living with that secret for all that time, it seemed terribly morbid and lonely.
“He can see you in that place?”
“Did he come from the lab?”
“No. He was there, he saw siblings, but he didn’t come from there.”
Hopper huffed and ran his hand over his face.
“Next time you see him you tell me?”
He nodded with a sigh, all this was too crazy for a small town, he only hoped it wasn’t foreshadowing the next terrors that would strike Hawkins. Only he knew that wouldn’t be the case, Steve Harrington has potentially seen ghosts well before any of the Upside Down had struck Hawkins. Perhaps he was the thing they were missing to fix all of this before it began again.
Steve sensed the nervousness in Eleven’s demeanour almost as soon as he’d drifted from dreamland into the realm they met up in often. Her feet shifted and her eyes remained downcast.
He’d stepped forward and she’d flinched back. She almost reminded him of the way his father made him feel, nothing about her showed any evidence of violence so he breathed easy but the worry remained evident in his eyes.
“El? You okay, kid?”
Her voice was small and his arm hairs prickled, she’d done nothing wrong he didn’t like her feeling as if she’d done something wrong. He’d lived with that mentality most of his childhood, no one deserved to feel such a way.
“Why are you sorry, kid?”
“Hop asked, they know. Sorry.”
She spoke in almost riddles but he got the gist of it and his blood ran cold. They know about him, they likely know he was the one in the blackish realm. He knew speaking to Joyce Byers would be the beginning of the end for his anonymity, it was his fault, not hers, she needn’t feel sorry.
“Not your fault, kid. Figured they’d find out eventually. Tell me, he isn’t hurting you?”
She startled back eyes ablaze, “No!”
“Okay, okay, kid, I was just asking. I’m worried, sorry.”
He suddenly felt all tensed up, he usually felt so relaxed here in this realm but he had a feeling something was looming where his physical being lay. Sweat pooled on his brow, leaking out of his quiffed fringe and rolling beads across his forehead. The hairs on his arms stood to attention like mini soldiers awaiting orders, he hated to think what was coming. Eleven watched him worried, he guessed she too had a sense of danger encroaching them.
His eyes widened as he felt his breath cut off. She reached towards him as he disappeared from their meeting point. His eyes broke open and he wished they never had.
No one had heard anything from Steve ‘sees ghosts’ Harrington for a week before anyone thought to think anything sinister of it.
Joyce had assumed that Hopper was moving over the issue at his own pace, that she’d hear of his plan when the time came. She hadn’t thought she would overhear Jonathon and Nancy Wheeler discussing how they hadn’t seen him since the bruises on his face had seemed to begin fading. She hadn't thought she would ever hear them talking of another by this point, all they seemed to discuss was whether the other thought the monsters were coming back and Joyce had always had the right sense to walk away from those conversations before she got too involved.
But to think that the boy had disappeared just after she had pinpointed the possibility that it was his voice that they had heard through the radio was enough to have her heart palpitating. She’d tried to speak to Will about him but the boy had been convinced that the caring figure in the upside-down had been more a figment of his imagination than someone who may have existed in Hawkins too. She hated to think that his response might have been the reason the secret was maintained in the first place. She hated to think that he was purposely alone if only to make the idea of someone seeing ghosts and interacting with the near-dead remain only an idea. She knew she would have had an issue with it if her son hadn't spent some time in a parallel universe and was saved by a telekinetic little girl.
Jonathon hadn’t cared for believing that his mom was telling truth about Steve, enough had changed about the king in Hawkins High that he didn’t want to think it was all because the once bully could see ghosts. It was too sci-fi even after all they had been through with the telekinetic little girl born of the dreaded Hawkins lab.
Hopper had said little to her about the whole situation of it. She feared she was worrying about something for the sake of worrying, Will was as much her boy as he could be after everything had gone on with him. She’d met someone who cared about her boys as much as he cared about her. She worried she was making a meal or something that didn’t exist for the hope of self-sacrificing something she could see as being good for them.
Bob was new, he’d met the boys recently but she hadn’t seen him since before she’d recognised Steve. He’d enquired about another date, but she had other things on the brain, Bob had waited two weeks now she knew that meant something good, that or he couldn’t find someone else to date. She could never think anything good out of any situation she was ever in, now ever the same as six months ago.
She worried for the boy that was but a year older than her Jonathon, the vulnerability of his worry for her in the supermarket over those tinned plums she had wanted. The way he’d been beaten up and cared little for the way he looked in public feared worries of what he may have put through overtime, and then again could have been yet another thing she may have been putting more out of proportion than was warranted.
Eventually, she called Hopper. If the chief was doing something about it and she needn’t worry she feared she’d feel stupid about it all. She’d rather know though, she had a feeling it would either set her at ease or turn her worry up another notch.
He’d answered just as tired as he had been the last time she’d called with the revelation of Steve Harrington as the voice on the radio.
“Joyce, what is it?”
“Did you hear anything about the kid on the radio?”
“I’ve looked into it. Why do you ask?”
“Jonathon said he hasn’t been at school for a week.”
“I’ll look into it.”
“Keep in touch?” She wished he'd promise to help but she also knew that it wasn't at all Jim Hopper's speed to promise something like that when they still knew little about all of this.
“I’ll let you know.”
It was as best as she was going to get and Joyce clutched the phone, some semblance of hope in a world of bad possibilities.
Hopper rested his head against the steering wheel of his truck, he’d known that having Joyce worried about any kid would result in a phone call or two, but it was clear to why she was worried. If he hadn’t been in school, Jane should have known. He didn’t like that she would have to be involved and using her abilities but at least they were both aware of how good a cause this was and he happened to know for a fact how much she seemed to care for him as a friend after all that had happened.
He reached for the radio in his car, turned it to the frequency they frequented before he rang their secret code and waited for her to respond.
“Jane, it’s Hop. Kid, have you heard anything of the Harrington boy since we last spoke of it. I know I asked you to tell me, but I also know you’re worried about him. I’m not going to get him in trouble, kid, I’m just worried.”
‘He won’t respond.’
“So you haven’t spoken to him?”
‘I told him you knew. He got pulled out.’
“What do you mean, kid?”
‘We felt it. Something on his side pulled him out.’
Hopper felt his heart beat faster, to think that something had happened to the boy over a week ago was enough for him to agree with Joyce’s special brand of worry for the first time since they found Jane.
“Kid, I might be late home.”
‘He’ll be okay?’
“I’m gonna try my best.”
Steve blinked into awareness, the colours of the world sunken and drab. He knew where he was almost as soon as he opened his eyes, the spirit realm had always held a certain level of comfort for him that nowhere in the real world had ever managed to for him. His mouth was dry and there was an ache in his bones to a strength he hadn’t known since his younger years. He knew what that meant but he couldn’t remember, something in his brain wouldn’t let him remember. He feared for it.
He peeled himself off of the floor, the spirit realm version of his home was almost more relaxing to him than his house in the real world. His movements were sluggish and he made his way down the stairs slowly.
He swallowed painfully, eyes sliding shut in a wish for a better reality. He breathed through his nose knowing wholeheartedly that his mouth and throat too sore for what he required.
Voices swam through his mind, his eyes closed and his hands tight around wood. His hands and legs shook, his entire body sore with exhaustion and adrenaline. He squeezed his eyes shut, he couldn’t do this, he didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to wake up.
A pressure rested on his arm and he flinched back, whimpers flowing from his mouth before he had a chance to control himself, his eyes shut tight. He didn’t want to be here.
“Magee, open your eyes.”
He shook as the familiar voice washed over him, less smug more concerned. He didn’t like the Priest concerned, it was too different than usual, he’d known the ghost since well before he could distinguish concern from smugness, it wasn’t comfortable to know the Priest was concerned for him.
He shook his head and tightened his grip on the wood. Murmurs shot up in volume around him, whatever was happening the Priest was not alone in his existence with Steve. Whatever had happened spirits from this realm were all around him and he was pretty sure he did not want to seem vulnerable around them either.
Hands pushed him to the floor, hands unyielding from their grip, eyes fixed shut but he took the relief that came with sitting on one of the steps on his staircase.
“Steve, we need you to open your eyes, come on lad.”
He shook his head, aware of the tears forcing their way out of his eyes even with the lids firmly shut. He wanted to go home, he wanted to suffer in silence, he did not want to be here.
His grip on the wood released and he moved his hands over his eyes, an attempt to regain some dignity as he swiped at his the tears leaking from closed eyes.
Someone hushed the voices and he felt the attack on his senses calm and the pounding in his head ceased. He didn’t want to be here. He wanted to go home. But he too wanted to know why these spirits were here.
“Why are you here, Priest?”
The silence that followed his question deafened Steve, a silence that had his eyes open for the first time, red-rimmed and sorrowful eyes met the worried yet proud ones of the Priest hovering above him, all spirits in his house had stilled, quietened and turned to observe him spookily.
“Magee? You called us here?”
Steve frowned and shook his head slowly, fingers coming up to tangle in his locks where he found patches of knotting and sticky patches full of that red substance he feared seeing.
The Priest nodded, kneeling in front of him as he had once done when Steve had been younger, a time when everything was simpler yet just as convoluted.
“You did. In all my knowledge it was only a possibility that your family could do such a thing with their abilities but you’ve always been so much more than any of them. Finding the spirit realm at such a young age, your ability to travel in between, to show others the dead. You are more than you think, and you can clearly do more than we thought. You are Magee, you are Steve and you are powerful. But Steve, tell us, what happened to you on your side?”
Steve blanched, he had never heard the Priest speak of him in such vivid words, he had never thought they cared so much about what he may have been able to do. He wasn’t even aware of what he could do, and if he’d called this many spirits to him even in this realm where he wasn’t certain this many still remained it was almost building his hope.
He blinked thinking about what the Priest was asking. What had happened?
He remembered talking to Eleven, he remembered worrying for her but her words calming him down substantially. They trusted one another now, a trust built up in the knowledge of the secrets they shared, mostly about him but he hadn’t shared with anyone that much about him as he had with that little girl, and that meant the world to him.
But after that his mind was blocking something out, he was drawing blanks. He remembered her concerned eyes as he’d been drawn away. His hand came up to his throat as he caressed the skin there.
The Priest’s eyes fell to the skin he was caressing, his eyes thick with sorrow and sadness.
“Is that what happened?”
Steve started, dragged away from the lack of information he remembered leading up to where he was now, an army of spirits an arm's length away all because he had called them there. He wondered just why they were still there with him, but he figured they, as he, wanted to know just why he could now pull out such an all-powerful move after pushing himself to lesser limits and passing out. Something had changed and he was not sure what.
“What do you mean?”
The hand that appeared on his wrist was soft and not at all demanding. The Priest led him through the house, hand light on his wrist and head up, spirits parted for them, eyes pitiful as they rested on the only human in the space around them. Priest stopped finally in front of the mirror that rested above the mantlepiece in the living room, Steve felt another round of tears well up in his eyes, this was bound to reach a point in which he would never return from this realm.
Bloodstained the underside of his nose and crackled around his mouth and down his chin. His hair was matted and red where chunks of blood and what may have been skin remained clumped in what used to be his most prized feature. A huge purpled handprint remained stark against the pale skin of his neck where he remembered the breath being choked out of him in his dreamscape with Eleven.
His pyjamas were spotty with blood and he cursed the world to think of the bruises and cuts that would decorate the skin beneath them. Could he not get one break?
The Priest locked a hard gaze on him, he clearly wanted to know what had happened, and, as it was, so did Steve.
“I-I guess this is what happened? I-I don’t remember.”
The hardened gaze softened and his eyes shifted, “so whatever it was, it filled you with enough hurt and fear that when you called on us we had no other option than to come. It was more of an order we couldn’t ignore than a call for help. Steve, are you okay?”
“I-I don’t know.”
And he hated himself for not knowing.
Hopper approached the house cautiously, it was big and white and much more than he had ever seen or experienced in his life, much too rich for his blood. It almost seemed daunting in a sense, to think that this boy that they knew so little of lived in such a grand place, it almost made it feel like a lie. It was hard to believe that Steve Harrington could have ever been more than the rich kid bully that most people associated his name with. But Hopper might have known different his pseudo-daughter believed in Harrington and that made it all the more so real to Hopper, she’d never made a bad judgement in her life and he trusted that in her.
The house was still and quiet, something he never would have associated with the home of a boy. Where were his parents? They hadn’t been around when Hopper had dropped Steve home after Byers had beaten him up, even then he’d taken the violence in stride, hardened in a sense. Hardened in a way Hopper had no means to translate.
He knocked once.
He knocked twice.
He stilled to knock thrice. The whole street was as silent as the house and it made chills run down his spine. This felt increasingly wrong even if he couldn’t put a finger on the reason.
His hand fell to the radio on his belt, it would be hard to give a reasonable answer to why he wanted some backup at the Harrington house, a sinister feeling was not cause for the resources he felt he required.
He wanted to not be alone in whatever he found if that’s what he felt, he dreaded to think what the kid thought living in that house all of the time. Hopper sucked in a breath and eyed the door bravely, he couldn’t give up for Eleven or for Joyce, all because of a bad feeling. He ran his entire career on finding the way to persevere through bad feelings, this couldn’t be the one he missed out on.
He raised his fist and knocked once again.
The door creaked open, no person insight on the other side, a feat of the supernatural at the house of the boy who saw ghosts.
Steve sat on the stairs facing the front door, the Priest held the door open as they all looked through the void at Police Chief Jim Hopper staring forlornly at the empty space they all would have filled if not for their different realms.
His hand was on his gun as he stepped forward over the threshold, he passed through one of the many spirits on the property and shivered, hand coming up to cup the back of his neck, a sinister feeling worrying him yet keeping him still all at once.
Steve rested his head in his hands, there was little they could do about it all now. Hopper would surely find him and then there was only the danger that would come with them knowing.
“Are you ready to go back?”
Priest kneeled in front of Steve, his eyes monitoring the human Chief moving through the house, footsteps silent and spirits darting to get out of his path.
Steve sniffed and shook his head, he still didn’t know what had happened to get him here. He didn’t want to go back there.
The Priest nodded, motioning for spirits to follow the man. If it was any other situation they never would have seen the Chief but Steve’s hold on the physical world was as equal as his hold on the spirit realm at that moment. He was pushing two worlds together at the speed of a collision, it worried both sides but the humans would know little of it other than a bad feeling. There was little The Priest could do to persuade Steve back into his world at this rate, he was much too traumatised by memories blacked out.
“You must go back some time, Magee, but I respect your decision for now. Come, we must see if he can see what has gone on.”
The light pressure reappeared on his wrist and he managed to only subtly flinch, even so, the pressure lessened by some. They were wary of him, they revered his power but they were also more aware of some of the stories of what he would be able to do, calling them all to his house was just the first step in that. They worried about what he might be able to do overtime.
Steve shuffled along with the crowd, Hopper was moving slowly, gun raised at every turn, worried too for what he might find in a house so quiet.
Hopper couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched, yet every corner he turned saw no one and no answer to any of his questions. He still felt the odd sensation of passing through cold bursts every so often but that explained little, in reality, it only added to the many questions beginning their own list in his mind.
The house was quiet, too quiet, and only when he got to the stairs to the second floor the notion that no one at all might have been in began to creep at his spine.
His eyes had found mismatched rugs on the floor of the living room, specks of red on edges and corners of furniture. A sickening feeling blossomed in his gut. Nothing good could come of this visit, if only he’d been aware of trouble earlier, he feared for what he would find now.
He should never have ignored his worry from the start, this had a 50% chance of ending badly and a 50% chance of ending slightly better than bad. He saw no outcome that would be perceived as good by anyone's standards. That just wasn’t how situations like this ended, no sir.
He ascended the stairs slowly, his voice soft but firm as he called out for the boy he only hoped wasn’t here. His heartbeat picked up, fear licked at his bones and the sinister chill had spread from the back of his neck to the rest of his body. Something wasn’t right here.
