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Its all Fun and Games (until its not)

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Steve Harrington was a lot of things. 

Handsome.

Caring.

Smart when he wanted to be.

Loyal to a fault.

A little bit of a jackass sometimes, but only because he cared so much about how people saw him.

Insecure.

Broken.

The world’s best babysitter.

And contrary to what he believed, a really great boyfriend.

 

He was the kind of person who, without being asked, ran head first into danger to fight the unknown to save his ex-girlfriend and the boy he thought she left him for. Who followed and helped and protected some random kid, which turned into  four random kids, he barely knew from the unimaginable. Who threw himself against a door he knew would never hold to fight off a human monster this time, so that his family could have a chance. 

He was the kind of person who despite never winning a fight never stopped entering them, so long as he was doing it for someone else. 

He was a protecter, and a lover, and a friend. He survived what should have been a hero’s death more times than he could count, but he always made it to the other side. Until he didn’t. 

 

 

He should have known it would end this way, really. Steve Harrington was a lot of things, but more than anything he was the person who would die to protect his family. His family who didn’t involve his parents, but consisted of seven children he’s not at all related too, his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend, his best friend, the chief of police, and the mom he always wanted. 

These people he loved more than life itself. Who he’d gone into battle with before. They’ve fought inter dimensional monsters and evil Russians and Billy fucking Hargrove (he doesn’t miss that bastard, sorry Max). They’ve gone into battle with the impossible and won. So of course it would be the mundane that would finally beat him. 

Besides he’s won every fight he’s ever had against things that shouldn’t exist, but he’s lost all of the ones against the ordinary. The human. 

That’s life sometimes, its full of irony. And he would laugh if he wasn’t dying on the middle of the road. He would scream if Dustin wasn’t by his side crying and begging for someone anyone to help. 

 

He can see it now, his life. It like watching a video tape that’s rewinding. His parents who never loved him. Being left alone for the first time when he wasn’t even tall enough to reach the freezer. No one wanting to be his friend because he cried at school all the time. Joining basketball, and then baseball, and then anything he could to make people like him. To make his parents proud of him. But they never were. He wonders if they would be proud now. When they hear the news of their only child who died because he pushed his little brother best friend out of the way. Will they cry? Will they care? He’ll never get to know.

He reaches the memories he’d rather forget, of Tommy and Carol, they never loved him either. They just used him for his money and his house. He’s only realizing now how much of his life he spent unloved and alone. And then there was Nancy, sweet Nancy. He thought she loved him. Maybe he put too much pressure on them. Or maybe she just could never look at him again without the guilt. Barb. It kills him too and he wonders if he’ll see her wherever he’s going, will she still hate him too? 

And then theres the monsters, and the found family and Nancy again. And then bullshit and roses and apologies that never got to be said. And then more monsters and tunnels and protecting kids he doesn’t know but who need someone and hell it might as well be him. Dustin. He was different. He was the first person who ever loved him. Accepted him. And then slowly the rest of the kids. And then Joyce and Hopper. Nancy, but in a different way and hell maybe even Jonathan. 

Life was finally going good, and then surprise attack not monsters, but Russians, evil ones at that. Elevators that dont work and endless hallways and just so much ice cream. He has a new friend now but she’s different. He doesnt have to protect her (but he will anyways, because thats who he is), she’s not a child looking for a mentor. She’s just a lost person looking for some love and acceptance. Just like him. And suddenly he has another child, this one younger than the others but smarter too. And god he’ll do anything to protect them. Even if thats getting captured and tortured and drugged. 

Scoops Ahoy! I work for Scoops Ahoy! Please. Please I work for Scoops Ahoy. I dont know anything, I scoop ice cream for a living I work at Scoops Ahoy!

He never told anyone how he wakes up screaming that at night. How he could never go back to the doctors. Could never eat ice cream. Could never use elevators. 

But now he had Robin. And Robin had him, and she’s the only person he knows needed him just as much as he needed them. 

He hopes she wont detach herself from their family now. That she’ll care for Dustin and Erica, and all of the kids. Become their new babysitter, though they’re getting too old to need one. Really they haven’t needed one for awhile, save for Erica, they haven’t needed him for awhile. But he needed them in the most pathetic way possible. He needed to be there for them, to never have any of them feel that loneliness he had. He needed them to all know how loved they were, how important they were. 

He wished he’d told them all more. He wished he’d told Dustin more. How much he meant to him. He tries now but all that’s coming out of his mouth is blood and it hurts. And Dustins crying and screaming so much he doubts he’d hear him anyways.

 

This year had been good. It wasn’t filled with monsters and evil and stupid high school. It was filled with family and love. Movies and music and late nights spend dancing and laughing like the world would end tomorrow, cause you never knew when it would.

But that’s what’s so funny, he had finally reached that point where he wasn’t expecting the end of days to come when he woke up. He wasn’t afraid anymore that when he went to work that day he’d find nothing but blood. He’d finally been able to start sleeping through the night again. He’d let his guard down. Maybe thats how he’d ended up here. 

 

The truck came out of nowhere, literally. Some drunk idiot. And Dustin wasn’t paying attention, he was too busy trying to get his supercom to reach the rest of the party. Steve saw the truck, but there was no time. No time to warn Dustin to move, no time to try and pull him in another direction. No time. Or maybe there was, Steve really didn’t know. He acted on instinct.

