All the polite sounds of cutlery on plates halted, and Steve realized in horror that he'd answered out loud.
"No," his father repeated, setting down his knife and fork. The sound of them hitting the table was damming and Steve almost wished he'd brandished them like a weapon instead. "You're an adult now, Steven. It's time to act like one."
And in this case, acting like an adult meant letting himself get paired off with a business partner's alpha daughter. Steve stared down at his plate, grinding his teeth. He heard his mother tisk.
"Steven," his father said. The undercurrent of steel had Steve looking back up. "You have five seconds to explain yourself."
Explain a slip of the tongue brought on by the last vestiges of teenage rebellion? Best to use teenage stupidity.
"I already accepted another alpha's courting." Ah yes, a perfectly stupid thing for a very single Steve to claim. “It’s pretty serious so…”
His dad paused, staring at him blankly before reaching down and grabbing his napkin to wipe off his mouth. Steve gulped as he leaned back in his chair, still blank but also somehow profoundly judgmental. “I don’t believe you.”
“Honey, if an alpha was courting you it would show,” his mom explained. She would do that sometimes, explain obvious things in a slow way that showed exactly what she thought of her own son’s intellect. “You’re completely unmarked.”
If Steve had time to plan the lie, he would have definitely faked something. But maybe that was just another reason why his father saw fit to spring all this on him. He scowled, stabbing at his potatoes. “It was a secret,” he offered.
His father smirked, always smug to catch his son in a lie, as if they were in some kind of competition. “Why?”
“Family reasons,” Steve grit out.
“So beneath us,” his father concluded, picking up his knife and fork again. “End it.”
Dinner continued, quiet and vaguely tense, but Steve’s mind was racing. He didn’t plan on giving up, or pretending to dump an imaginary alpha. He didn’t plan on signing his life away because his parents that he was too stupid to live his own life.
He needed to make it so that he was as thoroughly claimed as possible, short of actually mating. What he needed was a scent, something that would scare off his potential match, no questions asked. If he lived a normal life, it would probably be an impossible task.
Fortunately, Steve did know of one alpha that terrified just about everyone he met.
After dinner, Steve excused himself under the guise of going to ‘break it off’. He headed into town, intent on finding and striking a deal with Billy Hargrove.
Billy was smoking behind the arcade when Steve found him. He’d only been driving for about twenty minutes, thanks to the sheer lack of places for Billy to be hiding. The sun was still in the process of setting, but the shadows were sharp on Billy’s face.
It made him look scary, and that made Steve feel even more confident in his place.
“Hey!” Steve called, jogging over. “Remember how you’re a dick? Well I need you to cut that out for a minute and do me a solid.”
“Well,” Billy said with an exhalation of smoke and absolutely no hint irony. “You have my attention.”
Steve brightened, “really?
Billy dropped his half smoked cigarette and crushed it under his boot, and smiled. “Nope.”
The tone was uncalled for, as was the way he clipped Steve’s shoulder when he strolled past. Steve turned, rubbing his shoulder as he watched Billy go. Then he paused briefly before bringing his hand up to sniff.
It was barely there, but it was still something. Billy’s smoke and whiskey scent. Not that Steve really considered it that sort of smell, but the school newspaper had when they (offensively) ranked the smell of the senior class.
Just a little bit more might honestly be enough to seal the deal if Steve could refresh it enough.
“Wait, wait,” Steve hurried after him. Billy glanced back but didn’t break his stride at all, so Steve had to flat out run to get in front of him. “I’m doing a thing now.”
“Being weird as fuck?” Billy drawled.
“Yeah, sure,” Steve quickly crowded in, throwing his arms around Billy’s shoulders and giving him a quick squeeze. Oh yes, that was the stuff; Steve inhaled deeply. Up close without the imminent threat of violence, Billy smelled amazing. “See you later, man.”
He drew back at Billy was staring at him, as close to surprised as he got, although his raised eyebrow was still incredibly condescending. Steve smiled brightly and high tailed it to his car before that whole ‘imminent threat’ thing reared its ugly head.
