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Wicked Game

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September 1st, 1985

The first day of Hawkins High School. It was the last place James wanted to be. When he was in middle school he would fantasize about what his high school life would be like. Finally, make friends, go to parties, he could be a normal teenager, have a normal life. But that was just a delusion. A lie he told himself to get through the day. It took some time but he finally understood he could never have a life like that.

It wasn’t the place that he hated, but the people in it. The most he usually hoped for with a new school was to be invisible, but he was certain that was impossible here. Fitting in was never going to be an option, not in this school. Adjusting to new schools had become easy after a couple of years. James had done it countless times and had become an expert at it. There where simple rules that he had picked up in the series of schools where he was the new kid.

Avoiding groups was essential. No teams, clubs or societies. No matter what group it was, being a member usually labeled you as one thing or another. People with labels usually weren’t invisible. Every group of people comes with some kind of stereotype or misconception and people will detest you just for your association. 

James had also learned not to initiate fights. This rule was learned the hard way and was usually the most difficult to follow. Sometimes he can’t control his anger, what fifteen-year-old kid can, but it was different growing up in the environment he did. A fight was never far away. All it took was a sideways glance at the wrong person in the wrong mood. When he was a child, he talked a big game even if he could never back it up. Fighting just becomes second nature to him. You get into enough of them, eventual you start to win some. But Hawkins wasn't the city, he probably didn't have to think about which students had switchblades or which ones had gang affiliations. Hawkins just wasn't that type of place. But fighting was still a great way to be in the spotlight, and that was the last place James wanted to be.

The most surprising thing he had found that helped in new schools was to play down his academic ability. James had usually been on top of his class. He wasn't a genius or anything but he had always been able to pick things up quickly when other kids struggled. His classmates hated him for that. As soon as he started showing off in class, he painted a target on your back. Some kids were jealous or insure or whatever. It wasn't important how they felt, only how they acted on those feelings, which was usually some form of aggression of bullying. He found it best not to answer questions in class and don’t try to sound like a smart ass. It seems stupid when he thinks about it, but it's worked for him so far.

His mind drifted to the time his mother and father had brought him to see some specialist doctors while they were living in New York. He couldn't have been more than six or seven at the time. The doctor asked him a bunch of pointless questions and given him silly word games or puzzles to solve.

He remembered overhearing the doctor tell his parents that he should be going to a new school. On where they wore uniforms or studied Latin James didn't think it sounded like it was for him but his mother wanted him to attend. His parents had screamed at each other that night, arguing if he should go or not. Emily, his mother had always wanted the best for him, even though they knew they couldn't afford it. Money was tight. She worked two jobs to try to keep them in their little shitty one-bedroom apartment. His father was worthless. Every dollar he made was injected into his arm.

He had hit her that night. Not the worst he ever had. James didn’t need to call an ambulance-like the time they had fought before that, he had paid for that in the worst way. The scar on his back itched as he shuddered thinking of the memory of his father throwing him into the glass coffee table. That familiar bone-crunching pain was rising in his chest. He cast the memories aside almost as quickly as they came. The rules. Remember the rules, be invisible and you will be fine. He repeated it in his head over and over again. He almost started to believe it.

He walked the halls of the school. It was his first time out in public place since he returned to Hawkins. Part of him believed nobody would remember him, he used to be nobody. Six years ago, he could get through the day without any interaction at all. Now it was different. The rumors surrounding his absence had died down in the years after he had left. But his sudden reappearance had initiated a new onslaught of lies and half-truths.

A common one among them detailing how he had killed his mother and had spent the last six years in a juvenile prison. Another half-truth. His mother’s death may have been his fault but he hadn’t killed her. The mystery surrounding her death had been the talk of the town for months, even years afterward. Nothing very interesting ever happened in Hawkins and when something like that happens, it doesn't just disappear. No matter how much he wanted it to. Hopper had done his best to keep it quiet, for James's sake. He kept it out of the local papers but it didn't stop the rumors and gossip from spreading throughout the town like cancer. Another thing he wished he could repay the chief back for.

Prison. James always found the idea amusing. It almost sounded preferable to living in the foster care system in Indianapolis for the last six years. At least there he wouldn’t be cold when that month’s parents would shut off the heating. There he wouldn’t have had to search the house for scraps when he got hungry like some kind of rat. It hadn't been easy living like that for so many years. Constantly on the move to new homes, each one making him reevaluate how bad a shitty foster parent could be. Constantly fighting just for his share, never feeling safe enough to sleep. It was one horrible situation to the next, constantly being kicked out for fighting or stealing. But that was behind him now, he was in a good place and was determined not to jeopardize it.

He surveyed the room carefully. The faces in the room where all people he had been in middle school with but he struggled to remember a single person’s name. The class seemed fairly evenly split between boys and girls. All looking tired and depressed to start another school year. The student's attitudes contradicted the room they currently sat in. It was all bright colors and posters about the benefits of learning, covering every inch of wall space. There where Bios of Authors with associated images lining the large blackboard at the front of the room. He didn't need to check his timetable to know he was in AP English. He didn't want to be in any advanced classes. He had always just done the bare minimum in class but he had been coaxed into by Hopper.

He selected his seat carefully, avoiding any groups or anyone who looked like they wanted to make a new friend on the first day of high school. It was at the back, as physically far away from the teacher's desk as he could be. A man entered the class and stood at the front of the room. James sat up and took off his walkmen headphones he had been listing to. The rule about avoiding fights also applies to teachers. Teachers could make life difficult if they wanted to, always best to stay on their good side or at least stay out of their way.

"Hello, class, I'm Mr. Mc Nial, I’ll be teaching you English this year." He said enthusiastically. The man sat at his desk and removed a large pile of sheets. The papers were handed to the person sitting at the front of the class. Teacher's Pet he thought to himself. However, the girl in front looked terrified. She had brown curly hair that reached down to just above her shoulder and big brown doe eyes. Ironic because she looked like a deer in headlights. She took them from the teacher and held them to herself, not looking up from her desk.

"This year's syllabus is being passed around so take one and pass it on," Mr. Mc Niall said without taking his eyes of the remaining piece of paper on his desk. The girl in front took this as a queue and took one and passed it on. James could see her breath out and relax a little. Mr. Mc Niall started to rattle names off the list, each name was followed by a "yes" or "here". He had stopped listening to the names being called and started wondering how he could sneak out of school for a quick smoke. Mr. Mc Niall was working through the list of names at a steady pace, then she stopped dead.

"James White," he said bizarrely, looking up from the roll call for the first time. There was an audible silence in the class. Some of the students wiped their heads around to look at him others looked around to see what the confusion was about. James guessed he wasn't as forgotten as he had hoped.

"Here," he said trying to sound confident. Mr. Mc Nial stared at him for a few seconds as if he were a maths equation he couldn't quite get. He coughed lightly and averted his gaze when he realized he was staring at him. The list of names suddenly continued as if nothing had happened.

"psssss, hey James" a boy sitting next to him whispered. He turned his head to see a boy staring at him with his hand held out with a bunch of papers in them. He went to grab some, but they were pulled back to quickly. He looked at the boy in the faced. A big part of him wanted to hit him without question. If he was in one of his old schools he might have. That's usually how James acted, fight now and ask questions later. If there was one thing he learned about winning fights it was the importance of throwing the first punch and making it a good one.

"Can I have the syllabus, Please?" James said through gritted teeth. The boy seemed to think about it for a second. He extended the papers to James again. 

"Yea, of course," The boy said with a grin across his face. James extended his arm and grabbed the paper. However, he frustratingly realized the boy wouldn’t release his grip. He was starting to get really pissed off.

"Is it true you killed your mother?" He said looking him dead in the eye. James clinched the side of his desk so hard he felt his nails start to bleed. Fuck fitting in he thought. This bastard was going to get it, bad. Under the desk, he clenched his hand into a fist, the whole time the boy's eyes never left his.

"TROY!" Mr. Mc Nial's voice cut through the tension like a blade. James looked up and saw her staring at them. 

"Please boys no talking in class," he said sternly. James doubted he had a mean bone in his body. He was just trying to sound intimidating but it did the job.

"Sorry Mr. Mc Nial won't happen again," Troy said. He looked over at James one final time with that shit-eating grin on his face. He was glad the teacher distracted him. Sending this kid to the hospital on his first day would make him look worse than he already did.

The rest of the class was uneventful. He continued the day with his head down avoiding the harsh glances and sometimes full-on stares he received in the corridor. It was almost time for lunch. Eating in the cafeteria is a rookie mistake. He usually got his food and went anywhere else. Too many social hierarchies to deal with. Too many landmines to avoid or defuse and if he encountered that prick Troy again, he was likely to end up hurting him. Worse than he probably deserves, but it was a long day and James was in a bad mood. The bell chimed for lunch and James was the first out the door.

September 1st, 1985

Things haven’t ever really been good for Will Byers. When he looks back on his short life, he sees short momentary bursts of happiness in the middle of a vast sea of shit. Will sometimes convinces himself that his life was fine before 1983. But the truth is, his earliest memory was a Christmas spent with his parents screaming at each other and hiding with his brother in his room, crying. Then the divorce happened, and the bullying got worse. That wasn't the worst of it though.

The worst part was the self-knowledge that he was different from his friends. For the longest time he never really knew what set him apart from them. It wasn’t something you could see or hear but he knew it was there. Always lurking under the surface. Always threating to reveal itself to him. So, he ignored it, pretended that everything was fine. However, as he got older it got harder to ignore. He knew what it was even if he had never said it out loud. He had figured it out on the night of the snowball. Dancing with Jenifer that night had been fun. But that’s all it had been. He didn’t feel anything for her. Not like Mike felt about El or the way Lucas felt about Max. He thought maybe it was just Jenifer he didn’t like, but he knew that wasn't the case. He knew the truth, he had always known the truth.

His life had changed when it got him. The Demogorgon. He doesn’t remember everything from his time in the upside-down. Just enough to still make him terrified of the dark and what he knows lives in it. He wanted to believe the doctor when he told him he was just having flashbacks, but he knew that it was bullshit, nevertheless, he had gotten good at lying to himself over the years.

Mike had told him how he had helped them when he was possessed by the Mind Flayer. He had told him over and over again that they couldn’t have beaten it without him. Will called bullshit on that too. His memories from when he was possessed are more fractured than his memories of the upside-down. It is almost as if the Mind Flayer only wanted him to remember the really bad shit that happened. He had never actually witnessed Bob's death. Not with his own eyes’ anyway. But he remembers it. He remembers leading the group of soldiers down into the tunnels to their death. He remembers the pain of the mind flayer leaving his body as Nancy stabbed him with the iron poker.

He still has his scars, but the worst ones are the ones no one sees. The scars that keep him up at night. His friends help but they have the own problems and lives to deal with. And in the case of Mike, El, Max, and Lucas their own relationships to manage. He is happy for his friends, even if their relationships mean he is lonely from time to time. Jealousy comes when he sees Mike and El holding hands under a table, thinking no one will notice or Max and Lucas stealing kisses while watching a movie, it disappears almost as quickly as it comes.

But it’s a new school year and he wants to start fresh. He hadn’t felt this optimistic in a long time and it made him slightly nervous. The first day of high school. Some people feared it, one of those being Dustin, shouting his usual nonsense about social groups and popularity. But Will viewed it as a new beginning. He and El seemed to be the only ones excited to start the new chapter of their lives. El was just excited to feel like a normal teenager for the first time in her life.

He scanned his timetable carefully. Math was the last class before lunch. The teacher, Mr. Brown was an old man who didn’t seem very interested. After doing a roll call and outlining the plan for the year he gave them permission to talk among themselves until the end of class.

"This sucks," Dustin exclaimed while laying his head in his arms on the desk. 

"I hardly have any classes with the party and it's only the first day and Ms. Williams, me and Lucas’s Biology teach, already fucking hates us." He lifted his head off the table giving them an exhausting look.

"It could be worse, I feel bad for El talking AP English by herself,” Will said.

"I still don’t understand how someone could go from barely speaking a language to being in the advanced class," Dustin said staring at Mike for some sort of explanation.

"I told you, she worked really hard for this. Hopper even got her some special tutor or something to help out." Mike said looking down at his notebook smiling slightly. They said nothing, but both Will and Dustin knew it was a look of pride.

El was a determined person. There was no stopping her once she decided that she wasn’t going to be afraid of English. Instead, she wanted it to be her best subject. Will remembered the look on her face when she got her class list and found out her hard work was going to pay off. Her progress over the summer was exponential. One week she was reading books suitable for Mike’s little sister the next week she was reading the Great Gatsby. The bell chimed and made will jump in his seat a little. The three boys packed their stuff and headed towards the cafeteria.

"Do you think they got us a table already?" Dustin asked nervously. Since the end of middle school, Dustin held on to this nightmare that once they got to High school, they wouldn’t be able to sit together anymore.

"Come on Dustin it’ll be fine, I’m not doing this with you again" Mike sighed looking at his friend.

"Fine but you better hope I don’t get stuck at some loser table." Mike and Will shared a glance until Will started giggling to himself.

"What! What’s so funny" Dustin said swinging his head towards Will. Sometimes Dustin's obliviousness was stunning.

"Dude we are the loser table," Mike said trying to hold back his laugh. They all laughed as they arrived in the cafeteria. Dustin spotted Lucas, Max and El sitting at a table towards the back. El lifted her head and eagerly waved them over. Will scanned the cafeteria as they walked over. Everyone in this school was bigger and older than him. it was intimidating. Mike sat down next to his girlfriend and softly kissed her as the rest of them took their seats.

"How was your first day," Mike said as El was practically jumping up and down in her seat with excitement. 

"It’s amazing, the school I mean." She said looking at the rest of the party for confirmation. She was met with dead expressions from everyone. Will couldn’t help but let his smile out, he was happy for her. She deserved this in her life. He had never been good at forging new friendships but with El it was simple, it was like she was always part of the party. Max took a little more time but now he couldn't imagine his life without either of them in it.

"What is wrong with you," Max said smiling to her best friend. She was looking at El but then her gaze slowly drifted over her shoulder to the entrance of the cafeteria. Max’s smile slowly faded as her eyes narrowed on the boy that just entered. Max wondered if you could actually call him a boy. He was a freshman for sure but he looked older. He stood at about 6ft and had deep blue eyes with jet black hair.

"Who’s that guy," she said a little too loudly. All six of them at the table turned their heads to look at him at once. Will scanned through the crowd entering the cafeteria.

"Seriously guys be more obvious," she said looking a little embarrassed. They turned back to the table and look at him, out the corner of their eyes as he crossed the cafeteria. It took Will a second to recognize where he had seen him before. It was weird, the boy seemed so familiar but also a complete stranger. Then it clicked. Will opened his mouth to speak but Lucus beat him to it.

"Holy shit, that’s James White," Lucas said spitting out the small amounts of food in his mouth. Lucas and Mike shared the same shocked expression as Will. He couldn't believe it was James. Will hadn't thought of that name in years.

"Jesus stalker say it don’t spray it. Who the fuck is James White anyway" she said looking to Dustin who was suspiciously quiet? He seemed to be as clueless as she was. El just started at the food on her plate. 

"He went to Hawkins Middle School," Mike said still not believing what he was saying. Each of them where either taking turns glancing over to him.

"I thought he was dead or something" Will added, looking back over his shoulder to take his turn and get a better look at the stranger.

"No guys I heard he was like in prison," Lucas argued. 

"They don’t send kids to prison, dipshit" Max said making Lucas deflate a little as James made his way into the queue with a tray in hand.

"Nobody knows what really happened," Will said with some sense of rationality that the discussion seemed to be missing. Max looked at him and nodded, signaling him to explain.

"Look, it's not like I knew the guy or anything, but we would see him around the school. One day he just disappeared and nobody knew why. We later found out his mother had died under weird circumstances or something. All the parents and teachers seemed to never talk about it in front of us, but rumors started spreading through school like wildfire. Some pretty crazy shit too." Will finished his explanation looking back at the party.

"I wonder what happened," Max said with a frown appearing across her face. She glanced at El and found her staring at the same point on her plate as last time. Will could she was keeping something from the party, she had a shit poker face, he thought.

"You know something," Max said slightly startling her. El looked at the rest of the party. One look was all it took for Mike to now Max was dead right.

"Holy shit El, do you know him or something," Mike said with a hint of worry in his voice. Ever since the 352 days he spent separated from El, he could be a bit overprotective. Ironic considering her unique ability to snap someone's neck with her mind.

"I don’t know anything, he's in my English class that’s it," El said panicking slightly and avoiding eye contact with Mike. He could read her like an open book.

"Come on El please, what do you know" Lucas pleaded. Will was getting more and more curious about this new boy. 

"Okay fine" she shouted. She took a deep breath and glanced over to James in the queue. There was something in her eyes. It almost looked like empathy.

"He knows Dad, their like friends or something". She explained. The party looked at her like she suddenly grew a second head. For as long as all of them have known the Chief he never seemed to be someone with any friends. Especially someone the same age as them.

"What do you mean, friends?" Mike asked. 

"All I know is a couple months ago, we were driving home and he said he had to make a stop. So, we pull up to this house on the edge of  East Hawkins. When we went inside, he told me to wait in the kitchen, he started talking to this couple in a home office. From what I could gather from the conversation….” El tried to explain.

"Eavesdrop more like" Dustin interrupted.

"Shut Up curly!" Max hissed while punching him in the arm and gesturing with a wave for El to continue.

"As I was saying, they were talking about someone coming to live with them. When I asked Dad about it later, he said they were going to foster an old friend of his. I tried to get him to tell me who he was, but he wouldn't. He just said that he knew him from when he lived in New York" El explained quietly. The whole time Will was getting more curious about this mystery boy.

"Wait, hold on, what makes you think that guy is the kid he was talking about if he never told you his name? "Will asked looking fully engaged. They were all on the edge of their seats now.

"I didn’t know his name until the roll call this morning but I have seen his face before. I saw a photo of Sara and him together in an old box of stuff under the cabin. I didn’t recognize him right away but then it just clicked " She said looking down. It stayed quiet for a minute. Will could feel the same pit in his stomach the first time he had learned of Hopper's first child. Hop could be a difficult person but after Will learned what had happened, he saw him in a different light. He was probably one of the strongest people Will had ever known. 

"But didn’t she, you know..." Dustin asked nervously.

"Yea, she died when they lived in New York before Hopper moved back to Hawkins." She replied. It stayed quiet for a few moments.

"We should invite him to sit with us," El said breaking the silent tension. Will looked back over to see if James was still in the cafeteria. 

"I don’t know if that the best idea," Mike said turning to his girlfriend to find she was no longer there. He looked up to see her crossing the cafeteria towards him.

"Shit, too late lover boy," Max said shooting him a cocky smile.

September 1st, 1985

James paid for his food and looked at the tray to inspect his purchase. Of all the schools he had been to and there were a lot of them, Hawkins High actual had some good food. It wasn't hard compared to some of the school cafeterias he had eaten in.  He studied the layout cafeteria. The idea of eating in the library was tempting.

That familiar itch was making its way up through his body. The one o’clock itch, he had come to name it. It has how far in the day he could get without a cigarette. With that in mind, he decided he would just eat outside. It was September, but he had a coat didn’t he. It was better than sitting in here with these people. The same people that stared at him like he wore a sign on his back spelling freak. The same people who told lies and gossiped behind his back. Yea he would definitely prefer the cold.

This decision came with one substantial disadvantage, it required him to walk across the full length of the cafeteria. It was a safe guess that he would have eyes on him until he got outside. He took a deep breath and turned to storm the beach. As he did so he found himself face to face with a girl staring at him. Well more like face to chest. She wasn’t very tall.

"Emm, can I help you. Wait I know you we have AP English together" James said realizing he was talking to the girl who sat in the front of the class. It’s the teacher’s pet he thought.

"Mr. Mc Niall's class right," he said putting on his best fake smile. There wasn't much use for politeness where he was from but here it was a useful tool.

"Yup that’s me, I’m El, " she said giving him a reassuring smile and sicking out her hand.

"I was wondering if you wanted to sit with me and my friends," she added still giving him a smile. She was very cute he thought to himself. If he didn't know any better he would have even asked her out. But chances where he would be back in the city with a new family within a few months. Hell, if history was anything to go off it would probably be closer to a couple of weeks.

"I’m James. That’s really nice of you but I was just going to eat outside." He said as politely as he could while taking her hand and shaking it.

"WHAT! Are you crazy it’s freezing out" she said glancing back at the table, seeing five pairs of eyes glaring at her? He held back his laugh realizing she had probably gone out on a limb by asking him to her table. It was obvious nobody would want him to ruin there lunch.

"It's fine, I'll manage" James lied. A small part of him wanted to go over there. To try and make friends, but friends were a fool's game. Friends where more people that ended up disappointing you or worse. James would just end up hurting them.

"Please come sit with us. I won’t take no for an answer. "she insisted. He looked her in her big brown eyes. Kind of hard to say no too, if he’s being honest with himself.

"Emm, yea alright. I'd love to sit with you and your friends" he said glancing over to the table of teenagers all currently staring at them. They all wiped their heads back to their lunch when they saw James return their gaze.

"Your friends I assume" he joked, smiling at her. They walked over to the table, El slipped into her former seat beside Mike. James sat at the end of the table so he could view everyone. He didn’t know these people, he really didn’t want to be stuck between two people he didn’t know. The redhead was the first to speak up.

"Hi, I’m Max," she said looking at him with a pleasant smile. 

"That’s Lucas, my boyfriend, the short one is Will and the curly one is Dustin." She said making a face at the two boys. James gave the Lucus and Dustin a polite nod. He turned his head to greet the smaller boy but Max spoke up again before he could.

"And the one that’s currently wrapped around El is Mike," she said looking at Mike while slowly shaking her head with disapproval. James hadn’t noticed but she was right. As soon as El had sat down Mike had covered her with his long limbs like some kind of weird octopus and was kissing her while throwing him dirty looks. James couldn’t help but smile to himself. Jealousy was a funny thing. 

There was nothing but empty silence as he looked around taking in each one of their faces. James usually could call if someone was full of shit just by looking them in the eye. He thought he had a grasp on everyone from middle school but he didn't remember anyone here. As he looked around, they all seemed normal. That changed when he looked at the smaller boy. It was the first time he actually got a look at the boy since he had sat down. There was something about him. He couldn’t put his finger on it. His concentration was broken as Dustin made an announcement.

"So James, How do you know the Chief," Dustin said looking at him while taking a bite of his sandwich. He was meet with five hateful glares from his friends and one confused look from James.

"Seriously dude," Lucas said avoiding eye contact with James. James looked around but no one would match his eyes. He was guessing they had heard some of the rumors about him. He actually couldn't blame them for being curious but how did they know he knew Hopper.

"Hmm, well he helped me and my mom out when I was young. I was friends with his daughter... How did you know I knew the chief" he said looking back at Dustin with a confused expression? He wasn’t angry that someone knew he had a relationship with the chief of police, but he was genuinely surprised by the question.

"He's my dad," El said quietly. James stared at her for a second. A silence hung over the group, and unrelenting tension settling between them. No one made a sound. It was only broke by James’s laughter. Everyone at the table looked at him with a puzzling gaze.

"Your Jane," he said with a smile on his face. She nodded to confirm his question which just made him laugh even more.

"I’m sorry, it’s a pleasure to meet Hops' daughter. He talks about you a lot you know. Every time I speak to him, he goes on about how brilliant his Jane is.” He said smiling. His words made her blush slightly. The frown on Mikes's face was getting deeper and deeper. James thought about all the times he had heard Hopper talking about Jane. He told him a lot about her. But it was all superficial stuff like her grades or how he was bonding with her. He never really explained how he came to adopt a thirteen-year-old girl.

"Hopper helped me a lot, I probably owe him my life. If you ever need anything from me just ask.” He said looking at all the members of the table. His eyes meet Will's. There it was again. That feeling. He couldn't explain it but there was something about the way that the boy looked at him. There was something in his eyes and his smile, something so familiar. He pulled his gaze away from him and towards the clock mounted on the cafeteria wall.

"Shit, well I’m going for a smoke before my next class" he announced as he stood up.

"I appreciate you all letting me sit with you, I’ll see yours around," he said turning and walking towards the exit.

1st September 1985

The party just looked at each other. Instead of answers about the enigma that is James White they just got more questions. One thing was definite. He wasnt just a normal fifteen-year-old teenager, something was differednt about him. Will watched the back of James's head as he exited the cafeteria. 

"I like him" Max announced looking at each of them, waiting for their response.

"Well, I know El sure liked him," Mike said bitterly as he stood up.

"What’s that supposed to mean "El responded looking at him with her eyebrows crossed.

"Nothing, it doesn’t matter, come on Dustin lets go to class," He said turning and walking towards the exit of the cafeteria. Dustin followed a few feet behind waving back at them with his goofy smile.

"What’s his problem," El said looking to Max for an explanation. She just shrugged her shoulders. El looked at Will to ask him but she was meet with the side of his head. Will was still staring out the exit James just left.

"Will, you ok," she said to him with a concerned look. He seemed to snap out of his trance and looked at her.

"Yea I’m fine, it’s just…. I don’t know, there’s something about him I can’t put my finger on" Will said looking at her. He seemed to come back to himself and stood up.

"It’s nothing come on let’s go to class,” Will said glancing back towards Max and Lucas who were in their own world and ignored his existence.

They all made their way back to the corridor, but James stayed in Wills' head. Who was he? What was his relationship with Hopper? Why did he come back to Hawkins? Why did he leave in the first place? What happened to his mother? He realized it was none of his business, but James fascinated him.

1st September 1985

He took a deep final pull of his cigarette before throwing it on the ground and stomping it out. He thought about the group he had just meet. He still couldn’t believe he was sitting across from Hops' daughter and hadn’t realized it. 

The more he thought about him, the more Will Byers stayed on his mind. In fact, it’s all he could really think about. It was only that as he lay bed that night, it hit him. It was his smile. It was fake. Just like his.

Chapter Text

August 6th, 1985

He sat watching the seconds tick by on the clock positioned above the nurse’s station. It wasn’t his first time in the emergency room, and he was certain it wasn’t going to be his last. Another wave of pain ruptured in his arm causing him to forcefully clench his teeth. He examined the wound. It ran from his wrist down half his forearm. One long curved slash through his skin. It wasn’t his first time with a knife wound, and he was certain it wasn’t going to be his last. He reapplied pressure to the cut and grimaced, trying to think of something to take his mind of the pain.

James knew he had fucked up this time. There was no hope of going back to that house now. He burnt those bridges when he broke the nose of his foster parent’s son. In his defense, their son had pulled a knife on him. He struggled to remember why they had started arguing in the first place. Something stupid no doubt. Defiantly wasn’t worth the shit storm he now found himself in. He was confident they would send him to some boy’s home. The worst-case scenario was some temporary living facility for troubled youth. James especially despised those places. He never lasted long in them before he would run away and end up back in the foster care system. It was always the same vicious cycle. Only three more years of this shit and he would turn eighteen. He would finally be free to do what he wants, go where he wanted. Nobody to tell him what to do or how to live his life.

