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Hopper and Eleven took off to close the gate, and Joyce packed Nancy, Jonathan, and Will into her car with a plan to get the Mind Flayer out of Will, leaving you and Steve at her house with Lucas, Dustin, Mike, and Max. Truth be told, you didn’t mind, because you still didn’t really know how you had ended up in this situation to begin with. As you began sweeping up glass and trying to get rid of the…goo?…left behind by the demodog carcass, your mind wandered to earlier that afternoon.

You’re running along the rail lines through the woods that surround Hawkins; your mom had suggested it as you trail so that if you stuck to the rails you wouldn’t get lost. As you round a bend, however, you hear some movement in the old scrap yard, and look over to see Steve Harrington giving out orders to a group of children.

You begin to run in place, not wanting your heart rate to drop just yet, and find yourself watching them gather pieces of scrap metal. You can’t see much from where you‘ve stopped, but it almost looks as though they are trying to fortify the abandoned school bus that sits in the middle of the yard. A few feet away from the bus, Steve and a curly-headed kid are piling what looks like scraps of meat from a butcher shop’s reject pile before dousing it in gasoline and laying a trail of gasoline toward the door of the bus. The bus which is currently occupied by two other kids, who are filling it up with odds and ends. Sighing, you stop running in place and start to jog over to the gathering.

You make a point to run heavy-footed, not wanting to spook any of them, but nobody seems to notice you. Steve is still barking orders about the scrap metal, and you look to see a small red-headed girl dragging a giant piece of sheet metal. With a shake of your head, you walk over to her and grab the other side; she furrows her brow at you and you shrug. Steve and the curly-haired kid have finished piling the meats and Steve turns to see how the bus is going.

“Hey, how come you guys aren’t helping?” he yells out to the two boys. “Why is it just this…these random girls? Wait, Henderson, I thought you only invited one girl.”

The curly-haired kid - Henderson, you assume - nods at Steve. “Yeah, I invited Max,” he says, pointing at the redhead. “I don’t know who invited her. I thought she was one of your friends.”

Steve walks up to you and Max and squints at you. “Oh, it’s you,” he says, finally recognizing you. He turns to the Henderson kid and says, “We have a couple of classes together, yeah. I didn’t invite her though.”

Putting your hand over your heart in a mock-hurt gesture, you make doe-eyes at Steve and say, “Ouch, Harrington, and here I thought we were on our way to being best friends for ever!” The kids laugh, and Steve rolls his eyes. “Chill out, King Steve. I was on a run, heard you yelling at these kids, and thought I’d come see what was going on. Especially when I saw you leaving a trail of gasoline through some very dead, very flammable grass toward an abandoned school bus that two children were inside of. Then I saw this one - sorry, did he say your name is Max?”

Max nods and you continue. “I saw Max struggling with some scrap metal and a bunch of useless men around her doing nothing to help and thought I’d step up.” You finish affixing the metal to the side of the bus and dust your hands off on your thighs. “Now,” you say, putting on your best authoritative voice, “who wants to tell me what the fuck you guys are up to?”

Steve, Henderson, and the kid whose name you still don’t know have a silent conversation, using mainly their eyebrows to speak. Max rolls her eyes and turns to you; “They haven’t told me either. Apparently it has something to do with Dustin’s weird lizard he found, but that’s all I know.” She shrugs and climbs into the bus. You look at the boys, who are still gesturing madly at each other but not saying a word, and follow Max inside.

Several hours pass with the five of you packed into the school bus, and before you know it, it’s nightfall. Just as you’re about to call it a day and head back home, you hear something growl in the distance. At first, you assume it’s some kind of bear or something, and you start to inwardly curse Steve and Dustin for putting out a heaping pile of meat. Right as you open your mouth, though, it growls again - closer, and definitely not any kind of wild animal you’ve ever heard of. This growl is more of a screech, and the way it creeps up your spine it reminds you more of nails on a chalkboard or something humming at a high frequency than any sound you’ve ever heard in nature.