The second floor was thankfully the last stairs he would need to investigate, the hardwood floors were sticky underfoot and he prayed dangerously that it was to do with anything other than the red substance that he feared it could be.
Each room he looked in saw tidiness as the foremost important feature in this house with personality as the second. Few pictures lined the walls and almost all portrayed the Harringtons as the perfect strong together family. Nothing here showed him that Steve toppled dangerously on the scale that would land him on the gifted side of things. The scale that separated Jane from people like Mike Wheeler, that grouped Eleven with Steve Harrington and brought them into a safe space even if that only occupied their dreams.
Four guest rooms were cleared, one room left. It made him wonder just where the parents occupied in this space, he feared that one of those rooms he cleared was Steve’s. He knew better than that, this door that was ajar, the bed messy and the walls full of photographs, drawings and writings must have been the boys. A complete opposite to the stark bold and neatness of the rest of the house. He seemed not worried about what the eye of the world would say of his room, his safe space. And yet - empty.
It was an anticlimactic search that had Hopper ending in the room of the boy they held such worry for, a room that portrayed a teenage boy and just a teenage boy. The bed a mess, covers torn off of the mattress and left hanging off waiting to be remade. He ran his fingers over the wooden headboard of the bed, eyes tired and none so happy to have made a meal out of nothing.
He swapped to look over at the pin-board, he could barely see the cork of the board and a sad smile teetered across his face. He’d heard some about the boy's school record, not so good until he had told little Eleven that he could see ghosts, an entire rework of his school grades to fit into more of who he was than what people thought he was.
He frowned as he took a closer look at the writings on the board, he was pretty sure no school wanted for their students to keep detailed records of the dead in Hawkins.
Times of death. How they died. Family members. Where they lived. Age. It was an entire listing of records, notes to correspond with extra information recorded elsewhere, this was an entire operation that had to have been going on since well before he changed into the Steve Harrington he was partying as now.
Steve leaned against his doorjamb as he watched Hopper look over all of his work. He had some idea that Hopper would have known he could see ghosts, Eleven had told him something like that, but even now seeing someone look over his work it sent his heart beating just a little bit faster.
He drew in a pained breath as he remembered for the first time where his physical body lay. His eyes strayed to the towel cupboard just down the corridor. He shivered, he remembered his father dragging him there by his hair, blood gurgling in his mouth after those kicks to his chest. He remembered the feeling of his father's nails digging sores into his scalp, drawing blood that matted down his hair and left him feeling dirty and sticky and sore.
He ran his hands up and down his arms, he hated that his memories were coming back. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t do this. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to go back there.
He rubbed at his eyes to rid of them the tears, he remembered it all. He didn’t want it. He wanted the blackness, he wanted his brain to protect him. It hurt all too much.
His dad had heard him speaking in his sleep, calls of excitement and happiness that he could talk to Eleven that they could be friends like this. He hadn’t known he spoke in his sleep until his father had dragged him from that realm, hand choking the life out of him, grasp firm against his throat. His eyes bugged out and he’d fallen from his bed, smacked his head against the floor when his father had finally thrown him down.
The strength at which he’d thrown him followed by the pounding of his head and the swimming of his vision had meant he followed none of the words his father had yelled at him, spit flying over his face. He knew the gist of it though, ‘forbidden!’, ‘Monster!’, ‘Not my son!’. He’d heard it all before but this was the first time it had gotten this violent, he suspected the Jack Daniels on his breath had something to do with it.
He’d thrown Steve in that cupboard, told him to get out when he was ready to forget all this nonsense, to be a real Harrington man. He’d promptly passed out, his soul seeking the spirit realm as a sanctuary to the violence he’d been a slave to. He’d used the spirit realm as a way to stay alive, he would have died in that cupboard if not for this sanctuary and he feared it, he feared death. He’d spent so long between the worlds and yet he loved life, he didn’t want to be in death he wanted to live! It felt like an insult to the dead that he preferred life, he loved them but he didn’t want to be them.
He whimpered as he sobbed, arms coming up to hug himself as nobody would do it for him. He missed out on the real world to spend time with the dead, to pretend he couldn’t see the dead, to not be him. He wanted to live and there was a man close by who could bring him back to life, but how would he get him to know.
A hand pressed into his shoulder and an audible sob was released.
“Ready to go back?”
Steve didn’t have to turn around to know the voice as the Priest, he nodded, tears rolling down his face as he remembered. He shook as he sobbed, as the Priest led him back to his cupboard. The place he could have died, the place he was meant to die.
There was a push and then he fell.
Hopper heard the thud like someone was in the house, a groan and a whimper and then silence. His hairs stood on end and his fingers dropped from the pin-board, he followed for the origins of the sound, the sound of pain, the sound of someone living.
Hope flooded through his veins, yet sadness prevailed. The door caved in leaving a body prone on the floor. Eyes blown open, pupils dilated.
Hopper fell to the floor next to him, fingers fluttering for a pulse, he couldn’t be dead. He’d remained alive this long, he couldn’t let his fight for survival end now. The pulse was thready and weak but it was there and Hopper waited no time to gather the boy into his arms and run down the stairs, they were not waiting for an ambulance, no that was not what they were doing. That was too late of an action now. Steve would have needed one days ago not when he was minutes from death, from a world he saw and likely did not yet wish to be a part of.
The Priest watched from the doorway of the Harrington household as the Police car sped away, he was pleased to see someone living looking out for their dear Magee, he deserved as much and yet deserved more for the boy was to be legendary even if he did not know it yet.
He nodded to the Custodian, they had much more to do yet, the time was coming and as much as they had progressed, they were not ready.
Steve blinked back to life to bright lights and repetitive noises. He squinted and groaned, hands attempting to cover his eyes until he found them restricted by tubes and wires taped to his arms and the backs of his hands. His eyes shot open despite the blinding lights and he began to squirm.
Yells and louder noises bombarded his senses until arms were pressing him down, hurting him and confining him. He whimpered and stressed. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want them testing him, he would be found out, he would be found out. They couldn’t find out he was different, it would be never-ending labs and doctors. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want that.
Tears were rolling down his face staining his cheeks and pooling on the fabric of his hospital gown. This couldn’t be his life, he didn’t want to be here.
Words of calm and kind washed over him but made no effect, he couldn’t be here, people would find out. His father would find out. This wouldn’t work.
He felt a prick in his arm and before he could realise what had truly happened his eyes slid closed and he was forced back into the darkness he’d been so adamant to get out of.
The second time he woke he was a bit more sedate, he found his arms strapped down to the bed and a select flavour of panic set in once more. Nothing seemed to go right in his ever so wrong world. He was in a clean white room with what looked like a guard at the door and he was strapped to the bed, his mouth went dry and he was more than worried about what was to happen next.
He tugged at the restraints until he had to become resigned to the fact that he was stuck there and no amount of wiggling would get him out of it.
He set his head down heavily and let out a breath, he closed his eyes and wished he had free hands so he could wipe away the new tears that flooded his face. He was weak and he hated it. He had to be able to take care of himself, and yet he’d allowed himself to be taken to the hospital once again. This should never have happened. He should never have let this happen, he should have been strong enough to not let this happen.
There was the creak of the door and he opened his eyes slowly. A man in a lab coat stood at the foot of his bed, a clipboard clutched between those fingers. Fingers Steve couldn’t keep his eyes off of, not for the life of him. He couldn’t bear to think what those fingers could have done to him in his slumber. He didn’t like to think of it, but he couldn’t keep it from his mind.
“Mr Harrington, I’m glad to see you’re awake and calmer this time I might add. I’m Doctor Perkins, I have someone outside who would like to speak to you if you’re up for it.”
Steve despised the kind tone in his voice, he did not want this doctor lulling him into that false sense of security, he didn’t need to be deceived. He would not be deceived he was on full alert for situations like this, they would not get one over on him, no sir.
He nodded slowly, might as well get everything over and done with now rather than drag it out. Maybe then the doctor will stop with his false pretences and let Steve suffer through his new future in peace.
The doctor smiled and Steve held back the urge to glare in response, this wouldn’t go well for him if he started to act out, he didn’t want to think about what they would do to him if he began to act out. There was motion at the door and his attention was finally drawn from those fingers to the figure stalking through the door all-purpose with a face uncharacteristically not him that Steve fought the urge to throw up.
He was pleased when the doctor took it as his opportunity to leave until he was alone with the man he’d placed his life into. The man who’d had him locked up, if he couldn’t take care of him how could Steve expect him to care for Eleven.
“How’re you feeling kid?”
Steve glowered at him. He didn’t want to be here, he hadn’t wanted to come back here but he thought he could trust this man. Evidently not.
“Why am I here?” He coughed mid-sentence, his eyes watered but didn’t lose the harshness of the glare he held fixed against the Chief.
“Kid, you were more than half dead when I found you if I hadn’t brought you here you would have been full dead.”
Steve didn’t appreciate his brash attitude and his blunt voice, he wanted to leave.
“We trusted you.”
The chief blinked, it might have been for the plural noun Steve had used, but it might also have been the past tense in that sentence.
“What are you talking about, kid?”
Steve screwed his eyes closed, wishing his hands weren’t restrained so he could ball them up in front of his eyes. The barriers in his mind were cracking and he was beginning to see the dead here, just they weren’t as they were when he was last here.
“I-I don’t w-want to be h-here.” He whimpered, tears slipping down his face. The picture before Hopper absolutely breaking his heart, this boy nearly an adult sobbing uncontrollably from a situation he should never have been put through, especially not like this.
Hopper remained frozen at the foot of the hospital bed as Steve suddenly became so unwrapped before him, it was strange to see this broken boy as the kid who had once been known as such a terror in Hawkins. This was someone entirely different in the same skin.
“Kid, you’ve got to stay for a couple of days before they can let you go and then we can get you discharged.”
Steve hiccuped but his wracking sobs decreased some, he opened his eyes slowly, they were glazed and looking past the Chief to the spirits in matching hospital gowns to him looming in the doorway.
“I can leave?”
Chief frowned, the broken voice of that boy was enough to chill him to the bone, never mind the way he stared past him.
“Of course kid, no hospital is gonna keep you here.”
“I-I thought - the lab.”
Hoppers throat closed up, the kid had thought he’d been taken to the lab. He knew the chief knew of his affliction and he had thought he would turn him over like that, he thought he would be safe and when he had woken alone and afraid in a sterilised white room he had thought he was at the lab. His heart was in his throat, no one could have trust for free with him, it was clear enough had been done that trust had to be earned.
“No, you aren’t going there. Not happening kid, they’ve just got to keep you here to make sure you don’t have any lasting brain damage. Steve, kid, you were in a coma.”
Steve blinked at him, the word repeating on his brain, there was no way he couldn’t understand what it meant, the word becoming almost branded upon the muscle in his head. Coma, coma, coma, he was in a coma, a coma, coma, coma, in a coma, a coma.
“A coma? How long?”
“49 days, but you’ve been here 52, they had to sedate you after you came out of it rather violently the first time. It’s why you have restraints, we were worried you wouldn’t wake at all.”
Steve’s eyes dropped to the material cuffs holding him to the bed, he couldn’t leave even if he wanted to. They were keeping him here, it was what had convinced him he was at the lab from the start. He hadn’t wanted to think that he was safe, he hadn’t wanted to think that someone living had cared enough to get him here, it was too hard to believe and yet here he was.
His thoughts turned to the passionate ‘we’ spoken at the end of his sentence, he knew it meant his little powered friend, there wasn’t anyone else he knew of that would care that he had nearly died, well anyone the Chief could see.
“My parents.” His eyes were wide and his voice shook as he spoke.
Hopper shook his head, “kid, no one knows you’re here. I had the hospital record it off-book, just until we find who did this to you but I think the both of us have an understanding of who did it, don’t we?”
Steve relaxed somewhat but the fear was still held in his eyes, “they’re gone?”
“Looked cleared out when I was in your house. That’s how I found you.”
Steve nodded, “I saw.”
Hopper flinched and looked at him with wide eyes, he clearly knew that Steve could see ghosts but perhaps he did not know as much about it as he had thought he did. Steve was deadly serious in his admission. Hopper ran a hand over the scruff of his beard before he dragged a chair over from the side of the room to the side of Steve’s bed, clearly prepared to stick around for the length of whatever was to come.
“Tell me about it.”
Steve blinked at him, clenched his fingers, seeing no backing down in the man before him he sighed and set his head down on the pillow behind him.
“I see ghosts. Anyone in this realm that has yet to pass over to the spirit realm, and they don’t pass over until everyone that ever has any memories of them totally forgets it. I keep detailed records of every spirit that passes on so that at least one person can keep them tethered to this world when there might not be anyone else around to keep them here.”
Hopper sucked in a breath and relaxed his hands on the plastic chair arms. The seriousness of this topic of conversation was enough to get his head completely spinning, but he wanted to know. He wanted at least one person to wholly believe what this boy so strongly lived.
“Okay, but you can speak to El, she isn’t dead. How?”
“She seeks me out, usually when I’m asleep, I-I haven’t fully found everything I can do in specifics. I haven’t managed to find anyone still alive properly, except for Will Byers but he was near death and I already had a tether to the world he was in.”
Steve nodded solemnly thinking of the red-headed bookworm he hadn’t seen in some time, he suspected she had been spending her time watching out for Nancy and her parents. It’s how he learned most of his information these days anyway.
“Yes, she died in the otherworld version of my backyard but she felt most comfortable in this realm so she returned here in death. She helped me find Will.”
Hopper nodded, he’d known Barbara Holland was dead in November of the last year, but hearing it for real from the boy who saw ghosts himself was enough for the dread to firmly settle in the pit of his stomach. There was too much about this town that he didn’t know.
“And your parents? What do they know of this?”
Steve sunk in on himself a little, “they know, they’re just ignoring it. They wanted me to pretend like I couldn’t see every dead person in Hawkins walking around as much as they could see every alive person walking around. When I was younger I couldn’t see the difference between the dead and the living. My mom didn’t see much harm in it, I was playing, but my father was adamant that I drop the act. When I got older they were both adamant that I act like a normal little boy, my father took me to Hawkins laboratory when I was ten, he was sure they’d be able to find use for someone with the gifts that I claimed to have, I bottled them up, pretended I didn’t have them. I only spent one day there and I met three kids both older and younger than me, tortured to death in order to use the gifts they too had been born with.”
Hopper swore and swiped a hand over his face, no wonder the kid had been so adamant not to be in a lab. It was heinous to think of what his parents had done to him when he’d only tried to be true to himself rather than a clone of everyone else, but that’s what they wanted - the perfect cloned child.
“And your dad did this to you?”
He nodded slowly, hands clenched into fists where they were trapped at his sides.
“Caught me muttering in my sleep when I was talking to Eleven, couldn’t have his only son acting the fool. They aren’t usually home, I forget about it when they come back.”
Hopper leaned forwards, keen eyes caught on the words the boy was speaking without thought.
“How long are they usually gone, Steve?”
They locked eyes and the fear was immediately present in his eyes over what he had just said.
He shrugged, put on the spot, “anywhere between three months and nine months at least that was how long they were away last time.”
“I was eleven.”
Hopper blinked at him, the complete acceptance of that situation was a nightmare to him. This boy had been living the life of a single adult since he had been told he was different from the rest of the population in Hawkins, it was amazing he wasn’t more of a mess.
“Let's not talk about that right now. What about your gift, how did that happen?”
“An old curse on my family that came from the Medieval era only activates in male born descendants. Much to my mother's chagrin, it was her side that set me off. The last one before me was my great-grandfather, Elmore. Everyone thought he was crazy too. So crazy that the last name line ended with his daughter who his my mother from him so he couldn’t influence her with his madness. I met him in the spirit realm, he told me a lot about what he could do, things he couldn’t do and what our ancestors could do. Unfortunately, I’ve surpassed most of the Magee men in their abilities so far, so I’m on my own now.”