"Mr. White," a voice said, snapping him out of his own head. He turned to see an attractive nurse looking down on him with a smile.

"Yea, that’s me" he replied.

"Please follow me and I’ll have a look at that arm for you," she said turning and gesturing for him to follow her.

James reapplied some pressure to the bandage on his arm and stood up. His head felt light and he grabbed the wall for support. He must have lost more blood than he thought. James followed the nurse into a particularly bleak-looking room. Although he was a frequent flyer, he really detested hospitals and everything about them. The only light in the room originated from a ceiling light that flicked fast enough to almost not notice. It made him feel a bit sick. The nurse directed him to a seat across a clean steel table and placed his arm on top of it.

She began to clean the wound with disinfectant. The sudden sting hit him like a truck. He drew in a deep breath and tried to ignore the burning in his arm. James always had a high tolerance for pain but this was pushing his endurance far beyond his pain threshold. She filled a syringe from a bottle of clear liquid, that was sitting on the table.

"You’re not afraid of needles are you," she said smiling at him. It was a nice smile, something was comforting about it.

"No, I’ll be fine," he said returning her smile. Although he didn’t share his father’s affection for them, he never feared them either. She stabbed him with the needle close to the wound. It hurt more than he thought it would.

"So, young handsome guy like you must drive the girls crazy," she said, noticing his discomfort and attempting to take his mind off it. James considered it for a second.

"Don’t have much time for stuff like that. You asking me on a date?" he said with a charming smile. Her laugh echoed in the empty room. It was a nice contrast to the miserable atmosphere.

"No, I was definitely not asking you out, your half my age," she replied recovering from her sudden outburst of laughter.

"How’s your arm," she said examining his wound again. She removed a needle and thread from a clearly wrapped plastic packet.

"It’s better, I ehhh…. I can’t feel it anymore" he said looking down at his arm to confirm it was still attached to his elbow. Guess the question worked at taking his mind off the pain. James thought about her question. He never had a real girlfriend or anything like that. It wasn’t a conscious choice he had made, it just never seemed that important to him. There were girls he had been attracted to and had fooled around with but that was more just two horny kids satisfying their teenage hormones. A relationship wasn’t ever the end goal of those interactions.

The nurse began stitching the wound together. Now that he could no longer feel it, he took a closer look at the slash in his arm. It wasn’t that deep but stretched at least 7 or 8 inches down his forearm. Just another one for his ever-growing collection. The bastard who cut him could have done some serious damage if it was a half-inch deeper James thought, trying to remember some of the anatomies he had learned in school. James cursed himself for letting himself get cut in the first place. He had thought the broken nose would have prevented his temporary foster-brother from using the blade he produced. He had thought wrong. It was a rookie mistake and now he was paying the price for it.

 James took the time to evaluate the situation he currently found himself in. It wasn’t anything new, he had been through this countless times. They would send a social worker to evaluate his situation. Then look at his file for two seconds before driving him to whatever boys’ home had an empty bed for him. Then the cycle repeated. Fostered to some family to act as a meal ticket, gets in trouble and gets kicked out. Same shit, different day. James thought about trying his luck on the street. It seemed better than going through the whole process again, just to find himself back in the same position in a couple of months. 

He had been homeless a couple of times before. Sometimes it was just for a couple of weeks sometimes for a couple of months. James remembered some of the rough experiences he had while living on the street and thought maybe it wasn't the best idea. He suddenly felt a twitch in the scar that ran from his lower back across his side to his right abdomen. It was a nasty grizzly scar that had almost cost him his life when he was only thirteen. Some homeless guy had cut him with a glass bottle. All over a carton of smokes, James had lifted from a van and refused to surrender to him. It was a stupid thing to almost die over, James hadn't been on the street since the then.

"What time is the social worker getting here," he said resting his head on the back of the chair. The nurse seemed to be about halfway through stitching up his arm.

"They didn’t tell you," she said taking her eyes off her work and looking up at him.

"They’re not sending a social worker. A policeman is coming to pick you up " She said looking confused as if he had known this all along.

"What are you talking about, "James responded feeling confused.

"Yea umm. What’s his name?" she said struggling to remember.

"Hop or something, yea that’s it. Hopper. Jim Hopper. He called and said he we should release you into his custody." She said looking down to continue her work.

Hopper was going to pick him up. The thought of seeing him again made his head spin. It had been at least two or three years since James had seen him last. They kept up to date with letters or the odd phone call but even they seemed to be a rare commodity lately. Most of the time James lied to him about whatever situation he was in at the time. He didn't want him to be worrying about him.

James didn’t blame him for losing touch over the years, Hopper was a father now. Hopper had explained the whole situation of his adoptive daughter in a letter he received a few months back. That had been their first communication in over a year. Perhaps his sudden appearance in Indianapolis was due to James's latest visit to the hospital, but he had been in the hospital a half dozen times in the last year alone and never heard from him. Maybe he had news about his father. If that was the case not even seeing Hopper again would be worth it.

The nurse finished stitching his arm and wrapped it in a thick white bandage. James thanked her for her help and started making his way back to the waiting area. He turned the corner and started back down the corridor he had come from. When the nurse had approached him the waiting room was empty, but now there was a giant man sitting in the seat he had left. James looked down to see Jim Hopper's stern, hard eyes peering into his soul. His mouth secured with that scowl he always seems to be wearing.

"Oh, hey Jim what’s up," he said, with a casual grin smeared across his face. Hopper just continued his cold stare. Jim Hopper was truly a terrifying figure. But James knew him to well, he could tell he was happy to see him. A grin was cooking underneath the surface of the chief’s face. He pretends he’s a total asshole, but James knew the truth. He is only like seventy-five percent asshole.

"I stopped by your foster parent's house. Some kid with a busted nose answered. He said you attacked him, and you were in the hospital because he had to defend himself." He said noticing his bandaged arm.

"You okay," Hopper said before James could answer. He detected a hint of worry sneaking into his voice.

"yea I’m fine and by the way, that prick started it," James said defending himself as the chief rose to his feet and closed the distance between them.

"You're lucky he's not pressing charges." He said sticking his finger into James' chest.

"What’s going on Hop," James said, his curiosity now getting the better of him.

"Come on let’s go, I’ll explain on the way to Hawkins," he said turning around. He started towards the elevator and James quickly caught up and matched his pace.

“I can’t... I'm not going back to Hawkins," James said gripping the chief’s arm and pulling him back.

"Why not. All your things are in my truck" Hopper replied, looking him dead in the eye. Hopper knew there was nothing for him here anymore. James stopped and considered if for a second. The more he tried to think of a reason to stay he couldn’t. How could someone spend six years in a place and have absolutely nothing to show for it. No friends that would miss him or parents that would worry about where he went. James doubted there had ever been something in the city worth staying for. If he disappeared the only one that would notice would be Hooper and even then it might be a year before he did.

That realization stung him more than any knife wound. He spent so many years being invisible that he may as well have not existed at all. Somewhere along the line, he had become a ghost. James had never once looked back over his time in the city, he was always looking forward, towards his next meal or place to sleep. Now that he evaluated it, it could hardly be called living. It was pure survival. Hopper, suddenly realizing the pain his question caused, gripped his shoulder.

"It’s good to see you again kid, things are going to be okay, they’re going to get better." He said squeezing him into a half hug. For the first time in a long time, James felt tears beginning to form in his eyes. He wiped them away before Hopper could notice.

"Okay. Yea. let’s go" he said turning to face away from him and hitting the elevator button. The whole way down into the parking garage James stayed quiet. His conversation with Hopper played in his head repeatedly. He couldn’t think of a single reason to stay in a city he called home for six years. Maybe it was time for a new beginning. Maybe if he moved town, he could start to get better. Leave all his pain in the city. He was so sick of feeling it all the time. The same constant mind-numbing pain in the center of his chest, never able to escape it or run from it. The only thing he could ever do was pretend it wasn’t there and he was tired of pretending. Hawkins was not a good place for him, but maybe it was time to stop running.

The first hour of the journey was spent in heavy silence. Excluding Hopper's awful country music playing in the background. Hopper stayed quiet not wanting to force him to open up. He knew James would communicate when he was ready. They watched as the city got smaller and smaller the closer they got to Hawkins. He had loved Hawkins when he was a boy, but it was always going to be the place where his mother died, maybe going back would give him some small sense of closure. No matter where they were going, he promised himself he was going to be better. He promised that he was going to make it better, make it work no matter what

"Where are we going Hop," James said breaking the silence in the car. Hopper looked at him for a second then reached over to the glove-box and clicked it open. He pulled out a brown folder filled with papers and handed it to James.

"I found a family that has agreed to foster you," Hopper said turning to gauge his reaction. He expected a significant amount of resistance from him. James’s years burring through foster parents had made him cynical towards the whole process. Hopper understood that convincing James to move to Hawkins to live with new foster parents was going to be difficult. However, James just took the folder and examined its contents.

"Who are they," he said curiosity looking at the photos that were in the folder.

"Charles and Jessica Hughes," he said without taking his eyes off the road. James examined the folder carefully.

"They're good people. I meet them a couple of years ago in a group for parents dealing with grief. I never really stuck with the group, but I stayed in contact with them over the years. They contacted me a little while back after they heard I had adopted Jane. They wanted to adopt a kid for a while but had never followed through with it." Hopper explained. James looked at the faces of the people in the photo. They seemed like decent people.

"Why where they in the group," James said looking up from the folder. James knew Hopper had bounced around different groups and doctors after Sara. 

"Their son was seventeen when he was killed. Died on impact when another driver crossed lanes. They never really moved on. I told them how adopting Jane had helped me deal with my grief." Hopper said clenching the steering wheel a bit tighter.

"How are you managing," James said approaching the subject carefully. He was truly happy for Hopper. When Sara died, he became a shell of the man he used to be. For the first time since then, he seemed like himself again. James didn’t always feel that way. He was furious when Hopper told him he was adopting a daughter. James had begged Hopper to be his guardian after his mother’s death. Hopper just insisted that he was not fit to be a parent. In all honesty, James had believed him. The drinking, the pills the obvious depression. What changed. Hopper would never put a child in an unsafe situation. Did he clean up his act then adopt her or the other way around.

"It’s going good. Jane made loads of friends. She’s starting high school in September, maybe you will be in her class," Hopper said optimistically. James envied his optimism but he didn't share it. He wanted to make this work but he also knew his pattern of self-destruction.

"Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves shall we," he said laughing at Hopper's rare excitement.

James relaxed in his seat and finished reading the papers in front of him. He never placed much hope in foster parents. The ones he usually ended up with just wanted an extra weekly check from the government. The people in the file didn’t appear to be like that. Charles Hughes is a forty-five-year-old psychologist and his wife of twenty-one years, is a Doctor. They seemed like good simple people, no previous run-ins with the law, not even a parking ticket. Both professionals with good carers. 

After a while, James started seeing some sighs for Hawkins. He thought about living there again. The school was going to be difficult. That is if they remember him, six years was a long time after all. Maybe he would have a fresh start. He remembered hearing the rumors about him in town before he left. Some vile shit was said about him and his mother. Kind of made moving back then easier. James fingered his pockets for his smokes and removed one.

"What the hell is that" Hopper shouted as James began to roll down the window.

"You want one" James questioned, taking out his lighter and lighting the end of the cigarette.

"No, I don’t want one, what the hell is wrong with you. When did you start smoking?" Hopper shouted looking over to him. James shrugged his shoulders and continued to smoke out of the window.

They soon pulled up to the house he had seen in the photos. Their house was extraordinary. James could never imagine living in a place like this. He didn’t remember Hawkins that well, but he remembered this neighborhood. It was hard to forget. When he lived here, he used to walk out of his way just so he could catch a glimpse of one of these houses. He used to imagine what if would be like to live there. His own house was a little cabin Hopper owned. It was small and out of the way. But it was home. His mother worked hard so he could call it that. Now that he thinks about it, he hasn’t had a home since. Not in any way that matters. He wondered whatever happened to that little cabin in the woods.

They walked up the long drive and approached the front door. James’s hands were sweating. He usually didn’t get this nervous meeting new foster parents. Hopper reached up and knocked on the door three times. He was breathing fast now and could feel his heart pump fast in his chest. What the hell was wrong with him, he’s done this a hundred times. James was determined to do this right. The massive door swung open. A couple was standing there ready to greet them. The Hughes he assumed.

"Hi, you must be Charles," James said extending out his hand putting on his politest smile.

"Yes of course and you must be James" Charles replied shaking his hand. His handshake was strong and firm.

"And you must be..." his question was cut short by a hug from the short women. James was lost for words as he was wrapped in a hug from the stranger.

"Ohh… I’m Sorry, I'm Jessica" she said pulling back awkwardly and extending her hand. He was taken back slightly. Six years in foster care and he hadn’t received a single hug from one of his so-called parents.

"It's fine," he said taking her hand and shaking it. He noticed how soft her hands where and how welcoming her smile was.

"Please come in," she said leading them all into the house. James and Hopper followed them into the house and were directed into the living room. They took their seats around the coffee table and Charles went off to get coffee for everyone. James was glad that Hopper was still with him. These introductions were always awkward. Hopper made small talk with Jessica while James stayed relatively quiet fiddling with whatever he could get his hands on. Charles returned with the coffee, tea and an assortment of small biscuits and cakes. He could tell how nervous he was. How nervous they both were. Guess he wasn’t the only one.

They chatted around the coffee table for a while and Hopper agreed to stay for dinner. James was grateful for his company. It was something familiar in this new place. As James made his way to the Dining table, he took in his surroundings for the first time since entering the home. That’s what it felt like. A Home. It was warm and comfortable with tasteful art on the walls. They had a vast collection of old books in their shared home office. A fantastic smell was originating from the kitchen and it made James' stomach churn. He hadn’t eaten since before he went to the hospital.

He took a seat at the dining table next to Hopper. The conversation drifted easily from one topic to another. Most of it was focused on James. They were asking him what he liked to eat and drink and what subjects he liked in school. What he wanted to do after school. It was all normal. They seemed actually interested in him. Which was a welcome change from all his previous foster homes? The Hughes genuinely seemed like good people. All of them ate roasted chicken with carrots and potatoes. He struggled to remember the last time he had home cooking like that. After dinner, Hopper thanked them and said goodbye. He told James that he would stop in tomorrow to see how everyone was doing.

James stayed up for a few more hours talking with his new foster parents. He asked them about their work and their hobbies. Since they both work in Indianapolis, they leave the house at around six in the morning and usually don’t return until five that evening. James would applicate the alone time. Charles gave him a quick tour of the house. It was like something from some movie he had seen as a child. A pool in the back garden, a library, his own room with a king-sized bed. He still didn’t really believe it. A couple of hours ago he was thinking about moving onto the streets. Now he was here in this strange place. As he lay in bed that night a thought occurred to him. For the first time in six years, he had something to lose. It terrified him.

September 5th, 1985

Will sprinted out the back door of his house as quickly as he could. It was freezing outside, and he struggled to see anything in the pitch blackness of the night. He turned and looked back into the house for any trace of the creature that has chased him. As he looked around, he realized he was barefoot. He felt the cold slowly seep up his legs. It paralyzed him. That’s when he heard it. The hungry growl echoed from behind him. He could feel its presence now. He wanted to run but couldn’t move his legs. He wanted to scream but couldn’t open his mouth. The Demogorgon circled in front of him know and stood up. It stood twice the height of the small boy. The teeth lining the inside of his flower split face shown in the dark. Will wanted to close his eyes but couldn’t seem to draw them away from the creature. This was it he thought to himself. It was finally going to get him for good. The creature released a blood-curdling scream and lunged quickly at the boy. The last thing he saw was the creature's teeth surrounding him.

He awoke releasing the scream that the dream had refused him. Will's heart was beating fast in his chest and he realized he had sweated through his sheets. With a sigh, he took a deep breath and lay back down on his bed. Just another nightmare he thought to himself. Will assumed he was getting better as his night terrors seemed to become more infrequent. He was wrong. As the season changed and the anniversary of the incident approached, the nightmares seemed only to be getting stronger.

Will turned over to check the clock on his bedside table. The bright neon numbers read six o’clock. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep know. He might as well get ready for school. As he showered, he continued to think about his dream. The more he tried to remember it the more it faded away. It still terrified him. How could you be afraid of something you can’t remember he asked himself as he turned off the hot water and prepared himself for the day.

He sat in the kitchen watching whatever was on the tv while eating a breakfast made up of stale cereal and orange juice. The house had been quiet since Johnathan had gone off to college in New York. He had felt guilty for wanting his brother to stay in Hawkins. Will always felt stronger when Johnathon was with him. He was the only reason he had gotten through his father leaving and all the other shit that happened. Johnathon had stayed up with him on the nights Will was too afraid to go to sleep and hugged him when the crying seemed to never end. Joyce helped where she could, but their financial situation hadn’t changed just because they had gone through something traumatic. Life is rarely that kind. She still had to work every day, constantly taking extra shifts at the store just to stay afloat.

"You're up early" Will heard a voice say from behind him.

"Couldn’t sleep" Will mumble, avoiding eye contact with his mother as he checked his watch and picked up his bag.

"You had another nightmare, didn’t you? It’s getting worse, "she said as a wave of panic set across her face. Will hated seeing his mother worrying about him.

"It's fine... I’m fine. I promise" Will said turning to look at his mother. He crossed the room and kissed her cheek lightly.

"I gotta go to school, I’ll be home late," he said. He left his house without glancing back at his mother. Hopper's truck was waiting for him at the end of his drive to give him a ride to school.

School had settled into an easy rhythm. Will was surprised by how little had actually changed between Middle school and High School. The classes were a bit harder, but the fundamentals had stayed the same. Go to class, go to lunch, go home. He still got called a fairy or a fag in the corridor every now and again. It made him miss the days he was only known as the zombie boy. Will knew they were just trying to hurt his feelings but he always panicked when someone called him those names. It could be worse, there was always at least one party member in each of his classes, so he was never alone. His fear of being alone almost rivaled his fear of the Demogorgon.

Although Will would never admit it, he was upset he didn’t share any classes with James. Will had only met him once but there was something magnetic about. It wasn't something could place or explain. El had told them she had invited him to sit with them again, but he never showed up for lunch. When she ran into him again, he made some bad excuse about needing to see the nurse during lunch. She took the message and decide she would leave him alone, much to Mike's delight. Mike had apologized for the day after and was forgiven instantly. That’s what it was like with them. They weren’t some perfect movie couple, they fight often and get jealous occasionally. There are humans after all, but Will had always admired their ability to put their pride aside for the benefit of the other. That’s how he knew they would last.

The day had passed him in a blink of an eye and before he knew it he was making his way to lunch, he scanned the corridor for that face that seemed seared into his memory. He was nowhere to be seen, like every other day since meeting him. The school wasn’t that big, Will wondered how one man could be so hard to ‘Accidently’ run into. He sat in his usual seat beside his friends at their normal table. Just like every other day he scanned the tables in the cafeteria one by one hoping to catch a glimpse of the dark-haired boy. A sudden thought occurred to him. What if he was sitting with some popular group, what if he refused Els's invitation because he didn’t want to be spotted with a bunch of losers. The thought made Will's chest tighten.

"Dude what are you looking at," Dustin said looking at "ill as he pulled his attention back to the group.

"Nothing, so we still on for the arcade after school" Will said focusing himself back on his friends. Going the arcade on a Friday after school or a Saturday had become kind of a tradition in the party. Lucas and Dustin still ad an epic rivalry, even if they were hopelessly outmatched by Max.

"Yeah sure, as long as El doesn’t cheat at pinball again," Lucas said smiling over to her.

"Hey, I didn’t cheat. I just happen to rock at that game is all" she said confidently lifting her chin in the air. Will seriously doubted that. El could have a surprising competitive streak.

"Is that why your nose bleeds every time you play it?" Mike said grinning over to El.

"You TRAITOR!" she said hitting his arm as the whole group erupted laughing. 

These were the kind of moments Will lived for. Just him and the people he loved sitting around laughing or going the arcade or even just watching Star Wars for the hundredth time in Mike's basement. Will always knows no matter what he can depend on his friends. The laughter died down and they continued making plans for going to the arcade after school.

"Come on we should really go to the gym" Dustin announced as he stood up and bowed goodbye to the girls.

"You’re such a loser," Mike said embarrassed by his friend. He half escorted, half dragged him out of the cafeteria and toward the gym locker rooms. Will and Lucas followed in pursuit laughing at their antics.

Will had always hated sports. He was small and slow and had the reflexes of a tree. He never had any illusion about his sporting potential, even if his father tried to make him play baseball. He was dreading the idea to do it all over again in high school. His mood improved drastically when he learned that he could play ping pong during the gym instead. It was technically a sport, so he jumped on board as soon as he could. Even if Mike Dustin and Lucas all signed up for basketball. They all sucked but enjoyed playing all the same. They tried to have one of them sign up for the same sport as Will but he insisted he would be fine. He would play with himself if it meant getting out of playing basketball.

He stood at his locker and changed into his gym gear. Dustin was being characteristically slow at changing into his gym gear, and Will decided to wait for him as Lucas and Mike made their way into the hall. Will was just about to turn around and abandon his friends when he noticed HIM walking into the locker room. James seemed to not see him and made his way over to his locker. Will's eyes were locked onto him.

James removed his t-shirt as he opened his locker and looked for his gym gear. Will’s eyes were glued to his body. Yes, he would admit the boy was toned and had muscles Will had only seen in magazines, but that wasn’t what was drawing his attention to his body. It was his scars. His body was littered with scars. Some of them looked like life-threating injuries but Will couldn’t really tell. The most sever ran from his stomach over his hip to his back. It looked liked someone had tried to cut him in half. Some of them defiantly looked older than others. He didn’t think all of them happened at the same time. The one that ran along his forearm looked like it was still healing. Will guessed it couldn’t be more than a couple months old. He blushed furiously when he looked up and meet James gaze. Shit, Will thought to himself. He had caught him steering at him shirtless. He turned away from him as quick as he could.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck" he whispered to himself. He looked for the closest exit out of the locker room and prepared to make a run for it.

"Hey it's emm... Will right" he heard from behind him. Will turned slowly hoping it was anyone else, but he knew it wasn’t. James had crossed the locker room and was now face to face with him. Will couldn’t help but notice that he was still shirtless.

"Hey James, What’s Up," he said avoiding eye contact with him. Now that he was closer Will could really make out some of his injuries. He looked like he had been through a war.

"Just came over to say hi," he said smiling at him. Will almost melted at that smile. 

"So, eh, what sport did you sign up for," Will said nervously trying to think of anything to say.

"Boxing, what about you," James said still smiling directly at him. Will was impressed by his confidence to have a conversation while he was half-naked.

"Ehhh, Ping Pong" Will said now extremely mortified by his choice for the gym. There was a sudden silence between them.

"Hey, guys what's going on," Dustin said suddenly appearing and looking between the two boys. Dustin seemed to only notice James’s presence. He looked at him and his jaw dropped slightly

"Dude, nice abs," he said slapping James on his chest with the back of his hand. James just looked confusingly at Will. He, however, was too preoccupied trying to not laugh at his friend's reaction.

"Well come on then, I'm not waiting all day," Dustin said seriously turning his head to Will. That was the last straw, Will started laughing hysterically into his own hands. He followed Dustin out of the gym slowly shaking his head at his own friends’ stupidity. He took one more glance to wave goodbye to James or maybe he just wanted to see him without his shirt one more time.

There were a couple of other kids playing ping pong. Four to be exact. Will decide to observe a match until an opponent became available. He was getting bored watching other people play and was beginning to regret his decision. He had to stick with it for the rest of the semester. That familiar loneliness began creeping up his spine.

"You want a match," a familiar deep voice said from behind him. He turned to see James walking towards him paddle in hand. He was, unfortunately, wearing a t-shirt this time, Will thought.

"I uh… thought you were doing boxing" Will said suddenly being fuelled by excitement. He was suddenly feeling very nervous. Butterflies were buzzing in his stomach and his palms were starting to sweat. What was wrong with him?

"Yea I was but this seemed like fun," he said walking around to the other side of the table. He smiled across the table and removed a ball from his pocket.

"Won't you get marked as absent" Will said suddenly feeling guilty. For a second, he thought James might have switched sport because of him. He quickly scolded himself for thinking something that ludicrous.

"Yea I will, so you better be good and make it worth it," he said smirking over to him. Will chuckled and prepared to play the first match.

The first match was close, but Will managed to get the upper hand. He hadn’t ever had this much fun in gym class in his life. For a moment he forgot he was even in school. The last couple of rallies James kept whistling the same tune over and over again. Will would recognize it anywhere. The song had literally saved his life.

"You like the Clash," Will asked. The more they talked the more intrigued he was by James.

"Emm yea, I’ve been kind of catching up on music I’ve missed. I haven’t really been keeping up to date the last couple of years." He said still concentrating on returning his attacks.

"Maybe I could help, I kind of did something similar for El when she went to live with Hopper," Will said thinking about all the mixtapes he had at home when he accepted the job of educating El’s music taste.

They played match after match, their conversation went everywhere from music to comics to movies. It flowed out of Will like water. He had never really experienced anything like it before, there was no awkwardness or tension. He never hesitated to tell him something about himself. No fear of being judged. He told him about his art and what inspired his drawings. He even went as far as telling him about his brother and how he had missed him since he left for college. Will had never opened up to someone so quickly before. No matter how long he thought about it he couldn’t figure out why he felt so comfortable with him. James had talked a lot about himself except about his past. He dodged around it gracefully, always changing the subject or bringing up a new one. Will didn’t mind, he had his own demons he would rather not talk about.

"You know I thought I remembered everyone from Middle school, but you're a welcome surprise," James said as he returned one of Will's serves. Will didn't know too if he should feel complimented or not. 

"I usually try to keep my head down. I remember you though" Will replied. James missed the ball completely when Will spoke. He averted his eyes to the ground and searched for another ball.

"You have probably heard some rumors about me then," James said. His voice had changed when he spoke. Will swallowed the lump in his throat and thought about what to say. He decided the tell the truth.

"Yea I heard a few," Will said as he removed a spare ball from his pocket and served it. The attack forced James to take his eyes off the ground and look back at Will. There was something different in his eyes, a new sadness.

"I don't care what people say, they say things about me too," Will said breaking the silence. Will had suffered through enough ugly rumors to know that people where rarely what people said. The only thing Will needed to evaluate James on was his character. James looked at him with a smile. The sadness in his eyes had faded completely. 

The bell rang as they finished up their last match. They had played seven. Will claimed four and James three. He couldn’t help but be disappointed that his time with James had come to an end.

"Just consider yourself lucky Byers, I’ll get you next week," he said throwing his paddle back down on the table and looking up laughing at him.

"Yea we’ll see about that" Will said as they walked back to the locker room together. Will left him at his locker and crossed the cramped room to his own. When was he going to see him again? Once he was changed he tried to look through the crowd to spot him but he was gone. Will gave up and left to meet Mike, Dustin, and Lucas outside. The three of them where waiting outside the gym for him.

