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The Secrets We Keep May Take Us To The Grave

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Six years ago, the insanely rich and reclusive Harington family moved into the small town of Hawkins, shocking all residents inside who had probably never seen anyone with nearly that amount of money in their entire lives.

Many neighbors tried to leave gifts as a homecoming present, per Hawkins tradition. But no one ever answered the door, and the next morning their gifts would be back on their front porch, as if the never gave it to them at all.

For two years, no one ever saw anyone who lived inside that house. Grocery orders would be sent in weekly, set outside the door and paid generously for there to be absolutely no human contact at all. They never went out for dinner, never went out to any of the bars, never showed their faces around town.

They were the Hawkins mystery. No one knew why a couple of billionaires decided to move to their small town and stay cooped up in that large mansion without letting anyone see them. Theories were tossed around like candy, some by adults, some by children.

The Harrington’s were secretly part of the mafia. They were vampires. They were all seriously ill and sent to Hawkins in case of contamination. The rumors were endless, ranging between slightly realistic, to completely out of the range of reality.

Two years after they moved in, Steve Harrington was enrolled in Hawkins High.

The town was above when the news was leaked, and every high schooler’s parents waited with bated breath for the first day of school to see just what secret the Harington’s were hiding. They expected someone hideously deformed, someone who was mute, who could function in normal society.

What they did not expect was for Steve Harington to walk into that school with his head held high and own it within a day.

Within months people forgot about the mystery of the Harrington’s, instead replaced with the rumors and gossip surrounding King Steve, the man who had the entirety of Hawkins High under his belt. He flirted through half the school’s population until everyone either loved him or hated him. He charmed the socks off the teachers in order to get better marks despite not knowing anything, and soon he was one of the most popular kids in the entire town, even as a first-year.

He threw parties, and even people who hated his guts came to see his house. But there were no secrets to find, Steve Harington was as normal as normal could be. People landed on the assumption that his parents sent him to the middle of nowhere as a punishment for partying too hard, or spending too much money. But they grew bored after a while, and other than a bit of bitching and moaning, they left Steve alone.

Which was exactly what he wanted. He didn’t want more people snooping around his house, trying to get in, asking him about every detail of his life. He liked it when everyone saw him as a dumb popular jock and left him alone.

But then, before he could even fully realize what was happening, he was standing in a cabin getting the shit beat out of him by Billy Hargrove while trying to protect four little shits people called kids.

Driving with a concussion probably wasn’t the best idea, but they needed to get somewhere fast and Steve was really hoping that adrenalin would carry him through this one. Of course, there was a better way to get rid of the pain, a way to clear his head, but he refused to. He grit his teeth and pushed that thought out of his mind, making sure he was firmly here in the present.

Fighting those stupid Demo-dogs was a blur in his mind, and the next thing he knew they were at the Byers house, the kids all sitting around and waiting for the whole group to meet up with them.

In all honesty, he felt like crap. Defiantly not the worst he had ever felt, not by a long shot, but it was still pretty bad. The kids were attempting to clean up now, bar Mike who was pacing like a caged animal. But Steve couldn’t bring himself to focus on it too long.

His head was swimming and he felt the adrenalin start to fade away slowly but surely, bringing his attention to multiple cuts and bruises that ached and begged to be taken away, and Steve resisted the urge.

He heard the door slam open, and as he watched Mrs. Byers and the rest of the gang walk in, he finally gave up on the fight to stay awake and let himself slip deeper and deeper ingot the void until all he knew was darkness.

_________________________

He woke up in the hospital and he started to freak out.

There was really no other way to put it.

He woke up to white walls and the steady beeping of a heart monitor and for a hot second he wasn’t in the hospital anymore, and he was bolting up, his eyes wide as multiple people in the room rushed towards him.

It didn’t take him long to calm down again, blinking as he recognized the face around him. He was safe, he was fine. Immediately everyone started talking at once, four kids and an adult, all telling him how the gate was closed, how Will and El were safe again. He collapsed backwards as Hopper demanded they all give him some space, and a doctor rushed into the room.

“Welcome back to the land of the living Mr. Harrington.” The doctor sighed. “You gave us all a scare.”

“You were out for five days.” Dustin filled in, firmly at his side, a hand clutched in Steve’s own. “You really scared us.” He admitted quietly.

“I’m fine buddy.” Steve said with a smile, reaching up to ruffle his hair, which Dustin smacked right away.

“You’ll most likely be kept under observation for another three days, if there are no alarming conditions we will be free to let you go.” The doctor continued with an easy smile.

But Steve’s blood froze and his breath caught. He didn’t want to be here, his mind already running to the thousands of problems that it might cause.

“Actually, can I talk to you alone quickly please?” Steve asked, shooting the doctor a bright smile. Everyone in the room immediately protested, none of the kids wanted to leave at all but Hopper was able to get them out after a few minutes, casting Steve his own concerned look before the door closed behind him.

“What is it you would like to discuss?” The doctor asked, sitting on the seat next to him, and Steve couldn’t hate the guy. He seemed like he only wanted to help. But Steve’s experience with doctors included needles and shock therapy and pain.

“I want to be signed out please,” Steve said, raising his chin in defiance in case the man refused. “I don’t want to stay here.”

“Mr. Harrington,” The doctor sighed, his smile slipping away. “I strongly advise against that.”

“Please sir,” Steve said, literal seconds away from begging. His head was pounding and he felt vaguely nauseous but determined. He hated hospitals with a passion, and if he was already here for five days? Then it was a risk, and three more days would be suicide. “I want to leave.”

“Fine,” The doctor sighed, shaking his head. “Your parents need to come down here and sign a form though.”

“I’m emancipated.” He grinned. “I can sign it myself.”

The doctor looked like he wanted to protest, but simply shook his head and left the room. Steve relaxed back against the pillows trying to steady his beating heart and trying to calm his thoughts. A light knock on the door broke him out of his thoughts.

“Yeah?” He called, watching as Hopper walked back into the room, shutting it again quickly.

“Alright kid,” He said. “We have around five minutes before they notice I’m gone and storm in here again.”

“They grow on you huh.” Steve said, smiling softly. Admittedly, he never thought he would grow as attached to the kids as he did. But well, things happen.

“Those little jerks do,” He chuckled. “Thanks by he way, for looking after them. You didn’t need to do that.”

But I did, he thought. Instead, he just smiled, and nodded, playing the part of the dumb jock who got caught up in all this shit.

“The doctor just talked to me,” Hopper said, crossing his arms and fixing Steve with a stern look. All previous humor had disappeared. “And he said the weirdest thing.”

“Doctors are odd.” Steve said with an innocent smile, already knowing there was no way out of here.

“Why are you signing out AMA kid?” Hopper asked, sighing as he sat down.

Steve’s smile faltered as he looked away, playing with the white sheets. Everything was so white here, he hated it.

“I don’t like hospitals.” He confessed softly.

“So you're signing out after being in a five-day-long coma.” Hopper said, not sounding impressed.

“I’ll be fine.” Steve waved a hand.

“Are your parents’ home?”

“Not exactly.” Steve winced; his parents were most defiantly not home. His parents didn’t even know he was here.

“Kid, that’s beyond dangerous,” Hopper said, frowning even larger and crossing his arms. “I can’t let you do this.”

“Well,” Steve said, frustration welling up. “You have no choice; it is my decision as an adult to decide that I wat to sign out.”

Hopper said nothing, only glaring at him.

“Stay with me then, so I can keep an eye on you.” He offered, and Steve relaxed slightly. He wasn’t sure why Hopper was being so nice to him all the sudden, but he was being nice, and Steve liked that.

“I can’t sir, thanks for the offer though.” He replied, once again avoiding the chief’s eyes.

“Check up with me then, every few days. Or Joyce even, just to let us know you're still alive?” Hopper demanded. “Maybe I can bring El around at some point, since no one is there to see her.”

“Is she under house arrest or something?” Steve asked with a chuckle. He wasn’t sure exactly what El’s deal was, but he got it on a level that was way too personal for comfort.

“Doctor Owens suggested to keep her out of the public eye for now.” Hopper shrugged, and Steve tried not to let the pang the name gave him show.

“Doctor Owens.” He stated, but Hopper took it as a question.

“He took over the lab after Brenner died.” Hopper said easily.

Brenner’s dead? That didn’t sound right, but who was Steve to look a gift horse in the mouth?

Hopper frowned, looking at him.

“Actually, he wanted to talk to you when you woke up. God knows what for.” He said casually. “I’ll give you his number.”

Hopper scribbled out the numbers on a napkin and handed it to Steve right as the door opened and the doctor walked in.

“Are you a hundred percent sure about this Mr. Harrington?” He asked with a sigh, but Steve was already grabbing the paper.

“A hundred and ten.” He replied, quickly singing the papers and handing them over. “Thanks for looking after me doc.”

The doctor only hummed, shaking his head and leaving the room.

“Thanks Hop,” Steve said with a smile. “I’ll see you around okay?” He said, shooing the man from the room so he could get dressed.

He left ten minutes later, leaving out the back door to avoid the questions everyone would inevitably have.

_____________________________

Steve had worked endlessly to be considered normal. He spent hours perfecting his persona and years working to make sure it never slipped. But he never felt normal.

He knew there was something off about him, something that he couldn’t shake. He carried a mark, and not just the one on his wrist.

But either way, he managed to make it work. He got friends, learned how to kiss girls, and fit in perfectly with those around him. He let himself be defined by the sneers towards the less popular kids, by beating people in basketball, by failing classes and letting himself get pushed around and pushing the others around.

Because that was what life was like. That what he always wanted, to be a normal teenaged kid to help fill the void deep inside him. The void that knew there was something else he needed to be doing.

Nancy helped; she really did. When they were together for the first time in Steve’s life he truly felt authentic. She brought out the best in him, the caring part, the funny part, the soft part. The same part that now came out around the kids.

He loved Nancy; he truly did with all his heart. But she didn’t love him back, and she left him. He tried not to be bitter, he really did. But it sometimes still hurt seeing her walk around, watching her and Jonathan together. But who was he to try and split them apart? All he wanted was for Nancy to be happy, and Jonathan gave her that. So even if it hurt, he endured it.

And now here he was, so much closer to his past than he ever wanted to be and he couldn’t even bring himself to hate it. The kids came over often, filling the normally large house with sound and laughter.

They brought the best out of him too. They made him laugh, smile, joke around and feel more human than he ever had. He didn’t have to fake anything around them, here he wasn’t King Steve, he was just plain old Steve.

The kids liked to come to play D&D in his house, and he didn’t really get the game, but he allowed it, cooking them food and answering their stupid questions.

Joyce came over often too, whenever she had the chance. She didn’t like leaving Will alone all the time anymore, especially when he was somewhere she didn’t fully trust. He didn’t let it hurt that she didn’t trust him. After all, he had terrorized her eldest son for the longest time.

Apologizing for that felt liberating too, but it was awkward enough that neither boys talked about it.

Joyce liked his cooking, complimenting him endlessly on it, and he made sure to send her home with plenty of the leftovers. She also just liked to sit and watch the kids play, relaxing with every second Will unwound and started acting like himself again. Three weeks after he signed himself out of the hospital Hopper came over too.

Steve pretended not to notice that they were watching him with the kids, tried to pretend not to notice that the two of them were judging him. At the end of the night, when all the kids were getting ready to go home for the night, Hopper approached him.

“Would it be okay to bring El over at some point?” He asked, rubbing the back of his neck. “She’s getting cabin fever already and I think it would be nice for her to see everyone again.”

“Moody superpowered teenager not as appealing as you thought?” Steve asked cheekily, and Hopper groaned.

“It’s horrible.” He admitted with a chuckle. “I can’t always be with her either, and I would love if you agreed to maybe babysit her once in a while?”

“I would love to.” He said automatically, his spirits soaring at the thought.

“Great kid, you’re a lifesaver.” Hopper said, slapping his shoulder and turning to leave. “And a good cook too.”

Steve smiled as he left, his heart beating faster as he leaned back. This would either go very well, or blow up in his face.

Most decisions he made ended with those two options.

____________________________________

He couldn’t bring himself to talk to Doctor Owens for an entire month. A month of soreness and leftover concussion that he selfishly kept. A month of reoccurring nightmares he thought he had finally gotten rid of. A month of staring at the phone and wondering when he’d grow the ball to just fucking call already.

Dialing those numbers felt like a death sentence.

“Hello, this is Doctor Owens. How may I help you?” A tired voice said through the receiver, like he had a busy day and really didn’t want to talk on the phone with anyone.

“Hi,” Steve said awkwardly, already regretting this. “It’s Steve, can we meet?”

“Steve?” Owens said, sounding confused for a moment before it clicked. “Oh! Steve, hi, yes of course we can meet. Uh, tomorrow at eight? In the diner on eleventh?”

“See you then.” And before waiting for the man answer he slammed the receiver back down, sinking to his knees and breathing heavily, trying to calm his heart and ignoring the bought of suppressed memories threatening to bubble up.

The next morning he walked into that diner with his head held high, only panicking slightly when his eyes met the doctors, who stood up hastily.

“Steve right?” He said, holding out a tense hand. “Nice to meet you again.”

“Cut the bullshit.” He snapped. “Is Brenner really gone?”

“We don’t know.” Owens sighed, sitting back down, nodding at Steve to do the same. “We suspect that yes, he has perished, but without a body we can never be sure.”

“So Eleven and I are still not safe.”

“My boy, none of you are ever going to be safe, no matter if Doctor Brenner is here or not.” Owens snapped, causing Steve to flinch slightly. “You’ll only be safe if you are normal.”

“Very helpful.” He said dryly. “How is El?”

“You haven’t seen her yet?” Owens asked, sounding surprised. Steve only shrugged in response. “Her adoption went through, and after around a year she should be reintegrated into society. Although she is going to the snowball as far as I’m aware.”

“Is that safe?” Steve frowned.

“Again, none of you will ever be safe. But I believe it will be plenty secure, and you’ll be there too.” Owen shrugged.

“Okay.” Steve said, telling himself to relax. One breach of safety and his entire world was crashing down. His nerves weren’t eased by sitting close to this man.

“Have you been using it lately?” Owens said, his voice pitching down until he was whispering.

“No.” Steve shook his head, leaning away quickly, curling into himself. “Obviously I haven’t.” He said, gesturing to his still swollen and beat-up face, Owen flinched slightly.

“Ah, yes.” He nodded. “Why not?”

Steve only shrugged, looking down. He didn’t want to truly admit it, why he refused to get rid of the pain.

Maybe he felt like he deserved the pain, like if he protected them better he wouldn’t have ended up with a concussion and bruises all over his body. And who was he to subject this all onto others? That would be a kind of asshole thing to do wouldn’t it?

They sat in silence for a long moment, neither knowing what to say.

Doctor Owens was the one to break it, his eyes staring right into Steve’s.

“I know I was not a good person.” He whispered lowly. “I hurt you sometimes, even if I was not the one inflicting the pain I stood there and watched. And I apologize for that and hope that you will be able to one day forgive me. From now on, if you ever need any type of help, call me and I will drop everything to provide my services.”

“Okay.” Steve said softly.

“One more thing,” The man continued. “You need to tell them. They deserve to know. El especially, she deserves to know.”

Steve didn’t respond. He knew that already; knew they deserved the truth. But would he be able to admit it when it led to the possibility of them hating him? Of no more D&D nights at his house? No more Hopper and Joyce smiling at them from the doorway? No more loud kids filling up the silence around him?

Owens reached over, cautiously patting Steve’s hand and having the decency to look slightly ashamed when Steve pulled his hand away.

“Well, goodbye then.” He said, standing up and quickly walking away, relaxing the further he walked from Steve.

Steve himself let out a breath, his head resting on the table momentarily as the pounding behind his eyes started to rise. He needed to get home now, El was supposed to be coming over that night.

__________________________

The house was clean, food was placed in the oven, and Steve felt like a nervous wreck.

El was coming over, his El. The little girl he held in the rainbow room all those years ago. The girl he rocked to sleep and held through her nightmares. The girl Brenner ripped from his arms while he was screaming and crying to get her back.

