Kali's saying something, her eyes lighting up with a familiar rage. Jonathan hates himself for half-listening.
She's snapping about some asshole in her philosophy class that interrupted her today. She speaks quickly, her hands flying everywhere. He's too tired to give her the attention she deserves. Just nods and "uh-huh"s.
Kali pauses. Her lips thin. "Are you even listening?"
"No," he blurts out, "I'm sorry. It's just that I genuinely can't remember the last time I had more than five hours of sleep."
Kali smirks. "Do vampires even need sleep?"
Despite wanting nothing more than to curl into a ball and pass out for the next three days, he musters a smile. "Do demons?"
He can't remember the name of their grade nine history teacher, but Jonathan maybe should considering they have her to thank for this friendship. Except she was awful and rude and always smelled like cigarettes. She made jokes about how exhausted Jonathan would look, the same semester where he started his first part-time job, laughing about how he resembled a vampire because of his paleness.
Kali was the student who'd talk back. For every unfair due date, for using 'explorers' instead of colonizers ("Or murderers or rapists, honestly, you have a long list to choose from instead of sanitizing history and, pardon my—actually no, don't pardon my fucking French, you goddamn—") and for picking on Jonathan.
The nickname 'demon' was unfair. They probably could've told the principal about it, about how the teacher was also definitely a racist from how she'd continuously mispronounce Kali's last name after being corrected plenty of times. But everyone was fourteen and petrified. Well. Everyone except Kali.
Using the leg propped on Jonathan's lap, she lightly kicks his thigh. "I've been averaging eight hours every night, thank you very much. Granted that is because I don't hate myself and work a zillion hours everyday."
"Well, I do hate myself."
She kicks his leg again, a little harder. "Hey, only I can say I hate you."
"I need the money," he continues, dropping his fingers onto her ankle in a quiet appreciation. He leans back and drops his head onto their sofa, narrowly avoiding the brownish stain it came with. "We need the money."
Kali snorts. "No, we don't. The power of having a rich, shit-stain of a father is that most of that money will be yours. What's the real problem?"
"No, it isn't."
"You're dumb, and no, it isn't."
"My mom's getting married next year."
Kali smiles. "I know, J. We've got the 'invitation' your brother made on our fridge wall."
"Her and Hopper want to move out, thinking about buying a new place, something all theirs, you know, and uh. I dunno, I thought it'd be nice to give them some money. But I'm also trying to save for loans, because of course my scholarship isn't enough, and New York is fucking expensive, and—"
She presses a finger to his mouth. "Shut up," she says, "and let me give you the money."
"No, Kal, c'mon, I won't take your money."
"Yes, idiot, don't be so—"
"I could never— "
"Then let me pay you back for all the times you let me crash your house whenever I fought with my mom."
Her face is blank, but he knows her better than that. He knows there's an idea brewing in her frighteningly brilliant mind.
Kali grins. "I've got it. Give me a week and I'll get you something much easier than over-working yourself for more cash. You in?"
"You gonna tell me what it is?" He smiles fondly, tapping his fingers against her knee.
"You trust me," she says.
They both know it's a fact, not question, but he still says, "Of course."
"Then you'll see."
Jonathan can use his fingers from one hand to count how many people are in his life.
There's his mother and Will, of course. There used to be his dad who was barely there until he wasn't and even when he was there, Jonathan wished he wasn't.
Sure, when he was younger, the thing he wanted most was his dad's love. But that went out the window at nine when shouting turned into fists for both him and his brother. Will made things simple. There wasn't any room for wanting his dad to be better or wanting to be better for him when his brother cried like that.
It didn't happen often. The first and only time there was blood was the night before they'd woken up to their dad along with all of his belongings gone.
Jonathan didn't ask, but Will did.
Joyce smiled, her eyes tired. She put one hand on Jonathan's shoulder, the other on Will's. "It'll be better like this," she said, and it was.
That was his life until Jonathan went into the ninth grade. Kali practically lived at their house, but it would take months for her to meet Jonathan's mother.
Kali was polite in an amusing way that Jonathan had never seen before. Joyce took to her immediately. The daughter I never had, she would say, and Jonathan wouldn't acknowledge the tears in Kali's eyes, choosing to smile at her.
Two became three for Jonathan, until Will befriended Jane Hopper, a new student in their grade, adopted by their Chief of Police. Jonathan would 'babysit' since Hopper didn't want Jane to be alone when he was at work. He didn't know when it started, didn't really see it coming, until she sat her and Will down when Jonathan was sixteen and said, "Jim and I are dating."
Jonathan had made a face. "Jim?" he repeated incredulously. "He's Jim now?"
"I've been waiting for you to tell us! I thought it'd be after I saw him sneaking out the other morning, but—"
"You saw what?"
It took some time for Jonathan to like the idea. But 'Jim' was steady and warm to her and Will, and to Jonathan too when he finally let him. And Jane was easy to love, easy to care about, so everything fell into place.
He'd been on 'survival' mode for so many years; wanting Will to be safe and protected, working under-the-table jobs until he was old enough for a job earning minimum wage. He was content with only Will and his mother, anyway, so Kali, Hopper, and Jane were more than he could ever imagine.
By then, his shell wasn't something he could step out of. It was part of him. But that was okay. He didn't need more. What he had was enough.
He always did have trouble with wanting more.
Jonathan doesn't know why he even bothers coming on time to anything, when Kali's been late for as long as he's known her.
Regardless, he's still at their usual cafe, located six blocks away from the photography supplies store Jonathan works at, right at 3:00pm. He orders his usual black coffee and blueberry muffin, along with Kali's order. He slips into their usual table by the window.
The first thing he sees when he turns his phone on is a message from his sister. My most recent gift from Will. He clicks on the picture and grins. It's a pair of shoes, probably for Jane. It's most likely a generic pair of white shoes, but he can't tell, not with the explosion of colours added, the neon pink catching his eye. It's bright and beautiful and makes his heart ache, a little. He misses them.
Expect a pair in the mail, soon. Maybe a batch of cookies as well if you're lucky.
Include the slew of swears, please. They're Kali's favourite.
Unfortunately, they're not Mom's. ALSO. We're doing a board-game night for some reason. FaceTime.
How do I play from a screen?
Figure it out!
"I am on time!"
Jonathan glances at the time on his phone. "You are ten minutes late."
Kali drops her backpack onto the floor by their feet. She pants as she takes the seat across him. "Fuck. You. It's not that bad!"
"I didn't say it was."
"I'll be right back, gotta order."
Jonathan slides her strawberry smoothie and bagel forward. "What am I, some amateur?"
Kali grins crookedly before biting off a piece of her bagel. "You're the best. And so am I. Remember how you'd do like, anniversaries and birthdays and like, dog pictures for people back in high school for cash and the experience?"
"I know two people who really, really want their picture taken. And you'll never guess who they are," she says, only to immediately follow with, "you remember Steve Harrington and Nancy Wheeler from high school?"
"Wait. They live in New York?"
"Yup. I'm tight with Wheeler, we play chess every Friday. I never mention it 'cuz of your crush."
"My—my what?" He doesn't know what's more surprising: that he apparently had a crush on Nancy in high school or that Kali plays chess with her every week.
"Look, it's okay if you didn't know about it, but I do, so it's fine," she says too quickly for Jonathan to properly respond, "anyways, they're still dating, Steve's dad is still stupid rich, he has no idea when he's getting ripped off, so boom. Two grand."
"Two thousand dollars? Are you serious? Why that much?"
"I showed 'em your portfolio," she says, beaming. "Nancy adored it and so did he."
It sounds too good to be true. That's how he comes to this conclusion. "You didn't tell either of them it was me, did you?"
"I love you!"
He scowls. He still says it back.
Kali's entirely wrong about the crush on Nancy Wheeler.
She was Will's best friend's older sister, in the same grade as him, and their moms were kind of friends. They were in each other's peripherals, yes. But all that meant was he knew how ridiculously loud her dad snored, that her younger sister wasn't planned, and that she'd always wanted to go to law school.
He vaguely knew her. Knew that her grades and ambition, always seeing her with a highlighter and a notebook in her hands in high school, meant she probably would end up going to law school. Knew that she had a nice smile and eyes that shone in the fluorescent lighting from his front porch. Knew that at thirteen, she'd nearly gotten suspended for threatening someone in Will's year for picking on Mike.
Little things, here and there. Not enough to know her. Not enough to like her.
Steve—he was whatever. Loud, had a laugh that Jonathan could always pick up when he'd walk in an agonizingly slow pace with his friends. Had lots of money. Had this dazzling and blindingly-bright grin. There was just something about him that irritated Jonathan which deepened when he started dating Nancy.
Not that that meant anything.
At least that's what Jonathan repeats to himself over and over again, leg bouncing up and down while he waits at a Starbucks for them.
Thank God for the gift card his boss gave him for the holidays a few months ago. The prices horrify him.
He's already finished his mocha or chocolate or whatever the fuck latte he got. His heart's in his throat and he doesn't know why. It's just two people who he used to, kind of know, wanting to give him a ludicrous amount of money for pictures.
He pulls his phone out and looks through the group chat he's in with his siblings. He scrolls through the dozens of memes they've sent since this morning. He doesn't understand any of it, but he likes that they include him anyway.
He's about to text that he understands their most recent message (thanks to work, where they play thank u, next ten times a day) when someone clears their throat in front of him.
They don't look that different from what Jonathan remembers.
Nancy's cheeks and nose are red, her shoulder-length hair spilling from her hood as she pulls it back. She's got a nose piercing and Jonathan catches a flash of a tattoo from her wrist when her arm drops to her side.
Steve's hair is all over the place, presumably from the wind. His cheeks are also red, more so than Nancy's. He's somehow gotten taller.
He notices belatedly that they're sharing a blue scarf, one tightly wrapped around their necks. The space between them is non-existent.
"Someone forgot her scarf."
"Someone wouldn't put me down until I agreed to share his scratchy scarf."
Jonathan blinks. His throat is suddenly dry. He tries to smile, but it resembles a grimace.
Steve untangles the scarf and they shuffle, taking their jackets off and sitting in front of him.
The second he's about to ask if Nancy remembers him, she says, "So, Jonathan, how've you been?"
"Kali told you?"
Nancy rolls her eyes, smiling. "Last night," she says, rubbing her hands together. "Six-word text: also, Jonathan Byers is the photographer."
"You do look familiar," Steve says, his eyebrows slightly furrowed. He hangs an arm around her shoulder and she leans into it, like it's muscle-memory for them both. "Have we talked before?"
"No, I don't think so. But I remember you. How are you both doing?"
"We're doing good," Steve says, sounding genuine. There's that dazzling grin again. "What about you?"
"I'm, uh, I'm, well, you know, it's, uh—"
"Hey, babe?" Nancy turns her head to look at Steve, touching his shoulder. "Can you buy me a drink?"
"Sure thing. What d'ya want?"
"Surprise me. Not like that time we were here and you snuck out the store, went to a smoothie stand, and came back with a mango smoothie."
Steve grins. "But I did surprise you."
"Just be quick," she says. She kisses his jaw and watches him go. "I hope that's better. I don't know, it seemed like you were nervous with him around."
Jonathan doesn't bother denying it, only smiles and fiddles with his empty cup. "I hope that's not rude of me."
"Look, I know what you must think of him from high school—"
"Nancy," Jonathan cuts in, "I haven't seen him since we were teens. Plus, he can't be all that bad if you're with him, right?"
Her eyes widen. "Yeah, thanks." She smiles, leaning forward directly underneath a light above them. Huh. The light still catches her eyes the same way. "So, the pictures. We want something simple. Cheesy. Central Park. Or whatever you think would be nice and domestic. Two thousand's okay, right?"
"If you're okay with being ripped off. I can do it for less, you don't need to—"
She waves a hand. "We don't need to, but we're doing it anyway. I mean, c'mon, we're—" She stops. Smiles awkwardly. They aren't anything. They never were. "You're a good photographer. You're excellent, actually. You know, I always hoped you'd end up going to NYU."
He wants to profusely thank her, but that would sound awkward, so instead he says, "Did you end up doing law?"
Nancy brightens. "Last year in the program. It's hectic and it's perfect. I never thought I'd actually do it, but I never thought I'd live here with Steve Harrington or be friends with Kali Prasad or—"
"Or have Jonathan Byers take your pictures?"
"Exactly. That might be the weirdest part."
Jonathan chuckles. They fall into a silence. Jonathan should say something, anything, ask her about her program, or what Steve's up to. But he returns shortly afterwards, with a tray in his hands.
"M'lady," he says, doing a little curtsy before giving Nancy her drink.
"You told them your name was Nance?"
Steve snorts, sliding into his seat. "No, I asked them for a sharpie and wrote it myself."
Nancy's confused expression lets up. A quiet 'oh' tumbles past her lips. The stars in her eyes would make for a perfect picture, the green shining once more, in the exact same way. She thanks him with a kiss to his cheek.
"Oh, and here you go, Jonathan."
"You didn't have to, I already had—"
"Have another," he says flippantly, pushing the tray forward. "You got the smallest size, man. And you haven't lived 'till you've tried their frappes."
Nancy wrinkles her nose. "Their subpar frappes, he means."
"No, that's not what he means, Nance, why are you like this?"
"As in why am I right?"
They bicker good-naturedly back and forth, Nancy launching into detail on why their frappes are overpriced garbage. Steve interrupts her repeatedly and she stares coolly, holds a finger up, saying things like "it's either too much or too little, but it's always complete bullshit" seriously.
The frappe sits in the tray. Jonathan takes it into his hands, takes a sniff, and stares at it dubiously.
He's putting it back when he notices a hurried scrawl of JON near the bottom. He decisively grabs it back.
Hi, Nancy. I'm sorry, but can we reschedule? I have an assignment due Sunday night and I haven't started.
Course! Whatever works with you.
What kind of demon professor makes an assignment due on Sunday?
One who wants their students to suffer, which, I am, so at least he's getting what he wants.
Law professors can't be any better.
They're fucking EVIL
But I'm also that student who asks too many questions and will fight for that extra mark on a test
Better than being the one who doesn't say anything at all.
I don't think that makes you annoying or anything. Just a really good student.
Half my classmates do, but I'm also doing better than them, so they can fight me.
You really haven't changed, huh? Still quiet and mysterious.
