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Forever Yours, Faithfully

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Hawkins, 1989

The sound of a pen scribbling on paper is echoes in the room as Steve reads through reports, making notes when necessary. There’s a soft knock on the door before it opens. A petit woman with long, wavy, blonde hair steps into the room. “Stevie!” She says cheerfully. He winces at the horrid nickname she gave him after a week of dating and now almost two years later he hates it just as much, if not more.

“Yes, Meg?”

She bounds over to him, coming around his desk. She pushes herself up on desk to sit next to him. “I talked to Tanya this morning and she says all we need to do is just some small things. I called the church to confirm the time and date. And I sent out the invitations.” She smiles proudly.

He forces a smile. “That’s great, Meg.” She beams at the compliment.

“Oh,” She says suddenly, “Here.” She holds out a small book. “I went through your address book and invited some of your friends. Did you ever contact your mother? She is coming, right?”

Steve exhales harshly, lips flopping together. After his dad died the year before, his mother left for Europe. The last he checked she was in Paris, but that was over three months ago. No telling where she is now. “Probably not.”

Meg’s shoulders droop. “She doesn’t like me.”

He rests a hand on her knee, giving it a light squeeze, “Meg, she doesn’t like anybody, including her own son.”

“Don’t talk about your mother that way.” She scolds lightly.

He didn’t deserve this woman’s love. She saw the good in everyone, even if there was no good at all. When he first met Meg he had hired her as his secretary. That was three years ago. They had been dating 18 months and engaged four of those months. She picks up the pen he had been writing with. It’s a fountain pen, gold and silver twining together against black to make lovely designs. He gently plucks it from her hands and sets it on the desk. She let’s out a small huff, “I even invited your friend from New York.” She says brightly.

His heart jolts. His head jerks up, “What friend from New York?”

Her face scrunches, as if she’s trying to remember, “Um, my brain is scrambled from doing so much today. Jonathan Bryers, I think.”

“You invited Jonathan Byers to our wedding?!”

“Yes, you’ve carried a picture of the two of you in your wallet since I’ve known you, so I asked Nancy about him and she said, ‘Steve would love to see Jonathan! It’s been years!’ She gave me his address and I sent him an invitation! This way, you two can catch up!” She rubs his arm softly before hopping off the desk. She leans down and presses a kiss to his cheek. She giggles when she sees the light pink lipstick she left on his cheek. She runs her thumb over the tip of her tongue before pressing it to his cheek, wiping away the stain. Walking over to the door she rests a hand on the doorknob. “Don’t work too hard, okay Stevie?”

“I won’t.” He says quietly, the thought of seeing Jonathan again after all these years, weighing down on him heavily. He makes a mental note to call Nancy later and chew her out. Leaning back in his chair, he runs a rough hand through his hair. It’s still a bit outrageous, not as much as it was in high school, but still wild. Inviting Jonathan to his wedding is going to make him look like a complete asshole. They haven’t spoken to one another in years. Letting out a shaky breath he tells himself he has nothing to worry about it. Jonathan probably won’t even come. He can imagine Jonathan coming home from the from wherever he worked and sorting through his mail and finding the invitation. He would scoff at it before throwing it away.

Yes, Steve had nothing to worry about.

 

New York City, 1989

The taxi driver pulls up to the curb and puts the cab in park. “$9.75, kid,” His voice rough from years of smoking. Jonathan pulls his wallet out from his messenger bag. He pulls some bills from it and hands them to the driver. “Keep the change.”

“Thanks, kid.”

Jonathan nods, even though the other man wasn’t looking. He steps out of the cab, relieved as the chilly evening air hits his face. He’s been in New York for just over 5 years and he’s still not used to the smell of taxis. This guy probably went through a box of cigars just today. Tomorrow, he’s walking the 3 blocks to the studio he works at. He walks into his apartment building, stopping at his mailbox to collect his mail. He grabs the stack and locks it back before walking up the stairs to the third floor.

After unlocking the door, he slides it open and steps inside his loft. He toes his shoes off and hangs his bag on the hook by the door. Setting the mail down on the counter he opens the fridge and pulls out some leftover vegetable Lo Mein and a bottle of coke. As its heating he sips on his fizzy drink. When the microwave beeps, signaling the food is done; he pulls it out and sets it on the counter.
With a mouthful of the noodles he picks up his mail and starts sorting through what is bills, and what’s junk mail. He stops when his eyes rest on a peach colored envelope. In golden, cursive letters it reads, “Steve and Megan Harrington” followed by an address. It took a moment before it dawned on Jonathan that it’s a wedding invitation.

Steve is getting married.

His stomach churns, the nauseating feeling overpowering, dizzying. With shaking hands, he rips the envelope open and pulls the thick paper out. The paper is white with the same peach colored flowers blooming out at the corners.

“Kindly join us for the wedding of Steven Joseph and Megan Elizabeth on Friday February 18th at 4:00 PM at the Church of Christ.”

Jonathan rereads the gold letters over and over until his vision blurs with tears. Trying to swallow around the lump in his throat he pulls another paper out of the envelope. In the same golden letters and cursive writing it said, “RSVP,” and underneath it were two check boxes. One saying “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” and the other, “Will celebrate from afar!”

He let’s the paper slip from his hands, a horrible pain blooming in chest so painful he clutches his chest, hoping to ease the ache. He pushes himself off the counter and over to the telephone. He picks the phone up again and dials the number he’s called hundreds of times.

“Hello?” A scruffy voice answers.

Jonathan grins through his tears. It’s good to hear the other man’s voice. “Hey, Jim, is my mom around?”

“Joyce is at work still. Took on an extra shift. But Will should be around here somewhere. Wanna talk to him?”

Jonathan nods once before scolding himself. “Yes.” He says quietly.

“Everything okay, kiddo?” Jonathan grins at the sound of his stepfather’s worrisome tone.

“I don’t know.” He scolds himself once again.

“Can I do something?”

Jonathan takes in a ragged breath. “Uh, no, no. But thanks.”

“Okay. I’ll get Will. Hold on, kiddo.”

It’s quiet for a second and then there’s some shuffling in the background.

“Jonathan?” A much younger sounding voice asks.

Said boy sighs in relief. “Will, hey, how’s it going?”

“Good. Everything is just fine here. How about with you?”

Jonathan sits down on the floor underneath the window, back against the wall. “I’m…good. How’s sophomore year?”

“I aced my Geometry test. Enough about me. You’re obviously not fine. What’s wrong?”

“How…”

“You hesitated. And you’re my brother. I know you better than you know yourself.” Jonathan could practically ‘hear’ Will’s smile.

“Steve is getting married.” He twirls the phone cord around his finger, a nervous habit, always having to do something to keep his hands busy.

There’s a short pause on the other line before, “What?”

“Yeah, I just looked at the invitation.”

There’s a much longer pause this time.

“That asshole!”

Jonathan let’s out a watery chuckle. “Watch your mouth.”

“I’m 16, dude! I can cuss if I want!” Will argues. “But anyway, he invited you? Are you going to go?”

Jonathan sighs, leaning his head back against the wall. “I don’t think I mentally can handle it, and even though I haven’t talked to her yet, I’m sure Nancy would kill me if I didn’t go.”

Will laughs and before Jonathan can question his brother he continues, “She can be scary.”

Jonathan huffs out a laugh, “Yeah.”

“But hey, you don’t have to go. You have nothing to prove to him, Jonathan. He’s nothing but a heartless, scab eating, narcissistic mouth breather.” Jonathan smiles again. Only his little brother would say scab eating and narcissistic in the same sentence. “Yeah, I guess.”

He pushes himself up from the floor and grabs the telephone by its hook, taking it with him for better access as he heads over to the counter. He grabs a stray pen from the counter and hovers it between the two boxes. Choosing either one would fill him with dread. If he checks, “Yes,” then it would kill him to see Steve happy with someone else. He knows he has nothing to prove and no one would think less of him if he didn’t go. But if he checks, “No,” then he would regret it and feel like a coward.

“I don’t know what to do, Will.”

Will remembers after his brother and Steve’s breakup; how broken Jonathan had been. He didn’t eat or leave his room for days at a time. And even when he did come out it was only because Jim physically forced him to so they could get some food in him.

“I don’t want you to be hurt again.” He states truthfully.

Jonathan swallows thickly, “I know. I just,” He rubs s hand down his face tiredly, “I don’t know. I don’t want to go, but…maybe I should. Maybe it will give me closure? It’s just all screwed up.”
“I know. I wish I knew what to do, big brother. Maybe just sleep on it. You don’t have to make a decision tonight.”

Jonathan finds himself nodding. “I will.”

 

It’s 11:34 PM when Joyce trudges into her home. Joe had been sick, so she volunteered to cover for him. The living room is dark, except for the flicker of the television. She takes in her husband’s appearance. Jim is reclined back in the recliner, snoring loudly. He’s in an old white wife beater and loose, threadbare flannel pants with socks on his feet. Yawning she walks over to him, resting a hand on his shoulder. She gently shakes him, “Jim, sweetie, wake up.” He snorts loudly once more before jerking his head up. He looks around, drunk with sleep, “Huh?” He sits up, pushing the foot of the recliner back into place. He rubs a rough hand down his face, trying to wipe away the sleep.

She grins tiredly at him. They’ve been together just over 7 years. Their romance is a funny one. They always had something, but neither put the effort in during high school. And Joyce married Lonnie not too long after graduation and Jim moved to the city. He had shown up to her work, claiming he was on his lunch break. They had talked for a good ten minutes before he said, “So, I was gonna have dinner at Benny’s tonight…” He shrugged, “Maybe you could join me?” She agreed and they’ve been together ever since. The memory makes Joyce smile. Every time she sees Jim she’s filled with so much joy she could burst.

“How was work?” He takes her much smaller hand in his, his hands rough and calloused. “Exhausting. Glad to be home.” He pulls her to him, indicating for her to sit down. She plants herself gently over his lap.

“Glad you’re home.” He kisses her temple.

She cups his cheek, brushing a thumb over his scruff. “Everything okay? How are the kids?”

“Fine, fine. We’re all fine.”

She gives him ‘the look’. And he leans back in the recliner with a heavy sigh. “Steve is getting married.”

“Oh my God. Does Jonathan know?”

“He’s the one who called. I didn’t really talk to him, but Will did. He got an invitation.”

“That asshole,” She mutters under her breath. “How could he be so inconsiderate to Jonathan’s feelings? He was completely Devastated when Steve..." She trails off, not wanting to think of how broken her baby had been.

Jim brings an arm up to wrap around her shoulders, bringing her close to him. She rests her cheek against his chest. “He’s deciding if he’s going to go or not.” She jerks her head up, “What?!” He tries to bring her back against him, and she goes reluctantly. “He shouldn’t go! That’s a bad idea!” She mumbles against his chest.

“Yeah, I know.” He runs a hand up and down her back softly. “I’ve been there Joyce. When I got an invitation to Diane’s wedding. I went because I thought it would give me some kind of closure. I had to stand by and watch someone I care about be happy with someone else. It’s rough. I couldn’t do it. I left before the ceremony even started.” She rubs his chest lovingly, but stays quiet, listening.

“If he goes it’s going to be hard on him, Joyce. He’s going to need us to be there for him. I didn’t have anyone and I don’t want the kid dealing with this on his own or thinking he has to.”

Tears nip at her eyes. Joyce doesn’t think she has ever loved this man more. In just a short time he’s been more of a father to her boys than Lonnie did their whole lives. What did she do to get a kind man like James Hopper?

“We’ll be there for him.” Joyce promises. “He’s not a lone. Ever since he was little he’s always felt like he has to take on the world by himself. With Lonnie as a father,” She shakes her head not wanting to think of that horrible man. “He took on so many responsibilities from such a young age, taking care of not only Will but me too. I swear I’ve never seen him so happy until he and Steve got together.” Her smile quickly falls, “I don’t think I could ever forgive him for hurting my baby.” She says quietly. He plants a kiss on the top of her head. “He doesn’t have to go through this alone.” He promises her.

 

After ending the call with Will Jonathan took a long shower. Letting the hot water fall onto his shoulder, helping to release tension. He took his time washing his body, his hair and fighting off any thoughts of going home and of Steve until his head starts to ache. Is this some sick joke? If I go will he just laugh in my face? He could not handle the embarrassment and heartache.

He gets out and dries off quickly, wanting to fall into bed, today’s events draining him of all energy. After donning on a pair boxer shorts and a plain white t-shirt he crawls into bed. Reaching for his Walkman on the bedside table, he slips the headphones on. He turns off the lamp, enveloping the room in darkness. He closes his eyes as he let’s the music play.

I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating
In a most peculiar way
And the stars look very
Different today

His thoughts creep up on him and this time he doesn’t fight them off, too mentally exhausted. His thoughts are a whirlwind of dread and fear. Eventually exhaustion consumes him and he falls into a fitful sleep.

When Jonathan steps off the elevator the next morning he watches as people run back and forth, papers flying, and in the middle is a short man, with salt and pepper hair. His arms are folded, eyes frantic as he talks to a frightened intern. His eyes catch Jonathan, and he throws his arms up in the air. In a thick, posh accent he says, “Jonathan!” He bounds over to him.
“Jonathan, thank Heavens you’re here!”

Jonathan can’t help but to smile at his boss. Harold Wilkinson, is a short man, at least 3 inches shorter than Jonathan, has salt and pepper hair, which he wears proudly even though he’s only 43, and can be a bit overdramatic but has a heart of gold. Jonathan met Harry in his junior year of college when he got internship at Harry’s magazine. They hit it off immediately and bow Jonathan is the head photographer for his company. Jonathan wouldn’t say Harry is his only friend, but he is the one that counts. Harry is Jonathan’s best friend. He is always there for Jonathan and Jonathan could not love him more.

“Walk with me, dear.” Harry gently entwines their arms and leads Jonathan away from the elevator. “How are you this morning?”

“I’m fine, I guess.”

Harry stops and looks at him, “You don’t sound fine, dear. Now, tell your boss what’s troubling you so.”

“I got invited to my ex’s wedding.”

Harry rolls his eyes dramatically, “Oh good Lord. Men,” he says almost disgusted, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Are you going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, you should, Jonathan! Walk into that place, showing him what he lost.”

“I don’t know, Harry.”

“No one would blame you if you don’t. But,” He smiles slyly, “It would be so much fun if you did go! I can pick out your suit, and a brand-new wardrobe for you to take and dear, you will look so good he will be drooling. He’ll regret ever breaking your heart. But we’ll have to discuss it later.” Jonathan opens his mouth to protest because Harry has a very different taste in clothing than Jonathan, but Harry sighs, “Don’t worry I’ll just spice up your style. But for now, we have work to do. Come, come,” He practically drags Jonathan to studio A where Jonathan spends a good three hours straight with a pair of models they’ve hired for the shoot.

Later when Jonathan arrives home he toes his shoes off and hangs his bag on the hook by the door. Walking passed the kitchen counter, he eyes the invitation. It lays there, almost mocking him. He grabs a nearby pen. He hesitates, and throws the pen down on the counter. It bounces off and hits the ground, rolling away. Jonathan grips his hair, “C’mon Jonathan. Just go! What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll utterly humiliated. No, you can’t go. Yes, I can. No, no, no. What if he laughs at me when I show up? He wouldn’t. Ugh! I’m talking to myself.” He whimpers. He grabs up the pen from the floor and checks, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world!” He then puts it back into the small envelope, seals it shut and puts the sticker that came with it with the return address on it.

“What did I just do?” He asks aloud as he automatically goes for the phone. Will doesn’t even get to finish, “Hello,” before Jonathan is saying, “I’m going.”

“Oh shit, really?”

“Watch your mouth, and yes. I-I am.”

The other end of the line is quiet for a moment before Will says, “If that’s what you really want or think is best…but you’re really coming home?”

“Yepp.”

“You know what you should do?” Will shouts into the phone excitedly.

“What?” Jonathan chuckles clearly amused.

“You should come home a little early! We haven’t seen you since summer!”

“How early are we talking about? I do have a life, you know.” Teases Jonathan.

“Like a week, no, two weeks! Please! Please!” Jonathan can hear feet hitting the floor, a clear sign of Will jumping up and down.

“You’re such a child!” Accuses Jonathan.

“You love me!”

“I do.” He agrees, turning around and leaning his back against the counter.

“Soooo?” Will urges.

“So what?” Jonathan teases.

“Jonathan!” Will whines.

“Okay, okay, let me talk to my boss tomorrow and I’ll call you when I get home. Okay?”

“You promise?”

“I promise!”

“Oh, El wants to say hi.”

A moment later a much older Eleven says, “Hi Jonathan.”

“Hey Ellie. How are you doing?”

“I am fine. Mike took me on a date to see Honey, I Shrunk the Kids yesterday.”

“Did you like it?”

“I did. It was funny.”

“That’s great. Is Mike treating you good? ‘Cause if he isn’t I’ll kick his ass.”

El giggles, “He treats me good.”

Jonathan huffs out a laugh, “Well, no mouth-breather is going to mistreat my little sister.”

She laughs when Jonathan calls Mike a mouth-breather. “I am excited to see you, Jonathan. I have missed you lot’s.”

There is voices in the background and El adds, “A lot. I have missed you a lot.”

Gosh, Jonathan loves this girl more than life itself. She’s a ray of sunshine in everyone’s life she comes in contact with. Jonathan doesn’t know how it’s possible with what she went through.

“I’ve missed you too. I can’t wait to come home. I’ll call again tomorrow, okay? Tell everyone I love them.”

“I will. I love you Jonathan.”

It warms Jonathan’s heart every time she says that to him. “I love you too.”

 

Hawkins, 1989
Steve wipes his shoes before entering his house. “Meg?” He calls out, his voice echoing throughout his big home. “Meg, are you here?” When he doesn’t get a reply he quickly makes his way into his office where he sits at his desk and picks up the telephone. After dialing the number, he listens as it rings three times before he’s met with, “Hello?”

“Nancy, its Steve.”

He had wanted to call her the night before and reprimand her for the Jonathan thing, but Meg hardly left him alone the entire night. She was having doubts about the flower arrangements and talked about them until Steve wanted to scream and maybe cry a little.

“Hey! Is Meg driving you crazy with all the wedding planning?” There’s a hint of amusement in her voice.

“Did you tell her to invite Jonathan?”

There’s a moment of silence before she says, “I may have mentioned you and Jonathan used to be close in high school."

Steve leans on his desk. “Nancy…”

“She asked me who the guy is in the picture you have in your wallet! I didn’t know what she was talking about. She described what he looked like and I told her it was Jonathan. What was I supposed to say? ‘Oh, Jonathan? He and Steve used to be madly in love before Steve screwed it up!’ It's not like I told her you dated or anything.”

Steve pinches the bridge of his nose, a massive headache coming on. “Nancy, what if he comes?”

“So what if he does come? You haven’t seen him since you broke up. Steve, it’s been five years. You even spend holidays out of Hawkins just in case he comes home. Man up, Steve!”

“I don’t know…I don’t know if I can handle seeing him again, Nance.” He whispers.

“It will all work out, Steve. It’ll be just like old times, except that you two won’t be making out and being cute and me having to tell you guys to stop. Okay, so it won’t be like old times, but it would be fun to catch up, the three of us.”

“Sure, Nance. I gotta go. See you later.” Exhaustion evident in his voice. “Bye Steve.” Steve puts the phone back in the cradle before standing up and going over to his liquor cabinet and pouring him a rather large Scotch. He downs it all in one go before pouring another. He takes that one back to his desk.

Plopping down in his chair he sighs. Glancing down at the bottom drawer, the one he keeps locked at all times in case Meg or anyone else wants to do some snooping. Reaching over to the antique books he has on his desk, nested between two bookends, he picks up the middle book, which is much lighter than the other two. Flipping it open to reveal the hollowed out pages, he plucks a single key from it. With the key he opens the drawer. Inside is a wooden box. He takes it out and rests it on his lap.

Inside is an assortment of all kinds of knick-knacks, trinkets and a stack of photographs. He takes out the photos and starts flipping through them. There’s one of him and Nancy laughing at a diner in town, one of him laying in bed, relaxed in pajamas, hair as messy as ever, unaware of Jonathan taking a picture of him. Jonathan always said those were best kinds of pictures.

The next one is of him and Jonathan lying in bed, the two smiling like dorks. The next was taken right after the one before, Jonathan is in the same position on his back, while Steve is on his side this time, smiling into Jonathan’s neck, arm thrown across his chest. Jonathan isn’t looking directly in the camera, but he’s in mid-laugh. It’s the same photo he’s carried in his wallet since Jonathan gave it to him with a blush on his cheeks over five years ago. Except this one looked wasn’t bent at the corners and creased in certain places.

Steve runs a thumb over Jonathan. It seems like a lifetime ago, when they were happy, when they were together. He can still hear Jonathan’s laughter mixed with his own, his scent, so intoxicating it made Steve dizzy. Drops of water land in the photo, startling him, but he soon realizes they are his own tears.

Chapter Text

Hawkins 1989

It’s been three whole days since Meg sent out the invitations. They have heard from various people that Steve can tolerate well enough from work, Megan’s friends and family. There’s still a few invitations that have not been answered, including Jonathan’s. This should make Steve feel relieved, but it doesn’t. Instead it makes him nervous and maybe even a little disappointed.

Megan is in the kitchen, stirring a wooden spoon in a large metal pot. He comes in, loosening his tie. It had been a long day at the office and he cannot wait to fall into bed. “Hey Stevie.” She kisses his cheek. He knows she left lip-gloss, but doesn’t wipe it away. “Got the last of the invitation replies in! George and Fran can’t make it, since it’s so close to her due date. But besides them, everyone else is coming!”

Steve’s heart jolts painfully in his chest. “E-everyone?”

She taps the envelopes on his nose lightly, “Yes, everyone. Even your friend from New York. I can’t wait to meet him!” Steve can’t breathe. Megan just giggles, “You’re speechless!” She picks up the wooden spoon. “Relax for a bit before dinner is ready.”

Without a word Steve ventures upstairs to his office. He plops down in his chair heavily. What frightens him most is he isn’t sure if he is more excited or more afraid at seeing the other man. After he composes himself he grabs the phone and dials Nancy.

“Yeees?”

“Hey,” He says, thickly. “So, Jonathan is coming.”

Nancy squeals, “I’m so excited!”

“Nancy!” He shouts before remembering Megan downstairs, “Nancy,” he says more quietly, “This is bad. So bad. I can’t do this. Not with Jonathan there.”

There is a long, dramatic sigh on the other end. “Steve, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“Are you serious right now? What’s the worst – Nancy!”

“You are such a drama queen. How Jonathan ever put up with, I will never know. Just chill, okay? He’ll come, you two exchange some awkward ‘hellos’ and then it’ll be over.”

Steve runs his hand down his face tiredly. “Yeah, whatever Nance.” Whatever he says will not per sway her.

“Oh!” Nancy suddenly says excitedly, “I wonder if he’s bringing someone!”

Steve’s heart drops to his stomach. Jonathan coming is one thing, but Jonathan bringing a date? Steve could not handle that. He couldn’t handle seeing Jonathan happy with someone else.

“It doesn’t really matter if he doesn’t. He can hang with me and Barb. Well, I have important things to attend to. So, I’ll talk to you later.”

“What’s more important than me?” He teases.

“I have to call Jonathan!” She giggles, and Steve’s smile falters. “Right. See ya.”

“Stevie!” Megan calls from downstairs. He pushes himself out of his chair with a sigh. He goes over to the door and opens it. “Yes?”

“Dinner is ready! So, get your cute little butt downstairs!”

Steve remembers back in high school how he would pick up Jonathan in the mornings and they would go to school. Afterwards, they would go back to the Byers and Jonathan would cook for everyone. Jonathan was always a good cook. Steve, never having learned, would always watch him from on top of the counter and ‘test taste’ everything. He smiles at the memory and is pulled from his thoughts when he hears, “Stevie! Come on! It’s getting cold!” He doesn’t have the heart to tell Megan she is an even worse cook than he is. And that’s saying something.

 

New York, 1989

“Oh no, no, no, no, no, no! Jonathan, darling, what is this?” Harold pulls a shirt from Jonathan’s closet. “It’s a shirt, Harry.” Sighs Jonathan. He lays back on the bed, not really in the mood for this, but he knows it needs to be done. His flight is in a couple days and he hasn’t packed yet.

“Well, I found a few things you can take with you.” He brings a couple of shirts over to the bed and dumps them on top of the other man. “Thanks.” Jonathan says flatly.

“Pack them up, hurry! We have to get going!”

Jonathan sits up quickly, clothes sliding off him, “Going?! Going where?”

“Shopping, my dear! You have to look your absolute best! You want Stefan drooling over you!”

“His name is Steve, and I’m not sure about this.”

“Oh, what harm could it do? You have a wonderful life here! A-mazing job, wonderful boss and best friend! You need to show that man what he lost! But you can’t looking like a slob.”

Jonathan ignores the jab at his wardrobe. He has always dressed the same. He likes it. But he knows there is no point in arguing with Harry. “Fine,” He sighs as he stands. He quickly folds the few shirts that Harry deemed acceptable and puts them away in his suitcase.

Now Jonathan finds himself in some shop, Harold and the man who greeted them when they walked in, whose name Jonathan found out is Martin, are talking quietly, every so often sending looks his way. It makes Jonathan feel 2 inches tall. Suddenly Harry claps, making Jonathan jump. “This way, dear!” He takes Jonathan’s hand, “Stay here,” He parks Jonathan in front of one of the dressing room curtains. And then he’s off again, him and the other man going all around the shop. “What’s your pants size?” Harold asks from across the shop.

Jonathan tells him.

Harold looks to Martin, “Right, so he’ll need a size below that.” Martin nods and gets to work on finding pants.

“What? No, Harry…!”

“Just trust in your dear old boss!”

They come back with arm loads of shirts, pants and jackets and Jonathan considers just telling Nancy to tell Steve he can’t make it. Many minutes later Jonathan had tried on several shirts and jackets. He liked some well enough, he keeps staring at the pants around his feet. He’s too scared to pull them up, since they are smaller than what he normally wears.

“How’s it coming?” Harold’s sing-songy voice asks.

“I’m not sure about the pants, Harry.”

“Well, let me see!”