Dustin, Steve, and the other boy - Lucas, you’ve since learned - all look to be extremely on edge, while Max’s expression mirrors yours - confusion, interest, and a healthy dose of fear. Suddenly, a large creature, unlike anything you have ever seen, creeps into the clearing of the scrap yard, and begins to investigate the pile of meat. When it fails to do anything, Dustin, Lucas, and Steve have a quick argument before Steve grabs a bat that’s loaded with nails and exits the bus. “What the hell is he playing at?!” you whisper, alarmed and suddenly feeling like the world’s biggest idiot for joining this group.

“He’s expanding the menu,” Dustin whispers.

Lucas and Max have moved up to the roof of the bus using the ladder Max had hauled inside, and Lucas starts to shout something to Steve. Alarmed, you realize what he’s saying - whatever that thing is, there’s more of them. Steve is done for.

The rest of the events are a bit of a blur until the creatures suddenly depart, as if summoned by something else, something unseen, and you don’t realize how truly scared you were until you’ve completely flung yourself into Harrington’s arms, wrapping yours around his shoulders and squeezing tightly.

“Don’t ever do something like that again, Harrington. I thought you were going to die,” you mumble into his neck.

Steve hesitates for less than a second before wrapping his arms around your waist and squeezing you back. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry about that. We just…we had a plan and then it wasn’t working and…” He pulls away from you and with a blush, you quickly put some distance between the two of you. Steve doesn’t notice, though, because he’s focused on Dustin and Lucas. “They left like they were being called. And they went that way,” he says, pointing in the distance.

In unison, Dustin and Lucas exclaim, “The lab!”

Suddenly, Steve grabs your hand and takes off running toward the Hawkins Lab, and you’ve got no choice but to run along side him, the kids right at your heels as you chase off into the unknown.

You’ve gotten all the glass off the floor, and Steve and Dustin have moved the demodog carcass somewhere that’s not staining Joyce’s rug; Max and Lucas have brought out the bleach, and you’re about to start diluting it with water when you hear a car engine come roaring up the drive. With a groan, you realize whose car it is - Max’s stepbrother, Billy, who has been hounding you to go out with him from the second he arrived in Hawkins.

Max goes even more pale than she already is, and whisper-shouts, “It’s my brother! He can’t know I’m here! He’ll kill me, he’ll kill us!” You quickly tell the kids to hide, and go with Steve to answer the door. Steve opens it so that you’re just out of Billy’s view but still able to see through the crack between the door and the frame, and puts on a smooth façade.

“Hargrove, what brings you out here? You do know it’s just boys who live here, right? No girls for you to try and score with.”

Billy sneers at Steve and tries to lean inside to look around. “I’m looking for my sister. Heard she might be here.”

Steve shakes his head, the picture of nonchalance. “Nope, no kids here. Just me, doing a bit of housework as a favor to Mrs. Byers.”

“Really?” Billy says, pointing at the window. Horrified, you turn to see all of the kids grouped around the window looking out. Before you can tell them to hide, Billy punches Steve square in the face, knocking him out cold. You try to shut the door, but he shoves his way inside and immediately has his hands around Lucas, throwing him into Joyce’s bookcase. “What did I tell you about hanging around my sister?” he asks.

Unable to stop the words leaving your mouth, you call out to Billy. “Billy, please! Leave Lucas alone!”

Billy turns to look at you, but doesn’t loosen his grip on Lucas. “Well, well, well. What are you doing here, princess?” he asks you with a sleazy grin.

“That doesn’t matter, Billy,” you say, slowly making your way toward him. You put your hand on his arm and look him straight in the face before you say, “Leave the kids alone, and I’ll leave with you.”

Dustin, Lucas, Mike, and Max all scream, “NO!” but Billy’s already loosening his grip on Lucas.

“That right, baby? You’ll come with me?”

Internally cringing at his choice of words, you force yourself to smile and nod. “Yeah. Yeah, Billy. You’ve been trying to take me out for weeks now. I’m ready to say yes.”

Billy looks around the room before turning back to you and raking his eyes slowly over your body, lingering at your skimpy runner’s bra. “Deal. Max,” he says, not even bothering to look at his sister as he lets go of Lucas, “You better make sure your ass is in bed by the time I get home, or I don’t care what deals were made.”

