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Please. Smile. For Me.

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            With the fire at the mall on the Fourth of July, families all over Hawkins have been given reports on their dead family members, and those family members who survived the terrifying attack have been asked not to be questioned or revealed. However, among those that died at Starcourt Mall were Billy Hargrove, whose sister claimed he saved her and her friends, losing his life in the process. Also among those who died was Hawkins very own, Chief Jim Hopper, who, along with Joyce Byers, learned of the attack and tried to save her sons and others by risking their lives. Funeral information will be shared in a few days, and the government will be funding both occasions.

            Along with the deaths, the terrorists responsible for attacking Starcourt Mall took a hostage. Source say that former Hawkins’ High Student, Steven Harrington was kidnapped with his fellow employee, who will remain nameless. After aiding his fellow employee in escape, Steven Harrington stayed behind to buy time, getting captured. His body was never found, and authorities are asking everyone to keep-

            Robin aggressively turned off the television at that. She knew, no matter what “authorities” said, that no one would hear anything from Steve. He wasn’t just kidnapped for ransom. He was kidnapped because they thought he had information. Grabbing the potted plant that sat on the coffee table, Robin chucked it across the room.

            “Robin!” her mother scolded, racing into the living room. “What has gotten into-?”

            “It was me,” Robin sobbed out. “I’m the reason Steve Harrington is gone. He was trying to save me. And now I’m here, and he’s-he’s gone. And I can’t-”

            Robin fell into her mother’s arms as the weight of the situation crashed down on both mother and daughter. Robin, who would never see her best friend again. And Robin’s mother, who realized how close she was to losing her daughter.

            “It’s all my fault,” Robin sobbed out. “It’s all my fault. They’re going to kill him and it’s all my fault.”

            “No baby, no,” her mother cooed. “It wasn’t you’re fault. It’s okay, sweetie. It’s okay.”

            Robin wished she could believe that. Really. She did. But Steve was gone, left in the hands of evil Russians, probably already in Russia.

            Steve was gone, probably dead, and it was all her fault.

-----------------------

            He lived there now, on Weathertop. Having raced down the mountain on the fourth of July, Dustin had expected to have Steve back. He expected to see Hopper and Joyce, and Bald Eagle carrying Steve out of that stupid base, probably looking worse-for-ware, but okay. Instead, he had been greeted with the news that Hopper was dead, and that Steve was nowhere to be seen.

            So, Dustin sat there, occasionally talking to Suzie, and hoping, begging, somehow, for Steve to cry out to him. To tell him where he was. But now the Byers were going to be moving away, their friend group was falling apart, and there was still no Steve.

            “Steve,” Dustin called again into the radio. “Steve, come on. Please. You’ve got to answer. Please, buddy. I need you to come home. Please.”

            Just a bit away, Dustin’s friends watched him. They’d join him sometimes, watch as he slowly tore himself apart for Suzie to knit back together.

            “We’re never going to find him, are we?” Lucas asked, tears just as visible in his eyes as everyone else.

            “It’s been a month,” Mike wiped at his eyes. “I don’t think there is any chance Steve survived. He’s gone. We just, we can’t tell Dustin that. He won’t take it well. He needs to come to that conclusion on his own.”

            Their friendship with each other was fragile, and with Steve gone, they needed to hold themselves together. They couldn’t afford to say anything that would break that friendship apart more than it would when Will and El left.

            “I wish I could find him,” El sniffed. “I wish my powers weren’t gone.”

            “I think it’s too late for that,” Max whispered.

            The others silently agreed. It had been a month since July 4th, 1985. In two months, the Byers would be leaving. And Steve Harrington was probably dead.

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            In a camp in Russia, Steve Harrington had his head being yanked out of a vat of water. He’d long since lost his ability to properly speak. Had long since given up hope that they would believe him at all.

            He sucked in air greedily, if it was stale and reeked. Even if it made his lungs burn and his chest ache. They’d tortured him in as many ways as they could think off. They still hadn’t cut off a limb, but the general seemed to think that was important. That he be intact for something.