“I…” Jonathan rubs the back of his neck nervously knowing what is to come, “Haven’t tried any on yet. They’re going to be too tight and look ridiculous.”

“You haven’t tried on any? That’s it, I’m coming in!” It’s not like he can lock a curtain. Harold rips the curtain back, and steps into the tight space. “Harry!” Jonathan shrieks, going to cover up his front. Harold closes the curtain and steps forwards, kneeling down in front of him, “Oh enough of that! If I see something I don’t recognize I’ll throw a shoe at it!” He grabs the waistline of the pants and pulls them up. They are tight, but not as tight as Jonathan thought they were going to be.

“Okay, now try them on with this shirt.” Jonathan does and Harold grins proudly. He then starts handing clothing items to Jonathan left and right. “Now this one…this one with this jacket…Hmm no, take it off. I don’t like it….Oh yes! We’re getting these!” This goes on for about an hour before Harold says they’re ready to pay.

“Harry, there is no way I can afford this.” Jonathan makes decent money, he’s well off, but he saw some of the price tags. One shirt was $150!

“Your boss is rich, dear!”

Jonathan opens his mouth to protest, but Harold sends him a look, and he closes it. It was no secret Harold came from money, and that his magazine made good money too. Harold soon smiles and says excitedly, “Now we have to look for shoes! Oh, and you still need a suit! And I know what you’re thinking, how will I ever get a suit tailored in time? Don’t worry, I know a guy. Now, get dressed! We have lots to do! We’ll grab a bite before we go look for shoes.”

He turns to leave but looks at the younger man. In a serious tone he says, “Jonathan, you are a very attractive man.” With a smile he adds, “Own it, darling.” Jonathan smiles, biting his lip as he looks down. “Thanks.”

Shoes were even worse than the clothes. Harold bought him four pair, including a nice pair of black boots and a red pair of Chucks, plus ones that would go with the suit. Apparently, Harold already has a suit color and design in mind. Getting a suit tailored was worse than the clothes and shoes shopping combined. The tailor, of course had to get all his measurements, which means getting poked and touched in all the places Jonathan didn’t want anyone near.

After the measurements Harold is speaking with the tailor, “I was thinking something a little…”

Jonathan drowns them out, he’s basically letting Harold have full reign over this. There were a few shirts and jackets Jonathan had told him “No,” about. He grimaces thinking back to them. Who the hell would ever wear that? He thinks.

“Jonathan, dear! Come here, please!” Harold instructs and Jonathan literally almost cries.

By the time they get back to Jonathan’s apartment Jonathan is exhausted. Harold follows him inside. “I’ll show you how you to pack so everything will fit and nothing wrinkles.” That takes almost an hour. Jonathan dozes off on the bed. He awakes to the sound of a zipper. “All done!” Harold announces.

“Get some rest, Jonathan. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning!” Jonathan groans, for once in his life, not wanting to go to the studio. He needs to rest, mentally prepare himself for going home.

“I’ll lock the door on the way out.” Harold says, before flicking off the light on his way out.

 

Hawkins 1989

The next morning Joyce is standing outside the store, her sack lunch clamped between her teeth, cup of coffee in one hand while the other juggles her keys and her purse strap slipping from her shoulder doesn’t make this any easier. The key slips through fingers and she curses loudly, not caring who hears. She bends down to pick them up but another grasps them. She straightens quickly to see who got her keys.

“Steve!” She exclaims in shock, her sack lunch falling from her mouth. Steve throws out his hand and catches it. He gives her an amused smile, “Hey Joyce. I know where Jonathan gets his multitasking from.”

With small smile she replies, “I think it’s safe to say he multitasks much better than I do.”

He steps passed her and unlocks the door for her and then proceeds to hold her lunch out for her to take.

“Thank you,” She says as he plucks it from his hand. “So, did you um, need anything?”

He shakes his head, “No, ma’am. I was just passing by and saw you could have used a hand.”

“Oh, well, that was kind of you.” There’s a long silence after that before Joyce decides to continue with the conversation. “How have you been?”

“Good, um, good.” He scratches the back of his head nervously, “How are you and Jim and the kids?”

“Everyone is fine. I heard…” She chooses her words carefully, not wanting to rock the boat, “Jim told me you’re getting married.”

“Uh, yeah, next month, actually.”

“Congratulations. I bet she’s a special girl.” She says because what else is there to say? How dare you! How dare you invite Jonathan to your wedding after what you did!

“You and Jim and the kids are more than welcome to come as well. I wasn’t in charge of the invitations, but I can have one sent to you.” He doesn’t look at her once, instead focusing on a wad of pink gum smashed into the sidewalk.

“Oh, I’ll, uh, speak to Jim and the kids about it. Thank you, Steve. Well, I need to get inside and get everything ready for the day. It was nice seeing you.” She sends him a forced smile before stepping inside.

“You too Joyce!” She hears before the door closes. She sighs heavily as she dumps everything on the counter. There was so much she had wanted to say to Steve, but she promised Jonathan long ago she would stay out of it.

 

New York 1989

Jonathan trudges into work the next morning, his camera bag feeling heavier than it ever has. The stress of going back home, of seeing Steve again after so long, has weighed him down. He had hoped he would have slept like a rock the night before with all the shopping Harold had made him do, but no, his sleep restless.

“Jonathan!” He hears Harold’s chipper voice, “Good morning!” He’s suddenly next to Jonathan, coffee cup in hand. He takes a sip from mug. “How did you sleep, darling?”

The younger man yawns as he takes the cup from his boss’ hand, sipping its contents.

“I didn’t…not really.” He mumbles.

“You do look tired, dear.” Harold observes, eyeing him up and down.

“I am so stressed. Why did I agree to do this? I should just call Nancy and tell her I to tell Steve I can’t make it.”

“You will do nothing of the sort! You are going to go and have a great time! You get to see your family and friends. And you are going to look so hot while doing so!”

Jonathan can’t help but to smile into the brim of his cup. He really is thankful for having the older man as a friend.

“Now, about today, we’ll start off with Brittany. I was thinking of a shot at a low angle, maybe…”

“Whatever you decide, will be great.” Harold assures him. No matter how many times this happens, Jonathan is always caught off guard at how much Harold trusts him in the studio.

 

Now, midday Jonathan is all but dead on his feet. He’s had three cups of coffee and even washed his face with cold water in the restroom. He runs his fingers through his long hair, out of habit, as he goes to stand next to Harold. His fingers catch in a tangle and he winces.

“I need a trim.” As soon as he says it wishes he could take it back.

“I know just the place!”

He quickly looks to Harold, “No! Harry, no! I’m just getting a trim! A trim!” As Jonathan yells, Harold’s sly smile grows.

 

Now, Jonathan is looking at himself in the mirror. His hair much shorter than he’s had it in…well since ever. It’s perfectly styled and the hairdresser was nice enough to show him how to fix it. It was easy enough. He looks at Harold’s reflection, “How do you always talk me into these things?”

Harold folds his arms over his chest, “I’m a professional. You look so hot! You are literally on fire, Jonathan! Stefan will be eating out of the palm of your hand the second he sees you!”

Jonathan winces at the thought. “I don’t want Steve eating out of the palm of my hand, Harry. We probably won’t say 10 words to each other.”

“Well, if that happens, it will be because he’s absolutely speechless.”

Jonathan rolls his, a small smile trying to fight its way to surface.

 

The next morning Jonathan finds himself in the airport at 6 AM. He is shaking as he grips his carry-on bag. Harold is holding his other hand. His flight is called and he turns to his friend. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!”

“Yes, you can! It’s going to be just fine, Jonathan. If anyone can do this, it’s you. Call me when you land, so I’ll know you’re okay. Who is picking you up from the airport?”

“My mom is working. Will is in school. So is El, but she doesn’t drive yet anyway. Jim said he would pick me up if he isn’t too busy. If he is, then he’ll send a deputy.”

Harold nods, “Good, good. I gave you a bonus. It should be in your account by now. Don’t look at me like that. You’ll need spending money! Now get going, before you miss your plane!” He hugs Jonathan tightly, pressing a kiss to his cheek. Jonathan holds him just as tight. He feels the burning sensation of tears welling up in his eyes and as he walks away from his friend they slip down his face. He wants to run back into Harry’s arms, and forget about this stupid wedding and stupid Steve Harrington. He wants to go back to Harry’s where they’ll sit on the couch and drink Rosé and he’ll listen to Harry go on and on about anything and everything.

On the plane he is sat next to an elderly woman. She’s knitting, her needles twirling as she concentrates. She smiles up at him as he squeezes in next to her. “Would you like to sit next to the window, ma’am?” He asks.

She waves him off, “Oh no, sweetie. I’m fine right here. It makes nervous to sit and look out at the clouds so close.” Her voice drips with a thick, southern accent.

He nods and sits down. “What are you making?” He asks as she gets back to work on her task. He thinks if he keeps busy on the plane he won’t dwell on Steve too much.

“A scarf.” She holds it up, showing him. It is a dark green-gray color. “It’s just a simple ribbed pattern.” She informs him.

“What are some other patterns?”

She looks to him, “What’s got you so nervous?”

Jonathan opens his mouth to speak, but she continues, “No man your age, I’m guessing 20, is interested in knitting.”

A blush creeps up his neck and to his cheeks, “Uh, you caught me, but I’m 23. I’m on my way home to a wedding.”

“Not your own, I’m guessing.”

He shakes his head. “My ex is getting married.”

“Oh my. Well, damn.” She says catching Jonathan off guard. He huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, damn.”

“First love?”

“First and only.”

She nods, getting back to her knitting. “I met my Lester when I was 16. He had just turned 19. We married a week later. We were married until he passed last year. We were married 70 years.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

She nods, smiling, not taking her eyes off her scarf. “He was my first and only love too. Why did you break up?” She asks, once again Jonathan is caught off guard with how straightforward she is.

“He broke up with me.”

Unfazed by the fact that Jonathan just said his ex is a he, she continues, “Did he say why?”

“Didn’t love me anymore.” He says quietly, the words tasting sour in his mouth.

“Well, maybe that wasn’t the case. People say a lot of things they don’t mean for different reasons.”

Over the course of plane ride she asked questions about Jonathan and Steve, and he did the same about her and Lester. It was nice. When the plane landed two hours later, she held up her scarf, now finished and one of the most beautiful scarves Jonathan has ever seen.

“It’s gorgeous.”

“Thank you.”

He grabs his carry-on bag from above and he gets her purse down for her. He carries it off the plane so she doesn’t have to. Once inside the airport he hands her purse to her. She steps close to him and wraps the scarf around his neck. He looks to her quickly, but she’s smiling sweetly at him. “It’s a late Christmas present. Good luck with the ex, sweetie. I hope everything turns out for the best.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“I’m glad I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you, Jonathan Byers. I know Lester would have adored you.”

“You too Norma.”

They part ways. Jonathan gets his luggage. He gets a hot chocolate from the coffee shop inside the airport and uses the payphone to give Harold a call. Their conversation is brief and he waits outside for his ride. An hour later his coco is long gone, and his fingers are numb. He sighs, seeing his own breath. The sound of a HONK makes him jump. Jim is already getting gout of his truck. Jonathan stands and meets him halfway. They embrace, Jonathan having missed the man more than he realized.

“Hey kiddo.” Jim chuckles.

“Hey Jim.” He smiles at the older man once they part. Jim picks up Jonathan’s suitcase and together they walk back to the truck. “Flight went okay? No trouble?”

Jonathan shakes his head, “None.”

Jim lifts the suitcase and sets it in the bed of the truck. “Will and El and even the other boys have talked nonstop about you since you said you were coming home to stay for a while. I don’t think El has slept since your phone call.” An overwhelming sense of love blooms in his chest. He can’t wait to see the kids.

“I haven’t really either.” He says, something in his voice telling Jim it just wasn’t the excitement of seeing everyone. He reaches over gives the younger man’s knee a light squeeze. “I know it’s hard, kiddo.”

Jonathan sends him a tired, but grateful smile.

Chapter Text

The ride to the station is filled with friendly conversation. Jim asked about Jonathan’s work and friends to get his mind off Steve. Jonathan filled him on new projects he’s been working on and Harold. Jim gladly listened to everything the younger man had to say. He did not speak much about how kids had been lately, knowing they would fill Jonathan in themselves. When he pulls into the front of the station he parks and looks to his step-son. “You can take my truck and drive it around while you’re here. I’ll drive a car home,” He tilts his head towards the squad cars. “Are you sure?” Jonathan asks.

Jim nods with a smile, “Get outta here, kiddo. I don’t think the kids can take another second of you not being in their presence.” He chuckles before adding, “I think the kids are at the Wheelers.”

 

Now Jonathan is parked out in front of the Wheelers residence. He is barely containing his excitement as he walks up the driveway. Karen Wheeler answers the door and she is as beautiful as ever. “Jonathan!” She greets, “Hey. Mike said you were coming home. How have you been?”

“I’ve been good. How about you, ma’am?”

“Can’t complain. Come inside, you’ll catch your death out there!” She ushers him inside quickly. “The kids are downstairs.”

Jonathan sends her grateful smiles and walks down the hall. He passes the kitchen and sees a 7-year-old Holly at the kitchen table, scribbling in a coloring book with a blue crayon. She seems so concentrated on her task; he doesn’t want to bother her. He continues passed the kitchen and towards the door leading to the basement.

His hand rests on the doorknob, thinking of the time he first met El. He still remembers when Will brought Jonathan over to the Wheelers house one day, many years ago, when they were going to play Dungeons and Dragons. As soon as they got to the basement Mike and the other boys started freaking out. It was then Jonathan noticed El. In clothes much too big for her too thin frame. She had a frightened look in her eyes and a buzz cut. It’s evident she had been through something traumatic. Will told him they found her out in the woods, the night it rained so harshly.

That was two weeks ago!” Jonathan had said. He looked to the girl and she seemed to be shrinking into herself, frightened at his outburst. He kneeled down a little ways from her. “Hey,” He said, voice gentle and warm, “I’m Jonathan. I’m Will’s brother. What’s your name?” She looked to Mike, unsure of what to do. He nodded, with a kind a smile, “It’s okay.”

“Eleven.” She whispered. Jonathan gave the boys a questioning look.

“We’ve been calling her El.” Dustin told him.

“Can you tell me where your parents are?”

She nodded, but Jonathan didn’t like the way she looked at the mention of her parents. He stood, “We need to tell Hopper.” He stated. And the boys all surrounded him, all talking at once, saying that they would take El away. “Guys,” He said, “What are you planning on doing with her? Keeping her down here forever? It’s obvious she has been through some things. The people who hurt her need to be brought to justice. She may need a doctor, and clothes that fit her. She needs to a good, warm meal. She can’t stay here.”

The boys all looked at each other, knowing the older boy was right. They all trusted Jonathan and thought he was the coolest adult they knew. “What has she been eating?”

“Eggos and Dustin’s candy.” Lucas told him.

He kneels again, “Hey, sweetheart, do you want some food?” She grins shyly up at him, “Eggos?”

He chuckled, “No, real food. Come on.” He held his hand out for her and she looked to Mike once again. He nodded and she gently took Jonathan’s hand. “Let’s get her back to our house and I’ll cook for her and then we’ll tell mom before calling Hopper.”

Jonathan smiles remembering El sitting up front, guessing it must have been her first time in a car. Since then the passenger seat has been designated as hers. He had taken her home, the boys too, and cooked her a big meal. When they told Joyce, she cried. “What horrible monsters,” She had said. Hopper took it hard too; especially when they found out El had escaped her parent’s home. Her Papa had been mental and gave her willing mother drugs and kept El in the shed out back.

She had stayed with Joyce and the boys during the investigation. And when Social Services wanted to take her Joyce panicked, seeing the scared look on El’s face. “I want to adopt her!” She had shouted, shocking everyone. “Ma’am,” The woman said rudely, “You are unmarried and have an unsteady job.”

“I’ve worked in the same place for over 10 years! And I…”

“Well, Joyce and I,” Hopper put his arm around her shoulders, “Have been talking about adopting her. As for her being unmarried, I proposed last night.” It had been a lie. In fact they had only been dating three months at the time.

That had shut the woman up really quick. Joyce and Hopper went through the adoption process and soon got married. El’s parents were arrested, her father going to prison, while her mother a psychiatric hospital.

Jonathan shakes his head from the crazy memory. Yes, it had been crazy, but El and Jim became part of the family. He twists the knob and pushes the door open. He can already hear the boys’ excited voices shouting about knights and monsters, talking all at once. He manages to make out a few words like Demogorgon and knight and wizard.

“How long have you been down? I can smell you from here!” He yells down. There’s a series of, “Jonathan!” And then the sound of feet thundering across the floor as they race to the stairs. Dustin is in the lead, he gets to Jonathan first, tackling his legs, and making him hit the ground. Mike and Lucas plop on top of them, followed by Will and then El.

“You guys aren’t 12 anymore, you’re crushing me!” Jonathan grunts when he takes an elbow to the ribs. They are all too excited to see him, all talking at once.

There’s a click of a camera and they all look up to see Karen standing a few feet away holding up a camera. “Mom!” Mike groans. Karen replies with, “Okay, you’ve had your fun. Get off poor Jonathan. You’re killing him.” Giving Lucas, who is at the top of the pile a pat on the back as if to say, “Shoo.”

They all get off one by one and Lucas holds a hand out to help him up. Jonathan takes it and Lucas helps him to his feet. Jonathan is still in disbelief at how much they’ve all grown. Lucas is almost as tall as him. Mike has filled out, has almost as much muscle as Steve did in high school. Dustin’s usually long; curls are now a nest of curls resting on top of his head. Will, still the shortest of the group, has shot up and his hair is shorter and styled to the side. And El. Oh, sweet, beautiful El. She is as small and petite as ever. The last time Jonathan saw her four months ago her dark brown hair was passed her shoulders, and now it’s cut off into a pixie cut.

She rushes forward and hugs his waist tightly. He wraps his arms around her and kisses the top of her hair. Will crushes him in a hug next. Jonathan holds him almost painfully close.

“When did you get here?” His brother asks, releasing him so Dustin could hug the older man.

“Literally, like, an hour ago.” He says returning Dustin’s hug. “Jim picked me up from the airport. I have his truck.” Dustin releases him, and Mike goes in next. Jonathan smiles widely at the teens’ affection towards him. “It’s been a long day already,” He says moving on to hug the last of the teens; Lucas. “And I’m starving! Let’s go to Benny’s.” That got the young teens excited again, and they surprisingly forget about their game. Usually nothing can drag them away from a campaign. More than once Will embarrassingly admitted to them playing for 12 hours straight.

El and Will rode up front with him, while the others rode in the back. He paid for their meals. As they ate Jonathan asked about school. The boys rolled their eyes, but El excitedly told him about the book they are reading in her English class. “Great Gatsby.”

“It’s just romance.” Mike wrinkles his nose at the thought of the book. Jonathan has to stifle his laughter at the sad puppy face El gives. Mike catches his girlfriend’s eyes and his eyes widen, “N-not that there’s anything wrong with romance. It’s just…just not my kind of book genre. You know me, I like sci-fi and fantasy. I love you.” He adds, making one last attempt to be forgiven. El grins. He kisses her cheek, making the other teens groan. Lucas throws a fry, hitting Mike in the ear. “Get a room you two!” Dustin laughs, “Yeah, get a room!”

“You two most certainly will not get a room.” Jonathan says, only half teasing.

“You’re such an adult now Jonathan.” Will jokes.

“I’m 23. I’m a young adult.” He jabs a finger in the younger male’s side, making the younger Byer shriek.

“Sure, you are, I was half expecting you to come home with a cane, complaining how bad your back is!” Dustin teases, barely being able to get the words out from wanting to laugh at his own joke.

“And talking about the good old days and how times were much harder back then than they are now!” Lucas adds.

It’s Jonathan’s turn to throw a fry. Dustin jerks to the left, a wide smirk on his face, trying to dodge it, but his head collides with Lucas’ and they both shout in pain. The rest of the table laughs at them.

“Dustin!” Lucas scolds, rubbing his forehead, willing the pain away.

“It’s what you both get.” Laughs Jonathan. “You know better than to make fun of me.”

Lucas and Dustin start bowing over the table, “Oh great and powerful Jonathan!” Dustin begins.

“Forgive us!” Lucas says.

And together they say, “We are not worthy! We are not worthy!”

“Okay I’m leaving you here.” Jonathan says chuckling.

 

After dropping the boys off he asks his siblings what kind of food they have at the house so he’ll know what to cook for dinner. After listing all the frozen meals and canned food Jonathan makes a U-turn and heads to the store. His mother has never been a good cook, Jim is better, but still not all that great. Will can make simple things, like eggs and grilled cheeses. As for El, she one time heated up two boxes of Eggos for everyone.

At the store Jonathan picks up meats and vegetables while the Will and El ask for ice cream and popcorn. Their excuse is, “We need snacks for our movie nights!” Of course, Jonathan lets them get what they want. Once they arrive home they had barely finished putting everything away when his brother and sister pull him into the living room where Will bombards him with showing him his drawings. “It’s a comic book!” He exclaims as Jonathan flips through and reads each panel. “This is great, Will!” And he means it.
“When you finish it and make millions, don’t forget about me.” He jokes.

El shows him her report card. All A’s. And she brings a stack of books she’s read in the past month. “I wish I was as smart as you, El. You don’t even have to try! I had to work my butt off for me to get all A’s.” She blushes at the compliment. “And you’ve read all these just this month?” He picks up a copy of Gone with the Wind. “It took me weeks to finish this.” In fact, when IT came out it took him a whole month to read all 1,138 pages. But he blames both accounts on school. He could not be happier he was done with school now.

They talk for a little while longer before Jonathan gets up to start dinner. Will brings his homework to the kitchen table, while El helps Jonathan, as she finished her work at the Wheelers while the boys played their game. Jonathan could not be prouder of how a wonderful artist his brother becoming and how El excels in her schooling.

El is chopping onions while Jonathan cuts up the chicken breasts. El sniffles before wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Glancing over at the distress his sister is in he grabs a napkin and goes over to her. He wipes her face gently and plucks the knife from her hand. “How about we switch?” She nods gratefully. They get dinner in the oven in no time and Jonathan sits down at the table to help Will with his homework, while El goes to fetch the latest book she’s reading. She joins them at the table.

 

Jonathan is just checking on dinner when the door opens, “Kids?”

“In here, mom!” Will yells, furiously erasing something on his worksheet. “Oh baby!” Joyce shouts, wrapping her eldest in her arms tightly. He chuckles, “Hey mom.” He chuckles as he hugs her back the best he can with dinosaur oven mitts on. She holds him a long time, needing to hug her baby and knowing it is something he needs as well. When she releases him, she takes in his appearance. “You look so handsome,” She cups his face, watching as his face grows pink at the compliment. “And you finally cut your hair.” She runs her fingers through it. “My new look is all Harry.” She rolls her eyes, a smile on her lips, “Oh that man.”

She has not ever met Harry face to face, but every time her son comes home he tells such elaborate stories of his friend and boss, and shows her pictures of the two, she feels as if she knows him personally. He seems to genuinely care for her son and she could not be more grateful for that. “Well, you look so good, honey!” Her eyes go to the pan on the counter. She scolds him lightly, “Oh Jonathan, we don’t expect you to come home and take care of us.”

“It’s fine, mom, really. I don’t really have anyone to cook for back in New York.” She hugs him again. “I’ve missed you.”

He smiles. “I missed you too, mom.”

“Tell me about work and the Big Apple and your friends.” They sit down at the table and he fills her in about what he’s been working on at the Studio, and Harry, and his coworkers. She listens to every word with such interest it makes Jonathan’s heart swell with love. By the time Jim comes home everything is ready.

He walks through the door, voice loud and boisterous. “Something smells good, which tells me Jonathan is cooking!” The kids and Jonathan laugh as Joyce stands in the doorway of the kitchen, hands on her hips as she glares at her husband. He walks up to her kisses her head, an apologetic smile on his lips. El bounds up to him and hugs his waist. He brings a hand to rest on her back. “Hey sweetie.” She looks up at him with a smile. She releases him and goes back to the table to her book.

As he walks further into the kitchen he ruffles Will’s hair on his way to the refrigerator. He pulls out a bottle of beer and twists the top off before taking a long drink. He takes another out and hands it to Jonathan, who is at the stove stirring something in a large pot. Jonathan takes it from him with a smile.

Dinner is filled with chatter and laughter. There isn’t a quiet or dull moment. After everyone had finished Jim leaned back in his chair, hands on his full belly, “Man, I have missed your cooking, kiddo.” He praises, making Jonathan chuckle as he sips his beer.

Joyce insists she do the dishes since Jonathan cooked, but Jonathan doesn’t take no for an answer. El stays back with him while Will goes to read a comic Dustin loaned him and Joyce and Jim retreat to the living room. Jonathan and El carry the dirty dishes to the sink. Looking at her he asks, “I wash, you dry?” With a smile she nods as Jonathan hands her dish towel.

“I am glad you are home, Jonathan.” El states as she dries a fork.

“I’m glad to be home.”

“I am sorry that it is because of Steve though.”

Jonathan’s hands still for a moment before he composes himself. “It’s fine, really El. I get to be with my family for a little while and that’s all that really matters.” He gives her a smile and she can tell it is forced because it doesn’t reach his eyes. She decides changing the subject is for the best. “The boys are going to see Pet Semetary tomorrow.”

“Oh, yeah?” Jonathan glances at her before really scrubbing a spot of dried food on a plate that just won’t come off. She nods. “I don’t want to go.”

“Then don’t. We can do something.”

She quickly looks to with an ecstatic smile. “Really?”

Jonathan nods. “Of course. We can hang around town, or we can even see a movie. Whatever you want.” He drops the plate into the sink full of soapy water when El lunges at him, throwing her arms around him. Water and suds fly into the air, splashing them both. “Thank you!” She exclaims, not caring about her now wet shirt. Jonathan chuckles as he raises a hand to rest it on her arm that’s across his chest. “My gosh, you’re stronger than you look. You’re crushing me!” He jokes as she releases him.

“I am so excited for tomorrow!” Jonathan reaches up, brushing the suds from his hair. “I am too! It’s been a while since we had a day, just the two of us. What would you like to do?”