Keeping the faux smile plastered on your face, you take Billy’s hand and drag him out of the house, yelling over your shoulder, “Take care of Steve! And don’t do anything stupid!”

Billy drives you away from the Byers house for seems like hours, but when you see mile marker 7, you realize it’s really only been a few minutes. For the entirety of the ride so far, his hand has been squeezing your thigh, steadily moving higher up your leg. As you watch the road-signs, you note that you’re not far enough away from the kids yet to stop him, and so you grit your teeth and let him keep kneading at your flesh.

“I knew you’d say yes to me eventually, princess,” he all but growls as he extends his fingers to drag the tips of them across your cunt. You will yourself not to jump away from his touch, determined to get as far away from the Byers house as you can so the kids can get Steve up and run before Billy decides to go back after them.

Billy takes your lack of resistance as encouragement, and scoots just a tiny bit closer to you so he can reach you better; he’s now got his hand completely cupped around your pussy, pressing the thin material of your jogging pants between your folds. Finally, you spot mile marker 12, and you decide it’s time to get away from Billy.

“Billy,” you say, putting on a coquettish tone. “Could we maybe pull over somewhere?” You punctuate your question by unsubtly canting your hips into his touch. It works - Billy flashes you a shark like grin, and pulls off at the nearest access road.

As the car slows, you unbuckle yourself, smiling at Billy so that he thinks it’s in preparation of whatever he’s about to do with you on the bench seat of his car; in reality, you’re preparing to fling the door open and make a run for it - literally. You’ve been a cross-country runner for 3 years now, and though it’s all about endurance, you’re so well-trained that for you, it’s also about speed. That, combined with your knowledge that mile marker 12 means you’re only 3 miles out from the police station has you ready to do whatever it takes to get away.

What you didn’t anticipate, and didn’t see coming, however, is Billy’s own speed and strength. You had been so distracted by everything going on that you didn’t even notice he had never buckled his own seatbelt, which made it so that the moment the car came to a stop, he was able to pull you toward him and position his body over yours in such a way that you couldn’t get out from under him. He was stronger than you expected, too, pinning your body down firmly against his seat.

In the time it took you to start to think about these sudden and unexpected factors in your escape, he had already attached his lips to your throat and started sucking a hickey into the skin; his left hand was wrapped around the other side of your throat, and his right had already made its way under the waistband of your panties. The second his fingers pressed against your clit, you regained your focus and grabbed his wrist, squeezing as tightly as you could. He pulled away briefly, looking truly confused, and you tried to play it off as nerves.

“I’m sorry,” you stammered, your heart pounding in your chest and fear flooding your system. “I’ve never…I haven’t done this before and we’re going a little fast.”

Billy smirks at you, and presses his fingers against your clit again. “Don’t worry princess, I’m gonna take good care of you,” he says, moving back to suck at your throat as he slides his hand out of your pants. “You just relax and let Daddy know when you’re good and ready.”

You quickly decide to let him keep sucking at the hickey, since it’ll keep him preoccupied and give you an opportunity to figure out a new means of escape; he shifts and changes his technique all in one go, and you let out an involuntary moan. You weren’t lying - you hadn’t done this before, and you didn’t know you had a sensitive spot on your neck; without thinking, you say the first name that comes to mind.

“Steve,” you whisper. Billy freezes, and just as you realize your mistake, he’s pulled off of you and has dragged his palm across your face in a vicious slap.

“The fuck did you just say, you little bitch? You’re thinking about Harrington right now?” He must recognize the terror mixed with what little remains of your determination in your eyes, because suddenly his face shifts into a mask of pure fury as he wraps his hand around your throat and squeezes. “This was a game to you, wasn’t it? You’re just protecting those fucking kids and Steve fucking Harrington. Well, princess, it looks like I’m going to have to remind you that you’re not with your precious King Steve right now.”

As you claw at his hand, trying to loosen his grip so you don’t feel like you’re on the verge of passing out, he uses his other hand to force your pants down to your mid thigh, shoving three of his fingers inside you. “Fuck, princess, you really haven’t done this before, have you?” he says. “That’s okay, that just means it’ll be more fun for me.” You stop fighting against his grip, and, likely without realizing it, he loosens it in the same instant; as he pulls his body away from yours and reaches down to try and pull his cock out, you shoot your left knee up as forcefully as you can.