            “Who do you work for?” the general demanded.

            “I told you,” Steve tried to sigh as he gulped in air. “Scoops Ahoy. Though I’ve probably been fired by now.”

            A sharp slap across the face had Steve spitting blood.

            “We will break you,” the general hissed. “One way or another. You will tell us.”

            “I’ve told you everything I know,” Steve coughed out. “Everything.”

            And he had. About the monsters, the government, Brenner. He’d omitted things on El and the kids, but the Russians didn’t need to know that. Steve would die for the kids. Kind of wished he could die now, honestly.

            “Take him,” the general snapped. Then again in Russian.

            Then they were grabbing at Steve, grabbing him in places no one should ever, and Steve screamed. Screamed and screamed as he felt pain like none other.

            Steve had no doubt they would break him. They just weren’t going to get any new answers. And, eventually, hopefully, he would finally die. He desired death more than anything. Death, he believed, would be his only escape. Steve shut his eyes, letting this new form of torture happen because there wasn’t anything else, he could really do.

            He wondered how long it would take to break him. Or how long it would take them to finally feed him to the Demogorgon he could hear downstairs.

-------------Five Years Later-------------

            Joyce hummed to herself as she washed her plate, not really seeing the purpose in running the dishwasher when she was the only one still living in her house. Jonathan and Nancy had long since moved to New York, college already done for the two as they worked to make a living. Will had gone to college out of state in Maryland, The University of Maryland. He, Dustin, Suzie, and Mike, Lucas, and Max were all planning on getting government jobs, and had voted on attending the same college to get close. The government was well-aware of their efforts, and Doctor Owens was on their side. El had moved with her friends, sharing an apartment with Max and Suzie, who she adored, and taking odd jobs to pay rent.

            Her life was peaceful, and she often spent her time reading, working, or just talking to the hand drawn pictures of Bob and Hopper. Sure, she had friends, but none she actually felt attached too. Not like Hopper, Bob, or even Karen. Sometimes she would drive down to Hawkins to visit Karen and then drive right back.

            Her action was cut off by the phone ringing.

            “Hello,” Joyce hummed into the receiver, shaking off her hands.

            “Ah, Joyce!” a familiar voice rang back. “So good I could reach you at this fine hour.”

            “My locks are still working,” Joyce smiled into her phone, rather fondly. “The cameras are running There have been no bugs in my house, and I just checked. How are you Murray?”

            “Good, good.” Murray Bauman hummed back. “I’m doing just fine. A little on edge and surprised, but I’m alright.”

            “Is something wrong?” Joyce sat up straighter. “Murray?”

            “That depends on how you define wrong,” Murray sounded cheeky, but it was forced, even to her. “Listen, you’re going to want to sit down for this. Let me know when you’re sitting down.”

            Joyce glanced around, searching for something, anything to sit on. After a moment, she stretched the cord and dragged an armchair closer to the receiver.

            “I’m sitting now,” Joyce spoke into the phone. “What do you need?”

            Sometimes, Murray gave some outrageous requests that had Joyce reeling or laughing. He’d learned to ask her to sit down before making these requests, and she was always dragging a different chair over each time. One time she even dragged the couch over, much to the amusement of her children at the time.

            “I’m not sure how you’ll take this,” Murray began slowly.

            “Murray, just say it.”

            “Steve Harrington is alive.”

            Joyce dropped the phone into her lap, unable to process what she had just been told.

            “Joyce? Joyce? Ah, no! Please tell me you didn’t have a heart attack! You can’t die! Steve needs you! He’s-he’s bad, Joyce. Really bad. Kids practically lost his mind, and he needs someone to take care of him. Come on, Joyce! Pick up the phone. Please!”

            Joyce was still trying to process these words.

            “Joyce?”

            “Are,” Joyce had to swallow the lump in her throat as she let her hands tremble. “Are you sure it’s him?”