“The record shop?” Jonathan smiles proudly at her. El loves music even more than he does. She has shelves of records in her room, right next to her many shelves of books. “Definitely. And then after that I say we get some ice cream.”

She nods, not being able contain her excitement. She runs from the room and Jonathan can hear her tell their parents about their day tomorrow. A smile forms on his face as he listens to them. He finishes the rest of the dishes quickly before walking into the living room and joining his mom on the couch.

After watching Simon & Simon and Cheers Jonathan claims how exhausted he is and kisses his mother on the cheek and wishes them goodnight. As he is passing his mother she reaches out and takes hold of his hand. “I’m glad you’re home, baby.” He sends a tired grin, “Me too.” He strips down to his boxers, leaving his t-shirt on, too tired to dig around in his bag for his pajamas. He plops down on the bed and is asleep almost immediately.

He dreams of wild hair, bad jokes, cigarettes, kisses, and soft caresses on his skin. When he wakes up early the next morning he can still feel the ghost of lips upon his and fingertip strokes all over his body. He lays awake, replaying the dreams, that has haunted him for the last five years.

Chapter Text

Steve has had enough. Since 8 AM all he’s heard has been what color napkins they were going to use at the banquet, seating arrangements, table decorations, and the songs that were going to be played. He honestly did not care about any of it. Megan would ask his opinion and he would give it, but they always went with whatever she wanted anyway. Amy S and Amy B don’t like each other, so they definitely can’t be seated at the same table, Megan had said. He honestly doesn’t even know who Amy S and Amy B are.

He had no idea there were a million different shades of purple either. Why couldn’t life be as simple as light purple and dark purple? Meg held up two color swatches side by side, “Which one?”

He thought she was pulling his leg because they look the exact same. He looks at her for a few seconds, waiting for her to say, “Just kidding! They are the same color!” But she looks at him expectantly. “Um,” He swallows, “what’s the difference?”

“Stevie!” Megan laughed, tapping the swatches on his nose, making him flinch, “This one is purple onion,” She holds the one in her left hand, “And this one is grape juice.” She holds up the one in her right. Steve scratches the back of his head, thinking neither of the colors looked like a purple onion or grape juice. She giggles at his confused expression.

“Why don’t you take a break from this,” He perks up at this, “I need you to run to the record shop.” He’s already standing, patting his pants to take sure he’s got his wallet. Anything is better than this. “I want our first dance as husband and wife to be Dedicated to the One I love. The Mamas and Papas version.” He winces at this. The Mamas and Papas? Out of all the wonderful bands and musicians out there, his fiancée had to choose them? All well, if it gets him out of here he’ll go and buy every single record he can find.

“Okay! Be back later!” He’s heading for the front door, when he hears Megan whine, “Stevie!” He turns around and looks at her pouting face. She tilts her head, and it dawns on him. “Oh, right sorry, sorry.” He bounds over to her and kisses her cheek. “It’s okay. Drive safe!”

It’s after he has gotten inside his car and is a good two or three minutes down the road when he feels like he can finally breathe. Who knew getting married who would be this stressful? Megan is a nice girl, but she’s driving him crazy with the wedding planning. He takes a deep breath, wishing he had a cigarette. Megan made him quit and it usually doesn’t bother him, but in times of stress he craves for the cancer stick between fingers, the taste of tobacco and nicotine in his veins.

The record shop is nearly empty, minus a few teens spread around. He wanders over to the bins and finds the record he’s looking for almost immediately. He decides to look around and avoid going back home for more wedding planning.

 

“Jonathan! Wake up! Wake up!”

Jonathan groans, opening his eyes, his vision bleary. He blinks until El comes into focus. “Mornin’.” He mumbles into his pillow. He had fallen back asleep after his dream a little after 3 A.M.

“Mike and the boys are here. They’re about to leave.” She informs him.

“‘Time is it?”

“10:30. You slept in really late.”

He sits up, rubbing his eyes a bit too harshly. “I’m going to shower really quick and then we can go, okay?”

She nods and kisses his cheek before leaving the room. He makes himself leave the warmth of his bed and over to suitcase. He picks out today’s outfit and trudges to the bathroom, yawning as he does so. He really had been tired, since he hadn’t slept well in days. He’s in and out of the shower in ten minutes, dressing quickly and styling his hair the way his stylist showed him. When he walks into the kitchen the boys are at the table. He ruffles Will’s hair on his way to the fridge. The boys all greet him and he smiles as he pulls out the orange juice.

The boys are arguing if the movie is going to be just as good as the book. Jonathan read the book when it first came out and he liked it well enough. He keeps the comment that books are always better to himself. Finally, Will looks at him, “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?”

Jonathan sips his juice before replying, “Yeah, El and me have plans. But we’ll all do something soon, I promise.” Will nods, satisfied with the answer. By the time Jonathan finishes his juice the boys are pulling on their coats and heading out the door, shouting their goodbyes. Jonathan turns to El, “Ready?” She nods and goes to the front door to get her coat, which Jonathan found out really is Mike’s. She hands him his and he slips it on quickly. Once he grabs his keys and wallet he’s ushering her out the door.

 

Steve is flipping through some Billy Joel records when he hears the bell above the doors jingle. Just out of curiosity, he looks up. El comes bounding in excitedly and he expects Wheeler to be right behind her, but no. As if in slow motion Jonathan walks in, taking his sunglasses off and looking so beautiful Steve’s mouth hangs open ever so slightly. He watches Jonathan walk over to a bin and start flicking through it, occasionally taking one out to show his sister.

Steve has never seen Jonathan’s hair so short and styled like it is now. He moves around some bins and Steve gets a better look at him. His clothes are different too. He knows Jonathan has always had a simple, casual, and comfortable style, but he’s wearing a dark gray, long-sleeved Henley shirt with a pair of black jeans that are the right amount of tight, hugging his legs and butt perfectly, a long, button down, black trench coat, draped over his arm. When he moves away from a bin Steve sees he’s got a nice pair of black, lace-up boots on. Who is this and what has he done with the Jonathan who wore big fuzzy sweaters and loose jeans and sneakers and never fixed or cut his hair?

Steve doesn’t take his eyes off him as he walks around. He wishes he could capture Jonathan’s beauty in this moment in a photograph, but that would be weird and he does not have a camera with him and his hands would probably shake too much anyway. They are on either side of a row of bins and Jonathan looks up to see Steve rifling through records and swallows, not knowing what to say, so he glances back down. If he’s lucky then he can get away without having to say a word to him. Steve looks up, finally getting the courage to say, “Jonathan.” Jonathan looks up, making Steve’s breath catch in his throat, completely squashing any other words Steve was going to say. Jonathan has only grown more gorgeous over the years and seeing him up close…

Jonathan doesn’t know what to say, but he sees the record tucked under Steve’s arm. “The Mamas and Papas, Steve, really?” Steve blushes, “It’s not mine.” Jonathan smiles, “Sure it’s not.” Steve walks around the bins to Jonathan. “So, uh, how are things?”

“Good. You?”

Before Steve can reply Jonathan adds, “Oh, hey, congrats on getting married.”

“Uh, yeah, thanks.” Silence falls upon them until El comes up to them. Her smile falls when she sees Steve. “Mouth breather.” She says, making Jonathan huff out a laugh. Steve grins at the sound, wishing it would have been a real, genuine, loud Jonathan laugh. He hadn’t heard that in so long and he knows it sounds better than any record in this store.

“What’d you find?”

El presents the record to him. Jonathan looks at it, “Dean Martin, huh? He’s pretty cool.” As they exchange words about Dean Martin Steve tears his gaze away from the other man, not wanting to be caught ogling him. Instead, he focuses on an Abbey Road record until they’re done. “Here.” Jonathan pulls out his wallet and holds out a few bills. Her eyes widen, and she shakes her head, “I have my allowance.”

Jonathan smiles, “I hardly ever get to come home. Let me spoil you.” She hesitantly takes the money. “Thank you.” She leaves.

“You look good.” Steve says, suddenly regretting it. He just made it ten times more awkward. Jonathan opens his mouth to say something, but closes it, his cheeks slightly pink. Steve quickly tries to recover, “Uh, I mean, you know, you look…healthy.”

Jonathan raises a brow at him before biting his lip to hold back his laughter. “Uh, thanks, Steve. You look healthy too.”

This isn’t going as bad as Steve thought it would be, but it’s not good either. It could be worse, Jonathan could have been rude and yelled cursed at him as soon as he saw him. Steve brushes the thought aside. Jonathan isn't like that. He just hates the fact that he has made himself look like a fool in the span of 30 seconds. Jonathan doesn't really know what to say. He hasn't thought about what he would say when he saw Steve again. Harry would strangle him if he knew Jonathan was just standing here quietly.

“How long are you staying?”

“Two weeks.”

Steve nods his head once, “That’s nice. You know, you get to spend time with your family and stuff.”

El comes back and Jonathan internally sighs with relief. Hopefully, it won’t be so uncomfortable with her here. She hands him back his change and he pockets it. When he looks at her face he can’t believe the look she’s giving Steve. He had no idea his little sister could glare like that. If looks could kill… Meanwhile Steve has literally started sweating with how nervous he is around Jonathan and the way El is looking at him isn’t helping either.

Jonathan drapes an arm over her shoulders, hoping to get her stop looking at the other man, sensing how uncomfortable she is making him. “What do you want to do now?”

She looks up at him with a shy smile, “Ice cream?”

Jonathan grins, “Ice cream it is.” He looks to Steve, “See ya around, Steve.” They walk out of the store, Steve wanting more than anything to go with them. He wanted to talk to Jonathan more and admire how beautiful he is and not go home where Megan will blast the Mama’s and the Papa’s for the rest of the day. He watches them as they go, and Steve can’t help but to let his eyes wonder, and he’s so embarrassed when he feels his own jeans tighten at the sight of Jonathan’s butt in those jeans. What is he, a hormonal teenager? He turns and hides his front behind a shelf of records, pretending to look through them as he wills his problem to go away by thinking of roadkill or something far worse.

It takes a good ten minutes until he thinks he’s fine enough to walk to the front counter and pay for Megan’s record. He hardly remembers driving home. Megan is still in the same spot he left her in, at the dining room table, books and samples fanned out across the table. “Hey! Did you -” He tosses the record at her and she barely catches it before it hits her face. “I’ll be in my office.”

Once inside the comfort of his office he leans against the door heavily, images of Jonathan walking into the record shop, taking off his sunglasses, running his fingers through his hair, smiling and chuckling invade his mind like a disease. He roughly runs a hand over his face, willing his mind to stop. Looking around the room his eyes land on his liquor cabinet. A drink! Yes, he just needs a good, stiff drink.

He downs one in less than two seconds before he’s pouring another one. He finishes half of it before going over to his desk and plopping down in the chair. Taking a deep breath, he leans back in his chair. The alcohol does nothing to help him, the images keep playing over and over in his mind like a movie. These next two weeks will literally be the end of him. He couldn’t take seeing Jonathan again without wanting to rip their clothes off and go at it like a couple of horny teenagers. Raking his fingers through his hair he thinks, Jonathan couldn’t possibly still have feelings for me after what I did. But damn, he’s so beautiful. Does Nancy know how amazing he looks? Nancy! He reaches for his phone and dials her number quickly.

“Hello?”

“I saw him.”

“Who?”

“Jonathan! Damnit, Nance, he’s so gorgeous I got hard just by looking at him!”

“Okay, I did not need to know that. Gross. And Jonathan? Awkward, quiet, baggy sweater wearing Jonathan?” Nancy loves Jonathan to death and had a small crush on him at one point during high school, but not enough to act on it. And when Steve and Jonathan got together her crush went away.

“Yes! He looks like a model! Like he came out of some fashion magazine!”

Nancy chuckles in disbelief, “What? No way. Not our Jonathan.” She saw him over the summer and his hair was still long and his style of clothes were still the same as they always had been.

“Yes, our Jonathan!”

“Aw,” She coos.

“Nancy, this is bad.”

“How is it bad?”

“I don’t think I can stand to see him again without…”

“Without what? Jumping his bones?” She asks, fairly amused.

Steve groans, throwing his head, “Not funny. But yes.” This makes her laugh, rather loudly into the phone, making Steve pull the phone away from his ear a little.

“You should hang out.”

“Have you not been listening to me?”

“Oh, like you’re really going to rip his clothes off the next time you see him.”

“I might!”

“Steve,” Nancy begins, half scolding, “You’re not an animal. Calm down. It would be nice for you two to catch up. Okay, how about this, I have to leave town for a few days. I have to go a conference in Texas, but maybe the three of us could have dinner tomorrow night. That would be fine, wouldn’t it?”

Steve thinks it over for a moment. Nancy being there would not only help his nerves but surely Jonathan’s too. It would definitely take away some of the awkwardness. And hopefully she would keep him from making a fool of himself again. Jonathan must think he’s an idiot. “Uh, yeah. Okay. I think that would be okay.”

“Great! Pick me up at 6!”

Steve grins softly into the phone, “Okay.”

“I have to go! Bye Steve! And if you hurt Jonathan again I’ll kick your ass!”

Steve doesn’t get the chance to comment on that. Nancy hangs up and he slowly lowers the phone. Steve really doesn’t understand why Nancy continued to stay his friend after the damage he did to Jonathan.

Jonathan.

Damn, he sighs picking up his glass and downing the rest in one go. He’s seeing him again tomorrow.

There’s a soft knock on the door before Megan is poking her head in. “Hey Stevie,” She says softly as she comes into the room. “Is everything okay?” He nods, not having the energy to do much else.

“Well, I just wanted to let you know, I’m going home. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She makes her way across the room and kisses his cheek. Steve never let her stay the night. She took it as him being romantic and old-fashioned, but the truth is it hurt too much to share a bed with someone that wasn’t…

He looks up at her forces a smile. “Alright. Drive safe.”

“I will. Don’t drink too much.” After she leaves he pours himself another drink, and then another out of spite. No one tells him what to do.

 

It’s after dark by the time Jonathan and El get home. Jim is in the recliner, Joyce curled up on one side of the couch while Will on the other, comic book in hand. “Hey!” Joyce says, sitting up. “What have you two been up to?”

El walks over to the couch, kneeling in front of her mother, immediately showing her the Dean Martin record and a few books Jonathan had bought her. “We went to the record shop and then we got ice cream and then we went to the book store. And then we walked around town for a while.” El smiles, her excitement making everyone smile.

“Did you eat?” Jonathan asks.

“We ate leftovers. There’s enough for you and El.” Jim informs him. Jonathan nods and makes his way to the kitchen.

“It sounds like you had a good time.” Joyce says, running her hand over El’s head lovingly. El nods, but says, “We did even though we saw the mouth breather in the record shop.”

Joyce rolls her eyes, an amused grin on her face. “And which mouth breather are you talking about?”

“Steve.” El says with disgust.

“Oh no.” She says quietly. “Jonathan,” She calls, making him walk into the room. “Yes?”

“El said you saw Steve today. Are you okay?”

Jonathan doesn’t like the way his family is looking at him. It makes him feel small. And even though they mean well, he wishes they would stop. “I’m fine.” They don’t look convinced which leads him to chuckle nervously, “Really. I’m fine. I mean it.” They still don’t look convinced. Coming to the conclusion that no matter what he says his family will not be convinced that he is completely fine with seeing Steve again. He hadn’t had the time to really even think about Steve, with how El chatted with him the whole day. There hadn’t been a quiet moment the entire time they were gone. He knows later on when he’s lying in bed he will think of how handsome the other man looked, how his hair was still wild like it was back in high school and his voice sent shivers up Jonathan’s spine.

He retreats back into the kitchen, pulling the leftovers out of the fridge. As he’s heating up enough for him and El he hears, “Are you really okay?” He turns to look at his brother. Leaning back on the counter he crosses his arms over his middle. “I don’t know to be honest. It’s just weird, seeing him after all these years. And I don’t know, maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Will nods, coming further into the kitchen. “I’m here, if you want to talk.” Jonathan smiles, glancing down to his feet. “I know,” He looks back up, “But I’m fine. If I need to talk to someone I’ll come to you.”

“Promise?”

Jonathan pushes himself off the counter, walking up to his brother. He holds his hand out, pinky extended. Will laughs, “And you say I’m a child!” He intertwines their pinkies. The microwave goes off, signaling that the food is done. “Tell El dinner is ready.” The older of the two says over his shoulder as he walks over to the counter once again.

Will sits at the table while Jonathan and El eat. El talks to him excitedly about her and Jonathan’s day while Jonathan asked how the movie was. Of course, Will says the book was better, but the movie was pretty good too. Jonathan plans to take Will out, just the two of them. “Let’s all go out tomorrow, even the guys if they want.” He suggests. His siblings agree immediately. “We can grab some dinner or see a movie.”

Will and El insist on doing the dishes, so Jonathan takes the opportunity to go to his room and change into his pajamas. After finding the right record he turns off the lights and crawls into bed. Putting the headphones on he closes his eyes as the music begins to play.

I don’t need to hug or hold you tight
I just wanna dance with you all night
In this world there’s nothing I would rather do
‘Cause I’m happy just to dance with you

“Steve, what are you making me listen to now?” Jonathan says from his bed. Steve shushes him, “You’ll love it.”

The music starts and Jonathan groans, covering his face with his hands as he throws himself back onto the bed. “Oh, stop it!” Steve scolds without any real malice. “I see you smiling!”

He feels Steve slap his leg, “Get up.”

“No,” Jonathan states stubbornly. He feels the bed dip and from the brushes of Steve’s hands and legs he knows the other boy is hovering over him. He uncovers his face and sure enough Steve is smiling above him. “Hi. Now that you’ve had your little hissy fit can you please get up?”

“Why?”

“Because I want to dance with my boyfriend.”

“You know I can’t dance, Steve.”

“Just come on.” Steve rolls his eyes lightly as he pushes himself up. He holds his hand out for Jonathan and Jonathan takes it. Steve pulls him up and off the bed. He leaves Jonathan for just a second to start the song over before he returns to him and starts instructing. “Put your hand here, and your other one here, and luckily I get to put mine here,” He says as he rests a hand on his hip. Steve takes off spinning them all around the room. Jonathan laughs as Steve stumbles over his own feet. Steve sends him a smile to recover from his embarrassment. “Don’t laugh at me. I’m trying to be romantic and dance with my boyfriend!” He says while smiling, of course. “And be respectful, Jonny. This is George singing. He’s the best.”

“I thought you said Paul was the best.”

“Oh he is, by far, but I always felt bad for George. He needs recognition too.”

“If anyone needs more recognition it’s Ringo.”

Steve’s smiles widen, “This is why I love you.”

Jonathan huffs out a laugh, “You love me because I think Ringo Star needs more recognition.”

Steve glances up at the ceiling, pretending to think before shrugging. “Well, it’s not the only reason I love you. Just one of them.” This causes Jonathan’s cheeks to redden and he glances down, biting his lip. “Think fast, Jonny.” And before Jonathan has time to react Steve is throwing them on the bed. They land on their sides and immediately begin laughing hysterically. When their laughter dies down they look at each other, grins still present on their faces. Steve reaches up and brushes a few stray strands of hair from the shorter teen’s face, his hand coming to stop on his cheek, thumb stroking soft circles into the skin. “I love you.” He says seriously this time.

“I love you too.”

“You’re so beautiful and I can’t believe I get to call you mine.”

Jonathan doesn’t know what to say to that. His cheeks seem to forever be red around Steve. Steve suddenly huffs out a laugh, loving how easily his boyfriend blushed. He brings Jonathan’s head closer to his to kiss his forehead. This, of course, leads Steve to kiss his lips next. The kiss is slow and languid and it’s times like these Jonathan has no doubt that they will last. The moment is ruined however when Jonathan shoves Steve off, making him fall to the ground with a loud thud. “You are such a sap.” He laughs as he looks over the edge of the bed at his boyfriend sprawled out on the floor. “But I’m your sap!” Steve exclaims, making Jonathan laugh. When his laughter dies down he rests his chin on his folded arms, as he gazes down at the older man. “Yeah, my sap.”

Jonathan can still feel Steve’s lips on his. A harsh, sob wracks painfully through his body as he clenches his eyes shut, tears slipping down the corners of his eyes and rolling down to his ears. All these years he has never had any doubt that he still loves Steve but seeing him today unlocked something deep within he’s tried so hard to burry. Bringing up a hand he covers his mouth, trying to stifle his sobs, not wanting his family to hear.

Chapter Text

Checking his hair in the mirror by the front door for the tenth time in the passed half hour Steve finally deems it acceptable. He straightens his clothes once more, hoping he chose the right outfit. He decided on a pair of dark blue jeans, a white t-shirt and a nice dark gray sweater with a nice pair of brown boat shoes.

What if he isn’t dressed up enough? Jonathan looked like he literally walked out of a magazine the other day. He doesn’t even know where they’re going! He has to call Nancy. On his way to the den the phone begins to ring. “Hey Steve!” Nancy says. He sighs in relief, “Hey Nance. I was just about to call. Where are we going? I don’t want to be underdressed.”

“Well, it just depends on where you and Jonathan go.”

“Well, I just thought maybe…Did you just say me and Jonathan? Nancy, you are still coming, right?”

It’s quiet for a moment, “Uh, about that…”

Steve feels his heart drop to his stomach. “Nancy! I’m about to leave and by the time I get to your house you better be ready!”

“I’m in Texas.” She confesses, a hint of fake guilt in her voice.

“What? When did you…You planned this!”

“Yeaah,” Steve pictures her wincing, “I’ve been in Texas since yesterday morning. I actually didn’t call Jonathan to ask him out to eat. I think it’ll be so cute when you go over and he answers the door and he’ll be so surprised!”

“More like shocked! I hate you.”

“I love you too! Now get going!”

“I can’t…”

“Stop right there, you go out, eat, talk. You’ll have fun! If I find out you didn’t go then I’ll…”

“Okay, okay, I’m going!” He slams the phone down harder than necessary. Not even a second later he is pacing back and forth, raking his fingers through his hair before cursing. He has to fix his hair again. It takes him another five minutes before he finally deems his hair acceptable. His mind is blank as he drives to Byers/Hoppers house. It’s only when he parks out front that it sinks in that he is about to see Jonathan again. He sits in the car a good five minutes asking himself repeatedly if he should do this or not.

“Screw it,” He mutters as he gets out. When he knocks on the doors he contemplates running back to his car and driving away. Will answers the door. He hasn’t really seen the kid in a while. He’s grown quite a bit. He’s no longer the scrawny, short kid with a bowl cut. It shocks Steve a bit at how much he’s changed. But it has been five years.

“What are you doing here?” The normally sweet and kind Will that Steve knew has been replaced by this protective younger brother.

“Who is it?” Steve hears El ask from somewhere in the house.

“The mouth breather!” Will yells back.

El appears next to Will, staring Steve down, and making him uncomfortable.

“Which mouth breather?” Steve hears. Is that Dustin?

“’The’ mouth breather!” Will shouts. And not even a second later Dustin, Will, and Lucas come up behind Will and El.

“What do you want?” Mike asks rudely, a look of disgust on his face. He never liked Steve and when he broke up with Jonathan he hated him. Jonathan was the big brother him, Lucas and Dustin never had and they’re all protective of him and care for him as he does for them.

“Is Jonathan here?” Steve asks, not sure who to look at since they all look terrifying.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Will asks, “Why?”

Steve huffs in irritation. He just came to have a good time and he already has been called a mouth breather a hand full of times and received the worst looks from these kids.

“That’s between me and him, Squirt.” He jokes lightly. He used to call Will that all the time, knowing Will didn’t really care for it since he felt horrible about how small he was. Eventually, Will had brushed it off, knowing it was Steve’s way of showing him affection. But now if looks could kill Steve would be dead.

“We don’t like you,” Lucas says bluntly.

“Yeah, you’re a dick.” Dustin states.

Ouch.

Out of all the kids Dustin had been his favorite because he was funny as hell and he loved it that Dustin used to idolize him. There had been a dance at the junior high one year and Dustin asked him to fix his hair, which Steve did proudly.

“Mouth breather,” El says.

“Okay! I get it! I’m a mouth breather!” He exclaims, making the teens laugh.

“Glad you finally admit it!” Laughs Lucas.

Steve hears him before he sees him. “Who are you tormenting now?” Jonathan pushes his way through the group of teens and when he looks up Steve’s breath hitches. “Steve?” He manages to recover from his shock quickly. “Uh, hi. What are you doing here?”

“Uh, hey. Um, I was supposed to have dinner with Nancy, but apparently, she’s in Texas. So, I was wondering if you wanted to, maybe,” He shrugs, feeling stupid, “Have dinner.” He pictures Jonathan laughing at him and slamming the door in his face.

“Oh, well, I’m sorry, but I’m taking these clowns out.” He ruffles Dustin’s hair, making him whine and bat his hands away. Jonathan chuckles and Steve’s legs almost give out.

“Well, we can all go out. My treat.” Steve offers, praying Jonathan agrees.

Jonathan doesn’t want to. He really doesn’t. So, why can’t he say no?

“Only if El gets to pick where we eat.”

Steve grins, “Deal.” The boys all start to complain, El picking or Steve coming along being the issue Jonathan doesn’t know. “Go get your jackets or we’re leaving without you!” They all trudge back inside. “And Dustin I’m not stopping on the side of road so you can take a leak, so go now!” He adds, making Steve chuckle softly.

El comes back first, wearing a jacket of Mike’s. She hands Jonathan his black trench coat. He smiles at her and thanks her before slipping into it. He briefly wonders if he’s chosen the right outfit. A white t-shirt with dark blue jeans, cuffed once at the ankles and new red high-top converse. He hears Harry’s voice in his head, “You’re a very attractive man. Own it, darling.” He quickly scolds himself. It doesn’t matter what he wears. This is Steve and he’s getting married.

He holds his keys out to her, “Want to get the car started so we can have the heater ready?” She nods, taking the keys from him and hopping off the porch. Jonathan watches her as she goes. Steve looks at Jonathan, the way he is standing with one hand tucked in the inside of his jacket pocket, his head turned to the side as he makes sure his sister gets inside the car, his hair perfectly in place, the way the moon shines against his pale skin. He is breathtaking.

When the boys come back out Will looks to the car and then back to his brother. “Sometimes I really think you love her more than me.” Jonathan pulls his brother close to him, “I do not,” He kisses Will’s temple, making the younger whine. “Gross!” Jonathan chuckles.