You make contact with his crotch, and he bellows in rage and pain, and you scramble out from under him, flinging your door open and pulling your pants back up. He’s out of the car after you quicker than you thought he’d be, and he manages to grab your shoulder, whirling you around to sock you on the jaw.

As you try to shake yourself back to full awareness, you realize he’s not going to hold back anymore, and you try to remember what you learned in self-defense class; before he can stop you, you’re punching him square in the throat, and he’s doubled over in pain again. Not hesitating this time, you start to run through the woods, not even bothering to try and cover the sound of your footsteps or trying to locate the railway.

You run, and run, and run until you finally see the city lights, and you start cutting through back alleys and side streets until you finally reach the police station. You run inside, and it’s not until Flo has jumped from her seat to run around her desk and pull you inside that you consider what you must look like.

Officer Callahan asks what happened, and if you’d like to file a report, and you tell him you’d like to wait for Chief Hopper to get back from the call he’s on, if that’s okay.

Flo escorts you into Hopper’s office and brings you a fresh cup of coffee and one of the donuts she hid from Hopper that morning; it’s a little stale, and the coffee is over-bitter, but the gesture is so motherly you don’t mind. She tells you that you can lock the door behind her as she leaves if you want to, assuring you that only Jim has the key to it, and you’ll be safe inside. Mindlessly, you rise as she leaves and do exactly that; when you begin to shiver, you look down at yourself and start to understand why they’re treating you like a lost puppy.

You’re still in your runner’s bra jogging pants, but your pants are shredded along your left thigh, blood seeping into the material from scratches that rake along your skin - likely from snagging on bushes as you ran, you realize. Your stomach is covered in bruises, and with a start, you realize that in the moment, you hadn’t even registered the blows Billy had landed there, but, sure enough, there’s a fist-sized mark on your ribcage. The top of your chest looks to be bruised too, and you don’t even want to think about what your throat and face must look like. Your lip is split on one side, that much you know, and your chin, cheek, and nose are throbbing dully; you wonder if you‘ve got a black eye to boot.

You glance around the office for something to keep you warm, and spot one of Hopper’s Hawkins PD coats hanging on a rack. You hesitate before realizing he’d rather worry about you than worry about possibly getting blood and dirt on his jacket, so you yank it down and throw it over your shoulders, climbing into his comfy desk chair and curling into the material that smells faintly of tobacco, coffee, and something sweet.

By the time Hopper arrives, you’ve fallen asleep and woken back up from a nightmare where you didn’t get away from Billy; you’re on edge from it, and you practically jump out of your skin when the door to the office opens before you remember that Flo said only Jim has a copy of that key.

The soft, pitying, slightly guilty look on Hopper’s face as he takes in your appearance is all it takes for you to burst into tears; in less than a second, he’s made his way around the desk and scooped you up into a bridal-carry. You don’t bother to ask what’s going on, and you couldn’t through your sobs, even if you wanted to. He tells Flo he’s taking you to the hospital to get checked out, and thanks her for letting you hide in his office.

You must have fallen asleep on the drive over, still wrapped up in Hopper’s arms, and finally feeling safe enough to sleep without nightmares, because when you next open your eyes, you’re in a hospital bed with an IV in your arm and the kids scattered around the room. Steve is at your right side, his head lying on the bed next to where your hands are joined, soft snores escaping him. Lucas and Dustin are curled up side by side at your feet; Mike and Max are sleeping in chairs in the corner. There’s another bed in the room, and you glance over to see that it’s occupied by Will, who’s also asleep; Joyce is lying on the bed with him, her arm protectively lain across his shoulders, and Jonathan and Nancy each sit at one of his sides.

The only people in the room that are awake besides you are Hopper and Eleven, who sit at your left side. When she sees you’re awake, Eleven carefully reaches out and holds your hand, never breaking eye contact with you as if to ask if it’s okay. You nod softly at her, and she smiles sadly, lifting your hand to her cheek in a mirror of how Steve is holding the other. Hopper is standing closer to your head, and brings a large hand up to brush over your hair before leaning down and pressing a far-too-gentle kiss for such a large man. “How you feeling, kiddo?” he asks.