“Every day that you’re my son is God punishing me for something.”
That was the reaction Steve got when he came home, stinking of Billy. The errands lasted exactly forty-five minutes, including him stopping to get a candy bar, so his mom was still fixing herself a cocktail in the lounge. Steve could tell she was listening in though as his father confronted him at the front door.
Steve smiled sweetly. “Maybe the affairs?”
The house went distinctly still, and his father’s gaze went ice cold. “Go to your room, Steven.”
“I didn’t leave him,” Steve said as he climbed the stairs. “I’m not going to.”
The date for Steve to meet her by the end of the month. He didn’t bother remembering her name; even if she wasn’t necessarily at fault, Steve planned to hate her on principle.
He almost wished he had school that summer so that he would have an excuse to escape the house more often. Unfortunately, he had to wait for Mrs. Henderson to call and request his babysitting services.
His parents had been torn on Steve babysitting since he first started. On the one hand, it was a shameful profession for him, especially considering no one in town was on the same level as the Harringtons. But on the other hand, they approved of him ‘exploring his omega instincts’.
Little did they know, Steve was using this opportunity to be devious.
Dustin was practically vibrating on the couch when Steve showed up. It warmed Steve’s heart that he was apparently good enough company that Dustin practically had a conniption every time he showed up. It was made all the cuter when Steve recalled how vehemently Dustin had been insisting that he didn’t need a babysitter at thirteen before he knew that Steve had been hired.
“Steve! My man!” Dustin jumped up, throwing his hands in the air. “I have a fantastic night planned!”
“And I am stoked to hear about it,” Steve said quickly before Dustin could launch into a monologue. “But I need some help with something first.”
“Yes,” Dustin said firmly with a lisp that Steve often inwardly cooed at. “Whatever you need without question.”
“I need you to get Max to help me steal some of Billy’s clothes.”
Dustin stood there with his lips pressed together for a solid five seconds. “Okay. I have some questions.”
Steve got him some baby carrots and sat him at the dinner table to explain his situation and his plan to fix it. “It’s gotta be Billy.”
“Definitely,” Dustin said solemnly. “He’s super scary.”
“I just have to smell like him to buy some time. And then I’ll...do something.”
Steve snorted. He’d spent days, if not weeks, writing essays and filling out applications until his fingers bled. College was not even close to an option. But he smiled and nodded. “So I was wondering if you could get in touch with Max. See if she might be able to get me some clothes?”
Dustin’s solemn look faded to something a little more age appropriate. “You want to steal from Billy?”
“Not steal; stealing is bad! Just uh,” Steve wiggled his fingers. “You know, borrow.”
“He won’t even know it’s gone. Probably.” Depending on what Max could get, in the event that she agreed, Steve didn’t plan on asking for something that would be immediately missed. “I’m not trying to get her murdered.”
“I see,” Dustin still looked dubious, but less like he was about to jump out of his chair. “Well, let me get my walkie and I’ll ask her. Don’t worry buddy, we’re in this together.”
Steve waited at the table for Dustin to retrieve the walkie talkie from his room. It’s already crackling and Max’s voice is coming through. “Here he is,” says Dustin.
“Hi Steve,” came Max’s voice. She sounds a little confused, and Steve isn’t offended. He loves all the kids, sure, but Dustin is generally in the role of his sidekick. “Dustin said you had a favor.”
“Yeah,” Steve pushed his hair back from his face, a nervous tick even if Max couldn’t see him. “Yeah, it’s kind of a big one. Are you alone right now?”
“Can the message be intercepted?” Dustin interrupted. “Maybe we should come over.”
Steve gives him a look and Max says, “it’s fine. It’s just me and my dumb brother at home right now.”
“Ah,” Steve pauses. “This is pretty sensitive… Would it be okay if we dropped by?”
“On a covert mission,” Dustin added.
Max is quiet for a long time before she finally sighs in a static whoosh of breath. “I guess,” she says. “But Billy can’t know, okay?”
They left Dustin’s house immediately, driving over to Old Cherry Lane before parking a couple houses away.