 Because prepared or not, ready or not, he would die to protect his kids. And thats exactly what he’s doing. He pushed Dustin out of the way and was so relieved when he saw him land safely on the grass he didn’t even feel the impact. Somehow still cant. All he feels is numb. Everything is blurry, sounds, visions, its like he was suddenly transported underwater. He can distantly hear sirens but what kind he doesnt know. Dustin is holding him so softly it makes his chest ache, the only thing he can feel. He wants to tell Dustin he’s proud of him. That he loves him. That he’s his family. 

And apparently he does, or Dustin just knows. Because he’s whispering over and over again that he knows, that he loves him, that he's sorry, that he’s the brother that he never had but always wanted. And then he’s telling him that its going to be okay, that help is coming and he’s going to be okay. But Steve knows the truth. He is going to die here in the middle of the road cradled in his brothers arms. And he cant think of a better way to go. 

 

 

 

 

 

”Steve Harrington was a lot of things. 

Handsome.

Caring.

Smart when he wanted to be.

Loyal to a fault.

A little bit of a jackass sometimes, but only because he cared so much about how people saw him.

Insecure.

Broken.

The world’s best babysitter.

Stubborn as all get out.

and the ultimate protector.

My brother.

 

But more than anything, Steve Harrington was loved.” 

 

Dustin finished his speech only barely, he couldn’t even see his way back to his seat through his tears. Eventually he finally found Robin’s arms to collapse into. She’d held him since she found him at the hospital, and she hasn’t let go since. 

The news rocked the world of Hawkins. There was barely a dry eye in town but Dustin knew most of them were for a person who wasn’t real. The dumb jock who lived in a large house and threw great parties. But that person didn’t exist anymore, maybe he never did. Because that was not Steve Harrington. 

They had a funeral for that person, where over half the town showed up, including his parents who did not in fact cry and Joyce had almost lost it at this. 

They had their own funeral for the people who actually knew him. They buried his nailbat because it felt like the best they could do. Everyone sat around and told stories about him. And everyone cried, and everyone screamed. They cooked food in his honor because he was an amazing chef, they watched movies and listened to music. 

But more importantly everything they all went through, they went through together. Because thats what Steve wanted more than anything. A family who was there for each other, even when the world is falling apart around you. Even when the family isn’t whole now. 

Dustin hopes more than anything, that Steve can see them all now. Broken and sobbing, but together. They’re not alone. And they never will be, because Steve Harrington always made sure of that. 

 

Steve Harrington died to protect his family. They just wish he would’ve known, they would have died to protect him too.

 

Chapter Text

 

He didn’t see it.

 

Too absorbed in trying to contact The Party, wanting to check and make sure everybody was ready for the DnD game that would never get played.

 

And he didn’t see it coming.

 

He should have seen it.

 

He should’ve moved out of the way.

 

He should have.

 

But he didn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

They were on their way to Steve’s house, he was supposed to be hosting tonight. He still didn’t entirely understand the game but he liked having them in his empty house with him, they filled up the loneliness with laughter, though he would never tell them that. But Dustin knew, of course he did. Steve was his brother, he could read him like the back of his hand, same as any other member of The Party.

 

He was messing with his radio, trying to find a channel that would reach his friends. They were walking because Robin needed to borrow Steve’s car to go pick something up for the game tonight, she hadn’t told them what it was but it doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters now.

 

He should have seen it, or heard it. But his headpiece was on and his attention was on the radio, he was never too good at having his mind be two places at once. 

 

Everything happened in a blur. One moment he’s shouting “Lucas do you copy? We’re on our way to Steve’s house. Over.” And the next all he feels is hands, and then he’s on the ground looking up at the deep blue sky. 

 

It was like all the sound in the world was just shut off. Peaceful for a moment, before he got his bearings. He sat up confused, searching for whatever had shoved him, half expecting to find Steve pummeling Troy or some other idiot to the ground. But that not what he saw.

 

All he saw was red. Red everywhere. It’s still all he can see. He closes his eyes and its just redness seeping into everything. 

 

He rushes to Steve’s side before he even processes what happened. In the distance he sees a truck, the truck, swerve off the road and down somewhere out of sight. Part of him wants to follow it, find out who the asshole is and beat him with Steve’s nailbat. Except Steve doesn’t have his nailbat, because his nailbat is in his car and he’s bleeding out on the ground.

Dustin starts screaming. “Help! Help please anyone! We need an ambulance!” He’s searching frantically around, but no one is there. So he starts again on the radio. “Hello? Do you copy? Please anyone? Lucas? Mike? Will? Max? Nancy, Jonathan for god sakes anybody! We have a code red! Code red! Do you copy?”

He doesn't even register the fact that theres tears streaming down his face until the world is too bleary to be able to tell a tree from a demogorgon. He doesn't realize he’s screaming until his vocal cords start to feel frayed. 

But he keeps trying. 

“... please, anybody please, help.”

He crumbles to the ground. He’s about to try again when he hears someone. Steve. He’s trying to say something but blood just oozes out of his mouth instead of words and Dustins too afraid he’ll choke on it to worry about what he’s trying to say. He crawls his way over to Steve’s crumpled form, lifts his head as gently as he can into his lap to try and relief some pressure. That seems to calm Steve down, for someone who was just ran over by a truck he seems peaceful. Dustin is anything but. 

Dustin tries to stop the bleeding, he really does. But he can barely even tell where its coming from, and theres too much of it anyways for his hands to handle. 