"How was Ping Pong" Lucas asked. Will thought about how best to answer that question. Should he tell his friends about James?

"It was fun. It was really fun" Will responded turning to take on more glance back the gym. It was just then he spotted James passing through the exit. He was leaning against the gym wall lighting a cigarette. Will felt a sudden pang of panic. Was he really ok with not seeing him again for another week? How knows if he would even want to do the same next week.

"Hey, guys can you give me a sec" "ill said running back towards the gym.

"Where the hell are you going. Hold on, isn’t that James White he’s running over to” Lucas said with a bewildered look on his face.

Will left his friends behind and approached James. The closer he got the bigger the wave of nerves in his stomach grew. He had spent the last hour with him what was he suddenly so nervous to talk to him. James looked up from his smoked and noticed the small boy heading towards him.

"Hey Will, you here for a rematch," he said. Will stopped just short of him. James was smiling at him and it made his knees feel weak. 

"I won remember," Will responded wishing they could go back and play together for the rest of the day.

"Yeah whatever," he said throwing him a charming smile. Will was tracing every curve of his face. His jawline, eyes, and brow. Was it weird that he wanted to draw him?

"I was wondering if you wanted to go to the arcade after school with me and my friends. " Will suddenly blurted out. He regretted it almost instantly. What was he thinking, if he didn’t what to eat lunch with them there was no way he wants to spend time with them outside of school? Why did it feel like he was asking someone out? It was ridiculous. James seemed to think about it for an eternity. Every second he was denied an answer made Will want to go back in time and redo the conversation.

"Yea ok I'll meet you there. " James nodded. Will didn’t seem to register his response, he just stared at him for a few seconds. It took a moment, but he eventually pulled himself together to give James a polite nod. He slowly backed away almost like James was a wild animal. The whole time Will returned to his friends James’s eyes never left his.

September 5th, 1985

James thought about what had happened in gym class. He honestly didn’t know what made him switch sports last second. He was defiantly going to be written up for the absent. But he couldn’t care less. What had compelled him to do it? Was it because of Will? Why did the small boy have so much power over his thoughts? Will had corrupted his mind like some kind of computer virus. Hijacking all his thoughts until they only focused on him.

As the final class finished up he went to his locker and deposited all of his books into them. He thought about Will's invitation. It was a nice gesture, but he should have rejected it. Associating with Will and his friends wasn't going to end well for anyone. The best-case scenario is he becomes great friends and it makes moving to the next foster house harder. The worst-case scenario is they see past his fake smiles and see him for the broken freak he really is. Then discard him as everyone else in his life had. The logical thing to do was go home and forget all about Will’s invitation. Although, the idea of disappointing Will poked James in the chest like a hot poker. It was like he never had the choice, to begin with. James wondered if there was anywhere, he would have refused to go if Will had asked him.

He made his way out of the building and looked up at the sky. It was getting darker by the day and you could start to feel the winter in your bones. He pulled a cigarette from his jeans and started his walk to the arcade. James wondered how long it would take him to arrive there and if he would freeze to death before he did do. As he made his way out of school he spotted the familiar Hawkins police truck parked on the curb. James quickened his pace over to the truck. The window was rolled down and Hopper was blowing the smoke outside of it.

"Hey Hopper," James said approaching the truck and taking another drag of his smoke.

"Hey kid, how is school going," he said flicking his disregarded cigarette out the window. James took one more pull from his own smoke before extinguishing it on the ground with the heel of his boot.

"You know me, I make it work, " he said, forcing them both to grin. He turned his head and saw El approach the truck. She wasn’t alone, Mike was wrapped around. He tried to remember ever seeing them not together and came up empty. An idiot could see they were head over heels for each other. He felt the unrelenting pang of jealousy in his stomach. He wanted to believe that he could have that with someone one day, but he knew it was unlikely some girl would accept all the baggage he comes with.

"By the way, you didn’t tell me your little girl had a boyfriend" James joked, trying to get a rise out of the chief. Hopper turned his gaze out the window towards James.

"Fuck you" Hopper replied with a stone look in his eyes. James knew that Hopper liked Mike. It wasn't something he told him, it was the things he hadn't told him that gave it away. Hopper had never informed James of his desire to shoot his daughter's boyfriend, therefore James assumed he must be okay with it. But James bet it still killed Hopper to see them all over each other.

"I heard you're coming to the arcade with us," El said smiling at him as they approached the truck. Her brightness was infectious sometimes.

"Yea Will invited me, I hope that’s ok, I wouldn’t want to impose." He said smiling back at her and looking into her eyes.

"No of course not, you're always welcome," El said lightly slapping him on the arm. James glanced at Mike, who remained silent and just had a stone face. James was laughing to himself. He enjoyed toying with Mikes' head.

"You're too nice," he said as they all loaded into the truck. James opened the trucks backseat door to allow El to enter. She nodded to him politely as she entered the car. Mike jumped into the back to make sure he was beside El. James just laughed to himself and decided to sit shotgun. Hopper pulled the truck out of the car park and started in the direction of the town.

"So, El most people must guess your adopted, huh," James said turning his head to face the couple in the back seat.

"What makes you say that," she said looking slightly puzzled at his question. James just couldn't help himself, Mike was looking so angry.

"I mean your way to pretty to be related to the chief," he said turning to give her his most charming smile. She blushed furiously and looked at the floor. He turned to look at the road and he could feel Mike's stare burning a hole in the back of his head.

James turned to see the chief smiling to him out the corner of his mouth, He knew he was just messing with Mike. They continued their journey into town in relative silence. Hopper's awful county music still played lightly in the background. James swore to himself he would buy the man some new music one day. James felt around in his pocket and removed a smoke.

"Do you mind?" James said looking over at the chief. He just nodded and started rolling down the window. James always knew that Hopper did his best to care for him, but he isn’t his guardian and has no real place to tell him what he can or can't do. Besides Hopper knew James had suffered more adversity in his fifteen years than most people in a lifetime. James's childhood had ended the day his mother had died.

"You going to go see your father" Hooper suddenly questioned. The question had come out of nowhere and taken him by surprise. James thought about it for a second. He looked into the rear-view mirror and saw the two teenagers staring at the back of his head waiting for a response.

"Why would I do that" James replied coldly.

"Because you won't get many more chances, " Hopper said taking his eyes off the road and looking at him. James knew he only wanted the best for him but the thought of seeing his father frightened him more than he had believed was possible.

"I'm not going to see him" James replied avoiding eye contact. They were pulling up to the arcade now. James could see the big neon lights.

“Look, kid, I really think.” Hopper began but James quickly interrupted.

“I'm NOT going to see him,” James said cutting him short. Shit. He shouldn’t have lost his temper. He could see Hopper's worried look out the corner of his eye. The car pulled to a stop outside the arcade. He could see Lucas, Max and Will outside.

"I'm sorry Hop," James said turning to look him in the eye. He could still feel El and Mike's presence in the car. They were dead silent. Hopper just nodded and placed his arm on James' shoulder. They had been through a lot together. Hopper didn’t need to say anything he knew they were good.

James stepped out of the truck and flicked his smoke to the ground, stomping it out with his heel. Mike and El followed him out of the car looking a little shell shocked. They assumed the tension in the car had come out of nowhere. However, Hopper had been suggesting going to visit his father since he had returned. Each time James emphatically declined. They all waved the chief goodbye and El told him when to pick her up when they were finished.

Lucas and Max entered the arcade holding each other's hand. El and Will followed. He could overhear El telling Will what had happened in the car. James and Mike where the only people left outside. They shared an awkward glance before Mike turned to walk into the arcade.

"Hey Mike, can you hold up a sec," James said after him. Mike turned to face him. He had never noticed how tall Mike was before. It was hard to notice due to the boy's skinny frame but he was easily a foot taller than James. As James approached he noticed how Mike had clenched his fist and stood his ground, while also planting his feet. His body was turned at a slight angle away from him. James had been punched in the face many times. Each time the person responsible stood in a similar formation and had a look in his eye that was very familiar to the one in Mike's.

"What do you want," Mike said, James could hear the resentment in his voice. The two now stood face to face and the disparity in size became obvious. Mike was taller but the weight between them was significant. James was lean and stocky while Mike was tall and lanky. It wasn’t a fight Mike had a chance of winning, but it didn’t deter him. Knowing you would lose and still not backing down was courageous. James respected that.

"I wanted to apologize," James said looking him in the eye. Mike seemed to hesitate for a second but remained silent. His eyes where scanning James' face, likely trying to decide if he was serious or taking the piss out of him.

"I was just fucking with your head by flirting with El and stuff. It wasn’t serious. Any idiot could see how much you love each other from a mile away. I was just playing, and I let it go a bit too far. If I’m being honest with you, I was jealous. Not because I like El but because I envy what you have. I want us to be friends. I'm sorry" James said honestly sticking out his muscular arm. Mike seemed to consider what he had said.

"Yea ok, where good" Mike said talking it and squeezing it a little too tightly. James wasn't normally the peacemaking type but he had been the cause of the unnecessary tension. He was trying to do things differently this time and wasn't going to fight Mike over something this stupid. Mike smiled at him for the first time since the two had met. They both backed down and turned to enter the arcade together.

The warmth in the arcade hit him like a wall as soon as he entered. It was in stark contrast to the air outside. James looked around the arcade, taking it all in. The loud noises of the arcade games, the flashing neon lights, the stale smell of popcorn. 

He remembered the last time he was in an arcade. He was living with family in a shitty trailer park on the outskirts of the city. Tim was one of his foster brothers at the time, one of the few he had actually liked. Tim was younger than he was and naive at times. James did his best to protect him when their foster dad had to much to drink and come home looking for something to hit, which was often. James and Tim had stolen change from a tip jar in a corner shop and used it all buying tokens. It was one of his few happy memories of living in the city. Until they got arrested and his foster parents found out. He took the blame leaving Tim’s name out of it. They kicked him out after that and James was placed in a home for a couple of months. James never saw Tim again. Not until a few years later where he had seen his photo in the paper's obituaries. He had shot himself.

James pulled himself from his painful memory. He couldn’t keep letting the past get to him like that. Moving on was the only way forward he shouted to himself. The party was gathered around Dustin as he played a machine that was called Dig-Dug. They were cheering him on and shouting support. James considered the group of people in front of him. They were good people, they didn't deserve to be dragged down by him. 

He was a fraud after all. It was never going to work out the way they wanted it too. He could never fit in with these people, never be one of them. He was different, he knew it and they would figure it out eventually. James turned to and walked out the arcade door without anyone noticing. The cold soaked into his bones as soon as he emerged from the arcade. James rested his head against the wall as he lay on the wall of the arcade. He stood there thinking how he was going to get home. James was never going to be able to have friends and that was okay. They only ever lead to more pain. Will and his friends were all too normal, to perfect. He reached into his pocket to remove his smokes.

"Can I have one" he heard a voice say from beside him. James turned to see Max’s burning red hair leaning against the wall with him.

"Ohh yea sure," James said handing over his last cigarette and lighting it for her. She took a pull from the cigarette and inhaled deeply. There was something about her. She didn't seem like small-town middle America to him.

"You ok," she said still looking forward. James took a closer look at her, noticing her torn jeans and bloody knees. James was definitely not okay but he wasn't going to talk about it with some stranger. But then Max turned her face to him and looked him the eyes. There was something so soft about her eyes, despite how clearly tough and hard she appeared.

"You ever think maybe you're just too broken. I'm not like all of you.” He said. James couldn't tell what made him open up to her, but he was glad he did. 

"You think we don’t have our own problems. We all got shit in our past were trying to forget.” She responded. It was strange that James wanted it to be true. He craved for understanding.

"I'm not talking about being bullied in the fourth grade," he said taking a deep pull of his cigarette and blowing out the smoke.

"Trust me neither am I. We all have our problems but those nerds are my family and I know they would die for me. They helped me when I was a new kid here. If you give them a chance, maybe they can help you too. But don’t presume to know anything about us or what we have been through together." she said flicking her smoke into the car park and storming off. James felt stunned by her sudden outburst. 

"Oh, and one more thing," she said turning around as she opened the door.

“If you tell stalker I was smoking I'll cut your balls off,” she said smiling at him before finally re-entering the building.

James had always tried to do things his own way. He had been an island since his mother's death. Maybe Max was right. Maybe it was time to let some people in. He thought about Will again. He could see himself talking to him. Telling him about himself. His life. His struggle. Part of him thinks he would understand. He had gotten so used to feeling sad he wondered what it would feel like to be happy. Not just fake happy either. To be truly at peace with his past. Maybe visiting his father wasn’t such a bad idea.

September 6th, 1985

The sun shined into the Wheeler's basement as they all sat around the table. They were discussing what they wanted to do with the day. They stole one of Ted's newspapers to check movie listings. For some unexplained Will felt like now was the time to speak his mind.

"I think James should join the party" he suddenly announced.

All six of them were looking from one another, except Will. He was staring at his feet. An awkward silence hung over the group. Will already regretted asking the question to the group

"I don’t have a problem with that" El suddenly spoke up smiling at Will.

"I don’t know guys we barely know him," Lucas responded.

"How about we vote?" Dustin questioned.

Dustin was the first to raise his hand into the air. He was quickly followed by Will and then El. Max Then rose her hand. They looked at the two remaining boys. Lucas then raised his hand, crumbling under his girlfriend’s stare. All of them looked at Mike.

"Yea ok he can join the party," he said finally lifting his hand.

Chapter Text

July 4th, 1978

James hid under his bed. He didn’t know what else to do. The screaming became too loud and he knew what was going to happen next. There was a sick familiarity with the situation. But it was also different this time. His father was angrier then he had ever seen him before. The longer the period between his reappearances the worst it was for him and his mother. It had been almost five weeks since James had seen his father last. The volume of his voice made the windows rattle. He wanted all the money Emily had, which was only a couple of dollars. James was sitting at the kitchen table at the time afraid to make a single sound.

The needle marks on his arms were deep and infected. He scratched at them as often as he could. His whole body seemed to be violently shaking. It didn’t take a genius to know his father was starting to come down and that made him dangerous. If his father didn’t get another fix soon, they would all be sorry. The desperation in his voice was getting worse. When he started destroying everything he could get his hands-on, James knew he had to hide. Broken glass and plates littered the kitchen floor, nothing seemed to be able to calm his endless rage.

"I know you got something stashed away, SO STOP FUCKING LYING TO ME!" he heard his father scream. James adjusted his position under the bed to gain a better view of his parents. He could see the unrelenting fury in his father’s eyes. Emily, however, looked petrified. Normally she can talk him down or give him enough money for another fix, but it wasn’t going to work this time and they both knew it. As a last desperate attempt to calm him down she went to take his hand. Instead, she received a backhand slap that rocked her back into the kitchen table. Without a second to recover she found her windpipe being crushed by her husbands’ fingers. She went for one of the knives on the table, but James’s father was too quick. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head back. James noticed the long thin cut across her cheek from the slap she had received.

"WHAT, you gonna stab me now is that it," he said spitting in her face. She tried to struggle free from his grasp, but he was too strong for her.

"Fuck YOU!" his mother hissed between clenched teeth. He launched her into the kitchen counter. James could see her hands being slashed from the broken glass everywhere. He wanted to help her. Why couldn't he help her? His mother reeled back from the counter and came at her husband with a shard of broken glass. The glass pierced his shoulder and erupted in a spray of blood.

"AAAHAH, YOU FUCKING BITCH!!!" he screamed in pain as he drew his fist back and punched her in the jaw. She collapsed to the ground and struggled to get back up. His father started emptying all her pockets and her purse. James's heart stopped when his father removed a large wad of cash from the inside of her purse. The shouting had seized. There was nothing but quite now and James wished his father would go back to shouting. He made his way across the room. His mother had managed to crawl halfway to the bathroom door, a trail of blood following her, but it wasn’t close enough. His father swung his leg back and rocked her under the chin with a forceful kick. James thought her neck had snapped from the way her head had viscously recoiled.

His mother wasn’t moving anymore. James felt the steady flow of tears run down his cheek. How could he just watch he screamed to himself? How could he just do nothing? His father seemed to forget about his existence. The only thing he cared about know was his next fix. He stepped over his unconscious wife and made his way to the door, leaving the apartment without a single look back.

James crawled out from under the bed and slowly made his way across the room. His mother was facing away from him. Her blonde hair was turned red from the pool of blood seeping into the carpet. The closer he got to his mother the less his legs functioned. He dropped to his knees when he was beside her, the blood soaking into his pants. The undisturbed silence was finally broken by the soft wheezing of his mother's breath. James's thoughts ran a mile a minute. He had to help her. The last time he called an ambulance he had become the target of his fathers’ wrath and he had the scars to remember it. It didn't matter. He can take it, James thought to himself. If it meant getting her help, he would gladly face his father's fist. The phone slipped from his bloody hands when he dialed 9-1-1. When asked what the emergency was, he said his mother was in an accident and was badly hurt.

He shouted her name over and over again, but Emily didn’t open her eyes. James sat down beside her and cried into his knees. What if she didn’t wake up, he didn’t want to be left here with just his father. His dark thoughts were interrupted by the sirens that echoed from the street. They burst into the apartment and stood around her feeling her pulse and putting her neck into a foam cast. James refused to talk to any of the EMTs as she was placed in the ambulance. He just crawled into the back with his mother and held her hand.

He curled up next to his mother on her hospital bed. It has been a few hours since she arrived, and she was still not awake. The blanket was soaked with his tears. This was his fault he thought. The only reason she had kept that money was for him. He didn’t do a fucking thing. Just let him hurt her. Like the last time and the time before that.

"Please Mom, Please, please wake up" he whispered looking into his mother’s swollen face.

"Sorry to bother you kid but I need to ask you a couple of questions" James heard a voice say from the door of the hospital room. He turned to see a man in a police uniform standing in the door. He was tall. Very tall but lean and thin as well.

"What do you want," James said looking back to his mother.

"Just want to ask you some questions. You think you’d be up for something like that." The man said walking over to him and kneeling beside him.

"I’m officer Jim Hopper. But my friends call me Hop " He said smiling and shaking the little boy’s hand.

"What’s say you and I go get some ice cream," he said trying to pique the kid's interest.

"I’m not leaving HER" he shouted back at the police officer. James spent most of his time on the streets of New York with his friends. He was told constantly to never trust a cop. 

"Ok, ok that’s fine. What if I went and got some ice cream and brought it here? Would you like that." He said. James nodded his head and wiped the tears away from his eyes.

"There we go, some compromise. I’ll be back in a few minutes" he said turning around and leaving the same way he had come in.

When the policeman returned James sat with him and talked while eating his ice cream. He told him everything he could remember. Not just about what happened this time but also the previous time and the time before that and all the times his father had hurt them. There was no shortage of painful memories. Tears formed in Hopper's eyes when James showed him some of the scars his father had given him. The small scars on his shoulders and back where his father would put his cigarettes out on him. The scars on his head from the time his father had thrown him into the wall. The large star-shaped scars across his back from when his father had thrown a beer bottle at him. The list went on and on. It was hard to get through, but they did it together. 

When he has finally finished his tales of horror and pain, Hopper insisted it wasn’t his fault. Promised him that there was nothing he could have done but James knew that was bullshit. They talked for a long time about everything. Hopper told him about his family and his daughter Sara. He was halfway through a sentence when he heard his mother moan and sit up in her bed.

"MOM" James shouted as he ran up to her bed and took her hand. She was sitting up and looking around confused. A smile spread across her bruised and swollen face when she saw that her son was unharmed, that’s all she could have hoped for.

"Are you ok?" he said. She took his hand and nodded at him. Neither of them could control their tears. He went in for a hug carefully trying not to hurt her. Her smile slowly faded when she noticed the huge man wearing a uniform in the room with them.

"James could you get me something to drink," she said smiling at him while looking at the police officer nervously.

"Yea. Ok "James said noticing the sudden tension that filled the room. He wasn’t stupid he knew she didn’t want to hear what she was going to say. James got up from the bed and passed Hopper leaving into the hall. He turned and put his back up against the wall and listened carefully.

"The NYPD can protect you from your husband," Hopper said approaching the bed.

"No, you can’t. My husband might be a useless junkie, but he works for powerful people, "she told him directly.

"No matter what is going on you have to get your son away from that man," Hopper said, anger slowly building inside of him thinking about a grown man beating on an eight-year-old boy.

"It's not that simple. My husband is a dealer for Nicholas Corozzo's family” she said shamefully. Hopper opened his mouth with a response, but he couldn’t think of anything to say.

She was right, it wasn’t simple anymore. Nicholas Corozzo was one of the most powerful men in the city. Hopper knew all of his dealers either got off because of some small technicality or they went missing along with their families. Either way, they never saw the inside of a jail cell.

"The NYPD can’t help us... no one can,” She said, tears forming in her eyes. James could almost feel Hopper's silence, he knew she was right, the NYPD couldn’t help them. Hopper had heard rumors of corruption in the force ever since he had joined the NYPD. In the last couple of years, it was getting worse. Cops taking bribes, accidentally losing evidence, intimidating eyewitnesses to stay quiet. If she stepped forward and put her husband on the stand, it would make Corozzo nervous. It was as good as sentencing her and the boy to death.

"Your right we can’t help you," he said quietly, shameful of the organization that he represents. She started crying in her hands. James was getting scared overhearing the policeman say he couldn’t help them.

"But I can," Hopper said looking up from the ground.

"Come and stay with my family for a few days until I can find somewhere safe for you and your boy to stay," he said taking her hand in his and looking her in the eye.

"You would do that for us" she whispered not quite believing the generosity of the stranger in front of him.

"I will make sure you and your son are safe. I promise" Hopper said holding back the tears begging to develop his eyes. He didn’t know how, but he was going to make sure no more harm came to that boy, ever again.

November 3rd, 1985

Will Byers sat in class staring at the blackboard in Mr. Brown's class. He wasn’t taking in much of what the dull teacher was explaining about parametric equations. His mind was drifting elsewhere, to a certain tall, dark-haired handsome boy called James. He had become a fully-fledged member of the party after they had their vote. It was weird explaining it to him afterward. Now that he thinks about it, he was surprised James didn’t think he was joining some kind of cult. 

They ate lunch together every day after that and James went with them to the arcade every Friday or the movies on Saturdays or even just chilling in Mike's basement. There was hardly a moment where Will wasn't either with James or thinking about him. He got along with everyone in the party, instantly fitting into the group like the final missing piece of a puzzle.

The tension between him and Mike had melted quickly after his apology. Given that he was the dungeon master, Mike was put in charge of initiating James into Dungeons and Dragons. Will had expected James to think the game silly or childish, but it turned into the opposite. It resulted in several intense conversations about his character class and the rules of the game. In the end, he decided to be a Barbarian. Will thought it suited him well, considering his size and strength. James seemed to catch onto the game quickly and was excited to play for the first time.

James and Max got on like they where old friends. Sometimes they would sneak out for a smoke when they thought no one was looking. They weren’t fooling anybody. As they smoked,  James said they would always talk. They got pretty deep and James somehow found himself being the one to always listen to Max when she had problems in her relationship. Max loved El but she didn’t always give the best advice about guys. Every time she was fighting with Lucas the two would stay out in the cold and smoke until she figured something out. Will was more surprised Max had opened up to him so quickly, it took Will months to build that kind of trust with her. 

El had asked Hopper about James multiple times but each time he said it was none of her business. She understood, in fairness, it wasn’t like he knew everything about her either. The conversation of telling him what happened in 1983 came up once or twice. Both Will and El were against it. They both thought telling him so soon might scare him off. El had a feeling James needed some friends right now so they voted not to tell him. Will was just afraid he would look at him differently.

 James and El had bonded over funny stories about Hopper. James knew him in a way that most of the party didn't. He had known Hopper before Sara had died. Will had assumed Hopper changed after the death of his daughter, but he hadn't realized how much until James's stories about him from New York. Both James and El saw him as a father figure, and Will guessed it pulled them closer to each other.

He loved watching James and Dustin make fun of each other. They could go on for hours just taking the piss out of their friends or each other. Dustin volunteered to try and convince James that comic books where awesome. James didn't seem too opposed to reading, but he wasn’t sold on comics. Obviously, Dustin took this as some kind of personal attack and vowed he would change his mind about the art form if it was the last thing he did. Dustin’s theory’s about high school might be a bit crooked at times but his knowledge and appreciation of comic books and popular culture were rock solid. He showed up to school one day with a mountain of comic books for James to read and to Will's surprise, he made his way through them amazingly quick. Within a couple of days, James had returned Dustin’s collection and asked for more.

There was kind of a strange distance between James and Lucas for the first week or so. Lucas never much liked any change to the party. It wasn’t like they hated each other but both always made sure they were never left alone with the other. That changed after the third week of school. They were eating lunch as normal, but Lucas wouldn’t say a word except for a few grunts. They could tell Lucas was distraught. Max was the only one who was able to pull something out of him. One of the senior’s, Jackson Cooper shoulder charged him in the corridor and called him... Will didn’t like to think about what Jackson called him. But James exploded. They were all pissed about it, but it took all of them to calm him down and stop him from going over to confront Jackson. 

Will thought James was the most mature of all the members of the party. However, when it came to a confrontation, he seemed to rarely find any other solution other than violence. Lucas had made him promise that he wouldn’t do anything if he agreed to one condition. Lucas had to let James teach him how to box. James had seen what despicable acts people could inflict on each other, all because of the color of their skin. He had seen it kill people and told them there was no way he wasn’t going to make sure his friend could defend himself. After that incident, they trained after school in the gym twice a week. Sometimes Will would come and watch them spare. He said he was there to support his friends. It definitely didn’t have anything to do with the fact James always spared shirtless. 

It was during these sparing matches that Will got a closer look at James's body and the scars that covered it. Lucus was shocked when he first saw them but he didn't ask him any questions. Neither did Will or any other member of the party. Will was there when Lucus tried to explain it to Max and El but he couldn't seem to find the right words. Will wondered what kind of person could go through something like that and make it through to the other side. One thing was clear, James was a survivor. His scars didn't discourage Will or dissuade him, it was the opposite, he was inspired by them. If James could have that much trauma and survive, maybe there was hope for Will. No matter what the story behind each of those scars was, Will wanted to hear it, but he wasn't going to pressure James into telling him. When or if he did, Will would let James come to him.

Will and James where defiantly the closest of all his new friends. He felt some strange gravitational pull towards James. It was stronger than anything he had ever felt before. James was like a strong magnetic force that worked in the back of Will's sub-conscience. Every word he spoke had him at the edge of his seat, every smile he received made his heart skip a beat.

He remembered the night all the guys had stayed in Mike's basement one forgotten weekend. The two of them had stayed up until the sun rose just talking to each other. Everyone else had passed out but something about James just made him want to keep learning about him. He yearned to know him intimately. Will had to face the realization sooner or later. He had a crush on James White. It made him feel sick sometimes. James could make him feel happier than he had been in years but thinking of him in that way forced him to ask questions about himself he had been burying for as long as he could remember. He hadn't ever said it out loud but every time he thought of James it was so clear to him, so undeniable. The depression hit hard every time he realized that James could never like him that way, no matter how much he wished he could. Will knew it would never happen, but it still stung every time he thought about it.