You sigh, and look up at him. “Better now that I’m being pumped full of painkillers. But that doesn’t mean I’m anywhere near okay.”

He nods like he understands exactly what you mean, and his eyes are full of an emotion you quickly recognize as guilt. “You ready to give me a statement on what happened? The kids gave their version but we really need your testimony if we’re going to do anything, since Harrington was supposedly knocked out when it all went down.”

You must look nervous, because Eleven squeezes your hand gently; you direct your gaze back to hers, and this time she nods at you, and you smile sadly at her. “Yeah. Yeah, Hop, I’m ready.”

He pulls out a steno pad and you start to tell him what happened. How Steve was knocked out and Billy was hurting Lucas; how you played Billy to get him away from the kids, not letting him see you tossing Mike your car keys so they could get to somewhere safe before Billy figured out the ruse. You look away from everyone as you describe the sexual aspects of what happened, unable to look Jim in the eye as you tell him how you let Billy touch you in places you’d never been touched, all in the hopes that he and El weren’t saving the world just to come back and find something had happened to those kids.

His non-writing hand wraps around both yours and El’s as you stutter through describing the moment Billy realized you were just trying to distract him, and proceeded to attempt to rape you. When you start to cry again, Eleven climbs up on the bed and holds you the way you noticed Joyce holding Will’s sleeping form in the next bed over, and you allow yourself to be selfish for a few moments, taking comfort in the arms of this child who has been through worse things than you.

Finally, you reach the end of your story, telling him how you managed to fall asleep in his office before waking up in a cold sweat from a nightmare where Billy kept the upper hand and raped you repeatedly. Hopper closes up his notepad and pulls his hand away from yours to drag both of his over his face with a heavy sigh.

“None of this should have happened, kiddo. You shouldn’t have had to go through any of that, and you definitely shouldn’t have had to feel like it was your job to do anything. I promise you, I will make sure Hargrove rots in a cell for this.”

You nod, your head still on Eleven’s shoulder, and Jim rises to leave. “I have to get this to the station so we can issue a warrant and APB for Hargrove. I’ll have hospital security station outside the room so I know you’re safe, but if you feel like you need it, don’t hesitate to wake up Joyce. She’ll look after you.”

When he reaches the doorway, you softly call out, “Thanks, Chief.” His shoulders tense like he feels like he doesn’t deserve any thanks for any of this, and he walks out.

Eleven is now pulled away from you, still perched on the bed; she’s looking at your face, and you can see the questions in her eyes as she reaches out to ghost her fingertips over each mark. “Bad man,” she says softly, and you can’t help but huff out a laugh. “Yeah, El,” you say. “Bad man.”

Two months after everything happened, you’ve still got bruised ribs, but most of your facial bruises have faded and your nose is finally healed according to the doctor. You’ve got a couple of scars on your face from where you had needed stitches, and some nasty ones on your left leg where you thrashed it running through a thicket of roses, not to mention one of your knuckles sits crooked from being broken against the bones in Billy’s face and not being set properly in time.

Hopper kept his word, and with the combination of your testimony, photographs of your injuries, statements from the kids, and your blood splattered across the inside of Billy’s car, he’s able to talk the judge into a sentence of twenty years with no chance of parole before the first 14. The day the verdict comes in, you and Jim are the only two from the group who are in the courthouse, and after they drag Billy into custody, Hopper tells you to wait for him in his car.

He joins you a few minutes later and kicks on the radio as he starts to drive; with a start, you realize you’re headed toward the Harrington house. You haven’t seen much of Steve since the hospital - at school, every time he saw you headed toward him, he turned tail and ran in the other direction. After a few instances of this, you ask Nancy what’s going on, and she pats your shoulder sympathetically. “He blames himself for what happened,” she explains. “He figures if he hadn’t gone down so easily, you wouldn’t have gone with Billy and you’d be okay.”