He doesn’t know how long they sit there waiting on help to arrive. It felt like hours but Dustin knows that’s not realistic. 

He’s still chanting “Code Red!” Into his radio but all he hears in return is static. 

Finally a car pulls up next to them, Dustin doesn’t recognize who it is but they seem to know what to do and they drive off to get help. He feels the tiniest bit of hope.

He’s switching between still trying to reach The Party and whispering to Steve that help is on the way. 

More hours pass. Or maybe its seconds. Maybe its no time at all. Time could collapse around him and he doesn't think he’d even notice. 

 

There’s a scene that just keeps playing in his head over and over and over again. 

Will. The body. The quarry. The first time he lost someone. The first time his world crumpled around him. 

But Will came back. The body wasn’t real, Will is safe in his house a few miles away and Steve will be safe too. He has to be. 

 

Finally he hears it, the static becomes a voice. Erica. 

“Seriously, another code red. What is it this time, you lost your favourite comic book?” 

Dustin wants to tell her what happened, ask her to get more help, but all that comes out of his mouth is “code red.” And sobs and screams. Steve’s patting his arm gently, barely there at all, like he’s trying to calm him down. 

He hears Erica scream for Lucas, and then her parents. She didn’t need words, she understood. 

 

“Dustin??? Dustin do you copy?? What’s going on, what’s the code red???” 

Something wild settles in his chest at Lucas’ voice and he wishes that he was here, he would know what to do, he knew how to act under pressure. How to fix things. 

 

“ ... sss-steve.” Is all he manages. 

“What?? What about Steve? Is he okay?” Lucas’ voice is wavering, and he never wavers. Dustin figures he can probably feel it. The anchor sitting on his chest. 

 

“No.” He finally manages. And the line goes silent. Everything is silent. 

“N-no?” 

“What do you mean no? What happened?”

Dustin doesnt even know. All he knows is everything was fine and then in a matter of seconds his world has ended. Not for the first time, but this is different. His hope is shrinking by the second and his hands are covered in blood that isn’t his. 

“Tt- t- truck. It it came out of nowhere. I—I didn’t see it.” 

“It’s all my fault its all my fault. I’m sorry I’m so sorry.” He doesn't even know who he’s saying it too. Steve is holding his hand but he’s cold. He’s so fucking cold. 

There’s barely any colour left on his usually tan face and his eyes are zoning into and out of focus. 

“Where are you, my parents are on the phone with the police.” He hears Lucas say. He’s panicked, of course he is. 

But Dustin doesnt know anymore, they were just walking, he wasn’t paying attention. He knows he has to be in a mile of Lucas’ house to be able to reach, but just barely because the signal hasn’t reached Mike yet. 

He relays what he can manage and Lucas tells him that help is on the way, and so is he. And Dustin wants to tell him no, that he can’t see this but he knows its no use. 

 

Suddenly Steve is talking. 

It’s whispers and groans and pain. Half of it doesn't make sense and the other half Dustin doesn't want to hear. 

“I lo-ve you. S’not your faut. Brother. You’re okay. That’s all I wanted.” Broken words force themselves out of Steve’s broken body. But he’s smiling and Dustin’s still screaming. He may never stop screaming.

The sobs are destroying his body and he feels like they very well may kill him also. 

“I know. Steve i know. I love you too. Your the best big brother I could have asked for. youre going to be okay, help is on the way.” It’s weak even as it comes out of his mouth. And Steve seems to know it. 

“Sta-y with them. Please. Together.” 

That’s the last coherent thing he hears. Steve’s eyes are getting too glassy and his body is going too still, but then theres sirens and he’s trying to get the hope to bubble back up again but it wont. It cant. 

 

He doesnt remember the ambulance arriving. Just somebody trying to get him to move and him no longer feeling real. It’s so silent. Everything is slow-motion videos and mouths moving but sound is getting lost somewhere. He cant move, he cant breathe. 

Suddenly arms are wrapping around him and he feels the breath of someone’s voice on his neck but he cant even bring himself to care.

But then dark hands come to view and he knows the feeling of those hands anywhere. Lucas. 

 

Sounds slowly drip into his ears. He can hear crying and his body is shaking violently with sobs but whether their coming from Lucas or himself he doesn’t know. Maybe both. Probably both.

He can hear someone shouting for them and it takes a moment for him to realize its Lucas’ parents, they must have drove him here. Which means Erica is probably here as well, she wouldn’t let them leave her, but she shouldn’t be here. None of them should have to see this.   

Steve’s being lifted into the back of the ambulance and then they’re driving away. Nothing feels real. Everything is numbness.

Those arms he’s come to love are now pulling him up but his legs won’t move.

 

”come on. We gotta get to the car so we can go to the hospital, okay?”  

It takes everything in him to make it to the Sinclair’s car, and then they’re in a waiting room thats too white and too bright. Lucas’ hand hasn’t left his and Dustin thinks maybe it never will. 

Maybe they can just stay here forever. In god awful plastic chairs with the smell of disinfectant surrounding them, hands in a death grip not caring what people think for once, waiting for the news they all know won’t be good. 

 

Hopper arrives in a stampede. He heard the call over his radio across town. He almost busts down the doors to the hospital and he’s demanding to see Steve, he’s angry and shouting but Dustin can see through him. He’s terrified.