He walked the usual route to the cafeteria, side by side with his friends. They talked about nothing particular, the conversation casually hopping from one topic to another. His heart lifted in his chest when he saw James sitting in his normal seat at their normal table. It’s been weeks but his chest still inflates when he sees him. He took his seat and participated in whatever conversation Dustin was loudly protesting. Will stopped his sentence short when he seen a familiar girl approach the table.

"Emm… Hi," The girl said to the back of James's head. He turned around and seemed to recognize the girl. Everyone watched her with open mouths and wide eyes.

"Hey Bella, what’s up," James said smiling to her. Will couldn't help but notice how the girl, Bella was dressed. It was in stark contrast to the clothes El and Max usually wore. She was wearing very short jean shorts and a Stevie Nicks t-shirt that was a few sizes too small for her.   Girls fashion wasn't something Will would normally think about but it seemed that Bella was hardly wearing any clothes at all, strange considering the weather. Will knew he shouldn't judge Bella's character on how she was dressed but he couldn't help it, he was jealous.

"Just seeing if you are coming to my party this Saturday," she said smiling at him and curling her hair with her finger and thumb. Everyone at the table could see she was flirting with him, but no one could believe it.

"ehh... I’m sorry Bella, I have plans with my friends," he said gesturing to his friends around the table. Will forced a smile as she quickly glanced around the table. Dustin still looked like someone ran over his cat.

"Well, they can come as well… you’re welcome to bring whoever you want" she said giving the party the same smile she gave James. Will could feel the other guys melting under her gaze, he, however, was digging his nails into his palms. Why did it have to be James she wanted at her party? 

"Thanks, Bella emm... we will talk about it and ill get back to you," James said smiling back at her. Of course, he was smiling at her, Will thought to himself. She was fucking beautiful, any fool could see that.

"Sure thing. I'll see you later" Bella said as she gently placed her hand on James's shoulder before she turned around and strolled away painfully slow. Dustin was memorized by her and looked as if he was having a stroke. Even Mike and Lucas couldn’t help but stare at her ass as she walked away.

"What the hell are you looking at," Max said hitting Lucas forcefully on the arm. Lucas, suddenly remembering where was, directed his eyes back to his girlfriend.

"Dude, that was Bella Thorn," Dustin said still not believing his own words. Yea no shit Dustin, Will cursed to himself.

"She’s a sophomore. And a cheerleader. And like the hottest girl in school," he said looking at James as if he wasn’t there for their conversation.

"We're not actually going are we," Mike said looking between his friends.

"Are you fucking crazy, of course where going?" Dustin said looking more serious that his friends had ever seen him.

"We're going to be like two years younger than everyone there" Mike replied still not believing his friend's persistence. Will wondered why Bella was trying to get a group of freshmen to her party. Was she actually interested in James or maybe she just wanted to humiliate a bunch of freshmen? Will prayed it was the humiliation.

"My parents would never let me go to a party anyway," Mike added getting more frustrated with his friend.

"We could just say we're staying in each other’s house and you can all stay in mine. My parents are gone till Monday and left me with Billy. He's not evening going to be in the house all weekend." Max offered.

"You want to go,” Lucas said turning to his girlfriend. She nodded and everyone there understood that meant he was up for going as well.

"Come on El, will you tell them there being crazy," he said looking at the group waiting for her support. However, it never came. He turned to her and she was just staring at her half-eaten sandwich.

"Really you too," he said realizing he was beaten.

"I never went to a high school party, therein like every teenage movie ever, I want to see what it's all about." She said. Mike collapsed not wanting to deny El the opportunity to do a regular teenager activity.

"Ok fine but I’m not drinking," Mike said looking seriously at his friends.

"Dude nobody said anything about getting drunk. We just show our faces there and boom,  where instant royalty in this shit hole" Dustin said getting more excited by the second.

"What do you think Will," Lucas asked noticing how quiet the boy was being. Will kept replaying that conversation in his head. She obviously likes James. And he would be a fool for not liking her back. The thought of them together made him feel sick? He hadn’t taken in a single sentence of his friends’ conversations but when he looked up all his friends were looking at him. He just nodded and assumed they were talking about going to the party. Will didn't want to go but the thought of Bella and James in her house alone scared him more.

"Dude how do you even know Bella Thorn" Max questioned looking to James for an explanation.

"She practices cheerleading the same time me and Lucas train. We have talked a couple of times there" He said. It was pretty easy to solve the mystery after he told them she watches him boxing topless. James wondered how Bella felt about James's scars. Maybe she was not as shallow as Will initially thought. He quickly dismissed the theory however,  she was probably pursuing a relationship with a typical bad-boy, given the rumors about James he was definitely an applicant. 

"You’re the MAN" Dustin shouted slapping James on the back. They finished their lunch and made their way back to class. Will had calmed himself down while daydreaming in Chemistry. He convinced himself he was overreacting. James probably didn't like Bella and even if he did that was his business. Will had to get a better grasp on this whole crush thing if he was going to remain James's friend. It was difficult, he had never had to deal with feelings like these ones before. 

After school Will waited in the cold with El. The Chief had offered to give him a ride home since Joyce was working a double at the store. El couldn’t stop talking about the party on Saturday. Her determination to live like a normal teenager was admirable. Will couldn’t blame her for wanting to go to the party. It wasn’t like she never snuck out of her house to snuggle in Mike’s basement. Hopper had moved her and El into a house after the whole Mind Flayer thing. Unfortunately for Hopper, it was almost within walking distance to the Wheeler residence. The cabin had been vacant ever since.  After all, she did sneak out to Chicago and back by herself. She wasn't as soft and cuddly as she sometimes seemed. Punk El was still somewhere inside of her. The Chief pulled up and El immediately stopped talking about their plans. Will crawled into the back and El sat in front beside Hopper.

"How was school" Hopper questioned when they both settled in the truck.

"Fine, so Max and I are having a sleepover on Saturday. It’s kind of like girls’ night" she said knowing it would make him uncomfortable. Will smiled at the Hopper's slightly pink face.

"Yea that’s fine. What about you Will, any plans for the weekend," he said looking at him in the rear-view mirror. Will panicked slightly under the Chief's gaze.
"Emm... The guys are all staying in Mikes," he said quickly almost as if it was prepared.

"Is James going to be there" Hopper questioned. There was something strange in Hopper's voice. It was an odd question, Will thought. He could see Hopper's eyes on him, he looked worried.

"Emm… yea I think so, why do you ask." He replied confused by his question.    

"This Saturday is the anniversary of his mother’s death. I don't want him to spend it alone" he replied with a visible sadness in his voice. Will just stayed quiet. He noticed El whip her head around to look at him, but he avoided eye contact with her. Neither of them could believe what the Hopper had said. How could James not have said something? Why would he agree to go to some party on the anniversary of his mother's death? 

November 9th, 1985

James had crawled out of bed around midday. He made himself a lazy breakfast and sat in the large vacant house. Jess and Charles had left for work early that morning and wouldn't be home till late that evening. James had told his foster mother the previous night he would be staying in a friend’s house. She had left him money on the table and a note telling him to be safe. They were always doing things like that for him. Leaving notes or reminders around the house, usually telling him they loved him. It always cheered him up when he got them, but nothing was going to improve his mood today.
Six years. It was hard to believe it had been that long. It felt like he had lost her yesterday. It was still so fresh, like an open wound, still spilling blood. Whoever said time heals all wounds didn’t have a fucking clue what they where talking about, James thought to himself? Time hadn't done a god damn thing to heal him, nothing did. He was still broken from it, or maybe he had been broken before her death. James didn't know anymore, didn't remember when it happened. But it happened, all the same, something deep in him had snapped... shattered. It made him cold to the world, cynical. But it was probably the only reason why he was still breathing.

James sat at the kitchen table and thought about it all, everything that was still clinging to him, pulling him down. Sometimes he dreamt he was in the deepest part of the ocean with weights tied to his ankles. It didn't matter how much he kicked and struggled and fought to stay afloat, in the end, he always drowned. James's attention was broken by the sound of a car pulling into the drive. Out of curiosity he got up from the table and looked to see who was approaching. To his surprise, Jessica was making her way towards the house. 

"Hey Jess," James said awkwardly as she made her way through the main entrance of the house. She smiled at him as she closed the door behind her. 

"Hi James, can we talk," She said, still maintaining the same smile. There was something strange about it. There was a sense of empathy in her face or was it just pity.

"Yeah sure, I thought you were at work," James said thinking of the note she had left for him. 

"I'm going to work a night shift, I'll have to leave soon but please sit down," She said walking into the kitchen and sitting at the table. She looked at James with that same sympathetic smile and gestured towards the seat he had been sitting in.

"What's all this about," James said defensively as he sat across from her. Despite the comfortable surroundings, It felt like he was in an interrogation room. An automatic response he supposed.

"You know you can talk to me and Charlie about anything, right," She said gently. James knew where this was going, he had received similar talks from Hooper over the years. It was an attempt to open him up and talk about his feelings like he was talking to some fucking shrink. Although Charles was a phycologist he had told James he usually worked with kids with autism. Even still it took a while before James warmed to his foster father. He didn't trust psychologists. It was most likely the reason why Jess was giving him this talk instead of Charles.

"Yea I know," James said quickly, his voice slightly strained. Jess stayed quiet for a moment, as if she was thinking about what to say, or hesitating.

"You know we have actually met before" she replied, her voice sounded uneven like she wasn't confident in what she was saying. James was taken back. He was surprised, why had she never brought it up before.

"I don't remember you" James replied. Surely he would remember meeting her. 

"Yea you came into the ER with a couple of cuts and bruises and a broken wrist" she explained. James remembered breaking his wrist a couple of years ago but was still struggling to remember having met his future foster parent.

"Yea I got hit by a car... I remember you. You did the X-Ray. You made me feel better" James said remembering the ER room, remembering how the nice doctor had made him laugh. He had intentionally left out the part where his foster father at the time made him run out in front of the car. A desperate attempt at an insurance claim. The woman who was driving the car had given James's foster parent all the money she could get if he promised not to sue her. James had to bring himself to the hospital.

"James I know what today is to you," Jess said with a gentle smile as she slowly stretched her hands across the table. James could feel her warm fingers wrap around his. It felt good.

"What you went through... Nobody deserves to go through something like that. I want you to know you can trust me" Jess said slowly. James quickly recoiled his hand from hers. Jess pulled her hand back in shock as James just stood up. He hadn't meant to frighten her but he panicked when Jess said he could trust her. James had trusted people before and it always ended badly for him. He knew what trust got you. 

"I'm fine Jess," James said coldly while avoiding eye contact with her. Maybe he had let this go too far. He wasn't their son, he could never fill that hole.

"James please I think..." She tried.

"I said I'm fine Jess, I promise" James interrupted, slightly raising his voice. Jess looked away and wiped a tear away from her eye with the back of her hand. The guilt was staring turn in his stomach. His brain screamed that she doesn't deserve this.  

"I'm sorry Jess," James said slowly, the remorse lingering in his voice.

"Its okay James. I have to go to work but if you need anything, you call me okay" She said as she stood up from the table. James watched her as she crossed the kitchen towards him. She was dwarfed by his height. Without hesitation, Jess wrapped his lower body in a tight hug. James didn't hug her back.

After Jess had left he stood alone in the kitchen. The craving for nicotine was starting to drive him crazy. Seizing the money on the counter James started walking down to the sketchy corner shop across from Hawkins public library. The twenty-minute walk passed in seconds. His thoughts acted like a dark storm cloud following him. The small bell above the door chimed as he entered the small run-down shop. Making regular trips to this shit hole was exhausting but there was nowhere else to buy cigarettes in Hawkins. Nowhere else he wouldn’t get asked for I.D anyway.

"Two packs of Marlboro Red," he said taking his wallet out of his jeans. James glanced over the teller’s shoulder and examined the long row of bottles behind him. The teller scanned his cigarettes and waited for his cash. Something in James' mind hesitated.

"And a bottle of Jameson," James said chancing his arm. The teller looked him in the eyes for what felt like an eternity. Then without speaking, he turned and got the requested bottle and scanned added it to the transaction. He added all of James's items into a paper bag and handed them over to him without question. 

James paid the teller with the cash Jessica had left for him. The whole way out of the shop he kept expecting the teller to shout after him. Hell, he even expected Hopper to emerge from somewhere and bust him. But nothing like that happened. He left the shop without incident and continued his long walk back home. 

James arrived back in the big empty house. The loneliness was finding its way back to him. The party in Bella's house couldn’t come soon enough. He needed to get out of his own head, he wanted to not feel anything anymore. He wanted Will. James didn’t understand it but when he was around Will the darkness didn’t seem so dark anymore. That constant pain in his chest always felt lighter when he was around him. He couldn’t explain it, but he didn’t have to.

James pulled open the brown paper bag to remove his smokes. The bottle of whiskey he purchased stared at him. Somehow it ended up in his hand and James found himself removing the cap and taking a swig. It burnt the whole way down his throat, but he liked it. He lifted the bottle back to his lips and took another sip.

November 9th, 1985

Will was saying goodbye to his mother as he left his house with all his gear wrapped in his school bag. They all agreed to meet in Max’s to hang out before the party. The party was supposed to start at eight, so they agreed to be there sometime after nine. Thankfully Max lived relatively close to Bella’s house. It was about a fifteen-minute walk from Max’s house to Bella's front door. Will entered Max’s living room to find all his friends gathered around a table. He thought he was the last to arrive but to his disappointment, James was nowhere to be seen. All of them including Will were dressed up, especially the girls who Will would defiantly admit looked beautiful. Mike and Lucas weren't so nervous about the whole thing anymore and Dustin was practically floating with excitement. Will took a seat next to Mike not wanting to listen to Dustin go on about how cool they were going to be after they attended a seniors party.

"Has anyone heard from James?" Will said casually looking around to his friends. His friends just looked to one another.

"No, but I’m sure he’ll be here, soon" Max added, her voice calm and steady. 

"He knows where she lives anyway so he can meet us there" Dustin added trying to ease Will's mind. It seemed to work.

"I'm just worried about him," Will said, he was about to tell his friends about what Hopper had told them in the truck about James's Mother. His eyes meet El’s and he decided to keep it to himself. It was n’t his place to tell people about James's business.

"He will be fine, come on who wants to learn how to play poker" Max joked while taking out a deck of cards.

A couple of hours passed, and James was still nowhere to be seen. Since Max had taken most of their money, they decide it was time to go to the party. They assumed James was running late and decide to meet him at Bella’s house. Will advocated against it saying one of them should stay in Max’s house until he should up. He was persuaded off the idea when Mike had said he probably will go straight to the party. In the end, they settled it by leaving him a note on the door saying they left for Bella’s house. It did little to ease his mind.

Against any better option, Will found himself walking to the party with all his friends at nine-thirty at night. Almost all of them anyway. Most of them had never broken rules like this before. El and Lucas began to doubt the whole idea the closer they got to Bella's house. Although Will never vocalized his feelings they guessed he also felt this way. However, Mike was beginning to buzz with excitement. Will was surprised by the sudden upturn in Mike's mood. His excitement spread through the group like a virus. Will knew Mike better than anyone and he guessed he was more excited about breaking the rules than actually going to the party.

They reached the big house that Dustin identified as Bella Thorn's house. When asked how he knew that was Bella’s house he stayed suspiciously quiet. Max was the one to step up and knock three times on the big oak door. A few minutes later the door swung open and Bella was staring at them with her sharp green eyes. She was initially happy to see them but then she didn’t spot a particular tall dark and handsome boy with them.

"Ohh hey guys... Where’s James," she said looking at Max, jumping around the topic.

"He's on his way" Dustin lied while stepping up and introducing himself to Bella. She didn’t seem interested in what his name was but went with it anyway.

"Alright come in then," she said turning around and waving them all into her house. Will could see that she was disappointed that James was not present and his chest tightened.

The party followed her into the house. Will was initially shocked by the sheer scope of her house and by the ridiculous number of people inside of it. The music pounded through the large walls and echoed off the high ceiling. He didn't know many people in the house as it seemed to be mostly sophomores and some seniors. He was glad he had his friends with him. Everyone was walking around with beer bottles or red plastic cups. Although it was still early there already seemed to be quite a few people who were drunk. It wasn't like it was his first time seeing someone drunk. His father’s drinking was the main reason his mother had finally kicked him out.

The party stuck together like a herd of sheep. They settled in the back of the kitchen where they found an empty sofa and table with a couple of chairs. Will took a seat on of the chairs facing the two couples who were sitting on the couch. The party stayed there for a while just chatting and talking like they would if they were in Mike's basement. Will had given up hope on James showing up. Part of him was disappointed that he wasn't going to see him, but that also meant he stood up Bella and that made him happy.

"Look that's not the point" Dustin shouted over the music to Mike and Lucas.

"Batman has no superpowers how can he be on the same level as Superman," Lucas shouted back at Dustin. Always the logical argument Will thought.

"He might not have powers, but he is smarter... Oh hello, Bella" Dustin said suddenly standing up as the attractive girl approached them. She walked over to them and swayed a little when she reached the sofa. She obviously had a few beers and from Will’s experience that usually meant it made the person cruel. Will couldn't get the idea that she was going to kick them all out because James wasn't present. His heart stuck in his throat as she opened her mouth to speak.

"Are you all having fun," she said as she drunkenly smiled at the party. Dustin couldn't believe her response and took the opportunity to talk to her.

"Yes, thanks for the invite" Dustin responded confidently as he took a step closer to her.

"No problem your always welcome, " she said smiling at them. She seemed to forget how they got invited in the first place.

"Wa... Wait a second," she said looking at each of them. This was it Will thought to himself. She is definitely going to kick us out when she notices James’s absence.

"NO, No, no absolutely not," she said turning around and walking over to the kitchen table. The party looked to one each other nervously not knowing where she was going with this. She returned with bottles of beer in each hand and tucked under her arm.

"You can't party at my house and not drink" she slurred handing them each one of the brown glass bottles. She gave them one final smile and turned around to walk away but stumbled slightly. Will laughed at the whole interaction. He guessed there were more than just one type of drunk. Bella was without a doubt a happy drunk. Then he remembered he hated her.

"I thought you weren't drinking" Dustin questioned as Mike twisted open the bottle in his hand.

"You said we weren't getting drunk, it’s just one beer," Mike responded grinning to his friend. The rest of them seemed to follow their paladin and twisted off the top of their beers.

"It tastes like piss," Dustin said as she scrunched up his nose in disgust.

"I don't know I kinda like it," Max said taking another sip of her beer. Lucas said he also enjoyed it, but his facial expressions seemed to be more in line with Dustin’s. Will thought it didn't taste that bad. It definitely wasn't good, but he could feel himself starting to loosen up the more he drank.

After they had finished their beer the party got up and moved around the kitchen. The music seemed to be getting louder as the evening went on. The number of drunk people also seemed to increase drastically. Mike and Dustin and Max all opened a second beer that was offered to them from some of the sophomores in the kitchen. Will was always so determined to fear older kids. However, the people they currently found themselves talking with were nothing but friendly towards them. They obviously noticed how young they were compared to everyone there but that seemed to go in their favor. Maybe Dustin wasn't so crazy after all.

"You want another beer," one of the older kids said to him extending his arm out with the bottle.

"Emm... sure okay, thanks Bill," Will said taking the bottle from him. The party and the older group where spread around the kitchen talking and laughing. Will and Max were standing around the kitchen counter with two sophomores. They were warning them against all the worst teachers in school.

"Oh My God. Mr. Brown, I swear I fell asleep in every single one of his classes" one of the older boys said. Eddie Will thought his name was.

"I know right I'm surprised he doesn't make himself pass out" Will responded laughing as the small buzz worked its way through his head.

"Dude whatever you do, don't do Spanish with Mr. Smith next year. Without a doubt the biggest mistake, I ever made." Bill said making the whole group erupted in laughter. Just as Max opened her mouth to speak a girl approached Bill and gripped his arm forcing him to turn.

"Hey, Bev, what's up," Bill said turning to face her. She looked a little out of breath, but she also had a massive grin displayed across her face.

"Bill you missed it. This kid burst through the door drunk off his ass and just face planted through a glass table in the hall, cut himself up on the glass and everything. The place is a mess." she finished looking over and noticing the younger members for the first time.

"Who was it" Eddie added controlling his laugh.

"That guy White that everyone was talking..." she started.

"Where is he now" Will suddenly cut her off. He looked at her seriously and repeated his question with added urgency. Will turned to see where his friends where. Lucas and Dustin were still arguing with each other and Mike and El were talking in hushed tones a few feet away from them. He and Max were the only ones to hear her story.

"We have to find him," Will said beginning to panic. Max looked a little shaken, but she nodded her head. They started by going back to the door they had entered. It was a large house and took them a minute to remember their way back. As they entered the hall Will noticed that the door was swinging open and there was a mess of broken glass spread across the ground. There were small amounts of blood mixed in with the shattered glass. Max was walking around trying to spot James, but she couldn't see him.

"What Happened!" Max shouted at a girl standing in a group around the mess.

"Some asshole just burst in and fell into the table," she said looking a little frightened of the redhead.

"WHERE did he go!" she shouted back to the small blonde girl who was probably two years older than Max.

"He got up and went out the back door," she said turning and walking away from Max as quickly as she could.

They ran over towards the back door of and Will slide it open as fast as he could. Bloody fingerprints smeared the handle. He and Max rushed out into the cold and found James sitting on the patio furniture. He had a bottle in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. He sat staring into the darkness, his eyes completely glazed over. Small cuts covered his hand and blood slowly dripped off the bottle he was currently taking a drink from. Will also noticed his face had similar cuts across his cheek and forehead. The sight made Will's heartbreak slightly.

"Max do you think you could find some bandages," Will said looking her in the eye. She trusted him and turned back to search the house.

"Hey Byers" James practically whispered as he saw the small boy approach. The closer Will got the worse he looked. His eyes were red and bloodshot. A bruise was beginning to form on his head.

"Sorry I'm late," he said letting out a desperate chuckle.

"Are you ok?" Will said taking a seat beside him.

"No Will... I'm not ok," he said slurring his words.

"I haven't been ok for a long time" James added.

"I know about your mom’s anniversary, we can talk about it if you want. I am here for you if you need me" Will asked creeping a bit closer to him. James didn't react to Will's question. He stayed quiet, staring out to the darkness.

"I don't know what to do Will" he finally choked out.

"It's like... It's like I got this thing inside me" he said tears forming in his eyes.

"And its feeding on me. And if I don't stop it there won't be any of me left. But I can't fight it anymore." he said slightly above a whisper.

"I'm all fucked up Will," he said tears falling onto his bloody hands.

"I understand," Will said as his own tears began to form. He understood the feeling of a monster inside you better than anyone.

"You do?" James said but when he turned to face him. Will turned and wiped the tears out of his eyes. James suddenly grabbed him into a hug. Will drew in a sudden breath and instinctively wrapped his arms around him. He had never been this close to James before. He smelled of cigarettes and whiskey. They held each other for a second. Will jumped back in surprise as Max entered the garden with a roll of bandages and disinfectant. She swabbed his face and bandaged his hands and arms. James didn't seem to feel a thing. Will was getting more worried about how drunk he was.

They walked back inside the house and made their way back to the kitchen. The whole party rushed over to him when they saw what state he was in. James didn't say much he just waved them off and took another sip from the bottle of whiskey he was carrying. Will tried to get the bottle away from him with no luck. He wanted to talk to him again but James just deflected his questions. Will stayed with him as the rest of the party decided what to do with the current situation. He overheard them talking about going back to Max's house and letting him sleep it off. Will stood and made his way over to the group making sure that James would stay where he was. He just grunted and kept drinking. Will approached the partly looked between them.

"There’s no reason we all have to leave. I can take him to Max’s house alone" Will said hoping that they would go for it.

"Dude, A party member is in need of assistance," Dustin insisted.

"Alright, so we're decided we’ll go back to Max’s. Let him sleep it off there" Mike confirmed. Just as they were getting ready to leave Max suddenly stooped and stared at someone who had entered the kitchen.

"Fuck isn't that Jackson Cooper," Max said suddenly looking over to Lucas. He just stayed quiet and averted his eyes to the ground. The whole party looked at Jackson and his two friends making a big entrance into the kitchen. Will had to admit he looked like a total prick. Time seemed to come to a complete stop when he realized James was no longer sitting where he left him.

Will spotted him, quickly walking across the kitchen towards Jackson. He hid the bottle behind his back. Will seemed stuck. Helplessly watching James cross the room. Jackson noticed James's approach and turned to insult him. The distance between them closed rapidly. When James was close enough Will watched as he held the bottle by its neck and smashed it against the side of Jackson's head. The sound the bottle made when it connected with his skull echoed through the kitchen. 

Everyone turned to find the source, but no one could believe what had happened. Jackson’s legs turned to jelly. While everyone was watching shocked James drunkenly fell on top of him. Will watched as James drove his fist down into the senior’s face. Will thought it sounded like a sledgehammer hitting a slab of meat. Before the Jacksons friends realized what had happened James landed three more devastating blows down onto his face, which was now a mess of blood and swelling. Will's legs acted by themselves as he found himself running over to the fight. James was on his back and was receiving kicks from every angle by a group of Jackson’s friends. Will pulled one back with all his strength but it wasn't enough.

Mike, Dustin, and Lucas were there in a couple of seconds helping Will pull the seniors from beating James to death. They were also assisted by Bill and Eddie and their friends. The riot only broke up when someone started yelling about the police. Jackson was still lying unconscious on the ground as his friends sprinted in every direction. James struggled to his feet but collapsed back down again, either too drunk or to hurt to stand. The house was being evacuated as the police sirens sounded outside. Will tried to help James to his feet but he pushed him off. The party stood around him without saying anything. He was a mess of blood, sweat, and whiskey. Maybe Will was wrong, maybe everyone was just a mean drunk.

Will recognized the two officers that had entered the house. Powell and Callahan were waving flashlights and telling everyone that the party was over. Both entered the kitchen and observed the carnage in front of them. Will could hear a third person entering the house and his heart drooped. They were fucked now he thought to himself. The chief entered the kitchen like a bull, looking around the room and everyone in front of him. When his eyes fell on the party, Will saw a glimpse of confusion but it was quickly reverted to absolute rage. It didn’t take a genius to realize what had happened, given the two wounded teens on the floor. Callahan knelt beside Jackson and tried to revive him. He regained consciousness slowly and when he rolled over, he vomited a mixture of blood and teeth. Will could see the regret in James' face, he had gone too far, he could have fucking killed him.

"What the hell is going on!" Hopper shouted looking at each of the party members. All of them stayed quiet. El opened her mouth to speak.

"STOP, Let me guess. You lied to me, snuck out to a party, got drunk and James here almost killed a kid. Is that a fair summary of the evening?" Hopper finished. He looked down at James who was trying to get to his feet for the third time. Hopper grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. The two stood eye to eye for a second before Hopper pushed him against the kitchen wall and put him in handcuffs.