You're still the straight A, genius hard-worker.
But with tattoos and a piercing, which I'm kinda surprised by.
Don't tell me you don't have any tattoos.
I expect some pretentious song lyric on your wrist or like, a dying rose.
... I briefly considered the rose when I was nineteen. It was a phase!
That's what all the emo kids say. At least you never grew your hair out.
But if you did, I want pictures.
Kali foots him from underneath their dining table. "Are you talking to Nancy?"
"Uh, no, with Will."
She narrows her eyes, but doesn't say anything.
He's waiting in the foyer of their apartment building when Nancy texts him to come up.
Steve's showering, so you might as well.
Part of him is certain it's a bad idea. He shouldn't have been texting Nancy for the past week. He shouldn't go up to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend.
But it's not like Nancy has any intentions other than being friendly. Not like anything would happen. It's not as big of a deal as he's making it out to be.
His fist hasn't even left the door from knocking when the door to their apartment opens. "Watch your step," Nancy says in lieu of a greeting. "Our cat's being a bitch today and hiding, so if you step on her, you'll break our hearts."
"I'd never," he says solemnly. He taps his camera hanging from his neck. "All ready."
"This might take some time. Someone doesn't know how to use their time effectively!"
"Hey, you and I both know how well I can use five minutes when it's all I have!"
Nancy sighs. She rubs her temples, shouting, "Hurry up, because Jonathan is here! Inside our apartment!"
"Love you, Nance!"
She bites her half-smile and shakes her head slightly. "Wanna sit?"
"Sure." Their sofa is red, stainless, and looks brand new. He sits at the very end, looking around. Their apartment looks lived in. The coffee table has newspapers, books, and receipts scattered across it, a dozen pictures hang on the walls, small knickknacks like snow-globes and a fake Ukulele sit on their shelf. He turns his head and notices a Harry Potter poster, a calendar, a certificate of—
Nancy smiles, flustered. She raises her hand and twists the ring on her left hand that Jonathan's only now noticing. "We haven't really told anyone, except for close friends, and we don't advertise it or anything. We're not telling our parents yet. We figure we'll have a wedding a few years down the line and act like we're getting married then."
"Was it...was it rash, then?"
"No," she says firmly. "We talked about it for months before doing it around two years ago. I know it seems dumb, getting married at twenty, but when you know, you know, right?"
"It's not dumb," he insists. He won't admit that he finds the certainty that they have to be romantic. "Does Mike know?"
Nancy grins. "He visited when we went to City Hall. We had a few friends, too. It was small. Not a big deal. I didn't want anything too big and he said he wanted whatever I did." She gets a wistful look in her eyes, twiddling with her ring. "Uh, what about you? Anyone special in your life?"
"Not—not like that, no."
"I kinda thought Kali..."
Jonathan nearly snorts. He considers how many times he's walked in on Kali and Carol, how she'd told him how offended she was when Will's friend Max thought they were dating and how she'd hoped her recent haircut would make things pretty clear. "No, we're good friends."
"Oh," she says, chuckling. "I honestly never would've imagined you two to be best friends."
"Me neither. It kinda...happens? Like you and Steve. You don't expect it to work and yet."
"And yet," she agrees. She pulls her legs up onto the sofa, hugging them close to her chest. "I'm really glad you're doing well. It's unbelievable we're both here and not even half an hour away from each other. I'm surprised my mom didn't say anything, that woman's wanted us to date for years—"
Nancy grimaces. "Yeah, that's—yeah. She always thought you were nice and said you were handsome, a good brother. I'd always tell her she could have you instead."
"Huh. I mean, your mom's hot chocolate is to die for."
Nancy picks up a cat toy laying on the floor and throws it at him. "Don't even joke about that," she laughs. "Besides, you need someone nice. Not someone who's Gordon Ramsay when it comes to Thanksgiving prep. What's your type?"
"I don't really have one? I dunno. Definitely not six-feet, ridiculous hair, and—"
"Hey, he is, by all definitions, good. His ridiculous hair is ridiculously hot. I use his conditioner, but my hair's never as soft as his."
"Your conditioner smells nice," he says, for whatever stupid reason.
Nancy touches the back of her hair. "Oh. Thanks. It's green apple."
"Green apples smell nice, but they taste awful. It's a weird combination."
"I like red ones better, too. The skin's tastier."
Jonathan stares at her, bewildered. "You like the skin?"
"It's where all the nutrients are!"
"But it's disgusting, how—"
"I'm coming!" Steve shouts, his voice ringing through the apartment.
Nancy's hand drops to Jonathan's knee for a fleeting moment. "C'mon, let's get going." His heart stills, for that split second. But it's only a second. Suddenly, he's throwing his jacket on and Steve's jogging back in, kissing Nancy, and clapping Jonathan on the back harder than he'd care to admit.
An hour later, they return to Steve and Nancy's apartment.
"They're all good," Jonathan says truthfully, scrolling through the dozens of pictures he'd taken. He sits in between them, their thighs pressed against his. Nancy's hand sits on his knee. Steve's breathing right over Jonathan's shoulder. Personal space isn't a thing for him, he figures. He doesn't mind as much as he expects to. Even if Steve's deep exhales are distracting.
"I like this one," Steve murmurs.
Nancy makes a noise of agreement, reaching out to grab his hand.
It's a picture of Nancy, brushing her nose against Steve's, both of them laughing and holding each other. Steve had spun her around moments later and she'd peppered kisses along his cheek, jaw, forehead. Jonathan watched them and had never been hit with loneliness so quickly before.
Kind of like right now.
"I'll send you them all," Jonathan promises. "I should, uh, probably go, you guys are going to eat soon, anyway, so—"
"Wait!" Steve says. "We need to pay you. Let me get—"
"Oh, fuck, I forgot, I used a big chunk to pay rent and some other bills. I'm sorry, babe, I should've told you, I—"
"Hey, it's fine. Sorry, Jonathan, 's that okay? We can meet up some other time and give it to you then."
"Yeah, sure, whatever works. So. I should go."
"Steve can give you a lift if you want," Nancy offers. "I've got work in an hour, so I need to get ready."
"You don't have—"
"Dude, shut up," Steve says, "it's not a big deal. It's windy."
"We spent an hour outside," Jonathan says, semi-amused.
"For art. Get your jacket."
Steve and Nancy kiss goodbye. She thanks him profusely for the photos, even hugging him and he tries not to flush too hard.
“Your car's a mess," Jonathan says, mostly to fill the silence, but also because it is a disaster with things like receipts, air fresheners, and deodorant littered by Jonathan's feet. It also smells unsettlingly sterile.
"Get off my ass, man. Nance hates it too. It's not that bad, and it's not like we live here!"
"Do you have food in the backseat?"
"The sandwich has only been there for like, two weeks—"
Jonathan makes a face. "You do you, I guess."
Steve rolls his eyes and slows down at a red light. "You wanna choose the music?"
"I probably won't like anything on the radio, so go ahead."
"Even you can't be too cool for pop." Steve turns the radio on and change stations, until— "Ah! Ariana, c'mon, you've got to like this song."
"It's a meme song, right?"
"What—I hate those words, I hate them, in that order specifically, don't say that again, please."
Steve sings along to the song and the ones that follow. They don't speak, but when he pulls up to Jonathan's apartment building, Jonathan says, "Thanks for the ride and the free concert."
"No problem. Take care, man." Steve smiles. It's not his award-winning grin he'd seen several times during their photoshoot, something quieter and gentler. It makes Jonathan hesitate to close the car door.
He spends the elevator ride up humming along to that damn song.
His texting Nancy has become a thing, weirdly enough.
They send dozens of tests everyday for the next two weeks, well into March, so he shouldn't be surprised when she asks him to have coffee after her class. He's surprised for multiple reasons; one, she notes that it's half an hour after his class, something he didn't expect her to remember, and two, she said she didn't have work that day so they could chill for a few hours.
"Go away," she says, pointedly flipping the page, "I'm on the last chapter."
She waves a hand at him, her eyes never leaving the page. "Gooooo."
He mulls it over. Sighs. Resigns himself to his fate. "It's about Nancy."
The book falls to the floor. Kali winces, picks it up, before her mouth sets into a thin line. "Tell me you did not kiss a married woman. Please, dear God, tell me you didn't, 'cuz I will fucking kill you—"
"No, Kali, no, I would never. It's um...she asked me out? For coffee?"
Kali furrows her eyebrows. "Why is this an issue? Unless...Oh, J."
"It's not that bad yet, but I don't want it to get worse," he groans. He shuts his eyes and welcomes the hand Kali rubs up and down his shoulder.
"Is this my fault? Fuck, I did this to you, I'm hurting your heart!"
"You got me two thousand dollars. I'm doing this to myself."
"Hey, you don't choose who you love. I kinda think it works in all ways, too. Family, partners, friends. I didn't think I'd be attached to the hip of a photographer who still uses mixtapes and wears sweaters all the time."
"Me too, with a poli-sci major who cuts her hair every month and cries at a Walk to Remember every time."
"It's sad! They were perfect together, and the goddamn ending gets me every time, and—shut up."
"You were talking."
She elbows him. "Back to Nancy, what're you going to do? Will you go?"
"I mean, I have to, she's giving me the money, but...I can't fall for a married woman. Nothing's going to happen, but—I already like her a lot, and if—"
"Maybe it'll fade with time," Kali suggests, "or maybe you think you like her, but the line between romantic and platonic is blurry."
"Maybe...do you have any good news?"
Kali hums and starts playing with Jonathan's hair. "Today, I ordered a medium drink but got a large one instead."
"I'll take it."
Nancy's already there by the time Jonathan arrives.
She's wearing a huge, fluffy sweater with a broomstick embroidered on the front, twirling a finger through her hair and holding her phone with her other hand. She doesn't notice him approaching so he clears his throat. "Jonathan, hi!"
"Sorry if I'm late."
"You're exactly one minute late. How dare you?"
"It's called being fashionably late."
"You, fashionable? Please."
"Oh, I'm sorry, not all of us can rock Halloween sweaters in March."
"It's true. Not all of us can. It's okay that you can't."
Jonathan laughs for the third time, his cheeks already sore. He's so gone.
An hour and a half later, after they've finished their drinks and are on their third round of pastries, Nancy blurts out, "Your money! Here, I nearly forgot." She pulls out an envelope from her backpack and slides it across the table. "Thank you so much."
"What're friends for, right? And I mean. You paid me, I did it for money."
Nancy kicks him from underneath the table. "I take back my thanks." She pauses and a genuine smile lights up her face. "How is this the first time we've ever really talked?"
Jonathan shrugs. "It seems weird to me too. I like talking to you," he says, before he can think better of it.
Nancy's fingers inch forward until they press against Jonathan's. He thinks nothing of it, sure that it's accidental, not deliberate. She doesn't pull away.
"Me too," she says.
He should pull away, but he doesn't.
Jonathan's known Kali for nearly eight years, so he knows what it means when she walks into his room and drapes herself over his lap.
"I'm invited to the my dad's place this weekend. He wants me to go, spend some time with his kids."
Jonathan winces. He's seen Kali's father a handful of times before he moved out an hour away from Hawkins and while outwardly, he seemed normal, he's heard enough stories to know otherwise. Kali's always been 'too much' in his eyes. Jonathan really didn't blame her for changing her name at eighteen to 'Prasad', her mother's maiden name. For as much as they bicker, Kali's mother's never made her feel like she wasn't her daughter. There's love there, but not with Kali's dad.
"It's one of the kids' birthday's. I just—I hate being around them, but I don't want to take it out on the kids, but like—it's not like we're going to be close, anyway, you know? Their mom hates me and fucking named them Kevin and Connie. They're fifteen years younger than me."
"You owe it to yourself and them to try. I get it if you don't want to spend time with him, but it sounds like part of you wants to know them. If it doesn't work out then, I mean, you already have another family, you know?"
"Your mom FaceTimed me this morning. She saw this sweater at a store and thought I'd like it," Kali sniffs, her voice muffled into Jonathan's legs. "I don't know where I'd be without you. All of this—" She gestures to their apartment. "It saved my life."
"I don't know if that's, like, healthy or not, but I've only ever needed you," he says.
"I want you to have more. You should have more."
"I'm getting there."
"You're falling for her, though. Be careful."
"I will. You too, this weekend."
"How do you know I'm going?"
"You are," he says, "I know you. You want something with your siblings. You especially want them to have someone they can go to when their dad's being particularly shitty."
"Their dad?" She repeats.
"Yeah. You already have one, remember? And he tells you stupid jokes and weird gifts and we refer to him by his last name, for some reason."
"Stop being a good friend," she mumbles.
"Just trying to be like you."
"Ugh. Too much cheese. I'm lactose-intolerant, remember?"
"False, you're not intolerant of anyone except people over the age of fifteen with bowl cuts and guys who wear shorts in the winter."
Wednesday with Nancy after their classes becomes a thing.
Sometimes, they do readings, review notes from their previous class. "It's a good habit," Nancy insists.
"I'm almost done my education, who cares." He does it anyway.
Sometimes, it's all they do, and their feet will tangle up underneath the table and they'll share a coffee and a cookie. It was awkward at first, Jonathan feeling like he had to fill up the silence, but he got over it when he figured that Nancy didn't have to come every week if she didn't like it.
Other times, there's never silence. They'll swap stories and opinions and she'll try explaining the plot to certain shows (Riverdale has been the most confusing) and his frowns only get deeper and deeper. He'll talk about Will and Jane, and she'll listen with an interest in her eyes that he knows is genuine. Their feet still entwine underneath the table.
He tells himself it can't mean much because it's once a week and it's nothing, it's old friends, it's an obligation to someone you used to know, until the first week of April.
It's pouring rain outside and Nancy's fifteen minutes late. He considers texting her that he understands if she cancels, until she bursts through the front door, her hair dripping with water and face wet.
"I couldn't find a cab, so I ran," she says. Her cheeks are red and she's shivering as she approaches their usual table. "I'm fine!" She shrieks when he reaches out to her.
Jonathan swallows back a smile. He takes in the sight of her, covered in water, shivering, slightly out of breath. She gives him a funny look when he does start smiling, so he asks, "Can I buy you a coffee, then?"
"And a cookie."
"And I'll give you my jacket."
"...And you'll give me your jacket."
Nancy keeps staring at him.
