It was a saturday night, 2:46am and Steve was finally getting around to collapsing into his bed. Arms and legs stretched out beneath the sheets, glasses set aside, Steve exhaled pleasantly and shut his eyes, letting sleep quickly overtake him.
There was a knock on the glass pane behind him and as he turned to blink blearily, sleepily at his window, he saw the blurry outline of his best friend carefully perching on the rooftop outside.
Leaning over to his night stand, he quickly flicked on the lamp.
"Snot? What are you doing here?" Steve asked as he opened and shut the window, letting Snot crawl inside and down onto his bed.
"Ugh! I've been calling you all night! Why is your phone off?"
Steve glanced over at his smartphone sitting on the nightstand. "Oh, I guess it died. Sorry." He reached out to place his glasses back on his face in their proper place again.
Snot shifted on the bed from his kneeling position on his knees to a more comfortable position next to his friend. "Look, can I stay here tonight? My mom's got some dudes over and they're really gross. Like... Brady Bunch gross."
Steve smiled. "Sure, Snotters. No problemo."
He took in his friend's state of dress of his normal shorts and t-shirt, complete with torn blue jean vest. Making his way over to his chest of drawers, he quickly pulled out some sweatpants and a spare t-shirt and handed them to his friend.
Snot looked taken back. “Oh no, I'm okay, really.”
Cocking an eyebrow at him, he shoved them into his lap. “Snot, you can't sleep in that. Just go change into these. They should fit.”
Looking hesitant, Snot sighed and stood up from his seat on the bed. “Okay, I guess.”
Easing the bedroom door open as quietly as he could, he peered out into the dark hallway.
Steve smiled at his friend. “Don't worry, my parents are really sound sleepers.”
With that, Snot made his way down the hall towards their upstairs bathroom, using the map of his best friend's house in his mind to navigate through the dark without any problems.
Steve crawled back into bed and pulled back the covers before sitting back up and remembering his dead phone and the need to plug it into his charger.
Snot returned a few moments later to find Steve idly scrolling through his phone. The camo sweatpants fit fine but the black t-shirt felt snug in all the wrong places. He grasped at it wearily, trying to pull it out a bit for some breathing room. Shutting the door quietly behind him, he made his way over to Steve who was sprawled out on the bed.
Glancing up, the bespectacled boy eyed him up and down and smiled appreciatively. “Looks like the clothes fit.”
The boy gave him a look before climbing beneath the heavy covers as well and trying to settle in, maneuvering his pillow up against the headboard to lean against it.
Steve set his phone aside and turned to his friend. “So... do you wanna talk about it?”
“Talk about what, Steve?”
There was that edge to his voice again, the one that warned him to leave it be, whatever annoying thing he was trying to goad him into talking about. It was that unrelenting anger that every so often threatened to rise up to the surface.
“Well, the fact that you showed up at my house at 3AM because of your mother. I mean, it seems like you want to talk about it.”
Snot rolled his eyes and threw the covers up in the air, quickly sinking down beneath them and facing away from his friend. “Goodnight, Steve.”
The boy watched his friend patiently from behind, his eyes tracing the outline of his curly hair as it rested against the cream colored pillow case. Taking a deep breath, he leaned over across the boy to turn off the lamp on the nightstand and discard his glasses once more.
Laying down onto his side and facing the boy's back, he let the silence, much like the darkness of the room, surround them.
After a few minutes of staring at the fabric covering his skin and memorizing the outline of his silhouette, Steve suddenly felt like he couldn't keep quiet about it any longer.
“Snot?” He whispered. “Are you still awake?”
He was in fact and had been spending his time angrily staring out at the darkness in a rage that was threatening to spill up into his eyes in the form of tears. He remained silent for now and pretended to sleep.
“Snot?” Steve tried again, now scooting closer and placing a steady hand on the boy's left shoulder soothingly.
Snot sighed, feeling most of his anger leave him. “What, Steve?”