"DAD, what the HELL are you doing," El said not believing what she was seeing.

"MY GODDAMM JOB, that’s what" He barked back at her. Will could feel tears spilling from his eyes.

"James White you’re under arrest for assault and battery with a deadly weapon and public intoxication," Hopper said pushing him off the wall and holding him up. James's legs still didn’t seem to be able to keep him up. The party followed him as he dragged James out of the house and put him in the back of his truck. Will wondered how things had gone sideways so quickly. Once Hopper was done with James he turned around and stormed back over to the teens, who stood outside not believing their friend just got arrested.

" I don’t know what the fuck you were all thinking. I didn’t think any of you were this stupid. El get in the truck. I made sure Flo notified your parents, they're on their way." Hopper finished looking at all of them. Wills heart almost stooped at the thought of his mother’s disappointment.

"This isn’t fair" El responded but she knew she didn’t have a leg to stand on.

"GET IN the truck Jane, NOW" Hopper shouted at his daughter. El began to cry but walked towards the truck without looking back. When she got into the truck Hopper turned quickly and looked Mike dead in the eye.

"You put my daughter in danger tonight Mike, I expected more from you," he said coldly turning and walking back towards his truck. Mike looked like he had received a punch in the gut. He always craved the Chief’s approval even if he would admit it or not. Will could tell the Chief had hurt him. Powell stayed until each of their parents and Billy arrived. An ambulance arrived for Jackson shortly after hopper had left. The party watched him he carried out of the house, he was in a bad way. Joyce was the last to arrive. When Will got into the car, his mother was in tears? She didn’t say a word and it made it so much worse.

10th November 1986

James stared at the ceiling trying not to think about a severe headache that was moving into the front of the head. His hands and face were shredded from what he assumed was glass. His ribs and back ached from what he vaguely remembered to be received kicks. Needless to say, he has had better mornings. Images from the previous night played in his head on a loop. He remembered drinking in his house, the feeling of his problems being melted away by the bottle. Somewhere on the way to Bella’s house, his memory seized to function.

There were flashes of him and Will talking and then he just remembers being angry. Angrier than he had felt in a long time. When he was a kid he worked so hard to control his anger issues, to not be like his father. Guess counting backward from ten didn’t work. The rest of the night was a blurry haze. But one thing that was crystal clear was the memory of Jackson's blood and teeth spilling out of his mouth. Maybe he went too far a part of his brain said. Maybe he didn’t go far enough another part replied. It was hard to feel bad for a racist, but James would try.

The cell was small and dark. The only light source was a row of small windows lining the opposing wall. He was the only person in his cell, but the adjacent cell had a guy sleeping in it. He was asleep since James woke. It was hard to tell how long he had been in the cell. It was at least a couple of hours giving the unrelenting craving for a cigarette he couldn’t shake off. 

James had almost begun to like it in Hawkins. But he couldn’t help fucking it all up again. What was wrong in him that made him systematically destroy everything good in his life. This time was going to be hard. The thought of never seeing his new friends again made him want to vomit. Why did he get involved with them in the first place, this is exactly why he never makes friends? It just makes it harder to move on when he fucks everything up. The sudden thought of never seeing Will again cut him like a hot knife. It was enough to drive him over the edge. James fell to his knees and clutched the bucket that was left beside his bed. The vomit burnt the whole way up his throat and his mouth as he relieved himself of the previous night’s poison and some blood.

"Jesus, you look like shit," the man in the adjacent cell said sitting up in his bed.

"Oh, I’m sorry did I wake you your majesty" James replied sarcastically. The stranger spoke with a distinct Irish accent. 

"Ha. So, what you in for. Wait let me guess, Public intoxication" he said laughing.

"Add on assault and you got it. What about you" James said sitting back on his bed clutching his stomach.

"Oh you know a little of this and a little of possession of an illegal substance with intent to sell" The man replied with a grin. James rubbed his temple with two fingers.  

"Great... you’re a drug dealer." He replied. His headache was moving into the front of his brain, just behind his eyes.  

"I'd say I'm more of a businessman” He proclaimed. James looked at him for the first time since he entered his cell. He was wearing shorts a tank top and slippers. He also looked like he hadn’t eaten in days. The one thing his father had thought him was how to spot a junkie, and this guy was definitely in it deep.

"What do you sling," James said looking at him seriously. He had been around a thousand guys like this when he was growing up. 

"Whatever you need a man. I got it all, a little Brown, a little White, uppers, downers whatever you need mate.” He said proudly of himself.

"The names Spoon," he said sticking his hand into James cell. James eyes him carefully. The guy seemed harmless but paid to be careful.

"Really... Spoon, Isn't that a bit on the nose” James said rising from his bed and shaking the man’s hand. Spoon just shrugged his shoulders.

"I'll hook you up, get you a discount," He said as James held his hand. He was about to refuse him when Powell entered the holding area.

"James you made Bail" He shouted opening his cell. James realized he was still shaking Spoon's hand and when he looked at him, he was waiting for a response.

"I'll let you know" James whispered back quite enough so Powell couldn’t overhear. When he dropped his hand and turned to follow Powell he noticed the piece of card that Spoon had slipped him. It was a piece of a newspaper but had a clear phone number scrawled across it in pen. He stiffed the paper back into his pocket. Powell led him all the way to the Chief's office. When he entered, he found both his foster parents sitting across from Hopper who just stared at him with cold eyes. James took an empty seat beside Charles, he avoided eye contact with him and everyone else.

"Anything to say for yourself," Hopper asked with a cold voice. James knew he had let him down, but it just made him angrier.

"No" James replied quickly and quietly.

"Well, I sure do. The kid you assaulted has a concussion. A fracted orbital bone and his missing four teeth." Hopper read from a sheet on his desk. James didn't think that sounded too bad considering the situation. How much remorse could he have for someone like Jackson Cooper?

"He's lucky to have any left" James added.

"Is this a FUCKING joke to you" Hopper shouted across his desk, making Jessica jump in her seat.

"Am I going to jail" James simply stated. He put on a brave face and a nonchalant attitude, but the truth is he was scared and he was angry. At himself more than anyone. How had he let someone like Jackson get under his skin like that? He deserved what he got but that didn't mean James had to be the one to deliver the punishment. 

"You’re lucky not to be. Jackson's parents agreed to not press charges if you pay for the medical bills and I don’t report him for underage drinking. He wouldn’t get a college scholarship with an arrest recorded." Hopper said. James let out a small sigh of relief. He might not be welcome in Hawkins anymore, but anywhere was better than an institutional youth facility. 

"So I’m free to go," James said looking towards the door.

"ARE YOU fucking kidding me. Jessica and Charles are the only reason you’re not in juvie. Do you know how expensive the hospital bills where? Do you know how many favors I had to pull to keep your ass from jail?" Hopper said getting red in the face.

"I didn’t ask any of you to do that. You should have let me go to Juvie." James added calmly. Why was he doing this? He didn't mean what he was saying but he was so angry, he couldn't control himself.

"I'm trying to protect you here kid," Hopper said standing at his desk.

"Protect me... are you fucking kidding me. Protect me like you protected my mother. Protect me like you protected Sara!" James shouted back, regretting it as soon as it left his mouth. Why did he say that?

"Get out,” Hopper whispered his face had turned white. His think arm outstretched pointing towards the door. James knew he had hurt him.

He stood to leave, and his foster parents followed him. The drive home was made in absolute silence. He had thought that things were going to be different this time. He could see Jessica softly crying while her husband drove. Charles hadn’t shown much emotion the whole time he was in Hopper's office. It was to be expected from a shrink. Every time he looked at James, he could see him thinking and evaluating him. He told himself he wasn’t going to fall for any of his phycological bullshit.

The silence stretched out in the car like a blanket that was suffocating him. James thought about Hopper. The only man to ever really care about him. He burnt the last bridge that was holding him up. There where only a few things he needed in his foster parent’s house then he would leave without a fuss. James thought about his options. There was absolutely no chance of going back to Indianapolis and he was fucking sick of going into foster care. His best option was to get a bus ticket to Chicago or maybe back to New York. Living on the street had to be better than the alternative. At least there he couldn’t disappoint everyone in his life.

James was the last one through the door when they arrived at their house. Charles throws his keys on the kitchen counter and ran his fingers through his graying hair.

"I’m going to pack my things, I’ll be gone in an hour" James simply stated turning to walk up the stairs.

"We have to talk about this” Charles said following him.

"There's nothing to talk about" James responded as he climbed the steps. Maybe he would stop by Will's house before he left. 

"Please STOP" Jessica suddenly cried out, speaking for the first time since he had seen her. She grabbed James's arm and pulled him back.

"Please. Please don’t leave. I can’t lose another son" she cried hugging him tightly. James could feel his own tears form in his eyes. Her words hit him hard. She called him her son. Did he still have a home here? He didn’t deserve this.

"Its…Its okay Jess I’m not going anywhere" he said feeling the pain in the woman's sobs.

"We understand" Charles added walking over placing his hand on James' shoulder. This has gone too far James screamed to himself.

"STOP…OK. Just stop acting like we're some kind of family. I’m not your son" James shouted pushing Jessica off him and storming upstairs to his room. He could hear Jessica cry behind him. That familiar weight found its way back into his stomach. He collapsed onto the bed and listened to his Walkman. For the first time since he woke up in the cell, he started to feel the pain of his injuries. His hands and face stung like fire and the dull ache in his ribs was too large to ignore. His head still ached. At this point, James didn’t know if it was from the whiskey or falling into the table. Either way, his head felt like it was being hit with a jackhammer. Everyone was so worried about Jackson no one even asked if he should see a doctor. He fumbled in the pocket and found the discarded piece of paper in his pocket with Spoon’s number scrawled across it.

Chapter Text

July 18th, 1979

Emily told him they were going to stay with the policeman for a few days. James was relieved that he didn't have to go back to that apartment in the city. He knew the carpet would still be stained a deep brown from his mother's blood and had no intention of ever seeing that again. He never had any love for that apartment too begin with, the heating never worked so his mother and him where alway forced to sleep in their coats. New York winters weren't known for being easy for the less fortunate. Although James could deal with the cold he was never able to cope with the noise. They called it the city that never sleeps. James thought it was an accurate nickname. If it wasn't the straining pipes of the ancient building it was the screaming neighbors or police sirens sounding from the streets below. But that's not the reason he hated that apartment. It was always going to be the place where his father lived and for that, he wished it would burn to the ground, with his father in it.

They left the hospital as soon as the doctor had cleared Emily for release. For two weeks James had slept in the hospital bed curled up next to his mother. Hopper had insisted that he come and stay in his house until she could leave but James fought him tooth and nail to stay with her. His father would not be happy once he found they were gone. He feared what his father would do, what he was capable of doing. But he vowed to himself that he was never going to let him touch his mother again. He would die before he let him hurt her. It didn't matter that he was only nine years old, he would protect her.

James sat in the back of the police cruiser with Emily. He was initially hesitant to enter the police car at first. For as long as he could remember he was told to fear the police. Even the sight of a police cruiser was enough to scatter the older kids who would hang out in the park by James's apartment. That was before his father started selling in the park, after that his mother told him he couldn't go there anymore. But know as he looked around the car it didn't seem to bad. Hopper had shown him how to work the siren and told him how the radio worked and had let James play with his handcuffs. It was exciting, maybe he could be like Hopper when he grew up, James thought as the car slowed to a stop on the Brooklyn bridge.

Hopper had given them his address in Brooklyn in case they ever get lost or needed help. James couldn't remember the last time he had left Manhattan. It didn't matter, he was just glad to see it behind him. Emily insisted that they would only be staying for a couple of days, just long enough for them to figure out a plan. She asked James if he would like to see California, saying that she always wanted to live someplace warm. James thought it was just the furthest she could physically get from New York.

Hopper maintained that they could stay for as long as they wanted. James liked the idea of that, he liked Hopper, he was kind to James in a way that was new to him. James worried his father was hunting them, but with Hopper, he felt safer. They continued there drive slowly through Brooklyn. Hopper was telling Emily about Diane, his wife and how she was excited to meet them. Hopper also mentioned his daughter, Sara. But something in his voice changed when he did. Emily also seemed to notice it but neither of them said anything. They drove for another ten minutes before pulling into an underground parking complex.

James and Emily both climbed out of the cramped back seat and followed Hopper to an elevator in the corner of the parking complex. James was glad to be in the elevator, the parking garage was dark and frightening, he clung to his mother's hand until they reached the floor Hopper had selected. Hopper seemed nervous as he walked the corridor to the apartment door. Without saying anything he reached into his pocket and produced his keys. Hopper hesitated for a second before swinging open the door and entering. James and Emily followed him.

"Diane we're home" Hopper shouted softly once they entered the hall. Hooper removed his coat and took James' and Emily's as well. Out of the corner of his eye, James could see a woman turning the corner and approach them. She was taller than his mother and had dark brunette hair, James thought she was pretty.

"Hi you must be Emily," Diane said as she closed the distance between them and shook James' mother's hand.

"Yes, I can't thank you enough for what you and Hopper are doing for us," Emily said sincerely. James watched his mother's strong face. He knew she was acting tough for his benefit, but the truth was she was embarrassed and ashamed. James wanted to tell her it wasn't her fault but he could never find the right words.

"Its no problem. If there is anything we can do to help just ask" She replied.

"And you must be James," She said as she crouched down eye level with James.

"Yes," James replied quietly. She reached her hand out. James looked at her puzzled for a second before shaking her hand. He normally didn't get treated like an adult.

"Come on I'll show you where you will be staying," Diane said and gestured for them to follow her. James walked slowly behind his mother. Hopper's apartment was bigger than theirs was and the building was a lot nicer too. James doubted there were many screaming neighbors in this place. They enter the living room and found a couch turned into a pull out bed.

"I'm sorry we don't have a room but we... " Diane tried to explain.

"It's perfect. We will only be a few days I promise" Emily replied sincerely. Diane smiled as if a huge pressure was taken off her.

"Come on you can meet Sara," she said with an awkward smile. She looked over to Hopper with a sad stare. James seemed to be the only one to notice. The walked out of the living room and walked to the closed door on the opposite side of the apartment. Hopper reached the door first and placed his hand on the handle. For a moment he just stood there waiting at the door, he opened his mouth to say something but closed it again a second later. Hopper took a deep breath and open the door.

James and Emily followed Hopper into the small dimly lit room. James was expecting a typical room for a ten-year-old girl. Pink walls with pictures of horses or whatever girls liked. But nothing about her room was typical. The room was dark and heavy. In the center of the room was a large bed. It was like the one his mother had stayed in when she was in the hospital. In the bed lay the smallest girl James had ever seen. She was half the size of James despite being a year older. however, that wasn't the thing he noticed first. Sara didn't have any hair. Despite the bleak room, Sara had the biggest smile across her face James had ever seen. Hopper smiled when he saw her and went over and kissed her on the cheek.

"Hi, baby. Some people here want you to meet" Hooper said stepping aside so she could look at the two new strangers. James waited for his mother to speak up but she was quite. James turned to look up at her and was surprised to find she turned as white as a ghost. Her jaw was slightly open in a questioning manner. James didn't understand what was going on but the silence was growing.

"Hi I'm James," He said as he approached the bed and shook her hand the same way Diane shook his. James released her hand gently, her wrist and fingers seemed so small and fragile in his hand.

"Hopper can I speak to you for a moment... outside," His mother said without taking her wide eyes off Sara. Hopper took a deep breath and followed Emily out of the room, closing the door gently behind them.

"Are you coming to live with us?" Sara asked him. James wondered how much Hopper had told her about there situation. The less she knew the better.

"Yea my mom said it will just be for a few days" James answered. Sara and James both exchanged awkward glances with each other. The awkwardness was cut away by Sara.

"You can ask if you want... about my hair," Sara said politely. James wondered how obvious he must have been for Sara to narrow done on what he was thinking so quickly. He didn't want to be rude or cruel to her. If he was the reason they had to leave and go back to his father's apartment he would never forgive himself.

"I... I don't want to be nosy" James answered honestly as he averted his gaze from Sara's warm smile.

"It's okay everyone asks eventually. Daddy said it is gone because of the medicine I have to take" Sara said with a hint of sadness in her voice. James didn't want to upset her but the question just flowed out of him.

"Are you sick?" James asked. Sara looked at him for a second as if deciding what to say or not to say.

"Yea dad calls it Leukemia, I don't really understand it, to be honest," She said with a muffled laugh. Deciding she was okay with it he returned her smile.

"I hope you get better," James said returning her smile. Sara wasn't like most people he knew his age. Most people that could be considered friends where either aggressive bullies or people who were bullied and too afraid to act or say anything. Either way, Sara definitely did not fall into either of those two categories. She was happy and cheerful and James liked to talk with her.

That's how they had spent the next few hours, just chatting and getting to know each other. James told her a little about what had happened with his father. Just how he was not a good person and how he and his mother were trying to find somewhere new to live. Sara told him about her sickness. James wasn't fully certain he understood what was wrong but she said it usually involved long trips to the hospital. She told him about the place she goes to every month for her medicine and how bad she feels after it. James didn't understand how medicine could make you feel bad but decided not to ask. He hadn't even noticed that his mother had not returned until there was a knock on her door and Hopper poked his head in and said it was time for Sara to go to bed.

Things were strange for the first few days living with Hopper and his family, especially with Emily. Despite what Hopper and Diane had said she insisted that they were going to leave as soon as possible. James didn't understand why. They finally had a home they could feel safe in and James had made the best friend he ever had. He didn't want to leave Sara and he didn't want to leave Hopper.

However, Emily struggled to find somewhere to go or means to get there. That was how the few days stretched into a few weeks. James could tell how guilty his mother felt about saying so long. Emily had gotten a part-time job working in a restaurant as a waitress and she cooked and cleaned around the house. James also made sure to do his share of jobs and chores. Hopper and Diane seemed to appreciate it. Hopper worked double shifts a lot and Diane usually spent most of her day next to Sara's bed.

It was then that James really saw the severity of Sara's condition. Nobody would tell him what was going on but he knew she was more than just sick and her deterioration was hurting him more than he could describe. Sara spent most of the time in bed and James always kept her company. They had become inseparable after only a few weeks. When Sara was having bad nights Hopper would normally find him asleep on the floor in her room. For the first time in his life, he had a real friend. They stayed in her room all day, whenever she was able, just chatting or watching films. Occasionally she would stay in the hospital and James was determined to see her and try to make her laugh.

James and Emily had somehow become part of their family. It had been more than a month since Emily had gotten out of the hospital. Hopper had kept an eye on his father when he could find him. So far he hadn't even noticed they were gone and it hurt James more then he would have guessed. They had talked a lot about where they were going to go. Emily had settled on California before hearing Hopper's suggestion about a town in Indiana. He told them about the town he grew up in, it was a small town in the middle of nowhere. A little place with clean air and a fresh start. Emily thought it sounded perfect. Hopper even had a cabin that they could stay in until they could afford their own place. Hopper could also help Emily get a job somewhere in town.

They had almost been ready to set off for there new life, but then they had to take Sara to the hospital again. James assumed it was like any other trip to the hospital they had taken over the last few weeks they had been living there. But something was different this time, nobody told him but he could see it on his mother's face. She decided to wait a few days before leaving. James waited up all night after they had taken her away. In his heart, he knew something was wrong.

His suspicions were proven right when he heard the phone ring from the kitchen. He checked the clock on the side of the pull-out bed he shared with his mother. It was five o'clock in the morning. James sat up in bed and shook his mother. Within a second she was on her feet and across the living room into the kitchen. Almost as if she had been expecting the call.

"Hello..." He heard Emily say as the ringing noise suddenly disappeared.

From the bed, he could just make out his mother's face. He could quickly see it go from pale white to almost green. His heart sank as he watched the tears firstly form in her eyes then gently roll down her cheek. Emily gently hung up the phone and sank down to the ground. James could feel his heartbeat faster in his chest as his mother slowly turned her head to face him.

"NO" James shouted at her as she slowly rose to her feet and gradually make her way back into the living room.

"James... She's gone" Emily said slowly. Her voice was absent. James shook his head in disagreement. He wanted to lash out. To tell her just how wrong she was. Sara was going to come home just the same way she came home every other time. But he knew that she wouldn't. He knew he would never see her smile again or hear her laugh.

"No..." James gently whispered as his mother caught him from falling to the ground. There was no strength left in his legs and arms. He felt like he was going to get sick. She was the only friend that he ever had, how could she just be gone. Emily held him like that for most of the night while James faded from crying to sleep.

Sara was buried on the 6th of August 1979. Emily said it was her time to go and that God had other plans for her. James refused to believe that any god would take someone like her from them. It wasn’t fair. Even when Sara was in the worse conditions her presence always brought happiness to everyone's life. Now there was just silence. Hopper didn’t speak to anyone. James tried to talk to him the same way he had in the hospital when his mother was hurt, but he couldn't break through to him, no one could. Emily decided it was best if they left to let them grieve in peace. They packed up an old Ford Escort they bought second hand and left the same day as the funeral. Hopper drew them a map to the cabin before they left. He promised to visit Hawkins once things had settled after the funeral. Hop hugged James tight when he was saying goodbye. A part of James wanted to stay with him, Hopper was the best father he had ever known but James knew he had to mourn. They left New York looking for their fresh start.

November 19th, 1985

James had apologized profusely to every one of his friends after his behavior at Bella Thorn's house. James still felt guilty about getting all his friends in trouble. Mike was getting a particularly hard time from his father. Dustin insisted that nobody made them go to the party, but James knew he was the reason why they had got caught in the act. It was a stupid thing to agree to in the first place, James admitted. Will and El had told the party about his mothers’ anniversary, it made forgiving him easier.

Although no one wanted to question him any further on it, he could sense the desire too. More and more James found his past being skipped over by his friends like it was some taboo topic no one should ever discuss. He could see the curiosity build in their eyes when James gave them any information about his past, he did it so selectively. Once casually mentioning that he lived in Indianapolis after he left Hawkins, another time he admitted that he had mainly grown up in orphanages or social care. That one had gotten him a lot of looks from his friends. Looks of sympathy and guilt, it was for that reason that he hated talking about himself. James was careful to rarely mention his mother and had never mentioned his father.

The thoughts of the party still ran through his mind. Why was he so determined to destroy anything good in his life? It was awkward with his foster parents for a few days. James largely avoided any interaction with them at all. They would eat dinner or breakfast together while James would eat in his room. He didn't know why he felt the need to divide himself from them but it was more comfortable to be alone. It was familiar to him. Jess tried to speak to him about what had happened several times, each time James brushed her off and told her he was fine. The truth was James was terrified they would abandon him. He had never had foster parents like them before, but all he could think to do was separate himself from them before they had a chance to leave him. It was a cruel instinct born out of years of betrayal and mistrust. But they never asked him to leave or relinquished custody of him. It took a few days but James slowly began talking to them again. He had gotten over his intail anger of the situation and apologized for what he had done.

The same couldn't be said for Hopper. James thought about what he had done to him in his office. He had blamed him for so much. It wasn't Hopper's fault but he couldn't take back what he said. The confrontation in Hopper's office kept him up most nights. Hopper had been there for him when no one else was. He always tried to help James, even when he wasn't in a position to help himself. And how did James repay him for that? The thought made him feel sick. He didn't know how to fix what he had broken.

His entire mood had taken another devastating blow when he returned to school. The Monday after the party was even worse than his first day back to school. Rumors and stories passed through the halls in hushed whispers. However, this time almost all of them were accurate and true in one form or another. There was some speculation on his motive for attacking Jackson. Everything from a random act of violence to the theory that Jackson was having sex with Bella and James was jealous. People seemed to really pick up on that theory. Nobody but the party knew the truth about why he did it and James wanted to keep it that way.

Needless to say, people gave him some space when walking in the corridor. Nobody wanted to look at him after they saw Jackson return to school. It looked like he had been hit by a bus. James was labeled as a sociopath and was ostracised but he still had his friends and was eternally grateful for them. Things had been weird with Will for a while. He had been vulnerable with Will in a way that he had never been before. Regardless of talk in Bella's house, they settled back to normal after a few days. Actual now that he thinks about it, they where probably closer than ever. James always left a space between him and the people in his life. A wall to protect himself or hide behind. Will made him feel like he didn’t need protection anymore. They all settled in their usual spots for lunch. As James took his seat a sharp pain from his ribs shot through him.

"You ok," El asked noticing his discomfort. James gripped his ribs and slowly lowered himself down. The kicks he received had given him some bruising across his ribs. If James was being honest it looked like half of his body was covered in ugly blue and purple bruising.

"Yea I'm fine, just still a bit swore" he replied with a gentle smile and lowered his hands to his side, trying not to look worse.

"You need to see a doctor" Will added looking concerned. James appreciated his concern but he knew his own body. The scar across his side suddenly itched at him. Sometimes James got frightened about the long term effects of the damage he had received over the years. But there is nothing he could do about it now.

"I'm grounded remember." James joked. Will didn't smile at the response, he didn't even budge an inch.

"I'm still grounded till after Thanksgiving” Dustin added harshly. Dustin's mother had not been overly upset about the whole sneaking out, but James had heard she blow her top when she found out Dustin had been drinking. There was something more to the story, Dustin talked about his father just as often James talked about his own. But it wasn't his place to interfere.

"Sorry about that" James added for what found like the thousandth time. Dustin just waved him off as if he didn't need to apologize at all. If only he could feel like that as well.

"Speaking of Thanksgiving you got any plans," Will asked him. James froze a little at the question. The truth was James had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. At least he never remembered having ever celebrated it. But telling them that would just invite more sympathy and James desperately wanted to avoid that.

"Yea Jess and Charles got off work so we're going all the way. Turkey, parade, football. What about you” James lied and tried to take the question off of himself.

"Jonathan's home from college so moms cooking... which should be interesting." Will joked making them all laugh, except Mike who seemed to get weirdly red. James seemed to be the only one to notice.

"You alright Mike" James asked curiously making them all turn towards Mike and notice him blushing. Everyone's focus on him made things even worse.

"Yea I’m fine, why," Mike asked avoiding eye contact. El was also very quiet and steering at her lunch. Max was on to her like a dog sniffing out a bomb.

"What’s going on El," Max asked bearing her eyes down on the small girl. El was visible starting to sweat as she shrunk into herself. Everyone could tell when she was lying and she couldn't keep quiet any longer.

"Common El... I thought friends don't lie" Lucus added. El was made visible more nervous when he added her own mantra. Mike gave her a pleading look.

"What the hell is going on. Is it something to do with Jonathan" Will asked making El suddenly squeal. She was just about to crack when Mike burst.

"OKAY fine... I walked in on him and my Nancy... having sex ... Ok is that what you want to hear... Is that what you want from me." Mike rapidly shouted to Will. After he spilled his secrets El let out a huge gasp of air that she was holding. The table stayed quiet for what felt like an eternity before Dustin started having physical convulsions of laughter. Everybody was in stitches after that. Except for Will who looked just as embarrassed as Mike. Even El was laughing while Mike just sat there with his arms crossed looking grumpy.