“We’re here,” Dustin whispered into his walkie talkie. “Two houses down as the crow flies.”
“...Uh huh,” was Max’s only verbal reply before she shortly appeared, rushing along the side of the road.
Dustin hopped out to give her a hug. Steve got out of the car as well but hung back with his hands in his pockets.
She gave him an unsure smile. “Hi?”
“Hey,” Steve smiled back, sheepish that to be roping Dustin and Max into this. It was kind of horrifying that he knew at least half the kids considered him an actual adult. Oh well, may as well rip off that band aid. “So I need some of Billy’s clothes.”
The smile dropped. “Uh. Why.”
“For the uh, for the smell.”
Max slowly looked from him to Dustin. “What the fuck?”
“Hear me out,” Steve rushed to say, but Dustin was also talking over him.
“His parents are trying to marry him off and Billy is the only smell that’s scary enough to protect him!” He said like he’s describing a D&D campaign. “We’re the only ones who can help him.”
“Why can’t you just say no?” Max asked incredulously.
Steve could practically feel Dustin gearing up to continue his rant, so he dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder. “How easy is it to say no to Neil?” he asked.
Any trace of amusement immediately vanished and Max looked shamefaced. Steve tried to smile again. “Just not as simple as it should be.”
Max and Dustin were both betas, so they weren’t always immediately thinking of the implications of Steve’s secondary gender in their immediate situations. It was hard, he didn’t always consider his own privilege blindspots, but he was trying, and he knew they tried too.
“Who knows,” he said, trying to lighten the mood. “Maybe I’ll really like her and we’ll fall in love. I just need a little insurance.”
“Right.” Max chewed her lip, glancing back at the house. “Right. Uhhh, I don’t think I can get anything tonight, but maybe tomorrow. I’ll tell Dustin when I can if so he can call you.”
Steve’s shoulders relaxed as he breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he said.
“You don’t need anything weird right?”
Dustin snickered and Steve ruffled his hat in retaliation. “No, just a shirt or two, maybe a sweater if he has one.”
“I’ll do my best,” Max said. “He doesn’t have that many clothes. He’ll notice if something is missing. Also,” she held her hand out. “Dig Dug money.”
Steve chuckled and obediently reached for his wallet. “Half now,” he said because he heard it in a movie. “Half when you get the goods.”
“You got it, boss.”
Max delivered soon after their conversation. She arrived on his doorstep with her skateboard and a grocery bag.
“I’m not touching his dirty clothes,” she said once Steve had invited her in. “But this was buried in his closet,” she gestured to the black hoodie Steve was holding before also gesturing to the bag. “I don’t know if he ever even wore the undershirt because, y’know.”
“Smells like him,” Steve buried his face in the hoodie and inhaled. “This is perfect.”
“Bet it is, you creep,” Max chortled much to Steve’s offense.
"I'm not being creepy," Steve said with his face still pressed to Billy's hoodie. "I'm being a strong, independant omega that don't need no alpha."
Steve glared at her. "Anyway," he said pointedly. "Need a ride home?"
"Nah, I'm going to see Lucas." She tucked her hair behind her ears and Steve finally noticed that she had a little bit of blush on her cheeks.
"Oh shit, that's adorable," he muttered.
"Shut up," Max huffed. "This is all creepy."
"It's brave and very sexy of me," Steve buried his face back in the hoodie. "Sure you don't need a ride?"
"I'll see myself out."
Steve kept his face hidden until he heard the front door shut. When he set the hoodie down, it was like the scent of it was firmly stuck in his nose. He bundled it back into the bag and hurried upstairs.
Best to preserve it best he could until his parents got home. Despite the thought, while the shirt got safely tucked into his top drawer, Steve put the hoodie on immediately. If it wore off too much he would just have Max put it back for a day or two. Besides, it made sense that he should familiarize himself with it.
He slept in the hoodie that night and felt like a genius the following morning when his parents came home unexpectedly.
They were in the kitchen when he wandered downstairs, still wearing the hoodie and poking around the coffee maker. His dad’s nose wrinkled and he glared like he could make Steve spontaneously combust through sheer force of rage.