Hopper locks eyes with him from the front desk and runs to their group before the nurse even has time to answer. He’s asking what happened but the words won’t come out anymore. Lucas explains what he can and Dustin watches as Hop’s brave facade crumbles around him and he collapses to the ground. 

It last only a few seconds before he pulls himself together again. He sits next to Erica, who’s sitting on the other side of Dustin. She hasn’t said anything. She hasn’t cried either, too strong for her own good. But looking at her Dustin can see that she feels just like he does, like time stop existing the second that truck came down the road, and it may never start back again. 

 

Their waiting game isn’t long and Dustins never wanted to not know an answer to a question so bad in his life. The doctor comes out calling for a “Steven H. Harrington?” And when their group all swivels around to look at them his face falls. It’s minuscule, a practiced talent of detachment, probably from years of giving news just like this to families not at all like theirs. 

 

Erica crawls into her parents laps. Lucas’ pulls Dustin in further, like he’s trying to protect him from the news they can’t unhear. Hopper punches the wall. Hopper punches through the wall. 

 

There’s so much commotion Dustin doesn't even know what to try and tune into. All he can look at is his hands. 

His hands that are covered in blood that should have been his. And thats the first time that thought appears, but its certainly not the last. 

He makes his way to the bathroom around the time that the nurses are trying to convince Hopper to get an x-ray of his hands because its probably broken and Dustin doesn’t want to stick around to see that fight. 

Lucas tries to follow him but Dustin wont let him, he needs a moment alone. 

 

 

He’s scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing but the blood isn’t coming clean and its not just physical. 

He doesn’t know how much time passes before he gives up, hands still stained red. He exists the bathroom and Lucas is there because of course he is. Dustin just grabs his hand again and pulls him up off the ground. 

The walk back into the waiting room at the same time that Robin comes running in. He doesn’t even know who called her, but apparently it was before because she still looks hopeful. She looks at his hands first and then their eyes meet and thats all it takes. He runs into her arms, Lucas still attached, and crashes into her. Her body sinks to the ground with all three of them, and then another pair of arms is wrapped in their tangle of broken people. They stay like that for awhile. Just Robin, Dustin, Erica and Lucas. 

 

Everything else is just a mix of blurs and visions. Looking back Dustin couldn’t tell you what happened when. He couldn’t tell you how they made it to the Byers’ house. Or how all of their family was already there. Or how Hopper had managed to wrangle a near murderous Joyce when he told her that they had to leave Steve’s parents a voicemail that their son was dead.

 

Mike was with Will out in castle Byers’, Max was in El’s room with her and there were crashes coming from the room periodically. And more screaming. 

No one knew where Nancy was until eventually Dustin found her in the Byers’ bathtub completely clothed. No one moved her though, instead Jonathan just joined her with his Walkman and tried to drown out the sound of their joint sobs. 

Robin continued to hold the broken trio for what felt like weeks. Maybe it was. 

 

 

 

 

 

It never got better, but it did get easier. 

 

Steve left a Will apparently, it makes sense with everything they’ve been through but he wished it didn’t. Steve left Dustin his nailbat, but they buried that in the Byers’ yard instead of his body. Steve also left Dustin almost all of his sweaters.

Dustin keeps them in a air-sealed box in his closet, so that no matter how much time passes, when he opens it it still smells like his big brother. 

 

His family helps with the grief, but no one can help with the guilt. No one understands. It was supposed to be him. 

He told Lucas’ that one night when the guilt was choking him out in his sleep and Steve’s bloody body was searing the back of his eyelids. At first Dustin thought Lucas just wasn’t going to answer, because he knows it true, he whispered to himself. But then Lucas was banging on his bedroom door, broken as Dustin felt. It was the first night Dustin had slept since the accident, cradled in Lucas’ arms because it was the only place left in the world that felt safe. 

Too many nights were spent this way, but Dustin stopped caring what anyone would think at some point. His brother was dead, nothing else mattered after that. It didn’t matter if people gave him weird looks when he refused to let go of his best friends hand during the school day, too afraid if he lets go he’ll never come back. It didn’t matter if random assholes yelled at him when he kissed Lucas the first time, especially considering Lucas kissed him back. 

Steve would have been happy for him, he knows that. Mainly because it was Steve’s idea to tell Lucas in the first place. He was too terrified to do this then, but it didn’t matter now. Because he knew now that nothing was ever guaranteed, the upside down was always a threat that lingered and even then theres always trucks. So he took a leap of faith because he wasn’t going to lose his best friend before he told him, he wasn’t going to die before he did the one thing that still made his heart soar. 

 

 

 

They’re family is broken, it always has been, but this is different. No one breathes the same way anymore. But Dustin keeps his promise, they stay together

And if for his 18th birthday he gets those words tattooed on his wrist, so that he can always look at them, then who could blame him. And if the rest of his family follow suit then he just hopes Steve can seem them. Together. Binded by more than just words. Just like he always wanted.

Chapter Text

  

 

 

Bullshit.

 

That’s her first thought. 

 

Bullshit.

 

It’s just complete bullshit.

 

  

Nancy’d been getting together her stuff to take her and Mike to Steve’s for game night. The kids (not really kids anymore) would play DnD and the adults (not really adults yet) would play board games, card games, or if it was a sleepover night drinking games, and sometimes they didn’t play games at all just watched movies.