He let his eyes flutter closed, focusing deep inside himself and carefully prodding the part of him he buried three years ago and promised to never use again, bar emergencies of course. This felt like an emergency.

Colors burst behind his eyelids, and he let out a breath, the neon lights flashing under his eyes until he found the one he was looking for. Instantly the turquois color spread from his eyelids, and instantly his heart calmed down, the pounding returning to normal as he let out a breath. He threw it out further, the house glowing turquoise to his eyes for a good five seconds before fading away, the sense of calmness remaining.

He wiped a drop of blood from his nose just as the doorbell rang. He turned around, swinging the door open and smiling widely.

“Welcome!”

___________________________

He managed to make it for two hours, which was so much longer than he thought he would. Hopper left with promises to be back soon, telling them to get along and call him in anything went wrong.

The first thing they did was watch a movie, Steve letting El pick it out as he served them dinner and popcorn. El gravitated towards the popcorn first, and soon they were tossing popcorn into each others mouth, El quickly warming up to the new place and even smiling slightly when prompted.

She picked the Princess Bride, and by the time it ended they were re-enacting the sword fight between Westly and Inigo, swirling around the room and jumping over furniture. They eventually both fell onto the couching giggling and smiling and both feeling lighter than they had in ages. Bursts of yellow and pink flashed over Steve’s eyes when he closed them, bringing an even brighter smile to his face.

They settled down, and Steve knew this was it, this was what he had been waiting for. So he turned to El.

“So,” He started, his hand fiddling with his wrist slightly. “Do you remember any of the other projects?” He asked softly.

El tensed immediately, sitting up and angling away from him slightly.

“You don’t have to answer!” He said, raising up his hands to placate her. “I just wanted to know.”

“Some of them.” She said softly. “Not many.”

“Who do you remember?” He said softly, tucking his knees up to his chest just like she was.

“Eight.” She replied. “I met her again. She’s all I remember.”

“Do you remember me?” He asked quietly, and her eyes widened in surprise as he carefully scratched at his wrist, peeling off the fake skin he places over his number every morning, revealing the little tattoo on the inside of his wrist.

She looks up to him, wide eyes rapidly filling with tears as she lunged at him, grabbing his wrist and staring at it as if it was the end of the world.

“Seven?” She asked, looking up to him with wide eyes.

“Hey Eleven.” He whispered back, reaching out to grasp at her cheek and wipe away a single tear that slipped down her cheek, his own tears filling his eyes. “Hey little sis.”

Chapter Text

Hopper came an hour later, after their tears had dried and he managed to tell her most of his story. She spent the rest of the night wrapped in his arms, whispering how she had the barest wisps of memories of him. Of the rainbow room as he held her.

Steve couldn’t believe this happened. That she was here, safe and happy. He never thought he would see any of them again, but here he was. The six years he spent waiting finally paying off.

“So kiddo,” Hopper said, grinning as they opened the door. “How’d the night go?”

“Wonderful, she is a perfect little guest.” Steve said, ruffling her hair softly. Hoppers grin widened as El smiled shyly up at him.

“Great, I’ll contact you next time she needs some time out of the cabin then,” Hopper said patting his shoulder and pulling out his wallet. “A twenty should cover-“

“No,” Steve denied, cutting him off. “You don’t pay me okay? Consider it a favour.”

“Steve,” Hopper sighed, but Steve very firmly refused, shooing them out the door with an extra container filled with pasta that they had for dinner last night. For all his strengths, Hopper couldn’t cook for shit.

And as Steve sat on his couch, sighing and just basking in the residue safety that stained the room, he felt content. Content with seeing one of his own. Content with using his power for the first time in years. Content with acknowledging his history without feeling overwhelmed and terrified.

He could get used to this.

____________________________________

Two weeks later, and El had been coming over every Tuesday and Thursday, and they would spend their nights watching crappy soap operas and gossiping about the characters. They never mentioned who he was, or the shared trauma they both suffered. The only indicated that either of them made was occasionally calling each other by their number instead of their name. That and the occasional questions El would have about his powers.

But they became close again, and Hopper even let the other kids’ showup every once or twice, and Steve was endlessly amused by the heart eyes Mike and El kept sending each other, much to the annoyance of Dustin and Will, who both looked like they would rather puke than see their friends cuddle on the couch.

But it was just him an El that night, and they watched the Breakfast Club and discussed how stupid some of the characters were, but they both knew that they would also love to have such normal interactions like that. They tended to watch a lot of high school dramas recently, El marveling at what school was really like.

Hopper came to pick her up a bit earlier than usual, so Steve invited him inside, saying his ‘dad’ had left a couple of beers in the cupboard if he wanted to have a drink. Hopper graciously accepted, cracking open the beer and watching El and Steve discuss once again which were better, mashed or baked potatoes. They ended on Steve promising to make her both to prove that he was right once and for all. Steve suspected it was just a ploy by El to get Steve to make her potatoes.

“Hey kid?” Hopper asked as they started getting ready to leave. “The Byers are having a dinner tomorrow and invited El and I. You want to join?”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” Steve said, frowning slightly. Why would they want him there? He was just a babysitter after all.

“Please?” El said, tugging on his hand. “Go for me?”

And how could he say no to that?”

________________________

It took him about seven seconds to regret his decision as he walked into the Byer’s household and was greeted by the warm smell of fire and food and it smelled like a home should.

Joyce greeted him with a smile and a hug that he only tensed in for a total of two seconds, which was shorter than he normally took to relax into a grip.

“I’m glad you came Steve; dinner should be ready in twenty minutes. Will is out back El, if you want to go play for a bit.” She said, smiling at the younger girl.

“I’ll take her out.” Steve offered, smiling back at Joyce and Hopper as El dragged him outside. Sure enough, Will was outside color a picture, staring eagerly at a flower for reference.

“Looks good buddy.” Steve praised as they got closer, and Will gave him a hesitant smile.

“Flower,” El said, pointing at his picture. “I like it.”

Will smiled even larger, tucking his crayons away and folding the picture.

“It’s yours.” He said, handing it to her, and she took it with wide eyes.

Steve smiled at them both, remembering the first few times anyone gave him something too, it took him a long time to accept that people sometimes gave you things out of the kindness of their hearts instead of expecting something in return.

They sat in a circle, talking idly for a while before Hopper opened the back door to holler at them.

“Dinner’s almost ready, come get washed up.” He said, disappearing back inside.

“I hate cleaning,” El said with a frown. “It’s no fun.”

“I don’t like it either, but eating dirt is never fun.” Will said with a shrug. They all stood up, El dragging her feet as they walked towards the door. Steve knew it was simply to get a reaction out of them, see how they would act towards her reluctance. Hopper told him she had been doing this a lot recently, to try and get a rise out of him.

“You’re slow.” He commented, and she stared affronted at him for a moment. “You need a boost.” He said, suddenly leaning down and picking her up easily, tucking her under his arms. She squealed as he ran around the yard, laughing ad squirming.

“Will!” She cried. “Help!”

“I’m staying out of this.” Will said with a smile, watching them zoom along. Steve took that as a personal challenge, darting forwards and grabbing Will, dropping El softly to the ground as Will let out a loud protest and Steve took off, El chasing them and declaring she would help Will.

They managed to keep it up for around five minutes before El tackled him, all of them collapsing into a little pile of giggling messes.

Steve looked up at the house, waving cheerfully at Joyce who was staring at them with a watery smile. The smile of a survivor, someone who had seen so much and was only remembering that she knew how to genuinely smile. Steve grabbed both kids off the ground and held them in the air on his shoulders as they marched back to the cabin. They were effortlessly light.

They sat down for dinner and Steve tried to pretend the food was good, but the steak was overcooked and the salad slightly soggy.

“I’m sorry,” Joyce said, blushing red. “I’m not the best cook.”

“Not everyone is.” Steve comforted, easily shoving more food into his mouth and smiling at her when he swallowed. He had eaten worse, so much worse.

She grinned at him, shaking her head.

“You are too much sometimes Harrington.” She said softly, causing him to blush.

Dinner progressed easily, not nearly as awkward as Steve thought it would be.

Jonathan was there, but they were friendly ever since Steve apologized again. They had an easy truce, and talked easily with each other as long as the topic didn’t turn to Nancy, which it thankfully didn’t.

After dinner, the kids went to the living room with Jonathan to look at some pictures and Joyce quickly pulled him into the kitchen.

“I made dessert.” She started, and Steve picked up a slightly hysterical sound to her voice. But I burnt the pie and I don’t know how to fix it. Will said you’re a good cook?”

Steve started to protest, but the desperate look in Joyce's eyes made him reconsider.

Five minutes later, he had managed to turn the pie into an ice cream crumble, which the kids eagerly ate without any remorse. Joyce thanked him profusely, inviting him to every family dinner they decided to have from that moment on.

He never thought he would go to another, but only weeks after Joyce called him, saying Will had the party over and she had no idea what to make for dinner.

He helped her out, saving the night and entertaining the kids while he was at it. After that Joyce took to calling him at least once every week to come help her with dinner. He wouldn’t have thought dinners at the Byers house would even be a thing he would do, let alone enjoy, but they were such lovely people.

Will was a joy, nice and smart and even if he was a little traumatized he never let it get in the way of living his life. Jonathan and he were never going to be best friends, but they had morphed into something resembling friendship. And Joyce had seemed to set her mind to adopting him, treating him like one of her own.

It took him only a few months before he felt like the Byers house was more of a home than his own was. When he felt more comfortable lounging in the wooden house listening to Will talk about a campaign and Jonathan about his new job. When he helped Joyce with dinner and in return she gave him advice and made him feel more loved than anyone in the entire town had ever made him feel.

It was nice. Beyond nice even. He had his little sister by his side half the week now, and they were getting closer than Steve ever dreamed of being with any of his siblings once he ran away. The kids came over every weekend, and he drove them home from school everyday, and soon he had a little gaggle of middle schoolers as his best friends. Joyce and the Byers had him over at least twice a week, and he felt safe and loved.

For the first time in his entire life, he had genuine friends, people who loved and cared about him, and a family he could trust. Things were good, better than it ever had been in his life. He was happy.

Of course, two weeks later, it all went to shit.

It was a Friday night, and Steve was cleaning up the mess the kids made while over. They had all warmed up him pretty quickly, even Mike seemed to tolerate him now, despite the occasional glares and suspicious glances he got.

But he was busy cleaning up the kitchen when he heard it, the lock on his door quickly clicked open, and he heard the slight swish of air as a door was carefully swung widely reached across the counter to clutch at a knife.

They had found him.

He pressed his back to the counter, raising the knife and closing his eyes, spreading out his powers and sensing the light that flashed from the room beside him. Two people, large, bulky, and leaking red light that signalized anger.

He opened his eyes again, praying and hoping that they would walk past the room and he could slip out unnoticed.

He, of course, had no luck, and he watched the doorknob slowly turn and the kitchen door slowly creak open.

Steve pulled the knife back as he made eye contact with the man who opened the door, and before the man could react, Steve plunged the knife into his own chest, crying out as the unbearable pain overtook him and he screamed, ripping the knife out.

With a push suddenly it all left, the skin over his chest crawling back together as the man in the doorways own chest ripped open with an identical wound to the one Steve had moments before, crying as he fell to the ground, blood seeping out of the wound and staining the floor.

He could hear the second man coming closer, and he reacted out of pure instinct, feeling the cuts and bruised still yellowed around his skin suddenly left, the blood vessels healing themselves as the man stumbled quickly at the sudden but minor pain.

But it only gave Steve a handful of seconds, and in those seconds his eyes snapped shut, dark grey flashing in front of his eyes and he pushed out, fear overtaking both men as they gasped, their eyes widening. The first man who was older and already bleeding out, started to convulse as his mind was overloaded with too intense emotions. The second man only backed himself into the corner of the kitchen, words spilling out of his lips.

“Please, oh god, please.” He begged, staring at Steve with pure fear. Steve was already locked away too far to care. “I’ll do anything, please save me, don’t hurt me.”

Steve once again plunged the knife through his own chest, barely feeling the pain as he instinctively pushed out, the taste of blood remaining in his throat even as the wound quickly healed over, and the other man started choking on his own blood.

Steve watched as he breathed out his last breath, his head slumping slightly as he died.

He managed to hold it together for about twenty seconds before suddenly he clicked back into his mind and realized what he had done.

He stumbled back, bile rising in his throat as he took in the two dead men on his floor.

He promised to never to that again. To never hurt anyone again. He was breathing heavily, panicking as he stared at the man's dead eyes staring at him. He knew they were sent by Brenner, or at least someone close to Brenner, knew that all hospital records were sent right to him, including photos of the patients. He knew that this would have happened, and instead of doing anything about it he stayed.

And now he had killed someone.

He was the monster Brenner always said he was, even if he tried to escape it, it came back to this. Steve hurting people, harming them, killing them.

That man had begged for his life, had pleaded him to stop, to spare him. And Steve stared him in the eyes as he killed him, no feelings of remorse or guilt at all.

He was a monster.

Tears poured out of his eyes as he jumped over the body of the first man, slamming into the front door and into the open air, too panicked and disgusted to get a proper breath in. He needed help, he needed everything to stop.

Neon colors of grey fear, red anger, and black death were bursting in the corners of his eyes, making it hard to see as he stumbled through the forest.

Without realizing it he found himself in the driveway to the Byers house, having run there all the way from his. He hadn’t calmed down in the least, but his home wasn’t safe, he had killed two people, and he didn’t know what to do.

He banged on the door, his fingers feeling numb with coldness as he stood there shivering, soaked to the bone. He hadn’t even realized it was raining.

“Who’s there?” Joyce said, the door cracking open slightly before she saw him and threw it open. “Steve?” She cried, grabbing onto him and dragging him inside as he fell.

“I messed up.” He sobbed, and he didn’t deserve the warmth of their house, the softness of her hands, the concern in her eyes. “Joyce I messed up.”

“Your bleeding.” She said numbly. “Oh god, Steve you're covered in blood and soaked. What happened?” She was working herself into hysterics, turning to face a wide-eyed Jonathan and Will, who both looked like they just woke up. He didn’t know how late it was. “Get the med kit, now!” She cried, and Jonathan ran off, Will simply staring at them.

“It’s not mine.” He said weakly between sobs, pressing a face into her shoulder.

“Steve honey,” She cried, pulling him closer as he continued to sob, barely able to breathe through the crushing guilt and disgust. “Oh baby.”

He shouldn’t be touching Joyce, shouldn’t be in her home. He could see the death that stained his hands seeping into the room, staining it with his infection. But he couldn’t seem to move as he shook and sobbed into Joyce's shoulder, her shushing him gently as she rocked him, her fingers running through his wet hair as his sobs turned into soft hiccups. Not because he was any less upset, but only because he had no more tears left to cry.

He suddenly felt really tired, a bone-tired weariness he thought he had left behind. One he hadn’t felt in six years since the last time he did that.

And as he faded into darkness, he couldn’t help but feel safe wrapped in Joyce’s steady warm arms, her soft voice telling him to relax, calm down, he was safe, he was fine.

He didn’t feel fine.

___________________________________________

He woke up to someone still holding him, fingers running through his hair gently and a softly hummed lullaby in his ear.

He felt at peace, the soft neon pink glow under his eyelids fading to dark after a second. He wasn’t sure where he was, probably the Byers. Maybe he fell asleep during one of their dinners, and Joyce let him stay instead of waking him up.

But then he remembered the men in his house, the men he killed, the run to the Byer’s residence.

He sat up with a gasp, his eyes going wide with panic as he twisted violently, falling off the couch and shaking off the blankets and he scooted away in a panic, Joyce sitting up just as alarmed and holing her hands out calmingly.

“Hey, it’s okay Steve.” She said softly. “It’s just me, you’re in my house, it’s only been a few hours since you fell asleep.”

She knelt down on the floor, slowly creeping closer to where he sat, his back pressed against the wall and his mind flashing between here and the facility, Doctor Brenner and the other techs reaching towards him with grabby hands that took and took and hurt him.

