Jonathan Byers was an observer.
It was rarely on purpose. He never intentionally sought out details of someone's personal life—he just had an eye for noticing small mannerisms and behavior. That's why it didn't take him by surprise when Will came out to him in the fall of his junior year.
They were in his car, following the familiar road back to their house after school. Will had seemed particularly fidgety that morning—he hadn't eaten anything for breakfast, his hair was much messier than usual, and his shoulders seemed unnaturally stiff. If the bags under his eyes gave any indication, he didn't sleep more than a few hours the night before.
"Hey, uh, Jonathan?"
His brother risked a glance away from the road to show that he had his attention. Will's leg was bouncing up and down and he was picking at his already rather short nails. "Yeah, bud?"
Will was silent for at least a minute, unmistakably having an internal battle with himself. He shifted in his spot, pulling at the seatbelt that rubbed uncomfortably against his neck. "Do you- do you ever feel like you're different?"
"Being different is good." Jonathan didn't bat an eye at the question, which seemed to help Will relax—even if it was just for a moment. "We've talked about this before. Bowie versus Kenny Rogers, remember?"
The younger boy took in a shaky breath, holding it in for far longer than he should. "Jon, I'm gay."
He said it so quietly that if Jonathan didn't already have his suspicions, he wouldn't have been able to hear his voice over the soft humming of the car engine. He turned to look at Will, whose eyes were now hidden behind a sheer coat of tears. It broke his heart to see his little brother in such a state.
Will snapped his gaze up, eyeing Jonathan as if he would joke about something of that magnitude. He opened his mouth to speak, only to close it again. "Okay?"
"Yeah, okay." If he wasn't such a responsible driver, he would have pulled him into a hug—but he was, so he settled for a light punch to the shoulder and a smile.
"I-" Will blinked several times, trying to be subtle about the fact that he was on the verge of a mental breakdown. "I didn't- are you sure?"
"Will, you're still my brother and nothing could ever change that." Jonathan said, his tone nothing short of utterly sincere. "We love you, okay? Don't forget it."
A moment of silence passed before the boy to his right sniffled, his voice breaking as he mumbled a quick, "Love you too."
It was as though the floodgates opened after that. Will told his brother about his crush on Mike, all the bullying he had gone through in middle school, the extent of Lonnie's verbal abuse toward him, and practically everything sexuality-related. Knowing how much their dad messed them up made Jonathan want to punch the nearest breakable item in sight—which happened to be a cool lamp that his mother got from a garage sale—but he resisted, knowing he would probably never hear the end of it.
Will eventually came out to Joyce, too. Jonathan made sure that his younger brother knew whom he told and when was a personal decision, and of course he was proud of him for telling her—he just didn't expect it to be so casual.
Jonathan nearly fucking choked to death when his brother asked their mom to hand him the salt and then responded with a vibrant, "Thanks! I'm gay."
He supposed that he probably had a small hand in Will's growing confidence, but he couldn't bring himself to be sorry about it at all. He was proud of his brother for letting his walls come down.
That's why it made him so fucking angry when his little brother told him what happened in that garage.
"And then he said, 'it's not my fault you don't like girls,'" Will clung to the pillow against his chest and he blinked a few tears away. "Do you think he knows?"
"Have you told him?" Jonathan sat across from him on his bed, his jaw painfully tense. He was fuming, but he had to push that aside for the time being and focus on helping Will.
He shook his head, quickly. "I could never."
"Then how do you know he wasn't just talking about Eleven and Max?" The older boy tried his best to formulate a plan to move forward without snapping Mike's neck.
It was proving to be very difficult.
"You weren't there, Jonathan, you-" Will's voice broke but he coughed to cover it up, wiping a couple of tears away with his sleeve. "You didn't hear him or see the way he was looking at me—it felt like he was staring right into my soul. What if he knows and he was just trying to let me down easy? What if-"
"Will, take a deep breath-"
"I love him, Jon." More tears fell from his eyes as he took a shaky breath. "I- I shouldn't, but I can't help it. He was such an asshole to me all summer. I shouldn't still love him."
Before Jonathan could say anything else, Will laughed bitterly, tears cascaded freely down his pale face. "You wanna know the worst part of this? He's not like me. He's not a freak. He was wired correctly- he- he likes girls and I don't. I- I'll never be able to live like him or you and Nancy or anyone else for that matter. All because I'm a fucking fa-"
"Alright, that's enough!" Jonathan said, making the younger boy jump. He didn't even know his voice could get that loud—his words practically echoed off the walls. He took a deep breath in an attempt to compose himself. "You are not allowed to talk about my best friend like that, okay?"
Will stayed silent, his eyes as wide as he took in another shaky breath. Jonathan forced himself to drop his scowl as he continued, his voice becoming much softer than it was a few moments ago. "You aren't any less because you're gay, do you understand me? You are still the same smart, strong, talented, interesting, funny, wonderful Will. You are going to find yourself a nice fucking boyfriend one day. He's going to love you and you're going to love him, and you're going to be happy. Don't let Mike Wheeler or anyone else ruin this for you. If Mike is the right guy for you, things will work out. If not, there are plenty of fish in the sea. I promise you."