At first, he tries to ignore it. But he can't focus on his assignment with the heat in his cheeks or with the intensity of her stare. He caves in six minutes later, after she's glanced up at him for the dozenth time, and says, "Is there something on my face?"
"No. Do you like long walks on the beach?"
"I don't even like the beach."
Nancy wrinkles her nose. "Okay, yeah, I figured. What about baking? Doesn't mean you're good, but you're open to trying."
He closes his laptop. "What're you doing?"
"Seeing which of my friends would be perfect for you," she says casually, "and who's your favourite musician? Give me one artist, not ten, and see if you can come up with anything in this millennia."
Jonathan splutters. "I don't want to date."
"I mean. I don't not want to, but I don't particularly want to now. You didn't think to ask me?"
Nancy fidgets with her fingers. "I'm sorry," she says earnestly, "I thought you wouldn't mind. Would you?"
He shifts in his seat. There's no real way to tell her why specifically he doesn't want to date. Why that reason is her, with the initials SH on her ring that's glistening in the afternoon light. "Sure," he says, because maybe this is how he can look at Nancy and not feel this bright light in his chest. How he can see her eyes and just see eyes, not noting the way the light catches her eyes or how the blue sparkles when she rolls her eyes. "Sure, yeah, I'd be okay with it. Why not?"
Nancy smiles, but it looks strained. "Why not?" She repeats, a hard edge to her voice. "Give me ten minutes. Go back to studying."
"Your staring distracted me."
"You should value your education more."
"Says the person hooking me up with someone right now."
"I'm finished all my assignments for this week. Can you say the same? That's what I thought."
He bumps his foot against hers and ducks his head, smiling.
Fifteen minutes later, Nancy waves her phone in front of his face. "I'm a legend. Meet Katie, your future wife."
She's a pretty blonde, brown eyes and a big smile that tugs one out from Jonathan. "She looks pretty."
"I'll give you her number," she says.
A week after that, smack-dab in the middle of May, he's coming back to his apartment following an eight hour shift and an evening class, and balks at the sight in his apartment.
Kali and Nancy sit on their sofa which looks disgusting right about now, all the stains suddenly standing out, laughing at something on Kali's phone.
"Hey, vampire! Don't worry, we're not laughing at a picture of you."
"We were, just not right now. So you did grow your hair out." Nancy grins and his stupid heart pounds wildly in his chest.
The door is still open so he kicks it shut, unable to keep from smiling. "Not that well, clearly," he says, dropping his backpack by the kitchen counter. "What're you doing here?"
"Kali finally invited me over," Nancy says, looking pointedly at Kali. "Knowing the both of you live here now, I fully expected black walls. I'm semi-disappointed."
"J, we should totally— "
"No," he says, "maybe? Did you—did I ever tell you that my mom told me they didn't make black paint when we had to repaint my room?"
Nancy laughs. "You believed her?"
"I was ten and my emo phase came way too early."
"Phase," Kali repeats dryly, snorting. "Funny. You still listen to My Chemical Romance on repeat, so."
"You're still wearing black eyeshadow!"
"'Cuz it works on me."
Jonathan rolls his eyes good-naturedly. "I'm going to, uh, pop into the shower real quick. I'll see you guys in a few."
Nancy shoots him a smile and his heart does it again. He knows Kali's giving him a knowing look so he avoids her completely.
Jonathan figures she has the same idea because when he returns, she's nowhere in sight.
"Um," he says. "Where—?"
"She said she had to go out. She told me to stay though, that she'd be back soon, and you'd keep me company." Nancy slaps the space on the sofa next to her. When he hesitates, still standing dumbly at the beginning of the hallway, she adds, "Or can you only talk to me when there's coffee and a table between us?"
"Psht, of course not. I can also talk to you through our phones."
Nancy flips him off. "Too bad, you're my friend now. Sit down."
He gingerly sits next to her, careful to maintain a safe distance. "Where's Steve?"
"He's with some friends from the daycare he works at," Nancy says.
"How is the first time I'm hearing about this?"
She shrugs. "You don't ask," she says, pointing at his arm. "I don't understand why. You two could be great friends."
"He's—he's different," Jonathan says finally. "Not in a bad way. Some people are too incompatible."
"I know him better than I know anyone or anything, and I know you pretty damn well. You two could be good." Her voice has gone soft, but serious. He doesn't really get why she wants them to be friends so much.
"You never invite me over," he accuses lamely.
"Then I'll start."
"I don't think Kali's coming back," Jonathan murmurs.
Nancy smiles. "Too bad, but I don't mind that much. Do you?"
He slowly shakes his head as he meets her eyes. He's never really had a favourite colour, but blue's starting to speak to him. His heart's already pounding when she places her head against his shoulder. She stills. But then he fumbles for a bit, moving his arm around her shoulder, and she leans into him, like she'd done with Steve that day they all met up.
"Is this okay?" He asks, even though she initiated it.
"Yeah," she murmurs into his shoulder. "You're warm."
"Your hair's soft. I know you said it isn't as soft as Steve's, but—it's pretty soft. Can I—"
"Yes," she says, tilting her head closer.
His fingers card through her hair tentatively, unsure. But she hums, pleased, and he continues until his fingers stop shaking.
They watch some sitcom that Jonathan doesn't recognize, per Nancy's request. It does make him laugh, not as often as Nancy who snorts a few times. "It's hard to find a good sitcom, because most of the comedy is gross and terribly offensive. So this show is like my safe-place, you know?" She looks up at him, the blue in her eyes sparkling and warm.
(Later, he will tell himself he imagined her eyes briefly shifting to his lips.)
"Yeah," Jonathan says, looking at her, drawn to her, unable to look away from her even if he wanted to. "I know."
She stays true to her word and invites him over.
"Steve's out, visiting his mom back home," she explains, tugging him by the wrist into their apartment. She says it like—he doesn't know, but he immediately wonders if this is a mistake.
He walks in regardless. It takes a little longer for her to let go of his wrist, and his hand brushes against hers, all in the span of a few seconds, but enough for him to feel—to feel everything.
He's acting like a stupid teenager. It's ridiculous. They're twenty-two, and she's got a husband, and his life is fine the way it is. Nancy's a good friend.
Kali's sigh of you should have more echoes in his head right as Nancy looks over her shoulder, frowning slightly. "You coming in?"
Maybe she notices his stiffness, because she offers him a small smile. "I make a killer green tea."
"You can put a teabag in hot water really well?"
"Mhm. I'm the best."
"Yeah, you are," he says without thinking, taking in the stars in her eyes that are gone as soon as she blinks.
"I'm already on the third season."
"You—what? How? Do you sleep?"
"Nope, vampires don't need sleep. That cliffhanger, Jesus, that's too much for a sitcom. I know they're going to be fine, and I'm kind of obsessed with Peralta's hair, but I'm still stressed out."
"Let's start the next season then," Nancy says, bumping her shoulder against his.
Jonathan leans down to pick up his empty mug from the coffee table. “Wait. You weren't kidding when you said your tea’s the best. Can I have more, please?”
“I'm tellin’ you, the switch from coffee to tea will change your life.” She takes his mug with a grin.
He watches her stand up and shuffle to the kitchen behind them. “You drink coffee, every Wednesday.”
“That's not subbing it out.”
“You want your tea or not?”
“Not from a liar.”
“Hey, I am going to be a lawyer.” She pauses. “I want to do good with it, though. Pro-bono shit. Not defend monsters but defend people against them.” She distractedly twirls the teabag in his empty mug as the water boils.
Jonathan nods. “You're going to do some real good, you know.”
“I hope so. It's—I don't know, sometimes I'm hit with this feeling of, well, what can I do, you know? The justice system is rigged, all of it is, and I'm—I'm one person. But trying to do what's right is better than not trying at all, right? It's—it’s gotta mean something.”
“It does. It's really admirable.”
Nancy flushes. She turns around, her back to him, searching the cupboards for tea packets. “Thanks. What about you, huh? Photojournalism?”
“Honestly, part of it was because it felt like a safe thing to do with photography, but I kinda fell in love with it? Like you said, it’s gotta mean something. And it's better than nothing.”
“Yeah,” she agrees.
She returns to the couch, but this time with her legs tucked underneath her. Her knee ends up pressed against his and it distracts him from most of the episode.
They don't say a word, only laughing together. But at the end of the second episode, after her head found its way on his shoulder again, she says, “Katie told me you talked to her but you said you weren't interested.”
Jonathan stills. “Um. Yes. I did tell her that. She seems nice, we're still texting about music, but she's—it's—just no.”
“I can set you up with a guy if you want?”
Jonathan almost laughs. “No, no it's not that, it's...there's someone else.”
She snaps her head up, confusion written all over her face. “Who?”
“Someone I'm friends with. They're—” Married. “Taken.”
Nancy drops her head back to his shoulder. “Oh. Okay.”
They go back to watching the episode until five minutes later, she blurts out, “Is she married?” Her voice is higher, shaking on each syllable.
She's giving him an out. Letting him decide where they go from here. He doesn't know if he's this easy to read or if she's just that confident (probably both) when he fumbles for the remote to pause the show.
Slowly, he turns his head to look at her. All he can hear is the pounding in his chest until she pokes his thigh with her knee and inadvertently quiets all the noise in his head.
"Yeah, she is."
Nancy's mouth breaks into a small, relieved smile. Her fingers shake but they're still moving forward, towards the back of Jonathan's neck. Her touch is cold, but he still wants more, wants whatever she'll give him.
He draws forward too until their foreheads are pressed together, breaths ghosting.
"Who said it was you?"
Now's probably the worst time to make this kind of joke because Nancy freezes, shooting him a bewildered look like he told her the earth was flat. "Oh, oh, Jonathan, I'm—"
"No, wait, that was a stupid joke, 'm sorry, please come back—"
"You idiot," she laughs, and then she's laughing against his lips.
He's been kissed a handful of times, all in college. His first kiss was actually Kali. She'd kissed him and they didn't speak for three days, until Kali told him that she was kinda into girls and he told her he was kinda relieved. None of them were terrible or awkward, just not particularly great, at parties or at his apartment for group-work or one with a fellow photographer on a shoot.
But even if they were, he knows they'd pale in comparison to this. It's chaste, them going through the motions. They're both fumbling, one of her hands on his neck, while one of his cups her jaw. She's sitting upright and he's trying not to fall over. His other hand moves to her waist as he smiles against her, breathless and kind of confused and a little bit in love.
They part, foreheads pressing. "I like you a lot," he says, slightly breathless.
Nancy kisses the tip of his nose. "Good. I like you too."
He kisses her this time and they're still fumbling, and they're still smiling. She rolls over him and all the chasteness is gone. She nips at his lower lip, and he's trying not to groan, especially as one of her hands fists in his hair. He shudders as her other hand drags down his neck. When his hand squeezes her thigh, Nancy sighs into his mouth. Something cool then presses against his spine, maybe metal, maybe a—
"Nancy," he says, pulling his hands off of her waist. His face whitens. "You're married."
She frowns, sitting up on his lap. "Yeah, I know, we established this, what—"
"I can't, we can't! Steve loves you, you love him, you don't—"
"Hey," she says, her hands framing his face. She leans forward, but doesn't kiss him again, stroking a finger against his forehead instead.
He wasn't aware of how hard he was breathing, not only from the kiss, until she's hushing him and rubbing a hand up and down his back. "It's not weird," she starts to say, "if you don't think it's weird. I—Steve knows."
"What—no!" Nancy hisses, before laughing. "No, you dork, he's not a fucking voyeur. I told him how I felt about you two weeks ago, when I set you up with Katie. It was his idea. He said he was okay with it, that he had faith in us, and that you were a good guy. I didn't think I'd kiss you today, but in my defence, you're too cute."
"Me? Look at you, I've thought about kissing you five times today alone, and—wait. Wait. Steve's okay with you—with you being with me? While you're married?"
"It's not weird! It doesn't have to be." Nancy frowns and he hates that he's causing it, but before he can say anything, she's kissing his cheek. "Tell me you don't want this."
Jonathan doesn't need a mirror to know how stupidly smitten he looks. "I just don't want to cause you and your marriage any problems."
"You won't. If you need time to think about it, I understand, but—but I know what I want."
He nods, still trying to process everything.
Nancy's face falls. She awkwardly crawls out of his lap and sits at the very end of the couch. He can feel each inch that separates them; even when they were making out, she still wasn't close enough, he still needed to be closer to her. He can't stand this.
But he continues the episode anyway.
He only lasts five minutes. With more certainty than he's ever had in his life, he presses his hand against hers, meets her eyes, and says, "I know what I want, too."
They meet in the middle for a kiss, all teeth and bite and perfect. Jonathan manages to mute the television as she pins him to the couch.
Jonathan's smiling on his way into the apartment. Kali's curled up on the sofa, phone in hand. "Hey, J."
"Kal," he greets, smiling as he plops next to her. The smile falls off his face when she gasps and yanks on his sweater, examining his neck "What—Kal, what the fuck—"
"Tell me this isn't from Nancy Wheeler."
"Wait, I can explain—"
"Jonathan, you're better than this! Steve's a good guy, and you have to know they're married, and Jesus—"
Kali's livid, her hands moving wildly in front of her. He knows she'd never lay a hand on him, especially not with what she knows about his dad, but he's still petrified. "Kali," he says carefully, grabbing her hands, "you're not going to believe it, but I swear that Steve's—he's actually okay with it."
Her face immediately softens, but her hands are still clenched in fists. "They're swingers?"
"I don't think so? Nancy said she told him about she felt and he said she could go for it, for me, if she wanted, and...and she wanted." Jonathan releases Kali's hands and watches, anxious. Her opinion is one of the few in this world that he cares about, and if she doesn't approve...
"You be careful," she says, not the first time.
"I will, I won't hurt her."
"I mean, you be careful, idiot. This might get messy. I don't—I don't want to be a dick, and I'm happy, but Steve might say he's okay with it and not mean it, you know? Or change his mind a week from now. So many things can go wrong. I don't want you to get hurt."
"I know, but—God, Kal, it's her. I think I'm okay with this."
Kali smiles. "Then I'm happy for you."
Over the next two months, they fall into a nice pattern.
Wednesday's are still their day, but he gets every other Saturday and a day or two more depending on their schedules. He's at her place when Steve is out; she's at his when Kali isn't. They watch movies and go skating and try baking (it goes terribly, but Jane had conveniently sent him cookies the same day).