“Do you have enough room in the truck? Someone can ride with me.” Steve offers. There are protests thrown instantly.

“Okay, okay!” Steve yells, making them stop, “Pile on top of each other then!”

Jonathan goes to the truck, leaning against the passenger side door as he talks to El through the rolled down window. Steve watches them and hardly notices Will standing next to him. “What are you doing?”

Steve looks to him. “Waiting to see where we’re going.”

“No,” Will shakes his head, “I mean what are you doing here?”

“Just wanted to hang out.”

“Oh yeah?” The younger man asks with fake interest. “Well, where’s your fiancée?”

Steve swallows, “At her place, I guess. I just wanted…”

“Just wanted what? You hurt my brother. And you’re hurting him by being here.” Will’s words are not meant to be harsh. But he can’t stand it when his family is hurting. He had been there every second he could after Steve broke up with his brother. It had been the worst experience for all of them. Jonathan was heartbroken and it killed them to see him like that.

Luckily Jonathan walks back over, a grin on his face, “Benny’s it is.” He looks between the two of them, sensing the tension. “Everything,” He says slowly, “Okay?”

“Never better.” Will says, with a grin as he walks passed his brother.

 

At Benny’s they get one of the larger booths in the back. It’s a Friday night and the place is hopping. Jonathan gestures for the kids to slide into the booth, but they insist he goes first. He does and before Steve slide in, around the table next to him El slides in, followed by Mike, Will, Lucas and then Dustin. Steve has to grin because of course they wouldn’t allow him to sit next their brother. A waitress comes by, greeting them, telling her name and handing them menus. After taking their drink orders she leaves.

“How do you like New York?” Steve asks out of the blue, making Jonathan look at him.

“It’s great. I love it.” He grins softly, thinking of his apartment, his job and of course, Harry.

“When can we come visit you? We still haven’t been yet.” Will asks.

“Maybe this summer.” Offers Jonathan, loving the idea of his family coming to see him in New York. He would love to take them sight seeing and show them the best places to eat.

“Can we come too?” Dustin asks excitedly, his enthusiasm making Jonathan laugh.

“I don’t see why not. But you’ll all have to come to work with me. There’s no way I’m leaving you unsupervised in New York.”

“Work? What do you do?” Steve inquires.

“I work for a magazine.”

Will rolls his eyes, “He’s being modest. He’s the head photographer for Spice Magazine.”

That rings a bell. Spice Magazine…Where has he heard that before? Megan reads that magazine. He’s even looked at a few photos in some. They were great. Steve smiles, pride swelling his chest. “That’s amazing, Jonathan. I knew you would do great.” Jonathan looks down, biting his lip to keep from smiling like an idiot. He hates how he wants to smile at Steve and how wild his heart is beating whenever said man is talking to him.

Jonathan sees the boys eyeing the video games in the far corner and tells them to go have fun. But the thing is, they don’t want to leave him alone with the mouth breather. They reluctantly get up after Jonathan keeps ushering them. Jonathan asks if they need money, but they politely decline. The boys rush off, Mike waiting for El to get out of the booth. El looks to Steve and then to Jonathan, not wanting to leave her brother alone to be uncomfortable, but also wanting to watch Mike play Streetfighter. Jonathan grins, “What?”

She bites her lip, unsure. Jonathan rubs her back, “I’m fine. Go play.” She gets out, Mike instantly wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Jonathan watches them go before looking back to Steve across the table. It’s quiet, Jonathan biting his lip and Steve twiddling with a straw wrapper. The silence stretches on, eating at them both.

“Do you…”

“So, how…”

They begin at once, making them both chuckle nervously. “You first.” Steve says.

“Uh, have you…” He really doesn’t know what he was going to say. He just couldn’t take the silence anymore. “Heard from Nancy lately?”

“Yeah, yeah. I talked to her today, actually You?”

“Few days ago.”

What can they talk about? Steve could kill Nancy for setting this up. He wishes the kids would come back. At least then it wouldn’t be so quiet, even if they just sit around calling him mouth breather.

Harry told Jonathan to own how attractive he is. Told him to be confident. He can do that, right? How hard can it be? Just say something. Anything at all. Jonathan and Steve have known each other since Kindergarten. There are a million things they could talk about.

“Do you remember,” Jonathan begins, making Steve look up at him, “When we were in high school and you came into the dark room after school to wait for me while I finished developing photos.” A small smile graces his lips and Steve is hypnotized by it. “And you started acting like an idiot, like you always did -” Steve chuckles and protests a soft, “Hey!”

“And you started dancing around the dark room, claiming you could moon walk better than Michael Jackson, but you ended up tripping and spilling a whole pan of fixer on you. You smelled like rotten eggs for days.” Jonathan barely get the last few words out. He’s already laughing. Steve can barely breathe, the sound of the other man’s laughter ringing in his ears. He soon joins in, claiming, “I am a better moonwalker than Michael though!”

“Sure,” Chuckles Jonathan. Steve flicks a balled up straw wrapper at him. Jonathan dodges it, “Are we really doing this, Harrington?”

“You’re going down, byers!” Steve exclaims. It’s his turn to dodge a wad of paper. This goes on for several more minutes before the waitress comes by with their food, and a scowl on her face at the mess they’ve made. Jonathan gets up to tell the kids the food is here. They eat, the boys having loud conversations about which Star Wars movie was the best.

Will and Dustin claim The Empire Strikes Back is the best, while Lucas and Mike like Return of the Jedi. It started out entertaining enough, but then it began to get heated and finally Dustin shouts, “Okay! Jonathan,” He looks to the said man, “Will you, please, settle this once and for all and tell Lucas and Mike they’re delusional and that Empire Strikes Back is the more superior Star Wars movie?”

Jonathan takes a sip of his Coke, pretending to really ponder on the subject before stating, “Sorry, but Return of the Jedi is way better. I mean, the whole beginning when they rescue Han is the best.” Lucas and Mike high-five him, claiming victory. “Wait just a minute,” Steve says, interrupting the two, “Empire Strikes Back is the best.” It throws the boys back into an argument since they’re back to square one. It’s three on three.

“El!” Mike says, momentarily forgetting about the girl sitting next to him. Her opinion will solve this. His outburst startles the girl, who had been nibbling on a French fry. She looks to him in earnest. “We’re counting you. Now, which Star Wars movie is the best?”

She finishes her fry before taking a sip of her of Sprite. “I like A New Hope.”

The boys groan loudly, drawing attention from the other patrons in the restaurant. Jonathan shakes his head, an amused smile on his face. When he glances back up he catches Steve staring at him. Steve quickly looks away, scolding himself at being caught. But when you see something beautiful, you have to stop and admire it, right? Well, Jonathan just happens to be gorgeous and how can Steve not look at him?

After they finish eating they order milkshakes and Jonathan, Steve and El listen as the boys move on from Star Wars and start debating which Lord of the Rings book is the best. Even though Steve wishes it could just be him and Jonathan, he finds himself enjoying the kids’ company even if the kids still hate him. Dustin is still funny as hell, Lucas is still witty, Mike still can up with the best comebacks, El as quiet as ever and Steve loves the way she cuddles into Mike’s side as he drapes an arm over her shoulders. Will is still awkward and Jonathan…Jonathan still can blush on command and is so beautiful it hurts. He’s still funny and caring. In a lot of ways, he’s still the same Jonathan Steve fell for so many years ago. But there is something different about him, and Steve isn’t talking about his change of style or hair. It’s just…something. Confidence? Yeah, he’s more sure of himself than he used to be. And that’s not a bad thing. Steve always wished Jonathan would be more confident. He was always so shy and thought he was never good enough for Steve, thinking he was ugly and Steve would always scold him. You shut the hell up, Jonny! You have no idea how beautiful you are. I never want to hear you say you’re ugly or not good for me or I’ll kick your ass, got it? He turns his attention back to the kids. He’s been staring at Jonathan too long.

Jonathan has had a hard time to keep his eyes from wandering over to Steve. He didn’t let himself really look at him in record shop. Their meeting had not lasted long and to be fair, caught him off guard. Steve looks about the same, hair still wild, body a little more built maybe. He is still so handsome, just by looking at him, Jonathan is swooning just like his teenage self and Jonathan hates it. Hates that Steve still has this power over him even after all these years. He pries his eyes off the other man, bringing his attention back the boys. “Are you kidding me? Legolas could totally beat Arogorn in fight!” Lucas is saying.

After an hour of nerdy debating Jonathan reaches for the check, but Steve swoops in and gets it before he can. “You really don’t have to pay. I can get it.” Steve is already waving him off. “I got it.” Jonathan hesitantly nods, “Okay. Knew I should have ordered another round of milkshakes then.” Steve chuckles, “Next time.” He gets up and pays while Jonathan ushers the teens from the booth.

Steve meets them at the door, toothpick sticking from his lips. He holds the door opens for everyone. Jonathan hands the keys to the truck to Will, who mutters something about finally being able to sit up front. Steve watches as he stuffs his hands into his jacket. He still can’t believe that Jonathan looks so different in his clothes and hair. It all suits him so well. “I had fun.” He states, making Jonathan look up.

“Yeah, me too. It was…nice.” Jonathan is momentarily mesmerized by Steve’s tongue moving the toothpick from side to side. The same tongue that used to run along the side of his neck, down his chest… “Sorry about the soda though.” He gestures to Steve’s front, where a wet spot from his lower belly to his crotch is. Dustin had knocked it off on him, claiming it was an accident, but Steve believes otherwise.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. We should do it again, soon.” The taller of the two suggests.

Jonathan nods, “Spill soda on you?” He jokes.

Steve huffs out a laugh, “Yeah, totally. But seriously, we should hang out again.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Um, you know where to find me.”

Back in high school when they would have dates at Benny’s they would have sat so close together in the booth you could hardly tell where Jonathan began and Steve ended. They would share a milkshake, them bickering over which was better; vanilla or chocolate. Steve insisted on paying, which he always did. Then as they would leave they hold hands or Steve wrapped his arm around the shorter man, bringing him close and kissing his temple. Jonathan would drive them back to his house and they would lock themselves away in Jonathan’s room. Depending if they had the house to themselves they would make out, which later on in their relationship lead to more. Now, it just feels wrong going their separate ways.

Steve opens his mouth but is cut off by the honking of a horn. They look to Jim’s truck where Dustin is leaning over the seats, hand on the horn. Jonathan smiles at them before looking back to the other man. “I better go before I get arrested for disrupting the peace.” Steve shrugs, “Your stepdad is the Chief. You would get let off easy.”

Chuckling Jonathan says, “I don’t know about that. It really was nice seeing you again, Steve. See ya later.” Steve watches him step off the curb and over to the truck.

As soon as Jonathan opens the door the teens are complaining and whining, except El of course. “If you took any longer to say goodbye to the mouth breather my clothes would be out of style!” Dustin exclaims in Jonathan’s ear. Jonathan shoves him back into his seat, “Too late for that, buddy!” The boys all, “Ooooh,” And laugh at him. Dustin leans up again and attempts to give Jonathan a wet willy.

Steve watches as Jonathan plays around with the teens in the car before walking to his own. He sits behind the wheel long after Jonathan pulls out of the parking lot. He still can’t believe he had just hung out with Jonathan. For a brief moment he wonders if this had all been a dream. He shakes the ridiculous idea from his head as he pulls out of the parking lot.

 

When they get home, Jim is passed out in the recliner, Joyce is still at work. They run off to their rooms to change into pajamas. Jonathan and El go to Will’s room where he sets up his Nintendo. He turns the volume all the way down and El puts her new record on, telling Jonathan they do this all the time. As Dean Martin’s voice fills the room Jonathan sits on the floor, and leans against the bed as he watches his brother play. El is laying on the bed, reading her new book. This goes on for several songs until Ain’t That a Kick in the Head comes on and El expresses her love this song and how it always makes her want to dance.

“Then dance.” Jonathan urges her.

She glances down at her book, mumbling, “I don’t know how.”

He pushes himself up, and holds his hand out, “Come on.”

She makes sure to mark her place in the book before she takes his hand and he gently pulls her from the bed. He takes hold of both of her hands and then they’re spinning around the room, El giggling. Will pauses his game to watch his siblings. After the song ends they stop. “Since when do you know how to dance?” Will asks.

Breathing hard Jonathan replies, “I’ve known for years.”

“Since when?”

Jonathan shakes his head, brushing his hair away from his slightly sweaty forehead. “Steve taught me.” Its quiet for a while before Will and El say in unison, “Mouth breather.” Jonathan huffs out a laugh.

Steve has been in bed for over two hours. He’s replayed the whole evening in his head over and over again, grasping at every detail. The way Jonathan was dressed, every word he spoke, every facial expression. He stores them all away for safe keeping. He’s forgotten what it was like to be around Jonathan. Around Jonathan he can truly be himself. Every second spent with the other man makes his chest tighten with something Steve can’t explain. Rolling over onto his side he comes to the conclusion that he must see the other man again. And soon.

Chapter Text

Saturday morning Jonathan wakes Will up bright and early. “Come on. Get up.” Will mumbles something in his pillow. “Sorry!” Jonathan says too loudly on purpose, a teasing smile present on his lips. “I didn’t hear you!” Will picks his head up just enough to complain, “Saturday mornings are for sleeping in! You know, it’s like a reward after having to get up so early Monday through Friday!”

“I know, but I’m taking you out! Get dressed!”

Will sits up, hair a mess, eyes not wanting to open all the way. “What time is it?”

“It’s almost 9.”

Will groans as Jonathan laughs at him. “I’ll make breakfast.” He leaves and Will yells after him, “You know, as the younger brother, I should be the one bothering you all the time, not the other way around!”

“Sorry, still can’t hear you! You’ll have to get up and come in here!”

Will groans again as he falls back on his bed.

When he trudges into the kitchen Jonathan is setting a plate of fried eggs and toast and sausage onto the table. “Where’s El?”

“I took her over to Mike’s. They’re going to go see a movie, I think. And I decided to not wake you up ‘before’ I left because I’m an awesome big brother.”

“Thanks.” Will rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling so Jonathan just ruffles his hair. He sits across from the younger male and bites into his toast as Will spears the corner of his into an egg. “What do you want to do today? We can do whatever you want.”

“There’s a new X-Men comic I’ve been wanting.”

Jonathan nods, cutting into his eggs and watching the yolk pool onto his plate before sopping it up with toast. “What else?”

Will shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Well, be thinking about it.”

He nods. “Maybe the video store?”

“Sure. Like I said, whatever you want.”

They finish up breakfast in comfortable silence. Will does the dishes while Jonathan gets ready and then he waits in the living room for Will to get ready. He starts reading one of El’s book to pass the time.

 

Steve is in his office, waiting for Megan to arrive. She wants to go over table arrangements again. He wants to just cry thinking about it. He would rather see Jonathan. Last night had been the most fun he’s had in years. Even though he knows he shouldn’t he vows to see the other man as soon as possible. But he doesn’t want to seem too eager, so he decides to wait until tomorrow.

Groaning he leans back in his chair. He sounds like a teenager with a crush. He wants to go the Byers house right this very minute and ask if Jonathan wants to hang out. It doesn’t matter what they do or where they go. They could sit in silence just as long as they’re in the same room, as long as Steve gets to look at Jonathan. He doesn’t want Megan to come over and annoy him with stupid questions. He’ll just end up giving her his opinion and she goes with her completely different choice anyway. And ever since he bought her that stupid Mama and Papa’s record she’s played it every time she’s come over. And she just doesn’t play it. She blares it. It blares when they’re talking about the wedding and when she’s cooking (a horrible) dinner and Steve would rather rip his hair out than listen to it again. To top off sounding like a teenager he sounds like a child.

He doesn’t mean to complain about Megan. She really is a nice girl. It’s just…Steve doesn’t…He takes a deep breath to help calm himself. His nerves are completely shot. If this breathing doesn’t help him, nothing will. He’s already had a drink and that didn’t help. Perhaps if he had a few, but it’s even too early for Steve to really start drinking. Maybe today won’t be so bad. Maybe Megan will have to send him into town again for something. He hears the front door open and then slam close, followed by a loud, “Stevie!” He winces, the hatred for that nickname growing more every time he hears it.

Soon the door to his office opens and Megan comes in. “Hey,” She says brightly, too brightly. She walks over and kisses his lips. He has to refrain from wincing as her sticky lip gloss coats his lips. It tastes like a mixture of strawberry and banana and it just feels wrong. He never had to worry about lip gloss when he kissed Jonathan, maybe the occasional Chapstick, but that never bothered Steve.

“Ready?” She beams and Steve forces a smile and only nods before she drags him downstairs.

 

“Wolverine is way cooler than Ice-Man!” Will exclaims, flicking through comics. Jonathan smiles, “I never said he wasn’t. I just said that Ice-Man is cool and needs a little more love.”

“He is cool, but Wolverine is the best.”

“I think Spiderman is my favorite.”

“Spiderman isn’t a mutant or part of X-Men. I mean,” He shrugs, “He’s teamed up with them sometimes, but isn’t an official member.”

Jonathan puts his hands up in defeat, “Okay, okay, sorry I’m not a superhero expert like you.”

“I guess I’ll just have to keep educating you then, big brother.” Will smiles smugly at the older man. Jonathan shoves him lightly. Will has a small stack of comics tucked under his arm. He found a couple X-Men issues, a few Spiderman, a Daredevil, and a Star Trek one. Jonathan swoops in and takes them from him before Will can make it to the counter. Jonathan pays for them, Will protesting and biting his lip as he does. After the cashier hands Jonathan his change and a plastic bag containing the purchased comics, Jonathan hands him the bag. Will takes it, “You didn’t have to do that. I have money saved.”

Jonathan wraps his arm around his shoulders as they walk out onto the street. “Keep saving it. I’m never home, let me treat you guys.”

At the video store, Jonathan is browsing the Thriller section, Will just on the next aisle looking at the Sci-Fi. “So, we never talked about last night.” His brother says, making him look up. They look at each other for a second before Jonathan looks back down and grabs a random movie, pretending to be interested in the plot summary on the back. “What about last night?”

“How are you doing? I mean, Steve came over unexpectedly and basically forced you to let him come -”

“He didn’t…”

“He did. And then you two hung back while we waited in the car. What did you talk about? Did he say something inappropriate? ‘Cause if he did -”

Jonathan laughs, “No, he didn’t. Just said he had fun.” He put the tape back down and continues to scan through the movies.

“How are you feeling about this? Seeing him again, I mean?”

Jonathan shrugs, not wanting to answer his brother’s question because he isn’t doing good at all. He craves Steve and when he’s around him he feels like he did back in high school and he loves and hates it all at the same time. He loves it because it’s Steve and Steve had always made him feel so good in so many ways and he hates it because he’s Steve. The Steve who broke up with him and broke all his promises to love Jonathan forever and the Steve who is getting married.

He doesn’t want to lie to his brother, but if he tells him how he’s really doing then he’ll just worry and tell their parents and El and he doesn’t want them worrying over him more than they already are. “It’s just a little overwhelming, but I’m fine, really.” He promises.

“You’ll tell me if you need to talk about it, right?”

Jonathan laughs softly, “Not this again.”

“I’m just worried.”

“Well, don’t. I’m fine. Now, let’s rent a lot of videos because tomorrow we’re going to eat junk and watch movies all day.”

Will smiles, “Okay. I’ll pick one, you pick one, and then we have to get something El will like.”

Will ended up picking Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Jonathan almost picked The Hitcher, but decided against it, knowing El would get scared. So, he grabbed up E.T. for himself. What? It’s a great movie. And for El, he chose The Princess Bride. “I think we should get one more. We have to have enough to last us the whole day.” Jonathan says.

“I got it.” Will leaves and comes running back with Robin Hood and not the Disney one (even though that one is amazing). The 1938 version starring Errol Flynn. Jonathan can’t help but laugh. When they were younger they didn’t have a lot of movies at home. Joyce had been the only one working at the time, Jonathan not being old enough to yet. Robin Hood was one of the few tapes they had. Over the years they had watched it countless times until the tape finally broke.

“Perfect. Let’s get outta here.”

 

Steve literally cannot take another minute of looking at ribbons and bows and flowers. He doesn’t even know why Megan wants him here. His opinion never matters anyway. “Meg, I’m sorry, but I have a lot of work to do.” He says slowly, hoping she doesn’t see through his lies. She pouts, “Aw Stevie. Can’t you do it later?”

“If I don’t want to sleep tonight, then yes.” He gives her a sheepish grin.

“Oh, go on then. I’ll come to check on you later.” She smiles sadly as he gets up and makes his way up the stairs. Once inside his office he takes a deep breath, and rolls his shoulders, hoping to ease some of the tension.

Sitting at his desk he eyes the stack of paperwork that he actually needs to do, but he can easily do it later in no time at all. He is just thankful to be in the comfort and silence of his office. Megan is so loud and bubbly, and hyperactive. It’s strange he would be with someone like her after being with the quiet, calm and sensitive Jonathan Byers. Complete opposites. He grips his hair frustration, pulling it a little. He has got to stop thinking about Jonathan. Ever since he ran into him at the record shop he has plagued Steve’s every thought. So much that it’s worrisome.

Resting his folded arms on the desk he lays his head down. He breathes deeply and lets it out. He does this a few more times before drifting off.

 

Jonathan’s eyes are starting to ache, a way of telling him he should have gone to sleep hours ago. He squeezes them shut before opening them again, blinking a couple of times to wake up. But it had been years since he read the Great Gatsby and with El curled up next to him in his bed as he read aloud made him want to stay awake for as long as possible. “I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others -”

“Jonathan?” El asks softly. He can hear the tiredness in her voice. He hums, letting her know he heard her. “Do you still love Steve?” It’s quiet for a long time as Jonathan thinks of how to answer that. “Yes.”

She looks up to him, her head still resting on his arm. “But he made you so sad before.”

“Just because he made me sad doesn’t make me not love him. I’ll always love him I think. But what we had…ended a long time ago. He’s moved on. He’s getting married soon.” She plays with the long sleeve of Jonathan’s pajama shirt. “I wish he wasn’t. I don’t like him because he made you sad, but if you love him then you should be with him.” Jonathan swallows thickly at that. El continues, “If I didn’t have Mike anymore I wouldn’t know what to do.” He smiles at this, knowing how much she loves Mike and how much he loves her.

“He would be so lost without you.” He says and feels her smile against his arm. “Do you feel lost without Steve?”

It’s quiet again because he isn’t sure how to go about answering this one. Like with Will earlier that day, he doesn’t want to worry her, but he can’t stand the thought of lying to his siblings. “I did, right after he broke up with me. I didn’t think I could live without him. I didn’t want to. But it got better. Sometimes, I still feel a little lost. But then I remember I have you and Will and Mom and Jim. I don’t need him,” He says, trying to convince himself more than anything. “All right, let’s see what’s going on with Daisy.” He suggests before picking up where he left off.

 

Steve bursts into Jonathan’s room. The other boy, who sat on the edge of the bed tying his Converse, looks up at him quickly, startled. “He’s gone too far this time! Too far!”

“Who?”

“My old man!” Steve starts pacing angrily back and forth in front of his boyfriend. “He’s such a dick!”

“What did you do this time?” Jonathan asks, rolling his eyes lightly.

“I got a C on my Civics test!”

“We studied really hard for that. I’m just glad you got a passing grade.”

“See? Why can’t he be more understanding like you?”

“Steve,” Jonathan tries, but Steve keeps ranting and pacing. “Steve,” he tries again. He sighs heavily before shouting, “Steven!” Said boy stops, and looks at him, “Sorry,” He sighs. “He just pisses me off!” He goes over and plops down on the bed next to the blonde. Jonathan swings his legs around on the bed and gets to his knees behind Steve. Resting his hands on his shoulders he begins kneading them, making Steve groan. “Just because got a C, a C I worked really hard to get, he’s cutting me off. No more allowance.”

“No,” Jonathan gasps. Steve nods, Jonathan’s sarcasm going over his head. “Yeah! He’s even making me get a job!”

“How could he?” Jonathan says again, in the same mock-appalment.

“I don’t know! And he…You’re making fun of me.” Steve deadpans, making Jonathan laugh. He continues to press his fingers into the flesh of Steve’s shoulders. No one could rile his boyfriend up so badly other than his dad, with the exception of Billy Hargrove, and Jonathan would rather Steve not get so worked up he gets a headache. Then he would whine and moan about not feeling well and that’s not something Jonathan feels like dealing with. Again.

“Well, a parent making their teenager get a job isn’t unheard of, Steve.”

“Yeah, but he’s just doing this to spite me! My dad has never cared about my grades before. I had an F in Algebra for like, half of Freshmen year and he didn’t give a rat’s ass about that.”

Jonathan leans down and kisses Steve’s cheek. “I’ll help you find a job. But tomorrow. I have to be at work in like, half an hour.” Steve perks up at that, “Are they hiring at the theater?”

“No, sadly.”

Steve groans loudly, “I can’t even work with my boyfriend!”

“That new mall just opened up downtown. There will be hundreds of job opportunities there. We’ll go look tomorrow, okay?” Steve nods before jerking around and falling into his boyfriend, making Jonathan fall on his back on the bed with a soft, “oof”. “Half an hour, you say? Well, there’s a lot we can do in that time.”

“I still have to drive to the theater.”

“There’s a lot we can do in 15 minutes.”

This makes Jonathan laugh. “You are ridiculous.”

Steve grins down at the blonde, “But you love me.”

“Unfortunately, I do.” Smiles Jonathan before Steve swoops down captures his lips.

 

 

“Mm, baby,” He moans. Jonathan writhes under him, his hands back on his shoulders, squeezing and clawing. “Steve!”

“Jonny…”

“Jonny?!”

Steve jerks his head up. He’s in his office. He had been dreaming about Jonathan and his neck hurts like Hell and he’s so, so hard. Megan is standing to his right, her hands on his shoulders. “What were you dreaming about?”

“Oh, um,” He moves forward a bit to hide his problem underneath the desk, “I honestly don’t know. I don’t remember.”

“You said, Jonny.”

“Oh, well, before I dozed off I kept reminding myself that…Um, I need to…call him. He’s back in town and I’ve been wanting to see if he wanted to catch up.” Smooth Steve, smooth. She smiles, “I can’t wait to meet him. We should all go out for coffee or something.” Steve’s heart lurches. That is a horrible idea. Forcing a smile, he says, “Oh, yeah, totally.”