“Please don’t touch me.” He cried; his voice hoarse from the crying he went through.

Joyce paused where she was, her face ruined but looking as if she was trying very hard to keep it together.

“Okay,” She said, raising her hands to show she wasn’t going to come near him. He hated how much he actually wanted her to crawl over here and hold him, tell him everything would be alright. “I’m not going to do anything you don’t want, but Steve, your kind of scaring me.”

He curled up into a little ball, instinct making him try to become as small as he could. His nails were scratching at the fake skin on his arm, not peeling it away but reminding him of what he is, what he’s done.

“I’m sorry.” He whispered, pressing himself farther back into the corner. He wasn’t sure if he was apologizing for disturbing her night, freaking out, or killing those men. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to apologize about.” She said softly, pulling her knees to her chest and mimicking him. It made him feel slightly better. “I don’t even know what you're apologizing for.”

“I messed up.” He whispered. And Joyce sighed, looking slightly pained.

“What did you mess up Steve, I want to help but I can’t help if you don’t tell me what you did.” She said patiently, and he sobbed again, rubbing angrily at the tears that leaked out of his eye.

Brenner didn’t like it when he cried.

“I can’t-“ He shook his head, unable to form the words. How can he tell her that he murdered two men only hours ago? How he stared into their eyes and took their lived as easily as it was what he was born to do. How can he tell the woman he started to see as a mother that?

“It’s okay Steve.” She sighed, smiling wanly. “Can I call Hopper? Do you want to talk to him?”

“I want El.” He said, like a little kid. Joyce looked confused at the request, but now that the thought entered his mind, he was dead set on it. “I want El.”

He wants his little sister, someone who knew what it was like to be forced to be a monster. Even if she was good and he was bad, she would get it on some level. She would help him. Holding her close always helped him as a kid, holding any of his siblings always had an odd calming effect on him. But that was before Brenner isolated him, keeping him away from all his siblings in order to use him better.

He wanted to be sure El was okay because he didn’t think about the possibility that they found her first. He needed to make sure she was safe.

“Okay sweetheart, I’ll be right back okay?” She said, standing up and leaving the room.

Steve buried his face in his knees, shaking slightly as more tears leaked out of his eyes.

He told himself never again, told himself he would never resort to that now that he was free. And yet here he was, proving Brenner right again. He was a monster through and through. A machine made for destruction and incapable of anything else.

“Steve?” Someone asked and Steve looked up, seeing Will standing in the doorway hesitantly, holding a bowl in his hand and shifting from foot to foot.

He walked in, sitting a couple of feet away and Steve irrationally tensed. This was Will, the sweet boy who drew Steve with a cape like he was some sort of hero. How disappointed Will would be if he learns the truth. Steve was still scared of him getting closer, images of Brenner grabbing him still fresh in his mind.

“I brought you soup?” Will said, pushing the bowl towards them, but otherwise keeping his distance. “I always like to each food after a panic attack. And this soup is pretty good for something my mom made.”

Steve smiled weakly at the joke, reaching out with shaking hands and pulling it closer to himself. The least he could do was eat the soup, especially after Will went through the trouble to get it for him.

His hands were shaking so hard it was difficult to get the spoon to his mouth, but he did, carefully eating bite after bite. He only managed about half of it before he put the spoon down, feeling slightly sick but a fair deal calmer. But the panic still brewed under his skin, and it wasn’t nearly gone.

He simply felt drained, empty, hollowed out. He felt like he was back in the lab, ready to be totted off for experiments and training at any moment, waiting for the day Brenner would get bored and just kill him.

Will didn’t pressure him to talk, only softly talked about a new character he was thinking of building for his game, and Steve knew Joyce was watching them, thinking and trying to understand what was going on.

El and Hopper arrived thirty minutes later, the door bursting open and almost giving Steve a heart attack as El came barrelling in.

“Seven!” She cried, leaping at him despite Joyce’s loud protest and Steve instantly relaxed as El came into his view, clutching on tightly to his little sister.

“Eleven.” He muttered back, squeezing her hard and ignoring the new tears filling his eyes. “El.”

“Hurt?” She asked, pulling back and grabbing at his clothes which were still covered with his bright red blood. He only shook his head, and she at once understood. “Bad men?”

“They found me.” He whispered, pulling her closer if only to reassure himself that they hadn’t got her too. “They found me.”

“Dead?” She asked, a lot softer than the previous questions, but still loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room. Steve only sobbed, and that was the only answer any of them needed.

He heard Joyce and Hopper having a whispered discussion in the corner, could see Will quietly leaving the room as if he couldn’t bear to be there with him.

And Eleven was still in his lap, holding onto him tightly like she was afraid to let go.

“Not your fault.” She whispered into his ear fiercely.

“Yes it is.” He sobbed shaking even harder, he felt like he was coming apart again, the wall he built around his memories and feelings tumbling apart as if it was never there in the first place. “It is.”

“Not your fault.” She repeated firmly, saying it over and over again like a mantra until it was all Steve heard as he once again passed out.

Chapter Text

He woke up again on the couch, this time a lot calmer and more put-together feeling the solid form of El by his back, her arms wrapped around his neck protectively. He heard people arguing quietly in the background, too faint for him to listen into.

He shifted slightly, and El groaned behind him tugging him closer.

“Okay,” He laughed, wrapping his arms around her. “You're okay, go to sleep.”

He carefully untangled their limbs, standing to his feet and rubbing at his forehead. His head was pounding slightly, not nearly as bad as normal now that he got rid of his concussion, but still enough for him to notice.

He walked towards the sound of voices, coming from the kitchen, and paused outside the door for a moment. He could practically see the small burst of sky-blue concern and light grey confusion coming from under the door.

All these colors and feelings returned so abruptly after years of ignoring them, but now that he was started bringing them forth again, seeing them was like second nature to him.

He didn’t focus in on the conversation, because eavesdropping was a skill from the past, and he instead knocked lightly on the door, carefully cracking it open. And slipping inside.

“Hi,” He said awkwardly, waving at Hopper and Joyce, who stood closely together in the corner, staring at him with wide eyes. “Am I interrupting something?”

“No!” Joyce said a little too loudly, pushing away from where she stood. “How are you? Are you feeling okay?”

“Great,” He smiled at them, hoping it didn’t show the way his head was pounding, his eyes were dry, and he felt like screaming. “Sorry about last night, I didn’t mean to freak you guys out.”

“You gave us a scare.” Hopper said, and Joyce turned to hit his shoulder sternly.

“You did nothing wrong,” Joyce reassured him, and Steve gave her a genuine smile, soft and a bit frail, but genuine. “I’m glad you came to me.”

“But we do need to talk,” Hopper pointed out, and Joyce nodded. “We need an explanation kiddo.”

Steve frowned, looking away. In all truth, he had foolishly hoped to get out of here as soon as possible. To just go back to his house, dispose of the bodies the best he could, and move on like this never happened. But of course, that was unrealistic.

You can’t wake up a family while being soaked to the bones, bloody and hysterical and not expect them to ask questions.

“Okay.” He said simply, turning back out. “Let’s get this over with.”

He was very much annoyed to find that in the short span it took for him to talk to the two adults, a large crowd of all his kids and the two teenagers had managed to fill up the living room, staring at him with wide eyes.

“What are all you doing here?” Steve asked, crossing his arms and glaring at Will and Eleven, both who refused to meet his eyes.

“El told me to call a code red,” Will said, sounding slightly guilty. “She insisted.”

“You know I didn’t want to tell them.” Steve hissed at her, torn between being angry and absolute exhaustion. He didn’t want them to know, didn’t want them to look at him differently.

“They deserve to know.” She said, crossing her arms. “It’s okay.”

“Fuck.” He muttered under his breath, running a hand through his hair and sitting heavily on the couch.

“They said you were freaking out dude,” Dustin said, immediately climbing towards him. “And you look like your heads about to explode or something.”

There was a general mummer of agreement, even from the two adults, who should have been on his side of things.

“I’m fine.” He said, reaching over and ruffling his hair, which had recently been Steve’s favorite thing to do. Dustin simply sat in acceptance, used to Steve’s somewhat odd signs of affection.

“Mind telling us what happened?” Lucas said, frowning slightly. “You woke me up.”

“Because you sleep in obnoxiously late all the time.” Max hissed slapping his shoulder. “Don’t pressure him.”

“It’s okay.” El said, climbing into the seat beside him, her fingers wrapping meaningfully around the fake layer of skin still laying against his skin. She looked at him pointedly, and he knew his time was up.

Now was time to tell them all a secret that could potentially ruin everything he had spent six years building up.

“My name isn’t really Steve Harrington.” He started hesitantly, one hand reaching to brush across his wrist.

“Isn’t it Steven?” Mike asked, and Steve grinned slightly at him.

“That’s technically my full name, but I had another before that one.” He said, taking a breath and digging his nails into his skin and peeling back the protective layers that hid the largest secret he had ever kept. “Before that, I was known as Seven.”

He put his wrist down, letting them all stare at it with wide disbelieving eyes for a long moment. He felt like his heart was going to climb out of his chest and run away with how much it was pounding. He stared at them all, taking in varying faces of shock, confusion and everything in-between.

“You’re one of them?” Joyce said, pointing over at El, who shifted closer to Steve.

“Her older brother actually.” He said, smiling brightly.

“What the hell?” Dustin asked, looking slightly betrayed. “How?”

Steve shrugged, not sure how to answer that.

“That doesn’t make sense.” Jonathan pipped up. “You have tons of money, and you fit in.”

The ‘Your normal’ was left unsaid, but he heard it either way.

“Funny story,” Steve said, shifting awkwardly and deciding to only answer the richness part. “There was actually a Harrington supposed to be living here, I think his name was Eric actually. His super-rich and absent parents sent him to a reclusive town after he caused a scene. I met him and he decided he wanted to run off with his sweetheart, so I took his place and kind of just been taking the money his parents left for him.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Mike said, crossing his arms. “There’s no way you’re like El.”

Steve bristled a bit, feeling slightly offended.

“Prove it,” Lucas said, also looking slightly doubtful. “What can you do?”

“Guys,” Joyce said, frowning. “We’re not going to force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do-“

Steve cut her off by diving inside him and pulling out the first emotion he could find, loneliness. He projected it across the room, his headache pounding harder as he watched the people around him tense up.

He held it for about ten seconds before dropping it with a sigh, glaring at them all.

“Believe me now?” He said, crossing his arms.

Will was now curled up in Joyce’s arms, Jonathan and Nancy holding hands with wild eyes, and all the kids were staring at him with shocked expressions. He had the decency to feel bad for about half a second before the pain truly set in and he remembered why he rarely used his secondary power.

Projecting like that always hurt, a deep ache he could never get rid of. And sometimes, when he overdoes it, when they forced him to push and push, it was like he drained himself of all emotions. The worst one was when he lost the ability to feel for almost two months, existing in almost a vegetative state until one day he snapped out of it.

He ran away a month after that.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Nancy asked, and she was still leaning into Jonathan's side and Steve tried his best to not feel bitter about that, to not feel hurt over how easily she moved on, as if she never loved him before.

He pushes the thought out of his mind.

“Would you have believed me if I told you before El came around?” He asks, and they all had the decency to look a tiny bit guilty.

“But what about after?” Nancy asks.

“Isn’t this me telling you after?” He asks, blinking in fake innocence. She bristles a bit.

“Why didn’t you tell me when we were dating? Isn’t that an important piece of information? Rather than you lying to me for months on end?” She snaps, clearly hurt and trying not to show it.

“You lied to me too.” He pointed out.

“But you said you loved me.” She snaps, and Steve falls silent. He had loved her, maybe still does a tiny bit. “You tell the people you love things like that.”

“Your right.” He says dryly. “You tell someone you love a piece of information that could potentially get them killed.”

The room went silent, all awfully uncomfortable with the interaction. Steve couldn’t care. He wasn’t sure if that was normal or a side effect of overdoing his powers.

“You also told me you loved me, when you really didn’t give a shit about me.” He says softly, not necessary to hurt her, but more to show her how fucking hypocritical she was being. She led him on for months on end, telling him that she loved him when she was always in love with Jonathan.

Which was fine. Jonathan made her happy and she made him happy. He can’t fault them for falling in love. But he can and will fault her for letting him believe she loved him back.

“So what, you can project emotions or whatever?” Hopper says, diverting the conversation with an awkward cough.

“Sort of yeah.” He responded, not really wanting to get into it.

“Secondary.” El piped up, and he shot her a lighthearted glare. He really hoped he could get away with not telling them about the whole other thing.

“Secondary?” Joyce asked, and Steve sighed.

“All of us have a main and a secondary power.” He said, taking a deep breath in and letting his fingers dance over the numbers on his arm. “Like El has telekinesis for her main and the ability to see and find people as her secondary.”

“So what’s yours?” Max asks, looking genuinely curious.

“Empathic Masochism.” He told them, his fingernails digging into the skin where his number were. How many times had he tried to gouge them out? Tried to peel the pigmented brand from his skin?

“What’s that?” Lucas asked, and Steve shrugged.

“Putting it simply, I hurt myself and I can project it onto others.” He said, his nails finally breaking his skin and putting five moon shaped cuts around the numbers. He could pull it off right now, find someone to project it on and be done with it.

Instead, he pulls away, tucking his wrist into his shirt so no one could see the blood.

“That’s wicked.” Dustin said, grinning and Steve could only grin weakly back.

It wasn’t wicked. It was cool, or fun, or awesome. It was disgusting, horrible, wrong, every single bad word Steve could think of rolled into one.

“Why did you leave?” Mike asked, and Steve let out a bitter laugh.

“You mean you want reasons other than the absurd amounts of torture Brenner put me through?” He asks, feeling El flinch slightly beside him. “Put us through?” He corrected, leaning into her slightly.

“I’m sorry,” Mike says, only sounding half sorry. “I just meant was there anything specific that pushed you out you know? You don’t have to answer.”

There were so many.

There was only one he could bring himself to talk about, even as painful as it was.

“Number Six.” He said softly, his eyes falling to the ground, blinking away the sudden wave of emotions that hit him rather intensely. “There was a large group of us that worked together, but Six was sick. We all knew we needed to get her out of there. We weren’t really able to.”

He left out the part that he waited two years for her. Left out the part that included how he left her behind despite a part of him knowing she couldn’t do it alone. Left out the part where he was too much of a coward to go back for her.

“Six.” El spoke up, and he turned towards her. She was frowning, as if it hurt to try and remember. “I remember her.”

“You met her?” He asked, perking up and staring at her. “When? How is she?”

He felt desperate, hopeful almost. Like a spark had lit in his chest and he found himself once again hoping that he would see his partner once again. The girl he grew up beside, fought beside, learned besides, suffered beside. Six and he shared everything, until they were almost the same person. He wanted to see his sister again.

“Years ago.” El frowned, as if trying to remember. “I think she was sick.”

Steve felt his heart sink, and bitter pain slashed through him.

“Number Six.” He said weakly. “The girl who could heal everyone but herself.”

The room went silent for a long time.

“She was sick?” Joyce asked softly, getting up to come closer, her hand slipping into his. He tried not to flinch away. Sometimes the affection was hard to handle, especially after talking about all this shit. He had buried it for so long.

“Dying.” He said. “She was dying. Every time she saved someone, a piece of herself would rot away.”

“So why didn’t she just stop?” Mike asked, and Steve would fight him if eh didn’t know the kid didn’t mean it.

“You think they’d let us stop?” He said, a touch hysterical. “You think they would just let us sit around and do nothing? They had tests, they had missions, and we couldn’t control it. We were property. No free will, no freedom, no nothing. So no, she couldn’t just stop.”

He was curled into himself, his breath starting to become shorter as he started to panic. He remembered Brenner staring at him, forcing him to use his powers over and over again because he had no choice. He remembered refusing, even when the soldiers shot him in the head over and over again and forced Six to bring him back. He remembered them threatening Six in order to get him to listen. He remembered giving up, and that was the worst thing he ever did.