You couldn’t exactly convince him he was wrong to take the blame if he wouldn’t talk to you, and so the distance between you two had been allowed to fester and grow until it felt insurmountable, which is how you came to be sitting in Chief Hopper’s car, too nervous to get out and join what was clearly a celebration for your victory in court, attended only by those in the know and their parents who were blissfully unaware as to what it was you all were really fighting that night.

Hopper gives you all of three minutes to cower in the car before he pulls the door open and gives you an ultimatum; “Either you get your ass out of this car and go inside or I’ll carry you in myself.”

Just as you’re about to argue back at him, you notice he’s fighting a sad smile and there’s a soft look in his eyes. He’d never force you to do something that would make you uncomfortable, but you can tell he’s really hoping you’ll go in. Compromising, you let him reach for your hand and act like he’s dragging you in, if only so you can trick the part of your brain that’s screaming Abort! Abort! Abort! into thinking that you don’t have a choice.

When you enter, you find that it’s an astonishingly subdued party, but it’s clearly a party nonetheless. Nancy, Jonathan, Will, and Joyce are the first to greet you with hugs, and Joyce tells you to call her if you ever need anything. You know she’s close with Hopper, so she must know that you’ve spent more nights on his couch or on El’s floor than you have in your own bed since everything that happened; her offer means more to you than you could say, if only because you know what she’s gone through too, having to save Will from the Upside-Down twice, and losing Bob along the way.

Next to congratulate you and embrace you is Mrs. Wheeler, who has not stopped apologizing for sending Billy to the Byers house since she heard about what happened; you squeeze her back, finally able to let go completely knowing that Billy is going away for a long time, and you assure her you don’t blame her for what he did. She pulls away and quickly heads into the kitchen with her head bowed, but not so quickly that you don’t notice the grateful tears in her eyes. Once she’s gone, you’ve got your arms full with Dustin, Lucas, and Mike all trying to wrap themselves around you so that you’re being hugged on all sides. You laugh, and try and pat each of their heads; once you do, they let go and run off to the backyard, where you see Jonathan, Nancy, and Will have already gotten into the pool.

The house is practically empty now, just you, Hopper, Eleven, Max, and Mrs. Sinclair remain; at a look from Mrs. Sinclair, Hopper takes Eleven outside. You hesitate, not sure how to look either of them in the eye; before you have to make up your mind, you get a mouthful of red hair as Max launches herself into your arms. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry he hurt you, it’s all my fault, I shouldn’t have gone,” she says on a loop. Instinctively, your arms bracket around her and you heave her up into an awkward carry.

“It’s not your fault, Max,” you whisper repeatedly into her hair as she cries onto your shoulder. “Nothing Billy ever did - to me or to you - was your fault. I promise, it’s not your fault.”

Max finally calms down, and you put her back down, running a hand through her hair and pushing her toward the pool. “Go on, kid,” you say with a small smile. “Have some fun. Relax. It’s over. It’s finally over.”

Once the door slides shut, Mrs. Sinclair begins to speak. “I am so sorry for what happened to you,” she starts, “and I won’t ever be able to make up for it or thank you enough for what you did. Lucas is young enough that he doesn’t always understand there are going to be people who go after him for things outside of his control.” You look up at her, and realize that she thinks Billy went after Lucas because of race; with a shameful start, you understand that he probably did, and you were an idiot to not see it, to not see what a warning sign that was of how dangerous Billy really was.

“I don’t know what would have happened to Lucas if you hadn’t been there, and I so wish I could take away what happened to you, or at least take away some of the pain. But all I can do is thank you - my baby is alive and safe because of what you did and what you went through.”

For the first time since the attack, you initiate contact with someone else, moving to hug Mrs. Sinclair. “I would do it again in a heartbeat, no questions asked,” you tell her, and as you speak the words, you realize you mean them. You don’t know how it happened over the course of that night, or the many sleepless nights since, but you know without a doubt you would lay your life on the line for every one of those kids, and Steve, and Nancy, and Jonathan, and Joyce, and Hopper. Somehow, between fighting demodogs, being beaten and nearly raped, being forced to face Billy in court, and sending him away for years, these people became your family.

