Chapter 1: 1.01 - study group
"Come on, Nance, we have to study, not just sit around and gossip," Ren whined just as someone knocked on the window, scaring the shit out of him. And of course, it was Steve Harrington, the bane of his existence. Okay, well, not exactly the bane of his existence. More like the reason he thought love sucked.
Ren sent a glare toward Nancy, to which she replied with a sheepish smile.
He just shook his head and leaned over to the window. He slammed it open. "Why are you here?"
"Sheesh, thought you liked me, Ren. Or thought I was at least tolerable."
Yes, I like you very much. Too much. "Nance is on house arrest. The only reason I'm allowed to be here is because her parents trust me. They don't, however, trust you."
"Can't say that doesn't hurt. Can you let me in now?" Steve grinned that impossibly gorgeous grin that turned Ren's legs to jelly, so of course he gave in.
"Fine." He stepped to the side and tried not to watch Steve's ass as he made his way in.
"I'm here to study with you!" he said way too loud.
Nancy shushed him, "If you're going to be here, you have to be quiet."
"Deal." He jumped onto Nancy's bed and immediately made himself at home. He grabbed the nearest pile of flashcards and started reading off of them. "'Which polymers occur naturally?'"
"Starch and cellulose," she said after thinking for a moment.
"'In a molecule of CH4, the hydrogen atoms are spatially oriented towards the centers of--'"
"Tetrahedrons," she finished.
Steve flipped through the rest of the cards. "How many of these did you make?"
"A lot. And you said you wanted to help, so stop complaining."
"Alright, how about this. Every time that you get something right, I have to take off an item of clothing. But every time that you get something wrong--"
"Oh, come on. It'll be fun."
"Take a hint, loverboy," Ren whispered from the floor where he was studying by himself. He had migrated there just seconds after Steve laid down.
"During fractional distillation, hydrocarbons are separated according to their--"
"Ooh, it's boiling point."
"That's what I meant."
"That's not what you said."
Ren couldn't tell exactly what was happening, but he heard a distinct 'no' from Nancy.
"Oh, do you need help?"
He heard rustling, another 'no', and then there it was. The kissing. He tried to ignore it at first, but it just wouldn't stop. Gross smacking of mouths was soon the only thing he could think about and hear. Ren stood up abruptly to try and alert them that there was still someone else in the room, but it did not work.
"Uh, hey, I'm just gonna go home and study. Seems like you two have worked out a rhythm on your own."
At that, Steve pulled away to look up at Ren. "Oh, sorry, man. Got a bit carried away."
Man, Ren thought. Definitely don't want to hear that. "You're fine. I'll just call Tam and have her pick me up."
He quietly left the room, shutting the door silently behind him, and hurried into the living room. Happy that no one was in there, he dialed the Holland house and hoped that one of his friends would pick up.
"Nance? That you?"
"Barb? It's Ren. Can you and Tam come pick me up?"
"Of course. I'll go get her and we'll be over in just a minute. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine. I just know that my parents will be asleep, so I figured I'd call you guys."
"Okay. I'll see you in just a few minutes. Bye."
He hung up, tiptoed through the house to the front door, and slipped out just as quiet as before. As he waited for his friends, he found himself sitting on the ground feeling absolutely horrible. He had a stupid crush on the most popular guy in school, but he couldn't tell his friends because that would mean he's gay. More than just gay in his own head. People would know that he was gay. He'd get called 'fag' all the time (more than usual), and his friends might even hate him. Especially Nancy. God, he had no idea how she would react. And he tried to hide it, but when they were making out right in front of him, it hurt really bad.
Tammy and Barb pulled up before long, and he hurried to the car as he put on a brave face. Don't let anyone know you're gay, that was his motto. And if they asked why he looked upset, he knew it would all come out. And so would he.
"So why don't you wanna stay at your place tonight? I mean, you do live right next door."
"I don't know, I'd just rather stay with you guys. Is that alright?"
"Of course," they both answered.
Tammy winked. "We just have to sneak you in." Once they got to the Holland house, she ushered Ren around through the back door while Barb went through the front.
"Hang on, there's a message on the phone." Barb rushed over to it while Ren and Tammy hurried upstairs.
"Hey, Barb? Tam? You home? I need to talk to you about something. I wanna tell Ren too, but I guess he's not home. His mom didn't even pick up. Call me back when you can."
Barb went up the stairs and into Tammy's room, where the other two were sitting, and ran to the extension in there.
"Hey, you okay?" Tammy asked, worried about her younger sister.
"Yeah, I'm fine, but I'm not sure Nancy is. She called while we were driving home."
Tammy and Ren went over to the phone and stood by Barb as she dialed the number. All three of them pressed their ears to the phone.
"Nance? Hey, what's up?"
"So, uh, Steve left." She sounded upset. "Well, I made him leave."
Ren spoke up. "Why? What happened?"
"He didn't do anything wrong, I just wanted him to leave. It's really complicated."
"We've got time. Just tell us."
"Okay, so we were making out. That's when Ren left." A light bulb switched on in Tammy's head when she saw Ren's repulsed facial expression. "And it just didn't feel right. It was fine the other three times we made out, but this time it was different. I think it's because it was going somewhere? Or at least he wanted it to go somewhere. I don't know. I just didn't want him to be kissing me anymore. I started imagining it was..." She trailed off. "Am I crazy?"
"No, you're not crazy. I wouldn't want to kiss Steve Harrington either," Ren said in attempt to save face. He saw the look that Tammy was giving him, but he also saw the tiny smile on her face when Nancy said she was imagining someone else. They definitely needed to talk.
Soon after, the conversation ended with Barb assuring her that it was fine if she wasn't attracted to him anymore. She left the room after that and it was just Tammy and Ren alone. Tammy took the floor, like usual when Ren would stay over, but he joined her there instead of going to the bed.
"So when were you planning on telling me you have the hots for Steve Harrington?" she asked accusingly with her arms crossed over her chest.
Ren's cheeks went red. "No, I, uh, I don't. He's an asshole. That's one thing you were definitely right about over the past two years."
"Cut the bullshit. It was either him or Nancy, and you've made it clear on multiple occasions that you aren't attracted to her, nor have you ever been. I'm not mad at you, if that's what you're worried about. But I'm your best friend. You could have told me you're gay."
"But I'm not gay. I like girls," he lied.
"Ren. Seriously. It's okay. You can be gay. Just because most people around us aren't cool with it doesn't mean I'm not. Pretty sure Barb's good with it too."
"And what about Nancy?"
"I think she'd be fine with it. I mean, we've all been friends for years. I doubt this would change that."
"No, I meant, what about you and Nancy?"
"What do you mean?"
"Tam, it's clear you've got a thing for her."
Tammy smiled. "Maybe just a bit." Ren laughed. "But as far as we know, she only likes boys. So I won't get my hopes up. Now, you and Steve? That could definitely happen."
"Newsflash, Tam, he's with Nancy. I'm not even going to try to break that up. And even if he's not homophobic, which he very well may be, his friends are. Tommy and Carol? They'd beat me if they so much as had a feeling I liked dick."
"Steve isn't homophobic. I get the feeling from him that he swings both ways. I've even seen him stare at Tommy's ass before."
Ren shook his head. "I think you're imagining things. And I think we should go to bed before we think too much about all this."
Chapter 2: 1.02 - shotgun
"When alpha particles go through gold foil they become--"
"A molecule that can--"
Steve walked by Nancy and Tammy and ripped the notecards away. "I don't know, I think you've studied enough for this."
Tammy stiffened when Tommy and Carol walked up with him. They were awful people. "Steve--"
"I'm telling you, you got this. Don't worry." He smiled. "Now onto more important matters. My dad has left town on a conference and my mom's gone with him, cause she doesn't trust him."
"Good call," Tommy nodded.
"So are you in?"
"In for what?"
Carol looked at her like she was insane. "No parents? Big house?"
"A party? It's Tuesday."
Tommy and Carol mocked her a bit before Steve said, "Come on. It'll be low key. It'll just be us. What do you say? Are you in or are you out?"
And that's how they found themselves driving down a road to Steve's house that night with Barb and Ren in the backseat.
"Tam, pull over."
She did just that and asked, "What are we doing here? Steve's house is three blocks away."
"We can't park in the driveway," Nancy answered.
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, the neighbours might see."
"This is so stupid," Barb said, shaking her head.
"I'm just gonna drop you off, Nance, and we're gonna go home."
"Tam! Guys, you've gotta come. You promised you would. We're all gonna have a great time."
Barb leaned forward. "Nance, I love you, but he just wants to get into your pants."
"No, he doesn't." Nancy chuckled nervously.
Ren sighed. "Seriously. He invited you to his house. His parents aren't home."
Barb spoke up again. "Come on, you are not this stupid."
"Tommy and Carol are gonna be there."
"Tommy and Carol have been having sex since like seventh grade. It'll probably be just like a big orgy."
"Thanks for that image, Barb." Ren rolled his eyes and leaned back again.
"Alright, well, you guys can be like my guardians. Make sure I don't get drunk and do anything stupid."
They got out of the car and trekked up to Steve's front porch where Ren rang the doorbell.
"Guys, chill," Nancy scolded them, as they were literally all fidgeting.
Steve pulled the door open and just about gave Ren a heart attack. He just looked so damn good. Tammy gave him a knowing look and whispered, "You're screwed." He just lightly punched her in the shoulder.
"Hello ladies and Ren. Might I interest you in a visit to the pool?"
Oh yeah, he was so screwed.
"And now he's shotgunning a can of beer. Fuck." Ren looked over to Tammy. "How is that so hot?"
"Well, you see," she started like she was going to give an actual reason, "it's not. You're just in love with him."
"Shut up! I am not in love with him."
"What are you two whispering about?" Barb implored from the chair next to them.
"Nothing, nothing. We'll tell you later, promise," Ren said, holding out his pinky for a pinky promise. Barb linked it with hers and did the same with Tammy.
"Oh, great. Now Nance is gonna drink beer? That should go well." Barb rolled her eyes and folded her arms over her chest.
"Chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug," Tommy and Steve chanted. And before they knew it, Nancy had finished the whole can.
"Barb, you wanna try?"
She rolled her eyes and stood up, taking the knife in one hand and the can in the other. Her hand slipped slightly and cut a big gash on the thumb.
Ren and Tammy stood up to join their friends. "Barb, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Where's your bathroom?" she asked Steve.
"Oh, it's, uh, down past the kitchen to the left."
"I'll come with you," Ren offered, not knowing that Steve was close behind them.
When they got to the bathroom, Ren stood in silence while Barb cleaned the cut in the sink. Suddenly he felt someone's hand on his shoulder. Steve's.
"What do you want?"
He raised his hands in defense. "Hey, sorry. Just came to see if she was okay. I didn't mean to pressure her. We just thought it would be fun, I guess."
Ren stepped outside to talk to him. "Listen. Barb and Nancy are like my little sisters. If you hurt either of them, I will fuck you up so bad you won't be able to walk."
Steve smirked. "Is that an offer?"
He went red, both from anger and embarrassment. "See, this is the problem. You can't joke around so much! Not everything is a fucking game. If Tammy were here, she'd be saying the same thing. If you and Nancy are going to be a thing, you're going to have to stop being a jerk. Got it?"
Somehow they had gotten closer as Ren whisper-yelled at Steve. Their faces were barely a few inches apart and Steve was definitely not looking into Ren's eyes. Damn, when did Ren Bautz get so cute? Also, when did I start liking guys?
Steve gulped. "Got it. I'm sorry. I won't be such a dickhead."
"Thank you. At least that's one thing Tommy and Carol couldn't change about you," Ren said right as Barb walked out. "I think we'll be leaving now. Barb?"
"I'll actually stay just a bit longer if that's alright?" she asked. Steve nodded.
"Yeah, I'll catch a ride home. I'll be fine."
"Okay." Ren gave Steve a last look before exiting the house with one thought on his mind.
Did I just have a moment with Steve Harrington?
Chapter 3: 1.03 - bad boy
Ren wasn't entirely sure when he started liking Steve. Although he had a theory.
When he was 14, he and Tammy were starting high school while Nancy and Barb were still in middle. They had almost no friends, mostly because they never had free time when they were younger. Ren's mom had put him in multiple sports before she realised he sucked at every single one, so she gave up on trying to get him to be excessively masculine. And Tammy spent time with her family, because she actually liked them. So they mostly stuck together for the first year of high school.
About halfway through the year, right before winter break, they met Steve. Steve was so cool. He had perfect hair, perfect skin, the perfect life, and everyone was jealous of him. It's cliche, but all the girls wanted to be with him and all the guys wanted to be him. Even some of the upperclassmen wanted to be him. And Ren Bautz wanted to be with him, though he didn't know it just yet.
Tammy thought Steve was a self-centered, stuck-up bastard, and she made that known. Three months later, Steve had finally woven his way into their two-person group. It took them forever to figure out why he wanted to be friends with him. No one wants to be friends with the outcasts. Except Steve Harrington apparently.
It was the middle of the night on a Saturday, and Ren and Tammy were having one of their monthly sleepovers. They'd made a pact to continue to do that so that they wouldn't drift apart. Nancy and Barb were there too, but they weren't super close to the older pair yet. That would come a year later.
A quiet knock was heard from the window. Tammy whipped her head around and saw the outline of Steve and his already iconic hair. She sighed and walked towards it as Ren finally turned to see what was happening. Tammy still wasn't Steve's biggest fan, but she could admit that he definitely had some good qualities.
When she opened the window, she noticed that Steve was covering his face with one hand as he whispered, "Hey, uh, can I come in?"
Tammy nodded, mostly involuntary. It seemed like there was something wrong, and there was no way she was leaving him out in the rain under that circumstance. He stumbled in, still covering his face, and that worried them. Ren walked over and sat down again, motioning for Steve to join him.
"What's going on?"
"Um," he coughed, "I kind of need some help."
When both of them gave him confused looks, he lifted his hand off his face and revealed that half of it was covered in blood that seemed to be coming from his eye.
"Oh my god!" Tammy's hands flew to her face.
Ren leaned in closer and examined his cheek, hoping that was the actual origin of the blood. "Tam? Can you get your first aid kit?" She nodded and rushed out. He knew that she couldn't handle blood very well, and there was a lot of it. "I'm hoping this is the only part of you that's injured?"
Steve shook his head. He lifted his shirt up just a bit and revealed some bruises that were forming and a spot on his ribs that looked like someone had taken a switchblade to him.
"Steve, what happened?"
"My, uh, my dad." He gulped. "I borrowed five bucks without asking."
Ren's eyes went wide. "Are you serious? So he decided to do this?"
Ren's tone was laced with an anger Steve had never witnessed before. "I'll fucking murder him."
"No, don't do that. It's fine. It's not like it's the first time," he mumbled.
Ren raised his voice, "That's even worse!" Steve flinched in response, and Ren felt horrible. "Sorry, sorry, I'm not mad at you. You didn't do anything. I'm mad at your sad excuse of a father." Steve just nodded again.
Tammy opened the bedroom door with the large kit in her hand, dropped it next to Ren and turned around with her nose and mouth covered so she wouldn't breathe in the smell of blood and throw up.
"Thanks, Tam." Ren immediately got to work on cleaning up Steve's face, something he had no idea he'd be doing a lot of over the next few years. Steve grunted in pain a few times, and even yelped once or twice, but for the most part, he was a cooperative patient and just let Ren do his work.
Once he was done, Steve said, "You know, you should be a nurse someday. Or a doctor. You'd do a good job with this part."
Ren just laughed once and put a large bandage over his cheek, which was, as he hoped, where the blood was dripping from. He then moved to Steve's stomach and cleaned the cut on his ribs. And he may or may not have gotten distracted for a bit because of his abs. Steve on the other hand was feeling extremely vulnerable and embarrassed. He never let anyone see him like this, so it was new territory for him.
"Steve, do you wanna stay here tonight?" Tammy asked, still looking away from them.
He glanced to Ren like he was asking for approval. And he kind of was. He didn't want to ruin their night even more than he already did. But Ren just smiled at him.
"Yeah, sure, if you guys don't mind."
"Of course not."
Ren stood up with that stupid smile still on his face and Steve was totally not melting on the inside because of it, which he brushed off as pain from the cuts and bruises. Tammy left the room to get an extra blanket while Ren helped Steve move to sit on the bed.
"Oh, no I can take the floor. I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" Tammy asked with a raised eyebrow.
He nodded. "Yeah." Ren helped him back up and down onto the floor again. This time it was accompanied with a few grunts of pain from Steve, to which Ren apologised for each time.