“She saved me,” El said softly, and he looked up at her, blinking through the haze of his memories to focus on her. “Six.”

“She was good at that.” He said softly, but El only looked more distressed.

“She was sick.” She stressed. “And she saved me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“She saved me!” El said, tears gathering in her eyes. “She saved me.”

It clicked in his mind, and he let his eyes flutter shut.

She was dead.

She died saving El, and that was such a fucking Six thing to do that he couldn’t process it.

He knew that one day she would push herself too far, try to heal something that sent her over the edge. It made sense that it was another project. Healing him and the others always took more than usual out of her.

“It’s not your fault.” He said, feeling emotion welling up again. “That was always her thing.”

“I’m sorry.” El whispered, curling into her self and Steve reached forwards, pulling her into a hug despite the pressure building up in his chest.

“Not your fault.” He told her, patting her head. “I’m honored she went out saving you, it’s what she would have wanted.”

“Kid,” Hopper said, walking towards them and Steve felt a tear run down his cheek. He angrily scrubbed it away. No emotions, no weaknesses.

“I just need a moment.” He said, pulling away and quickly walking to the door, slipping outside before they could stop him.

He couldn’t believe she was really dead.

A part of him knew, on one level, that she was gone. If she stayed in that building, it was inevitable. Brenner never cared about her, never cared about any of them. Six trying was just another experiment probably, to see what her limits truly were.

He had been waiting for six years. Six years to make sure that no one else would come out of that building.

It was a good plot, he had to admit that.

There was nearly five of them in on it. Number Three, Four, Five, Six, and him. They all knew they had to escape, if not just for themselves, then mostly for Six. She had been getting worse as time went on. And they all knew that she wouldn’t last much longer in that horrendous place.

So they started plotting.

It was useful when Three could link them all so they could talk in their cells without being face to face. His powers were cool like that.

Four would find a way to sneak him a knife with her abilities. Steve would kill every single one of their guards before they could stop him. Then Four would unlock all their doors and get them out of there. Steve was to be the last one to leave, staying behind to focus and kill everyone who got in their way. Four would teleport them out, two at a time, leaving them at different places throughout the forest. Six had to go alone since he had to stay behind for precautions.

Steve would never forget nor regret walking through those empty halls, climbing over the dead bodies of the guards with crusting blood on his jumpsuit.

They were all to meet in an abandoned building a few miles away that Five saw. They all showed up.

All except Six.

The plan was for all of them to run away. Go to other countries, make a life for themselves away from Brenner. All except Six and Seven. They were to stay behind, because there were still so many other kids in that building that they couldn’t get to.

Six and he were supposed to stay, to live in Hawkins together and be proper siblings. To look out and try to save the others.

It ended with him all alone in a giant house, waiting and waiting foolishly for Six to show up. She never did.

And now she was dead.

Steve could already see it. Brenner forcing her to use her powers over and over again as a punishment for nearly half of his subjects disappearing and half of his staff dying. He could see Six wearing herself out over and over again until she was more dead than alive. He could see her going up to El, who was sick or hurt, and saving her life.

He could see her body hit the ground, her lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling.

He knew that Brenner would be disappointed about another lost subject. Not caring in the least bit that Six was a living person with emotions and feelings. Brenner killed her, there was no question about that.

Steve lashed out, slamming his hand against the tree beside him.

He was livid, grief and sorrow and anger swirling around his gut as he struck out again and again. Hitting the tree over and over again for his best friend, his sister, his Six.

He couldn’t save her, couldn’t save anyone. All he knew how to do was kill, harm, hurt. It was stupid, unfair. Why did she have to die? Out of all of them, it should have been him. It wasn’t fair that someone as pure like her had to die so he could remain to spread his stain of death.

He felt the bone break as he hit the tree once again, the loud snap echoing through his ears as he stood there, his arm limp and useless hanging by his side. He gave it ten seconds before Joyce came rushing out, demanding to know what he did to himself.

He didn’t care.

He was too fucking mad to care.

He was feeling petty, so he lashed out, picturing Brenner’s stupid smug face and imagining pushing out and forcing his pain onto Brenner, the only person in the world who could possibly deserve it.

And suddenly the pain left.

He stared at his now healed and unbroken arm, the pain now only a dull thud than a blinding pain.

He turned around to go inside. Everyone stared at him in surprise, like they weren’t quite sure what was happening and how to process this all. He felt numb again.

“Brenner’s alive.” He snapped, his face set into stone. “He’s alive.”

_________________

He didn’t really want to explain it all, but he found himself doing it either way.

“I broke my arm.” He started off with, ignoring the immediate protest and concern he got from that. “And I was pissed at him. So I pushed out and suddenly it was gone.”

“Isn’t that how your powers work?” Mike asked, and Steve shook his head.

“It’s different when dealing with alive and dead people.” He said, pacing more. “I have to physically look at a dead person to project because they have no brain waves for me to project onto.” He lectured.

“That makes no sense.” Hopper said, and Steve ignored him.

“But with a real person, I only have to have seen them once before I can project onto them. I kind of imprint on their brainwaves and latch onto them institutively.” He said. “And I projected onto him, so that means he’s alive.”

“Steve,” Hopper sighed, shaking his head. “Brenner was killed.” He said gently, as if talking to a traumatized animal. “He’s not alive.”

“I know how my powers work.” Steve said icily. “The two dead men on my kitchen prove that.”

“You have two dead men on your kitchen?” Will asked, eye wide, and Steve shrugged.

“Irrelevant.” He said.

“That’s really relevant.” Hopper put in, but Steve ignored him again.

“Brenner’s alive.” He said again. “And he knows I’m here.” He said, staring them all in the eye. “I thought the attack last night was just random, some low-level hit men of Brenner’s who found me after my record went into the hospital. But it has to be Brenner. It has to be.”

“I’ll talk to Owens” Hopper soothed. “I think you need to relax.”

“I can’t just fucking relax.” He snapped, regretting it as everyone recoiled from him. “I just found out my best friend died, my torturer is still alive and hunting me, and everything I’ve been avoiding for my entire life is bubbling up and I am extremely stressed right now.”

Everyone went silent again, and he unclenched his jaw, shaking his head.

“Sorry. I should go home. Sorry.” He said, storming for the door. There was immediately protest, and El was by his side, tugging him back inside before he could leave.

“Stay.” She demanded and he tried to protest but she only pushed back onto the couch. He figured he was staying then. He was too worn out to protest.

Joyce was immediately by his side, pushing a cup of tea into his hand. The kids started talking about random things, and he was slightly happy to know that they were all doing this for him, to make him comfortable.

“I have a question,” Dustin said a few minutes later, and Steve looked at him. “Were you so uncreative that you simply put the letter t into your number and called it a name?”

“Fuck off.” Steve said, but he couldn’t help the slow smile spreading across his lips.

And as the kids laughed around him he thought that maybe this could end up okay.

Chapter Text

The next morning, he slipped out from the Byer’s house with a note that told them he was going home. Hopper had cleaned out his house from the men already, keeping it as quiet as he was allowed to do.

He slipped in through the front door, ignoring the kitchen as he walked past. Too many bad memories, too many bad thoughts. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself after that.

He spent the next couple of hours doing random things around the house. He cleaned the entire place, watched two movies, and then decided to throw random pieces of paper into the garbage from varying distances.

Truth was, he was bored. He knew the kids wouldn’t be coming over anytime soon, not after the clusterfuck that was yesterday. And he couldn’t go out in town anytime soon because he felt like shit and didn’t want to get spotted in case some of Brenner’s men were hanging around. So he was stuck indoors, with nothing to do.

He wasn’t expecting the knock on his door at six at night, startling from where he had decided to stress bake.

He walked to the door, looking out of the peephole in case they were just super nice agents who came to kill him.

Instead, he saw Hopper and El standing outside.

He pulled open the door, looking at them in surprise as EL darted forwards, running and climbing onto his couch.

“Staying.” She demanded, crossing her arms and raising her chin in defiance.

She’s refusing to stay at home.” Hopper sighed. “Says she wants to stay with you.”

“I can take her.” He reassured. “It’s no big deal.”

Hopper stressed his lip between his teeth, looking like he was trying to find the nicest way to tell Steve to fuck off.

“You're worried.” He noted, taking in the body positioning and the soft fidgeting.

“Don’t read my mind, or moods, or whatever.” Hopper snapped, and Steve flinched back slightly, not expecting the sudden hostile tone. “Shit, I’m sorry kid.” Hopper immediately amended, reaching out as if to grab his arm before pulling back away.

“I wasn’t reading you,” Steve said quickly. “It was just obvious.”

“Okay,” Hopper sighed, rubbing a hand over his mouth. “I am worried, it’s just that they found you once.’ He shook his head, crossing his arms.

“You can stay too,” Steve replied with a shrug. “They won’t send them right after each other, they know I know by this point.”

“Can I stay?” Hopper asked. “I’d feel better knowing the two of you are safe.”

Steve ignored the pleasant feeling he felt when he was included on the list of people Hopper wanted to keep safe.

“Of course,” Steve replied. “There’s too many rooms in this house either way. It’s nice to fill them up.”

Hopper thanked him, walking inside and taking the seat across from El, who looked a lot less tense now.

“It is a large house.” Hopper noted.

“The Harrington’s are loaded.” Steve shrugged.

“It’s weird thinking your not actually a Harrington.” Hopper chuckled shaking his head.

“I mean, I kind of am,” Steve said, laughing along. “My birth record says that’s what I am, so does my license and everything else.”

“That’s really depressing kid,” Hopper said, frowning. “You deserve your own name that isn’t just a cover-up to ensure that you’re not found out.”

“I never got the luxury,” Steve said, trying not to be bitter about it. “I never wanted one either way, didn’t even know what a last name was until I left.”

Hopper wasn’t sure what to say about that.

Steve worried his lip between his teeth for a long second, shifting from foot to foot.

“Are you guys mad at me?” He blurted out, staring at Hopper.

“What?” Hopper asked, blinking in surprise. “Of course not kid.”

“But I lied,” He stressed. “You guys should be mad.”

“We’re not mad,” Hopper soothed. “I’m glad you told all of us, and I know everyone else is too.”

Steve smiled at him, a large weight lifting from his shoulders as he slouched down. They didn’t hate him.

“Your food?” El asked, and Steve blinked, remembering the cookies he left in the oven.

“Shit!” He swore slightly, getting to his feet and dashing into the kitchen to pull them out. He returned a few minutes later with a plate of cookies that were perfectly cooked, if you ignored the slightly darkened edges. He really needed to start putting a timer on.

He sat on the couch, El immediately snuggling into his side, her thin arms wrapping around him. He relaxed into the grip, understanding that they both very much needed the contact during times like this.

“Hard to believe you guys are related.” Hopper chuckled, and Steve grinned.

“We’re really not,” He pointed out. “Not by blood, but we grew up with the same Papa so I count it either way.”

“Were any of you actually related?” Hopper asked, and Steve felt the familiar sting of grief hit him again.

“I never knew for sure,” He said carefully. “But I’m pretty sure that Six was my twin sister.”

Hopper went silent for a long moment, and El snuggled in closer, providing support in the only way she knew how to.

“I’m sorry about her Steve,” Hopper said softly. “It must hurt.”

“I miss her,” Steve choked out, tears filling his eyes. He hadn’t really processed it yet, and it hurt so far, but he knew it would truly hit him at some point in the near future. “She was supposed to be here with me.”

El clutched onto him tighter, whispering soft reassurances as her hands rubbed un and down his arms.

“Were you alone here?” Hopper asked gently and Steve shrugged.

“Six was supposed to stay with me here,” he whispered. “But she never came, so it was just me.”

“For six years, you were all alone.” Hopper said in horror, sounding like he could barely imagine it.

“It was worse at the beginning,” Steve shrugged. “It got better when I went to school.”

“Those first two years,” Hopper began. “Did you see anyone?”

“I was hiding,” He pointed out. “That meant two years alone in this house, waiting for her to show up, or anyone else. I would sneak into the library at night to try and prepare myself for the world, but other than the odd night guard I’d have to avoid, I was alone.”

It sounded a lot more depressing than it was. After twelve years of constant monitoring, not a single moment of privacy allowed to be his, the peace and privacy was refreshing, something he enjoyed. He would sit around the house in complete silence, or sometimes he would scream and yell and laugh because no one was going to come and yell at him, hit him, shock him. He remembered feeling so free.

“I’m sorry you had to go through that.” Hopper said thickly.

“It was better than the lab.” Steve replied.

“Anything is better than the lab.” El muttered, and Steve nodded his head. He only knew bits and pieces from El’s time there, but if it was anything like his, then it had to be bad.

“I think I need a drink.” Hopper sighed, getting up to leave.

El and him sat there in silence, both of them used to not saying a word. They weren’t allowed to back in the lab, talking was for answering questions only. Steve had learned how to talk more, how to fill the silence he used to be forced into. But around El, it was easier to just sit and exist with her.

“You did good.” El whispered to him, her head resting on his shoulder.

“By telling them?” He asked, and she nodded. “I don’t feel good.”

“You did good.” She repeated firmly, and he placed his cheek on the top of her head, feeling suddenly very tired.

“I don’t want things to change.” He whispered.

It was his biggest fear. That suddenly the kids would look at him differently, that Joyce and Hopper would stare at him with fear and wouldn’t allow him around the kids anymore, that Jonathan and Nancy would think him as disgusting.

“They won’t.” El promised, and Steve smiled, pressing a quick kiss to her forhead.

He believed her.

______________________

First thing the next morning, after Hopper and El left, he walked right up to the phone, and quickly dialed the number he memorized and waited for the man to answer.

“Doctor Same Owens here.” The man said, and Steve let out a sigh of relief.

“It’s Steve.” He said as a greeting. “I need a favour.”

Within ten minutes, they had worked out an agreement and Owens was scheduled to be by his house in under an hour. He was lucky the man was dedicated enough to show up even though it was currently eight o’clock in the morning.

He waited in silence, staring at the phone like it personally offended him.

His life was tipping over the side.

He had barely even thought of the lab in years, pushing it to the back of his mind along with his powers. Sometimes he even fooled himself enough that he forgot everything. That he believed he really was Steve Harrington, son of eccentric millionaires.

Now it was all flooding back, a tidal wave of emotions, memories, and pain.

Doctor Owens showed up three minutes earlier than he should have and Steve was relieved. Drowning in memories was not a fun past time.

“Do you have it?” He asked as a greeting and once the man nodded Steve let him in.

“I still do not approve of this,” Owens started. “But if this is what gives you closure.”

“Thank you,” Steve said sincerely, grabbing the box Owens was holding. “Has Hopper talked to you yet?”

“He has,” He said gravely, shaking his head. “I hope you're wrong, but I know that’s not going to be the case. I have my best men on it.”

“Make sure that you watch El too,” He stressed. “If they found me they could have found her too.”

“I’ve got it covered.” Owens soothed. Steve found it hard to believe, but it was the best he was going to get. “Do you want me to go over those with you?”

Steve shook his head.

“I need to do this alone.” He said softly, and Owens nodded.

“I understand.” He said heavily, and Steve felt a wash of relief. The last thing he wanted was this man reading over his shoulder all the time.

“Please kill him.” He whispered after a long moment. “Please kill him so I don’t have to.”

He very well could. But the risks were too much.

His power was strong, but finicky. If Brenner was over 1000 miles away, getting a lethal projection onto him might not work, might not get there fast enough before it killed Steve. And El couldn’t find him, which meant he could have some sort of block on all higher levels of power. But he was willing to try it, if it meant finally ridding the world of that man.

He would be willing to risk himself to kill Brenner. He wouldn’t regret it one bit. But if it didn’t work, who was going to be there to protect El? To take in the other projects should they be found?

It was the last option he would go to. The very last one.

Instead, he sent Owens away and placed the box on his living room floor, sliding to the ground beside it.

He almost didn’t want to look inside. He knew what would be in there.

All their files, on Numbers One through Thirteen. Along with videos of their training and progress.

He needed to see it. Needed to know what happened, or else he would go crazy.