He shrugged as if the knowledge that no one else could help him get a handle on what was to come, a line that should have been passed down from every member but instead had meant he was left alone to learn of his family in a way that could have been entirely detrimental to his mental health. Hopper couldn’t sense any real issues with what had gone down, his entire personality seemed central on the fact that he cared wholly for the dead more so than perhaps his own health.
“So you’re cursed.”
“I guess. I don’t mind it though, and no one thinks I’m crazy yet so bonus.”
The cheeky smile on his face settled some of the nervous energy bubbling over in Hopper’s grin. There was enough that the both of them felt somewhat considerably more comfortable with one another at this point.
There was a knock at the door and Steve immediately stiffened up again, smile falling off of his face as he spotted the doctor at the door.
Doctor Perkins looked between the two of them before his attention focused more wholly on Steve.
“Mr Harrington, we’ve got to take you for some tests now. They’ll take a couple of hours and then we’ll return you to this room.”
Steve nodded stiffly, still not fully trusting of the overly friendly doctor before him. He still had a real distrust for anyone wearing those white lab coats and Hopper was entirely aware of that fact enough that he was deep in the midst of chuckling as Dr Perkins looked aghast at the stony face that Steve held even as the nurses wheeled him from the room.
When Steve was eventually let out of hospital it was the end of June and his summer had already been half passed. Standing outside of the hospital with the chief of Hawkins police next to him was enough for him to know that this was about to be one unlike any other, the gruff man had shown annoyance at his insistence to go back home. To go back to the place he had been so gravely injured, a place where he wasn’t to be with anyone but the dead for some lengthy amount of time.
He’d bargained to be allowed to drive him home, and despite his every instinct to move away and get himself in order before he let someone so close to him once again, he also knew that there was no one else he could call to take him home. He’d nodded and allowed for him to lead him out of the hospital for the first time in those 55 days he’d been there.
55 days of a healing sleep where no one knew where he was, where no one likely cared enough to find out. A chief of police scammed into caring because he had been the one to find him, an incomplete view of the world due to a rough childhood. Trust was something he gave out few and far between. He needn’t build himself back up to get it thrown back in his face once again.
His bones ached as they journeyed over bumps in the road and unmissable pot holes, there was little more comfort Steve could have been provided with. The chief shot him worried looks every few minutes and Steve found himself getting antsier and more nervous the closer they got to his pristine street. A place not known for the violence that went on behind closed doors and in a matter of a year Steve had brought attention to the estate twice with police and paramedics. They would not understand his lack of privacy.
The house looked the same, it was still the pearly gates of hell when his father stood inside. He pushed his feelers out towards the house, eyes locked on the whites of the panelled walls, there were no life signs present. He could breathe easier now.
“No one inside then? You can check for that?”
Steve arched a brow at the curious Chief, “I can sense the dead, so I can sense the living too. Generally, don’t have to though so I won’t. But there’s no one in there.”
“That’s good, kid, but don’t think I’m not coming with. Don’t want you getting blindsided after a 50-day coma, El would never forgive me.”
Steve broke a grin at that. He missed the telepathic girl. Though he was sure he’d see her again soon, his instincts told him she wouldn’t be away for long now.
He opened the car door and stepped out, fully aware of the Chief moving quickly to be beside him when he walked down the path. He was nervous to enter his own house, anxiety bubbling in the pit of his stomach, very few good memories came from here. He worried it would never be the same.
The door opened as they got halfway up the path and in the corner of his eye Steve saw the chief reach for his gun. His eyes locked on that familiar head of red hair and the worried expression on her face, he worried how much she had seen in that house. How long had she been looking for him? Had she spoken to anyone else?
“They said you were taken away.”
“I’m okay.” His voice was soft and quiet, his hands seeking her out, fingers curling around the fabric of her sleeves, she was here, she was here.
Her eyes were running across him, his visibly small demeanour, every time she saw him she was assured more and more that he wasn’t the thick shield he had hidden behind during their time at school, he was particularly vulnerable when he trusted people. With that fact in mind she turned her eyes to the Chief, he trusted him even if he might not have wanted to and she was glad he had at least someone human to care.
“Who is it, kid?” The hand on his gun slowly lowering, it was clear to him this was just one of the quirks that would come with caring about Steve Harrington.
“It’s Barb.” His voice cracked as he remembered how she’d died, how violence stemmed from his childhood home. “I don’t know if I can go in there.”
He shook as he thought of it all, he couldn’t do it. But there was nowhere else he could go.
“Kid, you’re welcome at my cabin any time. I’m sure El wouldn’t have been pleased if I’d left you here. Do you need to get some stuff?”
He nodded pitifully, he would have to go back at some point, but if he could put it off a little longer he hoped he’d be better after some time thinking it over.
It loomed over him as he got closer, the height casting dark shadows across his face, cold threatened his very soul and he had fought hard during his time here to keep the fear of the loneliness bearable.
Barb moved on one side of him and the Chief on the other. They flanked him, their best attempt to make him feel safe in a place shrouded in violence.
He moved quickly through his house, head down eyes focused on the ground, everything he cared about resided in one place, safe in the knowledge that his parents were never around enough to find all of his hiding places.
The Chief moved in front of him, his gun up, an act for the image of safety they both knew Steve was the only one who could see the people here. His house looked like a crime scene, and he supposed in some wicked way it was, the doors were open haphazardly, there was dried blood splattered along the hardwood floor, the cupboard he had been contained to was like a nightmare to be seen again. His throat closed up and his eyes swam with tears, it wasn’t long before Barb was steering him away and into his room as the Chief closed the closet door.
He wanted to be strong, of course, he did, but he did not realise how much seeing this all again would ruin him. He was not built for this much violence, his heart ached at the thought of how his parents should have been, he hadn’t thought of that in too long.
Stood inside his room he felt his nerves brighten a touch, he’d always felt safer in the room that was exactly his and not the picture of a pristine show room as his mother had wanted for the rest of the house.
He watched as the Chief found a suitcase in the top of his wardrobe and set it down on the bed. Neither of them wanted to discuss the blood at the foot of his bed, or the way his covers were still set the way they had fallen after Ford had dragged him off of the bed. Everything here had a touch of inciting some PTSD for Steve and none of them wanted to be the one to initiate it.
“Come on, kid, pack your stuff.”
His feet moved him across to his desk before he had a chance to decide what he wanted to take. His fingers trailed over the stiff spine of his beloved leather-bound book, he could feel his connection to each and every one of those spirits when he held his book. It was the stories of their lives, of their death, of their families. One of his most precious belongings, if he lost this he feared he would lose his connection to them. This was the only way he could keep them tethered to this realm, he would not give up on them now.
He moved it over to the suitcase first, followed by sheets of paper and his notebooks. His research was the most important thing that he did not intend to lose. He would lose himself long before he gave up on that, and if his dad got a hold of it, well, hello mad house.
He scooped clothing out of drawers and dropped them into the case without care, they were just another thing that formed the facade of King Steve, expensive brands and fancy shirts, just another lock on his prison sentence of being born a Harrington.
Steve blinked at his room, it was just a shell, he couldn’t even admit that it was his. He might have lived there but it had a touch of the show room feel courtesy of his mother, there were no posters, no personal objects. It said something when his most precious possession was a large leather-bound book filled with the morbid details of dead people. In most situations that would be the tell for knowing that he was depressed and deathly needed help at this point.
He looked at the Chief after he had finished, he sometimes forgot how much of a shell his life was, he looked forwards to fixing that.
They drove for longer than Steve had thought they would, they drove straight past where he assumed the Chief would be living. His bones ached at the rattle of the car and he could hardly see straight at this point. He didn’t even care that it seemed like the Chief was driving him out of town to murder him.
When they pulled up beside a large tree Steve felt all the fight leave his body, if this was where he had been brought to die at least he would finally be with the only people who really did care about him, ghosts.
Hopper grabbed his bags and motioned for Steve to get out too. They walked slowly, the Chief patient with him, his tired limbs kept tripping over branches and stones covered by leaves. The air was cold and he desperately wished for a bed, at this rate even the leaves looked comfy enough for him.
There was a pause of movement as the Chief motioned for him to step over what looked like a tripwire. Steve couldn’t stop thinking about what would be coming next, wherever they were going Hopper really did not want anyone finding them.
The cabin that appeared from between the trees in front of his very eyes caught him shocked. He had never imagined that this would be where the Chief of police in Hawkins was living, never mind that he had assumed he was being brought out there to die. He was in dire need of being taught how to trust people, he’d had bad history with that, no wonder.
The door to the cabin opened slowly and the Chief opened his mouth to argue, but he was too late as a small brunette bullet launched herself at Steve. He remembered now, he knew Eleven lived with the Chief, he had never thought that he would be trusted enough to be brought to where she was. She was too precious of a secret for just anyone to know where she was.
Steve couldn’t hold back the flinch that reverberated through his skeleton, the girl pulled back slightly, sadness in her eyes.
“You are okay?”
“Getting there, kid.”
She nodded resolutely, her mouth set in a thin smile. He trusted he’d get more out of her eventually, they trusted one another in that dream world, it might take them more time to get there in the flesh.
The Chief shook his head in good humour at their silence, “Come on, kid, we need to get Steve in a proper bed before he passes out here.”
Her eyes lit up with worry and she presently wrapped her hand into Steve’s and interlocked their fingers, she wanted to help him into the house and the Chief couldn’t stop his heart aching at the sight of it.
He let himself walk behind them as they approached the cabin, now he was sure this was a good idea, both were too young to be this hurt but maybe they could both help one another, at least that was his intentions. That and to make sure they were both safe, they both deserved that.
Living with Hopper and Jane was as if he had a new family, a new chance to live with people who truly cared about him. He spent most of his time teaching Jane, running her through rudimentary mathematics and grammar. They spent most of their time together, it was clear Jane was just as excited as he to get to spend time together.
Hopper was at work most of the time but he was nearly always back by 5 or near enough. It seemed Jane was a lot less worried that he wouldn’t come home on time when she was hanging out with Steve, she still made him radio in case of emergencies, but this way she was never alone anyway, she hated being alone. Steve was much the same, he needed his space sure but he was more than happy to have a brunette little shadow watching over him as he practised his gift.
It was coming up to the beginning of the school year, his senior year. This one was the most important, it mattered for his quality of life, his education, his future. He knew it was an almost foolish idea to think he would be staying at the cabin at that point, he knew both wouldn’t have an issue with it but it was more of a problem for him. Harder to get to school, more questions to be answered, he didn’t need to be easier to be picked out, he didn’t need that.
He found it hard to bring up, that was the biggest problem. He could see the sadness in Jane’s eyes as she thought about the future, he didn’t want to be the one to leave them alone, he loved them both too much for that. It had never been his intention to get this attached but it seemed this was where he was at now. A week into living with them the Priest had told him that he was glad he was being cared for, that they had all been waiting for him to take care of himself even as he was taking care of them.
Everything was changing for the better, he didn’t want to think that he would have to go back to his old life just to secure his future. He felt more like he was going backwards instead of forwards, it all seemed so wrong to him.
He fought with the idea of telling them for weeks, two days before he was due to go back to school Hopper was home in the cabin with them for his day off and he was attempting to beat Jane at chess for which she’d become a little demon at during his time teaching her.
The Chief set the pawn he was fiddling with down to look at the boy. He was wronging his hands and his eyes looked scared. He pulled his chair away from the table and held a hand out to pause Jane where she wanted to go to him.
“What’s up kid?”
“I think I need to go home.”
“This is about school isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. I don’t want to go back, but I think I need to.”
“I understand, I guessed you’d be speaking to me about this at some point. I wanted you to come to me, I didn’t want you thinking I was sending you away.”
Steve shook his head, he understood, he was just glad they both seemed to be on the same page of all this. Jane didn’t look so happy though and a few tears slid down his cheeks in response.
“Come now, kid, you won’t be living there too long. Weekends you can come back here, I ain’t letting you live there if your folks are there.”
Steve nodded his head, he didn’t want to live there if his parents were there either. That was a no brainer, and weekends in the cabin sounded nice, he hated the thought of so long away from his pseudo sister but everyone seemed to be aware that this must be done.
“Do you want to go back today, or the day before school? What are you thinking, kid?”
“I-I, today I think. I want to clear out my room.”
Hopper nodded understanding. He stood up from his chair and motioned for Jane to get up too.
“Right, let’s do it. And you,” he pointed at Jane, “if I bring you out with us, you won’t go find Mike, yes?”
She nodded tears in her puppy dog eyes. She wanted to see Mike almost as much as she didn’t want Steve gone. She figured she’d see Mike again soon, but she wanted as much time with big brother Steve as long as she was able to have it. Weekends just seemed so far apart.
Hop nodded, mouth set tight, “get that hat and come over here.”
She fetched the cap and winced as he pulled at her hair until it all tucked beneath that cap. Then he drew the hood on the back of her jumper up so it covered the top of her head and shielded the sides of her face.
He pointed her towards Steve who smiled and nodded, “looking good Jane.”
She smiled in response.
The house shook Steve’s bones, it made him shudder inside and he was eternally grateful when Jane drew his hand into hers. She was as much his little sister as he wanted her to be and he loved that about her. He didn’t want to think about Hop as a father figure because that seemed so wrong but he was definitely that to Jane, Hop was probably more of a grumpy uncle for Steve. Yeah, he liked that idea. He smiled to himself in an effort to forget about what he was just about to do.
He took a deep breath before he stepped out of the car. It was just a house, it wasn’t the house’s fault that the people who occupied it did such bad things. He smiled sadly when he spotted Barb appearing before him, he had missed her. As much as he had liked being taken care of and loved in this new place he had surely missed his ghost friends who he had tried to by some chance let get on with their own lives as he was intending to do with his.
“Barb?” Jane’s voice was small as she squeezed his hand and he nodded down at her.
Barb smiled at them as they passed, her presence there as a strength to him, she would be here during his troubles. When Hop was at work and Jane was stuck alone in that cabin, he knew he’d be able to count on Barb. They had gotten past their issues long before, and he trusted her now wholeheartedly, he hated that he always started everything off not trusting and building up to trust people. He wished he was more naive than that.
He swiped at his eyes, his limbs dragging as he approached the front door. The key in his hands felt foreign and wrong. Why couldn’t he have just finished his senior year online? Why did he have to care so much about his future to put himself through this?
He would be forever asking himself those questions, but he knew as much as he would regret this decision in the present, in the future, he would be glad he pushed through it. He just needed to believe in himself.
Jane glared at every piece of furniture when they entered, he laughed painfully, he knew she was preempting bad things and he appreciated that. He laughed to think of what his parents would do when they found out he had befriended a younger girl with telepathic abilities, he supposed they’d die of shock. He hated that he didn’t want that, he was gladdened to know he wouldn’t rise to their level though. That meant a lot more to him than he may have made it out to be.
The downstairs wasn’t a problem for him. The upstairs loomed though, he knew he just wanted it all gone. He didn’t want any of the fancy clothes, he didn’t want the decorations, not the bedding. He wanted it as plain as possible, as much not what it used to be as it could be. He was glad to know that they understood him, Hop had come armed with a tin of white paint and some paintbrushes as well as some plainer less expensive bed sheets. He was ever so appreciative of them.
Jane took great pleasure in throwing all of the fancy clothes into one of the bin bags he had found from the kitchen. He wanted just to be rid of them straight away but Hop was committed to selling them, giving Steve some money to get on with his life in this house, he didn’t want to touch his trust fund as much as Hop didn’t want him to. This was his life now, throwing away everything that reminded him of the ass he used to be, he didn’t want to be that person anymore and starting with this room he wouldn’t be.
Steve’s fancier bedsheets were used as a cover when the paint went up, he took great glee in seeing the paint ruin the silk sheets. As much as the cheap sheets irritated him they reminded him of his time in the cabin, and those memories he wouldn’t give up for anything.