Right now, they're in Nancy's apartment, playing an old Paul Anka song. "It's my mom's favourite," she tells him, rising up from her bed and walking towards him. "She would sing this all the time in the kitchen."
"I'd love to hear you sing it."
"If you dance with me."
She extends her hand out and he returns her grin when he accepts it, swirling her around. She squeals and he laughs, promptly shutting up when she hums into his ear, "Put your head on my shoulder..."
He doesn't realize he's mumbling along to the words with her until she's beaming at him. He turns red and spins her around, kissing her when he pulls her back in.
"You have two left feet," she says, "but you haven't tripped, so you aren't that bad. Follow my lead."
"I was trying to," he grumbles, which only makes her laugh. But she kisses his semi-disgruntled look away, giving him a determined look that is hotter than anything he's ever seen.
(The sound she makes a minute later when he bites a mark down her jaw is a good contender.)
They're on her bed and she's fumbling with his belt, murmuring against his neck, "Condom, now. You know where they are."
He reaches out blindly, eyes still shut, and almost knocks the lamp over. Nancy doesn't notice, too preoccupied with getting back at him with a visible hickey like the one he gave her, so he opens his eyes, and—
And wishes he could turn invisible the moment he locks eyes with Steve. He's standing at the end of Nancy's, and, well, his, bedroom, his mouth hung open.
"Jonathan, what—Steve! Baby, hi."
He doesn't know why he feels so ashamed. It's not like Steve didn't know this was happening. But then again, he didn't sign up to see someone else underneath his wife.
It occurs to Jonathan that his belt is still undone and he's still hard which. Weird. He sits up and Nancy, now sitting next to him, presses a hand against his back.
"Sorry," Steve says, looking from Jonathan to Nancy. "I should've called. Class was cancelled today."
Nancy adjusts her skirt and shakes her head. "No, it's fine, I'm, it's—it's okay. Are you—I mean, are you good?"
"Yeah, of course, I'm—I'm fine."
"Uh," Jonathan starts, because he should say something, it'd be worse if he sat here, not even acknowledging Steve's presence. "How're you doing?"
Steve smiles. Jonathan's impressed that it doesn't look forced. "'M good," he says, disheveling his hair. "Relieved that I had no class. I did none of the readings. Do not give me that look! I'm busy. I work. I have a wife to look after."
Nancy rolls her eyes. "Shut up, I look after myself just fine."
"I know. But I like looking after you. 'M, uh, sure Jonathan does, too."
Jonathan blinks. He nudges her. "Don't tell me you're going to complain about us taking care of you."
"Okay, whatever. Anyone want tea?"
No, Nancy, don't, where are you—
Nancy stands up to her full height, which looks like nothing next to Steve, and pecks him. Jonathan waits for jealousy to stir in his stomach, but all he gets is this weird longing when Steve cups her cheek and she grins against his mouth. Maybe he wants to kiss her again.
She nods and walks out of their room, not before looking at Jonathan and mouthing, trust me.
"Sorry to interrupt," Steve says a beat later, "and especially sorry that I didn't give you enough time to get that taken care of."
Jonathan balks. He hastily does his belt, not knowing how it's possible for Steve to be so casual about this. "I'm sorry," he says, "I shouldn't have—"
"What? Dude, it's fine. Stop apologizing. I'm cool with it. 'S my fault, anyway." He sits at the edge of the bed that he shares with his wife, the same bed that he and Nancy were about to have sex on. Jonathan's certain he looks like a fucking tomato.
Deep breaths, he tells himself. He imagines Nancy's hand still rubbing up and down his back. "I, uh. I appreciate you being cool with this. Not that it's for me or anything, but still. She's—she's really something, you know?"
"Yeah, man. Of course I do." Steve bumps his knee against Jonathan's. "She was really scared when she told me. It was, like, an automatic response or something: why not date him? I thought, and I dunno, maybe I shouldn't say this, but I thought it'd be bad. It's not. She's even more...more affectionate, I guess? She seems lighter than when she was crushing on you. So I should probably say thanks."
"God, you're awkward," Steve says, but it doesn't feel like an insult, not when he's laughing like that. It's a nice sound, and it tugs a smile from Jonathan.
"At least the first thing I said to you wasn't an acknowledgement of your dick."
"Hey, we both knew yours was there. If you want, I can leave, so she—"
"No, no, it's—it's fine. It's your apartment. I don't want to interfere."
"Man," Jonathan says, immediately regretting saying man, "have a nice night with her. Your class was cancelled. You can...you can, y'know, 'take care of her'."
"Shut up," Jonathan laughs.
Nancy calls them a few minutes later. Jonathan notes that it wouldn't have taken her that long to prepare three cups of tea, but says nothing about it. It takes him ten minutes to finish his drink.
"I should get going," Jonathan says, fiddling with the empty mug, "I have a FaceTime planned with my siblings."
Nancy gives him a pointed look.
Jonathan foots her underneath the table. She can't be surprised that he came up with the excuse. But if anything, he's still hit with guilt. Steve's...nice and they both do a good job at not making him feel like an outsider.
"If you ever wanna come over for dinner or somethin', that'd be nice." Steve looks at Nancy, who's surprised smile has got to be Jonathan's favourite thing. By the looks of it, it's probably Steve's too.
"Yeah, sure," Jonathan replies, flabbergasted for the second time today by Steve. "Nancy, I'll see you later." He doesn't kiss her as much as he wants to. Just smiles at her, and briefly hesitates before smiling at Steve.
"He actually wants me over for dinner?"
He can't see Nancy, but he can vividly picture her clutching her phone to her ear and rolling her eyes in his mind. "What's wrong with that?"
"What's right with that!? Nancy, it's weird."
"All of this is weird," she hisses. "If you don't want to come, that's fine, but he wants to get to know you!"
"Because I like you, idiot! And he—he's better than he thinks and knows how much it means to me."
"It is nice that he's trying so hard," Jonathan says into his phone, staring up at his ceiling and wondering if he should get used to being confused by Steve Harrington. It looks like Nancy has.
"He wants to be your friend. It's sweet. I'm not going to make you do something you don't want to do, and I'm not going to say please."
"You just did."
She hangs up on him.
He calls her back. The first thing he says is, "Give me a day and I'll free up my schedule. I'm going to be awkward though, okay?"
"When are you not?"
He gleefully hangs up on her.
He doesn't know what the etiquette is. He buys chocolate and a bouquet, plans on holding one in each hand, and will assume that they will each take one.
But when Steve opens the door, Nancy's not anywhere in sight. "Aw, this for me?" He smirks and takes the chocolate, then the flowers.
"Wel, I know lilacs are your favourite," he says, half-joking as he closes the door behind him.
Steve sets the chocolate and bouquet down on the kitchen counter. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. I asked Nancy."
He takes a long inhale of the flowers and grins. "Such a romantic. And the lilies are for Nancy, right?"
"Mhm. Speaking of—"
"Shower," Steve answers. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure she timed it like that on purpose too. Whatever. We can talk. It's not weird that you're sleeping with my wife."
"Totally. You should, um, sit! We got a new couch."
It's white and there's already a red, dubious-looking stain. Jonathan sits at one end, Steve next to him. "Pretty," he offers.
"Nance's annoyed by the stain, but she wanted a white one. Half of this stain is her fault." Jonathan doesn't know enough about Steve to know his tells, but he's speaking quickly and his leg keeps bouncing up and down against the cushion. It's somewhat reassuring that this makes him nervous too.
"Nancy told me you wanted to be a teacher?" He doesn't mean to interrupt Steve, but he doesn't really care about how Ikea's robbed them with this purchase. Plus, Steve's speaking faster and faster and it's hard to keep up.
Steve's lips parts. "Oh," he says, sounding surprised. He runs a hand through his hair. "Yeah! I don't know if I want to teach high school or elementary or like, kindergarten, but the daycare I'm at is cool. Little ones are cute, even if they require a lot of attention. But then again, older kids are demons, and I say this as a former-teen. I was a piece of shit."
"All teens are," he says defensively, just not for himself.
"Not Nance," Steve says fondly. "Probably not you, either."
"I mean—I guess, I didn't really have time to be a piece of shit? My mom had enough on her plate and I was the oldest and—" Too much information. But whatever, this is Nancy's husband. Weird enough, so he may as well keep it up. "I hope that's not offensive, but—"
"It's not. I guess you two are proof that teaching high school students wouldn't be all bad."
"I guess so."
Steve smiles, tucking the hair in his face to the side only for it to fall back onto his forehead. It irritates Jonathan. It'd be easy to lean over and push it back, but he doesn't know Steve like that.
"Thanks for doing this," Steve says. "I know it's weird, but—"
"Weird isn't necessarily a bad thing, you know? Normal isn't—I mean. There's nothing extraordinary about normal things. If we all did what was normal, we wouldn't be special or people and none of this would be worth anything and the world would be so boring and that's so sad. It's just—yeah, this is weird, but I'm with your wife, and that's not normal, but she's—she's Nancy. She's great. And this...this works, you know? It's weird and it's good." The number of words that came out of Jonathan's mouth has to be more than than the total number of words he's ever said to Steve. He regrets, like, everything right now. "I'm—I'm glad I'm here."
Steve's still smiling, his eyes shining with amusement and something brighter. "I'm also glad you're here. We can be friends. Even if your music taste is shit."
"My music taste is shit? Alright, I dunno, maybe we can't be friends."
Steve serves them pasta. They sit around their small dining table. For the first fifteen minutes, he thinks his foot is sitting on Nancy's, but then a smaller foot presses against his ankle and his cheeks heat up.
"What d'you think?" Steve asks, waggling his eyebrows at Jonathan. "My pasta's to die for?"
"As in, I might die from it?"
"He's wrong, you're wrong, how are you this wrong—"
"He's just being a little shit-head, babe," Nancy informs, smiling wryly at Jonathan. "Jonathan loves it. He's on his third plate."
"Who says I'm not just hungry?" Jonathan raises an eyebrow. He mostly just likes seeing Steve scoff and get all dramatic.
"Bad music taste—"
"Now bad food taste? The only taste you have is when it comes to women."
Jonathan's trying not to get surprised by Steve anymore.
Nancy grins. "Damn straight. Although both of you have bad music taste."
They stare at her.
"What? You like too much pop, you like too many...how do I say it this nicely..."
"Emo things," Steve says.
"No," she huffs, "except yes, yes that's what I meant. Not bad, but, like. It's ironic that you're both making fun of each other."
"At least we don't have small hands," Steve says.
Nancy furrows her eyebrows, dropping her fork onto her plate. "What? Well—at least I don't take fifteen minutes washing my hair."
"You like how soft my hair is!"
"Not at the expense of our water bill, babe. Or our hot water!"
"What about your...your...fuck, I can't think of anything else."
"Oh, you always burn the toast too much. And you spoil shows for me. And—"
Nancy flicks his arm. "You stopped being cute just then. Watch it."
Steve smiles, looking starry-eyed and dazed. "Yes, ma'am."
"You guys are cute," Jonathan says. He doesn't mean to say it aloud and definitely doesn't mean for them to hear him.
But Nancy only reaches for his hand, hooking her pinky around his, and Steve's smile just widens. He still feels like a third-wheel, strangely, but it's not as bad as he thought it'd be. His shoulders droop and he helps himself to another plate of Steve's pasta.
"How was your date?"
"It wasn't a—oh, hi, Carol."
Carol doesn't lift her head from Kali's lap, but waves. "Hey. I heard you're swinging with Stevie and Nance?"
"What? You're not hiding it, are you?"
"I'm dating Nancy, yes, but Steve..."
"Really wants to get to know you, for a platonic reason. Sure. Care, what do you think?"
"Nance adores you and you're totally Stevie's type, Jonathan. If you're not there yet, go for it. You're already dating Nance, why not go for her husband, too?"
"Okay, you know what, um, Carol, it was nice seeing you, and Kali, I'll leave you and your—um, Carol to be." Kali will give him shit for his slip-up later, but whatever. Sooner or later, they're going to have to define whatever they're doing, and it won't be a bad thing, for as much as Kali worries it'll be.
Once he's in his room, he checks his phone. He receives a selfie from Nancy of her and Steve, smiling widely with the bouquet he gave them.
Thank you for tonight. He won't stop talking about you.
Is it weird that I'm jealous of my husband right now? Or is it you? I can't quite tell. :P
His heart flutters. An idea comes to mind. This is dangerously similar to when he'd started texting Nancy, that decision he made to continue onwards even though he knew it'd screw him over.
But it didn't. He's dating her, he's got a new friend, maybe, and he's smiling a little more these days.
I had fun.
Jealous of both of us, I guess?
Your husband's not that bad.
Can I have his number?
Wow that sounds suspicious. I mean that platonically.
(Later, much later, he'll think about this text, tell Steve about it, and laugh.)
He's dating a girl with a husband that he's kind of friends with.
It's weird and it's good.
...It's also kind of confusing.
she's so cute here, isn't she
She's flipping you off.
in my defence, this was at 7 in the morning on a saturday
wifey was NOT amused
What did Nancy do to you to deserve this?
i was going on my morning jog! i wanted to tell her i made breakfast
then she got mad
so naturally, i took my phone out and thought "jonathan would LOVE this"
You're not wrong. Thanks. That made my morning.
see, i know you so well, johnny boy
Who allowed this nick name?
I didn't consent to this.
well i consented to TWO song recs and you sent me ten
i didn't consent to like fifty minutes of my life wasted on ur sad music
But?? Who forced you to listen to all the songs???
well, you recommended them to me
of course i'd listen to each of them
I listened to that Ariana Grande song you like, just, for shits and giggles.
I'm kind of obsessed with it now?
OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD
MY PAST SEVEN 11:11 WISHES CAME TRUE
I'm not even that mad with you like
This is??? Good??????
I don't know who I'm becoming but
I'm cool with it.
Hi Jonathan, this is Nancy. Steve got really excited and bumped his head on our headboard.
I just want you to know that you broke my husband.
Here's a picture of him.
TELL HIM I'M SORRY.
Did you kiss it better?
You better sing us a rendition of thank u next on Friday.
We're still on for this Wednesday, right?
Even if my husband ends up DYING BECAUSE OF YOU.