“Well, I came to say goodnight. I have plans with Jan tomorrow, but I’ll see you Monday?” He nods and receives a kiss on the cheek. When the door closes he hits his head on the desk, groaning. That had been so close. Things are getting out of hand. He is now dreaming of Jonathan.

Thinking back to the dream, or well, flashback, he smiles. He smiles as he remembers that next day when Jonathan literally dragged him out of bed at 8 A.M. and took him job hunting. He had driven them to the mall and he made Steve fill out applications for about ten or so stores. Only two places said they would hire him; Al’s Pet Store and Scoops Ahoy. Steve hates animals, so he figured an ice cream shop would be all right. Jonathan had teased him when he saw him in his uniform. God, Steve hated it and that stupid little paper hat he was forced to wear. It messed up his hair but with his employee discount he about got ice cream for free, or rather Jonathan did. It always made Jonathan smile and Steve would have done anything to make his boyfriend smile back then. In fact, his dad gave him back his allowance after two weeks, but Steve stuck it out and worked at Scoops Ahoy for a whole month just because Jonathan would always smile at him and say, "I'm so proud of you." Steve was a sucker for Jonathan then and he's sucker for him now.

 

Sunday Jonathan and the kids all sleep in until 10. They trudged into the living room to start their movie marathon. They started off with E.T. and ate multiple bowls of cereal each. By the time dinner rolled around they were just finishing up the end of the marathon with Star Trek. Jonathan cooked dinner and they ate before going to their rooms to do their own thing for a while.

Steve spends Sunday lounging around his house in his underwear, watching a Gilligan’s Island marathon and ordering pizza. He doesn’t remember the last time he had a decent, home-cooked meal. It was probably back when he and Jonathan had been dating. For the last five years, he has lived off fast food and horrible attempts at cooking by him and Megan. Jonathan had always kept him fed. Jonathan always took care of him and he always took care of Jonathan. It is how they worked.

On Monday morning Steve finds himself in town, aimlessly driving around. Meg is coming over to the house soon. Steve had taken the day off since Meg said she needed his help with the planning, but he had forgotten some documents at the office and had to get them. He glanced over at them in the passenger seat, not looking forward to having to go through them nor listening to Meg go on about wedding stuff. Turning his head he sees old widow Smith walking her cat, yes, her cat, on a leash down the sidewalk, and Mr. Jenkins stepping out of his butcher shop to smoke. And then he sees…Jonathan, Jonathan is getting out of Jim’s truck and walking into the grocery store.

Steve makes an illegal turn, parking crookedly a few spots down from the other man. He waits 15 seconds before getting out, he doesn’t want to come across too eager. He walks in and quickly looks around for the blonde. He sees him push a cart down aisle one. He almost knocks over a baby stroller to get to him. He says a quick, “Sorry, sorry,” to the angry mother shouting at him. He peers around the corner, watching as Jonathan picks up a box and begins reading the back. After a moment, he puts it back on the shelf before continuing.

Steve follows him down three aisles, even picking up a box and pretending to read the back, head ducked down in case Jonathan saw him. On the canned food aisle Steve barely misses crashing into a running three-year-old. He stumbles back, right into a pyramid of canned fruit cocktail. The loud sound of cans smashing into one another and then hitting the linoleum floor is deafening. People stop what they are doing to look at him, some coming from other aisles to see what the commotion was. It’s like nothing else ever happens in Hawkins, so, why not watch a poor man embarrass himself. “Steve?” Steve wants to literally die at this moment. His cover is blown. “Oh my God, are you okay?” Jonathan has abandoned his basket and is standing in front of him.

He looks up sheepishly, “Uh, hey. Fancy seeing you here.”

“Are you okay?” Jonathan asks again. And sure, the dozens of cans hitting his body didn’t feel so great, but his pride is what hurts the most. “Fine, uh, all good here.” He chuckles nervously. Jonathan holds his hand out, and Steve takes it, not missing the way a shock goes up his arm. Jonathan pulls him to his feet. And Steve is fine, really he is, but Jonathan is looking at him so worriedly, that Steve can’t help but smile. “I’m okay, really.” Jonathan reaches up and pulls back some of Steve’s hair, revealing nasty looking red mark that is sure to bruise.

“That doesn’t look good.” He says, their eyes meeting, making Jonathan pull his hand away quickly. He clears his throat before pulling Steve over to his basket. He pulls out a package of meat before pressing it to Steve’s wound gently. Steve winces not only from pain but from the cold as well. “Keep that there for a while.” He instructs. Steve smiles softly, “Thanks. So, what…”

“Are you stalking me?” Jonathan interrupts him. Steve’s smile falls, and he opens his mouth, but Jonathan just laughs. “I’m just messing with you.” He pats Steve’s chest lightheartedly before wheeling the cart around a speechless Steve. “Uh, right,” Steve says eventually as he power walks to catch up with the photographer. “So, what are you doing?” Steve asks even though it is pretty obvious what Jonathan is doing in a grocery store. “Getting groceries. I don’t know how mom and Jim keep food at the house with El there.” Steve chuckles, “She’s a growing girl.”

As they go through the store Jonathan puts items in the basket while he and Steve make small talk, mostly about work or the kids. They wander down a random aisle, Jonathan now finished with his shopping and heading to the cash registers. “What did you come in here for?” Jonathan asks, stopping in the middle of the aisle to look at the other man. Steve’s heart jolts because he came in here because of Jonathan. He reaches blindly to his left, grabbing a random box of something, “Oh, uh, you know,” He looks at the box in his hand, “C-condoms.” He tries to smile and brush it off, but it comes out more of a grimace. Jonathan is doing his best to not look amused and he hopes his face isn’t red. “Better safe than sorry.” He says and Steve huffs out an embarrassed laugh.

“Is that it?” Jonathan is grinning now. “Uh, yeah, yeah, this is it.” Steve holds the box up. Jonathan bites his lip as if to keep from laughing. When he finally manages to keep his laughter in, he says, “Unless you were in some kind of accident I don’t know about, you got the wrong size.” Steve quickly looks down at the box and sure enough, they are Small. Steve wishes when the canned pyramid fell, a can would have knocked him out cold. At least that way, he could have avoided this.

Jonathan plucks the box from his hand and puts it back on the shelf before grabbing up the box of Large condoms. He hands it to him. Steve takes it and Jonathan pushes the basket forward, leaving the older man a bit dumbfounded. Steve follows wordlessly.

 

Steve helps load the groceries in the truck. “It was really fun the other night,” Steve says, breaking the silence that had fallen over them. “We should do it again soon.” And Jonathan has no idea what came over him when the words, “Do you want to come over?” Tumble out of his mouth. He’s surprised he plays it as cool as he does. “I could use some help making dinner. I mean, you can’t cook for shit, but you could chop the vegetables.”

Steve chuckles, “I am officially offended, Byers.”

Jonathan shuts the tailgate, “You don’t have to come if you’re too butthurt that is. Just thought I’d ask.” There’s a hint of a playful smile on his lips and Steve has the strong urge to kiss him. He clears his throat as well as his thoughts, “Count me in.”

 

They carry the groceries into the Byers’ home. Some of the furniture is different, things rearranged, but it still has that homey feel Steve has missed all these years. Jonathan immediately gets the things out of the bags he needs for dinner while Steve grabs out a bag of pretzels and hops on the counter to watch him work like he used to do in the past. Jonathan is chopping up potatoes and onions when he looks over at Steve. “You know, this is supposed to be your job.” He muses. With his mouth full of pretzels Steve manages to say, “I’m good.”

Jonathan smiles, head shaking as he goes back to his task. A few moments later the phone rings. Jonathan is quick to grab up a damp dishtowel to wipe his hands clean. He goes into the hall where the phone hangs on the wall. “Hello?” It’s quiet for a second before, “Hey,” He laughs, “I miss you too.”

This peaks Steve’s interest and he leans forward as if it would help him listen.

Jonathan laughs again, “You know you’re the only man in my life, Harry. I love you too.”

Steve feels sick, a sickness that starts in his stomach and worked its way through his chest and throat. Is Jonathan with someone? He couldn’t…well, yes, he could. Jonathan is beautiful, anyone can see that. Not only that, he has a beautiful mind. Are they serious? They have to be. Jonathan just said he loved him.

“Hey, I gotta go. I’m cooking. I’ll call you later. Love you. Bye.” When Steve hears the phone being placed back in its cradle he leans back. Jonathan comes back in, he’s smiling. When he looks up his smile falls. “Are you okay?” He asks.

“Huh? Yeah, yeah, man I’m cool. Why do you ask?” Steve silently curses himself.

“Well, you did get hit in the head with a can today. And you know, I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re not fine.” Jonathan deadpans. Steve smiles at that because Jonathan is the only person in the entire world that knows Steve better than he knows himself. Jonathan is giving him a look that says, ‘Dude, talk.’ “It’s just, uh, I about died choking on a pretzel. I’m good now though.” He coughs for effect.

“Want something to drink? Water, milk, juice, coke, we have beer?”

“Uh, a beer sounds good.” Jonathan takes a bottle out and hands it to him. Steve is quick to open it and take a long swig while Jonathan goes back to work. From then on, the time is filled with Jonathan cooking, Steve tasting and picking on each other, like they used to do. And Steve tries not to think about Jonathan being with someone.

The front door opens and closes followed by a happy groan someone makes when he or she stretch after a long day. Jim makes his appearance, momentarily taken aback by seeing Steve sitting on the kitchen counter. His look of surprise soon turns to one of anger? Disgust? “Hey, Jim,” Jonathan says, cupping his hands together to scoop up the chopped broccoli. “How was work?” He drops the green vegetables into a pot on the stove. Jim grins at him. “Eh, you know, same old stuff.” Jonathan opens the fridge and pulls out a beer and hands it to him.

Steve can’t help but smile. Jonathan takes care of the people he cares about. Always has and always will.

Just before Jim takes a long swig he asks, “What did you do today?”

“Dropped the kids off at school, did some errands for mom, and then went to the store to get some things for dinner. I ran into Steve there.” After a second thought he adds, “Oh, Harry called not too long ago. Said to tell you all, Hello.”

“What’s he been up too?” Jim asks as he eases himself down at the kitchen table.

“Mostly talked about how much he missed me, said the studio is falling apart without me.”

Jim chuckles lightly, “I bet it is.”

“They can survive without me for a couple of weeks,” Jonathan states as he stirs the contents of the pot. He looks over at Steve, “Harry is my boss and best friend.”

Steve about fell off the counter as relief flooded through him. So, Jonathan isn’t seeing this Harry. But it doesn’t rule out Jonathan isn’t seeing ‘someone’. Steve pushes the thought to the back of his mind for now.

“Aw hell,” Jim mutters as he pats down his pockets. “Uh, hey Jonathan, will you check the squad car to see if I left my wallet in there?” The other nods, “Sure. Make sure this doesn’t boil over.” He gestures to the stove and then leaves the kitchen. As soon they hear the front door close Jim is up and so close to Steve that Steve can smell the beer on Jim’s breath. He plants his hands on the counter, on either side of Steve, trapping the younger man. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Uh, just hanging out. We ran into each other at the store and…”

“And you thought you would come over and help make dinner? How sweet of you.” Sarcasm drips from his voice. “Listen, if you harm one hair on my boy’s head…”

“You’ll make sure no one ever finds my body?” He finishes for the cop, a hint of uneasiness in his voice.

Jim smiles slowly, “That wouldn’t be the worst of it.” Steve knows he must look frightened because Jim laughs at him. He brings a hand up and pats Steve’s cheek, a bit too hard if you ask Steve. The front door opens and closes, making Jim quickly retreat back to his seat and pick up his beer, acting like everything is normal.

“Sorry Jim, I think you must have left your wallet at the station, I couldn’t find it,” Jonathan says, coming into the kitchen. He goes to the stove quickly to stir the contents of the pot. “Oh well, I’ll get it tomorrow morning then. Thanks anyway, Jonathan.” Jim says making sure Jonathan’s back was to him before sending a spine-chilling glare to Steve. Steve quickly turns his attention back to the man at the stove.

“Joyce called the station earlier. She’s working late tonight.” Jim states once Jonathan turns back around, leaning against the counter.

“Aw,” Jonathan says, “And the kids are eating at the Wheelers.”

“Guess it’s just us three tonight.”

Soon they’re at the kitchen table all enjoying big bowls of cheesy, potato and broccoli soup. It’s the first good, homecooked meal Steve has had in years and he savors every bite. Jonathan can feel the tension in the room and fills the silence with questions of Jim’s day. After dinner Jim is exhausted, the day's events catching up to him. Jonathan insists he goes to the living room to rest. Jim, at first, wants to argue, not wanting to leave his son alone with ‘him’, but he his body wills him to his chair. Jonathan gathers up their bowls and heads to the sink. Steve gets up as well and hops back up on the counter.

“Dinner was amazing,” Steve states as he watches Jonathan run warm water into the bowls.

“I hope so. You had three bowls,” Jonathan grins at him.

“I live on frozen tv dinners and fast food. I’ll take any homecooked meal I can get.”

“I remember how horrible your cooking is.” Jonathan muses.

“I don’t even try anymore.” Chuckles Steve.

“Does your fiancée cook?”

“Meg? No, she’s worse than me.”

Jonathan laughs, “That’s saying something.”

“Yeah, she tries.” Realization hits Steve like a ton of bricks. “Oh my God,” He says, making Jonathan look away from the dishes. “What?” He asks worriedly.

“Oh my God,” He jumps off the counter, “I forgot I was supposed to meet Meg today. Shit,” He curses as he rushes from the kitchen. Jonathan follows him into the living room where Jim is passed out in the chair and watches the other man scramble into his jacket. “I’m so sorry I’m leaving like this. I just forgot about Meg.”

“It’s okay, I understand.” Steve has a fiancée. Steve is getting married. Jonathan reminds himself. But Steve also spent the day with him, forgetting about said fiancée. And that makes Jonathan’s heartbeat harshly in his chest.

Once Steve is in his coat and he has his keys in his hand, he looks to Jonathan. Jonathan is who is standing here looking so beautiful Steve wants to pull him in close and…No, Steve can’t have those kinds of thoughts. But his chest feels tight, tight at the thought of leaving Jonathan.

“Thanks for dinner.” He manages a small smile in which Jonathan returns. “No problem.”

“We should hang out again. You know, if Megan doesn’t kill me.” Jonathan laughs softly at that. “I hope she doesn’t.”

This is it. Steve needs to leave. His smile falls and he swallows thickly. He reaches out and pulls Jonathan into a hug. Jonathan stiffens for a second before falling into the hug. The hug lasts a few seconds longer than it should. Jonathan just smells so good. And his body feels so warm and just right against Steve’s. Jonathan knows his face is bright pink, but luckily Steve can’t see it. He does wonder though if Steve can feel how hard his heart is beating in his chest. When Steve pulls away he clears his throat, “Right, um, see you around?” A lump forms in throat when he pulls away. God, what is wrong with him?

Jonathan nods, “Yeah, yeah, just let me know when.”

Steve opens the doors and steps out. Jonathan watches him go in the doorway.

 

On the way home, Steve doesn’t really have time to think about the day/evening he had with Jonathan. He was far too busy thinking about the hot water he will be in with Meg. She takes this wedding planning stuff seriously. He finally knows what the guys at work were talking about when they called Meg a bridezilla. Don’t worry, boss, it happens with every bride. Pete from accounting had said. They were supposed to decide on table decorations today. He rakes a hand through his hair almost painfully. “I’m dead. I’m so dead.”

When he arrives home he sits in his parked car for five full minutes, absolutely terrified to go in and face Meg. Finally gathering up what little courage he could find, he gets out. He decides after what a great day he had with Jonathan, nothing could ruin it. Not even Meg. He walks up to the house.

Megan is standing in the foyer, arms crossed over her chest, looking at Steve with such anger, he momentarily thinks she will combust. “Uh, hey, Meg, Meggy, baby.” He starts.

“Stop it with the pet names, Stevie!” Her voice echoes through the house. “Where were you today?” He opens his mouth, but she continues, “I had to look at table decorations by myself! Do you have any idea how embarrassing it was to sit here with the wedding planner alone!? And I couldn’t even tell her where you were because I didn’t even know! So, I’m going to ask one more time; where were you?”

“Meg, I’m really sorry. I went to the office to get some papers, before you got here, and then…I ran into Jonathan. And we hung out today, catching up. I’m sorry. I lost track of time. It was just really good seeing him.”

Megan’s posture softens a little. “I know you’ve missed him. I’m glad you two got to catch up since you haven’t seen him in years. He was your best friend in high school, right?”

Steve swallows thickly, “Yeah,” He says softly.

She walks up to him, leaning against him, hands on his chest, face nuzzled into the crook of his neck. “Just don’t let it happen again, okay Stevie?” He wraps his arms around her and can’t help but to compare it when he had Jonathan in his arms not even half an hour ago. She smells wrong, like strawberries and vanilla. Nothing like how Jonathan smells. Like mint with a mix of something, Steve can’t put his finger on.

“Okay.”

She picks her head up, smiling widely, “Now, I want you to call him up and invite him for dinner tomorrow night. I have to meet him!”

Steve blanches, “What?”

“I have to meet my soon-to-be husband’s best friend! And I think it would be nice to do it before the wedding.” She giggles, “It will be fun to get to know him over dinner at Marco’s. Does he like Italian?”

“Uh, I guess.” He replies dumbly, thinking of how he could possibly get out of this.

“Oh!” She exclaims, face full of excitement, “We can double! I know just the girl! You remember Cathy? Well, she and Richard just broke up, and she’s been needing a little…”

Steve interrupts her, “Uh, no, that – that wouldn’t work. Jonathan isn’t…he’s, um…” Steve doesn’t know where he is going with this, but he has to make up an excuse.

“Oh,” She says more softly, “I understand.” It’s quiet for a moment as think ponders on this information. She breaks out into another excited smile, “I have just the guy!” Steve feels like the hole he buried himself in keeps getting deeper and deeper. “Can you imagine if they hit it off? Then we can double all the time!” She giggles again, “Now, go call him or I’ll do it myself!”

Steve stumbles away from her, “No! I – I mean, I’ll do it.” He runs up the stairs. Once inside his office, he sighs deeply before going over to his desk. He doesn’t sit, being much too anxious, but he grabs up the phone and with shaky fingers dials the Byers house. Jonathan, luckily, is the one that picks up. “Hello?”

Just hearing Jonathan’s voice sends warmth through his body. “Hey, it’s me.”

“Oh, hey. Glad to know you’re still alive.”

Steve huffs out a nervous laugh. “Yeah, yeah, barely made it. Um, but I’m calling because I told Meg that I ran into you today and we got busy catching up. And well, now she wants us all to have dinner tomorrow night at Marco’s and she may have someone to go as your date.”

It’s quiet for a long time.

“Uh, wow. That’s a lot to take in.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. But, you don’t have to come.”

“Um, no, it’s…it’s okay. I’m sure it will be fun.”

Steve was really hoping that Jonathan would decline. Steve doesn’t know how he’ll sit through dinner as Jonathan and some guy get to know each other. What if Jonathan ends up actually liking this guy?!

“Great!” Steve says a little too loudly and a little too pitchy. “Um, does 8 sound okay?”

“Yeah sure.”

“Cool. See you tomorrow.”

“Looking forward to it.”

When the line goes dead Steve finally allows himself to slump down in his chair. How is he going to survive tomorrow night?

Chapter Text

Jonathan wakes up to someone jostling him. He groans softly, not yet ready to face the world. “Jonathan,” El’s gentle voice fills his ears. “Jonathan, wake up. There’s someone on the phone for you.”

“Who’s it?” He mumbles into his pillow.

“Someone named Mark.”

He leans up on his elbows, squinting his eyes. “Mark?” He doesn’t know any Marks. It dawns on him a moment later. “Mark!” He jumps out of bed and stumbles down the hallway to the phone. “Hello?” His voice croaky from sleep. He winces at the sound, lifting the receiver away from his mouth, and covering it with his hand, so he can clear his throat. What a great first impression.

“Hello,” Comes a charming voice. “My name is Mark. I’m Megan’s friend.”

“Hi, Mark. Jonathan,” He introduces himself, a deep nervousness settles within him and he isn’t sure why. Maybe he should cancel? No, he can't do that. Everyone would think he was canceling because of Megan.

“I just wanted to call and see if it was alright if I come and pick you up tonight.”

“Are you sure? I don’t mind driving.” Jonathan says too quickly and he resists the urge to bang his head against the wall. “No, no, it’s fine!”

“Okay. Steve told me we’re going to…Marco’s? I haven’t ever been so, I’m not sure how to dress.”

Jonathan can practically hear Mark smile. “Just dress nicely, but not too nice. Dress-casual will work.”

“Okay, yeah, I can do that.”

Mark huffs out a small laugh. “Great. So, I’ll pick you up around…is 6 okay? Marco’s is in Landson, so it’s a bit of a drive.” Landson is the next town over; a good 45-minute drive from Hawkins.

Mark seems nice enough. And that puts Jonathan at ease...a tiny bit, the tiniest bit.

“6 is fine.”

“Okay, see you tonight.”

Jonathan presses the lever on the receiver down before he starts dialing a number. “Pick up, pick up, pick up,” He mumbles into the phone.

“Hellooo?”

“Harry,” Jonathan sags against the wall.

“Oh, Jonathan!” Harry shouts gleefully into the phone. “How are you, Dear? I miss you so much! I can't wait for you to come back home!”

“So, um, I kind of,” He swirls his pointer finger into the curly wire of the phone cord, “have a double date with Steve and his fiancé tonight.”

The other end of the line is quiet, so unlike Harry. “Harry?” Jonathan asks, thinking they have gotten disconnected.

“Ooohhhh! Jonathan, you little trouble maker, you! I’ve been trying to get you to do this sort of thing for years, Jonathan! To go outside your comfort zone!”

Jonathan sighs, “I know, Harry. This is going to be a disaster! How can I sit there and watch Steve be happy with her? Why did I agree to this?”

“You want to spend every minute you can with Stefan until he ties the knot!”

Jonathan rakes his fingers through his hair, not bothering to correct Harry again. “I don’t think I can do this, Harry. I don’t want to meet her. I don't want to see how happy she makes Steve.”

“Well, don’t you have a date too? That’s kind of the point of a double date, isn’t it?”

“It’s one of her friends. His name is Mark.”

“Oh, darling! This is perfect! Make Steve jealous!”

Jonathan sighs again, this time more loudly and dramatic. “Harry…”

“At least dress good enough to knock everyone in that restaurant dead...or at least make everyone lust after you, darling!”

Jonathan grins, (smirks). “I plan to.”

Harry laughs, “That’s my boy! Oh, darn, I have to go, Dear. But call me tomorrow with all the juicy details!”

"I promise."

 

And now hours later Will and El watch him from his bed as he goes through his luggage. The two teens are both laying on their stomachs, chins resting in their hands, El has her legs up, crossed at the ankles. “So, you never met this Mark?” El asks.

“No.” Jonathan picks up a shirt and holds it up to him and looks in the full-length mirror behind his door. He shakes his head and folds it back the way Harry showed him before setting it back into his suitcase.

“Soooo,” Will begins, “This is a double date as well as a blind date?”

“Guess so.” He’s getting a little frustrated. He doesn’t know what to wear. He wishes Harry were here. He would have Jonathan fixed up in no time at all.

His siblings get up. Will places a hand on Jonathan's chest and pushes him back lightly. "Stand aside, big bro. We got this."

The two teens begin rummaging through his suitcase. Will pulls out a pair of pants and El holds up a shirt. “And wear your black boots,” Will says with a smug grin.

"No, your brown boots! They're prettier! El says.

Jonathan huffs out a laugh and ruffles his brother’s hair and kisses El’s cheek. “Thanks, guys.” He goes to find his dark Brown Brogue boots.

 

Steve has run his fingers so many times in the last couple of hours, the oil from his fingers messed his hair up and now he can’t fix it correctly. He has to take another shower, and he hasn’t even picked out his clothes yet. Half of his closet is thrown into a large pile on his bed, his dresser drawers are open, clothes spilling out. He gave up half an hour ago and took up pacing and talking to himself.

“It’s going to be fun! What’s the worst that could happen? Jonathan and this Mark could hit it off,” He stops pacing, a look of absolute horror on his face, “and fall madly in love and live happily ever after! That’s the worst that could happen!” He starts pacing again, this time gripping his hair in frustration. It doesn't last thought as he trips over a pile of shoes. He tries to catch himself, throwing his arms out to grab hold of anything to break his fall, but only manages to grab a shirt hanging out of his dresser. He hits the ground with a loud groan.

Once the pain dulls enough, he opens his eyes. He smiles when he sees the shirt in his hand, “Perfect! Now I just need some…” He looks at the shoes he tripped over, “Shoes! I’ll wear these. Now I just need some pants!”

 

Jonathan is just fixing his hair in the bathroom when Will pokes his head in, “Mark is here,” He sing-songs and wriggled his eyebrows.

Jonathan straightens, alarmed. Sure he's dressed, and his hair is fixed, but he's not ready for this! He leaves the bathroom and sure enough in the living room is his mom and Jim talking to a man. When they notice Jonathan, they all turn to look at him. Mark is handsome, so very handsome with sandy blonde hair and green eyes. He’s taller than Jonathan, has a muscular build. “Jonathan, I presume?” He flashes a toothy smile at the said man. Jonathan swallows thickly. “Hi, uh Mark.” He steps forward and holds his hand out for Mark to shake.

Mark meets him in the middle but instead of holding his own hand out he holds out a single red rose. Jonathan is taken aback. No one has ever given him flowers before, except Steve. And okay, Harry does after they complete a big project. He gently plucks the rose from Mark’s hand. “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”

El walks up to him and Jonathan holds the flower out to her. “Will you put this in some water for me?” She nods excitedly as she takes it from her brother.

“I want him back by midnight or else you'll be spending the weekend in a cell!” Jim says, pointing a menacing finger in Mark’s direction. Joyce finds it very amusing, laughing and hitting Jim’s arm lightly. His parents weren't too happy he was going out with Steve, but Jonathan assured them it just friendly dinner, and besides it's a double date. Everything will be just fine. Jonathan smiles and rolls his eyes. Looking to Mark to says, “We should be going.”