"Dude why would you tell us that," Lucas asked between gasps for breath.

"You fucking made me tell you." Mike pleaded. James couldn't help but laugh, he had only met Mike and Will's older siblings once or twice but he thought they suited each other perfectly. In a way that really makes you wonder if there is just one perfect person for everyone. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to hold back teasing Mike.

"I would have taken that shit to my grave" James added. Mike just blushed furiously. James would never admit it but he envied Mike and Will. They had siblings that they were close to. But looking at the people around him he could imagine what it felt like.

November 28th, 1985

James walked up the narrow street and cursed to himself for not remembering to bring an umbrella. The rain was pelting him from every angle, his clothes were soaked and he felt as if they weighed a tone. He tried to ignore the rain but his heartbeat spiked every time lightning cracked across the sky. The thunder rumbled in his chest as the dark skies floated overhead. James couldn't complain about the weather too much, overall it fitted his mood perfectly. His mind felt as heavy as his clothes and he wanted to scream and shout as loud as the thunder. But he wouldn't, he would keep it inside and push it deep into his soul, because that's what he always has done. It's all he knew how to do. Endure it and let it slowly corrode him.

James thought maybe the holidays would be different this year. For the first time in a long time, he had a family to spend it with. Jess and Charles had tried their best to get off work but in the end, their promises were just empty words. James wanted to be angry with them, but he couldn’t. People relied on them and he knew they were just as devastated as he was even if he acted like it wasn't important to him. It had never bothered him before. But it was different now, things were different now. He had something to be thankful for. Something or someone, he asked himself.

He quicked his pace when the shop came into view. James had noticed it the day he had gotten into Hawkins. But every time he wanted to go he made some bad excuses to himself. The truth was he was terrified. James opened the door to the shop and flinched at the sound of the bell above the shop door. He made every effort to not carry half the storm in with him but it was hopeless. James looked around the shop and examine the endless rows of flowers and plants. Almost all of them looked completely foreign to him, but he was quickly able to spot the Pink Carnations sitting in a basket next to the cash register.

James paid for the flowers and left the store quickly. He hadn't said a word to the girl working in the shop, just dropped the cash on the counter and fled. He wasn't in the mood to but on his mask, not today. James stepped back out into the street and protected the flowers by holding them close to his body, thankfully the storm was starting to slow, or maybe it was just the calm before the real storm hit. Either way, he continued down the street in the rain. The streets were completely empty, there wasn't a person in sight. James could feel himself starting to slow, the closer he got. By the time he reached the gates, he was practically crawling. James stopped dead at the gates and read the sign.

There was a sudden feeling of dread burrowing into his chest. He tried to push it down like everything else but it wouldn't budge. James took a deep breath before walking into the graveyard. Despite never being here before, he knew exactly where to go. The headstones past in a blur as he walked slowly through the cemetery. The air felt thick and heavy like he could coke on it at any moment. James stooped dead and looked at the gravestone in front of him. It was small but elegant and simply read:

Emily White
1952 - 1979
A loving mother and friend

James looked at the headstone for an eternity. He couldn't take it anymore before he knew it, he was on his knees in front of his mother's grave. Her flowers thrown down beside him. James fought the tears back but lost the battle desperately as the sob broke the eerie silence that hung over the graveyard. He didn't know how long he stayed like that for, on the ground howling next to his mother grave, like a wounded dog. It could have been two minutes or two hours. The rain picked up and belted him as he rested his forehead on the ground. Eventually, he got himself together and got back to his feet. James picked the flowers off the ground and placed them on her grave. It was a meaningless gesture. She was dead, she didn't care about flowers on her grave.

James turned around and walked away. It was a mistake to come here he thought. Hopper had settled everything for his mother's funeral, while James ran away. James didn't even go, he couldn't even go to his own mother's funeral. Going to her grave was meant to make him feel better but now he just felt empty inside. Like he had a vacant space where his heart should be. James walked out of the cemetery, silently vowing to never return.

James was walking quickly now, with a determination that had been previously absent. He knew exactly where he was going and didn't want to waste a minute getting there. His journey took him out past the edge of Hawkins, up towards the abandoned science labs and down the dirt road towards the old radio tower. Spoon had given him accurate directions to find him. Overall he reached the clearing Spoon described in less than an hour. It was an old trailer hauled out here in the middle of nowhere. It would have looked vacant if not for the light glowing from inside. James approached the trailer and rocked his knuckled against the flimsy door, which rattled on its hinges. After a few moments of silence, the trailer door swung open and he was face to face with the small skinny man he had met in the Hawking Police Jail cell. Spoon looked just as bad now as he did then.

"Common In," Spoon said taking a cautious step backward and gesturing for James to enter the small trailer.

"This won't take long," James said as he entered the trailer. He scanned the trailer quickly and decided he didn't care about anything in it. He didn't care about Spoon or Hopper or anything anymore.

"I knew you would show up sooner rather than later. Saw it in your eye the moment we meet" Spoon said as he swayed forward slightly. James quickly realized he was completely out of it.

"Can we get this over and done with?" James said quickly. It would take another hour or two to get back to his house and the storm was taking a turn for the worse.

"I got what you asked about." Spoon said as he stumbled over to a trunk at the back of the trailer. Spoon awkwardly collapsed down to one knee and fumbled with the padlock. James waited impatiently as Spoon bungled the combination several times. James was about to say something when Spoon lifted his hand in the air.

"Got it," Spoon said as he opened the trunk and rummaged around in it. James pulled back slightly as Spoon removed a sawed-off shotgun from the trunk, but he just placed it down beside the chest. After another few seconds, he stood and walked back over to James.

"Here," Spoon said handing him a small brown paper bag. James took it from him quickly and removed the small roll of bills from his pocket. He handed it to Spoon and waited quietly as Spoon tried to count it. He seemed to give up and just nod his head in agreement.

"See you again soon" Spoon said with a grin as James walked out the same way he came in. The brown bag was shoved deep down inside his pockets. James tried not to think about anything on the way home, but it was hopeless. The thoughts wiggled into his brain like a parasite, feeding off of him. The storm had turned into what felt like a full hurricane. James walked all the same. It took more than two hours before he got home. As soon as he did he undressed and curled up on his bed and tried to ignore the crushing loneliness that dwelled just under the surface. He had spent most of his life alone but never felt this lonely before. What had changed that made him so dependent on other people? James walked through the house trying to distract himself. The only thing he could think to do was go to Will's house. The idea of Will having a family dinner with Joyce and his brother made him feel sick. Was he jealous or did he just miss his friend? Either way, he knew it was no place for him there.

James wondered back and entered the silent room. He took a seat on the edge of his bed and opened the small brown paper bag Spoon had given him. What the fuck was he thinking calling that scumbag? He removed the bag and spilled its contents onto his bed. The small clear plastic bag caught his gaze. He removed his rolling paper and opened the bag of weed. It wasn’t his first time smoking it but he usually didn’t do it by himself. James rolled the joint and lit it beside the slightly opened window.

After a few minutes, he started to feel that familiar dizziness. It wasn't what he wanted though. He still felt the pain, he just wanted the pain to go away. James made his way back over to his bed and removed the two prescription bottles that he got from Spoon. He read the labels carefully. One had large bold lettering that said: Caution contains Oxycodone. The other just said Methadone. He opened both containers and spilled some of the pills into his palm. James hesitated for a split second before throwing them back into his mouth. He crashed back onto his bed and felt was a wave of numbness overtake him. Finally, he thought to himself.

November 28th, 1985

Will couldn't remember ever having eaten so much in his life. He looked around the table and felt truly content. So what if there was only three of them, it was enough for him. Will was delighted to have Jonathan back in the house even if it was temporary. There was always a feeling of emptiness when he was in New York. His mother never mentioned it but Will knew she felt it too. Joyce was clearing the table and insisted that she didn't need any help.

Will and Johnathon decided to relax in Will's room and listen to some music. As they entered his room Jonathan made his way over to Will's record collection. Most of them were passed on to Will from his brother or they were pulled from the bin in the second-hand store in town. But Will loved his small collection none the less. He was surprised that most of them would even play. Next to his records was a large box of caste tapes that he had bought or Jonathan had made him. Jonathan picked up Combat Rock and put it on the old beat-up record player. He knew it was Will's favorite album. The first few notes of Know Your Rights sounded out of his dingy speaker.

"So what's going on with you," Jonathan asked looking up from the back of the album. Will adverted his eyes and shuffled on the bed.

"What do you mean," Will replied. He sounded defensive despite trying his best to put on a more natural tone. Will knew he was acting strange lately and it was everything to do with his crush.

"I heard about you going to that party with your friends. I just want to know if you're ok. It doesn’t seem like something you would normally do." Jonathan questioned trying to phrase it as none accusingly as he could. Will looked away, it was nice to have someone that tried to look after him as much as Jonathan did. But he was fifteen, there came a time for him to grow up.

"What, like you never snuck out," Will said trying to sound calm, but he could feel irritation creep upon him.

"I never said I didn’t... I just wouldn’t have gotten caught." Jonathan joked as he stood up and made his way over to Will. He shifted over on the bed so Jonathan could sit next to him.

"That’s not what Mike said" Will suddenly blurted out. He really didn’t mean to let that slip. Jonathan started blushing furiously before they both burst out laughing.

"Any girlfriends on your end,” Jonathan asked, making Will look away again. The room suddenly filled with a tense silence. Will would have moved away from his brother but he was trapped. Jonathan was just looking at him expecting an answer. Will cursed to himself.

"Have you ever liked someone you know could never like you back" Will suddenly admitted breaking the silence. He regretted it immediately. Will didn't want to talk about this, but it had been weighing on his mind for weeks. In fact, it's all he could think about lately.

"Yea, of course, I never thought Nancy could like me back but she did. You just have to be confident. What’s her name?" Jonathan said with a smile. They never really had a talk about girls before but Jonathan obviously seemed happy to give his little brother dating advice. But to Will, it just felt like he received a kick to the stomach. He doesn’t understand, Will thought to himself. He could never understand. Jonathan noticed the sudden change in the atmosphere and in Will's mood. Will could feel the tears burn in the back of his head. He tried everything he could to hold them back, but in the end, he couldn’t stop them falling onto his bed.

"Will what’s wrong," Jonathan asked putting his hand Will's shoulder. He flinched slightly but his gaze never left the floor. It felt like a crushing weight was sitting on his chest. He had started something he couldn't take back. Jonathan would have questions, worries. He wasn't going to let this go. Will tried to wipe the tears away but they were just replaced by more.

"Please Will... you can talk to me. Please talk to me" Jonathan pleaded. Wills tears turned into full-on sobs. He didn’t even know why he was crying so hard, he just knew he couldn’t keep it bottled in anymore.

"Leave me alone Jonathan, please just leave" Will choked out between sobs. Why was he so upset? The idea of saying it out loud. Vocalizing that taboo, that realization that lived deep down in him. It frightened him more than a thousand Demogorgon’s.

"Will please tell me what’s wrong... I... I can't help if you don't tell me what's wrong" Jonathan said, Will could hear the fear in his brother’s voice. The last conversation they had like this, Will had to tell him he was vomiting slugs and seeing the upside down again. It wasn’t an easy conversation to have. But Jonathan had helped him then, he understood then maybe it would be the same. Will quickly cut the idea down. This was different, he told himself. No one would understand this.

"I... I can’t... you won’t look at me the same if I do" Will gasped curling back from his brother. Will knew Jonathan loved him, but he could never understand this. Will stood making his way for the door. He could hear his mother in the kitchen. If he could make it to the bathroom maybe he could wait until he calmed down and then he could come up with some excuse for his sudden outburst.

"What are you talking about Will" Jonathan exclaimed as he grabbed Will by the arm and turned him around. Will looked up for the first time and matched his brother's gaze. Jonathan opened his mouth to speak.

"I like James" Will suddenly announced. There were a few seconds of silence but to Will, it might have well been a century.

"I think… I think I’m gay" Will added. Did he just say that? Jonathan looked like Will had slapped him, it made Will’s stomach turn. Will had never said that out loud before. If he’s being honest with himself, he never even said it in his head before. Not in those words anyway. No matter what happened now, it was out there in the open. He couldn't take it back. Will felt a weight lift off his shoulders, he hadn’t really noticed it when it was there but now that it was gone, he felt a hundred pounds lighter.

He was gay. It seemed so obvious to him now. Why did he ever believe he could be anything other than himself. The sudden admission brought on a new wave of panic. Would Jonathan tell his mom? Will his friends find out. Would they still talk to him? Would James. What if his father ever found out. The ides of his dad knowing he was gay made the tears suddenly form in his eyes again. How was he going to get through this? Will was cut off from his train of thought by a sudden bear hug from his big brother. He was completely caught off guard by it, he almost forgot Jonathan was in the room with him.

"I love you Will" Jonathan cried into the small boy’s shoulder. Will couldn’t help but let the sobs rock through his body.

"Nothing is ever going to change that, understand." Jonathan practically shouted. Will could feel something he had never felt before. It was acceptance.

"Please don't tell anyone. I can't deal with everyone finding out... not yet ". Will begged. Jonathan looked at him like he had said something crazy.

"I won't tell anyone. I promise"Jonathan replied. Will felt comfortable knowing his secret was safe with his brother. The same secret that had come so close to destroying him. On some level, he knows he can tell the party and James the truth about himself but the fear of their rejection cuts into him like a dull blade. For now, one person knowing is enough.

Chapter Text

November 9th, 1979

James had never really liked New York City. He had never left the city before he moved to Hawinks. New York was filthy and incredibly loud. The worst thing about the city was the people. The adults usual around his neighborhood were cruel and dangerous. In comparison, Hawkins seemed like some suburban paradise. Nothing but green lawns and white picket fences, there wasn’t a criminal in a 100-mile radius.

It took a while to find and settle into Hoppers cabin. Saying it was out of the way was an understatement. The whole cabin consisted of just three rooms: the bedroom, bathroom, and the living area. It wasn’t much, but it quickly became home.

Emily found a job as a waitress in a diner. Hopper had made some calls and arranged for his friend Benny to give her an interview. She was determined to make a better life for herself and her son in Hawkins. James was reluctant to join a new school at first. Given everything he had been through, the whole thing seemed unnecessary. But once he got back into the routine of school, he began to thrive.


Months went by and everything was perfect. Emily had started to look for houses around Hawkins, and the chief had moved back to town. they had dinner with him every Friday. Although James had still yet to make any new friends, he seemed happy for the first time in a long time. They sat around the kitchen table facing each other eating dinner Benny made for them in work. James was truly happy just to be sitting there with his mother eating a cold burger and fries.

“How was school today? You make any new friends,” Emily asked, making his gaze fall to his shoes.

“You have to try James, please for me,” she said, as she reached across and placed her hand on his. It was warm and made him feel secure. Something he was still getting used to feeling.

“I’ll try, I promise” James responded taking his mother’s hand in his.

“Okay, go get ready for bed and fill clean up,” she said as she stood to clean the table. James felt bad for not helping but his eyes were getting heavy, and he wanted his bed. They shared a room, but Emily had managed to fit two beds into the small space.


James walked into the bathroom and began to wash his teeth. He could hear his mother in the next room picking up plates and washing them in the sink. James was just about to return from the bathroom when he heard a loud knock on the door. The lone knock echoed in the small house.

James watched from the bathroom as his mother crossed the distance to the door and placed her hand on the lock. As soon as James heard the click of the lock, the door suddenly exploded inwards, knocking Emily onto her back. James jumped from the sudden crack the wood made as it splintered in a hundred different directions. He still couldn’t see what had happened, but his mother looked petrified.


“RUN JAMES, RUN!” she shouted as she scrambled to her feet. James didn’t know what was happening, but he doubted his legs could move even if he wanted them to.

For the first time, James looked to the door for an explanation. Everything seemed to slow down as his father walked into the small cabin. The one place in his mind that hadn’t been corrupted by his father’s presence, until now. The cabin that James had truly called home was suddenly so cold and alien. The deadly quiet seemed to last a lifetime. James looked between his parents hoping that this was all just some sick dream. His father’s reappearance had been a common nightmare for James and Emily since they left. But now he was here, and the nightmare was all too real.

“You thought you could just take my son,” James’s father said as he crossed the living room towards Emily. She was still scrambling to her feet when he grabbed her by the throat.

“You thought you could run from me,” he said with a sicking grin as he strangled her. After everything that had happened, James was still stuck in the familiar crippling position. Watching the man he hated the most hurt the person he loved the most. Emily was gasping for air as James’s father tightened his grip around her throat. She was trying to claw at his arms or face but had little strength left in arms.

The tears stung his eyes. That familiar paralysis settled over him again. That bone-crushing weight that prohibited him from moving or speaking. He couldn’t let this happen again. Emily’s gasps were getting desperate and her face was turning a disgusting shade of purple.

“STOP, YOU’RE KILLING HER” James shouted without realizing what he had actually said. His father turned his head and looked through him. He turned back and continued to apply pressure to Emily’s neck. James’ body acted by itself. He found himself running to the dinner table where one knife remained from dinner.

James father was turned to his wife and didn’t see the small boy approach behind him, knife in hand. James leaped up and stuck the knife into his father’s shoulder with all the force he could. It wasn’t very sharp, but it achieved its purpose. His father screamed in pain and released his grip on Emily. She fell to the ground with a massive thud, grasping for air.


James instinctively tried to run for his mother, but he was stopped suddenly. His father grabbed him by the back of his hair and pulled his head back. James thought his scalp was going to be torn off. His father’s eyes were wild. He still had the bloody knife in his grasp. James tried to free himself from his grip but his father was too strong. He suddenly received a devastating knee to his ribs. He could feel them crack under the force of his father’s blow. James tried to scream from the pain radiating from his midsection but found his mouth covered by his father’s hand.

“SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH” his father screamed at him. James tried to fight his grip again but every breath he tried to take felt he was being stabbed. He bit down hard on his father’s index finger. He bit down harder than he thought he could. His mouth was suddenly being filled with warm blood.

“FUUUCK” his father shouted as he raised his fist that was clenching the bloody knife. James had never really thought much about his own death. Not many children have, but as he looked at the raised knife, he assumed his short life was going to come to an abrupt end. He clenched his jaws down on his finger harder. His father brought his fist down smashing his skull with the blunt handle of the knife.

James finally released the grip on his finger. When he pulled away from James, he saw that his father’s finger was sawed down to the bone. As he landed on his hands and knees James choked on all the blood that was stored in his mouth. It splashed down onto the carpet as he coughed and spit. James tried to look up but everything was fuzzy, he couldn’t focus his eyes or find his balance.


James’s father satisfied that his son was not going to get up again turned to see where Emily was. She was still more or less where he left her. He could see the small distance she covered as she tried to drag herself over to James. She tried to scream as he made his way over to her but her throat was too severely damaged. It just came out as a silent whisper.

James had regained some clarity but still couldn’t find his legs. He watched as his father crossed the room over to his mother. A sick wave of déjà vu came over him as he watched his father swing his leg back and kick her in the stomach. James tried to cry out or shout or move but couldn’t. His father kicked her over and over until she wasn’t moving anymore.

James watched as his father dropped down to one knee and raised the knife high above his head. James began to feel lightheaded. Everything became blurry, he was clinging to consciousness. The last thing he saw before he passed out was the slashing descent of the blade.



December 24th, 1986

Christmas didn’t seem like that big of a deal when you have fought literal monsters Will thought. Being through something that traumatic and surviving, that was a big deal. That’s why the thing Will was looking forward to most was spending time with his family. He would be lying if he said it hadn’t been a little awkward with Johnathon after he told him the truth about himself. However, he could always count on his brother, and he knew nothing had changed between them, not really.

Will had spent the day with the party as per Christmas tradition. They usually meet up on Christmas eve to trade gifts and wish each other happy Christmas. This is typically hosted at the Wheeler residents and this year was no different. Mike’s parents were still pissed about what happened at Bella Thorne’s house but had agreed to allow him to host the event on the condition that James didn’t come.


This wasn’t the first time something like that happened. Mikes parents outright banned Mike from being friends with him. Of course, the party ignored this but the Wheeler’s weren’t the only ones who had concerns about James’s influence. Lucas’s parents made him stop his boxing training and Dustin’s mother wanted Dustin to stop “playing” with him. Even Joyce seemed to want Will to distance himself from James. It seemed every parent had their issues with James. Except for Hopper.

Everyone kept waiting for El to complain about the unreasonable request from Hopper to stop hanging around with James. But it never came. Instead, it seemed Hopper forgot about him altogether. Never brought him up or asked questions about him. To Will that seemed so much worse than the other parent’s reactions. He didn’t know what happened between Hopper and James but El couldn’t get Hopper to talk about it. Will thought about asking James about it, but he already knew he would only deflect the question and change the subject.

Mike insisted that James could come to his house, anyway. All they had to do was let him in through the basement door and keep a lookout for Mikes parents. They all prepared for the plan but James ended up not showing up at all. It broke Will’s heart a bit. The more time they spend together the more Will notices the time they spend apart. Which seems to be more and more.

Will made his way over to his collection of albums. He likes to sit there and flick through them and think. He pulls out his favorite Bowie album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” and puts it onto the record player. Will collapses back onto his bed and listens to the first track? He thinks about locking the door and releasing some stress. Even if his mother and brother were in bed, the last thing he needed was either of them walking in on him jerking off.


Will removed his headphones and crossed the room to lock his door. When the door was locked, he became aware of a constant tapping sound. At first, he thought it was just the rain outside or hail. It was coming down hard. But this was louder and consistent, every few seconds there would be a loud tap. Will hesitated for a moment but the tapping was becoming louder, and faster.

A couple of seconds passed, and it was louder and faster. Will could feel the quick pace of his heartbeat. He couldn’t seem to control his breathing. With one quick move, Will pulled the curtain open and stared out the window. Instead of looking into the horrid face of a Demogorgon Will found himself staring into the deep blue eyes of James White. He just stood there looking at Will. A couple of seconds passed where the two boys just stared at each other before Will snapped back to reality. His fear had vanished the second he had seen James. Will rushed to the window to open the latch and let him in.

As soon as he opened the window he realized just how miserable it was outside. It was freezing and pouring rain. James seemed to not notice. Will moved back and James tried to maneuver his leg through the window. That’s when Will realized something was wrong. James didn’t move right. He was slow and clumsy. Halfway through the window, he caught his back leg and stumbled to the floor of Will’s room. Will looked into his eyes as he lay on the ground. They were dilated despite the fact he had just entered the bright room. He was soaking wet and freezing but seemed not to be able to feel it.


“you’re drunk” Will stated plainly. He still wasn’t over James not showing up to Mikes house for Christmas Eve.

“Am I” James responded slurring his words slightly.

“What the hell are you doing here, it’s Christmas eve,” Will asked looking for some kind of explanation for the sudden appearance. The butterflies Will got every time he was around James hovered in his stomach. He tried to suppress them reminding himself he was supposed to be mad at him. He bailed on him and now he was drunk.

“I’m not really one for holidays, besides me and my foster dad had a fight,” He said still lying on his back on Will’s floor. Will had seen him drunk before, this seemed different. Worse somehow but he couldn’t put his finger on why.

“What did you fight about,” Will asked feeling sudden sympathy. He knew what it was like to feel like to have an absent father.

“He caught me stealing a bottle of whiskey from him,” James replied. Will watched him carefully. His eyes were completely glazed over. It looked like he was speaking but he wasn’t really conscious. Something was definitely wrong.

“So you fought because you were trying to get drunk, not the other way around,” Will asked suddenly realizing the foolishness of his situation.

“Why did you steal his whiskey,” Will asked. The question seemed to spark something in James. He came back into himself a bit. He looked around the room taking in his surroundings. Almost as if he was trying to figure out where he was.

“You just going to stand there or you going to help me up,” James said slowly. Will noticed how he was trying to choose his words.


Will grabbed James’ hand and tried to pull him to his feet. He was easy twice the boy’s weight but Will still helped him up to his bed. James sat at the foot of Will’s bed looking at his feet. Will hadn’t seen him in this kind of condition since Bella’s house.

“James, what’s going on with you, why did you get drunk, why did you bail on us today. Please, James, you can talk to me.” Will said shifting his weight closer to him. James stayed quiet. Although Will could see tears forming in his eyes and his jaw clenching.

“James you’re not going to do something stupid are you. Please, James. Tell me if you’re thinking about hurting yourself” Will whispered. He moved closer to him again and stretched to take James’s hand in his. James tears were freely flowing down his face and Will was fighting to keep his back.

“I’m... I, I’m going to see my father tomorrow” James finally said. He was gripping Will’s hand tight.

“I thought, James I thought you were an orphan,” Will asked approaching the topic carefully.

“My fathers in prison, alive and well,” James said. His grip on Will’s hand was getting tighter. Will saw something else in his eyes know. That emptiness was suddenly replaced with absolute rage.

“Then aren’t you happy to visit him,” Will asked, not quite understanding the situation.

“Six years ago... He. He murdered my mother” James said with a bone-chilling clarity. He was squeezing Will’s hand so hard now it was hurting him.

“James I....” Will stumbled for something to say

“When I moved to Hawkins, I was given hope of a better life.”

“He took that from me.”

“He stole that from me,”

“He KILLED THAT FROM ME,” James shouted releasing Will’s hand and bringing them to his face. Will moved in closer keeping an ear out for his mother or Jonathon.

“I have to go see him. If I see him, maybe I can put it behind me. Maybe I can move on. Get closure. began to Heal, because Will I’m fucking sick of struggling.” he whispered.

“I’m fucking tired of this pain, all these scars he gave me are nothing compared to ...” James said.

“the scars inside” Will abruptly finished. They looked at each other for what seemed to be an eternity. James deep blue eyes were piercing right through him.


Will was about to open his mouth to apologize but the distance between them was closed quickly. Before Will could realize what was happening, he felt James lips on his. Will kissed him back on pure instinct. His head was going a mile a minute and his heart was doing twice that. James pulled away and Will looked into his waxy glazed eyes. Before Will could speak James collapsed onto His bed and passed out.


December 25th, 1985

James looked out the window of the prison transfer bus. He could see the large ugly structure approaching. The horrid place had been his fathers home for the last six years. While he was leaving in the system fighting for his next meal, the man who murdered his mother had three a day and a warm bed. James took comfort in the fact he would be gone soon. He had exhausted his appeals and now it was time for punishment. He was to be executed by the electric chair on the 1st of January 1986. Not soon enough, Jame thought.

The whole time he walked to the bus station James couldn’t think of one good reason to go see his father. All he felt was anger towards him. There was no chance of redemption or forgiveness so why bother. Because if I don’t it might kill me, he told himself.

He had got lucky the previous night. The fist full of pills he swallowed could have killed him. James had emptied the remaining contents of the pill bottles and threw them back with half a bottle of whiskey. If he had gone to Spoon to get a refill as he had planned he would be dead in a ditch somewhere. When his stepdad caught him, leaving the house with a bottle of whiskey Charles tried to understand and keep his head. But James started provoking him and what was supposed to be a calm discussion about James’s behavior quickly turned into a screaming match. James really didn’t know why he did it. The guilt of ruining Christmas is probably why he fled to Will’s house.


