Take On Me
For @elevenknope ❤️
Max leaned against the Wheeler place, one foot pressed against the wall, one arm tucked under the other — which held a smoking cigarette.
“Those things’ll kill you, you know,” said an obviously amused voice.
Max whirled, hastily dropping the cigarette (Karen would kill her if she found out), only to roll her eyes in total relief; it was only Steve.
The older boy approached, and Max felt her face flush against her will. She hated that she liked him. Hated that he made her feel all… girly and gross… But most of all she hated that he was one of Nancy’s boyfriends, whom Nancy loved very much. And Nance could kick ass.
“I was cold,” Max said shortly, scuffing the bud under her sneaker and staring out at the horizon. The sky was painted purple, pink, and orange, with little bits of blue streaked across. The stars were just visible.
“Max,” Steve leaned next to her, fingering a pack of Morley’s, himself, but didn’t light up. “I… I need to ask you a question.”
Max’s eyes widened. Fortunately, he wasn’t looking at her, or he would have seen the totally embarrassing shade of red her face went. When she had settled her breathing, she turned to him. “Okay. Shoot.”
Steve placed the end of his smoke in his mouth but still didn’t light it. His gaze grew distant, and his voice was cold as he asked, “Does he hit you?”
Her blood ran cold. For just a moment, she stood utterly paralysed in fear. In that moment, a thousand things rushed through her mind, but the one thought that stood out was the realisation that he was actually asking the question — he, Steve Harrington, not some creased-shirt police officer with a penchant for gambling. He cared. He cared. Another human being actually gave a shit about her (sure, so did the boys, but they didn’t fully understand it and never really asked about her scars and wounds — probably because they assumed she got them from roughhousing and kicking the crap out of bullies).
And so, she took a deep breath. “No.”
His eyes flickered to her own, appearing genuinely surprised. “No? Max.”
She shifted her footing, looking down at the remains of her cigarette.
Without warning or hesitation, Steve reached out and took her arm. She tried to yank it away, but he was already rolling up the sleeve. She felt her face heat up with embarrassment, and finally drew away.
“You had no right to do that.”
“Those bruises are new,” Steve said sharply, though his voice was shaking and his eyes were harder than she had ever seen them. She hadn’t really known that Steve could get angry.
She found herself thinking of an explanation, like she always did when asked. “Billy just…” but the words died on her lips. Her mind was utterly blank.
“‘Billy just’ what?!” Steve spread his arms. “Billy just kicks your ass, and you take it, huh? Just stand there and let him hurt you?”
“No! I fight back when he hits me!”
All at once, she realised what she had said. Her heart sank, and a cloud of angry dread churned in her stomach. Steve’s shoulders sank, eyes glistening.
“Max,” he whispered.
“Bastard!” Max shook her head, attempting to run, but he had already gathered her in his arms. She whacked his chest (which was like a fucking rock), wiggled, and then gave up all at once. She sagged against him, sobbing weakly.
“I’m so sorry, kid,” Steve whispered. “Really. Jesus, I’m so, so sorry.”
Max was crying too much to say anything. Years of torment and build up anger and sadness and self-hatred was rushing out of her like a broken dam. She grasped his striped shirt tightly in her freckled fists, never wanting to let go, because this was the closest had really gotten to another human being in three years.
“I’ll help you,” Steve said, once she had calmed down enough to pull away. “I will, okay? I’m not gonna let you go back there—”
“Steve,” Max wiped her eyes, frustrated. “My mom…”
“We’ll get her out, too.” Steve nodded to himself with such conviction that she felt any doubt on the matter seep away into nothing. “I’m gonna help you.”
He would help her. Someone. For the first time ever.
Max felt herself relax. Steve led her inside, holding her hand and squeezing it in a reassuring way.
In that moment, Max thought that maybe she didn’t need Billy to be her brother at all. Maybe she had a good one right here.
Two cigarettes lay forgotten on the driveway, only to be washed away by the rain later that evening.