I'm kidding honestly he injures himself all the time
When I properly asked him to marry me, he sprained his leg from jumping up and down too hard
So your love nearly killed him?
...Hm, idk, maybe I should cancel Wednesday
Nancy doesn't cancel, but Jonathan still pretends to gasp when he arrives to their cafe on Wednesday. “You came!”
“Steve didn't die,” Nancy says. Her mouth curls into a smirk as she pushes a plate of brownies forward.
Jonathan grins. He slips into the seat in front of her and breaks the cookie into pieces. “I forgot to ask about this when you told me this over text, but you proposed?”
“Right, you were too busy making bad jokes.”
“It wasn't that bad.”
“It was, but it was kinda cute.”
“You're kinda cute.”
“What do you mean kind of?”
“I mean, um, you're entirely cute, wait, that's not—”
Nancy’s laugh startles him. "You're entirely cute," she chuckles, inching forward on her seat to the point where their knees touch. "You don't have to get flustered with me, you know? We're a thing. That won't change because you say something adorable."
"I can't help it, Nancy, you're so—it's not like I'm nervous, but my chest's all, fluttery, I guess? It's a nice feeling. But it means my face gets too red easily over the stupidest shit."
She doesn't say anything. Only nods and reaches out, drawing him in with a warm hand on his cheek.
He kisses her, all slow and lazy and easy. His hand blindly finds hers on the table, his thumb smoothing over her knuckle. Wednesday's are easily his favourite day. "How was your day?"
"Shitty," she says candidly. Her breath is hot against his lips and the pleasant scent of green-apple conditioner makes him smile. "I had a quiz today that I somehow forgot about, one I was late to, because I woke up late, because I couldn't sleep last night, because I got into a fight with Steve."
Jonathan's stomach twists. He squeezes her hand and hopes she doesn't notice how sick he must look. "I'm sorry, Nancy. Do you wanna talk about it?"
"Not really," Nancy mumbles, cupping his jaw. She brushes her mouth against his and sighs contently. "I swear, it has nothing to do with you. I just—I don't think it's a good idea to talk about it with you. Not since you two are friends, and—it just doesn't feel right. But don't worry. This, being here with you, makes it all better."
"I'm still sorry though. I hope it works out soon. Do you—do you need anything? Is there anything I can do?"
"Just be here," she says. The hand on his cheek slips to his chest, right above his heart. "And show me that photography assignment that got you that A."
Nancy doesn't exactly tell him that their fight cooled over. She simply texts him that following Friday to get his ass over there, because Steve's making spaghetti.
"Where are you off to? I'm your only friend," Kali says, frowning.
"'S it matter? Carol's coming over anyway."
"Yeah, but—aw, shit. You're hanging out with your girlfriend and her husband, aren't you?"
Jonathan tries not to get flustered. He shoves his hands into his pockets, shrugging. "And if I am?"
"Remember when I told you to be careful, J? It still stands."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Look. If you want to talk about it, I'm right next door, dude."
"If you ever want to talk about how you and Carol are 'only screwing', then I'm right next door."
Kali grounds her teeth. "Part of me wants to throw something at you. I would never, but I want you to understand this."
"The feeling's mutual," he says. "But really, I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You will," she says, "trust me."
Nancy flings herself into his arms the moment she opens the door.
Jonathan makes a surprised noise, welcoming the affection. He hugs her back, smiling into her hair. "Someone's having a good day."
"She may have had a bit to drink," Steve explains. Jonathan find him sprawled across their white couch, his legs spread out, a hand through his hair. He swallows and forces himself to look away. "You ever seen her drunk?"
He shakes his head as he regains his balance, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"You're in for a treat."
"I'm not that bad," she says defensively, still hanging off of Jonathan. He's not even holding her up; she's just holding onto him that tightly.
"You're not. You're fuckin' great."
"Did you have anything to drink?"
"No," Nancy says, lowering herself down onto the floor. She sticks her tongue out at Steve. "He's just like this."
"You married me, Harrington!"
"Huh. That does explain why you're in my bed every night, Wheeler."
Jonathan furrows his eyebrows, looking between their shared grins and heart-eyes, decidedly ignoring how goddamn warm the sight makes him. "I don't remember drinking anything today, but maybe I'm—"
Nancy chuckles. She pulls Jonathan further inside their apartment and towards their couch. "It's a thing we do," she says, "we haven't changed our names yet, but when we do, we'll hyphenate. It's like an inside joke? Plus, Harrington-Wheeler takes too long to say."
"We're adorable, aren't we?" Steve's sitting in the middle of the couch, so Jonathan slips onto his other side.
"Sickeningly so. Think I got cavities just by watching you."
"He's not so cute when he doesn't do the dishes, though," Nancy mumbles against Steve's jaw, before pressing a kiss to it.
"I didn't call Steve cute, I said you're both cute. As in your relationship."
"'S okay if you're not ready to admit it yet, Johnny Boy."
Jonathan scoffs. "You know what's not okay?"
"He's talking about the nickname, babe," Nancy says.
Steve laughs, croons out a "thanks, Nance," and wraps an arm around Nancy's shoulder. Then, like it's nothing, like it's no big deal, like it's the easiest thing in the world—does the same to Jonathan.
Jonathan shifts, not uncomfortable, just...hit with unfamiliarity. All of this is unfamiliar, all of this has been him going with it, but this—
"You good, man?"
"Yeah," he says, his throat dry, "I'm great."
"Yeah, you are," Nancy says, and he is. He is.
He listens to how they almost got married in Vegas. How they'd driven three quarters of the way there, only to turn around because according to Nancy, future her would hate herself for doing this without anyone they knew and doing it in fucking Vegas.
They have a few beers. Steve offers Jonathan a can, but Nancy says that Jonathan doesn't drink before he can decline himself. For a split second, he's horrified Steve will ask why, but he shoots Jonathan his award-winning grin and says, "More for me."
They watch a rom-com from the nineties that leaves Nancy bawling by the end. "But it's a happy ending," Steve insists. He frowns as he wipes her cheeks with the back of his hands.
"And I'm happy crying! After everything, that's what they deserve. It's what—it's what she deserves. Jonathan, stop looking at me like that, it's not funny."
"It's not," Jonathan says, reaching over Steve's lap for Nancy's hand. "It's sweet."
"Can we watch something funny, now?"
"You're only going to cry tears of laughter instead, Harrington."
Nancy rolls her eyes. She tilts her chin up to nip at Steve's ear. "Wanna say that again?" she murmurs, voice breathy.
"If it gets you to do that again, then hell yeah." He bites his lip, mouth curving into a smirk.
Jonathan slowly crosses his legs. What Kali said earlier starts to make a little bit of sense.
Nancy's asleep ten minutes into The Good Place. Steve snorts as her head slumps from his shoulder to his lap. "She chose this show, and yet," he mumbles, petting her hair. He yanks the blanket out from underneath her legs to drape it over her. "You wanna keep watching?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure. Unless you're kicking me out," Jonathan says, grinning.
"You got me. I make you your favourite dinner, wait for my wife to fall asleep, and then kick you out. My master-plan."
"How'd you know I liked spaghetti?"
"I asked Nance."
"She didn't—did she tell you why?"
Steve shakes his head. It's dark, the only light in the room is from the television, but it's enough for Jonathan to see his face soften. "You're going to tell me, though."
"It's not a long story or anything, but it's the first meal my brother ever made me. He was ten and I'd started my first part-time job and I was tired, all the time. He brought it to my room, presented it to me with apple juice, and was so proud. It tasted like garbage."
Steve laughs into the back of his hand. "And yet it's your favourite?"
Jonathan grins. "Yeah. He kept practicing. It got better with time. It was a little gesture that meant a lot to me."
"He sounds cool."
"He is. D'you have any siblings?"
"Got a couple of older ones, but they're like, really old. I have a niece my age. We keep in touch, and it's good, and I told them I'm married last year, but it's not—it's not as good as it could be. They weren't in the house growing up when I was, we don't have each other's backs the way you and your siblings do, or Nance and hers. It's all...performative? We don't have any touching stories like that. I want bad spaghetti. You know?"
"I know," he says, nodding, "I can understand that. If you want, I can have Will make you spaghetti. It won't be bad, and that's not at all what you meant, but—"
"But it'd be perfect."
Jonathan's smile is slow and tentative. "Okay. Good."
He refocusses on the television. They must've bridged some of the space between them because his foot immediately presses against Steve's when he turns his body to face the television. Jonathan's foot shakes while it raises slightly to rest on top of Steve's.
The arm that Steve has around his shoulder moves closer to the back of his neck. He wonders if Steve's half-grin has anything to do with this, knowing that his own, faint smile does.
"This isn't weird, right?"
Jonathan snaps his head away from the screen where Eleanor's calling Chidi her flashlight, Jonathan's heart admittedly swelling at the sight. He looks at Steve. "Hmm? Thought we—"
"Yeah, yeah, you gave your cute little monologue, I remember," he says, the words pouring out in a rush, "but, like. This. This." He points between them. "Is it...okay? It's not a bad weird, is it?"
Jonathan tries not to smile, really. It's just that Steve's flustered, his eyebrows pulled together, mouth open, Nancy's still snoring on his lap, and the scent of green apple has never appealed to him as much as it has in this moment. "It's okay," he says, but that doesn't sound right on its own. He reaches out to touch Steve's knee without overthinking it. "It's good. Really good."
Steve smiles. He looks back at the screen, but adds, "I really didn't mean to like you this much."
Me too, Jonathan thinks. Instead of saying it aloud, he hums, and brushes his fingers against Steve's as they join him in playing with Nancy's hair.
Nancy waking up has to be the best thing Jonathan's ever seen. She starts rolling over, doesn't move for a few minutes, only to yawn repeatedly and nearly hit Jonathan's eye while stretching. It might—okay it is, her that's cute. But seeing her like this, in a way that Steve gets to see all the time—he aches for it.
"You're still here," she murmurs, taking the hand Jonathan has in her hair and kissing his knuckles.
This feeling. This gentle, soft thing sitting in his chest. He's never experienced it before, but right now, it's all he can feel. "'Course I am."
"We're having fun, aren't we, Johnny Boy?"
Nancy raises an eyebrow at Steve, reaching out with her free hand to rake his hair back. "Are you now?"
"Nance," he says.
"I didn't say anything, did I? C'mere," she says. She grips the collar of his shirt and pulls him down, capturing his mouth into a kiss.
Steve's fingers tap against Jonathan's arm. Nancy squeezes his hand. It's weird. Weird and good.
He doesn't stay the night that night, but he does three weeks later. It snows unexpectedly and he's not even wearing boots.
"You're insane," Nancy tells him, frowning a little as Jonathan puts his jacket on. "Staaaaaaay. Prevent a future cold and cozy up with your two favourite people."
"Kali's not here."
Steve tilts his face up from the couch, swinging one leg over the other. "There's no way to know who the other favourite person is, but, like, Nance. I'm sorry."
"I'll be fine. It's not that bad out."
"Wait, Jonathan, is he right—"
"Bye, Nancy," he chuckles, darting forward to kiss away her playful eye-roll. He takes the elevator, goes down to the foyer, takes one look at the conditions outside, and heads right back up.
Nancy opens the door. She has a hand on her hip and says flatly, "It's not that bad out, right?"
"You gonna let me in or make fun of me some more?"
"Who says I can't do both?" Nancy's mouth splits into a grin as his hands drop into her waist. He kisses her temple, shuts his eyes, and basks in her warmth. "Steve's in the shower. I can get you some of his clothes."
"Would he mind?"
"Nah. I steal his clothes all the time."
"You're his wife, but I'm his—"
"Good friend that he adores," she says firmly. "C'mon. Your ass would look great in his boxers."
Nancy gives him a pair of Steve's boxers and a shirt. While she ducks into the washroom to brush her teeth, he helps himself to a cup of tea.
Light footsteps sound behind him and he assumes it's Nancy. "I made you a cup, even though you brushed your teeth."
"I didn't—why are you here? That sounds bad, but like—still, why? And you're in my clothes. You're wearing my clothes. You're not in all black for once and you're wearing my clothes."
Jonathan whirls around, heart in his throat, nearly dropping his mug. "I wore yellow the other week," he says defensively. But his voice doesn't have enough nonchalance to play it off as teasing, although Steve looks as flustered as Jonathan. He offers a meek smile. "I can change if it's making you uncomfortable."
"It's not! Don't worry about it. Seriously. Uh. Did you. Did you make me some?"
"Of course." Jonathan exhales, relieved, and lifts Steve's Captain America mug towards him.
Steve leans against the kitchen counter next to Jonathan. They remain in a peaceful silence, taking slow sips of their tea.
"You're not wearing a shirt," Jonathan notices belatedly. "It's, like. Freezing out."
"Yeah, well, Nance and I were going to. Do stuff."
"Oh. I can leave?"
"In this weather? Man, shut up, you're not going anywhere. I guess this is fair. For that time I interrupted you guys."
"But I haven't seen your dick."
Steve starts coughing, immediately setting his drink down. The only word ringing through Jonathan's mind is a deafening why. He's about to apologize profusely when he notices Nancy lingering by the end of the hallway in what he's pretty sure is his shirt, grinning.
have fun on ur date, nerd
It's not a date!
Nancy's not even going to be there
She has a class then a shift at the library until 10
still a date
just with your boyfriend
he's your step boyfriend for now but like
step husband? idk
BUT THAT'S FOR NOW
What. What on EARTH does that mean?
This goes both ways, demon.
care and i are FRIENDS
u and steve are with the same person n are d a t i n g basically
Right, cause you're calling her Care platonically.
you wore steve's clothes the other night!!!!
shut the fuck up vampire!!!!!!!!!!
You shut the fuck up.
I don't mean that
Please text me back.
you're such a nerd it's so disgusting
don't worry about it, you softie
also Don't Come Home Tonight
my ''friend'' and i are hanging out ;)
1) The quotations means you acknowledge you guys aren't friends
2) Thank you for the early notice. Appreciate it!
3) Since you know I'm on my way to their place right now, you also want me to wear his clothes again, right
1) shut up
2) also shut up
4) have a nice night!
You too. Text me in the morning?
Jonathan and Steve immediately fall asleep.
They were watching a film that Steve kept speaking over, asking questions he'd know if he watched the fucking movie, and one thing led to another, and Steve's laying on his lap.