He opened the box and pulled out the papers lying on top.

He read through Ones easily, already knowing the majority of it. Power to control dreams, had been stuck in a coma for years.

Number Two, who could manipulate different metals and other objects and could change their shape.

Three, who has telepathic powers and could link up multiple minds and have conversations with people without saying a single word.

Four, who could teleport up to three people in short bursts, and could sometimes manage to send small objects through those portals as well.

Five, who had extraordinary sense of sight and could see anything within the state if he tried hard enough.

He couldn’t bring himself to read Six’s log quite yet. Didn’t want to face what she went through when he left, how she died.

He read his with clinical detachment. He read about his progress and limitations, the different tests and how to best manipulate and control him. He had to put it down after his own, deciding to read the rest later.

He picked up the tape.

Sliding it into the tv made his hands shake as he shoved himself back against the couch, curling around himself as it rewound and started to play.

Doctor Brenner sat in front of the table, a young boy no older than four with a shaved head and wild eyes watching him closely and without much trust.

“Okay Number Seven, this is an easy test okay?” The doctor said, smiling brightly as he placed down a knife on the table between them. The young boy stared at it uncomfortably.

“I don’t understand.” Number Seven replied, shifting away.

“I’m going to take this knife, and it’s going to sting a little. But you see that little bunny in the corner?” The doctor asked, waiting for the boy’s eyes to look at it before continuing. “You're going to push out towards it when it starts to hurt and then it won't anymore okay?”

The boy nodded, and the doctor carefully grabbed his tiny arm, placing the knife against his skin and with a long drag he cut into him, holding tightly as the boy wailed and squirmed against the pain.

“Push out Seven.” The doctor snapped, holding the arm still even as the boy sobbed in pain. “Push towards the rabbit.”

The boy let out one more sob before his eyes squeezed shut and suddenly the cut healed almost instantly, Doctor Brenner’s white coat suddenly staining with blood. The man hissed, letting go of the boy who cradled his arm close.

“You idiotic child!” The man snapped, clutching at his bleeding arm. “Look what you did?”

“You told me to push!” The kid defended while looking up.

The sound of the slap echoed through the room, the kid holding his now stinging cheek and staring at the doctor with wide eyes.

“You do not talk back to me.” He hissed. “You do not hurt me.”

The boy cowered back as the doctor loomed over him, his arm stained red and eyes furious.

“Do you understand?” He snapped and the boy cowered back more, whimpering slightly. The doctor lashed to, grabbing onto his arm and yanking him up. “I said do you understand!” He yelled causing the boy to wail once again, nodding his head before the Doctor threw him back onto the floor.

“I’m sorry sir.” He whispered, curling in on himself.

“I expect better.” Doctor Brenner said coolly. “Same time tomorrow, until you transfer it to the rabbit.”

He left out the door, leaving the sobbing boy all alone.

Steve dashed to his feet, turning off the tv and letting out a shuddering whimper.

He had almost forgotten that one. But the fear, the pain, the confusion, it all stuck with him.

It took nearly a year of that training before Brenner gave up an accepted that he could only project onto humans. A year of sitting in that room and trying over and over again to get the cut to transfer onto the animal. Watching as the guards slaughtered the rabbit in retaliation when he failed. Brenner watching on and lecturing him on how he could have stopped it, could have only placed a small cut instead of ending the animal’s life.

He could never look at rabbits the same after that.

Once he had calmed down enough, he forced himself through two more, ending up puking his guts out in the bathroom after watching his seven-year-old self get shot in the head over and over again before projecting while actively dead became second nature.

He turned the tapes off after that, telling himself that he’ll revisit them later when he had a handle on things.

____________________________

Surprisingly, they all managed to hold off storming his house until noon, which was a lot later than he thought it would be.

The box was sitting in his living room still, but it was closed this time, tucked away because he knew he would have guests over at some point.

But he still wasn’t prepared for the banging on the door.

He debated not opening it, but eventually decided that they wouldn’t be going away anytime soon and he was pretty sure Max knew how to pick a lock. So he stood up and wandered to the door, pulling it open and standing to the side as all his kids stumbled in one after another.

“You look like shit.” Dustin said in greeting, smiling widely as he jumped over the side of his couch and bounced slightly on the material. Steve chuckled closing the door and turning to face them all. He hadn’t looked in a mirror since he arrived.

“What are you guys doing here so early?” Steve asked instead, walking around and discreetly shoving the box further into the corner.

“We were bored.” Lucas said, and Steve raised an eyebrow.

“We wanted to see if you were okay.” Will filled in, always the truthful one.

“I’m the same as always,” He reassured them, grinning at them lightly. “I was about to make pizza, want to help?”

All the kids wholeheartedly agreed, and Steve found himself back in the kitchen, pointedly not looking at the spots where he knew the men used to lay.

He rolled out the dough as the kids played around the kitchen, gathering random ingredients and other things they wanted to snack on in the meantime. Mostly the cookies from last night. Thirty minutes later they were sliding the pizzas into the oven, a few of the kids wandering back into the living room as Steve started to make them some lemonade to drink.

“Hey Steve?” He heard Dustin call from the living room. “What movie were you watching?”

Steve felt his heart skip a beat as he ran for the kitchen door, already hearing one of the kids start to press play.

He dashed into the room, seeing himself on the screen with blood covering his clothing and tears running down his face.

“Subject took nearly twenty seconds before projecting onto the victim.” Doctor Brenner was saying. “We are about to resume the experiment on attempt ten.”

He managed to slam the off button right as he heard the clicking of the gun, the screen fading to black.

He hit the eject button, taking the tape out and shoving it into his jacket pocket.

“Nothing for little eyes.” He panted, shuttering slightly as the panic receded.

“Steve,” Will said softly. “What was that?”

“It’s nothing.” He snapped, agitation and fear starting to build up inside his chest. “Got it? You guys didn’t see a thing.”

He was too focused on making sure they got the message that watching his tapes was a huge no-no to realize that Mike had found the box.

“What are these files about?” Mike asked, holding up a bunch of papers. “Are these about the projects? Is El in here?”

He goes back to digging around in the box and Steve lunges for him, attempting to grab the papers out of his hands but Mike dances away, still reading through them.

“The ability to teleport? That’s so cool.” Mike said, and Steve growled, reaching inside himself and plucking out the emotion he needed, quickly pushing it towards Mike.

Obedience colored the air and Mike blinked, staring at Steve in shocked silence.

“Give me those papers.” He ordered, and Mike stepped forwards, placing them in his hands. Steve let the emotion drop, and Mike stumbled away from him, looking offended and slightly scared.

“What the hell man?” He asked, settling on anger. It was deserved. “What was that?”

He shoved the papers and the tape back into the box before turning and placing his hands on his hips. “This is off-limits okay?”

The kids were all staring at him with wide eyes and he hated it with a burning passion.

They were looking at him like they had never seen him before, like this was a completely new person and not the same old Steve they always liked to hang out with. They were looking at him like he was Seven. Like they were afraid.

“I-“ He trailed off, the panic and disgust surging up inside him. What had he done? “I’ll be right back. Check on the pizzas.”

He left the room as fast as he could without it being classified as fleeing, bile curling up his throat as he slammed into the bathroom, locking the door after him.

Why did he do that? Why did he have to go back into his old ways so easily? A few stupid memories and a tape and suddenly he was back to trying to control people just like how Brenner wanted him too.

He swiped at the blood under his nose, sitting by the toilet and shoving his back against the tub. He focused on breathing, trying to take a steadying breath and calm the pounding inside his mind. He lashed out, hitting the back of the tub with his elbow and accepting the pain the jolted through him.

Once he was composed enough, he went to the sink and splashed water onto his face, staring into the mirror and trying to ignore the bags under his eyes and the clearly haunted look written all over him.

When he went back out the kids had left and the pizzas were burning in the oven.

__________________________

The first thing he did that day was read Six’s files. It was hard, reading about the test results and how they had no idea why she was dying. But the most heartbreaking part was the ending, the big blocky letters that spelled out ‘Terminated’ across the paper that made his heart clench.

She really was dead.

There were no files or notes on how it happened, only the end of the data intake and those stupid large letters.

He spent the next four hours of his day in front of the tv, watching every single tape that had the number six on it.

The first time he saw his sisters face in six years he almost started crying again.

He had to pause the video just to stare at her and re-memorize the lines of her face.

She was so young in this video, maybe around six or seven. But it was undeniably his sister. The same sky-blue eyes, the same porcelain white skin and strawberry blonde hair just below her shoulders. This was before they cut it for the first time.

He finally brought himself to press play and hadn’t stopped watching the videos since.

Some of them were hard to see, he had to watch her cry and sob and beg for a break, had to watch how her skin became paler as she started to waste away. Saw her suffer through her nightmares and twist and turn at night when he wasn’t there to help her.

But it was worth it to see the good stuff too. They had videos of the two of them in the rainbow room, playing with dolls and different toys and being actual children every once in a while. He watched now as the two of them sat in their cell together, giggling and braiding each other's hair. Brenner sometimes let them grow it out when they had missions.

They currently had matching bobs, and Six was finishing up braiding another small part and was now running away as Steve chased after her, giggling and whipping his head around so he could hit her with the few tiny braids.

They were eight. Steve remembered having to kill three men the same day.

When the clip came to the end he found himself replaying it, watching as the two of them ran around the room once again, laughing and smiling and if he tried hard enough he could ignore the way Six’s chest heaved after the tiniest bit of exercise, how her skin was deathly pale and how she was so thin Steve was able to wrap his fingers around her forearm.

He kept on pressing reply.

He didn’t even notice when the front door opened and Joyce quietly entered his house.

He didn’t even notice her until she sat beside him on the floor, her shoulders brushing gently against his.

“Is that her?” She asked softly, and Steve never took his eyes off the screen.

“Yeah.” He said simply.

“Will told me you were upset, I wanted to come see how you were doing.” Joyce whispered.

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“What do you know about me?” He snapped, finally turning to look at her. He was hanging off the edge right now, tears still filling his eyes and he wanted to cry, to scream, to hold his sister again and tell her everything would be okay. But he couldn’t because she was dead and has been for years without Steve knowing.

“I know that you're going to be okay.” She whispered. “I know you can do this. Don’t hide from me Steve.”

“I miss her.” He admitted, and within seconds Joyce was pulling him closer, hugging him tightly and he latched onto her as fast as he could.

“It’s going to be okay.” She reassured him.

“I’m a monster,” He whispered. “I thought I was done with this whole thing but I just go right back to it. I killed those men; I used my powers to manipulate my friends. I don’t want to be like this.” He sobbed, the tears running down his cheeks and into her shoulder.

“You are not a monster,” Joyce whispered fiercely, pulling him closer. “Your name is Steve Harrington, and you are the best damn babysitter I have ever seen.”

He laughed wetly, his fingers twisting tighter in her shirt.

“You are funny and kind. A damn good cook too.” She continued. “There are many things that you are Steve, and a monster is not one of them okay?”

He nodded weakly, and they sat there for a long time, Steve simply enjoying the warmth of her embrace before he remembered himself and pulled back. The tape was still playing in the background.

“Do you want me to watch them with you?” She asked softly, and he immediately shook his head.

“It’s getting late, Will and Jonathan are probably expecting you.” He said, shuffling away. He felt mortified about the way he broke down like that. He wasn’t supposed to cry, to mourn.

“Will’s at Mike’s house, Jonathan and Nancy are watching them.” Joyce waved the concern away.

“Are you replacing me as a babysitter?” He teased, and Joyce laughed softly.

“Never,” She promised. “But I have nothing to do for the entire night and I know you're going to keep torturing yourself watching these, so I’d rather you not do it alone.”

“Why are you suck an amazing mom?” He asked, shaking his head. “You should write a book.”

“I’m trying to be serious here.”

“I know.”

“So what do you say?” She asked, holding out a hand. “Let’s watch these things together, then we can go burn them in my firepit afterward.”

He stared at her hand for a long moment, his lips twitching up slightly.

“I like that idea.” He said, reaching out to replace the tape in the tv and press play.

He made sure to put on one of the better ones, mostly focusing on his ability to project emotions. Joyce and him watched in silence as they watched a younger him project anger onto two men, who ended up beating each other to a pulp as Brenner and he watched.

The next one was a mission debrief, the techs shoving pictures of a man in his face, making sure he understood what he was meant to do.

“The missions,” Joyce said quietly. “How long had you been going on them?”

“The first was when I was seven,” He said airily, he didn’t want to remember. “I went on them until I escaped.”

“Seven,” She whispered breathlessly. “That monster.”

“It wasn’t that bad.” He said, when in reality he knew how bad it was. Knew that Seven-year-old kids are supposed to play outside all day, not be let out once a month so they could complete a mission for an evil scientist.

“Bullshit,” She cursed, and he stared at her in surprise. “You didn’t deserve that.”

“None of us did.”

“Did all of you go on missions?” She asked, and he shrugged.

“The younger ones didn’t.” He replied. “Eight through Thirteen didn’t as far as I was aware. He wanted to keep developing them first, mold them into perfect soldiers. We did it in pairs most the time. I was supposed to be alone; my powers were useful enough without a pair. But then One fell ill, and they put Six and I together again. We worked well together; one tech called it a twin thing. We almost always went on missions together, sometimes with the others if it was important.”

“You were too young,” She whispered, her eyes focused on the screen again. “You were just a child.”

“I was never a child,” He laughed, a bitter sting filling his throat as the words came out with a lot more heat than he wanted. “They didn’t allow me to have a childhood.”

“When did you start training?” She asked.

“Four,” He replied, thinking of the first tape he watched. “They let us play until we were four, to try and see who would work the best together. After that, it was only training, occasional breaks to the rainbow room whenever he got a new kid. Or at least until I was six.”

“What happened when you were six?”

“I tried to escape with them,” He laughed bitterly, shaking his head. “Attacked the guards. Six and I tried to make a break with the kids.”

“It didn’t work,” Joyce sighed. “I wish it did.”

“So do I,” Steve sighed. “They wouldn’t let me near the other kids after that. Complete isolation for a year until they started training me with Six again. They let me see the others for missions and sometimes joint meals, but that was it. I was easier to train by myself, but manipulation was easier with ties.”

Joyce was quite for a long time after that.

“You know,” She said. “A few months ago I had a set expectation of what you would be like. The stories Jonathan and Will would tell me, I thought you were a grade-A asshole.”

“I was,” Steve cut in. “I was such an asshole because that’s the only way I knew how to fit in. I never should have been like that.”

“It’s okay,” Joyce comforted. “I forgive you.”

He nodded, and she took a deep breath before continuing.

“I never expected I would be talking to the Steve Harrington in my entire life, let alone care about him,” She whispered. “But you are so different than what I thought.”

“I try,” He said through the lump in his throat and slightly mistiness to his eyes. “I never thought I would tell anyone about any of this.”

“I’ve been told I’m easy to talk to.” She laughed. “You can talk to me at any time okay?”

“Can I tell you something?” He whispered, feeling suddenly very small and afraid. He didn’t want to tell her, didn’t want to admit it. But he knew if he kept this inside it would continue to rot him from the inside out.

“Of course.” She replied without hesitation.

“You need to promise that you won’t get mad,” He said fiercely. “That you won’t be disappointed, or disgusted, or ashamed.”

“I promise.”

“They made me kill people,” He whispered. “Over and over again. And I did it without hesitation. Without remorse because it was either kill them or they would kill Six.”

“Steve,” Joyce said softly, almost tenderly. It hurt to hear. He didn’t deserve the softness, the understanding, the love. “You were protecting her.”

“But that wasn’t the only reason why,” He stressed, because a small part of him wanted to make her hate him. Wanted to push her away because anyone he cared about got hurt.

“I just wanted to pain to stop.” He sobbed. “It would hurt so much, the shocks, and I killed because that made the pain go away. I killed so many people. Young, old, ones with families. They pointed me to them and I just killed them.” He was crying now, curled up away from Joyce. “I killed them because I was too weak to deal with a little punishment, because I was too much of a wimp to take it in order to save their lives.”