"I guess I'll take the bed then. Night, guys." And with that, Tammy jumped on her bed and pulled the cord on her lamp so it was pitch black in the room.
The two boys sat in silence for a while, just laying on the floor right next to each other, when Ren finally spoke up. "So I'm probably not supposed to ask about this, but I really want to. Has it ever been this bad before?"
Steve sighed and reluctantly said, "Yeah. Not usually my face, but yeah."
"Has it ever been worse?"
There was a long beat of silence. And then Steve whispered, "Yeah."
Ren rolled onto his side, facing Steve, and asked more questions. "Why did it get worse?"
"He couldn't find his alcohol a few months ago, and he thought I took it. So he attacked me."
"And does your mom know about this?"
Ren saw Steve shake his head as he said, "No, she's out at night. Has an extra job to pay the bills. And then when she sees the bruises I just tell her that I get bullied a lot or that I'm clumsy. It's worked so far."
"Why did you come to us?"
"I know I can trust you. Both of you. Even if Tammy doesn't like me much."
"It's not that she doesn't like you. She's just wary of you. You know, you're very attractive and it's a bit intimidating." Shit, why did I just say that? Is he attractive?
Thankfully, the darkness of the room hid the very prominent blush on Steve's cheeks. "Attractive?"
"Yeah. You're pretty and tall and you've got nice hair." Well, that answers it. He's definitely attractive.
After that, Steve sneaking into Tammy's room became a more common occurrence. They became the best of friends. And then Steve met Tommy and Carol. They were the downfall of everything.
Chapter 4: 1.04 - stalker
"Here you go, perv." Steve held the camera out to Jonathan. And then he dropped it on the pavement.
"Dude, what the hell?" Ren shouted. He stepped toward Steve and yelled in his face. "You can't just fucking do that! It's not okay!"
"Ren, stay out of it. If you knew what he did, you'd understand."
"I'm not gonna fucking stay out of it! You need to be taught a fucking lesson if you think that's okay. What the hell did he do to deserve that?"
"Ren, shut up! You don't know what happened!"
"No, you shut up."
"Ren, seriously. Just calm down, it's fine."
"Don't fucking tell me to calm down." And a punch was thrown. Steve was knocked backwards and Tommy lunged forward at Ren.
"Tommy, don't," Steve said as he held his face in his hands.
Ren immediately regretted punching him. "Steve, I, I'm sorry," he muttered. He felt horrible.
"It's fine." He walked off toward the school while Ren stood there in shock. Tommy and Carol were shooting him death glares while Jonathan, Nancy, and Tammy were picking up the pieces of the camera. So Ren went after Steve.
He knew that it wasn't actually fine, and he shouldn't have done that. And there was really no excuse. He only caught up to Steve when they both reached the men's restroom.
"Steve. Steve, I really am sorry. I didn't mean to punch you, I just got really mad. I don't normally do that. And I--"
"Ren, just stop." He shut up immediately. "It's fine. I deserved it."
"No, you probably didn't. You were right, I don't know why he deserved that."
"He took creepy stalker pictures of Nancy while you guys were at my house."
"He what?" Ren's eyes widened.
"Yeah." Steve leaned over the sink and splashed some water on his face, only just then noticing the blood dripping out of his nose.
When he moved to get a paper towel, Ren stopped him. "I'll get it. It's the least I can do."
Steve leaned back against the wall while Ren wet the towel and reached up to wipe the blood away carefully. "This girl told me she saw him with pictures of Nancy in the dark room, so I took them out of his bag and, sure enough, pictures of her. There's even one of her taking off her shirt." Ren stopped cleaning Steve's face for a beat. "It's so messed up."
"You were definitely right to be upset. I'm pretty pissed off now, too."
"More than you were when you punched me?" he smiled.
"I feel awful. I'm so sorry."
Steve chuckled a bit. "Ren, it's really okay. You didn't know the whole story, and I was probably a bit harsh on him. Cameras are expensive, but I do think it taught him a lesson."
"Yeah, hopefully he won't be taking any more pictures of people in various states of undress."
"Well, hello Mister English Teacher."
"Shut up." He was too busy scrubbing off a particularly tough spot to notice Steve's lingering gaze. "You know, you're not so bad when you're not around those idiot friends of yours."
"Yeah. So don't mess up what you have with Nance. You seem to be really good for her when it's just you two." Steve's heart dropped a bit at that statement. He liked Nancy, he really did. But there was something about Ren that had suddenly caught his interest. Is it possible to like both of them at once? Steve quickly pushed that thought out of his head. He at least wanted to try to be friends with Ren again, before he really thought of him in any other way.
Ren had gotten all the blood off by then, but he was too distracted by Steve's lips to stop wiping the towel across his face.
"How's it look?"
"Not horrible. Could be covered up with some makeup. It's just a bruise on your nose, so you'll be all good within a few days."
"Thanks, Doctor Bautz."
"I didn't think you remembered my last name," Ren said, shocked.
Steve just grinned. "You're pretty hard to forget, Ren. Endless collection of sweaters, loud opinions. I could pick you out of a crowd anytime, anywhere."
Ren blushed. "I'm hoping that's a good thing."
"It is. I'm not a huge fan of people who don't stick out."
"So why are you friends with Tommy and Carol? I mean, they stick out, but not in a good way."
He sucked in a breath. "Honestly, I don't know. Becoming friends with them was an accident and then I just never cut ties with them."
"Well, I think you should."
Steve nodded slowly. "Yeah."
They stood there for a moment just staring at each other until Steve took a breath and said, "What are you doing tonight?"
Ren's heart was beating fast. "Uh, um, I don't know. Probably not anything but homework."
"Do you wanna study at my place?" Thump, thump, "I promise I won't just invite Nancy. I'm serious. I like you." Thump, thump, thump, thump. "I don't want you to hate me. I wanna be friends."
Ren nodded slowly. "Okay."
"Yeah, okay, you idiot."
"Tam, I promise I don't know where she is. Let's just look back by the pool and see if we see anything that tells us where she is."
Tammy scoffed. "This isn't a fucking Scooby-Doo episode, Nance. My little sister is missing."
They walked through the gate to Steve's backyard and heard a rustling. Nancy took the first step toward the forest behind the house with Ren and Tammy following behind her. They searched for a few minutes when something ran out in front of them. The shock of it, especially how fast the creature was, knocked Nancy off of her feet. Tammy helped her up while Ren started to walk after it.
"I just wanna see what it is!" he yelled back at the girls.
"Come on, let's just keep looking this way."
Ren sighed. "Fine." He looked down at his watch quickly and scolded himself internally. "Shit. Guys, I have to go. My mom wants me home in just a few minutes. I'm gonna go past curfew if I don't hightail it back."
"That's fine. We'll keep looking and call you tonight if we find anything," Tammy said as he ran by.
He ran around the corner to throw them off the trail and then ran back as quietly as he could to Steve's front door. He was the kind of guy who usually knocked because doorbells were annoying, but this time he opted for the quieter choice, at least from the outside.
Steve opened the door seconds later, and Ren immediately walked in. There was no going back. He was just going to do this. "Hey, ready to study?"
"Yeah? Is something wrong?"
"Nope, not at all."
"Ren." He stopped. Steve saw through his bullshit immediately. "What's going on?"
"Okay, so don't be mad, but Nance and Tammy are in your backyard right now looking for clues as to where Barb is," he said in one breath.
"Oh. Okay. And why weren't you going to tell me that?" There was absolutely no anger in his tone, so Ren answered with the truth.
"I didn't want you to be upset. I told Nancy that she should run it by you first considering it's your house, but she didn't listen."
"I'm not upset."
Ren nodded. "That's good. I'm sorry."
"It's fine. Did you guys find anything yet?"
"Nope," he lied. "Study time?"
Chapter 5: 1.05 - abuse
Steve shook his head in mock confusion. "So, wait a sec. I don't understand. You went back to my house?" He wasn't usually great at lying, but he was hoping to pull it off just this once.
"To look for Barb," Nancy answered.
"Yeah, okay, but why didn't you just talk to me? That's crazy."
"I don't know, we were scared."
"Tam and Ren went too."
"Okay, so do you all think you saw a guy in a mask just hanging out in my yard?"
"They think it was an animal. And I don't think it was a mask."
"But he had no face?"
"I don't know! I just have a terrible feeling about this."
"Oh, this is bad. This is really bad." Steve stepped back and leaned against the brick wall of the building.
Nancy stepped forward. "What?"
"The cops. They're gonna want to talk to all of us now. Tommy, Carol, Ren, Tammy."
"My parents are gonna murder me!" he practically yelled.
"Are you serious right now?"
"Nance, you don't understand. My dad's a grade-A asshole. Like, the worst kind."
"Barb is missing! And you're worried about your dad?"
"Yeah, I'm worried about my dad. He'll beat me, Nancy! Physically beat me if he finds out. Sorry I didn't tell you before, I guess."
Nancy paused. She wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, so he did it for her. "Just, when you talk to the cops, just don't mention the beers. It's just gonna get us all in trouble and Barb's got nothing to do with it."
She sighed. "I can't believe you right now." She walked off before he could get in another word.
"Hey, Tam? Think we should go check that out?" Ren pointed to where Nancy was standing with a suspiciously large group.
They rushed over to the alley and realised that Steve, Tommy, and Carol were part of that group, along with Jonathan Byers.
"Look, I don't know what you think you saw, but it wasn't like that."
"What, you just let him in your room to study?"
"Or for another pervy photo session," Tommy laughed.
"We were just," Nancy started.
"You were just what? Finish the sentence." When she just stood there without a response, he shook his head. "Go to hell, Nancy."
That pissed Ren off. He and Tammy had been hiding behind a garbage can, and he almost blew their cover. He stood up but was quickly pulled back down by his best friend. It seemed that every time he forgave Steve, the other boy found some way to ruin it.
"Come on, Nancy, let's just go," Jonathan said, pulling her behind him.
Steve stepped forward. "You know what, Byers? I'm actually kind of impressed. I always took you for a queer, but I guess you're just a little screw-up like your father." No, he didn't just say that. "Yeah, that house is full of screw-ups. I'm not even surprised at what happened to your brother. I'm sorry I have to be the one to tell you, but your family is a disgrace to the entire--"
Jonathan spun around and landed a punch right to Steve's jaw, knocking him off balance and stumbling to the wall. And then a full-on fight started. Steve attacked Jonathan and threw him to the ground. Jonathan somehow managed to get on top of Steve and slammed punch after punch to his face. When the cops came, Ren knew he had to get Tammy out of there, if nothing else. They drove right past the trash can they were behind, so he pushed Tammy out of the alley while he ran up to the fight and helped break it up. One of the officers had gotten to Jonathan and managed to pull him up, so Ren took it upon himself to get Steve up off the ground and away from the scene. Tommy and Carol had just left him there.
"R-Ren?" Steve mumbled, fighting to stay conscious.
"Steve, you gotta stay awake for just a little bit, okay? Just run with me."
He nodded and stood up on his own. Despite the pounding in his head and the blood gushing out of his nose, he managed to run alongside Ren for a few blocks until he collapsed by his car, which was right next to a convenience store. "Steve, hey, come on, just stay awake. We can't have you getting a concussion." He nodded again and leaned against the car.
Ren turned to Tommy and Carol, who were already standing there. "Hey, can you guys run in and get some cold water, aspirin, and some of those wet wipe things?"
Tommy nodded and walked in.
"Steve? You with me?" Ren asked, holding the other boy's face in his hands. There was a quiet grunt, which he assumed meant "yes". "Alright, good. Do you wanna tell me what happened?"
"She cheated on me."
"Nancy cheated on me with Byers."
"No, I heard you, I just can't believe it. Nancy isn't like that."
"That's what I thought too."
"And what about all that stuff you said to Jonathan?" Ren tensed in preparation.
"I didn't mean it. Just was angry, I guess. But for some reason, I'm not angry anymore. I even want to apologise to him. I'm honestly really sorry that his brother died. And just cause I hate him for taking pervy pictures of Nancy doesn't mean that was justified. What I said, I mean."
Ren nodded once. "And the queer comment?"
"Also a mistake. I was just trying to insult him, but instead I kind of insulted myself." Ren pulled his hands away from Steve's face. "Oh, uh, sorry, I thought you'd be cool with it. Forget I said anything."
"No, no, I am. I am. I'm just confused. I thought you liked Nancy." So many thoughts were running through his head.
"I do. Or, I did. I don't know. But I like guys too. I think I like guys a lot more."
Ren nodded once again, pretending like he wasn't internally screaming. "Here, let's get you sitting down." He helped Steve get up onto the trunk of the car just as Tommy and Carol walked out of the store.
Tommy handed Steve the aspirin and water and Ren the wipes. A lot of the blood had dried already, so cleaning Steve's face this time would be a lot more painful for him.
As Steve took the pills, Tommy smirked, "Don't worry, he'll need more than aspirin when we're done with him."
Carol scoffed, "Yeah. If the creep ever gets out. The cops should just lock him up forever. Did you see the look on his face?" Ren rolled his eyes and wiped the blood off of Steve's lip as he held the water to his eye.
"He probably had the same look whenever he killed his brother, right?" Steve didn't respond.
"Oh, god, I just got an image of him making that face while he and Nancy are screwing."
Steve took the water bottle off of his face and pulled away from Ren. "Carol, for once in your life, shut your damn mouth!"
Tommy furrowed his eyebrows. "Hey, what's your problem, man?"
"You're both assholes. That's my problem." He stood up and got up in Tommy's face.
"Are you serious right now, man?"
"Yeah, I'm serious. You shouldn't have done that."
"You mean call her out for what she really is?" Ren was extremely confused but didn't speak up. "Oh, that's funny, cause I don't remember you asking me to stop."
"I should have put that spray paint right down your throat."
Carol spoke up again. "What the hell, Steve?"
"You know, neither of you ever cared about her. You never even liked her, because she's not miserable like you two. She actually cares about other people."
"The slut with a heart of gold."
"I told you to watch your mouth!"
Tommy shoved Steve against the car. "Hey! I don't know what's gotten into you, man, but you don't talk to her that way."
"Get out of my face."
"Or what?" Tommy slammed him against the car again. "You gonna fight me now too? Huh? Because you couldn't take Jonathan Byers, so I wouldn't recommend that."
As soon as Tommy let go, Steve opened his car door and motioned for Ren to hop in on the other side. He did just that and they drove away quickly, not even looking back.
"Why did you do that?"
"You were right. I shouldn't be hanging out with them anymore."
"Yeah, but you didn't have to do it like that."
"Ren, if I didn't, I would be even more of an asshole."
Chapter 6: 1.06 - monsters
"Ow, ow," Steve winced as Ren put a bandage over the cut in his forehead.
"Sorry." They had gone straight to Ren's house after the fight so that he could fix him up better.
"It's fine. Thanks for helping me. You didn't need to."
"I feel like I still need to make it up to you for that punch a few days ago."
Steve laughed a bit. "You've been forgiven. I'm sorry I was such a dick."
"Well, you were definitely a dick today. I don't even know what all happened, but I can assume it was not good."
He sighed, "I saw Nancy and Jonathan in her bedroom last night. I went to her house to go apologise for being such an ass the other day, but he was there. In her bed."
"That's so hard to believe. I'm not saying you're lying, but I'm not sure why she would do that. I can't imagine possibly choosing him over you."
Steve smiled but regretted it, as it hurt like a motherfucker. "Thanks."
"So, lemme guess. You're gonna run over to Nancy's house as soon as I'm done here, and you're going to try to win her back."
"No. I'm gonna apologise and break up with her. Maybe. I don't know. Maybe I'll stay with her."
"Do whatever you think is best. Honestly, I thought Nance and I were friends, but the fact that I don't know much about her life anymore is making me wonder. And it sucks, especially since Barb is gone. And Tammy's been holed up in her room most of the time just crying."
"And that's why you've been staying strong."
"I guess, yeah."
"Well, if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, I'm here." He coughed for a second and said, "I think I want to apologise to Jonathan."
"Jonathan! Are you there? It's Steve! I just want to talk!" When Nancy opened the door, he and Ren were more than a little bit shocked. "Hey, Nancy, what are you--"
"You guys need to leave."
"I'm not trying to start anything, okay?"
"I don't care about that. You need to leave."
"No, no, no. Listen, I messed up, okay? I just want to make things right. Hey, what happened to your hand?"
She ripped it away when he touched it. "It's nothing. It was an accident."