The walls were finished in record time, the only record it didn’t beat was the amount of paint Steve and Jane had managed to cover one another in. Hopper couldn’t find it in himself to complain about it, they’d even managed to get a bit on him from when they had tried to gang up on him and found he was a lot less restrained than them.
The sheets went in the bin, that was something none of them had any qualms about, they were ruined anyway, and it made Steve feel better so that was the bonus. When they were done the room seemed almost clinical, it was very white and it was very bare. Steve’s pain was lifted some, this didn’t feel like home and that was good for him. His home, now, would always be in that cabin, this was just some room he would be living in until he could go back home. He could live in this, that was all that mattered.
The next stop was getting clothes and food. But neither could be achieved when Jane was with them, they couldn’t risk her being recognised and it was getting late anyway. They agreed painfully that Steve would stay there that night and then he would meet Hop to get the rest of the stuff required to live there sufficiently alone the next day. He loathed to think of himself alone but he still waved them away from the door of his home.
He didn’t have to be alone, Barb was with him. He knew that and he sure did appreciate it.
The first day of school was tough, he hadn’t been there in so long that people stared when he walked past them in the halls. His clothes had been bought from the first second-hand shop he and Hopper could find, they traded most of his old stuff for what he had now, with the remaining money for what was taken in laying in a brown envelope in the bottom of his desk.
He attended all of his classes, completed the work and didn’t cause any problems. He kept his head below the radar and just worked to get through his day in peace. He wished for the cabin and he wished for Jane, but none of that would do him any good unless he intended for his future plans to be a hermit. He wasn’t prepared to admit just yet that that would be where he was heading, he wanted plans. He didn’t have any but he longed for them.
He was two hours out of getting through the day without interruption when someone recognised him in the hall. Someone he hadn’t thought of in some time.
Her trusty sidekick Jonathon Byers was nowhere to be seen, and Steve had to note that maybe there was a first time for everything. Then again there was also a last time for everything so perhaps this was the only time he would get to tell her everything he’d been mulling over for the last six months.
Her eyes were wide as she took him in, he didn’t want to know what she thought of it. He also didn’t really care, he felt comfortable and that was enough for him, nothing else would make him care what other people thought of the new him.
“What happened to you, I haven’t seen you in months?”
Steve shrugged, coming round to face her so her grip fell from around his arm, she didn’t need to hold him there. He didn’t particularly like the contact either, made him a little bit antsy and this day had been going so well.
“Got busy. I’m okay, Nancy, it’s fine.”
Well, she didn’t look convinced. And really Steve wasn’t too convinced of himself either, but like telling her he was in the hospital for 52 days wouldn’t exactly convince her that he was okay either. The truth was probably not better at this point.
“Mrs Byers, sent the Chief to look in on you but she never said what came of it?”
“Yeah, he came round. He wanted to know where my parents were, I was sick that week, I think he was confused.”
“So you’re alright?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. Yeah?”
“I guess. But, Steve, I think we should talk.”
“Yes. I agree.”
She blinked at him, almost as surprised by his eagerness as he was annoyed by it. Come on Steve, you can’t sound that eager when you’re thinking about making sure she knows that you intended to break up with her four months ago before all of this crap kicked off full blast.
She nodded slowly, and he smiled slightly. She waved for him to go first and his smile dropped. He honestly did not want to hurt her.
“We haven’t seen one another in months, and I just think we should formally break up. I feel like you got trapped in a commitment you might have been unable to break just because I’ve been in and out of your life. And like, I feel like we’d just be better off as friends. I haven’t really seen you as my girlfriend since before, well since before Will Byers went missing. I hope this is okay?”
She smiled prettily at him, and he remembered why he liked her to begin with.
Her nod was enough words for him and he smiled brightly in response. Pushing his hands together he grinned cheekily, “so come now, we’re friends now, you and Jonathan?”
The blush that hit her cheeks was enough for him to be laughing loudly in the halls of their school, catching the interested looks of many other students milling about.
“I-I didn’t say anything!”
“That blush was enough. I suspected for a while but like kind of a really bad time to just throw that break up at you. Felt wrong. So I’m sorry if it stopped you getting together.”
Steve gasped dramatically and threw his hands up to cover his face, “Nancy Wheeler! Look at you! Never thought you’d be the girl to cheat while your boyfriend was in hospital!!”
He was laughing loudly again long before he realised that she wasn’t joining in with him, her eyes wide and worry in her eyes. He backtracked his sentence until he realised what had dropped into the conversation without him meaning it. His laughs tapered off and he rubbed at his neck anxiously.
“You were in the hospital? After that first time? Steve, what’s been happening?”
“It’s fine Nancy, I’m fine. I didn’t want to say anything because I was worried you would worry and then we both would have been worrying for no reason at all.”
She punched his shoulder and drew back once she saw him flinch. His good day had been ruined.
“Steve, are you okay?”
“Getting there. I-I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”
She nodded slowly, the smile on her face sad and he hated it. “But, you’ll tell me when you’re ready yeah? I want you to know you can tell me when you’re ready.”
He nodded with a grateful smile, he knew she just wanted to help and he was okay with that. They were still friends and that’s exactly what he had wanted from this conversation. He had a couple of hours left of his day and then he could visit with Jane in his sleep, that’s why he got through his lessons, knowing that at the end of it all he could see his little sister. At least now he could get through his day knowing him and Nancy were good, and as much as she knew very little she knew some, and she would understand.
He was more than grateful to know some people cared.
It took him nearing three weeks to get himself into a good rhythm of things, weekdays he spent his time with Nancy and occasionally also Jonathan, Fridays he’d get picked up by Hopper and driven across to the Cabin where he would stay with Jane until Sunday nights where Hopper would drive him back to his house.
Nancy soon accepted that he wouldn’t be hanging out with them on weekends, that he always had plans and would never drop them for anything. He found he was okay spending time with them after the school day whether it was at Nancy’s or around the town. He was not interested in being recognised by Jonathan’s younger brother so he stayed well away from that one, and he was not even going to entertain them round at his own house. That was one he wouldn’t even discuss let alone fall for any of their tricks.
He knew they were worried about him, he could see it in their eyes, but it was surely better than the judgement he seemed to be at the end of from Tommy and Carol. He was happy without them, the worried looks he got from Tommy reminded him that he knew, that he could guess where he had been. But Steve didn’t even want to go there. He didn’t need more pity than he was already getting.
He could do this without them whether they wanted him to or not.
October brought the introduction of spooky films to his time with Jane, she would always either end up cowering with her head buried in his arm or bored out of her mind knowing that there were scarier things in the world that she herself had seen. She particularly hated the jump scare ones, and Steve had, to be honest, he didn’t much like them either.
Spooky films brought pumpkin carving to her attention next, and then he was teaching her to make a pumpkin pie that had Hop begging him not to make any more for fear of being more out of shape than he already was. Steve had smiled at that, he knew the Chief wasn’t lying about his health but he also knew that Hop could do anything he set his mind to with the end goal of solving a case, so Steve wasn’t worried about that.
Pumpkin carving brought her idea to go trick or treating. Steve’s sadness for her childhood was brought back in full force as he remembered what she hadn’t been allowed to do.
“But why?” She stamped her foot one down, her fierce eyes defiant towards Hopper.
Steve ran his fingers through his hair, they all knew why she wasn’t allowed out of the cabin. Everything was too hot right now, too many people remembered the little girl with the shaved head throwing things around the small town with her mind. She would be taken away, just as Steve would be if anyone found out what he too could do.
“You know why! And I don’t want to go through this with you again! Steve has another film lined up, you can watch one more before I take him back to his house.”
She flinched as she thought about Steve leaving again. Both of them hated when that time came around.
She slumped back over to the couch and snuggled up by his arm as he pressed the play button on the remote. The films opening credits began as she pulled his attention away from the screen.
“Did you ever go trick or treating?”
He shook his head, “I was never allowed, my parents worried I would tell someone about what I could do.”
“But seeing ghosts is good on Halloween.”
“Yes and no. Sometimes I see ghosts that have already passed, the barriers between our worlds become thin this time of the year, a lot more spirits get through. I’ve been known to have a bit more issue with it at this time. I got a lot of seizures around this time when I was younger. Haven’t had them in a while.”
She nodded sadly, she felt a kinship with Steve that she had never felt with anybody before, he hadn’t experienced Halloween just like she hadn’t. She still wanted to go, of course, that was a given but if Steve got through his childhood without, she was sure she could too. Sometimes she thought he had gotten through a lot worse than she, but she didn’t like to think about it too much.
Hopper watched sadly as Steve pulled her closer after their little chat, he hated learning more and more about his deprived childhood, it only painted more of an evil picture of his parents than he had imagined before. He resolved to make sure to watch Steve a lot closer on his weekends leading up to Halloween, the idea of seizures was not something he wanted to witness.
That Monday brought Steve a headache in full force, his eyes hurt in the light of everything and he was having trouble concentrating. He only hoped that he wasn’t getting sick, it wouldn’t do Jane’s cabin fever any good if she had gotten sick from him hanging around.
He fully hoped it had nothing to do with Halloween being two days away, he hadn’t had any adverse side effects from his gift since he had been twelve and the school managed to convince everyone that what they saw was just a prank. His parents had been adamant that he get a hold of himself, that it was not funny and that he was unnatural and should hide what he was. First, they attempted to ignore it, then they attempted to hide it. He grew up unsure of his parent's views on him, that didn’t help.
He’d begun seeing more ghosts the previous Friday, he’d ignored the ones who didn’t recognise him and the ones that did just seemed to hover awkwardly close to him whenever they felt his power heighten. It was a little bit concerning but he figured they thought he would protect them if anything came their way, granted he didn’t know if he could but it felt nice that they believed in him.
He rubbed at his head and tried to blink to clear some of the discomforts, it was everything he didn’t need right now, he didn’t need people thinking he was back to his slacking ways, he had a new image to maintain.
Nancy frowned at him as she passed him in the halls, “are you okay?”
“Just a killer headache, they’ve never bothered me this seriously before. I’m starting to wonder if I’m ill.”
She reached forward to rest her hand against his forehead, his sluggish movements meant she connected with his skin long before he had even attempted to get away from her.
“You’re really cold! I don’t know what I was expecting, but I don’t think that’s normal, Steve!”
He shrugged trying to distinguish the ghostly cold that had taken over his body from the way he usually felt on a normal day. He supposed it must have had something to do with the time of year, there was no way this wasn’t in relation to his gifts. First the headache and now the unnatural body temperature, he only hoped this was the last in a long list of symptoms. He’d fought hard to remain unknown, this would not help.
“So I heard there’s a big Halloween party this Wednesday?” Steve swapped the conversation quickly, snagging one of the flyers taped to a nearby locker.
Nancy glanced over it curiously before she shrugged, “why thinking of going? You going to rebuild King Steve?”
He shook his head at her teasing and smiled lightly as they fell into a familiar pace towards what would be their next classes.
“I was considering attending, but I might have somewhere to be.”
“Your mysterious weekend obligation?”
He shrugged with a smile, “maybe. But I did bring it up because I think you and Jonathon should go. I’ve had enough of the high school experience to fuel me for the rest of my life, but the two of you should try it. It’s Halloween, we both know your brother and his friends will be out in full force.”
She nodded, “yes, but I think Jonathon will be with Will.”
Steve sobered, that was very true and he commended the older Byers boy for his protective streak for his brother. He could see how it might have been trapping for the younger Byers though and he knew those little boys would all protect one another no matter what happened.
“I understand that, but he should let him out on his own for a little while. The kid is bound to feel trapped at this rate.”
Nancy had a worried look on her face but she nodded. It hurt Steve to not be able to tell her he knew, she was keeping all these secrets from him that he was already aware of, just because he couldn’t tell her his one huge secret.
It was an abyss stretching between them that she felt the need to label his mysterious absences but she never pushed further than that. He was better than he was, and they could all see that but he was not the same. He wasn’t sure he would ever be the same and he was glad that they were mostly all accepting of it.
“We’ll speak to him tomorrow, he’s doing his photography today. But you, Steve, will be with me.”
She nudged his arm before she departed from their joint path towards where her next class that day would be. Steve watched her go, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling, his headache intensifying and his eyesight going blurry.
He stumbled to the side of the corridor, all of his weight resting fitfully on the metal of the lockers, a warmer sensation tickled at his fingers. To his horror, he realised his core body temperature was lower than that of the metal of the lockers, something he would not have considered at all possible if he wasn’t here now.
There was a rush of something to his brain and he winced, hand coming up to cradle his head. His breathing was laboured and he could feel blood trickling down his chin. He stumbled into the nearest bathrooms, ears ringing he missed the bell. His eyesight was poor but he could see the red that coated his face. A steady stream from his nose, and the corners of his eyes. He didn’t know what to think, where to go.
He grabbed at all the tissues he could muster, hands coming up to swab at his chin. He wiped and wiped until he was curled up in the darkened corner of the dirty bathroom. Tears mixing with snot, and tissues void of blood.
The pain still fresh in his mind, the vivid images still brought sharp pain to his frontal cortex. He’d thought it all up, he was absolutely losing it.
Symptoms of the thin barrier between worlds; headache, lower body temperature, hallucinations.
Thinking on it he didn’t remember any of this when he was a kid, seizures sure, but he was almost certain none of it was this violent. His acceptance of his power and want to grow it had clearly brought on a whole other level of complications, he’d asked for it and now he had to live with the consequences.
He disposed of the tissues in the nearby bin, his eyes drawing holes into his own reflection in the mirror, no blood. A relief sure, but he couldn’t say whether he would have preferred the truth be hallucinations or excessive bleeding. He had a couple more days to decide, he was sure it would be much worse on the big day, he might not be attending Tina’s Halloween party but he would certainly be suffering somewhere in the dark.
He went home after his brief introduction to hallucinations, he’d curled up in his bed, in his white room and took comfort in the knowledge that anything could happen to him here and he would not be found out. He took too many risks with his identity at school, the pain often too intense to even think about the consequences of rabid retreats into bathrooms where he’d frantically tried to wipe away the blood that wasn’t there.
The Priest had counselled him in the safety of his shell of a house, the reality that this was going to get worse before it would get better wasn’t lost on either one of them. The worry was it would get so much worse that he wouldn’t wake up the next time. He worried for telling Hopper, for him telling Jane. That he was so much more powerful than they had even tried to contain in all of his work into getting stronger.
He was a Magee, his bloodline strong in the male line of it, but none had ever been as strong as him, an idea was something in his father's blood, something that had mixed with his. Something to make him the way he was. He was an anomaly in the bloodline, they had tried to contain him but they had yet to figure it out completely. He worried there wouldn’t be time, he worried that this Halloween would be the peak of it, and he was finally becoming okay with who he was.
The prickle on the back of his neck was almost constant now, a feeling of impending doom. Something was coming and he was nearly too weak to do anything to help it.
The school was entirely something he didn’t want to bother with that Tuesday. His movements were sluggish and he could barely maintain concentration. He was broken, a shell of himself, he could do little to fix that now. An unknown future led by Wednesday the 31st of October, Halloween.
Nancy cornered him almost as soon as he appeared on the corridors. Jonathon behind her, on the backs of her heels, his eyes as worried as hers.
“You disappeared yesterday, what happened?”
“Went home.” Even his words were slurred. His eyes unfocused as he watched the ghosts of students passed milling about the halls, their eyes dead but they knew him.
“You’re ill! Why did you come back in?”
“Can't-miss anymore school.”
Nancy’s hand was back on his head before she flinched away as if she had been scolded. Her eyes puzzled, the cold on her hand was more prominent than it had been the day before.
“You aren’t well.”
He shook his head, ignoring the dizziness that came through.
“Only a couple more hours.”
He pushed past them weakly, his eyes drawn to each and every ghost that passed him. They could see him, they tried to talk to him, he couldn’t. Not now.