Jonathan wakes up slowly. He starts to stand up, but hisses when he notices Steve's head on his thighs, his hands shooting out to cradle his head. He squints at the light. They had turned it off for the movie. He cranes his head around to see Nancy, a hand clasped over her mouth.
"Did I wake you?" Nancy whispers. She rubs her eyes, stifling a yawn as she passes the kitchen and stands behind the so. "Sorry."
"No worries. It's okay. You just getting in?"
"Mhm. I'm ready to pass out. You wanna come to bed? We'll wake Steve, don't worry, he'll go back to sleep fine."
"Like. In the same bed?" Last time, he'd fell asleep on the couch. Nancy said neither of them had the heart to wake up, draping a blanket on top of him, tucking a pillow underneath his head.
Nancy frowns. "Is that okay? I'm sorry, if it's weird—"
"It'd be a good weird."
She smiles. "C'mon, then. Steve. Steve, baby, wake up."
Sleepy Steve is as adorable as Sleepy Nancy. He apologizes loudly for the drool he left on Jonathan's shoulder, offers to carry Nancy to their bed (when she laughs and says no, he offers the same to Jonathan) and sprawls across Nancy and his bed, in the middle. He pats the space on both sides of him, grumbling something semi-coherent about wanting them in bed already.
"Gonna change, one sec." Nancy kisses Steve, then Jonathan quickly, rushing to the washroom.
"Johnny Boy," Steve mumbles. "If you want me to move over, you can say so. I can take it. My heart'll survive, somehow."
He's teasing. Jonathan understands this. Steve's trying to be funny, but Jonathan's taking the bait. "You're full of bullshit. I'm waiting for you to move your ass over, taking up all the space like there won't be three people in this bed."
Steve smiles with his eyes closed, moving a fraction of an inch over. "Happy?"
"Absolutely content." Jonathan takes in a deep breath. He crawls underneath the covers, in the space that Steve left him. His entire body is stiff and he's careful not to touch Steve, not to make him uncomfortable.
Steve swallows. "Is it okay if I—"
"You didn't know what I was going to say."
"Well, I said yes, didn't I?" Jonathan cringes.
"Awkward," he sings. Slowly, he rolls onto his side and drapes an arm across Jonathan's waist. He half-expects him to kiss him. When he doesn't, he can't even be disappointed because being pulled close to Steve's chest is more than he would ever expect. He's glad Steve can't see the shock and comfort written all over his face.
"This way, we'll fit better," Steve whispers, his voice hot against Jonathan's neck.
"Sure," he says, voice cracking, "that's definitely why you're spooning me."
He wishes he could see Steve's face right now, Steve, who for the first time since Jonathan's known him, has gone completely silent. "Shut up," he says, a minute later.
The door to their washroom opens and shuts. "My boys," Nancy sighs, her smile sounding in her voice. "I love this. I love this so much."
"So much so that you'll come into bed? What is with you two and standing and staring at me? I know I'm a lot to take in, but—"
"Don't finish that sentence," Jonathan mutters, smiling when Nancy laughs. The bed dips with her weight as she slides in. Her fingertips rest on Jonathan's hip. He cranes his head around to see her arm tightly wrapped around Steve, her leg hooked around his, her feet reaching Jonathan's.
"You okay?" She mouths.
He nods. He wants to kiss her, but he can't quite in this position. He settles on taking the hand she has on his skin and kissing her palm.
Steve's hand awkwardly presses against Jonathan's stomach. They're already spooning, he maybe, kind of flirted today, so Jonathan takes his hand and reminds himself that he's done stranger things.
"Fuck," Nancy suddenly curses. "The light."
They all groan. No one moves. The position is perfect. It's unspoken that they'll kill whoever gets up and disrupts it.
A few hours later, Jonathan wakes up, almost certain Steve thinks he's Nancy. His grip has gotten tighter and he's got a leg flung over Jonathan's.
He stirs, raising his head to check the time.
"Baby," Steve murmurs, his voice groggy, "'s wrong?"
"Did I just call you baby?"
"I'm still holding you?"
"Nance's not spooning me anymore?"
Jonathan tilts his chin up. "Nah, you're laying on her arm."
"Shit." Steve shuffles. "Can you—"
"Yeah." He lowers himself back down and doesn't hesitate to wrap an arm around Steve, who shimmies backwards against Jonathan.
Steve mumbles something that sounds like 'good weird'. They drift back to sleep.
He's surprised it's taken them this long for it to happen.
That morning, he's the first to wake up. He carefully disentangles himself from the intricate mess of limbs they've made on the bad. He watches them briefly, his chest stirring when Nancy and Steve shift in their sleep, drawing closer towards each other.
He lets himself in the shower, helps himself to a day-old bagel from the fridge, makes a cup of tea, then two more. He doesn't knock on his way back in. Why would he? He's been awake for thirty minutes, what could possibly happen in—
"Oh!" It's a miracle he doesn't spill the mugs he has in both hands. It's also a miracle that he doesn't immediately become rock hard, because. Because wow.
He hasn't really let himself think about it before, but he knows this is better than anything his mind could've come up with, even if he can't see much. It's a blur of breathless smiles and legs. Nancy's on top of Steve, unsurprisingly, pinning one of his hands onto the headboard with one hand, the other brushing against him lightly enough that he's moaning. Her shorts have ridden up and Steve's pawning at her shirt, his discarded on the floor.
Whether it would've progressed into sex or remained a lazy, morning make-out, he'll never know, because of course they hear him. Their eyes widen and heads whirl to look at him, both of them completely still.
Thirty minutes. He was only gone for thirty fucking minutes.
"I made you tea," he blurts out.
Nancy shifts her weight from side to side. The hand she had on Steve's wrist shifts to tangle in her hair. "Thank you? I'm, Jonathan, God, I'm so—"
"Don't," he says, "it's fine. I should've knocked." Even though you were both sleeping thirty minutes ago! "I'll go."
"Or, um. Don't." Steve's voice cracks. His hair looks like Nancy's yanked it in every direction possible and that stupid strand of hair has slipped back on his forehead. "You could stay, man. Jonathan, you can—you should stay."
Nancy's mouth breaks into a grin. She curls her finger out, pointing it back towards them. "C'mere."
And that's all he really needs.
The two cups of tea lay forgotten on the nightstand.
Jonathan's dating a woman with a husband and sleeping—dating?—with said husband.
It's weird. It's pretty fucking good. He doesn't know what the lines are, what he can have, what he can give, what he can't. But it doesn't feel like anything has changed. He could get used to the feeling of Nancy's hand on his back with Steve's mouth on his neck, to curling up on the sofa and sharing Steve's lap with Nancy.
He keeps telling himself not to get comfortable. There are about a million things that could go wrong. They're a married couple too. He doesn't mean as much to them as they do to each other, there isn't a promised future with him, there isn't anything but terrible rom-coms and early mornings and tea and lazy smiles.
He keeps telling himself not to get comfortable. His heart isn't listening.
Jonathan does a double-take on his walk into his living room.
Kali sits on a yoga mat she hasn't used in eight months, her eyes shut, her face wet. A video of some preppy, blonde yoga instructor plays from the TV, but she's muted.
"Kal," he says slowly. He rubs his eyes, but seeing her like this has fully woken him up. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she bites out.
"Is it your dad?"
"I don't want to talk about it," she snaps. "I'm going to do yoga and get some goddamn peace of mind and be totally, completely fucking chill!"
Without missing a beat, he says, "Can I make you coffee?"
"Do you even have to ask?"
When he returns with her coffee and his tea, he sits in front of her, down on her purple mat. "You need anything?"
Kali opens her eyes and accepts the mug he raises in front of her. "I need to burn something. But that's not a great idea considering my current state of mind, so I'm going to ask you why I heard about your threesome from Wheeler and not you. And, less importantly, why you didn't buy our usual conditioner last night. Since when do you use green-apple conditioner?"
He cringes at the word 'threesome', wiping the tea that he accidentally spilled on his knee. "In my defence, it was yesterday, and you were sleeping when I got home." He doesn't acknowledge the latter part of her complaint. No way he's explaining that to her.
"So?" He echoes.
Kali foots him. "Are you and Steve official? Did you guys, y'know, fuck?"
"But you touched his dick right?"
"He touch yours?"
"So now you've got yourself a boyfriend!"
"What? But. But. What?"
Jonathan shrugs. "Look, I have zero idea what's going on, but I don't want to assume anything? Maybe he's experimenting. Maybe he's doing it to please Nancy. Maybe—"
"Maybe you're being an idiot," she says shortly. "He likes you. Every time he's visited, he looks at you the exact same way he looks at Wheeler. Plus, Tommy says he's started getting as insufferable about you as he is about her, talking about—"
"Wait. That didn't hit me at first, but Tommy? You're friends with the guy in philosophy who kept interrupting you? What happened to him being a shit-head?"
"He still is. I don't know, it's...he's stupidly endearing. And shut up! You're dating his best friend!"
"You're also dating his best friend!"
"Care and I aren't dating!"
"Neither are me and Steve!"
They both look at each other, slumping on Kali's yoga mat. "Can I get you another mat?"
He almost laughs. "Yes, please."
The first time he kisses Steve outside of the bedroom, it's when he's trying not to kill him.
"Steve, pick a fucking place."
"It's not that easy! I don't know what I'm in the mood for!"
"Nancy will be here in forty-five minutes. Do you think you can choose by then?"
"I don't know, man, maybe—"
"That's not what you're supposed to reply with!" Jonathan sits upright, grabbing one of the two menus from Steve's hands. "Here. Kali said she liked this place. She and Carol go there, all the time."
"But this place has 3.4 stars and—wait, so are they official now?"
He balks. "Um, she told you?"
"Well, no, but I'm not blind. Plus I've known she was gay since, like, forever. We had geography together when I was in the tenth grade, had this stupid assignment, but she wasn't stupid, y'know? I kinda kissed her, and she kinda just said she was a huge lesbian and I couldn't say anything, which, of course, and I tried setting her up with Carol, but Carol told me to fuck off, but ha, guess what happened—"
He's still extremely annoyed, how goddamn difficult is it to choose between Indian food and Chinese food, but it's like his words set something off in Jonathan and the only thing he can think about, the only thing that really matters in this moment, is Steve. Steve makes a muffled noise against Jonathan's mouth. If he wasn't kissing him, he would say yeah, me too, I'm extremely confused, but please be okay with this, please—
Steve pulls back, a fraction of an inch, lips still brushing, and murmurs, "Fucking finally."
"Shut up," Jonathan laughs, his hands moving to the back of Steve's neck, pulling him closer.
Steve laughs back. That damn strand of hair falls back onto his forehead. "Yeah? What're you gonna do about it, huh?"
Jonathan reaches out, gently tucking the bit of hair behind Steve's ear, watching his eyes go all soft. "Nothing. Just to piss you off."
"I thought I was already pissing you off?"
"How about," he says, licking his lips, "you choose a place, and we can continue this?"
Steve grumbles something that sounds like 'Indian' before pressing his mouth against Jonathan's, swinging a leg around his waist. They forget about the take-out until Nancy gets back, and forget about take-out all over again.
"Tommy wants to meet you," Steve says, his voice muffled by Nancy's neck. He's not kissing her, not anymore; he dove in five minutes ago to kiss her all over, making her shriek with laughter, before declaring that he didn't want to move and keeping his mouth pressed against her skin.
"I've met him."
"You've seen him in the hallways of Hawkins High four years ago," Nancy replies wryly. She puts her book down on her nightstand, raising an eyebrow. Her dry look doesn't work as much considering how tired she looks; she had two back-to-back classes, along with a shift at the cafe she works at. It's a cute expression and Jonathan can't help but lean forward and kiss her.
"Why does he want to meet me?"
"He wants to meet my boyfriend," Steve says casually.
Jonathan sleepily smiles, feeling light and giddy. "He does, does he? Wanna meet your boyfriend?"
"Well, that's what we are, right? If not, that's awkward. I've already gotten us, all of us, matching sweaters."
"I truly can't tell if you're joking or not," Nancy says, lightly pulling on Steve's hair so she can properly kiss him. "I want a blue sweater."
"Me too," Jonathan adds.
"But pink is your colour! Both of yours!"
"Since when is pink my colour?" Jonathan asks, swinging a leg over Nancy to poke Steve's calf.
"Since always. You haven't discovered it yet."
"Pink's definitely your colour," Nancy murmurs, playing with Steve's hair. "It brings out your eyes."
"Nance, how would pink bring out my eyes?"
"I'm trying to be romantic. Let me be romantic, shit-head."
"You suck at romance," Jonathan says before Steve can.
She gasps, her mouth curled into a grin. "I'm with two people, aren't I? I've got game."
"You have zero game," Steve declares, "and you only got this piece because of how attractive and great your intelligence is, and that piece because cute banter, and, well, look at you. Look at you."
"Cute banter is another way to say flirting. They're synonymous."
"See what I mean? Your intelligence is hot."
"You call that having game, Wheeler? You have negative game."
"I got you, didn't I, Harrington?" Steve says, his voice a low whisper. He shifts down and buries his head into Jonathan's chest. "And you."
"I have no game," Jonathan says, smiling when Nancy bursts into laughter, "and I can admit that."
It's Steve's idea to have a date at the Starbucks again. "Y'know, for sentimental reasons."
"But it's expensive," Jonathan groans.
"And their frappes are garbage," Nancy chimes in.
Steve glowers at them, but it only makes them laugh. "C'mon, please? I'll buy your drink and surprisingly, they do have other drinks."
They reluctantly agree. Nancy admits to Jonathan, when Steve's fast asleep, curled up in a ball on their laps, that she thinks it's a sweet idea.
"Softie," Jonathan teases, nuzzling her cheek. "Huge softie."
"Don't blow my cover," she giggles.
"What cover? One look at Steve and it's all over your face."
"What about you, huh?"
Nancy tilts his chin up. "When I look at you, is it all over my face?"
"Yup," Steve says through a yawn. He rolls over in their laps, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "It's a wonder that Jonathan didn't realize you liked him from the beginning."
She scoffs, poking Steve's abdomen. "What about you and your I didn't mean to like you this much?"
"You heard that?"
Jonathan's mouth curls into a smirk because of both of his partners. "You were pretending to be asleep?" he asks, Steve hiding his face in Nancy's waist.