"What's going on?" Ren asked.
"Wait a sec, did he do this to you?"
"No! Steve!" she yelled, but it was no use. He pushed past her and into the house where he found Jonathan on the couch. Ren followed and tried to talk to Nancy.
"You guys need to get out of here," Jonathan warned, holding Steve back.
"No! No, what is all this? What's that smell?"
Nancy cocked a gun and pointed it directly at Steve. "Get out!"
Ren slipped in front. "Nancy, what are you doing?"
"What is going on!"
"You have five seconds to get out of here. Both of you." She gave Ren the coldest look you could possibly give a person. And he couldn't say it didn't hurt.
"Put the gun down, Nancy." Ren tried to stay calm, but he was scared to death.
Suddenly, the rainbow lights on the wall started flickering. Steve started shouting and asking what was happening while Ren just stood there. The ceiling caved in right next to him, so he jumped back in fright and would have fallen if it weren't for Steve's arms catching him.
Nancy pointed the gun at the ceiling and shot it a few times before Jonathan grabbed her hand and pulled her across the room where they started running. Steve and Ren were frozen in shock as they watched a fleshy creature at least twice Ren's height drop to the floor. Jonathan pulled Steve by his arm with his other hand and Steve barely registered what was happening enough to seize Ren's hand at the last second.
Steve was screaming the whole way down the hallway until they reached a bedroom, which they ran into and locked.
"Jesus! Jesus! What the hell was that?" Steve shrieked.
"Shut up!" both Nancy and Jonathan replied.
"Nance, what do I do? I can help, just give me a weapon," Ren said slowly.
"How the fuck are you so calm right now?" Steve whispered. Ren shrugged.
Nancy frowned and ignored them as they waited in silence by the door with their weapons ready. When there was no sound on the other side of the door, they carefully stepped out, with Steve in the very back. The thing wasn't in the hall either.
They walked back into the living room and Steve continuously muttered, "This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy."
Ren placed a hand on his arm and whispered, "Steve. Calm down. I'm freaking out too, but our main priority right now is getting that thing out of here."
"It's going to come back, so you both need to leave right now!"
Steve took Ren's hand again and practically dragged him out of the house and to the car. Right before Steve got in, he glanced at the house and saw that all the lights were flickering rapidly. He rushed around to where Ren was standing and said, "Stay here."
"No, I'm going back in with you," he argued.
"Stay here." In a split-second motion, Steve grabbed Ren's face and kissed him hard on the lips. "Please."
Ren nodded, unable to do anything else, and Steve sprinted back inside.
Chapter 7: 1.07 - after
Steve Harrington was a fucking idiot. Such a fucking idiot.
He had fucking sprinted into the Byers' house, which was clearly extremely dangerous. The fucking lights were flickering, for god's sake. And not to mention he had the fucking audacity to kiss Ren, who definitely had feelings for him. Very very strong feelings.
So Ren just kept thinking, Steve Harrington is a fucking idiot. And I'm probably in fucking love with him.
He waited for what seemed like forever until Steve finally came racing out of the house.
"Ren! Ren, we gotta go now!"
"What? Why?" he asked as he sat down in the car and shut his door.
Steve slid in and slammed his door as well. "I have no idea if that thing is coming back, but I really don't want to find out. Buckle up, let's go."
"Oh, uh, okay." They sped away in silence until Ren had enough courage to speak up. "So, what is that thing?"
"Is it dead?"
"I hope so."
"So why aren't we staying to help?"
"Because I don't want to risk losing you."
"You could die if we went back there and fought it some more if it's still alive."
"We could both die, Steve."
"Yeah, I know, but it doesn't matter to me if I die. That's a pretty damn awesome way to go. Fighting a fucking monster. But if I lived and you died, I'd never forgive myself, especially knowing I could have done this, kept us both away. Kept you safe."
"Steve, I can take care of myself!" Ren yelled.
"Goddammit, I know that! I know you can take care of yourself. That doesn't mean I'm not still scared. Ren, I can't lose you. You're pretty much the only person who doesn't hate me right now."
"Is that the only reason?" Ren asked, the kiss from before still lingering in his mind. Please don't regret it. Please don't regret it.
Steve sighed. "No. I... I don't know what exactly I'm feeling right now, but I know that I feel something for you, something strong, way stronger than what I felt for Nancy. Wow, I'm just letting it all out, huh?" he muttered. "Look. It's okay if you don't feel the same way. Fuck, I'm sorry I kissed you. That was wa--"
Ren interrupted him. "I'm not."
"I'm not sorry you kissed me. But I am sorry I didn't kiss back."
"I feel the same way."
"Wait. What? I imagined so many different ways that this conversation could go, but absolutely none of them--"
"Steve. I like you. I have for years."
Steve stopped the car at his own house.
"I can drive you to your house if you want, but, uh, um... do you want to come inside?"
Ren just nodded once and gulped.
They stepped out of the car and walked around to the side of the house when he said, "You ever climb into the second story of a house before?"
Steve held his hand out to Ren once he had made it on top of the first story roof. Once Ren had made it up, they climbed through the window and the entire mood changed.
"So you don't regret kissing me, right?" Ren asked quietly, shuffling his feet.
"Not at all."
"Did you, uh, do you want to t--" Ren was cut off by Steve's lips colliding with his. He immediately kissed back and they started to move toward the bed. His back hit the soft surface as Steve climbed on top of them. They made out for what felt like hours, until they were too exhausted to continue. And that's when more questions were asked.
"Do you regret that?" Steve asked quietly.
Ren whispered, "No," in response. "Do you?"
"Are we just gonna keep asking each other whether or not we regret this over and over again?"
"I'm sorry, I just really don't want to mess this up. I like you, Ren. And I don't know if this is gonna go anywhere, but I want it to."
"I do, too."
When Ren woke up in Steve's bed the next morning, he immediately ran downstairs, dialed Tammy's number, and said, "You'll never believe what happened last night," only to get the worst response he could have possibly imagined.
Chapter 8: 1.08 - biting the dust
epilogue to part one
MINOR CHARACTER DEATH
"I'm sorry, who is this?"
"Oh, sorry, Mrs. Holland. It's Ren. Are, uh, are you alright?"
"I think you'd better come over, sweetheart."
"Is everything okay?"
"It's Tammy. Ren, I'm so sorry."
He wrote a note for Steve, saying there was an emergency and he had to run home. But he didn't go home. He ran straight for the Hollands' house. At least three cop cars were parked on the street. When he walked in, Mrs. Holland immediately hugged him and told him what happened.
Ren was numb. He couldn't feel anything. He had just seen Tammy the day before. And now she was gone.
He hadn't called Nancy. He wasn't sure what had happened between them, but it certainly wasn't good. And he just went to school like normal because his mom refused to let him stay home and grieve. His best friend had just killed herself. He would walk into school each day and pretend like everything was fine. Steve knew it wasn't, but they didn't talk about it. He knew that Ren would eventually break down and he was determined to be there for him when it happened. And it happened almost a full week later.
They'd been unofficially dating for about a week, so Steve was over at Ren's house all the time, especially with Tammy gone. One night, they were studying on Ren's bed when it happened. Ren had picked up a book from his floor and a picture had fallen out. A picture of him, Barb, Nancy, and Tammy. He hiccuped once and then the tears started falling. Steve dropped everything and brought Ren into his lap where he cried for what must have been hours. Steve spent the night just holding him until he fell asleep, and then when they headed to school the next day, he drove right past the school and to his house where they stayed until later that night.
Steve was the best boyfriend Ren could ask for, and he wasn't even technically his boyfriend. But that was a problem for another time.
Three days later, he went to the funeral. Nancy wasn't there. He wasn't sure why he expected her to be there, but she wasn't. The hole in Ren's chest that was originally caused by Barb's disappearance just kept getting bigger. He couldn't say he didn't miss Nancy. He knew, or at least he thought he knew, that she was just as much of a wreck as he was. But still no contact. Maybe that was his biggest regret. No. His biggest regret was not knowing there was something going on with Tammy.
He had literally been at her house hours before she took the pills. And when that didn't work, she... No. He wouldn't think about it. There hadn't even seemed to be anything off about her that night. In fact, she seemed overly happy, which should have worried him. But it didn't.
"What did I do wrong?"
Steve shook his head and held Ren tighter in his arms. "Nothing. You did everything you could."
Chapter 9: 2.01 - dinner with the dead
MENTIONED SUICIDE METHOD
Steve looked at Ren expectantly for a moment before sighing and resting his head on the wheel of his car. "It's crap, I know."
"No, it's not crap."
"It's not good."
"It's not bad either. It just needs some reorganising." Steve sighed loudly. "So, in the first paragraph, you used the basketball game versus Northern as a metaphor for your life, which is great. But then, around here," Ren motioned to another section on the paper, "you start talking about your grandpa's experiences in the war. And I don't really see how they're connected."
"It connects because, you know, we both won. Do you think I should start from scratch?"
"No. I mean, when's the deadline?"
"It's tomorrow for early application. Can you come and help me tonight?"
"We have dinner tonight. We already cancelled last week."
Steve nodded slowly. "Right."
"You don't have to go. It'll be really awkward with Nancy there too."
"No, it'll be awkward either way. Neither of us has spoken to her since that thing fell out of her ceiling. I still don't know what it was."
"You say that every time we talk about it."
"It really is okay. College is more important. Besides, you didn't know them that well anyway. We never really hung out with their parents that much."
"But you did. I'm going. I'll figure this out later." He took the paper from Ren, crumpled it up, and threw it in the backseat of his car. "We still need to figure out what college you're going to."
"Yeah, but that's not important. I might just stick around here."
"Well, if you're sticking around, then so am I." Steve leaned over and kissed Ren once before they stepped out of the car.
Living in Indiana in 1984 was not the best for two gay guys in a relationship. Absolutely no one knew about it, and they intended to keep it that way. When they thought Nancy had figured it out, they agreed that Steve would make out with a girl in front of her to throw her off the trail. It worked. But it made Ren insanely jealous.
They parted ways at the school's entrance and carried on with their first few classes of the day without seeming lovesick about not being with each other, something they had almost perfected after being a secret for so long. But occasionally they couldn't take it, so one of them would slip a note in the other's locker, suggesting a meet-up spot to make out in. That day it was Steve who wrote the note, which read, "Stay out here after the bell rings. x."
Seconds after the last person in the hall walked into a classroom, Steve rounded the corner and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend. They slipped in between two sets of lockers, one of which Steve pressed Ren up against. They spent a good four minutes just standing there kissing until Ren tapped on Steve's shoulder, their signal for "I have to go to class." Steve huffed and gave Ren one last kiss and a mild slap on the ass before he walked as casually as possible back to his classroom.
"I was gonna make that baked ziti you guys like so much, but I just forgot about the time, and before you know it, 'Oh my god, it's five o'clock.'"
Ren spoke up first. "It's fine, Mrs. Holland."
"It's great," Nancy muttered.
"Right," Steve said through a mouthful of chicken. "I love KFC."
Nancy cleared her throat. "So, I noticed a 'For Sale' sign out in your yard. Is that the neighbours' or--"
"You wanna tell them?" Marsha Holland asked her husband.
"We hired a man named Murray Bauman. Have you kids heard of him?" Everyone shook their heads. "He was an investigative journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times."
Mr. Holland passed a business card across the table. "He's pretty well known."
"Anyway, he's freelance now, and he agreed to take the case."
"That's great," Steve said, clearly much more enthusiastic than the two who had known Barb and Tammy their whole lives.
Ren blinked. "What does that mean?"
Mr. Holland answered him, "It means he's gonna do what the Hawkins police haven't been able to do. Means we have a real detective on the case."
"It means, we're going to find our Barb," Mrs. Holland finished.
"If anyone can find her, it's this man. He already has leads. By god, he's worth every last penny."
Nancy spoke again. "Is that why you're selling the house?"
"Don't you worry about us. We're fine. More than fine. For the first time in a long time, we're hopeful."
Nancy abruptly stood up from the table. "Excuse me for a moment. I'll be right back."
Ren stared down at his plate with his hands in his lap, not bothering to eat. He wanted so bad to tell the Hollands the truth, that Barb was dead. They knew that Tammy was. After all, they'd been the ones to find her hanging from the fan.
He was a little startled when Steve's hand inched over to his under the table. He intertwined their fingers as subtly as he could and squeezed once. Steve could see the pain in Ren's face. His two best friends had died weeks apart, and he never got to say goodbye to them. So Steve did little things like that. He would do anything to reassure his boyfriend that everything was okay, that the worst of it was over. But he wasn't sure that it was.
They continued the dinner, trying to pretend like things were okay. Eventually, Nancy came back. And eventually, Ren started eating again. And Steve still kept Ren's hand in his. Through everything, he was with him.
Chapter 10: 2.02 - bullshit
"Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug! Yeah!" Steve heard half the people at the party yell as he walked in. He was shocked when he saw they were all cheering for Ren, his boyfriend. They had to take precautions so as not to raise suspicion, and that included going to parties separately even if they were to spend the entire night with each other.
He shook his head and laughed a bit when he got to Ren. "Babe, you good? You don't usually drink."
"Yeah. Tried to beat that new way-too-cocky kid, Billy Hargrove, but he's apparently the Keg King now. I'm sorry."
Steve laughed again. "It's fine. I'm not really about that life anymore, so I don't care." They linked arms, a pretty big risk of course, but they thought everyone was probably too drunk to care all that much, and headed toward the center of the big house.
"Uh oh." Steve stopped. Ren followed his gaze and saw Nancy at the end of it, downing cup after cup of what they figured was probably hard alcohol.
"Shit. I know she's not my friend anymore, but I feel awful about her just guzzling that shit. It's not healthy. And who knows how many drinks she had before you noticed her."
Steve nodded. "I'll go check on her. Why don't you go talk with your friends over there?" He gestured to a small group of teens who looked like they felt extremely out of place. And they definitely were.
Ren walked over to them and greeted everyone with hugs. He hadn't had many friends before, other than Nancy, Barb, and Tammy, and of course Steve, but after the events of the year before, he finally found a few people who just happened to be as lame as him, if not more so.
While he was preoccupied, Steve accidentally snuck up on Nancy, who was in the middle of yet another cup of booze.
She turned around. "Steve!" Oh yeah, she was drunk. She wrapped her arms around his neck and almost spilled the last few drops of her drink on his shirt, but he carefully removed her arms. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to have fun at the party. And you seem to be having too much fun."
"Not true. I'm not having enough fun." She reached over to the punch bowl to get some more, but Steve stopped her.
"No, no more for you. You've still gotta go home at some point, and it'd be better if you weren't drunk off your ass."
"You've had enough, Nancy."
"Screw you!" She wrenched her hand out of his grip and dipped her cup into the bowl, getting yet another drink.
"No, I'm serious. That's enough, put it down."
"No!" He tried to get it out of her grip, but as soon as he gave up and let go, she dumped the whole thing on the front of her top. "What the hell?"
She ran off to the nearest bathroom, and he followed her, feeling a bit bad for ruining her clothes even though it wasn't entirely his fault. When they got to the bathroom, Nancy immediately wet a washcloth and started rubbing her shirt while Steve apologised. "Nancy, I'm sorry." She didn't listen and continued to attempt to clean the alcohol off. "That's not coming off."
"Lemme just take you home, Nancy. You're drunk."
"No!" she shouted. "This is all your fault. If you hadn't fallen for Ren, we would still be happy."
Steve was stunned. "Wh-what?"
"Yeah. I know. I've known for a long time. You left me for him, didn't you? You found someone better and you couldn't bother to tell me to my face."
"You have a stupid face. Stupid." She stared at him for a few seconds before roughly grabbing his face and leaning in to kiss him. Steve had surprisingly quick reflexes and dodged it. She leaned a little too far forward and fell into him, knocking him on the floor, and leaving him absolutely nowhere to go, as Nancy was laying on top of him. It was at this moment that Ren walked in.
He had gotten a bit worried for Steve since he couldn't see him anymore. And when he went looking, he definitely didn't like what he found. As soon as Steve saw Ren, he tried to push Nancy off and away to get to him, but Ren had already run out the door. He finally got her off and sprinted out of the bathroom to find him.
Shit, shit, shit, shit. Fuck. No, no, no, no, no. He ran through the house without seeing Ren anywhere, not until he went through the front door. "Ren? Ren, are you out here?"
"Only because you have the keys and I don't have another ride home," a voice muttered from a few feet away.