There was laughter to his right and then he was against a locker, his head smashing into the metal, his eyes rolling up into his head. He could taste blood, was this a hallucination?
Nancy was screaming somewhere to the side but he couldn’t concentrate.
“So this is the King Steve I’ve been hearing all about!” The taunting was faint and hidden by the ringing of his ears, his arms tried to push away the ghosts converging upon him. They wanted his help, they wanted his counsel, he couldn’t help them, he couldn’t even help himself.
He groaned pitifully as he was shaken again. Heat was rushing to his head and he worried he was hallucinating. What would they be seeing if this wasn’t really happening to him? He was a mess and he should never have come into school. That at least was apparent now.
“Doesn’t seem so much like a king now!”
The punch that hit him square in the stomach had him tumbling to the ground. His mind felt like it was splitting in two and he couldn’t stop the mumbling on incoherent words tumbling from his mouth. He could see barely anything but the blurred outline of figures.
The floor was warm beneath him, his fingers seeking to scratch out words of help on the surface of the ground. He felt someone probing at the corner of his mind and he tried to stop her, she didn’t need to see him like this. Her pained gasp and the ghost of her fingers on his arm had him pawing out her name, he didn’t want her here. He didn’t need her to see this.
Blood ran from his nose, his mouth, his ears, his eyes.
People backed away, caught in a bubble of crazy as he reacted fitfully to a couple of punches and taunting words. Nancy was sobbing in Jonathon’s arms, his reactions so different than the boy she was come to know over time. This was something else, he was hurt here and that wasn’t good.
Teachers were spewing nonsense, trying to get them away from him, he was still mumbling but he wasn’t trying to get up. His eyes unfocused, blood pooling around him.
It was when the first person screamed that their pained eyes drew back to the fits Steve Harrington seemed to be going through on the floor. Words were jumbled up, his eyes rolled backwards in his head, arms twitching.
But the scream hadn’t come from that, it was the brief flash of someone who wasn’t there before, suspended in time before disappearing again. Something was happening, this close to Halloween and everyone was on edge.
They couldn’t tell how long they were there before someone was pushing their way through the crowd and towards Steve, large fingers pressed carefully to his pulse, he couldn’t be dead but it was right to check. He rolled him over so he was less pressed against the lockers, he would only injure himself further this way.
A teacher pushed their way through the crowd to address him, “Chief Hopper, what are you doing here?”
The Chief glared painfully at her, “I’m his emergency contact, someone contacted me. None of you seemed to be doing anything, so I’ll be taking him out of school from here. He had better not get any fails on any papers. He is medically inadequate, he shouldn’t be here.”
One hand dipped behind his head as the other reached behind his knees, there was blood on him but he didn’t seem to care. Nancy grabbed at his bag before he had the chance to demand anyone’s assistance.
Shit clearly wasn’t going well for Steve.
Jonathon and Nancy were clearly shaken as they followed Hopper holding Steve from the property. He set him down across the back seats, blood staining his uniform but he only looked sadly upon it all. He accepted Steve’s bag from Nancy and set it on the passenger seat.
“Hopper, I didn’t know you were his medical contact?”
“His parents are never here. I watch out for him when they aren’t.”
Jonathon gaped at him but said nothing, it would surely explain why his mother was so convinced that Hopper could help when she thought that stuff was going on with him. Why they didn’t know about this was news to him though. He supposed it might have something to do with all of his mysterious absences, so did that mean he knew about what had happened last year?
Hopper scratched at his head, “what set him off, do either of you know?”
“He wasn’t well when he came in, colder than he was yesterday. But he got pushed up against the lockers by a new student, he was antagonising Steve. Then he just started bleeding when he fell to the ground, he sounded like he was yelling someone's name but it was hard to make out who’s.”
Hopper’s face grew darker as he glanced at the unconscious teenager on his back seat, “I’ll keep an eye on him if anything changes I’ll get in touch. Both of you had better get back to school.”
Nancy nodded reluctantly, she hated that she knew so little about Steve, she knew it boded well that the Chief was keeping an eye on him. He was clearly one of the better people in this town.
Steve came to on a familiar couch, his stomach ached and there was a residual pain in the top of his head. Someone was stroking his hair, and from the familiar scent of home, he could guess who it might be.
He hummed and turned over, the dash of feet sure to him before a familiar head of curls came to light over his face. He smiled slowly at her and allowed her to pull him into a sitting position.
He nodded slowly, hand coming up to cradle his head, he needed to stop passing out, this was getting crazy now.
“How long was I out?”
Steve let out a breath of relief, he’d thought for a second that he’d slept through Halloween but by the look of the light coming through the closed curtains he’d only been out for approximately 24 hours or so. That wasn’t too bad, he’d definitely been out longer before, this time he was glad.
He stretched and groaned, this was surely one of the worst he’d woken up from. He didn’t remember much of what had happened but that was the curse of all of this, he was sure of it.
He opened his arm up at his side and let Jane curl in on herself under it. He would deal with the remnants of pain so she could feel some comfort in this.
Steve nodded, he forgot that it was the middle of the week, it was too much to remember he’d hardly gotten through a month before he had gotten crazy with it. But his headache was lessened so now, he’d clearly needed the passing out session to sort him out. He felt safe in the world, balanced out, but that prickle was still present at the back of his neck. A chill he thought he wouldn’t have to feel ever again and yet was here. He tried not to think about it, it was Halloween nothing bad could happen on Halloween that was to cliche.
Life was never cliche.
“So what have you got planned for today?”
He asked her trying to bring the mood back up from the constant worry he was sure she had been focused on during his never-ending sleep.
“Hop is coming back with sweets. Not allowed out.”
He squeezed her side feeling her frustration, she wanted to go out and he understood it. But she was safer inside and the threat was still there, the threat that would take the both of them away if they found out about either one of them.
“Okay, do you want to watch some tv? Go on then, turn it on, I’m still exhausted some, but I’m staying here, kid. You don’t have to worry about that.”
She burrowed into his side as she focused on the television and soon it flickered on, he squeezed her grateful and allowed the longing arms of sleep to tug him back under.
He awoke heavily from his sleep when something dense connected to the side of his face. He blinked back to the forefront of what was happening and squinted as he saw who was in front of him. It couldn’t be right, could it? No.
“Steve!” He rubbed heavily at his eyes and tried to ease the severe crick in his neck.
Blinking past the exhaustion he frowned, “Barb is that you? How did you find me here?”
“Pretty hard not to, you’ve been calling every ghost from here to the other realm in and out of the human world.”
He bolted upright at that, his eyes wide scared. He’d never done anything like that before, he had never thought it would have ever been an issue.
“Did people see?”
“I should think so, I scared people a number of times this past couple of days. Tried my best to stay away from my parents even if I did want to see them I didn’t think they’d like to find out this way.”
Steve shook his head, fingers carding through his hair catching in knots and making him wince. He couldn’t believe this, he was more of a nuisance than a help at this point, he was only making everything hurt.
He rubbed at his arms, a cold seeping into his bones for the first time since he had woken up. He glanced around and found a different kind of cold hitting him at the ajar door. He stood up on wobbly legs, his knees locking and nearly sending him tumbling to the floor, Barb’s hand on his elbow helped some.
“El? Kid? You here?”
The hairs tingled at the back of his neck, this didn’t feel right. Why would she leave? Had something happened? He wouldn’t be able to bear it if she got into trouble just because he was too passed out to stop her. That wouldn’t help the Chief have more trust in him, being not who he used to be. He had let the both of them down, and he had let his gift get the better of him, what use was he when he couldn’t do anything right?
Barb kept her hand on his elbow as he walked about the cabin, his fingers trailing across the edge of the open door, he shut it to keep the rest of the warmth in but couldn’t help the guilt gnawing at him.
“You didn’t happen to see a little girl with a mess of wild curls leaving this area, she’s about this big and she shouldn’t be out there.”
“Sorry, Steve I didn’t see anyone.”
He sagged defeated onto the couch, hands cradling his head. His eyes sought out the ticking hands of the clock mounted on the wall, 17:07, Hopper should be home soon. They could deal with it then.
He was too exhausted to leave, he couldn’t trust himself not to pass out somewhere where they wouldn’t find him and enter the ghost realm too early. He still wanted to live, he didn’t want to join them yet, even if that was really all he was good at now, speaking with ghosts.
Her hand on his arm brought him out of his head, this gentle squeezes enough to bring him back to the present.
“This isn’t your fault. You can’t have been expected to watch her when you were clearly so exhausted, I’d been yelling at you for an hour before I had to hit you with that pillow a few times to even wake you.”
His eyes locked onto hers, lips parting in shock before he dropped them to the pillow discarded on the floor.
She frowned at him confused, “that’s what I said, why? You look like you’ve seen a ghost and not literally.”
“Ghosts shouldn’t be able to manipulate objects until a lot longer into their years, and it’s supposed to take practice.”
“Maybe it’s because of you, maybe you’ve charged the world, you’ve pulled us through the void enough this past couple of days. Is this a problem?”
“I don’t know. It’s just unprecedented. I need to confer with the Priest, but I need you to bring me back if Hopper or Jane come back. I need to speak to them properly about this before I exert myself again.”
She nodded stiffly, the thought that something had changed in the ghost realm heavy on both of them if he didn’t have the full force of the knowledge for them God knows what could come next. They were both already on edge, they didn’t need it to get any worse.
Hopper arrived home first, exhausted from the work he’d been doing, his head on a completely different level than what he should have done that night, he should have brought sweets, he should have been with El but all of these issues with the crops surrounding the lab were rubbing him the wrong way. It was the same irritating worry that had gotten him caught up in the Will Byers case the year before, the feeling bugged him and he only hoped it didn’t continue the way it ended last time.
He rubbed at his face heavily as he entered the cabin, at first he didn’t realise what was wrong, the heavy silence of the place but the presence in the corner of the room. His day too heavy and too wrought with problems he couldn’t see what was right in front of him. He didn’t want to see what was right in front of him.
When he did see it he flinched, the flickering image of someone long dead hovering close to a still and laboured breathed Steve.
His hand went to his gun but the stare of the dead was enough to still him, she knew he could see her, this was Steve’s doing. Steve’s unconscious doing.
“Barbara Holland, I can see you.”
“Still a ghost, Chief, Steve’s talking to someone who can answer these questions. I was supposed to wake him when you got back.”
“He’s supposed to be resting.”
“He would have been, I woke him up because ghosts like me have been flickering in and out of sight for the past couple of days.”
“Since he passed out?”
The words came whispered from Hopper's lips. Barb frowned as she went through another one of her flickering episodes before she was back again.
“The kid you’re keeping here, she left. Steve freaked out, he worried he’d let you down.”
Hopper looked around manic for Jane, his worry tripled, he had two unofficial kids to take care of, one he didn’t know where she was and the other was visiting an entirely different realm. He really needed to think about who he took in the next time. This was crazy.
“He hasn’t, she has. Is he okay?”
Barb looked across to where blood was starting to appear on his shirt.
She ran her hands under his nose, nothing, his eyes, nothing. It was trickling from one of his ears, it wasn’t the worst she’d seen, but she didn’t want to pull him out yet, he was in there for a reason. He needed an explanation or as much of one as he could gather.
“For now, I’ll see if he comes to in another hour and then if not I’ll wake him up.”
Hopper ran his lip between his teeth, took a seat on the couch and prepared for a long worried hour while he focused on Steve and with all hope, Jane would come home soon.
Steve felt his exhaustion pull at his limbs, he should still be resting, that was a fact he knew for certain. The cabin in the Spirit Realm looked more sinister than he knew it truly was. He could do this even if it felt like he was swimming through thick sludge as he walked.
He stumbled as he reached the door, his hands coming out to catch him as he fell towards the floor, he didn’t need any more injuries than he was already fighting with.
Closing his eyes he focused, if he could call them here it would make trekking through the woods so much easier, he broke from his state to find a hand on his arm. His eyes opened and he smiled weakly as he found himself in the presence of the Priest and a number of spirits he hadn’t meant to summon too.
He couldn’t fault it, this was the first time he had tried that trick consciously.
“You’re here because you’ve been summoning ghosts outside of this realm I gather.”
Steve nodded, unsure if he could keep himself from passing out if he tried to speak.
The Priest nodded, seating himself on the floor in front of Steve, his face weary with everything that was going on, Steve wasn’t the only thing the Priest was in charge of down here, he did have a job even if he was dead.
“I have never heard of this happening, Magee, you are unprecedented. Your power may be charged by the powered girl you are residing with but it will not quell with separation. I fear not even you may be able to control this, I can hardly explain why this is happening. Exhaustion for one may be a problem, it's weakening your hold. But trouble is coming, and it always has been coming, looming in the background of what your family has been cursed with. A long-ago stated prophecy translated over a dozen times, haunting your bloodline. But it seems to be intersecting with the dangers of this town you live in, it's coming back and I figure you’ve guessed that already.”
Steve’s hand strayed to the back of his neck, the everlasting tingle that awoke his nerve endings, this was all just another thing that was going to ruin him. He was too involved in this, but he didn’t think he could be any less involved even if he tried.
The Priest nodded at the gesture, his own hand coming up to cup his own back of the neck, “you feel it here most, and you felt it here last year?”
Steve nodded, the worried look on the Priest’s face intensified.
“I figured as much, I fear we won’t be able to help you as much as we could before, unchartered territory Magee. You’re always welcome here, we’ll try to find more out but you’ve far surpassed anything we could have done for you.”
A chill passed over the both of them and the door creaked open, the foggy image of little Jane stood in the doorway passed over them both. The Priest pressed his lips together concerned, “you’d better go, Magee. We’ll keep an ear out, good luck.”
The hand that pressed into his chest pushed him back through the realms.
His eyes shot open and he sucked in a lungful of air.
Hopper had risen from the couch when Jane had appeared, it had been mere seconds later when Steve reappeared in the present, his mouth filled with blood that trickled down his chin as he sucked in lungful after lungful of air. His anger at Jane dimmed for a moment as he dove to catch the boy’s head as he careened to the floor.
Jane watched the situation with frightened eyes, her annoyance at everything truly gone at seeing her big brother in such a state.
Hopper scooped him up and set him down on the couch, he was back in the realm of unconsciousness and Barb had long since disappeared. His worry heightened for the girl hovering in the corner, she hadn’t expected Steve to be in such a state when she returned, he’d been getting better when she’d left. Hopper had trusted her to keep an eye on him and she’d taken the first chance of freedom to go out there and find Mike, and the both of them knew that was exactly what she had done.
“Was all this worth seeing Mike, huh? I asked you to keep an eye on him, I get in from work and he’s convening with spirits in the other realm, he is supposed to be resting. You should have made sure of that.”
His voice was even and quiet, a deadly quiet that had tears bubbling at the corners of her eyes, she didn’t want to hear this.
He was trying to be quiet for Steve’s sake even if both of them knew that he wasn’t waking up for anything any time soon.
“What was that?”
“Not worth it.”
He sagged some but the anger was still present, “but how do I trust that if I go off to work you won’t just go and seek him out again, leave Steve all alone.”
“He was better!”
Hopper hated himself for blaming it all on her but he had wanted her there and she wasn’t careful.
“You were stupid. People saw you.”
“You left this cabin, that’s stupid in my book. You worried Steve.”
Her eyes dropped to Steve’s unconscious too-thin frame. She regretted that.
She didn’t like the insinuation that she was, yes she’d left the cabin but she hadn’t been caught. She wasn’t stupid in her eyes.
“Yeah well, go to your room. I’ll watch him tonight.”
“No, go to your room, I want him safe tonight.”
She sagged anger and sadness pulsing through her body. She stormed to her room and slammed the door shut. She could protect Steve, she would protect Steve, but she had let the want to see Mike be more important, and she hated herself for that.