“Steve please-“ Joyce tried to stop him, but he was already talking and it was all spilling out, the years worth of guilt and trauma finally falling out.

“Sometimes,” He continued. “Sometimes they would simply let them go, and instead of just killing them easily, I would take my time, hurt them and make them suffer because that meant I would get a reward, a smile, a pat on the back, a ‘good job’. I hurt people, good people, because I thought it would make Papa love me.”

Joyce said nothing for a very long time, long enough that he thought he finally did it, he finally made her hate him.

“Can I hug you?” She finally whispered, and before he could answer she was holding him close, her own tears falling down her cheeks.

“I chose to kill them,” He whispered into her shoulder. “How can you forgive me for killing them? Hurting them?”

“You were young,” Joyce whispered. “You had no choice, none at all. Brenner is a disgusting man who forced you to do that all. It’s not your fault, that’s not you.”

He didn’t believe her, but she held him long enough and repeated it enough times that maybe one day he would.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up on his couch the next morning, Joyce already gone from his house and a blanket tucked in quite snugly around his body. He yawns as he sits up, stretching sore muscles and wondering what time it was.

He stumbled to his kitchen, grabbing at the fridge and shoving it open to grab at a glass of orange juice. He felt tired, exhausted almost. Joyce and him were up extremely late, watching the videos of not only him but the other projects. Sometimes they would stop and just talk, and Steve would tell her the things he thought no one would ever know about.

She must have left after he fell asleep, she did have actual kids she had to pick up after all. He started cooking himself breakfast, and had just sat down when the phone rang.

Sighing, he stood back up and grabbed the receiver, shoving it towards his ear as he took a bite of the scrambled eggs.

“Hello?” He asked, leaning against the wall.

“Hey Steve!” Dustin said from the other end of the phone, and Steve tensed slightly. “I’m at the Byer’s house right now.”

“Oh?” Steve asked, not getting what the point was. “Isn’t it a bit early to be over there?”

“It’s like one in the afternoon dude,” Dustin said, and Steve glanced at the clock, blinking in surprise.

“Guess I slept in.” He said under his breath.

“No shit,” Dustin replied. “But I’m calling because we’re all here and we want you to come over.”

“Why?” He asked before properly thinking. After the shitstorm that was yesterday’s visit, he thought they wouldn’t want to be near him again. Or at least not for a while, not after he freaked out on them. “I mean, any occasion or anything?” He said, shaking his head to try and focus himself again.

“Nope!” Dustin said a little too loudly. Nothing at all!”

Steve was about to ask him what freaked him out so much when there was a slight scuffle on the phone and muffled swearing.

“Hey kid,” Suddenly it was Hopper on the phone, and Steve could distantly hear the kids protesting in the background. “Sorry about that, I was supposed to be the one calling. We kind of ruined lunch and Joyce insisted that you were needed.”

Steve spirits sank a little bit, but he shook it off, saying any reason to spend time with the people he saw as friends was enough.

He was about to reply, but suddenly all the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and he distantly heard the soft padding of feet on the carpet.

“Hopper,” He said quietly, standing up straight and looking around for a weapon. Someone was inside his house again. “Can you come over here? Somethings wrong and-“

He never got the chance to finish his sentence before the door was suddenly bursting open.

He dropped the phone, lunging for the nearest blunt object and attempting to slam it at the closest attacker, flinging out his powers and projecting the first emotion that he was feeling. Panic.

Which didn’t really work out too well for him.

Projecting was an art, it truly was. In the right circumstances, any emotion could work, but if you alter that circumstance slightly, it would turn around and no longer be in your favor.

Projecting panic onto what appeared to be ten heavily armed men who knew he was dangerous and was willing to do whatever to subdue him was not the brightest idea he had in a while.

He fought them off the best that he could, but he had nothing to use against them. It happened so fast he wasn’t able to focus enough to get any more emotions up, and the men were focusing on restraining him other than harming him, meaning his main power was useless.

One of the larger men grabbed his hands, tearing them slightly harshly behind his back and slamming him into the wall. Not enough to fully hurt them when he projected outwards. It only caused one of them to flinch slightly in discomfort.

He struggled, lashing out with his foot and catching the back of the man’s knee, making the grip loosen dramatically. He squirmed out of the hold and turned around, flinging his arms and leg in every which way in order to hit anyone he could.

One of them was stupid, and when he got a chance he slammed a vase onto the back of Steve’s head. The pain was blinding for approximately two seconds before suddenly it was gone, and the man was stumbling away, clutching his head and yelling in pain.

He lunged forwards, grabbing a piece of broken glass and was seconds away from driving it into his skin before something landed on his back, and for a few seconds all he knew was pain.

Blinding white, harsh pain zig-zagging through him, making him cry out as his muscles tensed painfully as he spasmed. He fell to the ground, his thoughts distant and jumbled as they surrounded him, at least four of them holding electric prods in their hands.

He tried to get onto his knees, but one pushed him back down and turned the prod back on and within seconds he was screaming, within a minute his vision had faded to black.

_________________

He woke up with his hands restrained onto the bed, his mind still foggy and his eyes stinging from the bright white light shining into them.

“Fuck,” He whispered, blinking rapidly and turning his head. “Hey shitheads! I’m awake!”

Just like he expected, the door opened and two men in lab coats came rushing in. Their clipped footsteps and blank expression looking so familiar that Steve felt like he had come home after a very long time. If home was a deranged placed filled with nightmares.

“Number Seven has regained full consciousness.” One of them started saying.

“No shit.” Steve snapped, but they moved on as if he hadn’t said a word.

“No lingering effects of injuries, despite not appearing to have projected them onto anyone else.” The other one said, yanking Steve’s head back and staring at his eyes.

Steve growled at him, attempting to nip at the man’s fingers as he poked and prodded around his face.

“No lasting damage from the shocks.” The first one said with a nod. “Are you able to understand what we are saying Number Seven?”

“My name’s Steve you dipshits,” He growled. “Not Number Seven.”

“Subject is able to understand our words as well as respond back.” The second one continued, and Steve wanted very much to stab them in some way or another.

“All necessary information has been collected,” The first one said, finishing scribbling in his notebook. “Subject will remain strapped down while waiting for extraction.”

“No!” He shouted as they started to leave. “You can’t just leave me here to rot!” He tried, but the door had shut behind them and he was once again alone.

“Well fuck.” He said, slamming his back against the pillow and tried not to cry.

___________________

The wait took forever.

He never had a good concept of time in the first place, but this was just ridiculous.

He was quiet for the first few minutes, but quickly grew bored of that, opting to trying and annoying them into listening to him.

He started by singing the entirety of 99 bottles of bear on the wall, then a stunning acapella version of the Star Wars theme, moving onto Magnus P.I after that. Then he performed ever single ABBA song he knew along with occasional interlude of Bonney M.

Once or twice, a tech would walk in to check up on certain things, like making sure his restraints were tight and that the IV line in his arm was secured.

It was the most entreating part of the day.

“Have you watched the Return of the Jedi yet?” He asked. “Spoiler Alert, Vader dies man.”

It continued along those lines, with him spoiler every popular movie or tv show he could think of. Sometimes he would make completely fake tv shows and pretend they were real just to have something better to do. Every time, he enjoyed the twist of annoyance or frustration on the tech's face.

All in all, he was bored to death by the time Doctor Brenner waltzed into the room.

“Number Seven,” The man said with an easy smile. “It’s great to finally have you back.”

“Can’t say the same.” Steve replied, lifting up his chin and pretending like his heart wasn’t pounding and he didn’t feel like throwing up. This was a face he only ever saw in his nightmares, the flashbacks.

“We’ve missed you and the other projects,” The man continued, pulling up a chair and placing his hands beside Steve’s.

He felt powerless, useless strapped down and unable to move as this freak of a man sat beside him.

“I believe you were one of the kids that helped in my takedown correct?” Brenner asked, Steve kept his mouth shut. “What? No more quips left?”

“Fuck you.” He snapped, and Brenner only laughed.

“Someone grew a backbone huh?” He asked, his teeth shining bright white under the light. Steve wanted to knock them out. “I like it, so much more to work with. It won't last though, you know my policy on backtalk.”

“You can shove your policies up your ass.” Steve snapped.

“Now Seven,” Brenner said, patting Steve’s hand before resting it on his arm. “Behave, you know what happens if you don’t.”

“What are you going to do?” Steve asked, trying his best to be brave despite the fear coursing through his veins. “Six is dead, I know she is. So who else are you going to threaten to get me to lie down and roll over?”

“You bring up a fair point,” Brenner sighed. “I no longer have a frail little thing to use against you, but I do have your other favorite method of control.” He shook a small little button in his hand, and Steve felt the blood drain from his face.

His eyes flicked down to his hands and feet, expecting to see the familiar metal like collars surrounding them, tiny wires meeting his skin. There was nothing there.

“We had plenty of time to think this over,” Brenner continued. “And we decided that the best idea was to give you restraints you can’t take off. So the wires are implanted just under your skin, enough to still hurt like a bitch, but a lot harder to get out.”

Brenner leaned over, quickly unclipping both the hand restraints and moving away.

Steve sat up, a hand clutching his wrist, inspecting it. Sure enough, two neat little scars were healed over the sides, and when he poked it he could feel small little wires beneath his skin.

He wasn’t prepared for the wave of absolute anger that came over him. It washed over his body, making his heart pound and jaw clench. Brenner had literally placed wires under his skin, had violated him and implemented invasive technology inside of him.

“You son of a bitch!” He screamed, turning to launch himself at the doctor, who sidestepped easily and pressed the tiny button in his hands.

At once, blinding pain overtook him, and he fell to his knees, gasping and coughing as the last volts of electricity rang through him.

“Are you done?” Brenner asked, sounding pleased. “Your room is ready.”

He didn’t have the strength to resist as two guards came in and dragged him off the floor and down the hall.

______________________________

According to the number of bland ass food trays they brought him, it had been two days since he had been moved to his old cell.

Nothing had happened since. He mostly sat in the corner, too afraid to move in case someone decided he was doing something wrong and decided to shock him again. The first few times he moved around the room they had, forcing him to stay int eh corner at all times except mealtimes.

They came for him right after lunch.

The door opened and two armed guards walked in, grabbing his arms and tugging him out the door and down the hall. He decided to not antagonize them as they wandered, instead staying as quiet as he could with their bruising grips on his arms.

They dragged him into a familiar room, with white walls and a large tank sitting in the middle, surrounded by thick panes of glass. They threw him into the room and he landed on his knees, kneeling there for a second before standing.

“Get changed and climb into the tank. You should know the drill you freak.” One of them snapped, and Steve pushed out of spite, transferring the slowly growing bruises on his arm to the man, who gasped and cursed in anger. The short, mind-numbing shock was worth the look on the man's face.

Steve turned around, carefully peeling off his clothes and putting the new ones on. He didn’t care much for modesty, never had before, wouldn’t now.

Within seconds he had changed into the bland bodysuit, walking slowly over to the tank.

He didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to comply with these stupid tests once again. But there was the ever-present heat under his skin that reminded him that they had a very effective way of controlling him and they were not afraid to sue it. So he climbed the ladder and jumped in.

The bleakness surrounded him instantly, and distantly he knew that a subject was being led into the room and sat down on the chair in front of the tank. He took a deep breath, focusing hard and suddenly he was standing in the dark.

Water dripped off him and he shivered, looking around in surprise.

Normally, the place wasn’t this black. Normally just a dark grey, sometimes filled with vaguely furniture shaped objects. But this time it was fully black, nothing he could see for miles.

“Steve?” A voice asked, and he turned around, relief flooding through his body as he saw El staring back at him, looking scared and relieved at the same time.

“El,” He breathed, and she was running at him, launching into his arms and burying her head in his shoulder. “I’m here, I’m here.”

“Three weeks,” She sobbed. “You’ve been gone for three weeks.”

So he had been under for nearly two and a half weeks, which wasn’t reassuring in the least.

“I’m okay.” He lied, trying to reassure her. Nothing was okay with this situation at all.

“Papa has you.” She whispered, and he nodded, pulling away.

“He does.”

“We can help you, where are you?” She insisted and he smiled weakly.

“I don’t know.” He replied. “I haven’t been outside. I have no clue where I am.”

“I can find you.” She said, staring at him determinedly.

“I have no doubt that you can’t,” he said, ruffling her short hair. “But it’s dangerous here. You can’t get caught.”

“I won’t.” She promised.

“Promise me.” He said. “When you find me, let me know and then wait two months no matter what. I can prepare and plan to make it safer for us both.”

“I don’t want to wait.” She protested, but Steve shook his head.

“I’m not letting you put yourself and the others at risk. Wait two months after you find my location or else we won’t have a shot. Can you promise me that?”

“Steve-“ El said, tears filling her eyes as she clutched onto his sleeves with shaking hands.

“Promise me.” He begged, sighing as she nodded. He put his forehead against hers, smiling softly.

“We can do this El, just trust me okay?” He pulled back, kissing her forehead softly and just taking in the reassurance having his little sister here provided.

A harsh voice slashed through their moment, and Steve found himself clutching tighter onto his sister, looking around wildly.

“Project Number Seven.” It was Brenner’s voice, and he relaxed, realizing the man was speaking to him outside this all. “Begin.”

“I need to do something if we want to talk longer.” He said, and El nodded, letting go of him and letting him step away.

He focused hard, and suddenly bright bursts of colors surrounded them, flashing like fireworks. EL stared at them in amazement, her mouth open in surprise. He smiled down at her.

“What should we do today?” He asked, walking through the flashing lights like they were an art gallery. “Some anger? Resentment? Sorrow?”

“Hope,” El whispered. “Do hope.”

He turned towards her, blinking in surprise. He had never tried doing hope before.

He searched a bit farther, finding the blinding gold color and reaching out with a hand, caressing it. It spread out in multiple directions, small wisps of golden color twirling around his fingertips. At once his chest warmed, a feeling of content washing over him. And he felt it, hope that he would get out of here, that he would beat Brenner. Hope that El would find them, that he would be free again.

Hope was knowing that things would turn out better despite the wires in his arms and the blank stares he got all day. Hope was thinking about Joyce’s cabin and the smell of burnt cooking coming from her kitchen. It was thinking about the scheduled D&D nights where the kids all sit around laughing, carefree and happy. Hope was knowing that he could go home and see El for real again.

It was a warmth in his chest, a lightness in his head, a childish feeling of bull-headed belief.

He reached out, grabbing El’s hand and watching as her face lit up and she giggled, the same feeling of warmth rushing through her. They watched in wonder as the color swirled in the air around them, dancing and spreading out as Steve wished. El grinned up at him, looking carefree and her eyes were filled with wonder and trust. He smiled back at her, his eyes fluttering closed momentarily.

But then all he knew was pain.

He screamed as suddenly his nerves felt like they were on fire, burning inside his body as he fell to the ground, spasming and sobbing as the intense amount of pain flooding through his senses.

And it didn’t stop.

Normally the shocks lasted only a few seconds, but this went on and on. He distantly heard El screaming his name, begging him to respond, to say he was okay. He wanted to reassure her, but he couldn’t get the words out before he was being viciously pulled from the darkness, El’s tear-stained face the last thing he saw before he emerged.

He was being dragged from the water, the aftershocks flooding through him and making his limbs still seize and shake even as he lay there. Brenner was standing over him, frowning down at his sobbing and soaked body.

“Negative emotions only Seven,” He snapped. “You know the rules.”

Steve let his eyes flutter closed. Salty tears running down his cheeks as he curled into a ball, his limbs still feeling alight.

He wanted to feel the warmth that hope brought him again. But right now all he could feel was cold.

Chapter Text

Steve had been through six years of freedom. Six years of living his own life, where he could decide when he wanted to eat, sleep, or move around. He had gotten comfortable, allowing himself to relax and enjoy the freedom. He went to parties, went out at night, drove around town with no destination in mind.

Being back here, in the blank rooms with a set schedule was killing him. He knew this pattern, had lived through this routine most of his life. But he had a taste of outside now, knew that this was wrong and sick, and he couldn’t just sit around and let it happen anymore.