Steve jumped down the stairs on the porch of the house to find Ren sitting against the brick below. "Ren, I promise we didn't do anything. She's drunk and she spilled her drink, so I went to help her clean it, and she tried to kiss me, but I moved out of the way, and then we fell over." When Ren didn't respond, Steve crouched down to meet his eyes and touched his hand to his boyfriend's shoulder. "Babe, I swear. I would never do that to you. I love you."
At that, Ren looked up at Steve and saw that he was serious. He nodded and let the other boy pull him up off of the ground.
"Now, let's go find somewhere private so I can kiss you." He decided he would tell Ren that Nancy knows about them some other time.
Chapter 11: 2.03 - billy the bully
As he did every day, Ren sat in the back of the gym, drawing, or sometimes doing his homework, while Steve had basketball practice. But today was slightly different. He was in a pissy mood because he had bombed his most recent math test, only getting a 65%, so he was just sitting in the bleachers angrily scribbling in his sketchbook.
He only looked up every few minutes, and when he did, he saw Steve and Billy up against each other. "Harrington, right?" Billy asked, trying to steal the ball from Steve. "I heard you used to run this school. That true?" Steve ignored him, but he just kept talking. "King Steve, they used to call you, huh? Then you turned bitch."
"Maybe you should just shut up and play the game." As soon as Steve let his guard down, Billy knocked him to the floor and took the ball from him. But Steve quickly jumped back up and chased after him.
Ren was suppressing the urge to go let out his anger on Billy when Nancy walked into the gym and called for Steve. Shit.
Nancy took Steve out behind the school when he asked, "What are you doing here?"
She kicked a few rocks around on the ground. "I want to get back together. I want there to be an us again. I thought about it a lot last night."
Steve scoffed and shook his head in disbelief, "And what about Jonathan?"
"What are you talking about? Jonathan wasn't there. You and I kissed and then you took me home."
"Jonathan took you home last night. And you tried to kiss me. Then you fell on top of me. But nothing happened."
"Oh, come on, Steve. We were so good together."
"We dated for like two weeks last year, Nancy. That barely counts as a relationship. And I was a fucking asshole the entire time."
"No, Nancy! I-I'm in a relationship."
"Yeah, I know. But it's not really a relationship if it's with another guy. It doesn't count." She had gotten more confident, so she stepped closer and touched his chest. "You just need someone to help you ou--"
He roughly pushed her away. He'd had enough. "No. That's not how it works. I-I gotta get out of here." Steve ran off back into the gym, more than a little bit shaken up. Ren looked down at him in confusion once he was back inside and Steve just gave him a small smile, hoping that would be enough for now.
He immediately got back in the game and Billy focused on him again. "You afraid the coach is gonna bench you now that I'm here?" Billy shouldered him, knocking him to the ground again, but this time it was a lot harder for him to get up. Billy came back over after dunking the ball and offered to help him up. But Steve realised pretty fast that that wasn't actually his intention. He leaned down, got all up in Steve's face, and whispered, "I know about your dirty little secret." And then he shoved Steve back down to the gym floor again.
Steve didn't even bother to look up at Ren again. He knew there would be yet another look of confusion on his face, and he just didn't want to deal with that yet. He'd worry about it later. He ran straight to the showers and was the first one actually in there, so he got the most hot water, a blessing in a locker room full of boys who took way-too-long showers. But then Billy came in right after him.
"Don't sweat it, Harrington. I won't tell anyone your secret," there was a long pause before he said, "yet."
"Alright, I'll bite. What secret?"
Billy leaned in way too close again. "You think I don't see your little boyfriend up in those bleachers every day? Watching you? I may be new, but I ain't stupid." Steve audibly gulped. Billy pushed a finger to Steve's chest. "You'd better be careful, or everyone in this whole damn town is gonna know you're a fag." He walked away toward the main part of the locker room.
Steve leaned against the shower wall as the rest of the guys left. He hadn't realised how long he'd been standing under the water until Ren walked in, a notebook in one hand and his backpack in the other. "Stevie?"
"Hey," he breathed. "Sorry, I'll just be another minute. But, uh, you can stay if you want of course."
Ren stepped closer. "What's wrong?"
It took him a few seconds to contemplate whether or not he would tell Ren everything. But his mom always told him that honesty is the best policy, something his father never agreed with, so he let it all out. "When Nancy kissed me last night, she told me she knew about us. And when I talked to her outside, she tried to convince me that I should get back together with her. Billy knows too, and he told me to be careful or everyone will find out."
"Wow." Ren's mind was going wild. If people found out about their relationship, their lives were over. Absolutely no one knew about them, except the two people who could ruin everything. "So, uh, what are we going to do?"
"I have no idea. Maybe we just have to spend less time together at school? Nobody knows about our dates, so we can still have those. I don't know."
"I don't really want to spend less time together, but if we have to, then I guess we have to."
"I just don't want anyone to hurt you. You know how people are around here. People just aren't gay. Or at least they aren't publicly. I just don't know."
"Steve, that's okay. You don't have to know. We're teenagers, and we really shouldn't have to go through shit like this, but we do. Life just fucking sucks."
Steve nodded and towel-dried his dripping wet hair. "It really does."
Chapter 12: 2.04 - dart
Saturday night was date night. It had been for almost a year, ever since they first started dating. Steve would come to Ren's back door with a flower or two and stand there until 6:03 pm, at which time Ren would open the door to join him outside for their weekly picnic in his backyard. They had thought about having it at Steve's place, but if his dad caught them, Ren would never see Steve again. Thankfully, Ren's mom was a workaholic, so she almost never left her office and was barely ever home.
Steve happened to be walking over to Ren's backyard like usual with a few roses when Dustin Henderson walked up to him. He pointed to the flowers, "Are those for the Wheelers?"
"Uh, yes?" That's a good cover-up, right? I mean, they do live right next to each other, and I guess it looked like I was headed for Nancy's house.
Dustin took them from his hands and Steve shouted, "What the hell?"
"I need your help. Do you still have that bat?"
"Bat? What bat?"
"The one with the nails."
"I'll explain it on the way, now let's go." He opened the passenger door to Steve's car and slid in.
Steve huffed and walked up to him. "Fine, but I have to get Ren first."
Dustin rolled his eyes and nodded as Steve ran back down the hill and knocked on Ren's front door at exactly 6:01, two minutes early and at the wrong door. He heard thumping footsteps and then a half-dressed teenage boy opened the door. "Steve! Hey, what happened to our plan?"
"We're needed by a thirteen-year-old prepubescent kid."
"We are?" Steve smiled sheepishly. "Who's the kid?"
"Right. Mike Wheeler's friend. Okay, sure, lemme just go get some pants on."
Steve groaned loudly. "Do you have to?"
"Yes. Just because you have an obsession with my legs doesn't mean I'm not going to wear pants."
"Okay, but will you at least wear skinny jeans? Please? For me?" Steve clasped his hands together and pleaded like a little kid who wants candy. To be fair, Ren's legs were much like that to him. He had a weird fetish.
He waited outside for a good two minutes before Ren came back in what were possibly the tightest skinny jeans ever. "This good?"
"Fuck." Steve stood there just staring at Ren's legs.
"You haven't seen the best part." Ren smiled and started walking toward the car.
"What's the best pa-- oh god." His ass. His ass was the best part. Steve was absolutely mesmerised for a few seconds until he realised he was supposed to be following Ren. The only benefit to that was getting to stare at his ass some more.
"Finally," Dustin sighed when they got to the car. "Now let's go. Sorry, Ren. I get shotgun."
"Wait a sec. How big?" Steve asked.
Dustin demonstrated with his hands. "First he was like this," about the size of a pencil, "now he's like this," a skateboard.
"I swear to god, man, it's just some lizard, okay?"
"It's not a lizard."
"How do you know?"
"How do I know it's not a lizard?"
"Yeah, how do you know it's not a lizard?"
"Because its face opened up and he ate my cat."
"Well, shit, man," Ren said from the back seat. He seemed to get stuck there a lot.
Steve parked at Dustin's house and the three went around the back to his trunk where he kept the bat, and they walked to the basement doors.
"I don't hear shit," he said after a moment.
"He's in there."
After thumping the bat against the door twice, Steve turned to Dustin. "Alright, listen, kid. I swear, if this is some kind of Halloween prank, you're dead."
"It's not a prank."
Dustin unlocked the padlock on the doors and Ren opened them, staring down into the dark abyss. "I don't see anything."
"I do," Steve grinned, forgetting they weren't alone. Ren was leaning down at the perfect angle for Steve to get a wonderful view of his ass.
"Shut your hole, Steve." Ren took the flashlight from Dustin and aimed the beam at the floor below.
"It must be further down there. I'll stay up here in case it tries to escape."
"Fine. Ren, you too. You're staying up here."
Ren stood up immediately. "What? Why?"
"Steve, I can take care of myself."
"I know. I'm going down alone."
Ren sighed and gave in. "Alright. Don't die."
"I'll try not to."
Steve stepped carefully down, flashlight in one hand, bat in the other. He pulled the cord on a light in the middle of the room and was both horrified and disgusted when he saw what appeared to be a shed skin. He rushed back over to the stairs and motioned for both Ren and Dustin to come down.
"Now he wants us," Ren muttered, rolling his eyes.
They met him at the bottom of the stairs and both said "Oh, shit," when they saw the dog-sized hole in the wall that seemed to go on forever.
"No fucking way," Steve said in a hushed voice.
Chapter 13: 2.05 - medium well
"Alright, so let me get this straight," Steve said as he threw down a few pieces of meat on the railroad tracks. "You kept something you knew was probably dangerous in order to impress a girl who you just met?"
"That's grossly oversimplifying things."
"My question is," Ren started, "why would a girl like some nasty slug anyway? Actually, why would anyone like it?"
"An interdimensional slug? Because it's awesome."
Ren considered that and nodded. "Alright, that's valid."
"Dude, even if she thought it was cool, which she didn't... I don't know, have you considered that maybe you're trying too hard?"
"Well not everyone can have your perfect hair or Ren's perfect ass."
Ren blushed and Steve said, "He's right." But then he turned back to Dustin. "It's not about the hair, or the ass for that matter, though those things do give you an extra boost with the ladies. The key with girls is just acting like you don't care." Ren scoffed and shook his head in disapproval.
"Even if you do?"
"Yeah, exactly. It drives them nuts." No, it doesn't, Steve.
"You just wait until you feel it."
"It's like before it's gonna storm. You can't see it, but you can feel it, like this, uh, electricity."
Where are you going with this, Steve Harrington, Ren thought, deeply disapproving of the conversation, especially considering Steve didn't have much experience with girls.
"Like in the electromagnetic field when the clouds in the atmosphere--"
"No, no, no. Like a sexual electricity."
"You feel that and then you make your move."
"So that's when you kiss her?"
"No way, slow down, Romeo. Some girls want you to be aggressive, strong, hot and heavy like a lion. But with others, you have to be slow, stealthy, like a ninja."
"How do you know all this and you haven't had a girlfriend for like a year?"
"Well, you, uh, you see," he stuttered, "I-I just know these things. I've been around enough. Stop asking me questions."
Dustin stared at him for a moment, as if he was studying Steve, which just made him uncomfortable. "You're in a relationship, aren't you?"
"No." Ren's heart involuntarily dropped even though they weren't telling people. They couldn't tell people.
"No offense, but you're a horrible liar. You've got this weird happy-relationship-glow going on, and it's annoying."
Steve's cheeks turned a very deep shade of pink. "I, uh, I do?"
"Yeah, so does Ren." Steve started to say something, but Dustin interrupted him. "Before you ask or say something stupid, yes, I know. And yes, I'm cool with it. It's obvious. You and Ren are dating. Again, like I said before, you're a horrible liar."
Ren cleared his throat. "For my own peace of mind, what tipped you off?"
"I overheard your conversation at your house earlier while I was in the car. You weren't quiet about it. And Steve hasn't been able to focus much on the task at hand. He's been too busy staring at you or your ass. To be honest, I'm glad you're behind us because otherwise he might be drooling right about now."
"You're a bit of a shithead, you know that?" Steve teased.
"Yeah, I know."
"You tell anyone about us and your ass is grass. You're dead, Henderson. Got it?"
When they finally reached the junkyard, they dropped the last of the raw meat on the ground in a pile. Then they heard someone yell, "I said medium well!"
They all looked up and saw Lucas Sinclair with a girl. "Who's that?" Ren asked. When Dustin didn't answer and looked on longingly as if he were in a depressing romance movie, both Ren and Steve realised that she was the girl he was talking about.
The two older boys started setting things up to trap the creature, but after a few minutes, the only other person helping them out was the girl, whose name they still didn't know. So Steve took it upon himself to scold the other two for not assisting them. He stomped over to Dustin and Lucas and hit the car they were sitting behind twice in a row. "Hey, idiots! How come the only one helping me and Ren is this random girl? We lose light in 40 minutes, let's go!"
For the next hour, they proceeded to make a bus into a sort of fort, with metal covering all the windows. They all piled into the makeshift fort and waited.
Chapter 14: 2.06 - demo-dogs
"So you really fought one of these things before?" the girl, whose name was apparently Max, asked.
"And you're totally sure it wasn't a bear?"
Dustin cursed, "Shit, don't be an idiot okay? It wasn't a bear. Why are you even here if you don't believe us?"
Steve rolled his eyes and rested his head on his knees. Ren leaned over and whispered, "You alright?"
"Mmhmm. Just, the last time we had an interaction with one of these, we could have died. Which means that that could happen this time too. And I'm not sure I'm ready to die just yet."
"Yeah, I'm not ready either. And I'm definitely not ready for you to die. That's my fucking nightmare."
"Ren? Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
"Once or twice, yes," Ren giggled.
They looked around the bus for the kids and the only one still inside was Dustin, as the other two were on the lookout for the creatures up above. Once they'd gotten confirmation that their secret wouldn't be found out by any more people, they kissed. And it was so good they almost couldn't stop. They only did when they heard thumping footsteps coming down the ladder. Ren took one last risk and pecked Steve's cheek. "I love you too."
"Guys! They're out there!
Steve jumped up and looked out the bars over the bus windows to see the creature just standing there. "He's not taking the bait. Why is he not taking the bait?"
"Maybe he's not hungry?" Dustin offered.
"Maybe he's sick of cow."
Lucas and Max ran back up the ladder to be lookouts once more while Steve walked over to the door.
Ren's eyes went wide. "Steve? What are you doing?"
"I'll be back, I promise. Just get ready." He tossed his lighter to Dustin and winked at Ren. "Love you." And then he carefully walked out of the bus.
Both Ren and Dustin watched from inside as Steve whistled for the creature to come to him, as if it were a dog, and swung his bat. "You said they were called Demogorgons, right?"
Dustin nodded vigorously.
“Dungeons and Dragons.”
Ren scoffed. “Fucking weird."
Max came down the ladder yet again and asked, "What is he doing?"
Dustin answered, "Expanding the menu."
Ren made a gross noise. "Can we please not say that? I'd rather he stayed alive, and that definitely implies the opposite of that."
"He's insane," Max said as Steve got closer to the Demogorgon.
Dustin smiled. "He's awesome." Ren nodded in agreement.
"Steve! Watch out!" Lucas yelled from the top of the bus.
Everyone else looked around the junkyard and saw that there were three other Demogorgons. Dustin slammed the door open and yelled, "Abort, abort!"
Just then one of the monsters decided to lunge at Steve. Ren actually gulped when it almost got him. He had managed to avoid it by jumping onto a car. Another leaped forward, but he swung his bat at just the right time.
“Steve! Run!” Ren screamed from the bus. The kids were yelling too, but Steve only heard Ren. Ren sounded scared, and he wasn’t about to make his worst fears come to life. So he sprinted to the bus and fell into Ren’s arms as the kids closed the bus door as fast as possible.
“Are they rabid or something?”
“They can’t get in! They can’t!”
Steve pushed another sheet of metal against the door, just to be safe, as the Demogorgon kept charging at the vehicle. When one broke through, Ren shoved everyone to the back of the bus while Steve whacked it with the bat.
Dustin yelled into his walkie talkie, “Is anyone there? Mike? Will? God? Anyone? We’re at the old junkyard, and we are going to die!”
Steve finally got the monster to run off, but another one jumped on top of the bus. They all watched the ceiling to see where it was going. When it reached the escape hatch, that was open for the ladder, it leaned down and Max screamed. Ren shoved her aside into Lucas and took a big steak knife out of his belt. “Out of the way! You want some? Come get this!” Ren stood, knife at the ready, when something else growled in the distance and all the creatures started to run off.