Why couldn’t she put Steve in front of her priorities, she hadn’t known him as long. Though that was a lie, she knew him more than she thought she would, she saw him over those 326 days she didn’t see Mike. A betrayal, she hadn’t replaced Mike she knew that, but he had, he’d replaced her with that girl on the skateboard. She’d let Steve hurt himself more just to see someone who didn’t care about her as much as she cared about him.
She wouldn’t make that mistake again if Hopper would even let her. She’d disappointed him as much as she had disappointed Steve. That thought hollowed out a pit in her stomach. They were her family, she’d hurt her family. She was as bad as her papa.
She swiped at angry tears, she didn’t deserve to be here, Steve was hurt because she had left.
Steve spent the next couple of days in a haze like sleep, his eyes opening and closing for mere minutes, his entire being living on snapshots of the world around him.
Jane and Hopper arguing.
He’d tried to intervene, he shouldn’t be so harsh on her, it wasn’t her fault he was this way, don’t be angry at him. His family were tearing apart at the seams and he wasn’t lucid enough to save them. He was too far away to be any use and he resented himself for that. He needed the rest, whatever was coming was enough to scare the Priest, that was enough for him to be sure that all of this was too crazy to be real.
He was in the midst of something coming, the tingle was paralysing, he didn’t want to think that he would be unconscious for the brunt of it. He had to help, he didn’t want to be a burden for them to think about, that couldn’t be his part in this, he wouldn’t let it be his part in this. He would rest up and he would be ready for what was coming, he had to be.
The next thing he saw was Hopper responding to a call that had him rushing from the cabin with all the exhaustion that came from his promise to stay up and watch him.
He worried for the man, his want to perform his job, all the while battling forces that they barely got away from last time. He didn’t even know if Hooper was aware of what was going on this time around, he didn’t want him getting in trouble for it, he didn’t want him getting hurt because of the lack of warning. At least that could have been what Steve was good for, a warning system for unnatural events, if he could help people he would take it.
Jane still hadn’t surfaced from her room, that was a certainty he wasn’t quite sure of, he hadn’t seen her in his unconscious living but he hoped he would have known if she had come near him. His self-preservation instincts should have helped him with that, at least he hoped they would have.
Then it was Jane sat on the floor a box between her legs and tears in her eyes. He wanted to comfort her, he wanted to protect her, he feared Hopper hadn’t been home in too long and she was more frustrated by all of it now that it was getting to a time too much after he said she could have left the cabin. It was justified of course but Steve knew he was only trying to protect her and even if the white lies were hurting her now they had helped back then. They were just suffering the fallout in a time when Steve was not making it any less.
He tried to get up when he watched her leaving the cabin, the coat and the backpack told him exactly what he feared, she was leaving for good, she was finally doing it. She was much too young to have to brave the world alone but she had already been doing it so long that it was as much second nature to her as Steve’s gift was to him.
There was no stopping her even if he could have, the set to her jaw and the concentration on her face told him she’d given this a lot of thought. He knew she wouldn’t have left him here especially after that argument if she didn’t think it was the right move. She could visit him if she needed to, at least there was that, a wireless phone call in one another’s heads, and with the increase of his ability maybe soon he could contact her just as she could contact him. That would be enough to settle his nerves for now at least, even the possibility that he could find her.
When he came to he thought he was still dreaming, the twitch in his fingers brought his mind to the present. His body healthy and his mind sane, he was no longer too exhausted to move. He could do exactly anything he wanted to do, as soon as he got rid of the stiffness in his legs. His hands sought the calendar, it was hard to know what day it was, it had maybe been a day or two but he couldn’t guess it. He couldn’t really ask anyone about it either without sounding resolutely crazy, that he was sure of.
Something was off though, something in the air. A sensation that he associated with so many wrong things, dead things. He rubbed at his eyes and combed his fingers through his greasy hair, whatever he thought about doing would have to follow a shower, that was something he was certain of. The water at the cabin tended to cold but it was definitely better than nothing.
He was shocked to find all of the hairs on his body were stood on edge, whatever was happening was truly effecting him, whatever this was, he only hoped it wasn’t what the prophecy the Priest spoke of entailed, he figured he needed to discuss that before it truly took over all of his attention.
There was a tugging sensation in his gut, he had to go, that wasn’t something he imagined. Something wanted him out, something wanted him there. He couldn’t ignore it, it was too prominent in the back of his head, almost like a migraine.
He rubbed his hair dry with a towel and combed it back, it would have to do. He dressed for the weather, pulled on his boots, wrote Hopper a note and took the first steps out of the cabin than he had in a while.
The trek through the woods was second nature, something in him knew exactly where he was heading, his mind completely occupied with worries for Jane and worries for Hopper. He didn’t want to think about how Hopper would react when he found both him and Jane gone, at least he had left a note. It wasn’t the least bit informative though. Just a quick:
Be back soon. Got the feeling I’ve somewhere to be. - Steve
Yeah that wouldn’t stop Hopper from worrying, he knew that much but it was something at the least, and he couldn’t really tell him where he was going since he didn’t know where he was going either.
At some point down the line he got the feeling that he wasn’t alone. Not at all unfounded when he saw Barb striding along beside him, other ghosts he had spent time with other the years following suit. A cold feeling settled in his gut, he was glad they were beside him but he didn’t want to think about what they were suspecting if they thought they had to be beside him. That was too worrying a thought.
He smiled grateful for them. It was as much as he wanted, someone beside him in all that was to come, he would have taken Hopper or Jane gladly but at this point he knew neither one had the time for him. He didn’t resent them for that, sometimes what happened to him was too peculiar to explain even if he couldn’t.
The air was thick as he waded through it though he feared as much as he was aware that he was walking through two worlds his connection with both realms strengthened by his want to stay living and the many ghost walking in step with him. Power emanated from his very soul, there was something here, something coming and he was more than grateful for the help of it.
The light had faded, but his steps did not lessen, his strength was back and he could probably do without sleep for another couple of days. He didn’t want to fall into another sleep coma but he feared it coming. He feared he would be needed and that was enough for him to ignore the paralysing fear that the tingle in the back of his neck brought out in him. If Jane wasn’t around to help he would be, as much help as a teenage psychic could be against a monster.
He felt the shrieks before he heard them, panic seeping into his very soul, his steps quickening. He hadn’t realised where he had been walking, he had assumed to civilisation but really it was only woods and more woods. He’d crossed a railway at some point, but he remembered that it too was abandoned, whatever was going to happen at least he wouldn’t have to explain it to many.
His hair hung limp over his eyes, his hands in fists, and the stubborn expression on Barb’s face only spurred him on more. She’d been taken down by something like this the year before and he was proud to know that she was willingly putting herself in this situation again, she truly was someone to be proud of.
Fear tickled at his soul when he stepped into that abandoned junkyard. He’d never been here before, that much was known to him, but he was needed here. Even if the people who needed him didn’t know it yet.
He watched as dog looking creatures slammed themselves repetitively into an old abandoned bus that looked as if it had been reinforced somewhat. Kids were shrieking from the inside, shaky voices attempting to calm one another while trying to maintain some semblance of strength in a situation that they should never have been in.
He flinched slightly before recognising it as Barb, ghosts had drifted away from him getting there, positioning themselves around the junkyard, he had a feeling they had as little a plan as he, and his was virtually non-existent.
He gulped, wet his lips before he nodded at her. He was just a psychic, he couldn’t throw objects like his little sister could, their gifts were wildly different, at the end of the scale really. Hers being on the more helpful side of the scale.
“They look like what killed me.”
Steve bristled at that, his fingernails digging grooves into his palms. His eyes caught sight of the flicker of his allies from across the way. Whether that was him or not would have to be decided later, because those dog things that had killed Barb had noticed him at the edge of the woods.
They had stopped knocking into the bus and he could hear the confusion in those kids voices, the worry that they were still out there - they were and they shouldn’t move.
He kept his eyes locked on the freaky looking creatures, they had no eyes, he couldn’t maintain eye contact even if he had wanted to assert dominance that way.
They were stalking towards him, coming in from each angle, targeting him and claiming sight on their prey. His eyes slid over them to where the door of the bus had been levered open and three kids he didn’t know were watching him jaws slack and eyes wide.
“What do you think they’re scenting?”
Steve shook his head at Barb, eyes wide and hands held up in front of him, if this was how he was to die he didn’t think Hopper would appreciate it.
She was walking around them and he couldn’t help the worry gnawing at him, she was already dead what else could they do to her. He didn’t want to think about any beyond death powers of anything but him at that moment, that wouldn’t do him much good at all.
“Because they aren’t distracted by sound, because those kids were much louder and you haven’t been responding verbally to me at all.”
He stumbled backwards, shirt catching against a sharp piece of metal, it grazed his skin and he only hoped he wasn’t bleeding. He doubted that would much help this already dire situation.
“Power maybe I suppose. You’re practically radiating in it after that sleep of yours Sleeping Beauty.”
He shot a look at her then, now was not the time for jokes. He did not need the last thing someone to call him before he died be Sleeping Beauty. That would haunt him for the rest of his dead life.
His eyes caught the wild arms from behind the monster in front of him. Those kids had voyaged out of the bus, hiding behind closer and closer cars. He nodded his head stiffly, he really did not want to let them die over him, that too would not be a good day.
The hand signals made absolutely no sense to him, the boy with the curly hair was clearly a lot more into this GI Joe stuff than Steve had been. It wasn’t a minute before he was being shoved away as the red-headed girl pointed to the floor and then across to a car a mere hop away from where Steve was stood.
“The bat. They want you to know there’s a bat there.”
Barb had rematerialised beside it, her form flickering in and out of his sight, her expression strained and he realised she was claiming more and more of those with age comes abilities powers. He’d have to get the Priest to look at her after all of this. He worried he was affecting her, and she definitely didn’t need him doing anything more against her.
He sidestepped slowly, hands still out, and eyes up. He had to make sure he knew exactly where each one of those four freaks was.
His hand curled around the nail-less end of the bat, grip tight around the handle. Eyes still focused forwards.
He realised forlornly that these kids must have been the ones who helped Jane out when she escaped the first time. He owed them gratitude from her end, he knew how much she appreciated them last year, she talked about them all the time. The bat was as much an indicator, as their stubbornness not to run away when the freaks attention was turned away from them.
When the first one leapt at him, having had enough of teasing its dinner, he swung the bat with all the accuracy and muscle memory of his years in Baseball. Finally a reason to thank his father for making him get into sports to hide the freakish nature of who he really was.
It’s greyish-greenish slimy blood ricocheted up his clothing and he grimaced. His satisfaction of watching it hit the floor with a thud was short-lived as he was soon fighting off the other three, trying his hardest not to get clawed or caught up in one of its freaky flowery teethy faces. He was having a good day and now it had turned bad, like that things breath.
The kids were cheering him on then, and Barb was attempting to pinpoint weaknesses which wasn’t helping but he hadn’t the effort to tell her to stop.
He conked one straight on the head and watched as it stumbled around for a minute before loping off into the woods in which he had come from, the others watched it go before chittering to one another and racing off. The one he had walloped to begin with moved slower but still was quick in disappearing into the darkness of the trees.
His strength was momentarily sapped, breath escaping him in pained chunks as he sought to check he wasn’t injured in any way.
The bat fell from his hands as his fingers slipped through the gunk and grime on his clothing. He knew he’d feel it but he also knew adrenalin would hide his pain for a little while before he caught his breath again.
The kids were by his side in a minute, he couldn’t hide the chuckle he felt when one of them ran straight through Barb forcing her to rematerialise on his other side, annoyance etched on her face. They looked at him puzzled then but soon ignored it.
“How did you know we were here?”
“How did you scare them off?”
“Why are you here?”
He blew a breath out that tickled his nose and moved a strand of his hair out of his eyes. The kids were talking over one another, throwing out questions upon questions not even giving him enough chance to answer never mind recover from what had just happened.
“Whoah, one at a time okay? And I have some questions too, you know? Like what were those things, why are you here alone, can you give me a minute to get my breath back before you’re after me for answers.”
He bent over with his hands bracing on his knees, his head was spinning. Barb’s hand lingered on his shoulder, enough time to tell him they would be back, enough time for him to feel the pull they were experiencing from the spirit realm. More things were going down than what was happening here, that much he was aware of.
He exhaled slowly and stood again, he braced himself against the car and then waved his hand, they had permission to speak now. He’d answer as much as he could without outing himself.
The kid with the curly hair opened his mouth but his words were silenced by a shriek in the distance. Steve felt the tingle in the back of his neck and he straightened, angling himself in the direction he knew for certain it originated from.
This wasn’t over. He shouldn’t have thought he would have time to indulge these kids, his job wasn’t over yet.
This was just the beginning.
Steve was at a side of a hill in an instant, death rolled from it. He could feel it miles off, he could probably have felt it a whole state away it was that pungent.
His feet had moved without instruction again, striding deep into the depths of the woods, following the route where the freaks had run off to without even being aware that he was. The confusion of the kids and moans of distrust rolled over him without much prompting. He wasn’t even aware they were still with him.
The kids had trailed after him, tripping over their own feet as they fought to keep up with him, one of them had even collected the neglected bat. They had to be prepared, but all Steve could focus on was the sweat dripping from his brow and the shake of his hands.
This couldn’t be it, could it? The prophecy? He wasn’t ready.
He took several deep breaths before he could even think about addressing the kids again. Their eyes were wide and their fear present, he couldn’t let them put themselves in the danger that they so desperately wanted to see. He didn’t want to put himself in danger let alone allow them to.
“You’ve got to go home.”
His voice shook and it held no conviction. How could he convince them to go home if he couldn’t even convince them that he was going to be able to do this himself?
He wasn’t the warrior the Priest thought he was. He was just broken Steve Harrington, from a broken family and an even more broken life.
The curly-haired kid shook his head, “no way. We’re sticking together, and you don’t even know what you’re dealing with.”
“And you do?” Steve shook his head at him.
The other boy had his binoculars to his eyes, focusing the lenses exactly where Steve had been drawn to, the speck in the distance, the place he hated most in the world. The lab.
“Dustin, it’s the lab. They were going home.”
Steve felt sick, of course they came from the lab. Nothing good ever cam from that place, apart from them kids, they didn’t deserve what had happened to them, anything they did was at the fault of the lab not them. He would never think they were anything other than innocent, especially Jane, he loved that kid.
Steve clenched his fist as he stared at the place, none of this was going to go well especially if this was the prophecy.
“If they’ve gone home so should you, they shouldn’t be the only disciplined thing in this world.”
The red-headed girl stared annoyed at him, “who even is this?”
Dustin stared slack-jawed at her, but then he realised he’d been slowly disappearing off the radar over the year. There was no real reason for her to know who this was.
“It’s Steve Harrington. He was king of the high school until recently.”
Steve tried to ignore the pang in his chest, he hated that it would always be the descriptor for him, it sucked but it wasn’t untrue. He was the king of the high school until recently and he would forever be grateful to never own that title ever again.
She shook her head, it did not clear anything up and he didn’t suppose it would have.
He stared back at them the pull in his soul telling him he should have already been down there at the lab. It was urgent. But if he could dissuade these kids he would use the time to do it.
“So you know who I am but who are you.”
“I’m Dustin, that’s Lucas and Max.”
It still didn’t clear anything up but at least he knew them by their names now rather than defining features of them like their gender and hair colour. It would make it much easier now.
“Okay, Dustin, Lucas, Max, go home.”
“No way. If you go without us we’ll only follow you. It’s better if we just stay together, we’ve been involved in this so much longer. It matters more if we go.”
Steve rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, “Fine. But you give me that.”
He pulled the bat from Dustin’s fingers, the weight of the weapon was oddly calming, at least he was somewhat useful with it. He could help with this, especially if he couldn’t think of how to be useful as a psychic against freaky monsters.
He fielded questions on the route down to the lab every twist and turn they took.
How did you know we were there?
Heard you shrieking a mile off.
Why were you in the woods?
I was taking a walk.
Why aren’t you the king of the school anymore?