The lights would blaze on early morning, followed quickly by a meal that tasted like paste. He would then wait for almost an hour, sitting on his bed fiddling his thumbs and humming a song under his breath. Then they would take him to the tank, he would spend hours there, practicing emotions until the blood from under his nose stained the water crimson and he felt hollowed out with a spoon.

Then he would be brought back to his room, where he would sit until dinner came. Then he would be brought to the gym area, forced into new and increasingly harder workouts until he felt like he was about to pass out. Then they would bring him back and he would fall into bed, too tired to think of anything other than sleep.

As much as he detested the same boring thing over and over again, he started to get used to it again. He would wake up as soon as the lights came on, sit patiently for his meal, and then walk without assistance to his training.

Brenner saw it as compliancy. Steve saw it as a way to train.

His powers had been faltering ever since he swore not to use them. For almost three years he had been complete power free, shoving them deep inside and promising only to use them in emergencies. He was out of practice now, slow, useless at times. Projecting emotions was exhausting to say the least, most of the time his legs were too weak to carry him back to his cell.

But he had to get stronger, had to be stronger if he ever wanted to believe he could get out of here. So he went to training, participated in those stupid tests and did everything that was asked of him. After three weeks he felt himself start to gain more power, could throw around and bring up emotions easier than he could. He was nowhere close to what he used to be, but he was inching closer every day.

One day, they lead him to a new room instead of the one with the tank. The guards sat him roughly at the metal table, two doctors walking in to attach electrodes to his skin. He sat patiently, his brain flying a million miles per hour to try and figure out what to do next. He knew what was coming.

Brenner walked in right after the doctors left, sitting opposite to him.

“You’ve been doing well Number Seven.” Brenner said, smiling softly at him, almost affectionately.

“It’s Steve.” He said under his breath, deadest on not letting himself become depersonalized like that again.

Brenner hummed, but didn’t comment on that.

“I’ve decided to continue with your training, including starting to work on your other abilities. I take it you remember how this works?” Brenner said, and Steve nodded slightly.

A gagged woman was forcefully led in, tears staining her eyes as she let out muffled pleads. Steve tried not to cry along with her. He could see the terror radiating from him in droves, staining the air around him.

Brenner reached into a bag by his side, taking out a small dagger and placing it on the table.

“Go on,” He said, nodding at the dagger. “You know what to do.”

Steve stared at the dagger on the table, slowly reaching out to grab it.

Brenner was testing him, he really was. Placing him there, unrestrained with a knife in his hand, easily within stabbing distance. It would be so easy to just reach over and stab him, right through the heart, effective, quick, and painful.

But his eyes flickered up to the camera in the corner, and he knew the second he moved hostility he would be shocked into oblivion.

Brenner’s smile grew as he brought the knife to his own arm, digging the blade in and pulling down.

It hurt, of course it did, but he had a fairly high pain tolerance, so it was mostly just a sting.

“Good boy,” Brenner said, grinning in delight. “Now push.”

And so Steve did push.

Watching the blood blossom on Brenner’s sleeve was worth passing out from the shock they administered.

__________________________

Every two days, they would bring him to that room, it was a bitter routine. Brenner would press the knife into his hands, bring in a new crying and gaged person, and instruct Steve to make a cut and then push. Every time he did, and soon Brenner’s arms were covered with more and more cuts.

Eventually the man stopped coming to the meetings, but Steve still pushed towards him. The overwhelming shocks were more than worth it to see the bandages wrapping Brenner’s arms.

They could hurt him as much as they wanted to. Sure it scrambled him enough he was unable to project that onto them, but he was willing to take the pain. There was no way he was going to harm innocents anymore.

El was still trying to find him, but the place was almost blocked off from here, and she could only find Steve when he was in the tank himself. It wasn’t looking well.

So he took matters into his own hands. Late at night, he would slam his head against the wall until he felt the familiar ache of a concussion or other head injury, then he would focus and search the many brain waves surrounding them, most likely some town, and he pushed out onto one of them at random. Nothing lethal, nothing more than a headache for a week or two, but enough random unexplained injuries that people started to notice.

Brenner never caught on, even going as far to praise his own little training exercises. Steve only stared at him, deciding to only speak the words “Fuck you” to anyone here. If those words weren’t applicable, he chose silence, unless it was important of course.

After two weeks of randomly sending injuries around town, El found him. He was in a small town almost halfway across the country, and they were already on their way. Thankfully, a plane ticket for them all was way too expensive, so they were going on a road trip, which would take nearly a month. So he still had time to actually plan this shit out.

Help was coming, he told himself that every night when his chest felt like an empty void of emotion and all his muscles aches with pain.

_______________________

After another week of uncooperating with the tests, Brenner brought down to a familiar-looking room. A tiny sun was painted on the door, and inside was a small basket filled with small toys. Comfy looking chairs lined the walls, one of which was obviously double-sided glass.

“Why am I here?” He asked, turning to face Brenner, who was staring at him with an odd look on his face.

“There’s someone I want you to meet.” He said simply, before turning and walking out the door, leaving Steve alone.

He wandered around, scoping out the room and ignoring the fact that he was sure that Brenner and other scientists were still watching his every move. He was facing one wall, marveling at the tiny designs of farm animals on the wall when the door clicked open again.

He turned, settling slightly into a defensive position until he saw who it was.

A young boy was being led into the room, a tech holding his hand. He was young, Steve wasn’t sure how young, but defiantly under ten. He had tightly curled black hair and dark brown skin, intelligent eyes staring right at Steve.

The tech let go of his hand, turning around and leaving without another word. The kid simply stared at him, his eyes wide and terrified.

Steve immediately melted, crouching down slightly to be around his height, making sure to keep the same distance.

“Hey there bud,” He said softly. “What’s your name?”

“Fourteen.” The kid said immediately. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Steve,” He said, hesitating. Maybe the kid would trust him more if he knew he was like him. “Or Seven, either works.”

“Steve,” The kid tried, blinking in surprise. “I thought projects aren’t allowed to have a name.”

“Everyone’s allowed a name,” He said, glaring at the glass momentarily. “You just have to find it first.”

The kid nodded, like it made complete sense.

“Like a treasure hunt,” He said, smiling slightly. “I like treasure hunts.”

“Their fun aren’t they?” Steve said, laughing. Fourteen sat on the ground, crossing his legs, and Steve did the same. “I used to go on them.”

“Really?” The kid asked, his eyes widening. “I’ve only read about them.”

“It’s just as cool as you imagine,” He said with a wink. “Sometimes even cooler.”

“Wow.” The kid said, as if treasure hunts being even cooler than he pictured was the most interesting thing he had ever heard of.

They sat in silence for a moment, the kid seeming to think things over, Steve let him.

“Why are you here?” Fourteen asked after a moment. “What’s your superpower?”

Superpower. It had been a long time since he was able to refer to them like that.

“I can project emotions,” He said hesitantly. “And sometimes injuries, which isn’t as fun, but still just as cool.”

“I have something Papa calls Psy-cho-metry,” Fourteens aid, carefully sounding the word out. “I see things when I touch objects.”

“Wow,” Steve said, genuinely impressed. “That’s pretty wicked buddy.”

Fourteen grinned, like he wasn’t used to getting praised. Steve’s heart ached for the boy.

“It’s really cool, I can see what happened before the object got to the place, I see all sorts of cool things.” Fourteen said, fidgeting slightly.

“I bet you do kid,” He said, smiling just as wide as the kid did.

“I’m not a kid, I’m six years old.” Fourteen declared, the smile turning into a slight frown. “I’m going to be a superhero, and kids can’t be superheroes.”

“Of course they can,” Steve said through the lump in his throat. “Anyone can be a superhero, even kids like you.”

Fourteen seemed to think that over for a moment, his face scrunching up.

“Are you sure?” He asked cautiously.

“Of course,” Steve said. “I know many kids who are superheroes, they’ve saved the world before.”

“They have?” Fourteen asked, looking hopeful. “And their kids?”

“Yep,” Steve assured him. “Very much kids.”

“Then maybe I can be a kid,” Fourteen said, a thoughtful look on his face. “Yeah, I think I can be a kid.”

“Kid’s also get ice cream, so being a kid is so much more fun than being an adult.” Steve said, grinning at the kid.

“What’s ice cream?” Fourteen asked, and Steve flinched slightly.

“It’s a type of food,” He said softly. “It’s cold and very tasty. There are close to 50 different flavors.”

Fourteen grinned at Steve, his face lighting up.

“Then my first job as a superhero will be to try all 50 types of ice cream,” He declared. “Will you come with me?”

“Of course,” Steve said softly. “I would love to.”

“Then your officially my sidekick,” Fourteen said. “I think you’d make a good sidekick.”

“Thanks buddy.” Steve said, trying not to cry. He was too young to be here, too innocent to be dealing with Brenner. Steve wanted to wrap him in his arms and never let go, wanted to make sure Brenner never got his filthy hands near this kid again. He knew none of those things could happen.

The door suddenly opened, and both of them scrambled to their feet.

“Say goodbye Number Fourteen.” A kind looking tech said, holding out a hand for the kids to take. Fourteen hesitated for a moment, before he was suddenly running full speed towards Steve, wrapping his tiny arms around his waist and holding him tight.

“Will I see you again?” The kid whispered, and Steve leaned down, wrapping his arms around the kid too.

“Of course,” He whispered. “I promise you that we will.”

“Okay,” Fourteen said, pulling away. “Goodbye sidekick.” He said before turning and running to the lady, who grabbed his hand and led him away.

Steve simply stood there for a long time, staring at where he last saw the young boy, feeling numb as he stood in the now silent room.

Brenner entered shortly after.

“What’s your angle?” He asked, because there always was one. There was always a fucking catch with Brenner and Steve didn’t want to hear it.

“You aren’t cooperating,” Brenner said simply. “You and Fourteen are the only goddamn projects I have left. After Eleven left it was only him, but he is pretty much useless on missions. So I have an offer. You behave and perform all tests to how I want them done, and I will allow you to see him, I won’t hurt him. Keep disobeying me and he will get hurt, and you won’t see him ever again.”

Steve knew this song and dance. In fact, he had been singing it for years.

It was the same way with Six. You either follow the rules or Brenner would keep pushing her to the point where she would be lying in Steve’s cell, coughing up chunks of blood. You follow the rules, do whatever he says, and he won’t kill the people you care about.

And it frustrated Steve because he knew it would work again.

The thought of condemning that kid to anything, of not keeping his promise, it hurt. The thought of Fourteen lying dead just like Six.

He let out a breath, stopping his thoughts where they were.

“Fine.” He grit out, his eyes fluttering shut to stop the tears from flooding over.

“Glad to come to an agreement.” Brenner grinned, and Steve was overcome with the urge to wipe that stupid fucking smirk from his lips, to clock him and just keep hitting until Brenner was simply a smear on the floor under him. But he held himself back, following his guards back to his cell.

Soon. Not now, but soon.

____________________________

He sat in the room again, Brenner standing across from him with a knife in his hand, a sobbing man sitting in the corner. Steve tried not to look at him.

“Where do you find these people?” Steve asked bitterly, flinching as the man started screaming, the sound muffled behind the gag.

“They are employees who disappoint me,” Brenner said carelessly. “This one tried to tattle on us, which is a shame, he was a good doctor. Are you going to begin?”

Steve didn’t say anything, only pictured up the knife and held it above his arm. He glanced over at the man, trying to show how much he hated this with only his eyes. Wanting to make it easier, he projected a tiny bit of calmness onto the man, making his screams die down into sobs.

“Wrong powers Seven.” Brenner said, but he didn’t sound angry so Steve figured it was okay. He probably wasn’t enjoying the screaming either, probably gave him a headache. Steve hoped his head was pounding.

He pressed the blade into his arm, dragging it up and pushing out, his eyes squeezing shut as the man started screaming.

“Again.” Brenner hissed, and Steve resisted the urge to start crying himself.

He moved the blade and cut again. And again. And again.

An hour later the man stopped screaming, the blood had dried on Steve’s arms, and he felt like puking.

“Very good Number Seven.” Brenner said, smiling in that proud way that he did.

Steve hated the way something deep inside him twisted at the praise. Mostly he just felt like throwing up.

______________________________

Fourteen was snuggled in his arms, their legs tangled together and his small head lying on Steve’s chest.

“Tell me another story.” The kid asked, sounding tired.

“Which one?” Steve replied, his fingers tugging through the kid’s unruly curls.

“I don’t know any.” The kid admitted, and Steve nodded. So far he had recounted Cinderella and Dumbo, both of which Fourteen listened in awe. He also enjoyed listening to Steve tell him about superhero comics, his favorite being Spiderman and Falcon.

“What about Peter Pan?” He said, launching into the story. He told it as dramatically as he could, making Fourteen giggle and gasp at the right places.

“I like Peter Pan,” Fourteen said once he finished. “I want to be like him.”

Steve chuckled, so far the kid had said that about every since story he told.

“If your Peter Pan, who am I?” Steve asked, like he had every time. So far he had been dubbed as the Mice, Timothy, Harry Osbourn, and Bucky Barnes.

Fourteen seemed to think it over for a few seconds.

“Tinkerbell.” He replied without hesitation, making Steve laugh. The kid giggled as well, seeming to feed off of Steve’s energy.

“Can I braid your hair?” Fourteen suddenly asked, making Steve freeze. He remembered Six asking the same thing, remembered sitting in a similar room to this one, giggling as Six braided his hair as well as her shaking fingers could. He shook himself out of the memory.

“Of course.” He said softly, and Fourteen jumped up, and within minutes was expertly braiding his hair, tight against his scalp that it almost hurt. Not that he’d ever show it. “Your good kiddo, where did you learn?”

“My momma taught me.” Fourteen said absently, and Steve froze. None of the projects remembered their parents, bar El who had to go find her.

“You knew your mother?” He asked before he could stop himself. He could practically hear Fourteen frowning at him.

“Of course silly,” He chided. “She taught me how to braid my sister’s hair before she brought me here.”

“She brought you here?” He asked, feeling irrationally angry.

“Papa said he could help,” Fourteen said. “Can I tell you a secret?”

“Of course,” Steve replied, despite knowing it wouldn’t be too secretive with the camera watching their every move.

“I don’t like calling him Papa,” Fourteen whispered. “He’s not my actual Papa, my actual Papa is super tall and strong, he liked to swing me around, sometimes he would toss me into the air too. I felt like I was flying. I liked my Papa, this Papa is kind of scary.”

“Your Papa sounds wonderful,” Steve said, closing his eyes to press back the tears. "And I promise this Papa won't hurt you okay? I'll make sure of it."

The kid had a family, a mom, and a dad, and even a sister. He was taken from his life, his happy life. Not like any of the others, who couldn’t remember their past life, Fourteen remembered his. It made Steve want to sob, to scream about the injustices that were served to them all.

The second they got out of here, he would find Fourteen his family again. And get the kid some ice cream.

Chapter Text

He was stronger.

He knew he was.

But he couldn’t help but feel like the weakest person alive.

He made El promise to wait until he could come up with a plan, until he could be strong enough to ensure that no one got hurt while saving him. But every second in this goddamn facility made him feel like pulling his hair out and screaming until someone heard him.

The gang had run into some issues on their way over here, as he expected. But updates from El were becoming less and less frequent. Steve blamed not only her now erratic schedule but also the fact that Brenner had started to use the tank less and less. He was lucky to his sister once every week at this point.

But he told himself that it would be worth it, and at night he dreamed of breaking free, of finally putting this place and the lifetime of trauma behind him again. During his visits with Fourteen he would clutch the kid tightly and remember that one day it would all be over.

One day he would get out of this place.

Today was not that day.

________________________________________________

“Number Seven, your training has been going well.” Brenner said, sitting on the other side of the blank table.

Steve chose to say nothing, raising his chin and crossing his arms.

“I want to try something new,” Brenner continued. “Bring in the subject please.”