The two boyfriends carefully stepped out to investigate, their weapons still out, but there didn’t seem to be any sign of life other than them.
“What happened?” Lucas stepped out with them.
“Ren scared them off?” Dustin offered.
Steve scoffed, Ren punched him in the shoulder, and he said, “No way. They’re going somewhere.”
“You’re positive that was Dart?”
“Yes. He had the same exact yellow pattern on his butt.”
Max butted in, “He was tiny two days ago.”
“Well, he’s molted three times already.”
Steve furrowed his eyebrows. “Malted?”
“Steve,” Ren deadpanned. “Molted.”
“Yeah, he shed his skin to make room for more growth hormones.”
Ren turned to look at Dustin. “When is it gonna molt again?”
“It’s gotta be soon. When he does, he’ll be fully grown, or close to it. And so will his friends.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, “and he’s gonna eat a lot more than just cats.”
Lucas stopped Dustin. “Wait, a cat? Dart ate a cat?”
“What? No,” Dustin lied.
Steve was confused again. “What are you talking about? He ate Mews.”
“It’s Dustin’s cat,” he said, like it was common knowledge.
“Steve!” Dustin yelled.
Lucas shook his head. “I knew it! You kept him!”
“No! No, I… He missed me. He wanted to come home.”
“Language,” Ren muttered halfheartedly.
“I didn’t know he was a Demogorgon, okay?”
“So now you admit it?”
Max chimed in yet again, “Guys, who cares? We have to go.”
“I care!” Lucas shouted back. “You put the party in jeopardy! You broke the rule of law!”
“So did you!”
“You told a stranger the truth!”
“You wanted to tell her too!”
“Yeah, but I didn’t, Lucas! I didn’t tell her! We both broke the rule of law, okay? So we’re even.”
Ren nudged his boyfriend in the side, “Steve, do you hear that?”
They both turned around and stepped toward the screeching sounds while the kids argued some more.
“Guys?” When Steve didn’t get a response, he shouted, “Hey! Dipshits!” Everyone turned and heard the noise, finally.
They all started running with the older boys while Max yelled, “No, no, no. Guys? What are you headed toward the sound?” Every last one of them ignored her, so she gave up and followed them.
Chapter 15: 2.07 - fag
“All right. It should fit now,” Dustin said, clearing out the fridge in the Byers’ house.
“Is this really necessary?” Steve asked. He was holding a dead Demogorgon in a blanket.
“Yes, it is, okay? It’s a groundbreaking scientific discovery. We can’t just bury it like some common mammal. It’s not a dog.”
“All right, all right, all right. But you’re explaining this to Ms. Byers.” Once Steve had closed the refrigerator door, he walked over to the living room to find Ren helping the other kids clean up.
“That lab is swarming with hundreds of those dogs.”
“Demo-dogs!” Dustin yelled.
“The chief will take care of her.”
“Like she needs protection.”
“Listen, dude,” Steve chimed in, “a coach calls a play in a game, bottom line, you execute it. All right?”
“Okay, first of all, this isn’t some stupid sports game,” Mike snapped. “And second, we’re not even in the game. We’re on the bench.”
“So my point is… right, yeah, we’re on the bench, so there’s nothing we can do.”
Ren spoke up. “That’s not entirely true.” Steve raised his eyebrows.
“Ren’s right. The demo-dogs have a hive mind.” Ren nodded along to what Dustin was saying. “When they ran away from the bus, they were called away. If we get their attention--”
“We can draw them away from the lab,” Ren finished. “Clear a path to the gate.”
“Yeah, and then we all die!”
“That’s one point of view.”
Steve shook his head. “No, that’s not a point of view, it’s a fact.”
Mike ran over to a wall and pointed at a specific drawing. “This is where the chief dug his hole. This is our way into the tunnel.” He ran across the room. “Here, right here. This is like a hub. So you got all the tunnels feeding in here. Maybe if we set this on fire--”
“Oh, yeah? That’s a no,” Steve interrupted but no one listened, not even his boyfriend.
“The mind flayer would call away his army.”
“They’d all come to stop us.”
“We circle back to the exit.”
“Guys,” Steve attempted to get their attention.
“By the time they realise we’re gone, El would be at the gate.”
“Hey! Hey! This is not happening!” Steve shouted. When they tried to protest he said, “No, no, no, no, no. No buts. Ren and I promised to keep you shitheads safe. And Ren should be agreeing with me.”
“Steve, I really think they’re onto something here. And we could still keep them safe. But the important thing is for us to help Eleven close the gate.”
“No, I don’t care. We’re staying here, on the bench, and we’re waiting for the starting team to do their job. Do you all understand?”
“This isn’t a stupid sports game,” Mike argued.
“I said does everybody understand? I need a yes.”
Just then, an engine revved outside the house, and Max went straight for the window. “It’s my brother. He can’t know I’m here. He’ll kill me. He’ll kill us.” Max’s eyes were wild as she said it.
Ren could see the gears turning in Steve’s head. “Steve. Don’t.” But of course, he didn’t listen.
Steve walked out just as Billy pulled into the driveway. Ren motioned for all the kids to stay down while he watched the scene before him. When Steve turned around to look back at the window, Ren realised he’d been doing a horrible job of keeping them in check. They quickly ducked down and whispered, “Shit! Did he see us?”
“Yes, you dipshits. He saw you. Just fucking stay down.” Ren turned toward the window again in time to see Billy shove Steve to the ground, which made him angry. “Get up! Get up, now! He’s coming!” Ren shouted. He ushered the kids toward the kitchen while he ran off to go find a knife, his weapon of choice.
When he came back, Billy already had Lucas in a chokehold. Ren rushed over as Billy said, “Stay away from her! You hear me?” Lucas kicked him in the groin. “You are so dead, Sinclair!”
“No,” Ren pushed Billy’s shoulder so he was facing him, “you are.” And then he punched him as hard as he could.
Steve was suddenly right behind him and whispered, “Stay with the kids. I got this.” Ren nodded and kept them back.
Billy stood up and laughed. He yelled at Ren, “Feisty! I like it! Come back here and let me see some more!”
Steve stepped forward and blocked Billy’s view of Ren. “No. You deal with me now.”
“That’s right, King Steve’s here to defend his little boyfriend.” They both froze. “Oh, do they not know?” Billy laughed again and turned toward the kids. “Your protector over here’s been fucking the scrawny one. Fucking faggots. I bet it started as just a little experiment, but then the little bitch over there got hooked on dick and wouldn’t stay away. I bet Steve just took pity on him. Didn’t you, Stevie?”
Steve was livid. He leaned in close and said, “Get out.”
Billy stepped back and then swung at him. It narrowly missed him, so he swung back and landed a punch to his cheek.
“Kick his ass!” Dustin yelled.
Punch after punch hit Billy’s face until he grabbed a plate and smashed it over Steve’s head. Ren tried to get to them, but Max held him back. “Don’t.”
“No one tells me what to do.” Billy headbutted Steve, knocking him to the floor.
“Let me go,” Ren warned. When Max still didn’t let go, he slipped out of his jacket at lightning speed and raced to the two teens on the floor. Billy was like a crazed animal, hitting Steve over and over again. All it took for Ren to lose his cool was seeing the amount of blood on his boyfriend’s face.
“Get off of him!” he yelled as he kicked Billy as hard as he could down to the floor. He immediately leaned over him and ripped into him. He had left the knife somewhere far off, so he just used his bare hands. But he didn’t aim for the face. He slammed his knuckles into Billy’s chest more times than he cared to count until Mike and Dustin had to physically remove him. And then it was a blur.
Ren barely registered Max yelling and threatening Billy. He was too focused on Steve. He was covered in blood and Ren was sobbing. He wasn’t sure why. Steve was okay, he wasn’t dead. But, for some reason, Ren felt sadder than he ever had before. He pulled his boyfriend’s limp body up and on his back and carried him out to the car, everyone else following close behind. And Ren didn’t even argue when Max offered to drive.
Chapter 16: 2.08 - flame on
A particularly sharp turn startled Steve enough to wake him. He leaned over to see Dustin on one side of him and Mike on the other, but there was someone else, and he wasn’t sure who it was.
“Ren?” he slurred.
“Right here, babe.” Oh, okay. I’m in his lap. Okay, that’s okay. That’s good.
He reached up to his nose, which hurt like a bitch, but Dustin stopped him. “No, don’t touch it. It’s okay, you put up a good fight. He kicked your ass, but you put up a fight. You’re okay.”
Steve started to fidget and heard Lucas say, “Okay, you’re gonna keep straight for half a mile, then make a left on Mount Sinai.”
“What’s going on?” He finally focused enough to see Max driving the car. Max. A thirteen-year-old. “Oh my god! Ren, why aren’t you driving?”
“Just relax,” Dustin whispered. “She’s driven before.”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Yeah, in a parking lot.”
“Oh my god. Ren? Ren?”
“Steve. Steve, babe, calm down. I’m right here. They wanted to leave you behind, but Dustin and I voted to take you with us. Just calm down.”
He calmed down slightly until Max had to make an abrupt turn that almost flipped the car over, during which he gripped Ren’s arms as tight as he could and screamed. As they pulled up to a giant hole in the ground, Steve finally stopped screaming only to yell, “Holy shit!”
All the kids jumped out of the car, but it took Ren a minute to get Steve out, and even then, he almost fell over. “You alright, babe?”
Steve nodded. “Yeah. Guys,” he said to everyone else. When Mike walked off toward the hole he shouted, “Hey, where do you think you’re going? What are you deaf? Hello? We are not going down there right now, I made myself clear.”
“What?!” he yelled back at his boyfriend.
“It’s fine. I’ll go down there with them, and you can stay up here. I’ll keep them safe, I promise.”
“That’s not the problem! We can’t keep having this conversation! I know you’ll keep them safe. I’m worried about you. There’s no way you’re going down there. There’s no way any of you are going down there.”
“Steve!” Dustin shouted. “I know you’re upset, but the bottom line is, a party member requires assistance and it is our duty to provide that assistance. Now take the damn bat and let’s go.”
And so there they were. Steve with his bat, and Ren with two quite large knives, one in front and one in the back, protecting the kids like they said they would. Steve led the way through the underground tunnel and attempted to get them to hurry so they could be in and out of there as quickly as possible. “Guys, come on. Keep moving.”
Just then something blasted Dustin in the face. Something with what looked like a shit ton of tiny pieces of confetti. “Shit! Shit! It’s in my mouth!” he shrieked. Ren, who was the closest to him, rushed forward in worry only to hear him say, “I’m okay.” So he just rolled his eyes and kept walking.
When they reached the biggest part of the tunnel, Steve stopped. “Alright, Wheeler, I think we found the hub.”
They each took a jug of gasoline and started pouring it everywhere. Ren and Steve took the highest places while the other four took the ground, or what looked like the ground. When they finally finished, Steve whispered, “We are in such deep shit,” and Ren tossed a lighter into the “hub”. The whole thing caught fire and they ran out as fast as they could.
Right by the exit, Mike slipped and fell, and weird tendrils started wrapping around his legs. He couldn’t move. Ren was the first to get to him. He took one of his knives and started slicing through all the vines until Mike wriggled out. And then there was Dart. Or at least, Dustin thought he was Dart.
Ren watched as this kid risked his life to save the rest of them. He literally crouched down and talked to a murderous creature while the rest of them ran past. Eventually, he caught up to them, and they had to run even faster. The Demo-Dogs were catching up to them.
When they got to the entrance, Steve and Ren helped the kids up, but that meant they were the last ones down in the tunnels. As the Demo-Dogs got closer, Steve turned to Ren and kissed him hard on the lips.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
They stood back to back with their weapons ready, waiting for the creatures to attack them, but they flooded right past them. One almost knocked Ren to the ground, but Steve caught him just in time. Once enough Demo-Dogs had passed, they grabbed the rope still hanging down into the tunnel and quickly climbed up.
The two boys made it up and immediately collapsed on the ground next to each other. Absolutely breathless, Ren reached over to Steve and grabbed his hand. They laid there for a few minutes just holding hands and trying to catch their breath while the kids stood there waiting for something. Then the lights on the car started glowing a bright white, and kept getting brighter, so much so that it was almost blinding.
Ren stood up as soon as the lights went out again, dropping Steve’s hand, and leaned over the hole into the tunnel. Everything appeared to be dying really fast.
“She closed it.”
“What?” He turned to Mike.
“Eleven closed the gate. It’s over.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. It’s the only explanation.”
Ren breathed a sigh of relief and walked back over to Steve. He helped him up and then hugged him. It took a moment for Steve to notice that Ren was crying a little.
“Hey, baby, are you okay?” He pulled back to look at him.
Ren nodded. “Yeah. This just… God, this had better be the end of it. I can’t do this again, Steve. I just can’t.”
He cried into Steve’s shoulder and just let it all out. He cried about Tammy, Barb, and Nancy. And then he cried about Steve. “And if I hadn’t gotten Billy off of you earlier, he could’ve… you could’ve…” he trailed off. “I don’t know. I just can’t lose someone else. Please don’t make me lose someone else.”
Steve pressed a kiss to his boyfriend’s hair and rubbed circles on his back. “Baby, I’m not going anywhere. You’re not gonna lose me.”
Chapter 17: 2.09 - secrets
Steve pulled up to Hawkins Middle School and stopped right at the entrance. “Alright, buddy, here we are. So, remember, once you get in there…”
“Pretend like I don’t care.”
“You don’t care.”
“I don’t care.”
“That’s bullshit, but whatever.”
Steve turned in his seat to look at Ren. “Come on, girls and guys work different.”
“Exactly. That’s why you’re wrong. You’re putting nonsense into this kid’s brain.”
“It’s not nonsense.”
Dustin butted in, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Hey, Mom and Dad? Can you stop fighting for a second? I kind of have a dance to go to and a girl to impress.”
Ren’s cheeks flushed red.
“You’re right, sorry.”
Dustin looked at his hair in the mirror and tried to make sure it was perfect.
“Hey, come on. You look great.” Steve moved the mirror away from him and tried to reassure him.
“Okay, so you’re gonna go in there--”
“Look like a million bucks…”
“You’re gonna slay ‘em dead.”
“Like a lion.” He made a strange purring noise, and Ren started laughing.
Steve shook his head. “Yeah, don’t do that, okay?”
Dustin nodded and gave Steve a little side hug. Ren gave him a high five right before he exited the car. They watched as he walked in. He looked really nervous, but they knew he was gonna kill it. Ren caught a glance of Nancy and saw how genuinely happy she looked. He heaved a big sigh and climbed forward into the passenger seat. Steve laughed as he did so, his long limbs causing him trouble.
“So my parents are out tonight. What do you say we go back to mine and have our own Snow Ball?”
He grinned. “That sounds great.”
They sang along to music on the radio as Steve drove to his house, their hands intertwined and resting on the car’s console. When they reached Steve’s house, they climbed onto the roof and into his room like they had a year before when they spent their first night together. Steve grabbed a tape from his closet and left the room. Ren sat on his bed and waited. When Steve came back, he had his parents’ tape player and set it up. He pressed play and the intro to Bring It On Home to Me by Sam Cooke filled the small room.
Steve held his hand out and said, “May I have this dance?”
If you ever change your mind
Ren grinned, took his hand, and stood up.
About leaving, leaving me behind
Steve placed his hands on Ren’s waist, while Ren’s went to his shoulders.
Baby, bring it to me
They swayed a bit around the room, gradually getting closer to each other.
Bring your sweet loving
Ren had nothing but adoration in his eyes as he looked into Steve’s.
Bring it on home to me
They both leaned in and kissed sweetly for a few seconds.
I know I laughed when you left
Ren pulled away first, and Steve wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s waist, so they were basically hugging and swaying.
But now I know I only hurt myself
Steve whispered in Ren’s ear, “You know, after this school year’s over, we don’t have to be a secret anymore.”
Baby, bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
The smile on Ren’s face grew wider.
Bring it on home to me
“Just a few more months.”
I’ll give you jewelry and money too
That ain’t all, that ain’t all I’d do for you
“I’d say we could move away, start fresh, but we’ve gotta stay for Dustin.”
Baby if you bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Steve chuckled and kissed Ren’s nose.
Bring it on home to me
Ren scrunched his nose in response.
You know I’ll always be your slave
Till I’m buried, buried in my grave
He leaned up onto the tips of his toes and kissed Steve’s forehead in retaliation.
Bring it to me
They swayed some more and Ren accidentally tripped, almost making them both topple to the floor.