From that point on, Jonathan was hyper-aware of the way Mike acted around Will, constantly shooting him disapproving glances from across the room whenever he did anything stupid.
About a month after the events of Starcourt, Nancy and Mike came over to have dinner with the Byers-Hopper family. Jim and Joyce sat at one end of the table while Nancy and Jonathan took the other side. Mike, Eleven, and Will ate in the living room, each of them sprawled across different pieces of furniture.
"Are you okay?" He heard his girlfriend's soft voice ask as he rinsed off some dishes in the kitchen.
He shrugged. "Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
"I don't know, you've just been-" Nancy looked over her shoulder, lowering her voice as she leaned in a little closer to Jonathan. "Glaring daggers at Mike all night? Did he do something wrong?"
Jonathan felt his cheek's flush. Of course she noticed. If anyone were to rival his observation skills, it was Nancy Wheeler.
"I guess it's complicated."
"Lucky for you, that's my specialty."
Jonathan glanced over at the three teenagers watching Back To The Future in the living room and back to Nancy. Maybe Will wouldn't mind if she knew—his girlfriend was the most accepting person he had ever met. He knew she wouldn't judge him for it.
"Fine, but let's-" he lowered his voice. "let's talk outside, okay?"
Nancy beamed up at him as he gently took her hand, dragging her toward the front door. He cringed when he felt his mother's eyes on him.
"Hey, where are you guys going?" Joyce asked, momentarily breaking away from her conversation with Hopper.
"Oh, uh, we're just gonna get some fresh air real quick," Jonathan hoped his excuse would be good enough to give them a few minutes alone. "We'll be right back."
Joyce eyed him suspiciously but didn't protest any further, resuming her discussion after offering a quick, "Wear a jacket."
Once they finally managed to get outside, Nancy was eager to know what Jonathan had to say. They stood on the wooden porch as a calming summer breeze blew past them. She gently nudged his shoulder. "So?"
He took a breath, a serious expression on his face. "What I'm going to tell you is top secret, okay? You can't let anyone else know. He would kill me if he found out I told you."
Nancy's brows furrowed. "Mike would?"
"What does Will have to do with you being upset with Mike?" She crossed her arms, already beginning to feel annoyed with her brother, despite not knowing what he did wrong.
"Basically, Will likes Mike."
Jonathan glanced over to see a small smile beginning to grow on Nancy's face. The wind blew through her wavy hair, brushing the tips behind her shoulders as the tension fades away.
"You mean, likes him romantically?"
He nodded. "Listen, I know your dad is super conservative, but-"
"Jonathan, don't worry. I'm nothing like him." Nancy leaned against the wooden banister, her eyes glowing with excitement. "Neither is Mike."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to imply anything." He shoved his hands in his pockets. "I know you're probably more open-minded than this entire town combined."
Her lips curled into a confused smile. "I still don't get what the problem is, though. What did he do?"
Jonathan sighed before filling her in on the fight that the two had as briefly as he could. He noticed her face completely drop after hearing Mike's words.
"God, he's such an asshole," she looked prepared to march right into the house and give him a piece of her mind. "I can't believe he would say something like that."
"Yeah, it messed him up pretty badly." Jonathan looked over his shoulder, staring at the front door with his eyebrows furrowed.
A beat of silence passed. He could hear the wind chimes from his backyard singing quietly as another gust of wind brushed past them.
"Jon, I probably shouldn't tell you this, but-" He turned to Nancy. "A couple summers ago, before they found El again, I noticed Mike was a little out of it. I assumed it was trauma from all the shit we've gone through, so I went to talk to him about it one night. He completely broke down, talking about Will. He was crying so much that I could barely understand what he was saying, but there was something about the way Mike talked about him. I didn't realize it until now-"
Nancy stood up straight, a spark of determination in her voice. "I think Mike may like Will too."
"What?" Jonathan leaned against the railing again as a look of disbelief and confusion crossed his face. "Did you forget the part of the story where he left Will in the dust for El during the summer?"
He could practically hear the gears in her head shifting as she gazed off into space. "Why don't I just ask him? They broke up forever ago."
"Nancy," Jonathan gave her a disapproving stare. "this is top secret, remember?"
"Yes, I know, but what if I-"
Before she could finish her sentence, the front door swung open, immediately grabbing both of their attention. El stood in the doorway, a mug in her hands and a soft smile on her face. "Mom asked me to come and get you guys—she made hot chocolate."
"Thanks, El. We'll be there in a minute." Jonathan smiled back as she nodded, gently closing the door behind her. He turned back to see a determined look on his girlfriend's face. "Nance, no."
"You're going to do it anyway, aren't you?"
"You know me so well."