“Don’t mind me,” he said, sidling along the counter for a mug. “Had a late night.”
The hoodie had to be some kind of magic, or maybe Billy’s scent made Steve as crazy as Billy, but his father, already dressed for the office didn’t cut nearly the menacing figure he once had. Steve poured the coffee, savoring the charged silence.
In the back of his mind, he wondered where his mom was. Not that she would make the situation any better. What did make the situation better was the fact that Steve felt like Billy was right there with his arms wrapped around Steve like an impenetrable force field.
“Steven, I didn’t raise you to－”
“You didn’t raise me, period.” Steve slurped his coffee loudly as he left the kitchen.
So the thing about Steve, is that as much as he could act out while his parents were out of town, he never actually stood up to his dad like that before. Steve waited for retribution to come, but it seemed he’d caught his dad too far off guard.
It was a great feeling.
As much as he hated to do it, Steve took off the hoodie and tucked it away before he went out. He didn’t have anything to do, but he wanted out of the house.
The meeting with his father’s handpicked alpha came faster than he expected. And in Steve’s opinion, went fantastically.
He wore his Members Only jacket, and at first he could see that his father approved of it. The restaurant where they were meeting Steve’s prospective match wasn’t overly fancy, since there weren’t particularly fancy places near Hawkins, but it was obviously chosen with care.
The young alpha woman sitting at the table with an older man was unfamiliar but looked nice enough. In another life, Steve might have had second thoughts. But this wasn’t another life, so before he sat down, Steve unzipped his jacket to reveal Billy’s white shirt.
The effect was immediate. All three of them practically reared back at Billy’s aggressive aroma, and as Steve sank into his seat, he could feel the heat of his father’s glare.
Steve wasn’t a complete asshole though, so he pasted on an apologetic smile for the girl.
“Hey,” he said, folding his hands together. “Sorry that you were dragged out here like this, but I’m spoken for.”
“Oh,” she began.
“Steven,” his father snapped. “I told you－”
“Dad, please try not to make a scene in front of these nice people.” His dad’s face was turning purple, the other two were eyeing like he was indeed the one making a scene, and Steve felt all powerful with the smell of Billy surrounding him.
“Anyway, thank you again for coming,” Steve turned back to her. “But unless you want to challenge my alpha, I should probably take off.”
“Right,” she was breathing inconspicuously through her mouth. She didn’t look offended, more confused than anything else and Steve felt a little bit bad for her. To be fair, this was all his father’s fault.
They left without eating. His father’s face was pinched and subarctic when they got home. “Go to your room, Steve.”
“Gladly.” Instead, Steve grabbed his keys and left the house entirely.
It was depressing that he still had the urge to drive to Nancy’s after so long. It was pathetic that he still didn’t have any friends his own age. He couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he was running away from the only possible relationship that he could have.
He stopped at a stop sign and pulled the collar of the T-shirt up over his nose and inhaled deeply. That feeling in the restaurant sure hadn’t lasted very fucking long. The scent was calming enough that he managed to focus on the music instead of the familiar stab of dissatisfaction with his life.
He went to the arcade to play pinball. He used to be good at it in middle school, and winning something would make him feel better. When he got there he spotted Max’s familiar red hair parked squarely in front of the Dig Dug game.
She whipped around as he drew near with her nose wrinkled. “You smell like Billy,” she declared before turning back to the game. “It’s weird.”
“Well, it helped me out a lot tonight.”
Steve was in the middle of telling Max about the short dinner exchange when he spotted Billy coming inside. There were a couple blissful seconds before Steve remembered the shirt. He could tell the exact moment Billy caught the scent because his eyes went wide before narrowing dangerously.
“I can explain,” Steve started weakly.
Billy grabbed his wrist and began dragging him toward the back.
“Wait, wait, there’s a very reasonable explanation,” Steve babbled. Keith, the useless giant bastard, didn’t even look twice in their direction as Billy marched past the counter. “I needed to smell like you to scare people. Not that scary-bad, more like, ahh!”