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me
They laughed, and Steve pulled Ren back up to almost eye-level, as he was just an inch shorter, three with his hair.
I tried to treat you right
But you stayed out, stayed out late at night
Ren rested his head on Steve’s shoulder and listened as his boyfriend softly sang the last lines of the song.
But I forgive you, bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me
Chapter 18: 3.01 - routine
“Ren!” Steve’s eyes lit up and he leaned over the counter. “You off for the night?”
“Yup,” Ren said, popping the ‘p’. He rested his arms on the ice cream counter and was within kissing distance of Steve. But they were at work. Kissing could wait. “I know you still have to work right now, but I was thinking that I could run and grab us a movie since tonight is date night. What do you say?”
“I think that sounds wonderful. Can’t stay up too late, though. I’ve got--”
“Class in the morning. Yeah. Don’t worry, I remember. You’ve gotta get up bright and early at 8 am, and I get to sleep in.” Ren shot him a wide grin.
Steve rolled his eyes. “You get to sleep in like an hour longer. That’s hardly something to brag about.”
The lights flickered in the ice cream shop, effectively halting the conversation. After a few seconds, the power completely went out. Steve heaved a big sigh and walked over to the light switch. He continuously flipped the switch on and off in an attempt to get the lights back on.
“That isn’t gonna work, dingus,” Robin chimed in. To be honest, Ren had kind of forgotten she was there.
“Oh, really?” Steve flipped the switch rapidly and Ren facepalmed.
About thirty seconds later, the lights in the entire mall suddenly flickered on again. Steve had a smug look on his face, stupidly thinking he had something to do with it. “Let there be light.”
He walked back over to Ren and they started talking again.
“So, you were saying?”
“Ren, are you almost done?”
“Just a second. Popcorn takes a while!”
Steve sighed and leaned back against the couch. He tapped his fingers against the cushion and waited for Ren. A couple minutes later, he came jogging in with a full bowl of popcorn and two cans of New Coke.
“Seriously? New Coke? Come on, babe.”
Ren got slightly defensive. “Hey, it’s good! It’s sweeter, bolder, and just plain better.”
Steve deadpanned. “You’re shitting me, right?”
“Not at all.”
“Just sit your pretty ass down and keep your New Coke away from me please,” Steve groaned and made space for his boyfriend on the couch. Ren cozied up next to him, his head tucked into Steve’s chest as the movie started.
Every once in awhile, one of them had to get up and hit the top of the television to get it to work correctly. It was one of the downsides to being on a budget like they were. With Steve’s morning cosmetology classes and them saving up for a house, they had to cut corners a lot more. Ren couldn’t buy a new tv because his mom couldn’t afford it and neither could he. Once a week, they splurged a couple of dollars on a movie for date night, which had been moved to Wednesdays because that was the night Ren’s mom worked late.
They started saving up in January, a couple weeks after their one year anniversary, but it became much more difficult when Steve got into the cosmetology school a few towns over. They had to spend most of their saved money on that, but it was worth it. It was what Steve wanted to do. They had many long talks about Ren achieving his own dreams, but Ren had insisted they focus on Steve’s first. So that’s why Steve got the job at Scoops Ahoy, and Ren got two jobs, one at The Gap and one at Orange Julius.
As they continued to watch the movie, their positions shifted. Ren laid down on his back with Steve laying on his stomach. They almost always wound up like that on their date nights, although it was usually because they were making out. This time it was just domestic sweetness. Ren had one hand on Steve’s back and the other in his hair, slowly carding his fingers through it, while Steve slept, both hands resting on Ren’s torso.
About five minutes later, right on schedule, the credits started rolling, and Ren heard a key in the lock of the front door. He gently shook Steve, who immediately knew what to do after months of practice. They cleaned up the popcorn, folded the blanket, turned off the television, and ran into Ren’s bedroom. Steve rolled onto the bed and promptly rolled off the other side, gently landing on the floor, out of sight from the door. Ren slipped under the covers, turned the light off, and tried to calm his heartbeat. After thirty seconds, the door opened just a crack, Ren’s mom leaned in, and then leaned out, satisfied that her kid didn’t stay out past curfew. Immediately after the door closed, Ren lifted the blanket, and Steve climbed in. Ren attached his limbs to Steve like a koala bear, and they slowly drifted off to sleep.
At 8:00 am exactly, Ren’s alarm clock went off, waking both of them up but thankfully not traveling to the rest of the house.
“Uhhhh,” Ren groaned, just like he did every Thursday morning. “Stay in bed.”
Steve stumbled out, almost tripping over his jeans that sat on the floor. “You know I can’t, babe. I have to get to class.”
Ren rolled onto his stomach and mumbled into the pillow, “Just five more minutes.”
“Peaches, I’m literally gonna see you in like four hours.”
“Doesn’t matter. Still want you here.”
“Go back to sleep, Ren.” Steve kissed his boyfriend’s forehead and tiptoed out the back door as soon as he finished buttoning his pants.
Ren grumbled into the pillow one last time before falling back to sleep. And at 9:00 am, the alarm went off again, signaling that it was Ren’s turn to get ready and leave the house for what was definitely going to be a long day.
Chapter 19: 3.02 - henderson
“Dustin! Oh my god, you’re back! Does Steve know?” Ren asked as he bearhugged Dustin.
“Not yet. I really need to talk to both of you about something, though. It’s really important.”
Ren’s face fell and he went in ‘serious mode’. “Okay, yeah, then let’s go get Stevie.” Ren turned to his coworker and convinced her to cover his shift before walking out with Dustin. Just across the mall was Scoops Ahoy, so they waltzed right in and got in line.
Standing behind Dustin, Ren picked at his nails. “Hi, I’m Dustin.”
“Pleasure to meet you. Uh, is he here?”
“Is who here?”
The door into the backroom slammed open and out stumbled Steve. “Henderson! Yes!” He started jumping around by the counter. “He’s back!” Ren got this stupid grin on his face at his adorable boyfriend.
“I’m back! You got the job!”
“I got the job!”
Ren and Robin watched as he and Dustin did their little best friend handshake. Robin rolled her eyes while Ren just laughed a little. As soon as they were done, Robin asked, “Exactly how many children are you friends with?”
“A lot,” Ren supplied while still laughing.
“Okay, so I told Ren this a couple minutes ago, but I really need to talk to you guys. Something crazy happened.”
Steve knew it must be serious, so he made them all a cone of ice cream, and a sundae for Dustin and they sat down in a booth. Before telling them about his big earth-shattering news, Dustin decided to tell them about his girlfriend.
“No. Absolutely not. No way. Hotter than Phoebe Cates? No.”
“Mmhmm. Brilliant, too. And she doesn’t even care that my real pearls are still coming in. She says kissing is better without teeth.”
Ren raised an eyebrow as Steve said, “Wow. Yeah, that’s great! Proud of you, man. That’s kinda romantic.”
Dustin nodded and ate another spoonful of ice cream. “So do you really just get to eat as much of this as you want?”
“Yeah, sure. It’s not really a good idea for me, though. I gotta keep in shape so this guy right here will still want me when the summer’s over.”
A light blush spread across Ren’s cheeks. “I’ll obviously still want you, dumbass. I’d want you even if you were fat.”
“Yeah, I’ve already fallen in love with you. I don’t care if something changes with your physical appearance, I’m not gonna stop loving you for something that stupid.”
If they weren’t in a public place, Steve would have made out with Ren right then and there. Instead, one of those stupid grins, like Ren’s a few minutes ago, spread across his face.
“Can you two stop being disgusting for like five seconds? I just got back, and you’re already all gross again.”
Steve turned his attention back to Dustin while Ren shoved a spoonful of chocolate ice cream into his mouth. “Right, sorry. Where are the other knuckleheads?”
“They ditched me yesterday.”
Ren dropped his spoon. “They did what?”
“They ditched me. On my first night back.”
“Alright, which one’s ass should I kick first?” Ren started to get up from the booth, but Steve pulled him back down.
“They really ditched you?” Steve asked.
“Yeah. Can you believe that shit? I swear to god.” After eating another bite, he finally started talking about his big news. “They’re gonna regret it, though, big time, when they don’t get to share in my glory.”
The two older boys looked at him in confusion.
“So, last night, we’re trying to get in contact with Suzie…”
Ren wiggled his eyebrows.
“And, uh,” he lowered his voice, so Ren and Steve scooted closer, “I intercepted a secret Russian communication.”
Steve didn’t hear, so he asked, “What?” and got even closer.
“I intercepted a secret Russian communication!” Dustin yelled and caused the entire shop to look at them. “And I need your help.”
They finished up their ice cream and quickly went to the back room. Steve grabbed a banana and started chowing down on it, winking at Ren every once in a while and making him flustered. Dustin hit play on the tape recording of the transmission and Steve started pacing while Ren sat in the chair across from Dustin.
“So what do you think?” Dustin stopped the tape.
Steve shoveled the last bite of banana into his mouth. “It sounded familiar.”
“The music. Right there at the end.”
Ren rolled his eyes. “Steve, you’re supposed to be focusing on the goddamn Russian, not the music!”
“I’m trying! But there’s music, and I--”
“Alright,” Robin interrupted them by barging through the door, “babysitting time is over, Steve. You need to get in there.” She walked across the room and saw what they’d been working on. “Hey, my board! That was important data, shitbirds!”
“I guarantee you what we’re doing is way more important than your data.”
“Yeah? And how do you know these Russians are up to no good anyway?”
They all froze.
“Y-You know about the Russians?” Ren asked, furrowing his eyebrows.
“Yeah, you guys aren’t quiet at all. You think you have evil Russians plotting against our country, on tape, and you’re trying to translate, but you haven’t figured out a single word because you didn’t realise Russians use an entirely different alphabet.”
Robin reached for the tape player and Steve immediately grabbed it and held it out of her reach. “Whoa, what do you think you’re doing?”
“I wanna hear it.”
“Cause maybe I can help. I’m fluent in four languages, you know.”
In a Russian accent, she said, “Ou-yay, are-yay, umb-day.”
Ren chuckled, immediately recognising Pig Latin, but Steve and Dustin actually got excited.
“That was Pig Latin, dingus,” she said to Steve specifically. Ren narrowed his eyes, hoping that wasn’t an attempt at flirting.
“But I can speak Spanish, French, and Italian. And I’ve been in band for 12 years. My ears are little geniuses, trust me.”
Dustin and Ren looked hesitant, so Steve made the decision. He handed her the tape player and took the ice cream scoop from her hand.
Chapter 20: 3.03 - indiana flyer
Ren was having what you would call a slow day at work, which was rare for The Gap. He was trying to logically think through the tape recording and what it could possibly say, without knowing any Russian, but then his two favourite girls showed up.
He rushed out from behind the counter and straight to them. “El! Max! Hey!”
“Ren!” they chorused.
“What are you guys here for? El, I thought you weren’t supposed to be out until this next school year?”
“Shopping,” Eleven supplied with a smile.
Max elaborated. “Mike’s being a dipshit.”
Ren nodded. “Can I help?”
He walked around with them, picking out clothes left and right and showing each item to them both in the hopes that Eleven would like at least one or two things. She wound up grabbing about seven, heading straight to the dressing rooms while Max picked out some sunglasses.
“So what did Mike do?”
She sighed. “He ditched El and lied about it, said his Nana was dying when she isn’t.”
“I know he’s like basically my kid and everything now, other than Dustin, but I can kick his ass if you guys need me to.” Max laughed. “Especially after he ditched Dustin.”
“Oh, uh,” Max started, but Ren interrupted her.
“Wait. Did you ditch him too?”
“Kind of? I mean, it was like 11:00 pm. And we were still up there.”
“Yeah, but Max, it was his first night back. He’d been without you guys for a month, and all he wanted was to spend quality time with you.”
She nodded and looked down at her feet. “Yeah, you’re right.”
Eleven walked out then, wearing what was possibly the best outfit Ren had ever seen, and he liked to think of himself as very fashionable. “This one. I want this one.”
Ren grinned. “You look awesome, El. I can ring you up if you want. My shift is almost up anyway.”
“Are you gonna go see Steve?” Max asked in a sing-song voice.
“Maybe,” he replied, trying not to show emotion.
“You are! How long have you been together now?”
“18 months, going on 19. So like a year and a half.”
Their jaws dropped. “Wait, really? And you’ve never broken up?” Max asked.
He shook his head. “No, but we had a really big fight last year and almost did.”
“Are you going to get married?” Eleven tilted her head as she asked.
Ren immediately started stumbling over his words, and his face went beet red. “Wh-what? No, uh, it’s not, um, not legal. And plus, we’re, um, we’re just 19. That’s a little too young, right?”
The girls shrugged.
“Are you at least gonna live together?”
“We’re actually saving up to get a place just a couple towns over. It’s taking a while because of Steve’s classes, but I’m working two jobs, and he’s got one at Scoops, so we’ll eventually get there.”
Ren finished ringing them up, and they said thanks and left. A few minutes later, he grabbed his bag and left the store just a little while before his shift was technically over. His coworker was already there, so hopefully, it would be fine.
After spending about an hour at Scoops Ahoy in the back room working on the transmission with Robin, Steve, and Dustin, it was finally closing time.
“It just can’t be right.”
“Honestly, I think it’s great news.”
They all stared at Dustin in confusion.
“So much for being great American heroes,” Steve said, rolling his eyes. “It’s total nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense. It’s just too specific, like a code.”
Steve and Ren lagged behind Dustin and Robin, holding hands as they walked through the empty mall. “What do you mean, a code?”
“Like a super-secret spy code.”
“That’s a total stretch.”
“I don’t know, is it?” Robin asked. She turned to look at Steve, so they quickly dropped each other’s hands. Sure, Dustin knew, and they were fine with that, but they weren’t sure how Robin would react.
“You’re buying into this?”
“Yeah, I mean, let’s just entertain the possibility that it is a secret Russian transmission. What did you think they were going to say? ‘Fire the warhead at noon?’”
Ren nodded in agreement with Robin. Steve saw it and whispered, “Traitor,” only to quickly kiss Ren’s temple.
“And my translation is correct. I know that for sure, so ‘The silver cat feeds’... Why would anyone talk like that unless they’re trying to mask the true meaning of their message?”
“Exactly,” Dustin answered.
“So then why would anyone mask the true meaning of their message unless it was like super sensitive?” Ren asked, drifting a couple more inches away from Steve. He expected Robin to turn and look at them again, and they already raised enough suspicion as it was.
Steve frowned and mocked Ren, causing his boyfriend to playfully slap his chest.
“So I guess that confirms your suspicion.”
“I can’t believe I’m about to agree with a strange child and I’m assuming you’re related to him? Since you brought him here.”
Ren chuckled. “No, we’re not related. Just friends.”
“Weird. But yeah, this is probably evil Russians.”
“So how do we crack it?”
“Well, I guess we translate the rest and hopefully a pattern emerges.”
Steve fell further behind, causing Ren to turn around and see what he was doing. He had stopped in front of a little kids’ ride, a ceramic pony that moved in a circle to music. “Steve, what are you doing?”
“Do you have a quarter?”
“Do any of you guys have a quarter?”
“You sure you’re tall enough for that ride, Steve?”
“Can it, Robin.”
She tossed him a quarter and he put it in the slot for the ride. Once the music started playing, Dustin figured it out. He pulled the tape player out of his bag and played it at the same time as the horse. “It’s the exact same song on the recording.”
Chapter 21: 3.04 - like you and steve
“Hey, Ren, you got any plans for the fourth?”
“Nah, probably just staying home and watching a movie like usual.”
His coworker nodded and walked away. They tried to make small talk, but it was always awkward and felt out of place. Ren was sure most of his coworkers didn’t like him. His boss even once said ‘kid’s got a faggy air about him’, so he knew it wasn’t personal. It was just the way things were. But until his boss knew he was actually gay, he still had his job, and he could still help pay for his and Steve’s house.
Speak of the devil, there was a guy in a sailor’s outfit hiding in the bushes near Scoops Ahoy, and Ren was sure it was Steve. He told his boss he was taking a break and walked out there to see what the hell his boyfriend was doing. As he got closer, he saw Dustin there too, so he knew it had to be about the radio transmission.
“What are you two idiots doing?” Ren asked and they jumped.
“Get down!” Dustin whispered.
Steve grabbed his hand and yanked him down to the floor with them.
“You two are horrible spies, you know that?”
Dustin just rolled his eyes and looked back into the binoculars. “Target acquired.”
“What? Who’s our target?”