            “I realize this is a lot, Joyce,” Murray sighed into the phone. “Really. I do. But, we’ve had him for a week now. It’s him. We’ve done DNA tests, asked questions. It’s him. No doubt about it. He’s-he’s been through a lot, Joyce. And his parents don’t care.”

            Joyce knew that, knew that when the kids had cried over the fact Steve would never get a real funeral. Knew that his parents were jerks and had heard Mr. Harrington mutter how he was glad Steve was gone.

            “What do you need?” Joyce asked.

            “I’m going to fax you an address,” Murray informed her, and Joyce scrambled to turn on said machine. “And, if you’re willing. We’d like you to come down and see him in a week or two. Give him time to adjust to treatment before we throw someone at him. Its-its bad Joyce.”

            “And the kids?” Joyce asked, lowering her voice despite being the only one in the house. “What do I tell them?”

            “Right now. Nothing. He isn’t ready to see the kids yet.”

-----------------------------------------

            “We are very glad you could make it, Joyce,” Doctor Sam Owens told her as they rushed down a hallway at a quick pace. “We were hoping that seeing a familiar face would help him. He’s not doing well. And we’re not sure what kind of torture they put him through.”

            “He means there is a chance that seeing you will make it worse,” Murray stated, getting a glare from Owens. “But we’re running out of options, and the kid needs help.”

            Joyce still wasn’t sure what state Steve was going to be in. But she knew, from the way Murray had rushed out things over the phone, that it would be bad. When they finally stopped at a door, Doctor Owens stepped in first, and Joyce strained to listen to the sound of Steve’s voice, but the doors were sound proof.

            “One of the governments spies found the base, discovered they were keeping people prisoner with a Demogorgon,” Murray explained quickly. “It’s dead, and the gate it was connected to is gone, but when they found Steve, realized he was American, they rushed him back here. He’s been out of captivity for two months, and Doctor Owens only identified him three weeks ago, shortly before we called you two weeks prior.”

            “So, he’s safe now?”

            “From the Russians?” Murray asked. “Yes. From himself. No. He talks to himself sometimes. And sometimes he talks to you and the others. The kids, Nancy, Jonathan, Hopper, Billy, Robin, you. He seems to know they’re not real, tells them to go away more often than not. So, uh, just be prepared for that. Okay?”

            Joyce swallowed as Doctor Owens opened the door, giving a strained smile.

            “Hello Mrs. Byers,” Steve greeted, his voice flat and expression blank. “They moved me again.”

            Joyce couldn’t bring herself to respond, just eyed Steve up and down. His arm was in a sling, his fingers around his nails were wrapped. He was sitting up, and the blanket was only up to his hips, plus he was shirtless. This gave her a horrifying view of, not only the scars that littered his torso, but of how skinny he was. He’d clearly been starved. His hair, once the pride and joy of his life, was now shaved and gone, leaving only a buzz cut that had probably grown only recently. Most of his skinny body was wrapped up in bandages, only parts peaking out. And there was a nasty scar running from the mid-section of his left eyebrow, running over his nose, and ending just before it touched the right side of his jaw line.

            “I’ll be fine, Mrs. Byers. Really,” Steve stated, his voice too flat to be convincing. “I always am after you visit.”

            “Steve,” Joyce breathed out, stepping closer. “Sweetie, no one is going to hurt you anymore.”

            “Normally it’s Mike who tells me that,” Steve stated. “You’ve always told me that I’d be safe soon. You and Dustin and Will would always tell me that someone would come for me.”

            “Steve, look at me,” Joyce got closer, sitting on the edge of the bed. “You are safe. You are home, in the United States. And I am going to take care of you. Okay?”

            “I don’t need any more false hope, Mrs. Byers,” Steve stated blandly. “You can leave now.”

            “Steve,” Joyce grabbed at Steve’s face, cradling it between her palms. “Steve, you-Steve?”

            Steve had started to shake, his good arm (or as good as it could be covered in scars and skinnier than a twig) raised to touch one of the hands on his cheeks. Like he couldn’t believe that her touch was actually there. Slowly, as if he was afraid the touch would vanish, Steve wrapped his hand around hers.