Steve paused, leaving his hand there unsteadily as he fumbled for something to say. Finally, “I'm sorry.”
The boy shifted and rolled onto his other side, causing Steve's hand to clumsily fall back down to the mattress.
Now laying side by side and facing one another, Snot took this opportunity to glower at his friend. “For what?”
Steve looked unsure again. “I dunno, for everything. For the way your mom treats you, for the way that you literally have no one to turn to... except me, of course.”
He added the last bit quieter than the first and Snot found he couldn't be too upset with his friend's prying nature. “It's not a big deal. I'm fine, really.”
“You're not fine!” Steve shouted a little louder than he had meant to. Quieter then, “I mean... I'm worried about you. I don't think it's right for you to have to go through this.”
“Steve-” Snot warned tensely as his friend ignored him.
“Your mom has some nerve. Really, I mean, you're here struggling to keep good grades in school and she doesn't care and she doesn't even try to help you with your-”
“Steve! Enough, already!” The boy said tersely as he sat up in the bed and faced the far wall in front of them.
He glared darkly at it, barely able to even make out the wallpaper pattern in the pitch blackness. Steve sat up as well, alarmed by his friend's anger. He frowned and stared out at the same wallpaper covered wall.
“My mom is... she just has some problems is all.” Snot muttered quietly.
Steve looked at the boy worriedly. He didn't say what he wanted to which was to ask if that was why he had suddenly began showing up to school with bruises dotting his arms and legs. He didn't say what he wanted to which was that he was there for him no matter what and that he couldn't bear the thought of losing his best friend.
He didn't say anything else that night. Instead, he just silently pulled the boy close to him, forcing him to place his head on his chest, awkward angle as it was, and encircled him in a warm embrace.
Snot quickly relinquished his resistance and gave in, reaching up to hug him back as tears slipped out his eyes.
They didn't speak about that night the next day, what with Snot having to run off early even before getting any breakfast. Then again, he hadn't wanted to get caught by Steve's parents so breakfast wouldn't have been a good idea anyway.
Steve didn't have a chance to talk to his friend again until Monday afternoon, what with classes keeping them coming and going and much too busy. Now, as they sat at Steve's house once again, surrounded by their friends, it hardly seemed like an appropriate time to bring it up.
As he sat there, flush against his best friend, he began to feel strange, like he was waking up from a dream. The way Snot was exclaiming in joy, bouncing up and down on the couch and gesturing at the TV screen was so endearing. Steve felt himself grinning as big as could be. He really seemed happy which was a relief to him, seeing how distraught he'd been just days before.
Toshi and Barry were immersed in the video game as well and didn't seem to notice that Snot's hand, for all his flailing, had landed on Steve's knee and was slowly creeping it's way north.
They were watching their friends play a match against each other as they sat on the living room floor, as close to the TV as possible.
Snot gripped Steve's thigh tightly over his jeans, though his eyes were still glued to the screen and so it must have been unintentional surely. The huge grin on his face was due to the antics of his friends and their banter and not because of proximity to him, Steve reminded himself.
So why did that make him feel a little disappointed inside?
Steve swallowed nervously and chanced a glance at him. The hand remained, lightly resting atop his thigh now, rather than a gripping force like before.
Snot finally met his friend's gaze and beamed in happiness. He suddenly looked down and realized the placement of his hand on Steve's leg. Blushing and immediately removing it, his smile disappearing from his face and was replaced by a guilty expression instead. "Sorry... " He mumbled.
Turning his attention back to the TV, he firmly fixed his gaze on the game and his friends laughter and cheering once more. Steve's disappointment multiplied. He missed the warmth of the touch, the way it just felt... right. He couldn't ignore the butterflies in his stomach even if he wanted to. As innocent as the gesture had been, he felt guilty at how much he had enjoyed it.
Steve stared at Snot for a long moment, his other friends in the foreground forgotten. If the boy noticed, he was intentionally trying to ignore it.