“A Russian guy,” Steve supplied. “Where is he?”
“Ten o’clock, Sam Goody’s.”
Steve stole the binoculars from Dustin and looked through them himself. Ren just leaned against the bush and waited for them to be done.
“Ren, let’s go.” Steve grabbed his hand and pulled him upright. He dragged him around the mall, with Dustin in the lead, as they followed the guy into the Jazzercise stall.
Ren rolled his eyes and laughed when he said, “I just have one question for you. Who is ready to sweat?”
“Wait till Robin hears about this,” he mumbled when they got back to the ice cream shop. Just as they walked in, Robin ran out toward the big plant in the middle of the mall.
They followed her in confusion. “Robin, what’s going on?”
“I cracked the code.”
“Dustin, it’s Will, do you copy?”
“I copy,” he whispered back.
“Can I talk to Ren?”
“Yeah.” Dustin tossed the walkie talkie to him immediately.
“Will? What’s going on?”
“Can I come hang out with you? I need to get away from Mike and Lucas for a while.”
“Yeah, of course. Do you want me to come pick you up?”
“Um, I’m actually already at the mall.”
Ren smiled. “We’re just about to close here, but I can meet you outside? And then we can talk in the car.”
“Yeah, I’ll be here. Over and out.”
He leaned over to the window and beckoned Steve over. “Hey, babe, I gotta go.”
He frowned. “How come?”
“Will Byers. I don’t know what exactly happened, but apparently Mike and Lucas are assholes.” Steve nodded. “But I’ll be back here tomorrow. Can you fill me in on what happens with the evil Russians?”
“Of course, baby. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Steve looked around the shop to make sure no one was looking and kissed Ren once, softly.
Ren left through the back door after handing the walkie talkie back to Dustin. When he exited the building, he found Will sitting against a wall next to his bike. “Hey, man.” He reached down and helped him up. “You’ve been crying. Are you okay?”
Will nodded. “Yeah, I’ve just had a rough night I guess.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
He nodded again and followed Ren to his car. Once they loaded his bike into the trunk, they both climbed in the front seats and Ren started the car.
“So Mike and Lucas, right?”
“Yeah. Do you remember when I told you about my crush on Mike?”
“Well, you know, lately he’s been spending so much time with El, and Lucas has been with Max, and nobody wants to hang out with me anymore. I just want to play Dungeons and Dragons with them like we used to.”
“Where does your crush on Mike come into play?”
“He and I were arguing and he said ‘It’s not my fault you don’t like girls’.”
Ren almost stopped the car. “He said that?”
“Yeah. I know he didn’t mean it, but it still hurt. And I didn’t even know he knew.”
“Well, he’s an asshole.”
“Not all the time.”
“No, but these past couple days, he’s not been the best friend to you and Dustin. And he’s been a sucky boyfriend to El.”
Will’s eyes widened. “Wait, did you hear what happened yesterday?”
“El dumped Mike.”
“Really? Good for her.”
“You know, Will, one day, a boy’s gonna come along and be absolutely perfect for you. And you’ll fall in love and be together forever.”
“Like you and Steve?”
Ren’s eyes sparkled and he smiled. “Yeah, like me and Steve.”
Chapter 22: 3.05 - russian elevators
Steve opened the box and revealed a metal case with four containers inside of it. "That's definitely not Chinese food." He got ready to pull one of the containers out, but first, he said, "Maybe you guys should, uh, you know, stand back."
Dustin and Ren both said "No," at the same time. Steve tried to keep them away but both of them refused.
"If you die, I die!" Dustin yelled.
"If anyone's gonna die with Steve it should be m--" Ren stopped himself. "Right, yeah, I guess it should be you." He stepped back, not missing the strange look Robin gave him as he leaned against the wall of the room.
Steve pulled the container out, which wound up being a tube of unidentified liquid. Well, they thought it was liquid. "What the hell?"
"What is it?"
Suddenly, the entire room shifted.
Dustin was the first to speak. "Was that just me, or did the room move?"
"Booby traps," Erica whispered.
"You know what," Robin started, taking the tube from Steve, "Let's just grab that and go."
They all argued while Steve and Dustin tried to open the door until another door closed over that one.
"No, no, no. No. Ren's claustrophobic. We've gotta get out of here, like, now. Or he'll have a panic attack," Steve yelled. When the room started to move downwards, he shouted again, "This is so much worse, oh my god!"
Ren tried to keep his breathing calm and reached for Steve's hand as they rapidly dropped down into the ground. Finally, the room, which was apparently an elevator, landed with a crash and knocked them all onto the floor with a heavy thunk. Ren hit his head hard against one of the shelves and fell in a heap on the floor, immediately passing out, unlike everyone else. But no one had noticed just yet because Steve and Ren's hands were ripped apart.
A heavy box had fallen onto Steve, and he and Dustin struggled to get it up and off of him.
"Is everyone okay?"
"I'm great now that I know Russians can't design elevators!" Steve stomped over to the panel of buttons right as Robin spoke again.
"I think we've clearly established that those buttons don't work."
"They're buttons. They have to do something."
"Yeah, if we had a keycard."
"It's an electronic lock, same as the loading dock door. If we don't have a keycard, it won't operate, meaning--"
"We're stuck in here," Dustin finished.
"Just so you nerds are aware, I'm supposed to be spending the night at Tina's, and Tina always covers for me. But if I'm not home for Uncle Jack's party tomorrow and my mom finds out you four are responsible, she's gonna hunt you down, one by one, and slit your throat."
"I don't care about Tina!" Steve shouted back at Erica. "Or Uncle Jack's party! Your mom's not gonna be able to find us if we're dead in a Russian elevator!"
The colour drained from Steve's face. He shoved past all the boxes to where his boyfriend should have been, and there he was. But there was a lot of blood on the floor. "Oh my god." He dropped down to the elevator's floor and checked Ren's pulse, making sure he was still breathing, which he was. Blood slowly seeped out from the back of his head, and Steve started to get a little woozy.
Robin ran over next as Steve tried to wake Ren up. "Steve. You need to stop the bleeding, I'll wake him up." She pulled the vest of her outfit off and handed it to Steve. "Take this and put pressure on the wound, wherever it is. And don't let up until I tell you to."
Steve nodded and moved Ren's hair until he found a deep gash at the very back of his head. The lightheadedness got worse for a moment when he saw blood drip out of his boyfriend's skull, but he sucked it up and just breathed out of his mouth instead of his nose. He balled up the vest and pressed it against the cut. His leg shook as he did so, watching Robin try to wake Ren up and fail. He had absolutely no idea what to do in this kind of situation, especially since it was Ren. Ren had never been hurt this bad, and Steve was scared to death.
Finally, Ren coughed a little and started to open his eyes. Steve breathed a huge sigh of relief and immediately hugged Ren, not caring that Robin was right there.
"I'm right here."
Ren relaxed a little and leaned into Steve's lap. "What the hell happened? My head hurts like someone shoved a knife through it."
"I don't know. I think you fell or something." Steve closed his eyes for a second and exhaled harshly as he felt the blood on Robin's vest.
"Robin, Erica and I found a hatch that leads up and out of here. Can you help us up?" Dustin asked.
She nodded and walked over to them, leaving Ren and Steve relatively alone.
"I'm not gonna die, right?"
Steve's breath caught in his throat. "No, babe, you're gonna be fine."
Ren sighed and reached for Steve's hand, the one that wasn't keeping him from bleeding to death. About an hour later, the blood slowed to a stop, and Ren fell asleep. Steve stayed awake the entire night, stressing over Ren and how injured he was, and not focusing on anything else.
In the morning, or what they assumed was morning, when Ren woke up, Steve noticed that his boyfriend's shirt was covered in blood. And he felt horrible.
"I never should have brought you into this. It's my own goddamn fault. I just wanted to be with my boyfriend this summer, but apparently I can't without you almost dying."
"Steve, you're rambling."
"And I'm fine. This isn't your fault. I decided to get involved. And Dustin asked both of us to help. Really, you didn't do anything wrong."
He sighed. "But I feel horrible! If I wouldn't have brought you with us to fight the Demo-Dogs last year, then you wouldn't be in this mess."
"Steve, what are you saying? And why are you saying it?" Ren's eyes were wide, and his heart started beating way too fast. "Steve."
As if he could read his boyfriend's mind, Steve quickly said, "No, no, no. I'm not trying to break up with you or anything. No. I just mean to say that I'm sorry. If I wasn't such an asshole in junior year, then you wouldn't have helped patch me up that day that we fought the Demogorgon."
"Don't apologise. That was the first time we kissed. I don't look back on that day with resent. I'm so glad we went through all that, because you and I might never have gotten together if it weren't for that stupid monster."
Steve laughed. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. I love you."
"I love you too."
Chapter 23: 3.06 - separation
Ren didn't remember much from the moment he hit his head to when they saw the gate to the Upside Down. In hindsight, that probably wasn't good. It was about nine hours total of him sleeping and then walking along an empty corridor, falling in and out of consciousness before he finally got back to normal. Apparently the cut on the back of his head was about the length of a french fry, and the fact that he passed out for almost a minute was not a good sign. Things felt just a little off, but he was pushing through it. He just needed to stick with Steve and he'd be fine.
"I don't understand. You've seen this before?" Robin asked as they ran down the stairs of the comm room.
Dustin paused before saying, "Not exactly."
"Then what exactly?"
"All you need to know is it's bad."
"Really bad," Steve said.
Ren nodded in agreement.
"Like end-of-the-human-race-as-we-know-it kind of bad."
"And you know about this how?"
"Um, Steve?" He looked to Erica. "Where's your Russian friend?"
He turned back around to see that the guy he had knocked out was no longer lying unconscious on the floor of the comm room. An alarm in the other room went off, and a red light flashed. Steve ran to the door, opened it, and saw everyone freaking out over the guy Steve hit with a corded phone. As soon as they saw him, he slammed the door closed, and the five of them ran out and into another room full of people. They rushed down another set of stairs toward the gate, where they appeared to be trapped. After doing a quick scan of the situation, Steve shoved past a few guards and led them down even more stairs.
They went through a door that Steve hurriedly closed after them, but it wouldn't be long before the Russians broke in. Steve and Robin held the door closed while Dustin, Erica, and Ren got an air duct door open.
Dustin stood up while Erica climbed in. "Come on!"
"No! Just go get some help, okay?" Steve yelled.
Ren's heart dropped. "Steve."
He sighed. Dustin climbed down in the air duct as well. "Don't die!"
Right as he joined Dustin and Erica, they heard the door slam open, and Ren started to hyperventilate. "No, no, no, I have to go back out there! You guys go, I'll help them."
"Ren!" Dustin whispered. "We have to go now. Do you want to stay alive?"
"And you want Steve alive too, right?"
"Well, our best chance at achieving that is through this air duct. So get your ass over here, and let's go!"
Throughout their entire 'trip' through the ducts, Dustin and Ren explained the situation to Erica, since she wouldn't stop nagging them about it.
"But now, for some reason, the Russians are trying to reopen it, which basically destroys everything we risked our lives for."
"By 'we', you're including Lucas?"
"Yes, of course."
"So, all that shit you told me, Lucas was there?"
"Language," Ren butted in. They both ignored him.
"My brother, Lucas Charles Sinclair?"
"I don't believe you."
Ren and Dustin both looked at her incredulously. "Wait, so you believe everything about El and the gate and the Demo-Dogs and the Mind Flayer, but you question your brother's involvement?"
A smile spread across Ren's face. He turned to Dustin. "I like her."
Dustin just rolled his eyes and went back to attempting to turn the fan off.
"You know, if we don't find a more efficient method to stop the fans, we're never gonna find help, and your ice cream buddies are screwed."
Ren tensed up.
"With that attitude, they are, jesus."
"I'm just being realistic. I mean, we've made it about 0.3 miles in the past nine hours." Ren furrowed his eyebrows in shock and confusion. "Then we had to walk three hours down that tunnel, so I'd estimate ten miles back to the elevator, which should take us approximately twelve-and-a-half days."
"Did you just do all of that in your head?"
"I'm good with numbers."
"Oh my god, you're a nerd."
Ren let out a heavy sigh and took over with the fan. There was no way they'd be able to help Steve and Robin if he didn't. So while Dustin and Erica argued over whether or not Erica was, in fact, a nerd, Ren actually got the fan to stop moving. "Hey, idiots. Let's go!"
They followed him through the entrance the fan blades' gaps provided and crawled to another part of the ducts. Eventually, they came across a room that seemed to be empty, so they popped the tile and climbed out onto the floor of the room.
The room was filled with tall glass containers of those green poison tubes. Ren grabbed as many as he could while the kids found something similar to a car, and then Erica found a weapon. They quickly loaded all the tubes into the car, Ren having to push Dustin out of the driver's seat as he was trying to start the car.
"Nuh-uh, kid. You're sitting in the back. We may be in kind of a crisis right now, but I'm not letting a fourteen-year-old drive in any situation."
Ren started the vehicle and drove through the underground facility, trying not to draw any attention to himself or the kids. Dustin was hiding underneath a few vials of the 'poison', and Erica sat curled up in the passenger seat. She gave Ren directions as he drove until they reached a door guarded by three men. Dustin threw a vial in the opposite direction of the door, grabbed four more, and exited the vehicle with the two others.
They ran far enough away to successfully cause another diversion. Then they smashed all four of the tubes on the floor to make a large hole in it. They immediately ran away, with Dustin wielding the taser-like weapon. Ren busted the door down and they ran into the room where they saw Steve and Robin tied up in chairs. Ren sucker-punched the guard in the room while Dustin tasered the 'doctor'.
Finally, they all got an actual look at the two restrained teens. Ren froze when he saw how beat up Steve looked. Dustin had to shake him out of his trance so they could get them out of there.
Chapter 24: 3.07 - marry me
"Hey, Henderson! That's crazy, I was just talking about you." Steve looked to his left and saw his boyfriend. His grin grew wider. "Ren! Oh my god, I have so much to tell you!"
"Steve, that's gonna have to wait. We have to get out of here, now. Get ready to run," Dustin said as he cut the binds around Steve and Robin.
They stumbled up out of the chairs, Steve falling into Ren's arms, and ran out of there as fast as they could. Ren held tight to Steve's hand so he wouldn't lose him. When they reached the vehicle Ren had driven earlier, the two drugged teens fell into the back with Dustin while Ren and Erica hopped in the front.
Ren immediately started the vehicle and drove away from the guards who were now chasing them.
"Jesus, slow down," he heard Steve say in the back.
"Yeah, what is this, like, the Indy 500?" Robin asked. Her speech was so slurred that they could barely understand her.
"It's the Indy 300."
"No, dingus, it's 500!"
"Let's say a million." They burst out into laughter and Ren just rolled his eyes. He needed to get them someplace safe where the evil Russians couldn't find them.
Erica turned her whole body to Ren. "What is wrong with them?"
Before Ren could actually answer, Dustin did. "I have no idea. But something's not right." Ren rolled his eyes again. It was clear that they were drugged, but he didn't blame a fourteen-year-old and ten-year-old for not knowing that.
He abruptly stopped, throwing the drugged teenagers against the back of the vehicle on accident. He ignored their groans of protest and helped Dustin get them out while Erica ran ahead with the taser-wand-thing.
Dustin shoved the keycard into the lock and the elevator door opened. They rushed into the elevator and immediately closed the door behind them. As the elevator went up, Steve claimed he was surfing on a rolling cart that Robin was pushing around, and then he fell and hit his head on a box.
Ren slumped down to the floor away from anything that could possibly fall on him or make him start bleeding again. He watched as Dustin tried to figure out what was wrong with Steve and heard that apparently they didn't have the keys to Steve's car anymore. He stood back up. "Wait, what?"
Steve shouted, "Ren!" and stumbled over to him. He wrapped his arms around his boyfriend and leaned all his weight on top of him. "They took the keys," he whined. "I tried to get 'em back, but they punched me 'n stuff."
When Steve started to fall, Ren caught him and kept an arm around his waist. "That's okay. We'll figure something out." Steve smiled in response. "Is that what you had to tell me?"
"Nope. I wanted to tell you that I love you." It was clear that he was trying to whisper, but he failed horribly. Ren's face went red. Steve gasped loudly and let go of Ren, walking to the center of the elevator. "Ren! We should get married!"
Robin stood straight up and lifted her arms above her head. "I'll do it! I'll marry you guys!"
"Yes!" Steve high-fived Robin right as the elevator stopped.