            “Mrs. Byers?” Steve asked.

            “Please, call me Joyce,” she whispered to him, hoping.

            “You’ve never asked me that before,” his grip became impossibly tighter. “Are-are you? Are you real?”

            Joyce gave him a smile, kissing his forehead as tears slipped from his eyes.

            “I’m here, Steve.”

------------------------------

            Joyce had made it official the moment Steve had fallen asleep after sobbing in her arms. She decided she would take Steve into her own home and take care of him. It meant quitting her job and cutting ties to most people, but she was fine with that. The only part that bothered Joyce was that she wasn’t allowed to tell the kids yet.

            “They had a name for me,” Steve told Joyce one day. He often talked to fill the silence of the house. “The called me помешанный. Do you know what that means?”

            “No, sweetie,” Joyce offered a small smile. “What does it mean?”

            “Lunatic,” Steve stated.

            Steve’s expression hadn’t shifted from the blank stare he normally wore since the day he broke down in Joyce’s arms. It hurt, to hear him make these comments about himself, but Joyce was determined. Determined to get a smile out of Steve. So what, she fed him, took him outside to secluded areas, bathed him, clothed him. It wasn’t proper, but Steve was one of her kids, and she would always be there for her kids. Always.

            “They were wrong,” Joyce assured Steve firmly. “They were so, so wrong. You are not a lunatic, Steve.”

            “It’s okay, Mrs. Byers,” Steve said. “Really.”

            “Call me Joyce,” she insisted.

            As always, an odd look would cross Steve’s face. For a second, just a second, before his expression would become one of stone. It was progress, no matter how slow that seemed.

            It was progress towards a smile.

----------------------------

            It takes two years, Steve is turning 24 soon and has gained weight. His scars have all healed, but he will be permanently marked. He’s been dull ever since, and Joyce world revolves around Steve entirely now. So much so that her kids did not come back for the holidays. She made sure they wouldn’t come home because she knew that Steve would not have been able to handle it.

            “Happy,” Steve hummed, literally hummed as he read over El’s letter to Joyce. “She’s happy. They’re happy.”

            “They miss you,” Joyce told Steve. “Dustin comes back to Hawkins just so he can turn on Cerebro and call you.”

            “On Weathertop?” Steve questioned.

            “Yeah, yeah on Weathertop,” Joyce gave a soft laugh. “You know, Dustin said he was going to make you read those books. When you got back, he said he would make you read them.”

            “Can I?” Steve asked.

            “I think I might have a copy,” Joyce muttered to herself, going to search through her bookcase. “Let’s see. Ah! Here we go. Let’s start with…The Hobbit!”

            She placed the book in Steve’s lap and watched as the younger boy stared down at the book. Then his face did something Steve never thought she’d see. It made the scar across his face do something funny, but there was no mistaking the expression.

            Steve was smiling.

            “Mrs. Byers?” Steve asked, concern in his voice for the first time in years. “What’s wrong?”

            “Call me Joyce,” she whispered, letting the tears fall down her face as she pulled Steve into her arms. “Call me Joyce. And Please. Smile. For me.”

            The smile he gives her is the most pure and genuine thing she has seen in years.

-----------------------------

            Steve was pacing. Over the last six months, his emotions had been coming back as he realized he was allowed to show emotion. It had also been four months ago since they scheduled a visit for everyone.

            “What if they don’t want to see me?” Steve muttered.

            “They will,” Joyce chimed in, stirring the pot of chili Steve had abandoned once he saw the time. “They’ve been d-wanting to see you since you disappeared.”

            Joyce had learned to be careful about what she said around Steve, didn’t want to set him off into a panic attack. Those weren’t pretty. 

            “But what if-?”

            “Steve,” Joyce sighed, rather exasperated as she moved to cup his face, still scarred. “I am right here, and those kids have missed you every day. When there wasn’t a funeral, the kids, they lost it. Gave you their own little funeral out by Castle Byers.”