“Of course.” Jonathan walks over to the door and takes his coat off the hook. Mark is beside him in a second. “Allow me,” He says gently taking the coat from Jonathan’s hands. He helps Jonathan into his coat and then proceeds to open the door for him. With one last wave to his parents and siblings, he walks out of the house. Mark opens the passenger car door for him and after Jonathan slides into the seat, he closes the door behind him. It’s been so long since someone treated him like this. It’s all so overwhelming.

They’re just a few minutes down the road before Mark begins speaking. “So, you’ve known Steve a long time?”

“Since Kindergarten.”

Mark whistles. “Wow, that’s a long time.”

Jonathan smiles softly, looking at his hands in his lap. “Yeah, a long time. But we weren’t close until…right before high school. How long have you known Megan?”

“We met in college. I live in Manhattan now, but I have family here in Hawkins.”

“That’s nice.”

“Megan said you work for a magazine?”

Jonathan nods. “Yeah. Um, I’m afraid I don’t know what you do?” This was a bad idea. Jonathan doesn’t know how to date! He’s only ever been with Steve and they had been friends before they dated. They’ve known each other practically their wholes lives. How does someone flirt? How do you…date? Is there some kind of guide, a book, that tells him what to do and say and how to act? He needs to look into finding out.

“Jonathan, Jonathan…?”

Jonathan looks up to Mark, “Huh?”

Mark just smiles, “You zoned out there for a minute.”

Jonathan’s cheeks burn. “Sorry, uh, I’m just a little nervous about this evening.”

“I get it. First dates are always a little awkward.”

“Yeah, it’s going to be awkward meeting Megan and seeing her and Steve and just everything.”

Mark is quiet for a moment and Jonathan freezes. “Uh, I mean, just because I haven’t ever met her yet and…”

“Uh, yeah, right of course. Yeah,” Mark says taking one hand off the steering wheel to wave him off.

Jonathan wants to open the door and just falls out into traffic. How could he say that? Usually, Steve is the one who can’t shut his big mouth!

“Megan told me she’s so excited to meet the guy in Steve’s wallet.”

Jonathan quickly turns to look at him. “What?”

“She says as long as she’s known Steve, he’s had a picture of the two of you in his wallet.”

Jonathan slowly turns his head back and casts his eyes down to his lap. What? Steve still has that picture? Still carries it around with him? Why? It doesn’t make any sense.

“I’m going to take your reaction and say that you two used to be more than friends?”

“Um…”

“I won’t tell Megan. I promise.”

How can Jonathan trust this guy? They haven’t known each other for an hour! But he finds himself speaking. “Yes. We did. But it was a long time ago!” He adds.

“I’m not judging or anything,” Mark tells him. “You still have feelings for him, don’t you?”

Jonathan shrugs a shoulder. “I think I always will.”

Mark nods, a sympathetic look on his face.

“I don’t know why I agreed to come tonight. I don’t know how I’m going to sit through dinner and watch him and Megan together.”

“Well, they can just watch us together.”

“What do you mean?”

“We can put on a show.”

Jonathan winces, “I don’t know…”

Mark glances at him, mouth curved into a half smile. “The bastard invited you to his wedding.”

“Let’s do it.”

Mark hits the steering wheel in triumph. “Hell yeah! This is going to be fun!”

 

“Stevie, stop fidgeting for goodness sake!” Megan scolds under her breath. Since they arrived at Marco’s Steve has been squirming in his seat. She lays a hand on his knee. “Relax. This is going to be fun!”

Steve bites his bottom lip. “Yeah, fun…”

A waiter comes by and asks for their drink orders. Megan is still looking at their wine selection when Steve sees him. Jonathan is as beautiful as ever. He’s dressed in a knitted army green sweater, a pair of dark blue jeans, and dark brown Brogue boots. His smile falls however when the man beside him begins helping him out of his black coat. That must be Mark. He’s so good looking! Megan didn’t say he was that good looking!

“Stevie! Pay attention, sweetie!” Megan taps his shoulder with her thin finger. He looks back to her and the waiter is standing there, pen and pad in his hand, waiting patiently. “Uh, well, um our friends are here,” He gestures towards Jonathan and him walking towards them.

Megan looks over in the direction he’s gesturing to. Her face brightens. “Oh!” She says loudly enough to make Steve wince and lean away slightly. She waves excitedly. When they make it the table Megan stands and walks around the table. “You’re even more handsome than the picture,” She gushes and Jonathan feels something in his chest at the mention of the picture twice now. She hugs him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down and close. He chuckles, surprised at her enthusiasm. He returns the hug lightly. “It’s nice to finally meet you,” He says once they part.

Steve is watching them closely, nervously when Mark introduces himself. “Mark,” He says holding his hand out, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Steve immaturely doesn’t want to shake hands with this guy, but does. “Steve, likewise.” And if he sounds a bit monotone then who cares?

Mark is smiling smugly and Steve hates it. Hates this guy.

“Let’s sit down,” Megan suggests and flags down the waiter again. Mark holds Jonathan’s chair out for him. Jonathan smiles at him sweetly. “Whiskey, neat,” Steve tells the waiter. This is going to be a long night.

After their drinks arrive Megan immediately begins asking Jonathan dozens of questions, hardly giving him the chance reply before asking another. All the while Steve sips on whiskey after whiskey, trying not to glower at them. He tries to focus on Jonathan. Jonathan’s smile, his laugh, the way his delicate fingers wrap around the stem of his wine glass, but he can’t. He can’t with Mark’s arm on the back of Jonathan’s chair. With how when Mark begins to speak Jonathan turns his full attention on him, when Mark says something funny Jonathan laughs at him. Jonathan’s attention shouldn’t be on Mark. And why are they sitting so close?

A waiter passes by and Steve stops him. “Can I get another whiskey neat?”

“Right away sir.”

A moment later his second drink is set on the table in front of him. He picks it up immediately and takes a drink. He keeps letting his mind wander. And that's a very dangerous thing for Steve Harrington. He keeps picturing Jonathan and Mark laughing together, Mark feeding Jonathan off his fork or wiping Jonathan's mouth, them kissing. He tries hard to block all of these images from his mind with alcohol. Megan notices his extensive drinking and nudges him with her elbow lightly. “Don’t be rude, Stevie.”

Steve opens his mouth to protest, but Jonathan snorts softly, “Stevie?” Megan wraps her arms around Steve, pinching his cheek before pressing a kiss to it. “Yessiree, my Stevie.”

When they first arrived and Megan hugged him, practically bouncing with excitement, he thought he how nice she is, and how good it is that Steve found someone to care for him, but it hurts. It hurts seeing how she can touch and kiss him whenever she wants. It isn’t fair. But he puts a smile on his face and pushes on.

He grins like an idiot. “That’s so sweet.”

Steve looks down, tilting his glass a little and watching the amber liquid swirl to one side. He doesn’t like Jonathan commenting about him and Megan. It feels wrong. Makes him feel guilty. And Jonathan, bless him, means his words. Steve knows he does.

“Don’t be such a sour puss…Stevie.” Jonathan says, chuckling. Steve’s lips curl into a small smile. He hates that nickname. Always has, always will, but hearing it from Jonathan…only sounds half as horrible.

His smile falls however when he looks up and to see Mark leaning in close and whispering something into Jonathan’s ear. Jonathan is smiling at whatever nonsense Mark is telling him. Steve throws his head back and downs the rest of his drink in one go. Then holds his glass up, motioning for another. God help him if Mark does anything more sickening like feed Jonathan or something.

 

They talk over their meals. Steve only eats half of his food, opting to have three more drinks instead. Megan scolded him a couple of times, but Steve shrugged it off, not in the mood to fake nice anymore, with her or Mark. He couldn’t be more relieved when everyone finished their meals. It meant it was closer to everyone going home and that means it would be closer to putting this whole horrible evening behind him.

He chokes on his drink when Megan agrees to see the dessert menu. She reads through the few sweet items aloud. “I think I’ll try the chocolate mousse. Will you share with me, Stevie?”

“I’m too full,” Steve says into his glass. She pouts, but Steve pays her no mind.

“That sounds good,” Mark says leaning close to Jonathan, “Would you like to share one?”

Jonathan shakes his head, smiling. “I’m too full too.”

“Why don’t you share one with Mark,” Steve says gesturing with his glass between the two.

Megan smiles. “That sounds wonderful. Mark?”

Mark nods, “Sure.”

“Great,” Steve downs the rest of his drink before taking his wallet out of his pants pocket. Handing it to Megan he adds, “Pay for dinner. I need some air.” He looks at Jonathan, “Wanna join me, Jonny?”

Jonathan looks taken aback momentarily. “Uh, sure.” Jonathan stands, smiling at both Mark and Megan. They head over to the door and get their coats. The cold air feels good against Steve’s warm face. He feels like he can finally breathe. Steve is just the right amount of drunk to where he’s relaxed and things are a little fuzzy. Jonathan leans against the brick building with a sigh. Steve rests against the wall beside him. Jonathan rolls his head around to look at the taller man. “Tonight, was fun.” He smiles softly as he casts his eyes down.

Steve looks at him, takes in how moon shines on his skin, the way his lips curl into a small smile, the way his hair hangs over his forehead, how his cheeks are pink from the wine. Steve likes Jonathan’s hair this way, still on the longer side, but shorter than it was in high school. He can see Jonathan’s face perfectly with no hair hanging over it. “Yeah,” Steve finds himself saying. Tonight was awful. He hated everything about this evening except being around Jonathan, being able to see and hear Jonathan. The only thing that’s missing is being able to touch him.

“Megan is really nice.”

Steve hums as if he hadn’t heard him. “Oh, yeah, she is. And Mark seems…okay.”

Jonathan laughs softly. “Jealous?”

Steve’s smile falls. “What? Me? Jealous? Get out of here!”

Jonathan nudges his shoulder against Steve’s. “Just messing with you.” The smile Jonathan is giving him makes Steve relax again.

Silence falls over them for a moment. Steve takes the time to glance around the brick wall and into the window. Megan and Mark had finished their dessert and she’s signing the ticket. They don’t have much time.

Turning back to Jonathan, he says a bit too quickly, “Are you doing anything tomorrow?”

“No. Why?”

“Let’s do something.”

“Okay.” Jonathan finds himself saying. He immediately has a sinking feeling. This is wrong. So wrong. He shouldn’t keep hanging out with Steve. It’s going to make attending the wedding so much harder. He spent the evening staying close to Mark, smiling at Mark. When they had walked into the restaurant Mark had leaned close and whispered, “Laugh like I said something funny and touch my arm.” He’s doing all evening, instructing Jonathan on what to do to drive Steve crazy. And now he’s back to where he started, agreeing to see Steve again. But when he agrees Steve smiles widely. “Cool,” and now he can’t back out now.

Steve exhales heavily. Jonathan notices how Steve can’t seem to keep his hands still. He keeps wringing them, lacing his fingers together and them unlacing them, putting them in his pockets, taking them out. “You stop smoking?”

“I made him!” Megan says as she and Mark walk up. Wrinkling her nose, she adds, “I can’t stand the smell.”

Jonathan never liked smoking. He grew up with mom doing it, and then his boyfriend. He just got used to it. Since then, his mom has stopped though. And now he’s happy that Steve quit as well, but wishes it wasn’t because of her. He instantly scolds himself for thinking that way.

“I’m glad,” He looks to Steve grinning, “They’re called cancer sticks for a reason.”

Steve shoves him playfully. “Aw, shut up.”

Megan shivers and snuggles up to Steve, wrapping her arms around Steve’s arm. Steve doesn’t move to take his hand out of his pocket and wrap his arm around her. He’s too busy watching Mark rest a hand on the wall beside Jonathan’s head and lean close. He catches Mark say, “It sure is chilly out here. Mind if I…warm you up?” Mark steps closer and just as he’s about to slide his arm around Jonathan’s shoulders Steve says, “It’s getting late. We should head home.” He looks to his fiancé, willing her to agree with him. He almost sighs in relief when she says, “Yeah, I’m tired. And I have to drive since ‘someone’ drank too much.” She gives him a pointed look, which he ignores.

“Are you ready to go?” Marks asks Jonathan.

Jonathan nods and Mark smiles at him. Steve wants to offer to take Jonathan home, just to get him away from this creep. Mark steps over and gives Megan a hug, before holding his hand out for Steve to shake. “It was nice meeting you.” And Steve wants to punch that stupid smile off his face.

Megan hugs Jonathan excitedly. “I’m so glad we finally got to meet!”

Jonathan laughs softly. “It was nice to put a face to the name.”

Megan slots herself back against Steve as they watch Jonathan and Mark leave. Steve feels a sickening feeling deep within his stomach when he sees Mark slip a hand down to the small of Jonathan’s back.

“Hey,” Megan says, nudging her body against his to get his attention. It doesn’t work. “I think it’s really sweet how protective you are of him.”

“Will he try anything with Jonathan?” He watches as Mark opens the car door for Jonathan, and Jonathan slides in. “Like, will he try to get Jonathan to go home with him?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe go in for a kiss?” She shrugs, “But who wouldn’t? Jonathan is adorable!” She giggles lightly. Steve can’t even manage a fake grin.

The sick feeling grows, finds its way from his stomach to his chest and throat. He pictures Mark parking in front of the Byers home. Jonathan would thank him for everything and go to leave, but Mark would stop him and take his chin between his thumb and pointer finger, caresses his face and then finally go in for a kiss. What if that little kiss leads to more? What if Mark kisses him in his car like Steve used to do? Touch Jonathan like Steve used to do?

Megan shakes his arm, breaking him out of his nightmare. “Hey, it’ll be okay. You can call Jonathan tomorrow and get all the dirty details?” Steve is quick to look to her and exclaim in alarm, “Dirty?”

She rolls her eyes. “Mark is a good guy. But I’m sure Jonathan can take care of himself.”

Steve smiles, thinking back to their high school days. “Oh, I know he can.”

“See? Then everything will be just fine. Now, let’s go. I’m cold!”

Megan drives, talking animatedly about Jonathan, about how cute Jonathan and Mark are together, the whole way to her place. Steve leans against the car door, forehead pressed against the cool glass as he thinks about how wonderfully gorgeous Jonathan looked tonight. When they get to Megan’s house, she gives Steve a blanket and pillow so he can sleep on the couch, understanding Steve is old fashioned and wants to wait until after they’re married. In truth, he doesn’t want to lay beside her at all, ever. He thought he could, he thought he could be with her, lay beside her, make love to her, but since Jonathan has come back into his life everything is messed up, Steve has been so unsure of everything.

Jonathan should be home by now. In bed. Alone. At least Steve prays he is. His last thoughts before drifting off into a drunken sleep are of how he and Jonathan used to be and he wishes they could be.

Chapter Text

The day is blistering hot, even at 4 0'clock in the afternoon. That's one thing about Hawkins; it's teeth-chattering cold in the winter, and steal-your-breath-away-hot in the Summer. There is still another two weeks of school before summer vacation, but Coach doesn't care how antsy the players are, or how stressed from final exams they are. He wants them to practice until they drop dead, Steve supposes. He's blowing the whistle that hangs around his neck and barking out plays and orders. Steve feels a headache coming on.

It's getting later and all he wants is a cold shower and to make out with his boyfriend. Well, the heat has drained him of all energy. So, making out might not work, but he could settle for laying in bed while listening to Jonathan talk about the pictures he took today, letting the softness of his boyfriend's voice lull him to sleep. Yeah, that sounds nice. Jonathan is always cute when he gets excited about photography. What a dork, Steve muses, a smile finding its way to his lips.

"HARRINGTON!" Steve is brought out of his Jonathan-dreaming by Coach. He winces, "Yes Coach?"

"GET YOUR HEAD OUTTA YOUR ASS! YOU'RE UP!" Steve gets off the bench, and out of the dugout. Walking up to the plate, his fingers wrap tightly around the neck of the bat as he brings it up over his shoulder, feet apart. Smith throws the ball, and Steve swings the bat. The ball hits the wood with a loud CRACK! And Steve drops the bat, running as fast as he can to first base, and when he gets to second he stays, panting, closely watching for the next play, so he can run to third base. For a brief second, he takes his eyes off the game and they wander up the field, to where his boyfriend has knelt in the dirt, a camera covering half his face. Steve grins and focuses back on the game. Just in time too, he makes a break for third base. He's thankful he doesn't have to slide into the base this time. He's drenched in sweat and the dirt would cling to him like glue.

"HIT THE SHOWERS YOU LAZY ASSES!" The coach yells. Steve has learned not to take anything the coach says to heart. When they're practicing or playing a game, the coach is ruthless, but aside from those things, the coach is pretty decent. And he likes Jonathan and lets him stay for practice and take pictures. So, Steve always brushes what the coach yells off his shoulder. The team follows the coach to the locker room, while Steve walks over to his boyfriend. Jonathan stands as Steve approaches him. He's looking down at his camera.

"Did you get some amazing photos of my bulging biceps?"

Jonathan looks up at him with a ghost of a smile and rolls his eyes. "I don't know about that, but I think I got some good photos of you hitting the ball and running to the bases."

"I'm sure they'll look great! Especially because I'm in them! And 'especially' because you took them." Steve smiles and leans in to kiss Jonathan's lips. Jonathan presses a hand to his chest, to hold him at bay. "You're all sweaty and gross and quite frankly, you stink." Steve's eyes widen and his mouth hangs open.

"How rude! I'm trying to give my beautiful boyfriend some Harrington lovin' and you're complaining because I'm a little sweaty! I've been playing hard out there!"

"Daydreaming is more like it."

"About you! See, I didn't play good today and it's all your fault."

Jonathan chuckles and leans in to kiss Steve, but this time Steve holds him back. "You're all clean and nice and quite frankly, don't smell." He says in the same tone Jonathan had used just a moment before. Jonathan laughs harder and pushes forward, on his tiptoes and pressed a light kiss to his boyfriend's lips.

"While you 'hit the showers' I'm going to head down to the darkroom and develop these."

"I'll meet you at my car."

Jonathan grins and leans in for another kiss before heading off. Steve watches him go, a goofy smile plastered on his face.

 

When Steve awakes he has the same goofy smile on his face until he realizes it was just another memory and he is laying on Megan's couch. It's early, the morning sky casting orange streams into the room through the windows. Megan walks in, putting an earring on, head tilted. "Morning, Stevie." She walks over and bends down to press a sticky kiss to his forehead. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay."

"That's surprising, considering how much you drank last night."

"Last night was nothing. What are doing today?"

"I have plans with Kate. What about you?"

"I think I'll head home."

"To call Jonathan and get all the juicy details from last night?" Megan smiles widely.

He forces a grin. "Yeah." Steve knows he wouldn't be able to handle any 'juicy details'. The thought makes his stomach churn.

"I really like Jonathan. He's so sweet! And he answered every one of my questions about the magazine he works for."

Steve thinks about that for a moment. "Meg, do you still have all those magazines?"

She looks up to the ceiling, pondering on her fiance's question. "Um...Yes! I should! I think they're somewhere in my closet. You're more than welcome to look."

He grins. "Thanks, Meg."

She grins back. "No problem, Stevie. I don't have much to eat here, but I do some bread and jelly. You can make some toast if you want." She looks at her wristwatch. "I should get going. I'll see you on Monday? We just have to go over last-minute details."

He nods, hugging one of the couch pillows to his chest. He watches her grab up her purse and checks for her wallet and keys. "Have fun!" He calls to her retreating form. "You too, Stevie! Tell Jonathan I said hi!"

"Will do," He says softly.

Megan is one of the kindest people he knows. She's bubbly and a little bit overbearing and too excited, but there's nothing wrong with that. And Steve wishes he could go back and start over and let them be good friends. He had been hurting when he broke up with Jonathan. He had missed him so much it caused him physical pain. And Megan came along with her sweet and fun personality, her gentle nature. He selfishly jumped at the chance for happiness.

And didn't get it.

Sighing, he gets up to use the restroom before going into Megan's room that's full of pinks and lace and teddy bears. Going over to her closet he opens the door and reaches up to pull the cord, the closet illuminating. It's a walk-in closet. And boy, is it packed. Aside from all the clothes and shoes, the top shelves are full of boxes. Reaching up, he plucks one off the shelf. Lifting the lid he only finds a jumble of knick-knacks.

He puts it back on the shelf and grabs another. This time it's full of receipts. He groans softly. This is going to take all day. He looks through two more only to find one full of sunglasses, another filled to the brim with photos. "Why do women keep everything?" He whines out loud.

He looks around, surveying the dozens of boxes on the top shelf. "This one looks magazine-sized." He picks it up and finds boots. "Oh come on!" He shouts.

He grabs another off the shelf, it's heavy. Pretty heavy. He almost cries in relief. It's filled with magazines. He sets it on the floor at his feet and takes the other box that had been sitting underneath it. It weighs about the same and sure enough its more magazines. The box underneath that one is a pair of red high heels. He gives up on finding anymore at the moment. Going through these two boxes will take some time anyway. He gets on the floor, sitting criss-cross.

Picking up the first magazine on top of the stack he looks at the date. It's the newest issue. He flips through each page, looking to the bottom of each photo and checking for Jonathan's name. He finally spots it; Photo by Jonathan Byers. It's breathtaking. The angle, the way the position of the model, the lighting, the colors. Everything about the photo screams Jonathan. After taking in every detail he flips the page to check for more.

He looks at every one of Jonathan's photos in this magazine before moving to the next. This goes on for hours until he's gone through them all. Every issue from this month to the first issue Jonathan worked on almost two years ago. When he finishes he sits back, against the chest of drawers, awestruck. Steve always knew Jonathan would be successful, but this is a whole other level. Jonathan had worked so hard in high school to get a scholarship to NYU. And then he went off and continued to work hard through college and now...and now Jonathan was a big shot photographer in New York City.

Steve's cheeks suddenly ache and he realizes he's smiled the entire time. He gets to his feet quickly and rushes to the living room, and over to the table beside the couch. He picks the phone up from its cradle and dials the Byers/Hoppers resident. "Hello?"

"Hey, Jonathan. It's Steve. What are you up to?"

"Nothing. Mom went to the station to take Jim his lunch. And Will and El went to Mike's. So, it's just me here at the house."

"Mind if I come by?"

"No, not at all. We did have plans today? Right?"

"Right." Steve hates the way his heart hammers in his chest.

"Great! See you soon!" He hangs up and runs back to Megan's closet and scoops up the magazines, knowing Megan wouldn't mind if he borrowed them. He grabs his jacket and keys on the way out. He closes the door and is standing on the front porch before he realizes he's not wearing shoes. "Damn it." He curses under his breath. He decides to go home and change anyway. For some reason, he doesn't want Jonathan to know that he slept over at Megan's. And if he were to go see Jonathan wearing last night's clothes then he would know.

He drives home quickly, eager to get to Jonathan's house as soon as possible. He lugs the magazines inside and drops them on his bed on the way to his closet. He changes into a pair of blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt. Slipping into his sneakers he pulls on his navy blue jacket. He shoots out of the house and is back in his car within seconds. On the drive, he briefly thinks about bringing flowers but scolds himself immediately. "Flowers? It's not a date! What the hell is wrong with you, Harrington?"

Once he arrives at the Byers/Hopper residence he checks his hair in the mirror before getting out and walking up to the door.

 

Jonathan places the phone back to its place, sighing heavily and then raking his fingers through his hair. Looking down at his pajama pants and sock-clad feet, he knows he needs to change quickly. He walks down the hall and passes by the hall mirror. He also needs to fix his hair. Sure, Steve has wild and crazy looking hair, but Jonathan can't pull it off the way Steve can. He's quick to throw on a pair of nicely fitting black jeans, a raglan shirt that has a white torso with black sleeves. He grabs up his hairspray, mousse, and comb and quickly fixes his hair in the bathroom.

He has a moment to take a deep breath. He always feels silly fixing up, especially for Steve of all people. Even back when they dated Jonathan's idea of fixing up is wearing his pair of jeans without any holes in them. Steve never cared what Jonathan wore, always said Jonathan was beautiful. If Steve didn't care what he looked like when they dated Steve isn't going to care now. But Jonathan has to admit it does make him feel good. Maybe when he gets back home he'll ask Harry to take him out shopping again.

He checks himself in the mirror once more and scolds himself. "It's just Steve. Steve, who you've known since kindergarten. Steve, who you dated. Steve, who you still have feelings for. Steve, who is getting married. Steve, who still carries a picture of us around in his wallet."

That fact alone has been circling Jonathan's mind since he found out about it last night. He's tried to tell himself it's because they had been good friends before they dated and he probably has a picture of Nancy in his wallet too. Or maybe he just forgot it was in there? But that sounded stupid to him. Steve couldn't still harbor feelings for him. Steve had broken up with him. Steve is going to marry Megan.

The doorbell echoes through the empty house. He walks over to the door and opens it. Steve is leaning against the door frame. "Hey come here often?"

"You always were bad at flirting," Jonathan says dryly.

"Well, you were always bad at having manners! Won't even invite your guest inside. Instead you just immediately start throwing insults! I'm hurt!"

Jonathan chuckles and steps aside. "Get in here." Steve, smiling, steps inside.

"Want anything to drink?"

"Surprise me. And you know what, I take it back. Asking your guest if they want a drink is very...good manners-like." He finishes weakly, but still gets a grin and a light-hearted eye-roll from the shorter man.

"Alright. Do you want to go to my room? We can listen to music and talk."

Steve nods. "Sounds good. I get to pick the music!" He runs down the hall. Jonathan shakes his head, a smile on his face. And he tries to settle his rapidly beating heart. By the time he grabs two cans of Coca Cola from the fridge and the bag of m&ms Jim was hiding on the top shelf in the pantry, he hears a loud clattering, followed by Steve cursing.

Jonathan goes down the hall and stands in the doorway of his bedroom. Steve is kneeling on the floor with his cassette tapes scattered all around him, instead of where they are usually stacked on the shelf. Steve rubs his neck embarrassed as he looks up to Jonathan with a wince. "My bad. I picked one. But I never was good at Jenga."

Jonathan huffs out a laugh and sets the snacks down on the bed before kneeling. "Which one did you want?"