Eventually, the game ended, Toshi winning the match and explaining that he had to get home for dinner. Barry left in much the same fashion, leaving just Snot and him alone.
Completely alone. Steve's parents had left on a spur of the moment, out of town trip as they do, leaving Jeff and Hayley in charge. And of course, those two were nowhere to be seen. He remembered Hayley mentioning some sort of pizza later for dinner but dinner to her had always meant 9 o'clock. After all, she had no set schedule, often sleeping in till noon each day.
Snot stood up, feeling rather uncomfortable with the situation and mumbled that he had to get home to his mom too. This was a lie of course. His mother would still be at work until much, much later that night, probably not arriving home until 11pm or so, not unusual for a nurse in her line of work.
Steve frowned from his spot on the couch still. "You don't have to go yet, do ya Snot?"
The taller boy shrugged and glanced helplessly at the front door. “Well, maybe I should go, I don't want my mom to get upset.”
Anger rose in Steve and he stood up indignantly facing his friend. “Get upset?! Really?! How about I go with you and I'll give her something to be upset about?!”
Snot was taken back by his friend's sudden irritation. He took in the stance of him, looking him up and down. He didn't think he had ever seen the boy so angry. “Steve-”
“No! Don't 'Steve' me! I don't like the way she treats you! And I'm not gonna stand for it anymore!” Steve yelled, his voice increasing in octave increments with every word until he was shrieking as high as could be.
For the first time, Snot found himself feeling incredibly at peace instead of angry. The familiar sense of bitterness replaced by something soft and warm. He smiled warmly at him, touched by his friend's compassion. “You... really care that much?”
“Do I really-?! What?! Of course, I do! You're my best friend!” Steve was still screeching in rage but at this point it was really more in incredulity.
He moved to face his friend, gripping at his shoulders and then arms and bringing him close in front of him, so close that their chests nearly bumped as he began to shake him slightly. “Snot, what don't you understand about this? We're best friends. We have been for years upon years! I am not going to let this go until I can make sure you're happy and safe and provided for and... and... “
Snot blinked at his friend, truly taken back.
Steve frowned, his grip on the boy's shoulders increasing almost to a painful pinch. “I just... I want you to be happy.”
Snot smiled warmly at his friend although a pained expression quickly replaced it. He carefully peeled the boy's fingers off of his arms and stepping away slightly. He rubbed at the bruises covering his biceps that Steve had been aggravating.
When he noticed Steve's widened eyes, he quickly smiled placatingly at his friend. “Those were already there. You didn't do those, don't worry.”
Still speechless with shock, Steve continued staring, his mouth agape.
Snot sat back down at his spot on the couch silently. He stared off towards the now black screen of the TV. Steve sat down as well and after a moment's hesitation, reached over to pull the boy carefully closer to him. Snot let him and soon his face was buried in the orange shirt of the boy. Steve ran his hand through his friend's curly brown locks reassuringly as he felt the boy move his arms to encircle him.
They sat that way for what seemed like hours but was really more like twenty minutes. That was when Roger came through the front door, dressed as some sort of fighter pilot from the 40's. He saw them but said nothing as he scampered up the stairs to the attic. Snot may have fallen asleep as he didn't move from his spot, slumped against Steve's chest.
Steve hugged him tighter against him and worried for his friend's well being and future.
It was pretty late when Snot got home that night, well later than usual anyway. It was dark out and Snot had to convince Steve not to walk him home and not to beg his sister to drive him there. Hayley and Jeff had come home relatively early and Steve had forced his friend to stay for pizza so he'd have something good to eat for dinner that night. Nearing 10pm, Snot unlocked the front door to his house with his key and ventured his way inside.
It was quiet and dark, as to be expected, until he rounded the corner towards the kitchen.
His mother was actually home. Huh, that was odd. Didn't her shift run till 11pm?