Didn’t care for it anymore. Needed to get my act together for college.
Why do you care so much about getting to the lab?
Heard about what happened there.
He halted their questions when he felt the exhaustion sapping at him, he didn’t need the lies, he didn’t need the cover story and he didn’t need three kids overly interested in what was happening.
It took them another hour in complete silence to reach the lab, his soul ached and his mind was sore. His fingers tingled and his eyes sought for ghosts in every shadow of a tree.
Dustin frowned as he heard something, voices.
Steve pushed them behind him, fingers clenched around the bat, his energy seeking out anything supernatural in presence, they were in the lab. that much he knew. Gladly whoever was at the gate was human.
Dustin shone his torch at the figures and Steve batted his hand at them, if they weren’t friendlies they were surely screwed. They did not need to be dealing with security guards out here this late at night.
“Hello? Who’s there?”
Steve recognised the voice for certain, but he also knew he wasn’t about to be on the receiving end of pleasantries if he announced himself like this. The kids seemed to brighten up some at the sound of his voice and that was something at least.
He rolled his eyes painfully before dropping his hold on the bat and slowing his marching strides. The kids seemed relieved at that in any case.
Dustin came to stand beside Steve, the other two loitering behind, their eyes drawn to the flickering of lights in the building across from them.
“What are you doing here?”
“We’re looking for Mike and Will.”
Steve felt his heart drop, little Will Byers trapped again. He could for sure use Jane right about now, at least they would trust her.
Dustin looked up at the looming lab, “they’re not in there are they?”
“We’re not sure.”
The shriek of those freaks echoed around them and Steve felt his heart skip a beat. Within a blink of his eyes, ghosts were appearing around him, each one of them ebbing in and out of sight, Barb was a reassuring sight at his side but he couldn’t speak to her. They would for sure fear for his sanity then.
She nodded at him grimly, “not the prophecy. But it’s bad Steve.”
He gulped eyes seeking out the building. He tapped her wrist and she grinned.
“Priest sent us to keep an eye out, he’s pulsing energy through so maybe we can distract the monsters enough for you all to get away. Even the ones inside, too many people are dying out of the order they are meant too. Whoever started this is messing with the rules and we’re trying to fix it, we’re trying to help you fix it.”
He squeezed her wrist just as she faded out of sight and he zoned back into the conversation once again. The consensus clear that they were to try and get into the lab, or even near the lab to get some indication as if to say whether Mike or Will were inside.
Whatever came of it he would be here to help, even if it was confusing to all of them that he was there.
“The power’s back.”
Nancy’s voice cut through them bringing back every worry that Steve was trying not to dwell on. He was here, they would just have to deal with the fact that he was there and if worse came to worst he would just hide with Hopper in the woods forever. No one had to discuss that he was a freak of nature ever again.
Jonathan scrambled over to the gate, it was automated and mechanical, and they needed to get through there. Not even Jonathan’s pile of shit car could have ploughed down those fences, they just needed more of the power on to even get it working.
Dustin pushed his way past him to try himself but Steve could only focus on the slowly falling presence within the lab ahead of him. Sweat pooled at his brow and his heart beat just a bit faster. He had to fight not to faint, they were ruining the order of the universe and it was taking a toll on him.
He was snapped out of his pain when the gate slid open, and everyone jumped to rally around Jonathan’s car.
If they were going to be of any use it was clear to Steve that he needed to keep the kids away. Jonathan and Nancy sped off down the drive as Steve fell to his knees. Air was sucked from his lungs as he was transported to the death. Tears flowed down his face as he felt every morsel of pain that man felt as he was torn apart by those freaks.
He watched through his eyes as Hopper scooped Joyce up with a free arm and dragged her screaming away from the man on the floor. The man was loved, and he’d sacrificed for those he loved, he deserved a peaceful death surrounded by those he loved and Steve knew for certain he was going to make sure this man never suffered again in the spirit realm. He felt assured that the Priest would know that, the Priest always knew that.
He could feel the kids around him, shouting out at him, pleading to know what was happening. What was going on with him? Why he screamed like it was him being torn apart.
He could feel familiar hands pulling him into a familiar truck, familiar words soothing his very soul as he writhed and cried in the back seat and people sought answers from someone who wouldn’t willingly give them.
Things weren’t going well and Steve was suffering through it. The man wasn’t yet dead, his suffering prolonged and never-ending and Steve wanted to die just as much as he did, ghostly hands leading him into the abyss, a safer place for him to go filled with memories that Steve didn’t think he deserved to bask in. He should have stopped them before it had gotten this far. He shouldn’t have stood at the top of that hill arguing, he knew something bad was going to happen and he should have stopped it.
This was a good man dead. That was always unfair.
Steve woke with a start curled in on himself on someone’s bed. His hands shook and he felt dried snot beneath his nose. He remembered exactly what happened, his mind piecing every bit of information together in his brief unconscious episode. He had too many to count now and it was getting more exhausting than his powers were. That was another thing he had yet to get a handle on but was deathly needed.
He threw his legs over the side of the bed stood up and swayed, the hand on his lower back guided him to the door. The energy ebbing from the Priest into him straightened him up some and he appreciated it. He was needed for this, that much he was sure of, they were not allowed to do this without him.
He opened the door and eyes strayed over to him, worry evident but Hopper was at his side in seconds, hands checking for wounds and eyes praying he was okay.
“You should still be asleep.”
“Sorry Hop. Woke to an empty cabin, left a note but I suppose you wouldn’t have been back to see it. Had the feeling I needed to be here.”
“Empty huh?” He scratched at his beard, worry evident in his eyes but they had bigger things to worry about in this house right now, “You felt it?”
Hopper winced, he didn’t know everything about what Steve was but the barebones he did know told him that it wasn’t good and his episode wouldn’t be the last at this rate.
“Do you know if any are alive in there?”
He shook his head and shrugged, “I only felt the one, because he was so loved. And the sacrifice was so strong we all felt it. I’ll find out soon though.”
Steve smiled weakly, there was little else to say. They were already speaking hushed, they didn’t really need this sort of attention to all this right now, it was enough that Will Byers was trapped in another space never mind that Steve could see ghosts. They would get to that fact eventually of course, but he was not the main issue at that moment.
Hopper squeezed his shoulder one last time before moving across to where Joyce was lingering over her sons.
Steve leant against the wall he was propped up against and prepared for whatever was going to come next.
His eyes traced movement between worlds until he could see the man he had experienced die appear among them. He caught the man by the arm and walked him to a more empty part of the house, even so, he kept his voice low.
“Sir, you are dead.”
The man nodded slowly, gulping almost in shock, “I think I know.”
Steve smiled and squeezed the mans fingers, “can you tell me your name?”
“Bob Newby. You can see me?”
“Yes, Bob, I see the dead. I, uh, I felt you die.”
Bob’s wet eyes met Steve’s for the first time, both of them relieving white-hot pain until Steve managed to wrench his thought away from it.
“It’ll take you some time to get that locked down. Because the death is fresh and you lived it for so long it will be a lot stronger. But I can help you here and people in the other realm can help you too. I’d do it now but there’s too much happening here I cannot miss.”
Bob nodded, fresh tears rolling down his face, “I understand. At least I think I do.”
“That’s good. Look I can get one of my friends from the other realm here to introduce you to everything, or we can stay here for a bit.”
“I think I’ll stay, is that okay.”
“Of course. Come on we’ll go back in.”
Steve hovered behind him, aware of the shock and pain of everything that he might have been feeling, but he knew that everything that they were going through, the grief of losing him would be enough for Bob to know that they cared that his life had been for something good.
“We can’t let him die in vain.”
Mike seemed so adamant and Steve was all in for any plan that avenged this amazing man who so easily accepted death and so easily sacrificed himself for the woman he loved and her kids. He was one special man who would not easily be replaced, or ever replaced. That one was up for debate.
Bob sobbed quietly as he listened to their kind words, this is of course what he had needed and even as Barb appeared beside him and nodded to the saddened man they both knew that Bob wouldn’t be quickly forgotten. Not here, and not with them. Steve was glad of that, it was exactly deserved, no one dead deserved to be forgotten especially not when they were like Bob Newby.
Tension prickled at Steve’s soul, something seemed right about that and he was suddenly engaged. This was no longer all about avenging Bob’s death, it was the prophecy too, he knew it was.
“What do you mean?”
“His army. Maybe if we can stop him we can stop his army too.”
Everyone but Mike looked confused and Steve was relieved that maybe he wasn’t just being stupid for once.
When Mike picked up the drawing the prickle in the back of his neck lit back up, his hand rubbed at it subconsciously but he knew this was exactly why he was here. Maybe not this specifically but this added to it.
Slowly as he listened to the kids discuss the timeline of events each of his episodes began to line up, he was connected to Will, he must have been, assumably from last year with Jane, he only hoped it didn’t mean that she too was connected. He’d hurt himself if he’d done this to her, or even to them.
To think his destiny had brought this on little Will Byers brought a red hot poker to his gut. He would find away to never let himself hurt anyone ever again if that was the case. If that meant killing his bloodline here then that is what he would do. Of that he was adamant.
“Like the Mindflayer!”
And that was where Steve was lost once more.
Steve felt himself trying to believe that the Mindflayer existed all the while trying to suppress his grin at the way Hopper was trying to argue that none of it was real while holding in the knowledge that Steve was a psychic and his daughter was a telekinetic. But some things just had to be untrue, that much was fact.
As much a fact that some things could be true. Like the Mindflayer.
Hopper grabbed the manual off of Dustin and squinted at the text, “so how do you kill this thing, fireballs?”
Dustin laughed then sobered at the glare Hopper fixed at him, “no, no fireballs, you summon an undead army because zombies, you know they, they, they don’t have brains, and, and, and the Mindflayer likes brains. It’s just a game.”
Hopper slammed the manual down on the table, not before his eyes met Steve’s they were both thinking the same but Steve was pretty sure he couldn’t summon zombies even if he could summon ghosts.
He could make them tangible to the earth maybe, but they didn’t know if the shadow monster would even go for that, never mind that they didn’t even know where it was or how to get it out of Will, or any of the more important stuff than the fact that some things in a game could well be true.
This was not the answer, not yet anyway.
“How on earth are we going to do this?” Hopper groaned as much to himself as to the rest of them. The clear answer would have been Jane but she was awol at the minute and no one knew when she would be coming back.
“Well not with your military backup. We don’t even know if guns would work.”
“Exactly! They might, and that’s why we will wait for them!”
Hopper was clearly hoping his size and gruff nature would stop Mike being such a little bitch, but Steve assumed it would take a lot more than that because it seemed a permanent personality trait for him at this point.
“Yes, but we know the monsters have already killed everyone in that lab.”
Steve shuddered, eyes drawn over to where Barb was soothing a still sobbing Bob. He knew it would take a while for the man to really accept the fact that these people would never know he was in the room with them ever again.
“And we know those monsters will malt again!”
“And we know its only a matter of time before those tunnels reach this town!”
Steve hadn’t even thought about the tunnels, he knew they existed because they were completely painted across this entire house but he’d given little thought to them until now.
He could search for the origin of the shadow monster by connecting into the other realm through Barb again, but he didn’t know how he could convince them he could do that. And it would take time and energy, both things he didn’t know if they had enough of. Plus he couldn’t convince them of his psychic abilities in ten minutes, he needed a couple of months and maybe another week of sleep. He regretted not being the town freak show now, it could have been much easier.
Steve startled at Joyce’s voice, his attention quick to turn to her, she’d suffered too much in too little of a time frame and he would feel eternally apologetic for that.
“We have to kill it. I want to kill it.”
Hopper had approached her then and Steve knew how much he cared about her. He remembered how much he cared about her when he had taken her worried words into account and gone to see whether Steve was okay. She cared too much and Steve knew that only dragged her down.
“Me too. Me too, Joyce, but how do we do that. We don’t exactly know what we are dealing with here.”
They had to be rational with it because everyone wanted little Will Byers to get through this smoothly. They had gone through too much last year to get him trapped in it now.
“No, but he does. If anyone knows how to destroy this thing, it’s Will, it’s connected to him. He’ll know it’s weaknesses.”
“I thought we couldn’t trust him anymore? That he’s a spy for the Mindflayer.”
“Yeah but, he can’t spy if he doesn’t know where he is.”
The shed had been easy to disguise, working together it was easy to cover the wood with tarps and bits of material to hide its shape. Their own little hole to hide him in, somewhere Will wouldn’t recognise with nothing that could spark an idea and send scary demo-dogs across to where they were hiding. They didn’t need that.
Hopper caught Steve alone for a moment, he wanted to know if he was okay.
“Can you get inside his head when we do this? I know it isn’t your usual plan but anything will help. If we can get to Will-”
Steve nodded, “anything I can do I will. But not in there, I’ll bleed, there will be questions.”
Hopper nodded, face stern, eyes worried.
He wrapped a discarded sheet around his shoulders and grabbed the table he’d thrown onto the pile of objects they hadn’t wanted in the shed.
“Is here okay?”
“Closer the better. I’ll just set up in the shade behind the tent, we’ll get him back Hopper.”
“Yeah kid, I hope so.”
Steve steeled his gaze. He couldn’t let Will Byers suffer confined in his own subconsciousness, he deserved better than that. Everyone deserved better than what they were forced to suffer through, Will Byers more than anyone.
He braced the table against the back of the shed, he was sure no one would notice if he didn’t return to the house, they were focused on Will. They would probably be happier if he disappeared, the ache in his chest ate at him but he would have to find his place in this later. Right now, he had a job to do.
The sheet was helpful to keep him away from the damp of the cold night but he hopefully wouldn’t be out there longer than he had to be. This was to help them get to Will, the isolation room would help but if he could too, maybe this would only speed this along.
He summoned Barb and smiled as she settled on the table across from him, her knees bumped into his and her hands found purchase in his. They had done this before and that much he was glad of. He would have hated to put her through this for the first time in this situation, not like finding him that first time had been any better.
He listened as the door was closed, and then locked. Jonathan had brought his brother across to the shed.
This was the moment they would find out if he could be found again.
Steve took a large breath of air before he sunk into the other realm with Barb as his only tether to the real world, this would either end good or bad. Only time would tell.
Steve walked beside Barb through those tunnels. His memory of the route hazy but he knew it was slowly updating as more and more ghosts fought to keep their connection to the house strong. He appreciated it. Gladly.
He could feel the pull and strength of the origin of the shadow monster as the kids were calling it. If he could find where it had tethered itself to the real world maybe he could find what little was left of Will Byers that wasn’t taken over by it. He had to believe he wasn’t completely gone, that kid was a fighter he was sure of it.
Barb was a calming presence at his side, their fingers locked together to keep them connected as the walk continued, they couldn’t risk losing one another like last time. This was uncharted territory and they would need one another if this crazy plan was intended to work.
The physicality of their surroundings shifted and moved like the living thing it was, they were delving further and further into a reality swamped by a pulsating evil undertone. It sucked at every good intention Steve permeated walking through there, he was fighting not to let the pain of it all reach him.
There was a chill to the surroundings and Steve couldn’t ignore the shivers that wracked through his body again and again. He tightened his grasp on Barb’s hand and quickened their pace, he didn’t want to spend any more time in here than he had to and for all he knew, Will didn’t have time for their dawdling pace. They were here to drag him out of the unknown pits of his subconscious, not to test him as to his strength of character.
Everything got brighter as he assumed they were reaching the centre of this hell dimension. It worried him more than a little as he suddenly felt all the apprehension he had been ignoring for their entire walk. He worried for Will’s mindset in this place, overtaking him and using him to its own desires. This wasn’t what a little boy should have to deal with, he was more than happy to help get him away from this.
He allowed the braver parts of Barb to tug him forwards into the cavernous space where the tunnels of all tunnels converged. At this point, he was shivering like he was in the coldest part possible but he didn’t let his tremors shake his hand from Barb’s this was something he needed his connection to all worlds to accomplish.