Steve scans the tapes until his eyes fall on the one he had been searching for. He plucks it from the mess and holds it up. Jonathan chuckles again. "Of course. I should have known." Jonathan takes it from him and gets up to put it into his stereo.

"Hey," Steve says defensively, starting to stack up the tapes, "Elton John is one of the greatest musicians of all time!"

Once the tape is in the stereo, and Jonathan presses play, he kneels in front of Steve again and helps him pick up the remaining tapes. Music fills the room softly. Their fingers brush over David Bowie's Heroes. They both pull away quickly, Steve clears his throat and Jonathan ducks his head. Steve reaches out and picks the tape up, places it at the top of his stack and then proceeds to hand it to Jonathan. Jonathan puts them back on the shelf.

Steve flops down on Jonathan's bed, grabs a can of Coke and pops the tab open. Jonathan sits down against the foot board. They mirror each other; Steve leaned against the headboard, legs out in front of him, Jonathan against the foot board, legs out. "I actually think this tape is yours."

"I wondered where it went!"

"There's probably a lot of them that are yours. I mean I don't listen to Blondie or Springsteen."

Steve chuckles into his drink. "Right. I forgot you don't know what good music is."

Jonathan kicks his hip. "Bowie and The Clash are badass!"

Steve throws a pillow at him, which Jonathan catches triumphantly and puts it behind him to cushion the foot board. Steve sets the Coke down on the nightstand and reaches for the bag of m&ms. "Let's agree to disagree."

They spend the next several songs teasing one another and taking turns trying to catch pieces of candy in their mouths as Journey plays in the background.

"And then he fell right through the background prop!" Jonathan says, finishing his story. Steve throws his head back and laughs. When he settles down Jonathan is giving him pointed, suspicious. "What?"

"Let me see your tongue."

Steve brings his lips inside and shakes his head. "Steve!" Jonathan shouts, but he's trying not to laugh.

Steve rolls his eyes and he sticks his tongue out. It's blue. Jonathan can't contain his laughter. "Oh my God! How old are you?" Steve would always eat all the blue m&ms out of the bag. Jonathan can't say how many times he would look into the bag of m&ms he and Steve would be sharing to find all the blue ones missing. Steve takes in how Jonathan's eyes are scrunched closed, how he holds his sides as his laughter fills the room. Every time Steve sees Jonathan he falls a little bit more in love with him. He wishes he and Jonathan could stay in this room forever, forget about the outside world and everyone in it. Jonathan is everything Steve wants and needs. As long as Steve has Jonathan Steve could never need anything or anyone else. But Steve doesn't have Jonathan. Not in the way he wants.

When Jonathan calms down he takes a deep breath. And Steve plasters on his Harrington smirk and tosses a piece of candy at him. Jonathan catches it with his hands and pops it into his mouth.

Steve rolls an m&m around between his thumb and forefinger, slowly. "I remember for my 17th birthday, you gave me a mix tape and a whole bag of blue m&ms."

Jonathan looks at him, a small, thoughtful smile on his lips. "I remember that. I spent hours going through countless bags of m&ms and picking out all the blue ones."

Steve knew this but is still overcome with adoration for this man. "My tongue was blue for days. And I kept telling you to eat all the red ones so your tongue would be red and when we made out our tongues would be purple." Steve says, chuckling through his words and it only takes a second to realize what he just said.

Jonathan is looking down at his lap, where his hands are cupping his can of coke, finger rubbing at the condensation on the side of the can. Jonathan swallows thickly, prays his heart will stop beating so rapidly. "I remember," he says softly.

How could Steve have said that? He almost wishes Jonathan would just punch him or something to that extent. Up until now, neither man has said anything about them dating, or anything intimate. Sure, they talked about their school days or what they used to do together, but they never once mentioned them being "together".

Think Steve think! Gotta break the tension! You're such an idiot! Steve thinks to himself.

"Uh, so, last night was...fun?" He winces, his words sounding weak.

It comes out more of a question than a statement. Jonathan jumps at it. "Oh, yeah, yeah. It was nice. Megan is nice. And Mark was very nice too."

"So, you like Mark?"

"Yeah! He was cool." He adds after a second thought, "Charming, funny, handsome."

And that is the one thing Steve didn't want to hear. Ever. Listening to Jonathan talk about some other guy. It puts a heavy feeling in his chest.

"Handsome, huh?" He knows his voice comes out higher. "So, what did you two do after you left last night?" It's a weak attempt to find out more, but Steve is desperate.

"He drove me home," Jonathan says shrugging, acting like it's no big deal, but it is, in fact, a very big deal. To Steve anyway.

Steve is watching him closely. “And?”

Jonathan looks at him for a moment before grinning. “And I invited him in to seduce him and we had sex on my twin bed in my childhood room with my David Bowie and Evil Dead posters hanging on the wall.”

Steve throws a few m&ms at him. "That's not funny!" Jonathan is laughing as he tries to dodge the spray of candy.

"Well, what did you expect me to say?"

"I don't know! Not that!"

"You know I'm not like that, Steve. Especially where Will and El and my parents would hear!" The way Jonathan is smiling at him in amusement makes Steve smile back. He's attempted to say, 'that didn't stop us, but that would open another can worms'.

"Just looking out for you," he says instead. "I hadn't ever met this Mark guy before last night and I don't know what kind of guy he is."

"I appreciate that." Steve's reaction to Jonathan's joke was too funny, so Jonathan decides to play some more. "I don't know what kind of guy he is either...but he is a good kisser." He gets up and stretches.

"He kissed you?" Steve shrieks.

"Yeah, you want another Coke?" He leaves the room, allowing himself to grin widely when he's out of sight.

"What kind of kiss was it? Did he use tongue? Jonathan! How long did it last?" When Steve gets no reply he flies off the bed, yelling, "Jonathan!" He stumbles over his own feet as he rushes from the room. Jonathan's laugh echoes throughout the house.

Chapter Text

"For the last time Steve, nothing happened between Mark and me! I was kidding!" Jonathan shouts.

"Fine, fine. Nothing happened." Steve holds his hands up. He's quiet for a short moment before asking, "Nothing happened?"

Jonathan throws his head and groans.

Steve had stumbled all the way to the kitchen after Jonathan had made the comment about Mark being a good kisser. He frantically questions about them while Jonathan grabbed another Coke and all the way back to his room. He had made such a big deal about it and Jonathan thought it was funny at first, but now after 20 minutes, it's getting old.

"If you ask again, I'll break your nose."

Steve shuts his mouth. "Right, okay. Not asking again."

Silence falls upon the two men again. Jonathan occupies the time by playing with a loose thread on his quilt. Steve watches him. "Let's get out of here," he says suddenly.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere," Steve grins.

Jonathan grins back. "Okay," he replies softly.

Steve stands at the front door waiting for Jonathan, after slipping into his jacket and shoes. Jonathan emerges from his room and walks down the hall, camera bag hanging from his shoulder. Steve takes it from him, so he can slip into his jacket. Once Jonathan laced up his Converse, Steve hands the bag back to him, giving Steve a smile in thanks.

"Ready?" Steve asks and Jonathan nods. Steve opens the door for the shorter man. They step out onto the porch and Steve waits for Jonathan to lock the door.

Once inside the car, Jonathan fiddles with the radio while Steve pulls out of the yard. "How's the business?" Jonathan asks suddenly.

"Alright. It's boring. I'm just constantly reading over things, signing papers, faxing papers, having meetings."

"So, in other words, your job was created before fun."

Steve chuckles, "Yeah." It's quiet for a moment before Steve curses, "Shit, I forgot. I'm supposed to fax some papers. I can do it in my home office. Mind taking a detour?" Jonathan merely shakes his head.

Upon pulling up in the driveway of Steve's large house, a cold feeling of dread washes over Jonathan. He hasn't been here in years. Maybe the high school graduation party Steve threw? Or maybe it was after that? Jonathan doesn't remember. He's been here countless times, slept over countless times, swam in the pool, eaten, showered, taken photos, had sex here so many times he's lost count. He briefly wonders if Steve felt this way when he first arrived at his house to ask him out for dinner the week before? That seems like so long ago. And it's a silly thing to wonder. Of course, Steve didn't feel this way. Steve's moved on.

Inside the house, Jonathan looks around as he follows Steve upstairs. Everything looks exactly the same. The office looks the same, from what Jonathan could remember. He had only been in there a handful of times. Steve was always trying to convince him to have sex in here, but Jonathan said it was inappropriate since it was his dad's office. Steve would always come back with that what his dad didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Still, Jonathan had refused.

Steve sits down at his desk and immediately begins sifting through the numerous stacks of papers. Jonathan takes the opportunity to snoop. He walks along the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, glancing over the titles, and the knick-knacks. He plucks a book from the shelf and opens it up to the first page, his eyes reading over the first few lines before closing it and putting it back in its place. He lightly spins the large globe in the corner before looking to Steve. He was bent over a stack of papers, eyebrows scrunched together in concentration as he read over the page's contents, lips moving silently. He takes a few photos of Steve because he looks so handsome, so professional and he wants to capture this moment. Keep this moment alive.

Steve looks up at him, grin on his face. "Did you get my good side?"

Jonathan lowers his camera, a shy grin upon his lips. "I thought every side was your good side? At least, that's what you always said."

Steve huffs a laugh. "I did use to say that, didn't I? Well, it's true." He shrugs his shoulders.

Jonathan goes back to looking at the things in Steve's office. Steve watches him. He likes Jonathan being in his office, in his home. For the first time in years, this drab, large, house doesn't seem lonely. Steve had always hated it here. Nine times out of ten he was here by himself, his dad had been on business trips, his mom going with him to keep an eye on him. The house was too big for just one person, too empty. But when Jonathan started coming around, Steve didn't think it was so bad.

Of course, nothing beats the Byers' house. Having dinner with Jonathan and his mom and brother. Joyce being late for work because she couldn't find her keys and when she finally found them she would still always kiss her sons and even Steve goodbye. Jonathan would help not only Will with his homework but help Steve as well. Jonathan usually cooked for them all, but occasionally Joyce would and she would always feel self-conscious about it and feel the need to explain why the food wasn't so good. And when Hopper started hanging around after the whole Eleven thing Steve loved that too. Hopper would talk about the things going on at the station or how Old Frank would make his daily visits to the station and spew off how the government is hiding aliens from them. Eleven used to be so quiet, so shy. Steve would always try to make her laugh, but his jokes always went over her head, having been sheltered most of her life. Jonathan would tickle her, getting loud giggles from her in the process. Everything was perfect. The Byers/Hoppers was the closest thing Steve ever had to a real family. He never cared his parents didn't love him for he had something far better than a parent's love. He had Jonathan.

There's movement beside him and he looks up to see Jonathan leaning on the desk. They're so close. "What are you thinking about?"

Steve swallows thickly. He couldn't possibly tell Jonathan what he was just thinking about. "Just...Zoned out for a minute." He sends the other man a weak smile. Jonathan just snaps another photo of him. This causes Steve to give him a real smile. "Okay, how many pictures did you take of me while I was zoned out?"

Jonathan grins widely. "You'll never know."

Jonathan hops up on the desk "What is this stuff anyway?"

"Boring shit."

"Care to elaborate on this boring shit?"

"No. You'll end up falling asleep."

Suddenly, the door opens and in walks Meg. "Here you are, I've been calling..." She sees Jonathan and smiles. "Jonathan! Hello!" She walks across the room and he stands to meet her. She hugs him. "How are you? How did things go with Mark?" She asks eagerly.

"It was nice. Mark was very nice."

She lets out an excited squeal. "We'll have to double again sometime! I was hoping you two would hit it off! I'm guessing you already told Stevie the juicy details?" She sends him a wink.

Jonathan laughs, "I sure did."

"How exciting!" She looks at Steve. "I just have one itsy bitsy thing I need to go over with you about."

"Do you need me to leave?" Jonathan says.

"No, stay," Steve says, insists.

"Oh yes, stay. Sit, sit sit." Jonathan sits back down on the same spot on Steve's desk. Meg engages Steve in conversation about something wedding-related. Jonathan stopped listening, instead, he looked over the contents of Steve's desk and found a pad of paper. Grabbing it up, he searches for a pen. He finds one, a nice, fancy one. He picks it up and begins scribbling on the paper.

Steve is replying to Meg's question, but for once she is the one who isn't listening. She watches as Jonathan picks up Steve's prized pen and begin writing. She just knows Steve is going to scold the poor man and snatch the pen from him. Steve does it all the time to her. She waits with bated breath. Steve follows her vision and smiles at Jonathan's concentrated look. He leans over, trying to see what the other man is doing.

"What are you writing?"

Jonathan shields the paper. "Nothing."

Steve laughs. "Let me see!"

Jonathan jerks away from him. "Stop it!"

Megan watches the scene before her. Steve is looking up at Jonathan with such adoration and...something else she can't identify. Or maybe she can and doesn't want to admit what it is. She has never seen Steve smile like the way he is smiling at Jonathan. And never, in the three years, they've dated has Steve ever let her use his pen. She tries, oh does she try, but as soon as she picks it up he takes it from her and lays it down on the desk. There was nothing particularly special about the pen. It was pretty and expensive, but Steve bought the pen himself. No one he cared for deeply bought the pen, it wasn't a gift. It's just a pen.

Jonathan finishes and folds the paper on. He sets it down, it tenting on Steve's desk, Steve's name scribbled on the front. Steve reaches forward to pick it up, but Jonathan grabs his wrist, stopping him. "You have to read it later! It's a surprise," He laughs.

And Steve laughs.

A laugh Meg has never heard before. Steve rarely laughs, but when he does it comes out in soft chuckles, but now, Steve is very amused and delighted. And it's all because of Jonathan. She clears her throat, though neither man looks away from each other. "I better get going." She straightens, "It was nice seeing you again, Jonathan."

He looks to her at the mention of his name. He's grinning sweetly at her, but she knows it's just leftovers from smiling at Steve. "You too, Meg!" She walks around the desk and kisses Steve's cheek. "Bye, Stevie. Have fun." He sends her a smile, one that was nothing like the one he was just giving Jonathan. "Bye Meg."

She tries to grin, but she knows it comes out crooked, half-hearted. When she leaves the office, closing it behind her, she shakes her head. She's just being silly. It's from all of the stress of the wedding.

"I really can't look at your note?" Steve asks, eyeing the paper on his desk.

Jonathan's grin grows. "Nope! Not until later!"

Steve sighs dramatically and throws himself back into his chair. "Fine!"

"Get back to work!" Jonathan lightly teases, "We have places to be! Pictures to take!"

Steve can't seem to stop smiling at the other man. And he doesn't want to get back to work. He wants to keep looking at Jonathan, talk to him, tease with him. But he always did what Jonathan asked. He finds the papers he's meant to fax; quickly scanning them to make sure everything is on order. He faxes them quickly. Today is a day meant for him and Jonathan.

 

Then they're back in the car and Steve is driving towards town. "I was thinking we could stop and buy some drinks and head out?"

"Head out where?" Jonathan asks, not looking up, instead, fiddling with his camera.

"Now, my dear Jonathan, that would ruin the surprise!"

Jonathan rolls his eyes.

Steve pulls up to a corner store. "I'm getting a coke. What do you want?"

"Um, the same." Jonathan reaches around to get his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans, but Steve stops him. "It's okay, I got it."

"Thanks. I'll get you next time."

Steve's heart clenches at that. Next time. Jonathan wants to see him again? He stops himself from smiling by scolding himself. Get a hold of yourself Harrington.

He gets out of the car and goes inside the store. Jonathan puts a new roll of film into his camera and looks out his window. Spotting a good photo opportunity, he gets out of the car. He only gets to take one step away from the car when he hears, "Byers?"

 

Inside the store, Steve grabs two cans of Coke and a bag of M&M's and to cut out the sugar, a bag of chips. He sets everything down on the counter. As the cashier is ringing up the items, Steve looks out the store windows, expecting to see Jonathan sitting in the car, engrossed in his camera. His smile falls, however, because Jonathan is not in the car, Jonathan is not engrossed in his camera. No, instead he's leaned against Steve's car, and Billy fucking Hargrove has one hand on the car by Jonathan's shoulder. There's a ghost of a grin on Jonathan's face. Steve knows that grin. It's a grin that means Jonathan isn't interested in anything the person is saying, but he's trying to be nice.

"Buddy!" The cashier shouts. Steve turns his head quickly to look at him. "What?"

"That's $4.49."

Steve takes his wallet out and hands the guy a five-dollar bill, never taking his eyes off of the scene outside. Billy leans in close to the photographer, smirk widening, and Steve sees red.

"Keep the change," He grits out, grabbing the bag from the counter and rushing outside. "Hargrove!"

Jonathan and Billy look to him. "What the hell are you doing?" He stomps over to them.

"Just having a nice talk with Jonathan," Billy smirks and Steve wants to punch him. He turns back to Jonathan, who is looking at Steve worriedly. "As I was saying, you should come by the bar sometime. "Here." He hands Jonathan a scrap of paper with his number scrawled across it. "Um, thank you," Jonathan says. "Tell Max we miss her around here." Jonathan can't stand Billy. He's arrogant, rude, and disgusting. And he tried to beat up Lucas and bullied Max constantly. No one messes with his kids. But he just doesn't want any trouble right now, not with Steve here.

Last year Max and her parents moved back to California. Lucas was crushed. He told Jonathan they talk on the phone a lot and he knows that El and Max send letters back and forth. Joyce and Hopper already agreed to let her come and stay with them over the summer.

Billy rolls his eyes. "Yeah, sure. Come see me," he winks at Jonathan and turns away. He smirks at Steve and walks down the street. Steve takes a step towards him, wanting to go after him and...And delicate fingers wrap around his wrist. He turns back to the other man. "Hey, I don't think Meg would like it if you showed up to your wedding with a black eye...or two." Jonathan grins at him, but it isn't returned.

Jonathan mentioning Meg makes things so much worse.

He shoves the bag at Jonathan, who barely manages to catch it. Steve yanks the door of his car open and plops inside. Jonathan winces at the sound of it slamming shut. He walks around to his side of the car and gets inside too. He places the bag in the back. Steve has already pulled out and driven down the road. His body is stiff, face scowling, and his hands grip the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles are white.

He remembers his first encounter with Billy. They were in the school gym, on opposite basketball teams. Billy had shoved him so hard he hit the ground with a loud, echoing thud. When Steve had looked up, he saw Billy smirking. Steve's blood had boiled. From then on, he picked on Steve, knocking his shoulder roughly into Steve's in the hallway, smarting off, flirting with Jonathan, picking on his kids.

What really did it, was when he and Jonathan pulled up in the Byer/Hopper's home, coming back from one of their dates to find Billy's car parked out front. The two teens had been quick to get out and inside the house. Billy had Lucas against the wall, the other kids shouting at him. Steve had yanked Billy off him and punched him in the nose. And as much as Steve hated to admit it, Billy was bigger and stronger. And he laid Steve out, but that didn't mean Steve didn't put a fight. He blacked out and when he came to he was on the couch. Jonathan seated on the edge, gently wiping his face with a cool, damp towel. He remembered his entire face hurt. The kids all surrounded him. Dustin kept making comments about his face looked like a monster while Lucas and Max thanked him. Jonathan told him that Max had threatened Billy with Steve's baseball and he left.

He had laughed, making his face hurt worse and this memory just pisses him off more. He fucking hates Billy Hargrove!

Steve is brought out of the memory when a hand closes around his on the steering wheel. He immediately takes his hand off and clasps their fingers together tightly. "Hey," Jonathan's voice is soft and soothing. "You know what will make you feel better?"

Steve doesn't answer.

"Remember when you got that job at Scoops Ahoy and had to wear that sailor's outfit? You looked ridiculous."

Steve huffs out a laugh. "Screw you."

Jonathan laughs. "Worked didn't it? It makes me laugh."

Steve squeezes Jonathan's hand painfully, making Jonathan yelp out. "Hey!" Steve smiles as he looks at him. He glances down at their clasped hands and a lump forms in his throat. Jonathan follows his gaze and goes to pull away, but Steve holds on tighter. Steve wants to hold hands just a little longer because he's selfish.

When Billy riled Steve up in high school, it as hard to bring him back down. Jonathan used to calm him by holding his hand and talking to him, preferably get him to laugh. He tries not to feel the excitement when he sees he can still bring Steve back to the real world. It's wrong to hold Steve's hand. He needs to pull away, but the grip Steve has on him makes it almost impossible. A few more minutes can't hurt. Right?

A little while later Jonathan manages to wriggle his hand out of Steve's and Steve instantly misses the warmth. But he smiles when Jonathan takes a picture of him. Jonathan loves the way Steve looks in this moment; one hand on the steering wheel, leaned back in his seat. Jonathan looks in his bag and takes out a pair of sunglasses, aviators. "Put these on." He holds them out.

Steve takes them and does as he's told, an amused grin on his lips. Jonathan takes more pictures of him. "Maybe I should model for your magazine."

Jonathan rolls his eyes. "I'm sure Harry would love that."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"He'd probably drool over you," Jonathan says, not realizing what exactly he said for a moment. He blushes and before he can think of anything to say Steve says, "Well, who doesn't drool over me?" Steve can't stop the stupidly huge smile that comes to his lips.

Jonathan reaches over and messes with the radio and when he's about to change the station Steve stops. "Don't you dare turn off Bread! Guitar Man is badass!"

"I forgot you don't know what music is," teases Jonathan. Steve gasps dramatically, "Jonathan Charles Byers!"

"Steven Joseph Harrington!"

They both laugh and it feels almost like it used to. If only Steve could reach over and take Jonathan's hand in his. He would bring it up to his lips and kiss the back of Jonathan's hand softly, maybe slobber a bit, it would make Jonathan squeal, and jerk his hand away. Steve would receive a blow to the arm. But it would be nice. It would be how things used to be. Although, this is nice too, just being in each other's company, joking, laughing.

Bread plays softly on the radio before going to Elton John, and then Paul McCartney and Wings, Springsteen, etc. When the car stops, Jonathan's heart races when he finally looks up from his camera and sees where they are. The empty field looks exactly the same as it had when they used to come here as teenagers. Steve would drive them out here, on the outskirts of the town, and they would listen to music and sit on the hood of Steve's car. Jonathan would take pictures. He has great pictures of Steve sitting on the hood of his car, looking out at the sunset and some of him laying in the tall grass, arms tucked behind his head. Eventually, Steve would complain about his butt going numb and he would take Jonathan's camera from him and set it on the hood, and he would pull the shorter teen in close. They would dance to whatever mixtape Jonathan had made for him that week.

Steve reaches into the backseat and grabs up the bag of snacks. "I have some tapes in the glove box."

Jonathan opens the glove box and begins pilfering through the tapes. "Blondie, Elton John, Elvis, Journey," he reads off the bands and artists as he flips through them. "Jesus," he says, making Steve look up. "Does this thing still work?" He's holding up a mixtape that he had made especially for Steve. He had made it for him for no special occasion. He made it just because. It had all the songs that made them think of each other on it. Steve's stomach drops, having forgotten it was in there.

When Jonathan saw the tape his heart jolted so hard in his chest it left a constant zinging feeling throughout his body. "Uh, yeah. It does." Steve didn't know what to say. He couldn't tell Jonathan he's kept every single tape Jonathan ever made for him and still listens to them. The tape's label was slightly discolored and written in Jonathan's scrawl was, "For Steve."

"Put it in," Steve says simply. It's a bad idea. But Steve is selfish. He wants today to go as much as their days used to as he can get it. For today, he's living in the past. Steve slips out of the car, Jonathan joining him a moment later. With the windows rolled down he can hear the start of the first song play softly. Steve hops on the hood of his car and begins digging in the bag. He pulls a can of coke out and holds it out to Jonathan. Jonathan takes it before sitting next to Steve.

The sky is painted red, orange and pink, a crisp wind hits them and they sit just a little closer. Jonathan decides to break the awkward air around them by taking a picture of Steve. It makes Steve laugh. Jonathan takes more pictures. Pictures of the sky, pictures of the vast, empty field, of Steve gazing up at the sky, of Steve drinking from his Coca Cola can all the while their mixtape filters out through the open car windows.

Steve watches him as he lays down on the hood, camera over his face, lens pointed upward. He lays down too, head turned so he could continue to watch the other man. Steve wants to roll over, cover Jonathan's body with his. He wants to take Jonathan's face in his hands and press his lips to his. He wants to push his tongue into Jonathan's mouth and reacquaint himself with how Jonathan tastes. He would hover above him, and he would end the kiss only to lick and suck down his neck. And Jonathan would moan out Steve's name while rutting up into Steve. Then Steve would maneuver Jonathan into the back seat of the car and they would make love like they had so many times before.

The current song ends and a couple seconds later another one starts. It's their song. Steve hadn't listened to it since he ended their relationship. Back then he would listen to all the mixtapes Jonathan made for him on repeat while crying in his room.

Jonathan slowly lowers his camera when he recognized the song. It feels like a lifetime since he's heard it. He rolls his head to the side to find Steve gazing at him. Steve grins softly. "Can I have this dance?"

"I don't know. Can you?" He replies smartly.

Steve rolls his eyes, smiling. "May I have this dance, you nerd?"

Chuckling quietly, Jonathan knows he should decline. This isn't right. But he finds himself saying, "Okay."

Steve slides off the hood and Jonathan sets his camera down. Steve holds his hand out and he takes it. Jonathan hopes Steve doesn't notice how his hands tremble. One hand comes down to rest on Jonathan's waist, the other clasping his hand. Jonathan puts a hand on Steve's shoulder and then Steve is bringing him in close. They move to the music, relearning how the other moves.

Jonathan can't stop the thoughts that plague his mind. He has so many questions banging around in his head he feels like he's going to explode. He swallows around the lump growing in his throat. He knows he shouldn't do this. It's not right. Steve is in a relationship. He's getting married in just a few days. And Meg is a nice girl. Jonathan likes her even though she has the one thing he wants more than anything in the world; Steve. Hot stinging tears prick his eyes and he lays his head down on Steve's shoulder, willing them to go away.

Wondering where I am, I am lost without you

Steve knows this entire day was a bad idea. He shouldn't have brought Jonathan out here. This was their spot. He shouldn't be dancing with Jonathan with his wedding only days away. He doesn't want to hurt Jonathan. He doesn't want to hurt Meg. If she knew what he was doing right now, how he feels about the man in his arms, it would crush her. But Steve is known for screwing up. He's messed up everything good he's ever had.