"Yes!" She says loudly, giving them an 'uh-duh' look while ignoring their looks of amusement, "Like I'd fall asleep during one of my favourite shows or need ten minutes to make tea."
"I knew it!" Jonathan says, while Steve mumbles 'of course'.
"Like you knew that Steve had the biggest crush on you?"
"Steve's a friendly person! It's impossible to tell. Too nice," he says quietly, gently prying Steve's face away from Nancy's side, smiling down at him.
Nancy just snorts. "He's so obvious. Not in a bad way or anything. It's cute. You don't have to question if you're loved or not. He makes sure you know."
Steve sends her a tender smile, his gaze then shifting from her to Jonathan. The smile doesn't change, not one bit. "If you guys want to keep complimenting me on how great of a partner I am, I'll take it."
"Compliment me back, Wheeler."
"You're very intuitive," Steve starts off, "like, you're really in-tune with my feelings. You're also straightforward, which I appreciate a lot. You remember a lot of small things that I forget even telling you, like when I told you I thought rings with your partner's initials on it were cute when we were like, seventeen."
"Or that I liked spaghetti," Jonathan adds. "You also always have my favourite brand of green tea at your guys' place without me asking. I think, I mean, this is kind of both of you guys, but you always leave the blue mug, the Stitch one, for me? I don't know if you knew it was my favourite—"
"We do," they say at the same time.
Jonathan taps his fingers against Steve's ankle and kisses Nancy's shoulder. "I'm lucky."
"We're dating a photographer," Steve says, "who always gets our best angle."
"Every angle is—"
"Your best angle," Nancy finishes. "You're so cheesy and you mean it too."
"Of course I mean it, Nancy, it's—"
"Okay, Steve, obviously you'd get that, don't pat yourself on the back for that one."
The Starbucks feels different this time around.
He hasn't been back since that day they met up to discuss the pictures. It looks the exact same, but it feels different in every way imaginable. The green seems brighter, more vibrant. When he takes his seat, the three sitting around one table because Nancy didn't want a booth, she wanted them both as close as possible, it's comfortable and cozy.
They're not sitting at the same table as they were last time. When he glances at it as Nancy and Steve go up to order, a sense of peace sits in his chest. He had no idea what would happen the last time he was here. He didn't expect to see either of them again. He wasn't even fully sure that Nancy would remember him.
It's not nostalgia that he's feeling. He wouldn't want to go back. The pining, the stupid crushing, the confusion while dating Nancy and wondering why it also felt like he was dating Steve, every time his palms got sweaty and one of them would look at him and he'd think he was having a heart attack. No thank you.
It's more of an ease. He likes that his world changed on a mundane day for a mundane reason. He likes that that's what life essentially is: mundane things happening everyday and some of them being the things that'll better everything.
His teacher pairing the demon and vampire together on a history assignment.
Said demon giving him a way to earn extra cash.
It's kind of magical. These little things leading to what he never thought would happen to him, what he never thought he would have: a dad, a sister, a best friend, a partner, two partners.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
Jonathan blinks up at Nancy, who's returned to her seat. "Steve's getting straws," she explains, setting the tray down.
"Us," he confesses.
She smiles. "Good things, I hope?"
Steve returns, holding out two straws. "Here ya go."
Jonathan's fingers linger against Steve's as he takes one straw. "Thanks."
"I'm going to try this frappe and if I hate it, you're taking the rest of it, Wheeler," Nancy says. "Deal?"
Jonathan grabs the frappe. He traces the JON at the corner while Nancy's foot presses against his calf.
The stupid thing is he should've walked into the living room anyway. He shouldn't have stopped.
"Yes, mom, I know. Mike sent me all the videos of Holly's recital when you said you would."
"In my defence," Karen says, voice sounding through Nancy's phone on speaker, "I forgot. And you didn't add me on FaceBook!"
"Do you need to ask why?"
Jonathan chuckles. He starts his descent back into their bedroom where Steve was still sleeping.
"And how's Jonathan doing?"
"Mom, not today," Nancy sighs.
Jonathan freezes. He wants to move, he knows he should move, but his legs feel like weights.
"You know I say this because I love you. This is a mistake."
"Sounds very loving to me," Nancy hisses. "He's our boyfriend. End of discussion. I get it if it's weird for you—"
"It is! Nancy, it is, and it's not...you're married, baby."
"Keep your voice down! If dad hears—"
"Your dad isn't home, darling, don't worry. Now listen to me, Nancy. You are married. You have a husband. Steve's the one you chose."
"And I chose Jonathan too!"
"This isn't going to work. Someone's going to get jealous, someone's going to get hurt. It's going to have to end at some point. What's the endgame here, honey? If you want kids with Steve, would you want them with him, too? What would that child's life look like? Jonathan's never going to be your husband, baby, and I just—"
"But he's mine."
"Not only yours!"
"And I'm fine with that!" Nancy snaps. "We're his, too! I love Steve, and I love him, and we'll make it work, mom. He's not an inconvenience. He's not making things complicated, he's making things better."
"Baby, I'm just telling you what'll prevent your heart from being broken."
"And I don't appreciate it. If it goes to shit, then whatever, fine. I'm going to be glad I did it anyway. Are you done questioning my life decisions?"
"I'm still not pleased that you're married, so, no!"
"Oh my god. Oh my god."
Jonathan can't take it anymore, so he steps around and hurries back into their—not their, not his, it's Steve and Nancy's—bedroom.
"Hey," Steve says groggily, lifting his head up from underneath the cover. "I woke up and no one was here. Tell me you're coming back in to bed?"
Even the sight of Steve's bed-head and lazy grin isn't enough to stop the sinking feeling in his chest. "Uh, yeah, course."
"Fine," he says, kissing the top of his head before curling up next to him.
They sit in a comfortable silence, fingers entangled, Steve's head comfortable on Jonathan's shoulder.
Nancy bursts through the door a few minutes later, squeezing her phone with a livid expression.
"Harrington, you okay?"
"My mother," she says through clenched teeth, "is—ugh!"
"My mother, too, is ugh."
"Now is not the time to be cute, Wheeler!"
Steve sits upright, scooting over. "My bad, I'm sorry. C'mere. What happened?"
Nancy squeezes in between them, climbing over Steve's lap before scowling and laying over them. "The usual. Her questioning my life decisions. I love her, but, fuck. I don't know what I'm doing, but that doesn't mean I'm doing the wrong thing."
Jonathan watches her, her hissing into her hands, gratitude bubbling in his chest. Everything she said for him replays in his mind. "You're not," he says, "and I'm not going to say she does it 'cuz she cares, since you know that, but—but you know you're doing what's good for you. That counts more. Do you want to talk about it?"
She rolls over, burying her face in Steve's hip. "Thank you. Maybe later, but right now, I'm good."
"Yeah, you're great," Steve mumbles. He rubs his hand down her back.
She doesn't respond, only curls herself around them, hooking a leg around Jonathan's. He rests a hand on her ankle, tilting his chin onto Steve's shoulder.
Nancy said all of those things to her mother. It should make him warm. It does.
But he can't stop hearing all of the things her mother said. And it just makes him cold.
He doesn't mean to stop answering their texts and calls, but he keeps hearing Karen Wheeler's voice in his head.
Nancy doesn't believe any of those things and Steve probably doesn't either. Really, he doesn't. Or he didn't.
Because now and for almost the past two weeks, every time he receives a text or a missed call or a voicemail from them, he thinks about all the ways this could blow over. How he could hurt them. Their 'end-game'.
But it keeps bugging him.
"Why are you still here?"
"Hi to you, too," Jonathan says, taking up the other half of their sofa.
Kali stares at him. "It's Wednesday."
He swallows the lump in his throat. "I know."
She sighs, grabbing the remote and turning the television off. "Wheeler's been texting me. Telling me you've gone AWOL. I'm not fixing this for you. You like them too much to be doing this."
"I could say the same for you!"
Kali growls. "This is not the same thing."
"If you want to fuck up one of the best things that's ever happened to you, then so be it. I'm just saying. Most people aren't lucky enough to find that one person, but you've got two. You won't if you keep this up."
He waits three minutes before jumping to his feet.
He doesn't know what he's going to say or do or if she'll even be there, but Kali's right. She always is. He texts her when he's in the elevator, realizing he'd just wordlessly ran out of their apartment.
I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't have taken my bullshit out on you.
i'm right, but so are you
i don't have to ask where you're going, right?
You already know.
I promise this is the last time I'll say something, but it's not too late for you either.
there's Mac n Cheese waiting for us
She's there, and so is he, but his hands are sweaty and he should've combed his hair before—
"Jonathan," she says, gritting her teeth. Her eyes are cold, dark bags underneath.
His legs feel like weights. He walks forward anyway. "I'm sorry," he says.
"You should be," she hisses, her shoulders rigid, eyes narrowed. "Two weeks of nothing? What the fuck? I thought...if you had any problems, why not talk to us, why ghost us, I thought we meant more to you than that—"
"You do! You both do, it's not that—"
"Is it because of Steve? Because you know I can't—if you don't want him, then I can't, Jonathan, he likes you too much, you have to know—"
"Nancy," he interrupts, his voice tender. "That's not what this was. Of course I like him."
She sets her jaw and blinks hard. "So is it me, then?"
He wants to touch her hand, wants to brush his foot against hers underneath the table, but she looks as angry as she does upset. "No. No, it'd never be you. You haven't done a single thing wrong."
"Then fucking explain it to me. We've been racking our brains, trying to think about why our boyfriend would disappear on us for almost two weeks!"
There's no way around it, so he sighs and says, "I heard the conversation you had with your mom."
Nancy's eyebrows furrow before the lightbulb goes off. She mumbles, "Oh." Her eyes flick to his fingers and she shifts, sitting on her hands. "This changes nothing, but—but you could've talked to me, to us, if you were feeling, oh, I don't know, insecure or—or see, I can't say it because even now, I have no idea what you're feeling. How does this work if you shut yourself off because you don't want to scare us? This already has enough complications with three people, but if you're not talking to us when this happens then—then this can't work!"
"I know, I know, it's just—there isn't an excuse. I'm sorry. Neither of you deserved that. I shouldn't have ignored you when shit got hard for me. It was shitty. Does it help that—that I missed you both like crazy?”
“No! We missed you too, idiot.” She sniffles, hiding her face with her hands. She groans. “I hate this.”
“Do you—do you hate me?”
Nancy’s fingers part and through the space, she gazes at him. “I could never,” she nearly whispers.
Jonathan's lips crack into a slight smile. “I, uh, didn't know you told your mom. About me. Or the marriage.”
“I can't keep anything from her. It's dumb. I want her to know everything. Sometimes the only opinion I care about is hers, but she judges me, and I do it anyway. I shouldn't have told her about you. She was still giving me shit for marrying Steve. But I promise, she hasn't and won't say anything to your mom.”
“But you do care about her opinion?”
“It's—it's different, okay? I want to tell her everything, but I don't care. I don't. You shouldn't, either.”
“It's not like she's some friend, Nancy, she's your mom. And maybe she's—”
“Don't,” she snarls. Her chin’s wobbling and her eyes are watering. “Don't you dare. I'm not here to tell you why this works; it just does. She doesn't get us. She doesn't understand and that's not your burden to bear. I know what I want.”
“I just want what's best for you and Steve," he croaks. "I don't want to come in between your marriage. I don't want to ruin any of this for you. If I'm the reason something happens between you two, then it's not worth it."
Nancy actually rolls her eyes and sits straighter. “You heard our conversation, right?”
“You heard what I said? How you made us better, how we’re yours?”
“I don't believe a single thing that she does. Steve's the love of my life, but I don't see why you can't be, too.”
Jonathan gently takes her hands into his and kisses her knuckle. “I’ve never felt like this. I've never had anything like this. It's not an excuse, but I have no idea what I'm doing here."
“Neither have we,” she reminds him quietly. “But that's okay. Just don't run for the hills when your heart’s hurting. You hurt us more in the end that way.”
Jonathan nods, wiping his eyes with the back of his sleeve. It's ridiculous, that around them, people are having regular small talk and he's unloading weight off of his heart. “How's Steve?”
“A mess,” she answers with a sad smile. “I hate seeing him that way. He thinks it's him. That you didn't want all of him. I told him that can't be true, but.”
He nods again, his face whitening, trying to think of what he can say. Regardless of what Nancy's feeling right now, he still hurt her husband. There's nothing he can do to change that.
But she's still holding his hand and her voice is soft when she says, "You wanna know something?"
"Of course," he answers automatically. He doesn't realize he's reaching forward to wipe her face until she's blinking at him, puzzled but still.
"Remember that fight that Steve and I had? I lied. It was about you. He told me, after that first dinner, that he was pretty sure he liked you. I told him he should tell you, that I knew you felt the same way, he didn't think so. It got nasty really quickly, we both said stupid things, he got jealous, I pushed him, and it wasn't a good night. But the point is that he's liked you for awhile. That's who he is. He feels everything and that goes both ways. He's a wreck right now and I say this not to hurt you, but so you understand how much you mean to him. I'm never, ever going to tell you that your feelings of insecurity are ridiculous, but I'll tell you this."
Appreciation surges in his chest. There are a million things he wants to tell Steve, but he's not here, and Nancy is. Nancy, who's always held his hand, Nancy, who's always said the things he needed to hear without him asking for it. She's here and he doesn't want her to go anywhere.
"I don't think I can say this in a way that'll sound poetic, but you're—you're like no one I've ever known. You're good, and you're sharp, and you're soft, and you're going to change the world one day. You already are."
Nancy tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. She reaches forward, stroking his jaw with her thumb. "That's not poetic to you? You're something else, Byers."
"So are you," he replies easily, leaning into her touch.
"Maybe bust out your poetry for Steve?"
“Is he home? Can I talk to him?”
“Look, I need you to know that I'm not going to be there, okay? This is something that you two need to do together.” Nancy squeezes his hand. “Don't worry. It's not going to be pretty, but he deserves an explanation from you. He should be back in thirty. He probably knows you're here since I told him I'd text you if you didn't show. We can wait here, ‘till then?”
Jonathan hums in agreement, leaning back in his seat. He's lighter than he's been all week. Still. The idea of fighting with Steve sickens him, so he traces a circle against Nancy’s palm and says, “I heard another thing you said to your mom? Another thing. About me.”