James sighed and put his head between his legs. He was really trying not to vomit. The previous night was more or less a haze after he had taken the pills. But one thing was crystal clear. Why did he tell him the truth? Why did he kiss him? He had snuck out his Will’s house and spent the rest of the night in the bus station. James felt a connection with Will the moment he meet him but it never seemed sexual. The more he thought about it the more he questioned the motives behind his connection with Will. He asked himself a simple question. Was he attracted to Will? It terrified him and he quickly pushed it to the back of his head. He couldn’t deal with that right now.

The bus pulled into the courtyard of the large prison. The place was covered in high fences with barbed wire. James stayed outside and smoked one cigarette after the other until he built up enough courage to go inside. He walked through the doors to check in and request a visit. His father was on death row and could be granted visits by Family members. It almost made James get sick when he had to say he was his son.

After almost an hour wait he was led down several long corridors until he entered a large private room. In the center of the room stood a cage just large enough to fit a grown man. The man sitting inside it looked to be in his late forties. He had several tattoos spanning his arm and neck. His beard was a mix of black and dark gray and reached down to his chest. James could see he had gained a lot of weight since he was imprisoned, probably a result of getting clean. James took a seat on the bench opposite the cage. When he sat, he stared into his father’s eyes. They were so familiar. The exact same eyes that look back at him in the mirror. His memory of his father had faded in time. But now he that he saw him up close he couldn’t help but see a sick resemblance between them. He looked over his orange jumpsuit. His name was printed in big black letters on the right side of his chest. James White. Prison No. 468216.


Neither of them said anything, just continued to look at each other. His father suddenly let out a large chuckle and smiled at him. His crooked teeth were back and yellow. James clenched his fists as hard as he could.

“What the fuck are you laughing at” James spat out through clenched teeth.

“What do you want James?” His father asked him plainly. James had all day to think about it but was still didn’t really have an answer to his question.

“You here to say goodbye to your old man.” His father asked. James still remained quiet.

“We look a lot alike. Never noticed it when you were a boy,” He said laughing again.

“I’m nothing like you. You’re a murdering, junkie, a piece of shit,” James hissed back at him.

“like father like a son” He interrupted with a grin. James hesitated and caught a glimpse of himself in the glass behind the cage. It was a grisly sight.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about” James responded with a hint of panic in his voice.

“I know a junkie when I see one. You have no needle marks on your arms. So what’s your poison. crack, cocaine, pills.” He said smiling to himself. James’s guilt was written all over his face. He didn’t have to say anything, his father knew exactly what he was doing.

“I’m not... I’m not like you” He repeated. His anger was getting the better of him.

“you’re a lot more like me like me than your slut mother,” he replied calmly.

“Don’t you FUCKING talk about her “James shouted back at him.

“What you don’t think she was spreading her legs for Jim Hopper. Trust me, kid, he didn’t keep you around out of the goodness of his heart,” He replied.

“SHUT YOUR MOUTH... Hopper is twice the man you are,” James screamed back at him.

“Ha... Do you even know Hopper? The things he’s done” James father replied calmly. This was getting out of hand.

“What the fuck are you talking about,” James asked, suddenly afraid.

“How do you think I knew you were in Hawkins,” he asked. The question pierced James like a bullet.

“Your fucking lying, just trying to get in my head or something,” James whispered as a wave of panic gripped his spine.

“A couple of weeks after you went missing, my boss got worried your mother might have gone into witness protection. She could have tried to testify against him. So he put a guy named Richie on Hopper. Richie was very good at his job. He could get any information from anyone. But not with torture. You see, you can never trust a man’s words when his balls are being removed with hot pliers, they would tell you anything so they could finally just get a bullet in the head. So he got him drunk in a bar over and over again. Became his best friend and held his hand every time that fat fuck started crying about his dead kid. Not to mention supplying Hopper with as many painkillers as he wanted,” He explained watching James face recoil from the story.

“One day he really broke down. With the right push here and nudge there Richie had that clown talking about you and your mother and the Cabin his father took him hunting in. My boss wasn’t going to be satisfied until he was sure your whore of a mother wasn’t going to start running her cunt mouth all over town, so I took care of it.” James father concluded his story and the room returned to an unsettling stillness.


Then rooms calmness was in stark contrast to what was happening in James’ head. It was pure terror and hatred.

“So who do you really blame” James’s father standing up for the first time.

James felt like he was falling. His stomach was in knots. He tried to back away from the cage but couldn’t seem to move. Looking into his father’s eyes he felt the same sickening paralysis from his childhood. This wasn’t supposed to happen anymore. He was supposed to get closure, not this. James tears began flowing down his cheeks and he could distinctly hear his fathers laughter. He couldn’t take it any longer.

James sprinted back from the cage back into the corridor. He located the nearest trash can and puked into it. The prison guard approached him but James waved him away. What he told him couldn’t be true, could it? Was Hopper really the reason why she was taken from him.

The bus ride back to Hawinks was unbearably painful. James couldn’t seem to stop himself from crying. Going to see his father was a final Hail Mary that failed spectacularly. He thought if he could just move on he could be ok but now everything was so much worse.

When he stepped off the bus in Hawkins, he thought maybe he would go home. Talk to his step parents. Tell them everything. Why he’s been acting the way he has. The drinking, the drugs. James really believed that was a good idea but his legs walk him in the opposite direction of his house. He walks for almost twenty minutes until he comes to a little trailer on the outskirts of Hawkins.


James approached the door of the trailer and knocked it hard. A minute or two passed before the door of the trailer swung open. James found himself staring down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun.

“Oh... hey James” Spoon said lowering the gun down to his side. He turned to walk back into his trailer and gestured for James to entered with the tip of the barrel.

“You expecting trouble,” James asked as he entered the small trailer. He looked around the mess and filth for a place to sit.

“No... but you can never be too careful” Spoon said throwing the gun down on the coach.

“What can I do for you amigo,” Spoon said collapsing onto the couch beside his shotgun.

“Same as last time,” James asked. His hands were starting to shake. He really needed some medication right now.

“No can do friend,” Spoon said staring back at him. James was starting to get angry. He really fucks needs the pills.

“What are you talking about,” James asked through clenched teeth.

“look, Christmas is a busy time I’ve no oxys left.” Spoon said slowly. He could see James was in a rough state and beginning to come down.

“You have to help me out, man,” James said choking up a bit. He was really getting desperate.

“This is all I’ve got left, I’m willing to share,” Spoon said lifting the little brown plastic bag from the coffee table. James eyed the little bag carefully. He couldn’t do this. If he did, he wouldn’t be any better than his father, but it was just too fucking much to deal with.


“yea okay,” James said stretching over to the table and picking up a rubber tube. Spoon prepared it with a spoon and lighter. He wrapped the band around his arm tight and took the filled syringe from Spoon.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” Spoon asked him as he prepared another syringe.

“Yea...” James replied thinking about all the times he had seen his father do the same thing. As soon as the needle injected its contents into his bloodstream, a wave of ecstasy washed over him. He couldn’t feel anything anymore.



27th December 1985

Will sat in Mikes basement with the rest of the Party. Dustin walked back and forth from wall to wall. Will noticed how much his pacing was irritating Mike but choose not to act on the knowledge.

“Dustin will you stop It PLEASE!” Mike shouted as the curly-haired boy stopped mid-pace and turned to face him.

“Sorry, Mike but I just don’t feel like sitting around doing nothing while a member of the party is in need of assistance.” Dustin shot back at him.
“We don’t know James is in trouble,” Lucius added.

“Yea because the last time one of us went missing it turned out to be no big deal” Dustin argued. Will did think that was a good point. His stomach was sick with worry. No one had heard or seen James since he showed up at Wills house in the middle of the night. That was two days ago. Everyone was out looking for him but Will was the only one with information that might help.

“What, you’re saying a demo dog got him,” Max asked looking up to Dustin. They were all really worried, but Will was starting to freak out. He had asked him if he was going to hurt himself and he never got a straight answer. James had told him about his past then kissed him. It all seemed like some distant dream.


“Maybe he just ran away, dad said he’s done it before,” El said taking mikes hand in hers trying to calm him down.

“No... Jess said all his stuff untouched. Besides, he would have said goodbye.” Will said finally breaking his silence.

“Then where could he be. Will your the closest with him” Max asked him. Will could feel his cheeks suddenly redden. Had his affection been that obvious?

“He said... he said he was going to visit his father,” Will added slowly. He really hated himself at this point. This wasn’t his story to tell.

“Will what are you talking about,” Mike asked.

“I... I can’t tell you,” Will said avoiding eye contact with the rest of the party.

“Why not? Will if it helps us find James you have to tell us” Dustin insisted. Will could feel his resolve melting. He would never betray James but he was so afraid. He was in such a bad condition the last time he saw him. What if he did run or even worst what if he was lying dead in a ditch somewhere?


Will told the party everything James had told them. About his mother’s death. His father. Everything made so much more sense to everyone. Why he left. His anger. His pain. His scars. Will cried most of the way through the explanation. As did El and Dustin. He told them everything that happened except the kiss.

“A party member is in need of assistance. We have to find him” Dustin announced as Will finished his story. There wasn’t a person alive as loyal as Dustin Henderson, Will thought.

“Ok, I’ll go and check if dad has heard anything,” El said standing up.

“Me, Dustin and Will can cycle around and see if we can find him.” Mike added standing up.

“Lucas and I can ring the prison and check if when he left,” Max exclaimed standing up.

They were all about to disperse on their separate jobs when a knock on the basement door echoed in the basement. They all paused and looked at each other. No one but them ever knocked on the basement door. Mike walked to the door and swung it open.


James was leaning against the wall. He was just standing there with a cigarette looking at Mike waiting for an invitation inside. Will’s heart jumped in his chest. He was okay. He looked like death but he was okay.

“James what the Hell, where have you been” Dustin suddenly shouted from behind Mike, who still stood at the door shocked.

“what are you talking about,” James said flicking his cigarette away and entering the basement. The closer he got to the party the worse he looked. He had massive black bags under his eyes and he looked ill. His clothes were dirty. Will noticed they were the same ones he wore in the rain at his house.

“James everyone has been looking for you. You’ve been gone for two days.” Max said. James looked around confused. Will was seriously worried. Where was he and why didn’t he know what day it was?

“Hopper has been going crazy. He has half the town looking for you.” El said. James’s face turned wicked when Hopper’s name was said. It frightened Will.

“James what happened at the prison” Will asked stepping towards him. James looked at him in the eyes. Then to the rest of the party. Will took another few steps towards James.

“James please I...” Will said.

“You told them,” James asked him.

“I... I had to. James please I was so scared” Will closed the distance between them. The rest of the party watched in silence. Will tried to take James hand in his.

“DON’T fucking touch me” James spat at him pulling his hand away. Will could see the tears in his eyes. James turned and stormed out of the Wheelers basement and back into the cold.

Chapter Text

27th December 1985

James left Mikes basement towards his house. He couldn’t believe Will told them about his parents. Would Will Have confessed about the Kiss? Fuck, he forgot about the kiss. What the fuck was he thinking? He needed to calm down. James hadn’t realized he had spent two days getting high with Spoon. It felt like two or three hours. James’ hands were convulsing. He felt in his pockets for the pills Spoon got for him. He threw two down the back of his throat and tried to find his way home.

Two days had passed in the blink of an eye. His time loss scared James. It was the only time; he told himself. It was a mistake. He wasn’t a heroin addict; he wasn’t his father. How was he going to explain it Jess and Charles? They didn’t deserve this. Hopper was looking for him. Confronting the Chief terrified him. James doubted he could control himself around him. Evading the Chief was main goel. James rounded the last corner towards the house. His stomach was knotting the closer he got. The house stood quiet and dark. James was about to enter when he got a look at his reflection in the glass. Fuck, he looked rough. He couldn’t show up to the house like this. Maybe he could sneak in through the garage and have a shower.


James snuck into the house through the garage it seemed no one was home. He showered, brushed his teeth, shaved and combed his hair. He still looked like absolute shit, but it was an improvement. At least his hands stopped shaking. James stared at himself in the mirror. He used to like how he looked. Now it was his father’s eyes and the face that looked back at him. It disgusted him. He never thought he could feel hatred like this. James was half dressed when he heard the door open downstairs. He could hear two voices entering the house.

“I don’t know... I will ring the hospitals again,” Jess added, walking over and picking up the cordless phone.

“You’ve rung every hospital in the area three times Jess, he’s not there,” Charles replied, sounding frustrated.

“What else am I supposed to do. I can’t just sit around and do nothing while our son is out there somewhere in the cold,” she shouted back at him. She called him his son. James felt awful. These are honest people. The first good family he had lived with and he treats them like this.

“Jess...” James whispered walking down the stairs. She leaped at his voice and whirled around. Her eyes lit up as soon as she saw him. It warmed his heart a little.

“JAMES...” she exclaimed. The small women closed the distance between them in seconds. She embraced him in the tightest hug James thinks he has ever received. He hugs her back and puts his head in the nook of her shoulder. He broke the hug and looked towards his stepfather. James didn’t what to fight anymore. Charles took a few steps toward James. It surprised James when he found himself wrapped in a second hug. This time by his stepfather.

“James... Where have you been? We were so worried,” Jess asked, wiping the tears from your eyes.

“I was in the city. I went to see an old friend. He was in trouble.” James said, lying through his teeth. Tell them the truth, you scum bag, he screamed at himself.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think take so long, but then I spent all my money on the bus ticket. It’s my fault, sorry I caused so much trouble. And about the bottle, I stole...” He said, scrambling the story together.

“Don’t worry about that as long as you’re okay,” Charles said, placing an arm on his shoulder.

“Are you okay? You don’t look well,” Jess said, stepping closer to him. She places a hand on his forehead. His temperature had dropped since taking the last couple of pills.

“I’m fine just tired and hungry,” James said, realizing he hadn’t eaten in over two days.

“I’ll go make something for you,” Jess said. She turned pivoted and headed straight for the kitchen. She left James in the living room alone with his step-dad.


They talked for a while. He had questions about what had happened in the city. James dodged around any major points and recounted and insistent that happen two years previous. Lies where best when rooted in the truth. Charles seemed to buy into the story. James had gotten good at lying over the years. It was a necessary skill to survive. He would sell a similar story to the party if he ever stops being pissed at Will. James could hear the phone ring in the kitchen. He was just about to lie to Charles again when Jess entered the living room phone in hand. She looked nervous.

“James, there’s a phone call for you from prison,” she said, walking over to home and holding out the phone. Her hand trembled a little.

“You don’t have to take it,” she said, pulling the phone away.

“No... it’s okay. I’ll talk to him” James said talking the phone from her.

“Hello...” he said.

“Hello... Is this James White Jnr” A soft female voice said from the other side of the speaker.

“Yeah that’s me,” James said, surprised by an unexpected voice.

“I’m sorry James, I have some bad news. Your father took his own life. They found his body this morning during a cell check. As I’m sure you know we expected to execute him on the 1st of January,” the soft voice explained.

“He’s dead...” James said as a thousand thoughts ran through his mind. James overhead Jess’s shocked gasp.

“If you would like to arrange your own burial service we can...” she said.

“No, it’s fine. James interrupted.

“you understand if you don’t take possession of the body he won’t receive a funeral,” The voice asked.

“Yes,” James stated and hung up the phone. He put the phone on the table and looked at his step parents. They both looked shocked. 

“James are you okay,” Jess asked. Taking his hands. he was tiring of everyone asking him that.

“Yea, I’m fine,” James said.

“James I know what he did, but he was your father,” Charles said.

“No, he wasn’t. He was a fucking coward. I only regret not being there to watch when he died,” James said. His coldness frightened his step parents. They just stared at him.

“I’m going to bed,” James said walking back up the stairs. Neither of them said anything. Once he got in his room, he went straight for his pockets and produced his bottle of pills. His father was dead. He was an orphan. Why did he feel so bad? The man he hated the most in the world was dead and it didn’t make him feel any better. James felt tears burn in his eyes as he unscrewed the top. If His father’s death didn’t fix him, maybe nothing could.




10th February 1986

Will waited at the school entrance for the rest of the party to arrive. Things had settled down and everything was getting back to normal, whatever that meant. James had brought the whole party out for burgers and fries to apologize. He told them he had gone back to Indianapolis to help a friend but Will didn’t buy it, although he was convincing. Everyone forgave him, when he told them about his father’s suicide. He seemed sad about it but Will could see through it. He didn’t care to be honest. James could lie to his face if he wanted. As long as he was in his life again.

Will couldn’t deal with the thought of James not being in his life. Even if they were just friends. Things were different between them now. James never spent time with Will alone. He interacted with him as part of the group but never one on one. It was killing him but it was better than nothing. They haven’t discussed the kiss since it happened. Will thought about it often. The feel of his lips pressed against his. The smell of cigarettes and whiskey. He was intoxicating. Then he went and ruined it. He betrayed his trust.


Max and Lucas were the first to show up. They weren’t holding hands which almost always meant they were fighting. Will got used to hearing all about it from Lucas for the first half of the day until they inevitable made up at lunch. It was a common occurrence between them.

“Hey Lumax” Will said smiling, making Max give him a death stare.

“You know I hate that shit Byers,” Max said. Will was about to retaliate when Dustin and James appeared around the side of the school. They were both laughing hysticaly about something. The two of them had been spending a lot of time together. Will was trying not to be jealous.

“Here come the lovebirds” Lucas sneered as James and Dustin came into the hearing distance.

“Hilarious. You just don’t understand us” Dustin said trying to hold James’ hand.

“Dude no....” James said pulling his hand away. Dustin put on an extreme puppy dog face making the rest of the group including Will laugh.

“Wheres El and Mike,” Will asked looking around.

“I don’t know, but I think El snuck over to Mike’s last night,” Max said always willing to initiate a bit of gossip.

“Where was the Chief” Dustin asked looking interested.

“He was apparently staying the night at the Byers residence,” Max said turning towards Will.

“They’ve been spending a lot of time together” Will explained turning his cheeks bright red. He noticed how James looked away and produced a cigarette. His smoking had gotten a lot worse in the last couple of weeks and Will also noticed how thin he had gotten.

“Joyce and Hopper can’t say I’m surprised. Called it years ago” Dustin announced puffing his chest out. Will could help but laugh at his friends’ stupidity.

“you couldn’t predict the outcome of a two-headed coin” James added as he took a deep pull of his cigarette.

“Could too?” Dustin said. The rest of the party were in stitches.


They waited for Mike and Eleven to show up and lock up their bikes before entering the school together. Wills first class was History with Mike and James. They took their usual seats. Will was sitting behind James and to the left of Mike. He never liked History, but he didn’t hate the subject either. The teacher entered the class looking pissed off as usual. Mr. O’Neil was notorious for being a real hardass. Will found he wasn’t that bad if he stayed out of his way.

Mr. O’Neil started his usual daily rant about whatever unfortunate thing pissed him off from the time he parked his car to the second he walked into the classroom. The inspiration for his rants came from the piss poor coffee in the staff room or his parking spot is too far away from the entrance. Today, however, the disappointing results of the previous week’s exam seemed to be influence his rant. Will was confident he got at least a B. Even if he didn’t he knew he had passed. Mr. O’Neill went from table to table slamming the test result on each students table.

He went up to Mike’s row first. When he slammed Mikes exam onto his table, it made him jump in his seat. As soon as Mike looked over his sheet of paper, he turned it over to Will. He could make out the large A- on the top of the sheet. Mike seemed pleased. Mr. O’Neil got to Will next and slammed the exam onto his table. Will was nervous but as soon as he saw the large B+ he relaxed. He got worried again when he stopped at James’s desk. James’s had his head in his arms on the desk and appeared to be sleeping.

“Mr. White could you see me after class,” Mr. O’Neill said making James raise his head off the table. When he slammed the exam down in front of him. Will could see the large F printed on the top of the paper. This was a common occurrence in the last couple of weeks. James had been a straight-A student but now he was failing several subjects.

The next class was Maths with James and Max. James had slept through that. His next class was the one he dreaded the most. It was Biology, a subject he liked. In fact, he used to look forward to it the most. It was the only subject he and James had alone together. Will always look forward to being his lab partner but James requested a new one shortly after the incident. Will got stuck with Jenifer Hayes, who he was fond of. James landed with Troy. They both sat at the back and ignored the rest of the class. Will hated seeing them together.


When lunch came Will and the other guys walked towards the cafeteria to meet El and Max. James left to smoke and agreed to meet them in the cafeteria. Lunch was still the best part of the day. The whole party sat together and he and James talked. Even if they were pretending, and it was only part of a group, it was something Will took his usual seat. Max sat next to Lucas, kissing his cheek. Will assumed they made up, like clockwork. Mike and Dustin sat down making room for El, who joined two seconds later. Halfway through their conversation about their plans for the weekend, James joined them. They all talked about the usual stuff. Weekend plans, complaining about school work, the new D&D campaign Mike was working on for weeks. Will noticed how James barley ate any of his food just moved it around his tray.

“So arcade on Friday” Dustin purposed looking towards everyone.

“Sure, you got them two dollars you owe me for kicking your ass in Pacman,” Max threw back at him.

“That wasn’t fair James was distracting me when it was my turn,” Dustin said accusing James and pointing a finger at him.

“Don’t blame me cuz you suck?” James said laughing at him.

“I can’t go this Friday I’m going to see mama,” El said speaking once they had stopped laughing at Dustin.

“What about you Mike, you in,” Dustin said looking at the couple.

“Actual I’m going with El,” Mike said looking sky. Everyone gave a simultaneous woo noise

“Meeting the family, a big step Wheeler” Max said teasing him. Mike was getting visibly nervous.

“Becky will like you it will be fine,” El said talking his hand. Mike seemed to relax.

“Besides, what meeting the family compared to fighting a Demogorgon” Dustin joked. Will could feel his stomach knot. The table went silent. He kicked Dustin in the shin hard.

“Demogorgon? Like in D&D” James asked looking around clearly confused.

“Yea... mm. Mike let me in on some new campaign details. Someone fights the Demogorgon. Spoiler alert” Dustin spit out. The table was absolutely silent. Everyone was holding their breath except James who just looked confused.

“Sounds cool, looking forward to it,” James said looking confused. Everyone let out the breath that they were collectively holding in. Will could tell James didn’t believe him but seemed to let it go. It hadn’t been there only slip up since James had joined them and it was getting harder to lie about.

They continued their lunch as if nothing had happened. Max turned the conversation back on Mike and El spending the weekend with El’s family. Mike was getting up to leave with 10 minutes left of lunch.

“Ok, I got to go set up the projector for Mr. O’Neil for the next class,” Mike announced standing up from the table.

“Watch out, he’s in a foul mood. He fucking burnt my ear off this morning,” James said.

“I will,” Mike said smiling down. Before he left, he bent down and kissed El.

“See you after school, love you,” Mike said standing back up to leave. The rest of the table was pitch silent and just stared at the two of them. Mike had never said that before. Will thought maybe he said it before in private but El’s expression suggested otherwise. 

“What the hell are you guys looking at” Mike said looking over their shocked faces. It took a couple of seconds before it hit him, his face turned a pale white color and you could see him starting to perspire.

“Hmm... I mm” Mike struggled to form a sentence. He was avoiding eye contact with the group especially El, who still looked like someone slapped her.

“I have to go” Mike spat out. He turned and ran across the cafeteria. All eyes fell back to El who had the broadest smile Will had ever seen.



18th February 1986

The alarm woke James up at the usual 8:00 PM and as usual James felt like death. He was nauseous and exhausted. He stumbled to the bathroom showered and looked at himself in the mirror. Every day he was getting harder to recognize. His face was thinner than he had ever seen it. His weight loss had started four weeks ago and had seemed to stop at his current weight. He looked at himself and by the image of his father staring back at him. James went to the box tucked under his bed behind some school books. He opened and retrieved its contents. It contained an assortment of different pills two syringes and a rubber tube. He had shot up once or twice since his first time but each time he did with Spoon in his trailer. He never kept heroin in his house.

James removed fipills from one of the bottles. He took two and stuffed the rest into his school bag. James fumbled in the box looking for some cash he had stashed there. James counted the few bills and put them into his bag. He was building a substantial bill with Spoon and was going have to pay up soon. Maybe he could ask Jess and Charles for cash. James knew he wouldn’t survive for long if Spoon cut him off. It made him sick to think he needed Spoon to survive. He wasn’t a junkie; he told himself.


James prepared for the rest of the day and left his room. Jess useallyt drove him to school before she left for the city. He left his room and started his descent down the stairs but stopped when he saw what was waiting for him at the bottom. Jess and Charles were both standing at the bottom of the stairs looking up at him. Shit, he thought. Charles should have left for work two hours ago. This wasn’t good. Had they found his stash? Had the school called?

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” they both shouted at him. James finished his decent and received a hug from Jess. Fuck, he forgot it was his birthday.

“Happy birthday son,” Charles said hugging him once Jess finished,

“Thanks, guys, you didn’t need to stay home,” James said feeling guilty.

“And miss your reaction,” Charles said. James could hear the raw excitement in his voice.

“reaction to what,” James said confused looking around. Jess was jumping up and down. Charles reached into his pocket and produced a set of keys. James’ heart jumped in his chest. Did they get him a car?

“you got me a... you got me a car,” James said his voice breaking from the absolute shock.

“We know you’ve been down since your dad died We wanted to do something special. You only turn sixteen once.” Charles said handing him the keys. Charles gestured towards the garage door in the kitchen. James walked over slowly. His legs were shaking with excitement. His mind was telling him not to get his hopes up. It was probably some piece of shit mom mobile. But he didn’t care what it was, as long as it had four wheels and an engine. James opened the garage door and his heart dropped in his chest. In the garage was the sexiest 69 Z/28 Camero James had ever seen. It was jet black with a white double lined racing stripe and a double exhaust.

“WHAT...” James exclaimed turning to face his step parents. Both of them were glowing. James didn’t know what to say. It was the first birthday present he received in almost seven years. He had just stopped celebrating his birthday after his mother died.

“Thank you so much,” He said grabbing both of them into a hug.

“Why don’t you take it for a spin,” Charles said. James turned to the beast in the garage. He was almost afraid to enter the garage. If he touched it, then it became real.

“I... I... I don’t know what to say” James said looking shell shocked.

“If you don’t drive it I will,” Charles said holding his hands out.

“Ok. I’m goint to school. Thank you so much” James said turning and skipping into the garage. They walked around the car in circles taking in every corner and edge. It was spectacular. He opened the door and sat in the driver seat. As soon as he turned the key in the ignition, the engine roared to life. It was at that moment James knew he had fallen in love with this machine. It could take him anywhere. His parents had given him more than just a car they gave him his freedom.