Two strangers learn to fall in love again

The song is quickly coming to a close and Jonathan picks his head up. They make eye contact. Steve removes his hand from Jonathan's waist to brush away Jonathan's hair from his forehead. His hand comes down to rest on his cheek. Steve leans in and brushes their lips together.

Faithfully
I'm still yours
I'm forever yours
Ever yours
Faithfully

Jonathan thinks his heart is going bust right out of his chest. He knows he should stop this, this is wrong. He knows it's wrong, but it feels so right. So, instead, he falls into the kiss, eyes closing as he leans in closer.

Steve doesn't know what to do. He wanted this. He's wanted this for so long and now he has it, even if it is for just a short while. His tongue runs along Jonathan's bottom lip, Jonathan parts his lips and Steve plunges his tongue inside.

Jonathan let's out a moan, low, but soft. Steve's is breathing heavy in his mouth. He tastes like Coca Cola and chocolate. His eyes snap open and he shoves Steve away. They're both panting.

"Oh my God," Jonathan says shakily.

"Jonathan..." Steve steps forward, but Jonathan holds his hand up.

"No, no, stop!" His hand comes up to cover his mouth. He still feels Steve on his lips, still tastes him on his tongue.

"Jonathan," Steve finally says, "Look, I...I'm sorry. I..."

"Let me see your wallet," Jonathan says so quietly Steve almost didn't hear him.

"What?"

"Your wallet, let me see it."

Steve reaches into his back pocket and takes his wallet out. He hands it over to Jonathan, the fear in his chest growing. Jonathan flips it open and sure enough, he recognizes the photo. He took it so many years ago.

They're lying in bed, it was Steve's bed, he remembers. He's on his back, while Steve lay on his side, Steve's face pressed into his neck, smiling, while he laughs.

Steve watches, holding his breath. He watches as Jonathan swallows and bites his lip. "H-how did you know about that?" He asks. He doesn't receive an answer.

Jonathan wants to slip the photo out of its sleeve and rip it to tiny, unrecognizable pieces. But he can't. He just can't. Instead, he looks at up at Steve. "Why do you still carry this?"

"I..." Steve couldn't possibly tell Jonathan.

"You what? Tell me! Tell me why you still carry this around with you? Why have you wanted to see me almost every day I've been home? Why did you drive me out here? Why did you ask me to dance with you? Why did you kiss me?" His voice steadily grew louder with each question.

And finally, "Why did you break up with me?" He whispers.

Steve breathes heavily, trying not to cry. The lump in his throat aches, his eyes burn with tears, and his chest...his chest feels like it might collapse any minute. "It was my dad..."

"Your dad?" Jonathan laughs. "You never did what your dad told you. But he tells you to break up with me and you do it? Our relationship must have meant nothing to you!"

"Don't say that!" Steve shouts hysterically. "That's not true! Our relationship was the most important thing in my life! Don't say it didn't mean anything to me!"

"Then why? Did he threaten to cut you off again?"

"You really think that low of me? That I would have tossed you aside for money? He gave me a choice; I break up with you or he makes a call to the board of education for NYU. He threatened to get your scholarship revoked! Your dream since you were six years old was to go to NYU. You worked so hard to get that scholarship. Without it, you wouldn't have been able to go. I couldn't let him take that away from you!"

Jonathan knows Steve's dad had been a powerful man and had connections everywhere. With a single phone call, he could destroy someone's life.

"Do you think I fucking cared about that scholarship more than you?" He yells. "All I wanted was you, Steve! I just wanted you! Nothing else mattered as long we were together! How could think I would choose that scholarship over you? You didn't know me at all." His voice is thick.

Steve watches, tears slipping down his pink cheeks. His fingers buried deep in his hair to keep from rushing over and grabbing Jonathan and holding him in arms. He knows he would never let go. "I knew you would choose me over the scholarship. I knew that. And that's why I couldn't let you throw away your future."

"You were my future, Steve," Jonathan says, voice cracking. "I loved you so much."

"I know," Steve breathes heavily through his sobs. "I'm sorry about today. I shouldn't have brought you here. I shouldn't have kissed you. I just...I'm selfish. I wanted to pretend that things were how they used to be one last time before...the wedding. I've missed you so much. I know it was selfish and I'm just...When I saw you walk into that record store, it was like I was back in high school. You're so beautiful. And I wanted to keep seeing you and spend time with you and I didn't even take your feelings into consideration because I'm an asshole. And..." Steve chokes, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Jonathan."

Jonathan roughly wipes his eyes, but more tears follow. Steve is an asshole. Steve shouldn't have kept showing up and asking Jonathan to hang out, but Jonathan agreed every time. He shouldn't have done that. He's angry at Steve, so angry, and he's angry at himself. The thing is if Steve asked Jonathan to go to ends of the Earth with him, he would. Steve has that effect on Jonathan.

Steve and Jonathan are both messed up.

Neither knows what to say or do next. They stand there in the empty field, the wind blowing around them, the sky darkening as the sunsets.

"L-look, let's just get in back in the car and we can just..."

"Just what? Pretend?" Jonathan spits out bitterly.

"No, no. I just..." Just what? Steve had no idea what to say.

Jonathan finally walks over to the car and grabs his camera off the hood and his camera bag from the passenger seat of the car. "What are you doing?" Steve asks.

"Going home," Jonathan makes sure his camera is secure in its bag before zipping it up. "I can't do this, Steve. You keep breaking my heart and I...I have to get out of here." He begins walking in the direction they had come.

"It's five miles into town! Jonathan, just wait! It's almost dark! Jonathan! Just get in the car, please! Please, Jonathan!"

Jonathan keeps walking and Steve watches him. He doesn't know what to do. He knows what he wants to do. He wants to run after Jonathan and beg him for forgiveness. He wants to hold him and kiss him and never let Jonathan out of his sight again.

Only after the sunsets completely does he get into his car. He hits the wheel with his hand. "Shit, shit, shit!" Then he screams before resting his forehead against the steering wheel. Sobs escaping his lips, wracking his body painfully as he wishes that today never happened. If he had just stayed at Meg's house today or went home, then he and Jonathan would still be on good terms.

But having Jonathan so close is like putting a food in front of a starving man.

It's long after dark when Jonathan finally makes it home. Jim is passed out in the armchair, the light from the TV flickering in the darkness of the room. His mom must still be at work and there's no sign of Will in the house. He quickly makes it to the bathroom and showers. The water warms his chilled body and relaxes some of the muscles in his shoulders. His eyes burn and water, for he cried the whole way home. He slips out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist.

After dressing in pajama pants and a long-sleeved shirt, he crawls into his bed, underneath the covers. He takes in a shuttered breath and lets it out slowly. He tries not to think of Steve's smile, Steve's laugh, Steve's arms around him, Steve's lips on his. It hurts, it hurts so bad he can barely stand it.

There's a quiet knock on his door before it opens. "Jonathan?"

"I'm not feeling so good, El. I'm sick." Which isn't a lie. He feels pretty lousy and his head hurts from crying and the blowing harshly the whole way home.

He's hoping that will be it and she will leave him. He hears the door close, but then El's feet padding softly through the room. She crawls into bed behind him, her thin arms wrapping around his torso. Her hand resting over his heart. "Here?"

"Yes," he says brokenly. Her hold tightens on her brother.

 

When Steve makes it home it's nearing 10 PM. He walks into his house and closes the door behind him. He slides down the door. No matter how many times he wipes away his tears, more come. The sound of high heels click-clacking echoes through the house. "Steve? Oh, Stevie! Are you okay?" She's beside him in a second, her hands on him. "What's wrong? What happened?"

His voice thick and nasally. "I just...I need to be alone right now, please."

"But you're so upset...Did something happen with Jonathan?"

He chokes on a sob at the mention of the other man. "Please, Meg."

"Alright," she says quietly. She kisses his head. "Call me if you need anything, okay?"

He merely nods. She leaves out through the garage, Steve not willing to move just yet.

With Meg gone, he's plunged into an eery silence. Soon, his heavy sobs fill the silence; loud, pitiful sounding cries that match the sound of a wounded animal. He has no idea how long he stays there, back against the door, knees drawn up to his chest, face buried in his arms. But he eventually stands, body screaming in relief as his joints snap and pop, muscles stretched. He's still breathing heavy by the time he walks upstairs to his office.

After pouring himself a drink, he plops down heavily in his chair. He's in mid-drink when he sees the tented piece of paper on his desk with an all too familiar scrawl across it.

Steve

Setting his glass down, he reaches over and picks the paper up. Opening it he read, All work and no play makes Steve a dull boy, followed by a small cartoon of Steve working at his desk with stacks of papers piled up as high as the ceiling. A watery laugh erupts through him. He clutches the paper to his chest, leans back in his chair, and picks up his drink again.

Chapter Text

He feels the pain first, then nausea bubbles in his stomach. Stomach acid burns his throat as it rises, but he swallows it down. Prying his eyes open proved difficult, but he managed. Thankfully his office was dark. Lifting his head slowly, he groans and clutches his temples, kneading the flesh hard.

His empty scotch glass lay on its side on the desk in front of him. His burning eyes fall on the paper Jonathan had left on his the desk the day before and all the day's events come flooding back. Falling back into his chair, he stares at the top of his desk without seeing, replaying his and Jonathan's dance and their kiss and then their argument. The image of Jonathan's hurt expression will forever be burned into his mind.

Things had been going so well between them. Steve has no idea how one minute he's kissing Jonathan and everything seems right and he's the happiest he's felt in years and then the next moment his world is falling apart.

He lost Jonathan.

Again.

Tears sting his eyes and he squeezes them shut, forcing them down his cheeks. He covers his face with his hands, his breathing coming out in short, shuttering pants.

Wiping his face is pointless as more tears come. Reaching into his back pocket he pulls his wallet out and looks at the picture that has brought him so much heartache and comfort over the years. He runs his thumb over Jonathan's laughing face. With a sob, he says weakly, "Jonny, I'm so sorry."

 

Jonathan awakes to hushed tones. El still has her arms around him, but her face is no longer resting between his shoulder blades. "He says he's sick."

"Sick how? What's wrong?" It's mom. He pictures her standing in the doorway, hand on the doorknob, face full of concern. He feels a cool hand on his forehead.

"He doesn't have a fever."

He feels El shrug.

"Where did he go yesterday? What did he do?"

"I don't know," El says.

Joyce sighs softly. "My baby." She runs his fingers through Jonathan's hair and it comforts him. "I think I should stay home."

"No, I can take care of him. And Will is here too. And Jim."

By the tone of his mother's voice, he knows she's smiling. "Alright. But you call if you need anything. Okay?"

"Okay."

Joyce leans over and kisses El on the forehead and Jonathan feels her do the same to him, but her lips linger on his temple a bit longer. As soon as the door closes, El says, "I know you're awake."

"I'm a photographer, not an actor." His voice comes out hoarse and even he winces at the sound.

"What happened?"

He stays silent. He doesn't want his family to know he let Steve break his heart again even though he's pretty sure El already knows. Jonathan had been deprived of Steve for so long he couldn't help it. He's missed Steve, much more than he's realized. When Steve first asked to hang out since he's come home, Jonathan went against his better judgment and said yes. Every time.

When El knows she isn't receiving an answer she says, "I'll get you some food." She crawls over him and ignores his weak protests at not wanting anything.

Rolling onto his back he looks up at the ceiling, the events the day before crashing over him like a wave. Everything was going so well and in just a minute, it all went to hell. Spending time with Steve made Jonathan feel things he thought he wouldn't ever feel again. When Steve kissed him...Jonathan's heart soared and he knew he shouldn't have returned the kiss, but damn it, he never wanted to stop kissing Steve. Tears slip from the corners of his eyes and down his temples, sliding into his ears. Inhaling, his breath goes in shaky and rattled and he feels like he's suffocating. He can't get a 'good' breath in. Gasping he squeezes his eyes shut. Damn it, Steven, you're a selfish son of a bitch. His anger quickly dissolves. And then he thinks, And I'm the idiot that loves you.

 

The phone rings and Steve almost ignore it. But it could be Jonathan! He reaches across his desk, knocking off his lamp in the process. It crashes to the carpeted floor with a thud. "Hello? Jonathan?"

"It's me, Stevie."

Steve falls back into his chair. "Oh."

"So, something did happen with Jonathan yesterday."

"Meg, I don't want to talk about it right now." He sighs so heavily, exhaustion creeping into his bones.

"Okay," she says softly. "But how are you doing? I've been so worried. You were a mess last night."

"I'll be okay." He won't. He knows he'll never be alright again. He barely made it last time.

"I can come over and bring Benny's. Or whatever you want. Just name it and I'll get it for you, Stevie."

Once again Steve is faced with how kind Meg is. She deserves so much than him. She has no idea how he feels about Jonathan. How he can't even breathe when Jonathan smiles or laughs. How Steve wants nothing more than to hold Jonathan and never let go. How the rest of the world could burn to the ground and Steve wouldn't care as long as he had Jonathan. Meg has no idea.

Meg has no idea that yesterday he kissed Jonathan and they fought and that is why he's so upset.

"Steve?"

"I'm here, Meg. Sorry, just thinking."

"What can I do for you, baby? I want to help you."

"Nothing. There's nothing you can do. I just...Jonathan and I got into an argument yesterday...it was completely my fault."

"Well, you two are so close, I'm sure it will blow over soon."

Her voice sounds so sweet and hopeful, Steve wishes he could smile, at least manage a grin. "I hope so," he tells, knowing he could never right this wrong.

"Do you want me to bring you something?" She asks again.

"No, thank you. I'm just going to go to bed. I'll see you in a couple of days."

"Promise me if you need anything, you'll call?"

"Of course."

"I love you, Stevie."

Steve swallows. Before Jonathan came back into his life, he could say those three words back to her. But now, just the thought of saying those words makes his throat tighten.

"You too." And he hangs up quickly.

He rubs his eyes too hard. Ignoring the flaring pain in his eyes, he gets up and fills his glass again. "Here's to fucking up again," he says and tilts his head back, downing his drink in one go. He abandons his glass and takes the bottle back to his desk.

 

El has been gone a few minutes before Will comes in, eyes still half closed with sleep, hair a mess. Jonathan is still crying. This alerts his brother and he is quick to get to him. "Jonathan? What's wrong? What happened?" He sits on the edge of his bed and rests a hand on his shoulder. Jonathan tries to get his breathing under control with a few short sobs, he manages to. Tears still come.

"He's sick," El says coming into the room with a plate with a single Eggo waffle on it with peanut butter spread across the top, just how Jonathan likes it, a glass of water in her other hand. She sets the plate on the bedside table. "here," he rests a hand over Jonathan's chest.

"Oh," Will exhales the word softly.

Jonathan turns over, not wanting his brother and sister to see him this way. He feels El's small and thin body against his back and her arms around his chest. Will appears on the other side, burying his face into Jonathan's chest, his arms coming to rest on his waist. And Jonathan holds onto Will tightly, hiding his face in his brother's hair.

He thought he would need to be alone after last night. He needed time to cry and feel sorry for himself, but with his brother and sister holding him together like this, it's the best form of recovery there is.

Hours later, the door opens and El and Will lift their heads. "He's sick," Will tells says.

There are heavy footsteps crossing the room and Jonathan knows it's Jim.

"Sick with what?"

The teens don't answer him. And for the second time today, someone rests a hand across Jonathan's forehead.

"He's not warm."

"We got him, Jim," Will says softly.

Jonathan feels Jim's big and rough hand pat his arm. "Alright. I'll be in the living room if you need me."

For most of his life, when it was him and his mom and brother, they barely made ends meet. He constantly picked up extra shifts at the theater to help his mom and even that was hardly enough. He knew Will knew, but he never let on. Jonathan would smile and still manage to find the money to buy that comic book his brother had been wanting. He never let on how tired he was with a combination of the extra shifts and with school. His mother was always so busy working, she hardly noticed. But then she would hold his hand tightly and kiss his head. She would tell him how thankful she was she had him and then she would go on to tell him not to take that extra shift he was offered because he needed the rest. He would always smile and act as if his heart wasn't breaking for his family and he wouldn't dare show how exhausted he truly was. But he couldn't do that now. How can you smile when it feels like your world is ending?

As if El knew what he thinking she says, "It's okay. It'll be okay." And she presses a soft kiss to his cheek. And his siblings' hold tightens on him.

 

Steve is pretty sure he has alcohol poisoning as he calls Nancy. He doesn't mean to, not really. But he's drunk out of his mind. If he were sober he knew this would be a very bad idea. Nancy is going to kill him.

"Hello?" She sounds sleepy. He tries to read the clock on his desk, but the numbers blur together. He only managed to call Nancy because has her on speed dial. He rolls his chair around to the window, almost falling out of his chair, and pulls the blinds down, almost tearing them down in the process. It's dark out. Shit, he'd been drinking a long time. It must be the middle of the night.

"Hello?"

"Nah-ance? Hey, h-hey."

"Steve? Are you drunk?"

Steve hums.

"Did something happen?"

"I was born, Nance." Steve's words are slurred and it takes a second to decode what he said.

"Steve..."

"I fucked up with Jonathan. Mm, Jonny. Oh Jonny, Jonny, he's so beautiful, Nancy. He's perfect and I made him cry, Nancy. And then he walked home!"

"Steve, what happened?"

"Well, I drove Jonny and me to our spot and we listened to music and ate nimnims and drank coke And we danced to our song and I kissed him. I couldn't help it. He's just so...and so, so...you know what I mean, Nancy?"

"You're an idiot Steve Harrington!"

"We fought and I told him why I broke up with him and he cried." Steve sniffs, not realizing how upset he was getting. He whispers, "I made my Jonny cry, Nancy."

"Oh, Steve," Nancy sighs.

"Wha..." He hiccups, "What do I do? I-I think I lost him forever, Nancy. Nancy, I can't lose him." His hands start to shake and he tries to grip the phone tighter.

"I don't know," Nancy answers quietly. "I want to punch you in the face for hurting him again." She sighs, "I'll talk to him."

"You will?" Steve shouts, "You really will? Promise?"

"Yes, you child. Now, go to sleep!"

"Yes, mom." Steve mumbles. After a few tries, he manages to get the phone back into its cradle.

He falls asleep at his desk again.

 

The phone rings throughout the Byers/Hoppers residence just after 10 A.M. Will rushes to get it.

"Hello?"

"Will, hey."

"Hi, Nancy."

"I was wondering if I could talk to Jonathan?"

"Gee, I don't know, Nancy. He's not...feeling great right now."

"Could you ask, please?"

"Hold on."

Will lets the phone hang from its cord and he walks down the hall to Jonathan's room where Jonathan curled up in his bed as El reads softly to him from The Wizard of Oz.

"Hey, Jonathan? Nancy is on the phone."

"I can't right now," Jonathan answers and it pains Will at how solemn his brother sounds.

"Alright," Will says softly.

He returns to the phone. "Maybe try back later?"

"I understand. But would tell him if he needs anything to call me?"

"Sure, yeah of course."

"Thanks, Will."

"No problem. See ya, Nancy." Will hangs up the phone and goes back into Jonathan's room, joining his brother and sister on the bed.

 

There's a ringing in his head when he slowly comes to. He groans at the noise, wanting more than anything for it to stop, for his stomach to stop churning.

Before he can stop it, bile rises in his throat and he barely leans over to the wastebasket by his desk in time. With each heave brings a new wave of pain in his temples, and tears roll freely down his cheeks, snot dribbling from his nose like a leaky faucet. Unfortunately, the ringing doesn't stop.

It takes another few seconds to realize the ringing isn't in his head, but from the telephone. Reaching over, he plucks the phone from it's cradle. "Hello?" He croaks, throat burning from the stomach acid.

"Hey," Nancy says solemnly. "So, I called Jonathan." Steve perks up at this. "And?"

"Will answered. He said Jonathan wasn't feeling well."

Steve slumps back in his chair, rubbing a hand over his face harshly. "Right." He expected nothing less. Of course, Jonathan wasn't going to talk Nancy. He knows that she still talks to Steve.

"You've been sleeping in your office, haven't you?"

"Yeah...?"

"And not eating or showering, just drinking, am I right?"

He sighs. Nancy scares him sometimes...all the time.

"Go shower and eat, Steve. And please, stop drinking."

"I'll try."

"Even though you're a jerk, I love you."

"I love you too, Nance. Thanks...for everything."

"You're welcome. I'll see you soon. At the church."

Shit. The wedding. It's in two days.

"Right," He whispers and hangs up.

He sits there for a while longer before making himself get up. He goes to his bedroom, the master bedroom, and into the bathroom. With hands on either side of the sink, he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees the shadow of a man he once was. His hair wild (and not Steve Harrington wild), and greasy, eyes bloodshot, and his jaw and cheeks have dark stubble. He never could pull off facial hair. Jonathan used to tease him for it. How is it that everything brings him right back to Jonathan?

"Look at you," he says, "you're a mess, Harrington. You're getting married in a couple of days. Forget about Jonathan."

"You can't," his reflection says back to him. "Forget about Jonathan? The same Jonathan you've loved since you were just a kid? No way, man."

"But I messed up again. There's no way he would ever forgive me."

"Go see him."

"Uh, his stepdad is Jim Hopper, you know, the sheriff. And besides, his whole family scares me. I wouldn't even make it to the porch."

With his arms crossed over his chest, Mirror Steve suggests, "Call him?"

"I...guess I could try that. But what if Jonathan says he hates me and never wants to see my face again? I don't think I could handle that."

"At least then you'd know. Shower, shave, eat something, and then call."

"You sound like Nancy," he sighs, "but alright, fine."

His reflection is back to normal and he rakes his fingers through his hair to make sure. When his reflection does it too, he sighs again. "On top of losing Jonathan, you're also losing your mind."

 

El is halfway down the hall, in one hand is a plate containing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and in the other, a glass of milk, when the phone rings. She looks at contents in her hands before walking back down the hall to the phone. Setting them down on the carpeted floor, she stands and answers the phone.

"Hello?"

"El, hey, it's me, uh, Steve," He speaks nervously and then fast, "Don't hang up, don't hang up, please. Look, I just need to speak to him. Please. Please, El."

"You hurt him."

"I know, I know I did. I never meant to. I want to try and make things right, please."

El doesn't know what to do. She wants to hang the phone up and never tell Jonathan Steve called, but that's not her decision to make. "He's in the shower."

With the help of Will, they finally managed to get Jonathan up and convince him to shower. El had been quick to make him dinner, so it would be waiting for him when he got out.

"Will you tell him I called? Please."

She bites her lip. What would this do to Jonathan?

"Yes. I'll tell him."

"Thank you."

"Goodbye-"

"How is he?"

It takes a lot to make El angry. But irritation flares up inside her like a sickness. And she has to bite her lip to keep from yelling. "Goodbye, mouth breather." Her voice is low and dangerous and she hangs the phone up a little too hard. She hears the water in the bathroom shut off. And she quickly picks up the dinner she made for Jonathan and goes to his room.

When Jonathan enters his room, he's wearing fresh pajama pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, his hair tousled and wet. He looks better. "I made you dinner." El grins.

He looks at the plate and glass on the bedside table and gives her a small smile. "Thank you."

As he sits on the bed, she walks over to his stereo and puts a record on. And soon Dean Martin's voice croons through the speakers.

She sits down at the end of the bed. Jonathan had put the plate beside him. "Share with me?"

She almost protests because Jonathan needs to eat the whole thing. He hasn't eaten all day. But if Jonathan eats even half the sandwich, it's better than nothing. She nods and picks up one half. He picks up the other. She watches him closely as he takes the smallest nibble of a corner. They eat, the only sound being Dean's voice and his big band music.

By the time they finish, El has to get up and flip the record. Jonathan had relaxed, sitting against the headboard, his half of the sandwich eaten and half the glass of milk drank. After taking her seat again, they listen to a few more songs, her conversation with Steve weighing on her, suffocating her. If she told Jonathan that Steve called, would that send Jonathan back into bed, curled under the blanket, crying, staring at nothing, not speaking again? What would it hurt if she didn't tell Jonathan? But that's being dishonest. And Jonathan told her to never be dishonest.

"Jonathan?"

He hums in response.

She stutters a bit at first, not knowing how to begin, still not wanting to tell.

Jonathan looks at her, worry in his eyes. "What is it?"

"Steve called. I told him you were in the shower." She watches him closely. He looks down at his lap for a moment. And she carries on, "I didn't want to tell you. And I...don't think I was going to. I'm so sorry."

He looks up at her. "You have nothing to be sorry for."

"But I..."

"El, you were trying to protect me. You've done nothing but take care of me since I came home last night. Thank you."

She crawls over to him and he opens his arms for her to fall into. With her cheek resting against his chest, she holds him tightly. "I don't want you to be sad anymore. I just want you to be happy."

"I am sad right now, El. But I'll be okay. It will just take some time. It always hurts more when someone you love hurts you. But with you and Will, and mom and Jim, I'll be fine in no time."

She smiles. "I love you, Jonathan."

"I love you too, El."

The door opens and Will stands in the doorway. "I leave for 10 minutes to do the dishes and I miss out on sibling hug fest? Move over!" He runs and jumps on the bed, half landing on his brother and sister and half on the bed. Jonathan and El bounce and they laugh.

"Your elbow is in my ribs!"

"Get your foot out of my back!"

"That tickles! Stop!"

Their laughs fill the house and Jim grins from his chair in the living room. And Joyce, who is just walking through the front door, tired from a long day at work, smiles, relieved.

 

Feeling a bit better after a hot shower and a sandwich, Steve had decided it was time to call Jonathan. He had expected Jonathan to yell at him or tell him he never wanted to see or hear from Steve again. Steve doesn't know what he would have done if that had happened. He guesses that El answering and telling him Jonathan was in the shower wasn't so bad. Maybe El will tell Jonathan and he will call Steve back and then things will be alright again. He humors himself for a short while; imagining Jonathan calling him back and Steve apologizing and Jonathan accepting his apology. They would be close again. They could hang out and do all the things they used to do, minus kissing and having sex, holding hands, and making out. Yeah, things could be okay.

Reality sunk in.

Deep down Steve knows they won't be okay again. He knows Jonathan won't call him back. He knows he's lost Jonathan for good this time.