            Steve nodded, tears in his eyes as he leaned into Joyce’s touch. It felt right to have her there, for her to be the one to pull him out of his own head. She had always been the warmest, kindest person Steve knew. Besides Will of course.

            “They just want you back,” Joyce whispered. “To see you again, if nothing else.”

            As if Steve would push the kids away. Joyce had to mentally scoff to herself at that thought. The truth was, the kids had no idea Steve was here, and Joyce had wanted it to be a surprise. So, Steve knew the kids were coming, but he also knew the kids didn’t know he was alive.

            “I’m scared,” Steve admitted. “I am so, so scared.”

            “I know,” Joyce whispered. “But I’ve got you, and you are safe here.”

            “I trust you.”

            And that was a testament to how far they had come since Steve was tortured. Since he was taken from them. He was no longer “King Steve” or “Steve the Hair Harrington”. He was just Steve, and emotionally traumatized.

            “They’ll be here any minute,” Joyce hummed as she hugged Steve close. “So we should probably finish dinner.”

            Steve gave a light chuckle and moved back to the chili to make sure it wouldn’t burn. It was moments like these, when Steve was stressed and happy, that Joyce had learned to love the most.

            And then there was a knock on the door.

            As Steve stiffened, hand slowly putting the spoon down, Joyce dashed to the door, throwing it open to greet the cluster of people outside. Even Robin and Erica were here, all smiles as Joyce welcomed them inside. They were all talking and laughing as they reunited with Joyce that Joyce knew Steve needed the time to actually relax and step forward.

            She happened to know the exact moment he made himself known because the baking dish of cobbler fell to the floor and shattered, once having rested in Jonathan’s arms.

            “Um, hi,” Steve gave an awkward wave to them, looking as if he was going to bolt. “I can, uh, I can clean that up.”

            He was about to disappear into the kitchen again when something grabbed his wrist. He let out a horrified screams, flashbacks of the Russians, as he yanked his wrist away and flew into a wall. After a moment of heavy breathing and Joyce’s calm whispers, Steve realized it had only been Dustin.

            “Steve?” Dustin sniffed, stepping forward and reaching for his friend. He seemed to think better of it, his hand going back to his chest. “Steve? Are you-?”

            Realizing there was no threat, Steve quickly grabbed the hand that Dustin was trying to pull back and yanked the kid to his chest. Steve hadn’t cried so hard since he realized that the Joyce Byers before him was real and that he was safe.

            A bunch of hugs and some chili later, Steve and the kids (We’re not kids anymore, Steve!) were all fast asleep in the Byers living room. All of the kids were curled around Steve in some way, touching at least one scar.

            “We didn’t want to overwhelm him,” Joyce was telling Nancy, Jonathan, and Robin. “It took him too long to realize I wasn’t a hallucination. It took even longer for him to stop seeing images of each of you. Doctor Owens asked me to wait till he cracked a smile.

            “And then you called us two months later,” Jonathan breathed, still staring at Steve as if he couldn’t believe the guy was here, had been here for the last two years. “What did they do to him?”

            “I-I don’t know all the details,” Joyce swallowed. “But, they did a lot, that Doctor Owens’ team could tell. His fingernails were removed, grown back, and removed again. He was branded on his back. They think they tried cutting off circulation in his limbs at some point. Removing flesh was another thing. It’s possible he went through waterboarding too, and a lot of other things.” Joyce paused, leaning forward and lowering her voice. “And they think he was violated, repeatedly. They said it was a wonder he, uh, he hadn’t gotten AIDS.”

            “So, what he was just their toy?” Robin hissed. “It’s been five years. Surely they would have realized he didn’t know anything.”

            Joyce’s expression became pinched. “He knew about the Demogorgon. They made him interact with it.”

            That, that was not okay.

            “The gate is closed,” Joyce assured. “The Russian government had no idea about the General’s actions, and with the war dying down, they gave up the American prisoners and destroyed the creature. We’re safe.”

            Steve is safe. And that was what mattered.