She was currently bent over in the refrigerator, digging out some liquor no doubt. He considered sneaking past her and saying nothing but decided he should at least tell her hello.
“Hey Mom.” He mumbled, causing her to shoot up right and slam the door shut.
She glared at him suspiciously. “And where were you?!”
Snot swallowed and looked guilty. “Uh... “
“Why were you out so late?!”
“Well, I didn't think you'd be home till late and-”
“Why? Because I work for a living to keep this roof over your head?!” She responded, beginning to move towards him, a bottle of whiskey in her left hand.
Snot backed up quickly. “Well, yeah, I just figured-”
“I got home at 5 and I didn't know where you were, Snot! You can't just leave like that!
She slammed the whiskey bottle down on the counter loudly, causing the teen to jump in surprise. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up, glancing at her son tiredly. “What am I gonna do with you?”
“I'll just uh... go to bed.”
Deciding to avoid her like the plague, he quickly spun on his heel to make his way to the hall and down towards his bedroom. His mother, however, had a much different idea.
“Oh no, you don't!” She said, grabbing the boy by his shoulder roughly and tugging him back to face her. “You're gonna clean up this pig sty! Look at this disgusting place!”
She gestured around the area at the various trash and food containers that littered the area, all of which were hers or her many boyfriend's. She puffed harshly on her cigarette causing him to cough.
“But... I have school in the morning!”
“I don't give a shit, Schmuely! You will do as I say!” She gripped at his left arm furiously and began to shake him, causing him to cry out in pain as her thumb pressed into a bruise that she herself had placed there.
“Listen to me, dammit!” She continued, pushing him backward. He flailed a bit but caught himself against the couch nearby.
Finishing her cigarette, she put it out in one of the ashtrays nearby. She grabbed the bottle of whiskey in the kitchen and poured herself a tall glass, straight. Nearly downing half the glass in one gulp, she stormed back into the living room towards her son.
He sank against the couch end nervously and just watched her.
“Well, pick this place up!”
He began gathering the food containers together into a pile, not wanting to approach her to get to the kitchen and collect a garbage bag for them. He kept his head low as he just tried to quickly clean up as fast as possible.
She sipped at her whiskey as she glanced around the dimly lit house. The lights would be shut off soon. Missing work was not the way to keep your bills paid, especially when you were a single parent.
“So tell me,” She said, angrily facing her son again. “where were you tonight?”
Snot considered lying for half a second but knew she'd see right through the story. He sighed, preparing for what was coming. “I was at Steve's house-”
“Why are you always over there?!” She interrupted him. “You think they live better than we do? Huh?!”
“No! I just... he's my friend!” Snot gave up gathering the trash to face his mother completely.
“Yeah? Your friend, huh? I think you just want to spend time over there because they have such a big house and so much money and la-de-da!”
She moved towards him menacingly, that look of rage filling her brown eyes. Snot tried to back up away from her but she flung her half empty glass against the wall over his head, causing it to shatter into a million tiny pieces everywhere.
He cried out in fright as she continued approaching him and grabbed both of his arms again, shaking him. Her grip even harder than before, no doubt was causing new bruises in his skin.
She shook him repeatedly. “I don't want you going over there anymore! You hear me?! Stay away from that boy!”
Snot willed himself not to cry as she backed away, dropping him causing him to bump up against the couch again.
She began to walk away before changing her mind as she came storming back. She raised her hand and smacked him, palm open, hard across the face.
“Clean that shit up!” She yelled, storming away to her room, carrying the bottle of whiskey along with her.
A moment later her door slammed and Snot heard her lock it behind her.
He sank to the ground, clutching his face and arms, not knowing what to do. Everything hurt.
He looked bitterly over at the smashed glass, leaking booze not only down the wall, but onto the furniture and the dingy carpet below.
Dark thoughts entered his mind, involving glass and a way out but he shoved them away and stood up to begin cleaning.
It was nearing 11:30pm. Tomorrow would be hell.