She’d just gotten her car keys in her hand and was about to call for Mike to hurry his ass up when the phone rang. Nancy couldn’t tell you what it was, maybe it was just after everything with the Byers’ and the upside down, but the sound make her stomach jump into her throat. She stared at the ringing phone wide eyed for a moment, her breath quickening. She inhaled a deep calming breath and reminded herself that it was just a phone. Her world wasn’t about to end.

 

She’d never been so wrong in her life. 

 

“Hello?” She answered as calmingly as she could muster. Her voice stiff in the same way she’d trained herself to bite her tongue at work. Just keep smiling and everything will be okay. Everything will be okay. (It won’t.) 

The other end is completely silent save for deep labored breathing. Her anxiety starts to spike. Her palms growing sweaty in anticipation. 

“Hello? This is the Wheelers residence. Who is this?” She said a little impatiently. It’s probably just a prank call. Nothing to make a fuss over. Everything’s fine. Just breathe. Everything’s fine. 

The silence continues to drag out and Nancy rolls her eyes and sighs, moving to hang the phone back up, when suddenly a broken voice cuts through the silence. 

“N-Nance?” A familiar voice chokes out, quickly followed by muffled cries. Her heart stops instantly.  

“Jonathan? Is that you?” She asks uncertainly. She hears a shuffle on the other side of the phone, there’s voices breaking through. She can hear Joyce’s quiet voice in the background, she sounds upset but she’s trying to mask it as she says something to someone. Nancy’s about to ask what’s going on when she hears a strangled shout that then immediately turned into a sob from the other side. Will. The unmistakable sound of glass shattering and a door slamming. El.

She hears another sob escape from Jonathan on the receiver. 

Breathe. Just breathe. 

But she can’t.

”Jonathan? Are you there? What’s going on?” She asks too loudly and too quickly.

Just then Mike comes running up the basement stairs into the kitchen. He has his sleepover bag thrown over his shoulder, and a book bag filled with all of their DnD stuff for the game tonight. He looks at her with a vague sense of annoyance.

“Come on Nance, its time to go we don’t want to be late.” He nagged, pointing to the door with his head. Nancy just held up her shaking hands as a way to tell him to be quiet. He rolled his eyes and sighed in response. 

“N n n-Nance?” It’s nearly inaudible. The fear is gripping her throat. 

“I’m here Jonathan, I’m here. What’s going on?” Her voice breaks on the last sentence and Mike’s annoyance from where he was watching her from the other side of the kitchen fades away into mild alarm. He sits up straighter and looks at her with questioning eyes. 

“You n-n-need to come here.”

“What? Why? Were supposed to be heading to Steve’s for the game.” She can’t ignore the viscous sob Jonathan lets out at her last sentence. Breathe, just keep breathing. He coughs to cover up his sob and then takes multiple deep intakes to try and steady his voice.

“Nancy. Just come.”  He states. Theres no room for more argument, or questions. 

“O-okay. We’ll be there shortly.” She answers uncertainly, still trying to convince herself that everything’s fine. (It’s not working.) Mike looks at her incredulously but she just shrugs in response. 

“Good, good.” Jonathan whispers. More to himself than to Nancy. 

“Oh and pick up Max on your way.” He adds in a rush and before Nancy even has time to reply she’s met with the dial tone. She looks down at the phone in confusion before setting it back on its base and turning to Mike. 

“What’s going on?” 

“Were going to the Byers.” 

 

 

The car ride is filled with a stiff tense silence all the way to Max’s house. Mike finally gave up on asking why they were heading to the Byers’ when they were supposed to be going to Steve’s once Nancy snapped at him that for the thousandth time she doesn’t know. 

They stop in front of Max’s house and Mike goes up to the house to get her. Nancy takes this time alone in her car to try and calm herself down.  She rests her head on the steering wheel and tries to take deep steadying breaths. She can feel her panic rising, and the sinking feeling that won’t leave her stomach. She tries her best to ignore that this is exactly how it felt when Barb went missing. When no one believed her, but she knew. She knew something terrible had happened. And she knows it now. She’s just kidding herself saying it hasn’t. 

Max and Mike climb carefully into the back of the car, clearly trying to give Nancy her space, and to her relief Max doesn’t ask what they’re doing or what’s going on. (Mike must have warned her.)

The air is suffocating in the car. No matter how hard she tries she can’t get her hands to stop shaking and Mike and Max keep sharing anxious looks. But everyone is too afraid to speak. 

 

 

She pulls up the Byers’ driveway and the world is eerily silent. Theres too much charged energy surrounding them. She turns off the engine and for a moment, no one moves. Tension and fear is grinding down the car and so before it can crush her Nancy jumps out. Okay step one: get out of car. Done. Mike and Max follow her out, a little less hastily.

Outside the car they can hear the unmistakable sounds of screaming, followed closely by crashing, coming from the window Nancy knows to be El’s. The Hopper’s had moved in with the Byers’ about 5 months ago. They’d considered moving to a larger place but decided instead to take their now combined income and renovate their house. Building a room for El, adding onto the kitchen because Hopper actually likes to cook, and fixing the shed to make a dark room for Jonathan’s photography while he worked on his portfolio for college. Everything was so different and so painfully similar all at the same time. 