The door opened, and two techs brought in a calm looking man, but the gag in his mouth and the stench of fear radiating off him revealed it all. Then, behind him came little Fourteen, pouting when his handler didn’t let him run to Steve.

“What is this?” Steve asked, already on edge. He wasn’t sure if Brenner had the capability to harm someone that young, but he wasn’t willing to push it.

“You have two very different powers,” Brenner said, reaching out to take Fourteen’s hands and leading him to stand beside where the man was sitting. The boy was staring at Steve with wide eyes that darted from person to person. “I want to see how well they interact with each other.”

“I don’t understand.” Steve ground out, his hand tensing on top of the table.

“Of course not, I’ll put it in simpler terms,” Brenner said, turning his head to face Fourteen. “Do you want to play a game little one?”

“I like games,” Fourteen said slowly, his voice quiet.

“Good, the guard here is going to play a game with Seven and you. What happens first, is Seven is going to concentrate on projecting fear without the use of his tank. Enough to cause the man to lapse into heart failure. And then the guard here is going to shoot Seven in the head, I want to see if he can project onto an already dying man.” Brenner said with an easy smile.

“You already know that I can,” Steve hissed. “Why do you want to go through this?”

“I know you can take an already dead person and project an injury onto them. I do not know if you can project both emotions and life-threatening injuries at the same time.”

“Your testing to see how far my powers can work.” Steve said, his heart rate sinking. He had to focus hard to project either one, although projecting gun wounds to the head was more instinct than anything. But if he focuses too hard on projecting fear? There might come a point where even his instincts fail.

“Why is Fourteen here?” Steve snapped, his eyes flickering to the younger boy. “He doesn’t need to see this.”

“You need the motivation, and I feel like if little Fourteen here is ever going to be useful, he needs to understand death, pain, fear.” Brenner’s lips curled up into a smile. “And who better to show him than you?”

He resisted the urge to snap at the man, to insist that the little kid was removed from this place. Fourteen didn’t need to see this, shouldn’t have to because he was going to get the both of them out of here pretty damn soon and Steve didn’t want to inflict more trauma onto the kid than what was necessary.

Well, none of this was necessary, and if it was up to Steve Fourteen would be out of this place now, back with his family or staying with Steve.

“Well?” Brenner asked. “Start now or else I will start training with the boy. “

Fourteen perked up at that.

“training?” He asked, his voice wobbling. “I don’t like training, please don’t make me train.”

“Shut up,” Brenner said easily.

Steve clenched his hand, his eyes flickering to Fourteen, who folded into his chair, his face scrunched up in fear and hurt. How could Steve protest after that?

So he focused hard, his eyes slipping shut and he browsed the colors flashing behind his eyes. It was odd sometimes, doing this without the tank. His attention was often pulled every which way, too many noises and sensations and thoughts to focus on. But he found the specific shade of dark blue and branched it out, overpowering the room for a second before focusing on the one man.

He kept his eyes closed, feeding the color into the man in front of him who started begging, crying, screaming. He could faintly hear Fourteen’s soft whimpers in the background, but he tried to tune them out. The more important and fear inducing sound was the soft click of a gun loading, and suddenly Steve wasn’t just pushing out artificial fear, it was genuine fear he was actively feeding into the man, leaving him feeling empty inside as he poured his own emotions out at once.

He heard the bang.

He felt the sharp overwhelming pain in his head.

The world went dark.

Before he knew what was happening thousands of colors were pulsating behind his eyes faster than he could register. He was lost in them all for a few seconds, more colors and shades than a normal human could see, colors that weren’t even considered a part of their world. He would marvel at them if he couldn’t feel the blinding pain of a bullet in his mind slowly being extracted and the buzz of the wound slowly graphing onto someone else.

He tried to focus on the pounding of fear in the back of his mind. He wasn’t sure if he kept it up, but he tried to maintain whatever connection it was feeding to at the moment. His thoughts were too jumbled to do it properly.

He couldn’t stop though, because if he did he didn’t want to think about what would happen to Fourteen.

Almost on cue, sound started filtering back in, including soft whimpering noises, the sound of someone crying, and the hushed whispers of doctors. Life came next, and his eyes flew open, an overwhelming surge of pain overtaking him and he lost his breath for a second.

Then it was over and he turned over, cutting off the connection at once.

He was on the ground, a pool of blood and grey matter laying under him. He could feel blood covering his face, and he wasn’t sure if it was from using his powers or getting a bullet to the brain. He sat up slowly, a faint headache pounding behind his eyes.

He felt shockingly empty. Like all the blood in his body had been drained out and along with it all emotions and empathy.

He stared up at Brenner, who gazed at him with cool indifference. A quick glance to the side showed Fourteen, crying and struggling against two guards holding his thin little arms still. He wanted to go help him, but all Steve felt was tired.

Beside him lay a guard, a gunshot to the head. Across from him the subject, still alive and crying, sobbing and shaking.

He failed the test.

“The test was a failure,” Brenner said, almost like repeating his thoughts. “We shall try again.”

In the span of seconds doctors bustled in, picked up the corpse and dragged him out, and a new man with a gun took his spot.

Steve tried to feel scared, tried to feel angry, annoyed, furious.

But no feelings came, the cup was drained. All he felt was empty.

______________________________________

He sat in his cell, staring at the wall.

For two days now they had done the same test over and over again. He would project some type of negative emotion onto a subject for increasing times, before he was shot in the head. He had to properly manage projecting while dead, something that obviously wasn’t easy, but somehow he did it. Somehow he managed to keep the stream going even when he wasn’t properly in his head.

It scared him, and he had to wonder who really was in control of his powers. Was he just a vessel? Did his power have a mind of its own? Only humoring him at moments? If he died, would his power still be able to operate?

He got no answers.

It hurt all the time, the constant pulsating feeling under his skin, small jolts of pain creeping through his skin whenever he moved. It felt like his mind was on fire half the time, the effort of not only reconstructing brain matter every few hours but projecting a certain feeling for hours at a time causing a blinding headache at all moments.

Even worse was the complete loss of himself. He felt disconnected to himself, like his consciousness was behind a glass wall, banging to get out but unable to do so. He would talk, act the same, but it lacked the emotions, the meat behind who he was.

He tried sometimes, to remember what it was like to laugh, to joke around, to feel brave.

The closest he got to being himself was whenever he was around Fourteen. The kid had been clingy ever since he watched Steve die five times that first day. Whenever they were allowed to meet the kid would cling to his arms, refusing to move for hours.

Steve really didn’t mind, feeling whispers of affection and protectiveness surging up inside him whenever the boy was in his arms. But it hurt sometimes, when Brenner would use the boy against him. Would threaten the little kid if Steve didn’t do as he said.

It wouldn’t be long now. He knew he wouldn’t last long. El and the others were only a day away, and they were mostly waiting for any intel on Steve’s part. He hadn’t talked to El in forever, too exhausted at night and never allowed to go to the tank.

They would be getting out soon though, and that’s what he had to tell himself every night before he collapsed into bed, the blood still crusting in his shaved hair. He said it so much he almost started to believe it.

_________________________________

There comes a time when a human simply cannot be pushed anymore. Physically, Steve can go forever, pushing off any injuries or illness to anyone around him. But mentally, there was always a cliff that you’re constantly teetering on the edge on, and when pushed enough you will fall off.

Steve’s moment to snap came the day the group got into town. El had visited him late that night, sneaking into his dream and sitting beside him on his bed, her side pressed into his. He cherished the feeling, the closeness to his sister.

“We’re here,” She had whispered into his ear. “When can we come?”

“Soon,” Was all he was able to say to that.

“No,” She denied. “Now.”

Steve shook his head, grabbing her soft shoulders and pressing her into his chest, his forehead resting on top of her hair.

“You can’t,” He whispered. “We need to be on the same team. Please wait, it shouldn’t be long. A day at most. Keep your mind out, I’ll find you and tell you when. You remember the plan?”

“Yes,” She replied, sounding annoyed. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too,” He whispered, kissing the top of her head. “I’ll see you soon, okay sis?”

She nodded, tears in her eyes as she faded from his view. He woke up feeling more alone than usual.

He had to find the perfect time. A time when he would be with Fourteen, when the guards were furthest away from his cell. He wanted to leave with little to no causalities, no injuries, and defiantly no deaths. Well, other than maybe Brenner. Brenner would die.

But there was a delicacy to this whole thing. As someone who had already escaped once, he knew the importance of timing. If you got the timing wrong someone would be left behind, someone wouldn’t be able to make it out, someone would die.

He pushed out the flashes of Six’s face. He couldn’t think of his past mistakes right now.

Brenner called him into training earlier than normal. Almost immediately after his breakfast was over he was getting pulled down the hall, into a small room with Brenner.

They were alone, but in the way that no one was ever truly alone in this place. There was always cameras, always microphones, always a scientist documenting his every move.

“I am immensely proud at the progress we have made,” Brenner started, and like usual the words made a bad taste coat Steve’s mouth. He ignored the surge of pride that surfaced as well, the rare praise digging into his skin. He hated that he still craved the affection. “And I want to keep exploring just how far you can go.”

Those were the token words. Far as you can go. Steve found out how far he could realistically go ages ago, but Brenner kept pushing and pushing until little chips of himself started to shatter, and he was more his powers than a human being. There was no limit to how far he could go, only a limit of how far he could go before he went braindead.

“But we recently came into the possession of some very rare biological, and we wanted to test a theory,” Brenner leaned forwards, a sick grin twisting his lips. “We have a virus that will kill you, and when you project that out, it will kill you again, and again, and again. I wonder how far you can go before you truly die.”

Steve felt sick, repulsion and fear choking him intensely and he hated how fast and sudden emotions were coming to him these days, fleeing before he could process them. Once again he was left a blank slate.

“If it works properly,” Brenner continued as if Steve’s inner thoughts were tossing and turning in every way. “We want to take you on a trip, out to the city, see how people you can infect before your heart and brain truly get out. It should be a fascinating study.”

They wanted to use him to kill people. They wanted to use his instinctual reaction of projecting to infect and kill hundreds of people with a deadly virus.

They wanted to turn him into a biological bomb.

Brenner dismissed him after a few more minutes, but Steve wasn’t listening. They needed to leave now, before they could get any of those viruses’ and diseases near him. He wouldn’t let them use him as a weapon again, wouldn’t bend to their power and commit unwilling mass murder.

Before he could focus enough to get a message out to Eleven his door was crashing over once again, and he was being pulled to his feet, roughly shoved out the door and down the hall.

He had no idea where he was going.

He soon learned.

They brought him into a room with a large window, and Steve knew it was double sided glass immediately. He had been in a similar room, Brenner used to bring him here to watch as they tortured Six. He was immediately on edge.

“What are we doing?” He asked, but he got no answer.

Brenner walked into the other room, and Steve could see him through the glass. The man sat down, opening a briefcase and pulling out ten random objects. He set them neatly on the table, then knocked once on the metal. The door opened.

Fourteen was marched in, and he had a defiant look in his eyes, storming to the chair and sitting down.

“I want to see Steve.” Fourteen declared.

“Seven,” Brenner coolly corrected. “And you will if you cooperate.”

He gestured to the objects, and Fourteen crossed his arm, shaking his head.

“Kid,” Steve whispered, walking closer to the glass. He wished the boy could see him. “Do what he says.”

But Fourteen couldn’t hear him, and Fourteen was just a little kid, and he did what kids did best. He threw a tantrum and Steve was powerless to stop what happened next.

Fourteen started by picking up one of the objects, smashing it onto the ground, a satisfying shattering noise filling the room. He then swiped a hand across the table, sending the others clattering. He was screaming the word ‘no’ over and over again, stomping his feet and kicking the table, the chair, and the doctors who tried to calm him down.

“Leave,” Brenner said calmly, and the two guards walked out of the room.

Brenner stood up, marching over to Fourteen, and in one fluid movement pulled back his hand and slapped Fourteen across the cheek.

The room was silent.

Steve felt the anger and protectiveness surged up through him, and he suddenly felt furious, enraged as he slammed his fist against the glass, screaming out loud.

“Leave him alone!” He cried, hitting the restraining hands away from him. They gave up after a moment, leaving him alone to smash his fist against the glass. “He’s just a kid!”

Brenner wasn’t done, grabbing Fourteen’s arm and yanking him closer. The yelp the kid let out would haunt Steve’s dreams.

“You listen to me you little shit,” Brenner said calmly. “This is not a fun vacation; this is not a summer camp. This is your home and you must cooperate with us. You will sit in this chair, tell me where the fuck these objects came from or else I will do a lot more than a simple slap to the face.”

“Stop,” Steve begged, his fists banging and he felt hysterical, hopeless. He couldn’t help, couldn’t save him, couldn’t stop Brenner from hurting him just like he couldn’t help Six. He hated this feeling, the feeling of being powerless, hopeless, so small in the grand scheme of things. He sometimes dreamed he was a hero, but he was simply a pawn, a player, a bomb.

He couldn’t save anyone, couldn’t stop anyone from getting hurt.

“Stop it,” he cried, a mantra falling from his lips like poison. “Stop it, stop it, stop it.”

He wasn’t sure how long he stayed there, repeating those words over and over again as he watched Brenner pull a crying Fourteen over to the table, picking up pieces of eth shattered glass.

“Analyze it.” He ordered, and Fourteen protested softly, but Brenner forced his hand open, shoving the jagged glass into Fourteen’s palm and not flinching as blood ran from the cut, Fourteen once again wailing. “Do it.”

Fourteen sniffled, his eyes red and tear rimmed and Steve knew that look. The fear, the terror, the helplessness.

He knew it because that was the look on his face whenever he was here.

Fourteen started listing off characteristics, and Steve closed his eyes, sending his thought to where he knew El would be.

“It’s time.”

____________________________________________

They brought Fourteen to him after the kid was seen by medical, which was incredibly lucky on Steve’s part, incredibly stupid on Brenner’s part.

The kid leaped into his arms, his tear starting again as Steve cradled him close. They sat there together, swaying back and forth and Steve made an effort to clear his mind, to prepare himself for what he knew was coming. El, Hopper and the others should be there without an hour, and that’s when the plan should go into place. For now, he was content to hold Fourteen close, comforting the kid in the only way he knew. There were no words to say, nothing they could say to make any of this shit better. So Steve held the kid close and thought about the plan.

There was to be a distraction. Steve would have to get himself out and clear some of the hallways. Joyce insisted on getting some files, so he needed to clear a way for her. Hopper and Nancy would be waiting in the east wing for him and Fourteen, it was the closest wing to them that wasn’t chock full with armed guards, so it should be their best bet. The others would be either in the car waiting for them or around the place, causing mayhem as they went.

It wasn’t a perfect plan; in fact it was quite sloppy. But it was the best they could come up with, so that’s what they were going with.

It was going to work.

It had to work, because Steve wasn’t sure what he would do if it didn’t.

He focused slightly, and gazed at one wall, his eyes unfocusing until all he saw was colors of people walking around, and there was a distinct shape of people sneaking around outside.

It was time.

He carefully slipped his fingers to his side, sighing and grimacing as he pushed his sharp nails into his skin, ripping the skin open and slipping out a small device.

It was an electric pulse generator, something he had stitched into him years ago should he be captured again. When attached to his wrists, it would send light electrical pulses through him, disrupting the connection to the wires implemented in his skin.

It wouldn’t give him a lot of time, but hopefully just enough for him to get Fourteen out of here.

“Hey buddy?” Steve whispered into his ear. “We’re going to play a game.”

He stood up, the device strapped onto his wrist and he could feel the slight electricity running through him, making the hair on his arms stand up.

“I don’t like their games,” Fourteen muttered, his voice thick.

“This isn’t a fun game,” Steve said slowly. “But it is a necessary game. Can you do this for me? Then you never have to play one of their games again.”

“Okay,” Fourteen said after a moment, raising his head to look into Steve’s eyes. “I trust you.”

Steve felt the tears return to his eyes, but there wasn’t enough time for that.

“Keep your head down,” He instructed. Shifting and getting ready to run. “No matter what you hear, don’t look up.”

The alarms went off.