Nancy stares at him, eyebrows pinched together, until recognition lights up her eyes. She laughs and scratches the back of her head. “Yeah, and? I said what I said. I'm not taking it back.”
“Good. I, uh, feel the same. I don't want to say it, because I don't want you to think I'm doing it because I fucked up. I don't want you to think I'm saying it just to say it back. But it's there. Right there.” He touches his chest.
She laughs wetly. “Your love for me is in your right nipple? Not your heart?”
Jonathan looks down at where his finger is pointing and chuckles. “Yup. Completely on purpose.”
She takes his other hand and keeps their entwined hands against his chest. “Don't do that again," she says, her voice breaking on the last syllable.
“I won't," he says sincerely.
“Good. Steve’s going to be home in half an hour. He texted. But we have enough time to share tea.”
They don't get up yet. Underneath the table, he pushes his feet out towards her and their legs tangle.
“You're such an idiot.”
“Yeah," Jonathan exhales. They've been sitting here for some time. There'd been shouting and some tears, but they've remained seated on their dining table, knee-to-knee.
“I thought. God.”
“You've said that ten times now.”
“I know. But I'm—”
Steve kisses him softly, cupping Jonathan's cheeks. “I know,” he mumbles. “I'm not shouting anymore, and I'm still mad, but—” He closes his eyes as Jonathan tucks that strand of hair that's always falling into his face back. “Nevermind, I'm good.”
Jonathan laughs wetly, brushing his nose against Steve's. “Yeah, you're the best. This is going to sound dumb. But. But, do you hate me now?”
Steve looks at him pointedly. He closes the space between them with another kiss. “Kind of the opposite.”
There's that gentle thing, sitting in his chest again. He could get used to this. Maybe he will.
"You wanna know somethin', Johnny Boy?"
"Remember how Nance asked if we could pay you later, that she spent the two grand?"
"She lied. She just wanted to see you again."
Jonathan grins so widely his face aches. These two are fucking ridiculous. "When did she tell you that?"
"When she told me she had a thing for you," he says, sounding giddy. "It was the cutest thing."
He opens his mouth, to tell him about what his wife told him only an hour ago, but what comes out is, "I really am sorry. I don't ever want to hurt you. Ever. I didn't say it back to you, but uh. I didn't mean to like you this much either." He could say more, he wouldn't have trouble finding the words, but he's drained and Steve has this look that very much says, I need to kiss you and be in you, like, yesterday.
His breath is hot when he murmurs, “I'm still kinda mad at you, y’know.”
“What? I mean, you get to be, but you just said—”
“Make-up sex, Johnny Boy, make-up sex. ”
“I don't understand how I was supposed to infer that from—okay, yeah, shutting up now.”
Nancy swings by two hours later. Her face breaks into a grin when she registers that they've made up. He's flustered, laying in between them, but it's good, they're good, and he doesn't want to leave. But he wants to apologize to Kali, face to face.
“We'll hear from you again, right?”
Jonathan flips Steve off right before kissing him, then kissing Nancy and muffling her laugh.
But when he gets home, Kali isn't there.
“Hey, Johnny,” she says, crossing one leg over the other. She sets a bouquet of roses down. “I knew you weren't Kali. She always spends twenty seconds unsuccessfully jamming the key in.”
“I didn't know you had a key.”
“I don't,” Carol sighs. “I broke in.”
Jonathan sits next to her on their carpeted floor, their knees bumping. “Hey.”
“She knows you're here?”
“Nope. She texted me and asked me to meet. I wanted to surprise her. This is dumb. God, this is so dumb.”
“She likes roses,” Jonathan reassures her. “She also likes you.”
Carol groans. “What if—what if we're wasting our time? We keep doing this. Fucking and fighting, fighting and fucking, and it's just. Not getting us anywhere. I don't want to hurt her anymore.”
“I mean—there's a reason you keep going back to each other, right? And, and I'm not judging you, I never would, but you're together, but not really. There's always something off. You're never just one hundred percent honest, never talking about what went wrong, how you really feel. Make this time different. She loves you. Plus, if it all goes to shit, then you can be glad you did it anyway. Know you gave it your all and didn't have any regrets."
Carol smiles. She ducks her head, wiping her eyes. “You patched it up with Nance and Stevie?”
“They told you?”
“Nah. I assumed. They were so moody and annoying and would give each other the saddest looks when I mentioned you. But it's okay?”
“Yeah. I was being...I wasn't talking to ‘em about how I felt.”
“Huh,” she says. “I'm happy for them. Happy for you. You deserve people who love you like that.”
Jonathan blinks at her, trying to mask his shock.
She scoffs. “Oh, quiet. We're not friends friends, but we're as good as it gets. I've known you for three years and Kali loves you more than life itself. It's funny. I mean, you guys have nothing in common, but neither of you know how good you are.”
Jonathan flashes her a smile. “Guess you can show her then?”
“I'd like that.”
“Hey, Care,” he says, inwardly cringing at how easily the nickname came to him, “if you're ever free, or wanna talk, about Kali or school or whatever. That'd be nice.”
She smiles genuinely. “Sounds good. I'd like that. But first, I need to tell Kali I love her too."
The key continues to fumble from the other side of the door.
"I should probably leave."
"Nah, stay, watch me declare my love," Carol drawls. She elbows him. "Thanks, though. I appreciate it."
"If Kali loves you, then you're already good in my books." Jonathan jumps up to his feet, pats her shoulder, and heads for the door.
Before he can twist the door knob, the door nearly hits him in the face. Kali stands before him, startled, her eyes wide. "Jonathan, wait, where are you—Care?"
Carol stands up to full-height, weakly smiling. She fiddles with the bouquet. "Hi, babe. Thought I'd surprise you? If it's lame, just tell me."
"Shut up already," Kali says. They cross the space between each other, Kali throwing herself in Carol's arms.
Jonathan's heart warms by watching them. He shoots Carol a small smile over his shoulder and quietly exits the apartment. That doesn't stop him from flooding Kali's phone with congratulatory texts once he's standing inside the elevator. Hesitantly, he sends a few to Carol, too.
He calls Steve, because Nancy never answers her phone.
"Hey, how's dinner?"
"Cancelled. Carol is over and it looks...serious. Like no sex. I mean, probably sex, but looks like they're going to sort their shit out."
Steve snorts. "Wouldn't be the only ones. So, you're coming?"
"'S that okay?"
"Steve, is that our boyfriend?"
"And did he just ask if it was okay to come to our apartment?"
"I don't want to cross any lines," he says, already grinning.
"You can come if you bring us take-out. Deal?"
"Don't ask Steve. As if he's going to choose."
"She's not wrong."
"I'm still offended. For some reason. Nance, what're you, stop being cute, it's not going to work. Jonathan, she's laying on me, and it's not working."
"It always does," Jonathan says fondly.
"Your book is poking my ass."
"Your ass is poking my book, Steve."
The elevator dings and he steps out, knowing where he's going with more certainty than he's ever had. There's a Tamil-Indian place two blocks over. It's the fastest option he has.
"Johnny Boy? You still with us?"
"Yes," he says without thinking, and it feels right.
"I hate this song, oh, I hate this song, why am I dancing to this song?"
Jane laughs as Jonathan twirls her around, her pink skirt swaying in the air. There's laughter all around them, along with white lights hung by Jane and Will, illuminating their backyard as the sun sets behind them, all of it making it incredibly hard for Jonathan to keep his hands off his camera. Max, Dustin, and Kali told him numerous times to put it away, but it was Carol who got to him. Now, it sits by the table of pastries and deserts.
"You hate the song, but you love me. Though I'm questioning if I love you or not. You can't hate One Direction."
"I don't hate them, I hate their songs. See, listen to these chords, they're so—"
"Blah, blah, I can't hear you!"
Five minutes later, Jane heads back into the house to grab a cup of water. Jonathan can't help himself for much longer. He grabs his camera and finds Dustin trying to teach Lucas how to break-dance.
"This is all awful," Lucas says, laughing. "I hate it so much."
"You're laughing, though!"
They don't notice him. Eventually, Lucas just yanks Dustin upright and tells him he's going to teach him the Waltz. Jonathan then drifts off to Max and Mike, doing the Macarena.
"How are you doing this wrong? The most basic dance moves?"
"Fitting, Max, for the most basic person here—"
"I'll fight you, I will, I will push you into the neighbour's backyard, Mike, don't you think—"
"I'm not doing it incorrectly! You're doing it too quickly!"
"It's not a sad dance move, you're making it deadbeat."
"That's not—no! That's not how words work, Max!"
Will pats Jonathan's arm in greeting. "Shockingly, this is the most they've gotten along in like, ever."
Jonathan grins and snaps a shot of his younger brother. "I got some good pictures. Don't think they'll believe me when I say they smiled at each other until I show them this."
Will swats at Jonathan's arm. "Hey! Put your camera away. This is our mom's wedding. Knock it off."
He reluctantly lets go of his camera, letting it hang around his neck. "I just want to remember every moment! Like you, in this suit."
"It's a good suit, right? Purple!"
"Yeah, buddy. It's totally your colour."
"And you, in black. I'm not surprised."
"I have a yellow bow-tie!"
"That Nancy or Steve made you wear."
"...I'm still wearing it, so it counts. Look. How about you let me take one picture of everyone else, and I won't touch this thing for the rest of the night. Deal?"
"Deal," he says, reaching out to shake Jonathan's hand before gasping. "Wait! You sing along to a song of me or Jane's choosing."
"This is a lot of me giving for something I want to do that benefits us all. But fuck it. Mom won't get married again, right?"
Will grins. "Exactly."
"I guess I'll get started on the pictures. Where's Dad?"
Will blinks at him, his face hardening. "Not here, obviously, why would he be here?"
"What? No, I didn't mean him, I meant. Oh. Shit." It's a stupid thing to be embarrassed about. After the first few seconds of Will giving him a knowing grin, he's not, not anymore.
"He's dancing with Kali. Remember: one picture per person!" Will pats his shoulder and turns around, right into Mike. They both descend into laughter and it's sickeningly sweet, even if they're not thirteen and love-sick anymore. Just seventeen and love-sick.
Joyce taps his shoulder. "Look at you," she says, "baby, wow. Wow."
"Are you kidding? Mom, you're stunning." She wasn't wearing a white dress, but a white blouse and pair of pants instead. Jane had braided her hair and Kali had done her makeup, but wasn't only that. She was glowing from all her smiles and laughter.
"Put that thing away," she says, pointing to his camera. "Dance with your mother on her wedding day."
"I'm really happy for you." He puts one hand on her waist, using the other to lightly squeeze hers. "You deserve this. Someone like him."
"Yeah, I do," Joyce says quietly. "You deserve him as a dad. But you ought to know that your DNA means jack at the end of the day. I mean, you and Will are nothing like your father. You're everything I wanted you both to be and more. I see you're still keeping up with your no alcohol rule? You haven't touched a drink all weekend."
Jonathan shrugs. "It's not that big of a deal," he dismisses.
"It is. It means you want to be better and you will be. You are. It's...it's funny. I was always nervous I'd ruined relationships for you. I thought, okay, well, I won't have this, but they will. They have to. It never crossed my mind that I could have it, only again with someone better. But I did and so do you." Joyce peers over her shoulder and he automatically looks with her, to Nancy laughing and dancing with Jane, Steve bringing them water. "I like them."
"Me too." He's smiling, utterly transfixed with the sight of his sister and Nancy and Steve, smiling and bonding. "You didn't ruin anything for us, y'know. Will and I are who we are in spite of him, but mostly because of you."
"This isn't what's supposed to make me cry on my wedding day."
Jonathan sniffles. His mother tearing up automatically makes him tear up. "Yeah, well. I'm not sorry."
Hopper steps towards them, smiling but upon seeing the tears in their eyes, frowns. "Whoa, whoa, are you guys okay? Did something happen?"
"We're great," Joyce says, placing a hand on Hopper's chest. "Perfect."
"Son, you okay?"
Jonathan nods jerkily. "I'm great. You're great. Don't worry about me. You two, enjoy your night. But, uh, remind me to give you something before we crash tonight."
Joyce and Hopper exchange nervous smiles. "Okay, honey, sounds good."
He wipes his face and turns around, setting his camera down again. He shoves his face with a pastry and takes a second, one second, to appreciate everything in front of him.
It's kind of like the beginning of the end. Summer's almost over and his siblings and their friends are off to college. His parents are looking for a new place. Carol and Kali, who are currently shrieking with laughter and flinging cupcakes at each other, have moved in. They insist it's not weird to Jonathan that he's living with them. He doesn't want to move out, not when it's New York and he's got another semester of school left, but it's too soon for him to move in with Steve and Nancy. At least, he doesn't want to ask.
(He doesn't know that they're going to give him a key on their drive back to New York. A key that'll turn into the rug reading Jonathan, Steve, and Nancy live here in December.)
Things are ending, things are starting, and everything looks bright. It won't always be that way. The sun's got to set at some point. But, gazing up at the sky, at the pink bleeding into orange, Jonathan figures it'll have to rise again. No matter what happens, these two things are constant.
"Hey, you look awfully lonely," Nancy calls out, walking towards him, reaching out to him with the hand not in Steve's.
Well. Maybe not just those two things.
They take Jonathan's hands and make a small circle, hands on hips and waists and fingers interlaced.
Steve keeps calling Nancy 'wifey'. He starts calling Jonathan 'Harrington'. It's so casual that Jonathan doesn't think he's noticed it. Maybe it's the alcohol, maybe it's just Steve, but Jonathan's too stunned to call him 'Byers' back. He only grins and attempts to spin him around, which disrupts the circle. Nancy meets Jonathan's eyes and smiles at him the second time Steve does it.
"Wheeler, stop stepping on my feet." Nancy looks exhausted, quiet as one of her hands drift to Steve's hair, the other to Jonathan's hand, but she's smiling as she looks at Jonathan.
Jonathan pretends to gasp. "Well, then, stop leading me incorrectly, Byers."
"Wait, why did you—oh shit, have I been calling you Harrington all night?"
"God, I love you both," Jonathan says easily. Their grip on him is steady and warm as they sway back and forth. He hopes they feel the same way, but at this point, he already knows that they do.
He's dating a girl who's married to his boyfriend. It's weird, and it's great, and it's more than enough.