 

As selfish as it was, Nancy had quietly hoped they would have moved to a new house, too many memories that she didn’t want to remember were built into these walls. The lights, the demogorgon. Her, Jonathan and Steve all fighting together side by side. She’d thought after that incident that maybe they could have all been something, an unstoppable trio of sorts. Or at least remained friends, since, at the time, they were the only ones above the age of 12 and under the age of 40 who lived through what they did. But thats not what happened. Jonathan pulled away, no longer feeling needed.

And then it was her and Steve. Steve, brave, love-able, idiot Steve. They worked well together, they always had. She kept his misadventures in check and he made sure she remembered to breathe every now and then. Come to think of it she doesn’t even know if she’s kept breathing since they’ve been apart. After the second incident with the upside down Nancy had once again fooled herself into believing that maybe,  just maybe, the three of them could find their way back together again. But no. This time Steve pulled away, no longer feeling wanted.

And then it was her and Jonathan. And they worked well together too, but in a completely different way. They understood each other in a way no one else did. They both had dreams of escaping Hawkins and going out into the world. But they were both too serious for their own good. Tensions held high too many times, both too stubborn to admit when they’re wrong or to cave even when they’re right. Too many times Nancy’d found herself missing Steve’s carefree nature, the way he naturally charmed his way into any situation and always found a way to make people feel better. She’d get lost sometimes thinking of how well they would have worked if all three of them had just gotten over themselves and came together. 

After the mall they had finally found their way back into each other’s lives. Not entirely in the way Nancy had hoped but hey she was going to take it. The three of them hung out when Steve wasn’t with Robin or the kids, and eventually they hung out with everyone. Thats how game nights started, a way to keep their family together. It was Steve’s idea. Once her and Jonathan started spending time with Steve again Nancy was overcome with the knowledge that she could breathe again. It was good. It was so good. But she wanted more. She wanted to tell Steve what she hadn’t back behind the school gym 2 years ago. She wanted to tell Jonathan how great everything could be if they just tried. But she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. Thankfully, she didn’t have too. Because one night last month Jonathan did it for her. 

It wasn’t monumental, they were just having another one of their tense arguments about something honestly stupid and Jonathan had offhandedly said something about wishing Steve was there, because he would have calmed them down. Everything went from there. Nancy and Jonathan talked about the possibility of what would happen if the two of them became the three of them. How would that even work, did they want it to work, would Steve want it to work? They were going to talk to him about it next week, they had a detailed plan set already. Nancy’s idea because of course you can’t go into something like this without a plan. 

That was her mistake. It’s always been her mistake. Thinking you can plan anything in a world where anything can happen. 

 

She steeled herself to finally walk up to the front door. 

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out. 

Remain strong and calm for the kids. 

Don’t let them see your fear. 

 

The walk to the door felt like hours and seconds all at once. She raised her shaking hand to knock but stopped short right before it hit the wood. She didn’t want to know what was on the other side of that door. Whatever it is was going to change her life forever and she wasn’t ready to face it yet. Moments pass as she’s frozen in place. 

“Nance?” Mike’s nervous voice pipes up from behind her, knocking her out of her stupor. She shakes her head vigorously. 

 

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out. 

 

She knocks barely once before the door is thrown open. Jonathans tear stained and broken face appears in the doorway. He immediately pulls her into a crushing hug, she can feel his wet tears falling on her shirt and she tries to keep herself from crying too. She doesn’t even know what’s happened yet. But she doesn’t want to ask. Someone else does for her. 

“W-What’s going on?” Max wavering voice asks from behind her somewhere. Jonathan pulls away from their embrace and looks at her with pain filled eyes.

Instead of answering he moves out of the doorway and motions for them to sit on the couch. They do silently. While Jonathan paces back and forth trying to figure out how to continue Nancy surveys the Byers’ home. Theres still thumping and crashing coming from El’s room and Nancy can hear her muffled sobs through the thin walls and the frail voice of Joyce trying to comfort her. Theres a broken glass cup in the kitchen, like someone has dropped it, and the window was blown out like something had burst through it. Her thoughts land on the night of the gate closing, of El throwing the demodog through the window. Maybe that’s what’s happened, maybe the upside down is back again. It’s horrible but they can deal with that, just like they have before. 

Jonathan finally stops pacing and turns to look at all of them. His face is unreadable in that way it gets when he starts shutting down emotionally. Like after Will was taken. 

“There ... there was an accident.” He starts. Nancy can feel the sharp intake of breath both Max and Mike take next to her. She continues to keep breathing. Just keep breathing. 

“What kind of accident?” Mike asks wearily, his voice impossibly small. Jonathan closes his eyes tightly.

“I - i dont know really. Something to do with a truck and a hit and run I think, Hopper wasn’t really clear on the phone.” Nancy can feel the static rising around the room. Energies are becoming untethered. Fear filling the room like smoke.

No one says anything for a few moments, to afraid to know any answers. But Nancy can’t stand it, she knows she doesn’t want to know but she can’t help it. It’s who she is. She’s the person who asks the questions no one wants answered.

“Who?” Her voice breaks on her one word. Jonathan looks at her with so much pain but he doesn’t answer. She clears her throat. 

“Who, Jonathan?” She asks stronger this time. He looks away from her and starts taking many labored breaths in but very little breaths out. Time feels like it isn’t moving. He finally looks back into her eyes, glossy and broken and she knows, she knows she doesn’t want to hear it.

“S s. S-steve. It’s Steve.”

 

Bullshit. 