His eyes sought out the wisps of an unintelligible being, it shifted around the room and flattened out and away from them. It knew he was here, he wanted a surprise attack but it knew he was here. There was no way he was getting out of it now.
Barb gave him a sharp nod. She was in this as far as he would be, there was no getting rid of her now.
He inched forwards, his eyes following the wisps as they avoided him at all cost, something might happen if he touched it but he wasn’t about to risk getting expelled from here when he was so close to getting contact with Will.
He didn’t know how long he had been in this hole, he didn’t even know how long he’d manage to stay down here before someone found him propped up outside the shed like this. But for now he had one job and he wasn’t interested in anything else.
Barb tapped him on the shoulder, relentless in her efforts until he tore his eyes away from making sure the wisps were always in his sightline to find the small limp boy lay crumpled in the middle of the cavern to the left of them. His eyes grew wide and he tripped over his feet to reach him.
His chin crashed into the floor and blood pooled on his shirt. He didn’t even know if this was happening to him physically or just spiritually but Will was within touching distance now. He didn’t care.
Barb hauled him up and they tripped across to the boy together. He fell down at the boy's side, his free hand seeking out the fevered and slick with sweat skin of the shallow-breathed boy.
He tore his hand out of Barb’s and swapped it to one of Will’s he wanted her tethered here but he wanted to be able to access Will properly. He couldn’t do that with just one hand.
He shook the boy's small form softly, he could feel the wisps getting closer, he could feel them ignoring their want to stay away from him. This was their prerogative, to protect the host body.
“Come on, come on, Will.”
His begging was needed, it was frightful and it was worried. He was anxious that he had turned up too late, that there was nothing left of the smart and brave boy who had already been through so much. The shallow breaths had brought him some hope that hadn’t otherwise been there but he wasn’t connecting the way anyone else might have been able to.
He wiped a trembling hand over the boy’s forehead, he was the only warm thing in miles and it seemed as if the heat was killing him. A disease he couldn’t fight, a bacteria he couldn’t flush, this infestation was killing him from the inside out. He couldn’t let it, Steve had to be the white blood cells to fight the virus. He had to help.
He flashed worried eyes to Barb who shrugged her shoulders, they were only one part of the equation, those in the physical world still had to wake him up. They had just thought maybe they’d be able to speed the whole process up, maybe not.
Steve wrestled his jacket off of himself and let the boy curl up in it as it was draped over him. As much as his fever meant that he was the hottest thing here Steve could still bet on the inside he felt much colder. It didn’t matter if Steve succumbed to hypothermia here, he could still be pulled out, Will was the one they were focused on right now.
Something seemed to change then, something about the boy was reacting. Whether it was the extra comfort of knowing something had changed here or his family were finally reaching him in that little shed.
Steve kept his hands flitting over him, he had to know he wasn’t alone here, that people were still fighting for him. That he had to keep fighting it because they would find a way to get to him.
When Will’s eyes fluttered Steve let out a sigh of relief as his head tipped down over him and his hands settled on the boy's cheeks.
“Thank God, you really scared us there for a minute, kid.”
Will struggled to keep his eyes open for a second, his mouth moving but no words coming out. His brain was catching up as the monster fought to keep him docile. This was not in its plans to keep him under, they underestimated the fight that humans had for one another. That was its first mistake.
Its second was not realising that there was a psychic with a deep connection to the spiritual world standing between it and whatever world domination it held as its top goal.
“You were here last time.”
Will’s words were weak but Steve knew what he meant. Tears rolled down his face as he ignored the instinct to keep his emotions in check, he couldn’t help it, the kid was alive.
“We both were, kid.”
The boy's eyes drifted across to the hand Barb was gripping with all the intensity she could muster, to make sure she was definitely tethered to this moment.
She nodded with a wet smile.
“Am I dead?”
Steve shook his head vehemently, “not if we can help it. You can hear them right? Your family fighting for you in the other world?”
Will nodded slowly, still mostly curled up in Steve’s jacket. His eyes were much clearer but he looked a whole lot more scared.
“They’re trying to get through to me.”
“That’s good because that’s what we’re here for. To help you connect back with them.”
“It can’t know I’m still here.”
“It does, no matter what happens now Will, it does. As soon as I arrived here it knew my intentions, whatever you can do to help them find a way to save you, you have to.”
“They have to destroy the gate. It’s the only way.”
“Not an option kid, not until we’ve got it out of you.”
“I just want it over. Can’t it just be over?”
Steve curled his arms around the boy and tugged him closer, he needed all the support Steve could muster in this instance.
“You can’t give up yet. Come on Will, if I can get to you here, and your family can get to you out there, we can save you from this.”
The boy shook his head as they cried together, Steve for Will and Will with every scared instinct battling for him to just give in.
They stayed rocking together until Will stiffened up considerably and Steve finally opened his eyes, “it knows where they are.”
“What do you mean?”
“I realised where we were when the phone rang, it was my house phone. But I know so it knows. It knows. It knows. They’re all in danger.”
Steve’s eyes widened at Barb, she too worried about the people in that house. The body of Will Byers possessed by unadulterated evil, and all the people who loved him. Steve was too far away comforting the stressed out Byers to do little else but hold him a bit tighter.
“Did you let them know you were still here?”
“I told them to close the gate. They have to.”
“It’s their only option.”
Steve shook his head, he didn’t spend the past year checking up on the littlest Byers only for the boy to give up now. He had been through too much to just give up now.
“I don’t believe that. I don’t want to believe that.”
“You’ll have to.”
Will shook himself out of Steve’s grasp and he watched in that moment as Barb flashed away and the wonder in Will’s eyes returned. He wasn’t just a little boy that had given up, he just didn’t want anyone who cared about him to get dead too. Steve could understand that instinct, he’d lived too long around the dead to not understand that.
He crouched in front of the boy and pulled his hands into his, “you remembered who I am. That I found you when you were in the upside down last year. I didn’t spend an entire year making sure you were okay to have you give up now. I see dead people and I will despair if you are one of them. Listen to me, you don’t give up. We will see one another again, and you will not be dead.”
Will smiled for the first time, it was sad and defeated, but it was more than Steve had seen of him here this time.
“Thank you for looking out for me.”
Steve squeezed his hand one last time before he felt his physical body pull him away. He had a lot to think about from a cynical and sad little boy but he would not let what he’d said be lies. He feared he would go crazy a whole lot sooner if little Will Byers became a ghost. He’d willingly let himself tumble into that category if he let himself disappoint an already defeated little boy.
He would not let it be so.
Steve woke to find Barb gripping moon-shaped marks into the sides of his arms. He winced when he saw the blood pooling around her nails but she only let go when she saw he’d finally come back.
“Is he okay?”
“I told him not to give up. He’s pretty resigned to death.”
Her face fell, “he sent me away, I felt the push.”
He shook his head, “it was a miracle you managed to stay tethered for so long. I’d hoped for it but I hadn’t really expected it. Is the danger imminent here?”
Her expression changed to one he feared and he stumbled off of the table and was glad for the weight of her arms as he realised for the first time how drained he really felt. He would have to work on that more intensely after all this. He hated not being fully able to come back from it all straight away. She motioned at his nose as she helped to walk him quickly back across to the Byers house.
He rubbed beneath it and grimaced at the blood, a lot of it was dry and sticky but there was a percentage of it that was new and he painfully wiped it off on his shirt, he didn’t care what kind of mess he looked like. This wasn’t anything new for him and he was already feeling the effect of being out in the cold of the night for as long as he was.
He slammed through the backdoor and was immediately faced with the ends of several menacing weapons. He shuddered to a stop, back holding the door shut and eyes threatening to close.
Barb was still holding up for the most part but no one else knew that but him. The shocked expressions on their faces told him that everyone had guessed he’d just gone home. None of them had thought to look for him but he hadn’t expected that they would do.
Hopper gravitated towards him and shouldered him over to a chair, the questioning in his eyes told him everything he wanted to know, but his exhaustion spoke more words than he wanted of it. His head dropped to the table long before he had a chance to stop it.
Dustin was at his side, the young boy curious and confused. The best combination as far as Steve was concerned. He wasn’t yet passed out but he was close.
There was a thud outside the house and everyone’s attention was drawn to that. Imminent danger was upon them - demodogs.
Hopper pointed at Dustin, “keep him awake, under no circumstances do you let him sleep!”
Dustin nodded confused but aware he shouldn’t at all disobey the Chief. Not now.
Steve felt the fingers in his hair and the whispers of the boy as he fought to keep him awake. The task would be a hard one that he was sure of.
They manoeuvred him upright so Steve could try and fight to keep his eyes open. There was something about this imminent danger they were faced with that brought out his awake side. Or more awake side at the least.
He smiled in thanks to Dustin but it came as more of a grimace and the blood dripping down his face didn’t help at all. No one cared though when a dead demodog was thrust through the front window sending everyone sprawling and yelling.
Silence was a cautious mans worst enemy and he surely did hate it. Hopper was stiffening like a frightened cat before the door opened by itself and Steve knew exactly who it was. He relaxed some and Dustin’s tightening grip told him that he thought he was falling asleep again. Not because he knew they were free of imminent danger.
When she finally appeared he suddenly didn’t worry about being a bad big brother. She looked badass and he couldn’t help but appreciate it, the slicked-back hair and the edgy black makeup, she was exactly what he pictured superhero Jane as.
His lips ticked up into a strained smile as he observed her through the gaps in the people that stood between them. It wasn’t their fault that they hid him by accident, they didn’t know the connection the two shared, and Hopper was too preoccupied that one more of his kids hadn’t died out there on their own. That their dysfunctional little family unit wasn’t as broken as they would have liked to make it seem as.
Steve watched through heavy-lidded eyes as she greeted Mike with as much relief as he seemed to have acknowledging that she was alive after all of this time. He was glad that she no longer had to hide away from Mike, he knew how much she missed the boy, after all, he had been the first one to welcome her after all that had gone down in the lab. He was special, and as much as he annoyed Steve in his tiny pre-pubescent ways he knew that Jane really did cherish him.
They hugged one another like the world was ending, and really it could have been. They all did want to save Will despite his insistence that they just close the gate instead of saving him. This was just one moment where they had put that entire thing on pause and it killed Steve just a minute.
Steve registered the acceptance that the ginger girl Max had to Jane being who she was in their little party. The mage, the one with the powers, and the most important in Mike’s eyes.
“I never gave up on you. I called you every night, every night for-”
“Three Hundred and fifty-three days. I heard.”
Steve flinched at that, there was no universe where that didn’t go down well. That she knew that he was calling her but never reached out to contact him back, yeah that wasn’t the equation for a happy relationship in anyone's book.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were there, that you were okay?”
“Because I wouldn’t let her.”
Steve struggled to keep his eyes open when Hopper spoke, all of this was bound to end in disaster and all he wanted to do was sleep. He really was useless for stuff like this.
“The hell is this where’ve you been?”
“Where’ve you been?”
Steve managed to pry his eyes open keeping his head upon his hand, he watched his family embrace. They needed that, and he needed to sleep.
“You’ve been hiding her!” Yeah Steve would much rather sleep through the teenage angst that Mike Wheeler was outputting. He’d recharge a bit while this happened, just a small doze that’s all.
He jolted awake to a hand in his hair and a cloth beneath his nose. He flinched and he tried to fight them off but he was weak and the small sleep had done nothing to alleviate that.
Her voice was small and he relaxed a minute. His actions slow and sluggish, he didn’t want to be a bother, but Joyce Byers was mopping at his face with a tea towel and Jane was smiling up at him from where she was crouched next to his chair.
“Missed you, kid.”
He shook his head, coughed then grimaced, he needed a doctor. That much was seen by the blood on his teeth and in his mouth. He wasn’t well and he just wanted to sleep. He feared sleep was the last thing he needed.
“What’s going on?”
“Gonna burn the monster out of Will then I will close the gate.”
He blinked at her, his mind achingly slow to register her words but it made sense. Of course, it made sense, she was the one to do it last time she could surely do it this time.
“I stay here?”
“Yes. Sleep, rest. Will come back for you.”
He didn’t have much else to say to it as his eyes began to drift shut and he lowered his head back onto his hand. He needed a doctor that much was clear but maybe he’d just sleep a while first. He could do that.
He woke up the next time to a pudding headache that translated to someone knocking on the door and four kids hiding suspiciously on a couch below the window that was doing little to hide them from whoever was outside.
He felt groggy and weak but less likely to fall straight back asleep than he had the last few times. He wrestled his way off of the chair and nearly fell only to find Barb at his arm guiding him to the door.
Ghosts had become increasingly corporeal to him as time had gone on and he felt as if Barb could have really been with him if of course, he didn’t know for certain that she was full-on dead and that this was definitely her ghost stood with him. He was mumbling under his breath, every thought unfiltered from his brain to his vocal cords, no stopping it now. It was making Barb laugh but the kids were already looking at him like he was insane. Mostly because he was approaching the front door to greet the angry bloke at the door.
He opened it slowly and leant on the wood to keep him upright. His eyes sought the figure he remembered beating him senseless in the hall, that wasn’t a good sign for definite, but he also hadn’t been back in school since so maybe whoever this was wouldn’t recognise him.
“Steve Harrington, what is the King doing in a rundown place like this? By the looks of things I’d say drugs.”
Steve rolled his eyes until he realised the motion hurt just as much as the light over the porch did so he stopped.
“None of your business. Can I help you with something?”
“My sister Max is here, I’m told. She’s coming home with me.”
“Okay, I don’t know who your sister is but the Chief of Police told everyone here to stay here.”
“Did you get my little sister in trouble, dickwad?”
Steve shrugged, “Not that I know of. But how do you know your sister is here, I just said I don’t know who she is.”
“Well, I can see her in the window!”
Steve leaned back in the doorway to see the ginger girl looking resolutely guilty that they had been spotted in their already shit hiding spot. Steve wasn’t surprised that they had been spotted, they clearly could have picked a better place to hide.
The brother took his opportunity when Steve was leaning back to punch him in the gut. Steve woke up a considerable amount then. Hands grappling to stop him attacking, every fearful emotion he’d ever felt getting beaten on by his dad heightened because this violent boy seemingly had no interest in getting his sister safely so that meant he wouldn’t have anything against hurting some little kids. Steve wasn’t interested in that, Hopper would want him to protect them even if he was suffering weakness and exhaustion.
He liked having a job and a purpose, protecting these kids was as good as any.
Some of his punches landed but the boy hit him far more than Steve hit back. The pain was like an old friend, and the reopened wounds stung far heavier the first time than they did now. This boy was not going to get the pleasure of injuring an already broken person than he would get beating on someone healthy. It only made him worse that he took the advantage that Steve was weak to get the upper hand.
Steve swore as his knuckles bled and tore and his nose broke that final time, blood dripping into his mouth a common thing now.
He was tired of being hurt and injured he would swear that this would be the last time but he highly doubted he would be correct.
He smashed a plate over his head and felt relief when he fell away from him. Adrenaline rushed in his ears and he could feel his head pulsating with his heartbeat. This was almost all too much for him, he couldn’t do this, he really couldn’t.
He didn’t have to do much else though as the sister finally knocked him out with a nice sedative leftover from possessed Will’s brief stay in the house.
Steve flopped against the countertop and sighed. His nodding thanks enough as he took in deep breaths and tried to calm his panic.
“You were like rabid, man? You okay?”
Dustin stared up at the bruised and broken Steve Harrington with worry in his eyes and hands that looked like he was itching to help in some way shape or form. Steve wouldn’t know how to offer him something to do to help, mostly he just wished he knew how to energise himself without having to sleep for the next three days.
“Exhausted but okay.”
Dustin nodded warily before returning to his whispering friends. Steve knew that didn’t amount to anything good but he really did not have the energy in him to refuse. He just really wanted to sleep again, he was good for nothing but sleeping and he hated himself for it.