The conversation was temporarily paused when the door opened. The only thing Ren could think about was, Steve basically just outed us to Erica and Robin. And even though Robin is drugged, she seems to be okay with it. Is she okay with it? Fuck, what if she hates us after she sobers up?
"Oh my god, that tastes so good," Robin said as they walked out. She stuck her tongue out as if waiting for a snowflake to fall. "Steve, can you taste the air?"
"I taste it! I taste it."
The gate in front of them slid open, and a group of about eight guards started jogging towards them. The three that were sober pushed Robin and Steve ahead of them so they could all run faster.
Just a moment later, Ren blacked out, his body collapsing onto the hard concrete.
Chapter 25: 3.08 - wake up
Steve sat restlessly in his chair while Ren's heart monitor beeped slowly. He knew it was too slow for a normal, sleeping human being, and that's why he was worried. He'd been sitting there for days, waiting for the doctors to tell him what they could do and when he would wake up. But they didn't seem to know much at all.
"I know you're worried about money, cause you guys want to move away, so I could try to help with the medical bills if you want," Robin offered from the chair across the room. She was the reason Steve hadn't gone completely crazy. Without her, he would have probably starved. Robin had to remind him each day to eat and sleep, something he found difficult when he didn't know what was going on with the love of his life.
"It's okay. We'll figure it out."
He didn't respond, just squeezed Ren's limp hand once.
"Yeah?" His voice cracked.
"I'm going downstairs for food. Are you gonna be okay for a few minutes?"
"Yeah." He heard her footsteps as she left the room, and he sighed when he heard the door close. Then the dam broke.
Steve sobbed out loud in despair. Tears flooded his eyes and flowed down his cheeks. "Wake up! Please!" he cried. Nothing happened, but it's not like he was surprised. He was just unimpressed and frustrated. "Ren, please," he whispered as the tears took over again. He hiccuped and shook slightly with the force of his sobs. He hadn't really registered anything around him for a while until he felt hands on his shoulders pulling him up and out of his chair.
"Steve!" It was Robin. Of course, it was Robin.
Steve just hugged her and cried some more. He hadn't let himself cry much since it happened.
He had been drugged when Ren passed out, and he would never forgive himself for acting the way he did. He didn't care at that moment because he was so out of it, but when the drugs were finally out of his system, Ren was his first priority.
Steve had searched the whole building to find him and then stayed with him while the rest of the group saved the day. Immediately after everything was over, he and Ren were rushed to the emergency room in an ambulance, and they were apart for almost 24 hours. As soon as he was allowed to, Steve left his room and set up camp in Ren's.
"Robin, I-I can't. He's... he's m-my everything."
Robin's stomach dropped and she frowned, sympathy evident on her face. Seconds later, the worst happened.
They were pushed out of the room before they had time to think. They heard the loud, constant noise coming from the equipment that was hooked up to Ren, but it wasn't until the door was closed that they realised he was flatlining.
Ren was flatlining.
Ren was dying.
Steve stood in the hallway, frozen in his spot, waiting. They couldn't see or hear anything, and they were scared to death. Robin hadn't known Ren for very long, but she knew how much he meant to Steve, and she never wanted anyone to go through that big of a loss, especially her friend. She held Steve's hand while they waited and convinced him to sit down. She was pretty sure he didn't blink at all until a nurse came back out of the room with a clipboard.
Ren went home a full week later, retaining severe brain trauma that caused him to have nystagmus in both eyes, a condition that caused his eyes to move involuntarily. He became prone to frequent seizures and was even diagnosed with clinical depression. Something that developed throughout the week rather than immediately after he woke up was expressive aphasia, which made it difficult for him to speak correctly and form full sentences. The doctors had promised that it would eventually go away, and it was just a temporary side effect of his head injury, but months had passed and it hadn't gotten better.
Steve officially moved out of his parents' house and into Ren's as soon as Ren was cleared to go home. He claimed it was because Ren needed a caregiver until he got used to normal life again, but Ren knew it was because Steve was scared. He was scared that something like this would happen again.
But instead of talking about that, they were arguing about money.
"No. I'm putting... foot down. Absolutely not."
"Baby, I already quit, there's no going back. I'm taking shifts all day at the video store now, and you're going to have to learn to deal with it."
"Steve." Ren stood up and stumbled a bit, still struggling with walking correctly, though they hadn't diagnosed that as anything. Steve immediately ran to his side, ready to catch him if he fell again. "Steve, you can't put off your... f-future."
"Not to be cheesy or anything, but you're my future, Ren. I can always go back to school once we get out of here. And once you can work again, we'll be making even more money, and we'll get to move away sooner. You know I love you, but I don't think I can stand more than a year living with your mom."
"How do you think I feel?" Ren laughed. "But, s-s... I don't like this. I'm h... holding you back."
Steve shook his head. "No. Absolutely not."
"You say that n-now, but what 'bout in--"
"Ren. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Small setbacks aren't going to change that."
"Not small setbacks, huge ones. I hav-to wear glasses now, and the-ey cost money. I can't walk ri-ight, and talking is... hard. St-teve, I'm a disaster."
"No, you're not. And even if you were, you're my disaster."
Ren smiled softly and sat back down on the couch. He started picking at his nails. "D-do you think I'll s-s-till be able to be a doctor?"
"I don't see why not. You might have trouble becoming a surgeon, though, only because of your eyes."
"Good thing I didn-n't really want to be a surgeon... anyway."
Chapter 26: 3.09 - baby honey
final chapter! be on the lookout for the byler spin-off oneshot soon. it'll be in this series but not this work
FIVE YEARS LATER
"Ren? You coming?"
"Yeah, just a second," he shouted back.
Steve smiled to himself as he walked back toward his boyfriend. His sand-filled flip flops were hanging from his hand while he held his towel in the other. "Baby, we have to leave now if we're gonna make it to Hawkins in time."
Ren closed his eyes as the waves hit his toes one last time. When he opened his eyes, he stretched his arms out toward Steve. "Carry me?"
Steve sighed and chuckled. He handed the towel to Ren and swiftly picked him up, carrying him bridal style.
"Is it bad that we haven't even left yet, and I'm already missing California?"
"Maybe just a little, but I know what you mean," Steve grunted once as he took the steps up to their beach house two at a time. That was one really big advantage to where they lived. The beach was literally in their front yard.
Steve set Ren down when they reached their front door and kissed him once. "I'm not ready to go back to pretending again," Ren whispered as he grabbed his backpack from the kitchen.
Steve frowned softly. "Maybe we don't have to. I know Hawkins isn't the most progressive place, but we'll only be around friends and family. It'll be okay if one or two of them see us kiss. Besides, the kids all know, and our parents won't be there."
Ren nodded once and started to walk toward their bathroom. "What about Jonathan and Nancy?"
A heavy sigh left Steve's mouth. "I mean, they know. If they can't handle it, that's their problem."
"It still baffles me," Ren reappeared for a moment to grab some clothes that were sitting on their dinner table, "that they invited us. Nancy still hates my guts, so why would I get my own invitation?"
"I don't know. Maybe she finally realised she was being petty for no good reason."
"I guess." Ren pressed a quick peck to his boyfriend's cheek. "I'm gonna take a shower before we go."
Right as Ren turned around again, Steve gently grabbed his wrist and followed him. "Oh, I need one too. And you know what's a great way to save water?"
Ren rolled his eyes lovingly and continued walking. "Fine, but we have to hurry."
The four-and-a-half hour-long flight to Indiana sucked. It wouldn't have sucked if Ren wasn't such a ball of nerves the entire time, but that was just who he was. The high altitude screwed with his legs, which were already weak from his injury all those years ago. He just knew he'd be asking to lean on Steve the entire way to the rental car, and he hated having to ask for help.
"How much longer 'till we get to Mike and Will's gate?" he asked, trying not to whine with each step.
"Here," Steve set his bag on the floor and crouched down in front of Ren, "want a piggyback ride?"
Ren huffed in frustration. "Is that okay?"
"Of course. You have any idea how strong I've gotten since your injury? With you on my back, it feels like there's just a blanket on my shoulders. You feel light as a feather, babe."
He nodded, "Okay," and hopped on. Steve was careful not to touch Ren's knees, as that was where the pain was the worst, but he held him tight to his own body.
"Not much farther," he said after a couple minutes of walking. The slight jostle Ren's body dealt with each time Steve took a step was honestly a little relaxing, and he started to drift off, but his boyfriend's voice gently woke him up.
"Mmkay," he mumbled. He was shaken to full consciousness again when Steve abruptly stopped.
Ren jumped down carefully. "What?"
"Our kids grew up."
Ren followed Steve's sad gaze to the two very grown 19-year-olds in front of them. Mike towered over all of them a couple inches higher than he used to. His dark brown hair had really grown out and was up in a bun, a few hairs sticking out and curling in all sorts of directions. He was just as lanky as he had been four years ago, but he looked like he'd put on a bit of muscle mass. Not much, but a little. Will stood about a foot shorter than Mike. Thankfully, his bowl cut was gone and had been replaced by a much shorter, much more stylish haircut. Otherwise, he looked basically the same.
A grin formed on Will's face first and he ran forward to hug Ren, then Steve. Mike was slightly slower, but he looked just as happy to be seeing them.
"How's California?" Mike asked as he crouched down like Steve had before. He motioned for Ren to climb on.
Ren just rolled his eyes and jumped up, knowing Mike was even more stubborn than Steve. "It's great. You guys have to visit sometime, the beach is amazing."
Will clicked his tongue. "I wish we could, but college is way too expensive for us poor little nineteen-year-olds."
Steve chuckled at that and offered for Will to hop onto his back, which he did. "Speaking of, how's college?"
Mike sighed heavily. "I hate it."
"I love it."
"That's because you're good at it. I just want to sit at home and write."
Will rolled his eyes once and said, "If you don't want to stay in college, then you shouldn't have signed up for classes for next semester. We've had this conversation before."
"Yeah, but college is a good idea. It'll help us get good jobs at well-paying places. It doesn't matter that I don't like it because I should be going anyway."
Steve and Ren both laughed at the younger boys' argument.
"You guys didn't go to college. How did you handle it?"
"Well, actually," Steve started, "that isn't entirely accurate. I went to cosmetology school, and Ren's currently working toward his doctorate. But there's also nothing wrong with not going to any sort of school. You guys just got out, if I were you I wouldn't want back in for a while."
They continued to discuss the pros and cons of going to college for at least four years until they got into the rental car. The mood seemed to shift immediately then.
"Hey, guys?" Will said from the backseat.
"Yeah?" The older boys answered at the same time.
Mike took a deep breath and blurted out, "We're dating."
Steve and Ren weren't phased at all. "We know."
Ren turned back to look at them. "You do realise you both called us for advice when you started living together and realised you liked each other, right? I'm not the only one who remembers that. I mean, obviously, Will, you've liked Mike since you were kids, but Mike, you only figured out your feelings two years ago."
They went silent.
“So there was pretty much no way you wouldn’t have started dating. But it would have been nice to hear it from you guys a year and a half ago when you actually got together.”
“Oh. Well then.”
Will rolled his eyes at his boyfriend’s shocked expression. “Anyway, we want to come out to everyone this weekend. How do we do that?”
Steve raised his eyebrows. “You haven’t told the party?”
“Not yet. We told my mom and Jonathan, though.”
Mike chimed in again, “We haven’t talked to my family either.”
“Okay, well, Ren and I never really came out, you guys just found out, so I honestly don’t know. We can be there with you if you want, though.”
Will nodded. “Thank you.”
The four of them seemed to take a simultaneous breath when they reached the Byers’ house. Will’s parents had offered up their house for the four of them to stay, as the Wheelers’ house was preoccupied with wedding preparations. It would be pretty packed, and Joyce had apologised, but none of them minded at all. Will took Mike’s hand, confident that it was okay to do that, and Ren took Steve’s.
The younger boys walked in first, immediately greeted by hugs from Joyce and Jonathan. Will was doted over, sentences like “You’ve gotten so big!” filling his ears. The whole time, he never let go of Mike’s hand, and of course, everyone knew why.
“Steve! Ren! Oh, gosh, I’m so happy you guys are still together after all these years.” Joyce shook her head fondly and hugged them both at once. “How long has it been now?”
Ren smiled softly. “Almost seven years.”
“Wow.” She smiled back at both of them and then said, “I’m so sorry to duck out almost immediately after you’ve arrived, but I have to go help Karen finish hemming Nancy’s dress. Will? Mike? Did you bring your suits?”
They both nodded.
“And they fit?”
“Good. I’ll be back later tonight after the rehearsal dinner, but until then, you guys can basically do whatever you want. You’re adults now. I trust you not to burn the house down.” Mike and Will felt like that was more aimed at them than the other two boys, but they completely understood.
“Mom, I swear. I’m still your son. I’m still your Ren.”
Ren stopped. He knew what she was asking.
“How long?” She got louder.
“Two years,” he whispered.
“Get out of my house!”
Ren started to walk back to his room, hoping to pack a few things before being kicked out.
“No. I want you out now. And I never want to see you again.”
When she picked up a plate from the counter, Ren knew she was serious. He ran out the door and into Steve’s waiting arms. His legs ached, but he knew they had to run. Steve wrapped an arm around him and helped him run away.
“Ren! Ren, are you okay?”
Ren hadn’t realised he’d been crying until he felt Steve’s arms wrapped around his own. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay.” His eyes shook more as they adjusted to the dark light of the Byers’ living room.
He nodded. “Sorry I woke you.”
Steve shook his head vigorously. “No. Don’t apologise. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. Just got a flashback of what happened with Mom.”
“Oh,” Steve whispered. “I’m sorry, baby.”
“It’s okay. It’s over now.”
Steve nodded and the two of them laid back down on the pullout couch.
The next morning, they were immediately woken at 8:00 sharp by Mike and Will jumping on top of them.
“Boys, boys. You can’t do this shit anymore. We’re old now,” Steve grunted.
Will rolled his eyes. “You’re 25, not 60.”
“Hey, 25 is plenty old. We’ve seen a lot.” Ren sat up too quick and promptly got a head rush. “And, I have messed up legs. So no jumping, alright, kids?”
This time Mike said, “We’re 19-”
“Almost 20,” Will finished.
“And we aren’t kids anymore.”
“We’re practically your age.”
Ren groaned loudly. “Oh, god, Steve, did you hear that? The children think they’re our age. How cute.”
The next few minutes consisted of a dangerous pillow fight, which was followed by Joyce shooing them away to Jonathan’s room where they were supposed to get ready.
The wedding was at 2:00 pm, and Jonathan was freaking out. He didn’t have cold feet, he was just so nervous that something would go wrong. He wanted everything to be perfect for Nancy, for both of them, but he knew he couldn’t control everything. But it was time, and everything seemed to be going right.
Steve and Ren sat next to each other in the second row, Robin directly to their right with her girlfriend Betty. Ren gave a thumbs up to Will, who stood between Jonathan and Mike. Will responded with a small smile. He was nervous even though he didn’t have to do anything but stand there.
Lucas and Dustin couldn’t make it. Neither could Max. Ever since Billy’s, and then Eleven’s, death, Max distanced herself from the rest of the group. None of them had heard from her in years. Lucas’ flight was cancelled, bad weather causing a delay at the airport, and he couldn’t catch another in time. Dustin had too much homework for his zoology class at university. Will and Mike were a bit sad at that news. The party hadn’t spoken in a while, and they were really hoping they’d be able to come out to them. But it wasn’t happening just yet.
At some point during the ceremony, Steve’s hand reached for Ren’s. The two of them looked down solemnly at the thought of them being unable to have a ceremony like this. They knew it couldn’t happen, they’d made their peace with it, but sometimes it really hurt.
So they found themselves sitting on the roof of the Wheelers’ house that night while everyone else was inside of the reception. Originally, they’d been wallowing in the fact of their marriage being illegal, but now they were recalling the good times in Hawkins. California was better, sure, but they’d spent the majority of their lives in Hawkins. There had to be at least a few things they loved about it.
“It took a lot of balls for you to kiss me that night. You didn’t even know I was gay!”
Steve laughed out loud. “I suspected. Plus, I figured I was about to die, so there wouldn’t be many consequences to my actions.”
“You know, it’s so strange to me, being back here. No Barb, no Tammy. And Nancy still isn’t talking to me. Our whole lives have changed.”
“Yeah. I’m really glad we didn’t stick around.”
“As much as I love these people, I’d hate to still be living here. It’s not for us.”
“Good thing we didn’t stay, then.”
Steve’s mouth curled in a soft smile. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”