 

She hears Max poorly conceal a sob and Mike tenses next to her. Jonathan doesn’t even look like a person anymore. But she doesn’t feel anything.

 

Bullshit. 

Thats all she can think.

 

”Bullshit!” She yells, startling everyone. 

“Nancy!” Mike yells back her indignantly, voice breaking. 

“No! No its bullshit! He’s fine, were heading to his house right now.” She states simply, like that would change anything. 

“... Nance-“ Jonathan croaks out, his eyes filling with tears again. But she won’t let him continue. She can’t.

”no! No no no no!” She jumps up and starts pacing uncontrollably. Just whispering bullshit to herself.

And then apparently hearing the commotion Joyce appears. She looks broken. Everyone does. The sounds of El’s sobbing can still be heard. Joyce looks at Nancy with the softest and most painful expression she’s ever seen.

”Nancy, sweetie?” Joyce starts uncertainly but Nancy can’t stop. 

“I dont understand! What the hell happened?” She cant help but scream at Joyce, but she doesn’t look upset. 

“Honey, why dont you sit do-“

”NO! I want to know what happened and where Steve is!” She demands. Joyce takes a deep painful breath in, Jonathan has disappeared somewhere in the kitchen. Max and Mike are both crying silently on the couch. 

“There was an accident. Hopper called us from the hospital. Apparently Steve pushed Dustin out of the way of some truck.” 

Hospital. She said hospital. That means he’s okay, he’s going to be okay. He’s at the hospital, they’ll fix him. They have to. 

“Can we go see him? Is he going to be okay?” She breaks out. She doesn't want to know, she doesn’t want to know. But she has too. 

Joyce’s eyes just turn to an overwhelming amount of sadness and pity and Nancy can feel her chest seizing under the weight of her looks. 

Joyce comes up to her slowly and carefully puts both her hands on Nancy’s shoulders. It’s such a mom thing to do.

“Honey ... I’m so sorry ... he’s gone.”

 

 

And just like that her world ends. Everything is not okay. She can’t breathe. And she doesn’t think she ever will again. 

 

Everything feels like its in stop motion.

She’s still not crying.

The shock is paralyzing.

 

Max is sobbing violently but she stands up quickly and without another word she disappears into El’s room. The crashing finally stops. 

 

Mike looks at first furious, then disbelieving, and then finally he looks determined. 

“Where’s Will?” He asks Joyce, his voice unusually steady. 

“Castle Byers.” She says simply. And then just like that Mike is gone in a blur. 

 

And there Nancy still stands. Paralyzed. Joyce finally lets go of her and goes to find Jonathan in the kitchen.

 

And then Nancy’s alone. And she’s never felt it so strongly. 

 

Her eyes are racing all over the Byers’ living room. It’s too much. Too many memories. Too many memories of Steve.

 

Steve. 

 

She sees the spot where she pointed a gun at his face. The spot where he ran out of the house. The spot where he came back to save them, picking up the nailbat that became his own. Risking his life to save theirs. The spot where they ran into Jonathans bedroom. Where the lit the monster on fire. Those memories hurt. Those memories have always been painful. 

And then she looks again.  And she sees the spot where they had a 15 hours movie marathon one weekend over summer. The spot where their long study session turned into a long pillow fight, with her and Jonathan eventually teaming up against Steve. The spot where Steve made them a home-cooked dinner from scratch for the first time, it had taken 6 hours of cooking and it was the best thing she’d ever tasted. She sees the spot where Steve was sitting with the kids, them teaching him how to play DnD for the first time, and Nancy couldn’t stop watching because he just worked so well with them. These memories have never hurt before, they’ve always made her feel calm in times of stress. Now they hurt more than anything else.

It’s too much. So she runs. 

She runs to the bathroom and locks herself in. She doesn’t even know what to do. After Barb she didn’t have time to grieve, they had things to do, monsters to kill. It was hard but it helped. Now there is nothing. Nothing but an unbearable pain. 

She crawls into the bathtub and closes the curtain around it. She curls protectively around her knees and after turning on the shower head and sitting, fully clothed, under the burning water, she finally cries. 

But it’s not crying. It’s not even sobbing. 

It’s indescribable. I feels like there is something trying to claw its way out of her body through her chest. There is nothing that doesn’t hurt. Everything is unbearable. 

 

Yea. So much for planning. Planning gets you nothing but pain. 

 

 

 

Nancy has absolutely no idea how long she stayed curled up in the bathtub. Eventually she was all cried out. Her body drained of every last tear and emotion until she was just an empty shell casing from her gun.

She can’t hear anything over the running water so she doesn’t even know anyone else has arrived until someone pulls back the curtain.

And theres Dustin.

Sweet, innocent, brilliant Dustin.

With blood stained on his hands.

But theres no injuries on him. So she knows.

She knows.

And suddenly the tears are back with a vengeance and she would rather be back in the upside down than here.  

Dustin looks at her shocked for a second, unsure of what exactly to do. Then she hears him yell. 

“I found her!” His voice sounds different. Croaked, frayed, like he’s been screaming for days. She doesn’t even have time to react to his shouts before Jonathan is in front of her, looking just as broken as she feels.  At first she thinks he’s going to turn off the water, pull her out, force her to change into new clothes and face the world again. But that’s not what he does. Because he’s Jonathan. He understands her. He knows her. And thats not what she needs. 