The party is starting to wind down, and all the parents but Joyce and Hopper have left and gone home to see to their other kids. You still haven’t managed to speak to Steve, but since this whole thing is at his house, you have a feeling you’ll get a chance to before the evening is out. As you head inside to grab a jacket - the one you borrowed from Hopper’s office has mysteriously continued to appear whenever you’re cold - you spot Steve alone in the kitchen, getting ready to take out some of the pizza boxes to the trash. You quickly pull the jacket on and head over to him, grabbing a few of them off the stack. “Let me give you a hand?” you ask, berating yourself internally for turning it into a question when you meant to insist.

Steve looks like a deer caught in the headlights, but can’t exactly tell you no as you head to the door a half step ahead of him, and he follows, uncertain. When you reach the trash can, he opens the lid, and holds it as such for you to put your boxes in. The second your hand is clear of the can, he drops the lid and makes like he’s going to bolt back into the house; luckily, your reflexes work tonight, and you grab his wrist before he can escape.

“Can we talk, Steve? Please?” you ask, trying not to sound like you’re on the verge of tears.

He turns to look at you, and nods stiffly.

“Nancy told me you blame yourself,” you blurt out, not sure how to head into this conversation delicately. “And I wanted to tell you that’s fucking bullshit, Steve Harrington.”

Steve blanches at the venom in your voice, clearly unsure as to what to do here. You continue, “I chose to go with Billy to protect the kids. Billy chose to force himself on me. not you. You didn’t make me go, and you didn’t try to rape me.”

“If I hadn’t let him knock me out, he wouldn’t have been able to!” Steve practically shouts. “I should’ve been better, I should’ve kept the kids hidden, I should’ve kept him out of the house. It is my fucking fault!”

“Stop! Stop it, Steve! For once in your life would you fucking listen to me? God, you ignore me in class when we get partnered on projects, you ignored me out in the junkyard when I told you NOT to light that grass on fire, you’re ignoring me now. Shut the fuck up and listen to me! It! Is! Not! Your! Fault! I told Mrs. Sinclair earlier and I’ll tell you now - I would do it, all of it again if it meant keeping you and those kids safe! Yes, of course it fucking sucks!

Yes, I’m fucked up! I don’t sleep at night when I’m at home, I’ve kept Hopper and El up most nights crying on their couch because it’s the only place I feel safe but I still don’t feel safe enough to sleep sometimes, my ribs are still bruised, I’m covered in hideous scars that will always serve as a reminder of what happened. It’s fucked up and it shouldn’t have happened, but it DID happen, Steve, and it happened because I decided that keeping all of you safe was more important to me than keeping myself safe. You don’t get to take that choice away from me by deciding it’s your fault, and you don’t get to take the guilt away from Billy. You just fucking don’t.”

You turn away from Steve and take a shuddering breath, wiping the tears off your face with the sleeve of Hopper’s coat; in doing so, you notice that everyone is not so subtly watching from the side of the house; Hopper is fully in the front yard, outside of the gate, ready to step in if you need him to. You lock eyes with him and shake your head, and he quietly ushers everyone back toward the pool.

You turn back to Steve and take a deep breath before continuing. “If what happened is going to keep you from being my friend, Steve, that’s your fucking fault. None of the rest is. But if our friendship ends because I was beaten and almost raped, that‘s your fucking fault and I‘ll never forgive you.”

Steve hasn’t moved since you started yelling at him, but your last statement seems to jerk him back to life, and he pulls you into a hug before you can turn away from him again. You let yourself melt into the embrace, and don’t try to fight the tears this time, openly weeping against his chest as he peppers the top of your head with kisses and murmurs of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” You don’t know how long you stay like that, but it’s long enough that you’ve stopped crying and he’s stopped whispering into your hair.

Eventually, you pull away, and twine your hand with his, pulling him back toward the house. “I missed you, Harrington,” you mumble.

“I missed you, too,” he says, squeezing your hand gently. “I promise, I’m not going anywhere this time.”

Hopper is waiting for you two just inside the house, and the look on his face tells you he heard everything; the lack of judgment or hostility tells you he believes Steve’s promise - you decide you do, too.