That last sound was Billy practically throwing Steve into the employee lounge. He lost his balance with the sudden movement and fell onto the floor.
“I tried to ask,” Steve kept saying. “Remember?”
“I remember you interrupting a smoke and insulting me,” Billy said flatly. “Where did you get my shirt?”
“So it was Maxine,” Billy glanced back toward the door with tense shoulders. “She’s stealing my stuff now?”
“Borrowing!” Steve waved his hands in front of him. “ I was just borrowing. Max was just...an accessory to borrowing.” Billy’s fury still didn’t wane so Steve tried again, “I asked first.”
“The fuck you did,” Billy snorted. Then he offered Steve a hand up. Steve accepted and was hauled to his feet, and suddenly Billy’s nose was pressed against his neck. “It doesn’t smell like you’re just wearing my shirt.”
Steve kept his head tilted so as not to set Billy off again. “I got two shirts. I’ve been sleeping in the other one.”
Then Billy made a noise low in his throat that Steve was in no way prepared for. Then he spun them around and pressed Steve hard against the door. “And what was the point of all this?”
Steve wheezed, somewhat from the force and mostly from Billy’s proximity. The comfortable feeling of falling asleep in his hoodie made his scent feel so familiar, so pleasant and warm; Billy was obviously in Steve’s space to intimidate. Steve felt like he was home.
“My dad wants to marry me off,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed over Billy’s shoulder. “But if I smelled like an alpha that no one wanted to challenge, then he wouldn’t be able to.”
“So you wanted to smell like me.” There was a bite to Billy’s tone, but he didn’t sound displeased.
“Yeah,” Steve admitted. “If I’m yours, no one is going to try and take me away.”
“Oh princess,” Billy practically crooned against his hear. “If you had started with pretty words like that you wouldn’t have had to sneak around.”
As much as Steve took exception to being called ‘princess’ he didn’t comment on it. “So, you’re not mad?” he asked hopefully.
Billy hummed, leaning back and lifting a hand to grip Steve’s chin. He squeezed until Steve met his eye, and suddenly a very unfamiliar smile was on Billy’s face. “I’m pissed, but I’ll give you a chance to earn forgiveness.”
“Just so we’re clear, witnesses saw you bring me in here,” Steve blurted out. “So if you decide to murder me you won’t get away with it.”
“I’m not going to murder you, dumbass.”
“You’re dumb!” Steve cleared his throat. “So, how do I get forgiveness or whatever? Money?”
“Food,” Billy said, smile not changing for a second and looking increasingly unnerving. “If I’m your alpha I should meet your parents, right?”
That was a horrible idea and a half if Steve ever heard one. “You’ll have dinner with my parents?” he asked, trying not to get too excited. “Because that would be great.”
“Tomorrow night,” Billy ran his thumb along Steve’s bottom lip. “I’ll be there at eight.”
“They usually eat earlier than that but I honestly think it would be better,” Steve felt Billy thumb hit his teeth as he spoke but he was too happy to care. All the guilt he felt about stealing Billy’s clothes was completely gone if Billy was on board with the scheme.
“We’ll go to the quarry after,” Billy continued, sounding like he was talking more to himself. “Lots of private places to park there.”
“Why would we need privacy?”
Billy’s thumb pressed, dipping into his mouth and Steve very suddenly understood. He jerked back, and Billy let him go.
“Oh,” Steve said because he could barely think beyond a rushing sound in his ears. Privacy with Billy for private things because Billy wanted privacy for Steve to earn forgiveness . “Okay. But!” He practically shouted and Billy visibly jumped. “Just so we’re clear, I’m very for this. You are not bullying me into a situation I don’t want to be in. Got it?”
“I said,” Steve poked Billy’s chest, which, good god was it firm. “Do you got it?”
“I got it, Harrington. But,” Billy grabbed Steve’s hand. “I have an idea if you want to be just a little bit more convincing.”
Max was waiting just outside the door when Steve stumbled out, disheveled with a very visible hickey. In Steve’s opinion, screaming about it was an overreaction.