Instead he disappears out of the bathroom again, Dustin’s still staring at her blankly, like he’s out of emotions for the time being. And then Jonathan is back with his Walkman. He starts playing Queen, Steve’s favorite band, loud enough to hear over the water. And then he scoots her crumbled body over slightly before climbing in and wrapping his arms around her. 

Jonathan has never been one for physical affection, that was always Steve’s forte, but it seems that now he deems it necessary. 

Dustin leaves and closes them back in the bathroom. 

They stay there, just sobbing together for hours. Nancy’s mind feels like a battlefield. Flashes of memories wont stop playing in her head. One scene in particular. The one scene she’s tried to block out for 2 years. 

Spiked punch, too much drinking, Steve’s caring driving her crazy when she cared so little. The bathroom, the ranting and rambling, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. 

 

“Like were in love?” 

“You don’t love me?” 

“It’s bullshit.” 

 

She couldn’t get the look on his face out of her mind.  It was crushing her.

Apologies are flying out of her mouth and Jonathan is trying to calm her down but he doesn't understand. 

It wasn’t bullshit.” She whispers. Barely audible over the running water. She feels Jonathan shift slightly to get a better look at her. 

“What?” His eyes are bloodshot from all the crying, he looks like shit. She imagines she looks worse. 

“I-i-i-I I told him it was bullshit. It wasn’t bullshit. It wasn’t.” She whimpers. Understanding starts dawning on his face and it hurts. 

“... nance-“ but she doesn't let him finish whatever comfort he was trying to give. 

“No! No no no no no! I should have told him. I should have told him!” She can’t even tell if she’s screaming anymore. Jonathan just wraps his arms around her tighter. 

“I never got to tell him.” She whispers out. Throat feeling seared. 

“I know.” Jonathan whispers into her soaking wet hair. 

“I loved him.” 

“I know.” 

 

 

Months pass in a blink of an eye. Nancy can barely tell the difference between days anymore. Her entire life is nothing but school and family. And not the Wheelers. Well, not all of them. 

As much as she wants to sit at home and wallow all day she can’t. That’s not who she is. And besides graduation is coming up soon and she has to keep her grades up to keep her spot at Barnard. Life doesn’t stop just because your ex-boyfriend who you’re still in love with and never got to tell died. Life doesn’t care. It just keeps on moving, whether you’re ready for it too or not. 

Nancy thinks bitterly sometimes that she should be able to handle this better, she’s been through this before. She should know how to continue living when your entire world has crumbled around you. But she doesn’t. 

Her family helps. Jonathan helps. 

They’re relationship is rocky sometimes, the feeling of a missing person who was never really there in the first place. But in other ways they’re closer than ever, because they understand. In a way no one else does. 

They’re going to be moving into their apartment in New York in t-minus 3 months. Nancy just hopes that maybe just maybe she’ll be able to breathe again as soon as they cross out of Hawkins lines (she knows she won’t.).

 

She feels bad about leaving all the kids who are defiantly not kids anymore, but they all have Robin. 

Nancy and Jonathan have Robin too, they’ve kindled a friendship to fill the absence that was left in all of their lives. It’s never the same, but it’s something. 

 

 

Everyone but Nancy and Jonathan cry as the put the final box in the back of their car. She’s going to miss her family more than she thought was possible, but she’s not sad to leave Hawkins. It’s never felt the same without him. 

The drive to New York is long but not unwelcome. Nancy’s always liked road trips, they remind her of Steve. He was always restless and so whenever he was upset or couldn’t sleep Steve just wanted to get in his car and drive, most of the time bringing Nancy with him. She always complained about it but it was just an act. After they broke up she missed the miniature road trips more than she could even articulate. And then thankfully once they became friends again the trips continued. After the mall the four teenagers, almost adults, all piled into Steve’s car and road tripped out to California. None of them had ever seen the ocean before. It was one of the best experiences she’d ever had. 

 

When they finally arrive at their apartment Nancy’s exhausted. Jonathan wants to go to bed but she wants to unpack immediately. It’s better to just get it done with so they can rest later. Jonathan ends up napping while Nancy unpacks her boxes. She carefully places the books Steve left her in his will on a special bookshelf in the living room. She’s almost finished when she finds a box she doesn’t recognize but it has a horribly familiar handwriting on it. 

She opens it tentatively, hands shaking slightly. Inside its full of letters, photos, and a few t-shirts.

Oh.

Its her Steve box.

She had made it after they broke up. It was filled with all the notes he would write her, the photos they had taken and the shirts he had left at her house. She can feel the tears pouring down her face as she pulls out the Hawkins High baseball jersey Steve had left the last time he’d slept in her room before they broke up. It still smelled like him.  

 

When Jonathan wakes up an hour later he finds her curled up on the floor of their bedroom, all of the contents of the box scattered around her, wearing the Jersey, asleep. She’d fallen asleep after being drained from crying. 

That was the first night she slept without waking up screaming, because all she could smell was Steve. 

 

It was hard to not feel like their apartment was missing something, someone, at times. Even harder with the knowledge that that person had never even set foot in the building. Nancy sometimes spends too much time wondering if Steve would have liked New York. Everytime she goes to a new place she wonders what his thoughts on it would have been. It hurts, but its also comforting. Knowing that a piece of him will always exist within her. So she keeps wondering. 

 

More than anything she hopes he’s okay. Wherever he is. And she hopes that maybe, just maybe, Barb is keeping him company. That they're watching over her, together.