He pulled the car out of the garage. He had not driven a car since his drivers-Z and this was a very different beast. However, he drove it like had been driving it for years. Apart from him wanted to just say fuck it and keep on driving. But his grades were already in the toilet skipping wasn’t the best idea right now. He pulled into the school and looked for a spot to park. James could see the rest of the party looking at his drive in. Each one of them had their mouths open. They all ran towards the vehicle when he pulled up and parked in a spot. As soon as he stepped out Max was on him.

“Can I drive it?” She asked him with stepping into his personal space.

“Where the hell did you get it,” Dustin asked walking around to view the other side.

“It was a birthday present from...” James tried to explain.

“WHAT. It’s your birthday. Why didn’t you tell us” El exclaimed walking to him and giving him a hug? James hugged her back. El always gave the best hugs.

“Why didn’t you tell me... I mean us” Will said looking away. James felt bad, his distance from the boy hadn’t been intentional but being around him hurt too much. Not because he told the party about his parents. He was glad the party knew more about him, he would have never had the courage to tell them. He was grateful to Will. But every time he looked into those big brown eyes he got so afraid.

“I’m sorry I kind of forgot about it” James explained looking into Will’s eyes for a split second before pulling them away.

“So can I drive it,” Max asked again stepping way too close to his face.

“Yes, Max you can drive it. How about Friday we go the query and all of you can take a spin,” He said looking forward to it?

“Sounds good,” Mike said. Although James noticed Max’s frustration of having to wait till Friday. They all walked into the school building together.


The day crawled as usual. James didn’t have the energy to take part in class anymore. The party had the usual lunch at the same table. James loved the routine. It never changed. His last class of the day was Biology. It used to be the one he looked forward to the most but sitting beside Will was too painful. So he switched to sit beside Troy, not his best decision but it got him through the day. He took his usual seat beside Troy. The two never spoke to each other and when they did, it was typically insults or threats. However, today was different. When he sat down Troy greeted him and offered him some chewing gum. To anyone else that would be a perfectly reasonable request but coming from Troy, it was highly suspect.

“What do you want Troy,” He said to try cut through the bullshit. Troy temporarily wiped the smirk off his face.

“All right, someones in a bad mood. That’s a nice car you pulled up in,” He replied.

“What’s your point,” James asked.

“I’m just saying it’s suspicious.” He said smiling again. James wished he could permanently wipe that smirk off his face. However Troy was bigger than him now. James doubted he could swing a punch with enough force to even hurt him.

“Is that right?” James asked trying to sound nonchalant.

“I’m just saying between that, the pills I saw you take behind the gym and what you did to Jackson’s face...” Troy said before being cut off by James grabbing his shirt.

“You tell anyone about the pills I’ll fucking kill you. You understand me” James whispered to him. He was furious. How did he see him he was normal so cautious? James thought he could see a hint of fear in Troy’s eyes.

“Relax dude your secret is safe with me. But I need a favor. I need weed. Me and the guys usual steal my brothers but he found out and kicked my ass. I got money,” Troy said producing a brown sealed envelope. James could make out about two hundred dollars in it.

“I’m not a drug dealer,” James said getting angry.

“All right then,” Troy said putting the envelope back in his bag.

“Wait. Give me the envelope. I’ll have it by Saturday” James said holding out his hand. What the fuck was he doing? Did he need the money that bad?

“All right then,” Troy said just as the bell rang. Troy got up and left but James just stayed in his seat and put his head on the table. It’s the only way, he told himself.


James waited just long enough that everyone had left the school. He wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone right now. He would also talk to Spoon to work out some kind of deal. He left the classroom and walked to his car. The wind was picking up, and it was raining. James got in and drove towards Spoon’s trailer. About five minutes into his drive James spotted a small boy walking in the rain on the side of the road. James slowed down just enough to confirm it was Will. He slowed the car enough for Will to see him.

“You want a ride” James shouted out the window. Fuck what was he thinking? Will just nodded and got into the passenger side of the car. There was nothing but absolute silence for the next few. James kept talking his eye off the road to look at the small boy. There was something about him just sitting the passenger seat of his dream car. Something deep inside him told him to just keep driving until they reached the sea. James had never seen an ocean. Just the two of them.

“Will I’m sorry” James said shattering the silence.

“James you don’t have to...” Will tried to say.

“No Will please let me explain. I shouldn’t have shown up at your house like that. I shouldn’t have just run away. I shouldn’t have...” James tried to finish, but he lacked the courage to say it loud.

“I shouldn’t have...” He tried again but couldn’t find the right words.

“Kissed me,” Will said turning his head to look out the passenger side window.

“It was stupid I’m sorry I’m not.... you know” James tried to explain. His mind was screaming at him. Will shifted in his seat.

“It’s okay” Will whispered.

“No Will it’s not okay, you’re my best friend, you deserve better,” James said. Will shifted his head to look at him. Will’s house came into view and James pulled to a stop.

“James. I don’t know what’s going on with you. But I will always be here for you. You can tell me anything.” Will said looking at him.

“Thanks, Will. You can talk to me to you know. I know you’re keeping something from me, all of you.” James said. Will whipped his head around and looked at him. He looked panicked.

“It’s okay you don’t have to tell me. But I know it’s the reason for your nightmares. I know it’s why you’re afraid of the dark. If it ever gets too much, you can tell me. No matter what it is I’ll understand.” James finished. Will gripped him in an awkward hug across the front seat.

“Thanks, James” Will whispered to him while they were hugging. Will nodded before he left the car. James stayed there for a few minutes. One thing became so absolutely clear. He loved Will Byers.


Chapter Text

20th March 1986

The alarm woke James up at the usual 8:00 PM and as usual James felt like death. He crawled out of bed. It was getting harder and harder every day. His joints ached and his muscles were stiff. What muscles he had left, anyway? He would have stayed in bed and skipped, but he needed to stop off at Spoon’s trailer before school and collect some product.

It turned out Troy wasn’t the only person in the school looking for some chemical stimulation. The majority of requests were from seniors seeking marijuana. He also received the odd request for more hardcore stuff. Whatever people wanted, he facilitated. He hated himself for it, but then he made more money than he could have ever imagined. It was hard to judge the people he sold to when he was doing much worse. After all, he was only the middleman. At least that’s what he told himself.


James left for school skipping breakfast. It’s not like he would have eaten it, anyway. He drove toward Spoon’s trailer, ignoring the speed limit. James almost always spent his free time doing one of two things. Getting high or driving fast. There were some afternoons he would drive around Hawkins in circles. Sometimes Will would be with him, just them two. Will always brought some awesome Mixtapes that they played way too loud. He didn’t care though; it made Will smile. He didn’t think there was anything he wouldn’t do to make him smile. 

Spoons trailer soon came into view. James wondered why he still chooses to live out in the middle of nowhere; they were making good money. Although it made sense when you take into account his irrational paranoia. He parked in the usual spot beside Spoon’s busted up red Bronco. The walk to the door was short but the cold cut right through him. He knocked once. Then twice. Then three times. It was the system so Spoon knew it was him.

A few minutes later, the trailer door swung and Spoon was guesting to come in. James entered the familiar small space. He was coming here almost once a week now, but only for business. James hadn’t used with Spoon in weeks. Since he got the Camero, he usually drives out to a secluded spot, shoots up and sleeps it off in the back seat. He preferred to do it alone, anyway. As a result, he wasn’t able to store the majority of his drugs there anymore. It was all stashed under his bed, which made him nervous. He thought about keeping it in his car but then Will could find it. Will finding it scared him a lot more than anyone else finds it.  James decided not to take a seat; he was going to be late if he stayed too long. He looked around the trailer and noticed how clean it looked. In fact, Spoon’s trailer had been looking better for weeks. So had Spoon, James notices know that he thinks about it.

“You got the supply for this week,” James asked checking the time on his watch.

“Yeah, it’s on the table,” Spoon replied, pointing to the brown paper bag sitting on the kitchen table.

“Is my package in it?” James asked walking over to examine its contents.

“Yeah, it’s more than it was last week,” Spoon said, taking a seat on the coach.

“What’s your point,” James said getting angry. He didn’t like the way Spoon was looking at him. Judging him.

“You showed slow down James, your shooting up what twice a week now, plus the pills,” Spoon said looking worried.

“What the fuck is it to you. You’re my drug dealer where not friends” James said getting defensive. He didn’t need a lecture from this fucking junkie.

“I’m just saying you should be careful. Here I want you to take this,” Spoon said. He produced something wrapped in a cloth and slid it across the table.


James walked over to the table and picked up the object. It was heavy and James knew exactly what it was as soon as he picked it up. He unwrapped the revolver and examined it. It was surprisingly heavy for its small size. James didn’t know a lot about guns but he knew he didn’t want anything to do with them.

“What is this? I don’t fucking want this,” James said, handing the revolver back to Spoon.

“Just take it. You have to protect yourself. As long as you sell, you will be in danger,” Spoon said, refusing to take the gun back. James was about to throw it back at him but couldn’t seem to. These days James thought a stiff breeze could blow him over. The smallest contact resulted in a bruise and Spoon was right; there were people who had threatened him occasionally. Nothing ever came from them but James doubted he could have defended himself even if they hadn’t been empty threats.

“Fine. Here from last week,” James said, stuffing the revolver into the waistband of his jeans. He handed Spoon an envelope with about four hundred dollars in it.

“Thanks,” Spoon said, taking the money.

“Fuck you,” James said before turning and walking out of the trailer. When he got into his car, he produced the gun and examined it closer. He released the base pin catch and opened the cylinder. The golden bullets shined back at him. He swung the cylinder back in and shoved the revolver into the glove compartment. He drove out of Spoon’s trailer going way too quickly. Despite him breaking the speed limit, he was still late for school. He was probably going to get written up for it but he struggled to give a fuck.



20th March 1986

Things were back to normal with James. Since there talk in James’s car the awkwardness between them melted away. James was looking worse than ever but he didn’t seem to notice. They talked all the time even if James made constant excuses as to why he couldn’t hang out. Will had gotten used to James lying to his face, but he was getting worried. James seemed to be almost fading away. He had lost all the color in his face he was as skinny as Mike and his hair was thin. Will was so afraid he would ruin that they had if he pressured him into talking.

Will was getting better about dealing with his crush. James didn’t like him back like that and it was okay. It broke Wills’ heart, but he made peace with the fact they were only ever going to be friends. The kiss meant nothing. Sometimes when Will can’t sleep, he stares at the ceiling and thinks about what James said. “I’ll understand.” Would he understand though? Will imagined all the different ways the conversation could go. It would be too much.  Monsters from a dark parallel dimension, possession, telekinetic powers and government conspiracies. Will thinks he sounds crazy just thinking about it. But they were in a good place. Maybe if El was there to demonstrate telekinetic powers.

The party was getting along well. Lucas and Max were fighting less. Mike and El were constantly saying “I love you” to each other. Max said they were gross but Will thought they were cute, he was happy for them. Johnathon and Nacy were making a long distance work. Even his mother had an active love life. Hopper was staying over more often. Will was getting tired of sneaking out of his own house in the morning to avoid an awkward conversation with the chief. 

This morning was no different. Will grabbed his school books and packed his bad in silence. He slipped on a loose grey hoodie and quickly slipped on his trousers. The house was old and squeaked loudly, but Will had mapped it out when he was young and wanted to eat snacks at midnight. He tipped toed around the squeaky floorboards and entered the living room. He was almost at the door.

“Morning Will,” the chief said from his blind spot. Will jumped a foot into the air and released an emasculating squeal. The Chief was standing behind the kitchen counter dressed in his uniform, sipping a cup of black coffee.

“Good morning, Hopper. You scared the crap out of me,” Will said, trying to lower his heart rate.

“You sneaking out to avoid me?” Hopper asked. Will was suddenly blushing.

“Come on ill give you a lift to school,” Hopper said, downing the rest of his coffee and scrapping his keys off the counter. Will didn’t have time to voice his opinion. They both climbed into his truck and for Will, it really was a climb.  Hopper drove on in the towards the school saying nothing. Will couldn’t take it. The unrelenting silence was killing him. It was made worse by fact it was with the man who was having sex with his mother made it so much worse. The sudden idea made him seriously cringe. He had to say something, anything. He concentrated hard. What do they have in common? Then it hit him.

“So Hopper, El’s really getting along well in school,” Will said finally relaxing a bit.

“I hate small talk Will,” Hopper said, never taking his easy off the road. Wills’ stomach clenched. It made the awkward situation so much worse than it was before. Will could practically taste the tension in the car.

“I’m just joking kid,” Hopper said turning to him and smiling.

“Oh,” Will said, finally remembering how to breathe again. 

“So, how’s James doing, you are close right,” Hopper enquired. 

“He’s fine I think” Will replied turning his head away from the Chief.

“You don’t sound so sure about that,” Hopper added.

“You haven’t seen him in a while, have you” Will replied. Hopper shifted in his seat slightly.

“No, I haven’t seen him since the night I arrested him,” Hopper stated firmly.

“He looks…” Will thought about the best way to describe it.

“Sick. I don’t know. He lost weight, he’s always tired, and he looks so fragile” Will said finishing his explanation. He turned back to face the Chief, but he didn’t respond. The car returned to silence. Will noticed how Hopper was driving faster and was gripping the steering wheel hard. When they got to the school, Will jumped from the car and waved goodbye. Hopper didn’t wave back he just sped off. 



Will sat in Biology next to Jennifer Hayes. Although Will and James were back on good terms, their teacher refused another swap. Jenifer was talking about how much fun some party was last weekend. Will just nodded his head politely. He couldnt help but look back at James everytime he got. Something was different. James and Troy were talking rather than just ignoring each other. Will watched as James handed him a little brown paper bag. He could still hear Jennifer talking to the back of his head. What was James doing?

Will watched as Troy produced a brown envelope and slipped it to James under the table. What was in the bag Will wondered. He was getting really worried. The bell rang and Will jumped in his seat. He followed James out of the class. The school was over but he didn’t walk towards his car instead he walked in the opposite direction towards the football field. Making sure not to get spotted, Will followed him.

Once James reached the field, he approached a group of football players. Will didn’t know them but he knew they were seniors. James had no business talking to them. Will tried to get closer. He could see James produced a similar bag and hand it over to the group. This time Will could see them give him a big wad of cash. What the hell was going on. Will followed James all the way back to the car park. Before he could get in, Will started approaching him. It’s none of your business he repeated to himself as he got closer.

“James” Will shouted once he was close enough. James looked worse than usual.

“Hey Will what’s up, you want a lift,” James said gesturing towards the passenger seat.

“What did you give to Troy and them seniors,” Will said very quickly. The smile on James’s face melted away. He looked angry.

“What, you following me now Will,” James said. He chest was rising up and down quickly.

“What’s going on James,” Will asked him directly.

“It’s not your concern Will,” James said. Will could see him trying to calm himself and keep his voice level.

“It’s just...” Will started.

“Just nothing. I don’t ask about what the fuck happened when you went missing in the woods for two years.” James said.

“How did you know about that,” Will said panicking. How did he turn this back on him?

“I read the old papers in the library. Why do they call you zombie boy behind your back? What are you hiding from me? Why are you so afraid?” James said stepping closer to him. He was almost shouting at this point.

“I... I...” Will stuttered. He was about to have a panic attack. James words were bringing everything back in one single wave. Will couldn’t breathe. He had to get away. James was standing looking at him waiting for an answer.

“I can’t” Will finally whispered.

“Yea that’s what I thought,” James said turning and getting into his car. The tires screeched when he pulled out of the school parking lot. James left Will just standing there in the vacant spot, tears falling down his face.



20th March 1986

James fled from the school. What was he thinking? He used his friends’ trauma to get out of answering reasonable questions. James wanted to pull over and vomit. The Camero screeched around every corner from the school to his house. Once he got home, he walked straight up to his room. Jess and Charles weren’t home. 

He sat in the silence for a few minutes. Will was looking out for him, trying to protect him and James crushed him. James debated what he was going to do. But in the end, it wasn’t even a choice. The box sat under his bed like a monster from some nightmare.  James retrieved what he needed and stuffed the contents into his school bag. The house was dead silent, but he moved through it like a bull. A few minutes later he was in his usual spot. It was on the edge of Mirkwood. Just a bit off the road. No one would bother him here.


James prepared the syringe in a hurry. The sun was making its descent; it was getting hard to see. He pulled up the sleeve on his right arm. When he started he always injected into his left arm. However, he struggled to find a vein there now. James was in a hurry he needed the relief. 

James wrapped the band tight around his right bicep. He struggled with the syringe for a few seconds before locating a vein and injected the needle into it. James was about to press on the syringe, but a sudden knock on his window made him jump. He locked out the window to find a face smiling in on him waving. James must have been hallucinating because there was no way Dustin was watching him shoot up.

James just stared at him in shock with the needle still in his arm. Dustin’s smile slowly faded as he processed what he was seeing. James finally snapped back into reality and pulled the needle out of his arm. Dustin was backing away from the car with a look of horror spread across his face. James struggled to get out of the car. When he did, he found Dustin was pacing up and down the car with incredible speed.

“DUSTIN... Dustin relax. It’s not a big deal,” James said, trying to calm Dustin. It clearly wasn’t working.

“Not that big a deal. James YOU WHERE...” Dustin shouted in a frenzy.

“Keep your voice down” James hissed at him.

“What the hell are you doing out here, Dustin?” James asked.

“I was looking for my cat. What the fuck ARE you doing James? Dustin asked.

“I was shooting up. Dustin, you cannot tell anyone. Do you understand?” James said, but Dustin started freaking out again?

“I have to tell the party, they can help...” Dustin said, speaking way too quickly.

“DUSTIN you can’t FUCKING tell anyone,” James said getting angry and afraid. Dustin ignored him.

“Mike will know what to do,” Dustin said, pacing up and down again. James felt something snap. He grabbed the smaller boy by the scruff of the neck and pinned him to the car with all the force he could.

Dustin looked shocked and scared. He couldn’t believe what James was doing. James applied more pressure to his chest and neck cutting off his air supply.

“Listen to me you curly haired FUCK. If you want to keep any of your teeth, you’re not going to open your fucking mouth. Do you understand,” James said? Dustin was struggling for air. His face was starting to turn a deep red. James could see the absolute panic in his eyes.

“I said DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND” James shouted in his face. Dustin couldn’t form any words, so he weakly nodded his head up and down. James held him there until Dustin was turning an ugly shade of purple. He could see that the smaller boy was about to pass out. James hurled him off of the car into the ground. Dustin plummeted to the ground with an audible crunch. He sucked in a huge amount of air in one big gasp. He started coughing brutally trying to catch his breath. James could see him wiping his tears away once he had caught his breath.

“James I...” Dustin tried tears falling from his eyes.

“Fuck off Dustin,” James said coldly. Dustin stumbled to his feet and wiped his eyes. James could see a slash in his forehead and a deep purple bruise forming around it. He must have hit his head, James thought. Without another word, Dustin stated limping off into the darkness. James watched him until he couldn’t see him anymore. He slowly made his way into the warmth of the Camero. He took in the silence for a split second before releasing the loudest scream he had ever heard; it was a primal rage. 

James smashed his hands on the steering wheel over and over again. He couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. He thought knew what depression was, but this was something different. This was absolute self-loathing. The needle in his arm was the only thing that stopped it.

Chapter Text

 21st March 1986


The sun was piercing through the windows of the Camero. James felt like someone was drilling a hole into his head. This was something he had never felt before. It was the closest he had ever come to overdosing. The disappointment bubbled up in his throat.  He tried to sit up in the seat but his stomach turned when he tried. His fingers loosely grasped at the door handle just enough to open the backseat door. He wiggled his head out and vomited a mixture of bile and vomit. 

The memory of the previous day came back to him as he coughed up the last of his stomach content. He intentionally triggered the person he supposedly loved to hide his addiction.  James was so depressed when he and Will stopped talking to each other. But Dustin was there to pick up the pieces. Make him laugh when no one else could. How did he repay him? Threatened him and beat him to hide his addiction. James couldn’t deny his addiction anymore. Denying it just hurt everyone else in his life. Something inside of him was trying to kill him. 


James crawled out of the backseat and landed next to his own puddle of vomit. All he wanted to do was go home. He was freezing and his comedown would not be pretty. James tried to get to his feet but his knees buckled underneath him. Instead of trying to get to his feet again, he just rolled onto his back and stared at the sky. James could feel the tears falling down each side of his face. 

An hour later James tried to get to his feet again, this time successfully. He used the car to support his weight until he got into the driver's seat. James looked around taking in his surroundings. He fingered his pockets for his keys and removed them. His hands shook to violently to get the key into the ignition. Maybe a few smokes would calm him down. James returned to his pockets but couldn't find any. He popped open the glove compartment to look for them, but the only item it contained was the revolver. The gun felt heavy in his hands. He opened the cylinder and spun the bullets. Instead of putting it back in the glove compartment he stuck it into the waistband of his jeans and pulled his hoodie over it. 

When he felt ready, he drove toward his house. Thankfully, it was a Saturday and no one would miss him. Jess and Charles would assume he left the house early to hang out with the party. It was still early, maybe they hadn't even woken up yet. James parked down the street to not wake them and walked up the street. He was already at the door when he realised he still had the revolver in his jeans. Maybe he could hide it in his stash until he had time to get rid of it.


He opened the door, making sure not to make any noise. When he got into the living room, he noticed Jess and Charles sitting together with their back to him. The door closed behind him with a quiet bang, but it was enough for his step-parents to turn around. When they did James' stomach dropped. Jess was crying into her hands. It looked like she had been crying for hours. Charles was white as a ghost. But it wasn't there reaction that made James panic. 

On the table in front, where all the drugs he had stashed in his room. Not just the ones he consumed but the drugs he was selling. Spread on the table where clear bags of cocaine, heroin and weed. There were also six pill bottles with their contents spilled out. The last thing was about two thousand dollars in small notes rolled up with bands. 

Charles got to his feet and gestured towards the pile of drugs on the table. They both remained silent. James knew the second he saw them it was over. It was a good run. Longer than he had ever stayed with a family before. But inevitably, James fucked it all up. Charles was still glaring at him. James tried to say something but his throat was to dry. 

“James say something,” Jess said, standing up next to her husband.

“Why did you search my room” Was the only thing James could think to say.

“The chief called. He asked us to search your room. He said you where doing drugs,” she wept.

“That's none of his fucking business” James spat out. Why did Hopper systematically ruin every family he had? How could he do this to him again? It wasn't enough he was the reason his mother got butchered. Now he had to take this away from him too. James hadn't been this angry since meeting with his father.

“He was right though. James look at yourself. You need help.” Charles declared taking steps in front of him.

“Wheres Hopper” James said looking around, expecting him to appear from out of nowhere.

“He out looking for you. He’s trying to help. We all only want to help,” Charles told him.

“If you want to help me, get the fuck out of my way,” James said. Charles looked shocked, but instead of getting out of his way he stood in the way of James and the table. Jess just stood and watched them in tears. James couldn't bare to look at her.

“Please, son…” Charles tried to say.

“Im not your FUCKING son okey. He’s dead. Im sick of being some king of fucking replacement. He's gone, and he’s not coming back no matter how many times you call me your son. So just get the FUCK out of my way,” James shouted at him.

“NO” Charles shouted back at him. Jess was about to move in between them, but then James produced the revolver from his waistband. Jess screamed when he pointed it at her husband.

“GET OUT OF THE FUCKING WAY” James shouted at him. His own tears were now falling. Jess begged him to stop but Charles didn't move a muscle.

“Let us help you son,” Charles said, speaking softly.  He walked closer to him with his hands held high. James’s hand was shaking so bad he could barely keep his grip on the gun.

“We love you,” Charles said once he was close enough to grab the gun. But his hands remained up high above his head.

“You can't help me, no one can” Jame said lowering the gun to his side. Charles was about to take a step forward when James swung the revolver back and cracked the handle off Charles’s forehead. 

Jess screamed again as Charles fell to the ground, clutching his head. James could see the blood seeping through his fingers. He stuck the gun back into his waistband and approached the table. The first thing he grabbed was as many of the bags as he could. Then fit as many pills into his pockets as he could. Last, he grabbed all the piles of cash and stuffed them into his hoodie. 

James crossed the living room to the front door without looking down to Jess, who was trying to help Charles. When he got to the door, he couldn't help himself but look at the damage he caused. Charles was sitting on the ground gripping his head while Jess sobbed into his shoulder. He was a poison who infected everyone around him. Before he left, he dug into his pockets and took out the keys to the Camero. They never meant it for him. It’s their sons. He threw the keys on the ground before leaving the house.


James walked in any direction; he didn't know where he was going. He had to be quick. His pockets were full of drugs and drug money and the revolver. He knew the chief was looking for him. If he found him, he would be lucky if he ever seen sunlight again. There was a big part of James that told him it was what he deserved, to turn himself in. But the junkie in him won.

His short-term plan was to get a bus to Indianapolis. Then maybe to Chicago or back to New York. It was a shithole, but a man could survive there. James was walking towards the bus station but the closer he got the more he begs himself to stop. He couldn't leave yet. He had to explain it to Will. Make him understand there is no other way. He couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.  Instead, he turned around and headed towards the Byers residents. Traveling through the woods and back roads.


21st March 1986

Will had spent most of the previous day, locked in his room in tears. Joyce tried to take to him but he shut her out.  Will wanted so bad to be angry with James but he couldn’t. Telling James everything was more appealing than ever. Even if James thought he was crazy, maybe they could be crazy together. There were enough secrets between them. The upside down. The Demogorgon. Whatever James was doing with Troy. It was a wall between them they built higher with every secret. 

Will sat in bed staring at the ceiling. The nightmares that attacked him the previous night still lingered in his head. They hadn’t been that bad in months. He thought he was getting better until James brought them all back with a couple harsh words. How much power James help over him was humiliating. Is that all love is, the vulnerability? 

Will was hoping his mother was still in bed when he entered the Kitchen. It looked like the coast was clear. He loved his mother with every fiber of his being, but sometime she was just too much. After the mind flayer possessed him, she would rarely let him leave the house without supervision. He made himself a lazy breakfast and turned on the television to watch Saturday cartoons. 


He planned to met up with the party but he didn’t want to run into James. Avoiding him would be difficult. Everything had just got back to normal, why did he have to ruin it again? Will sighed in frustration and went to wash his cereal bowel. When he approached the kitchen, the phone rang. he jumped, almost dropping the bowel. Who was calling this early?

Will walked to the phone and was about to answer but hesitated. What if it was the Chief? His last conversation hadn’t gone to well, he doubted talking to him on the phone would improve that. Will took the risk and picked up the phone, anyway.

“Hello” Will said cringing.

“Hey Will its Dusin” Dustin announced. Thank god, Will thought.

“Hey man, what’s up” Will said relaxing and carrying the phone to the kitchen table so he could sit down.

“You need to come over to Mikes. It’s important” Dustin said. Dustin sounded serious, which was a surprising tone coming from him.

“Why what’s going on” Will said getting anxious.

“Just come over. It’s a code red. Dont tell James,” Dustin added. 

“Why. Dustin what’s going on” Will said almost panicking at this point. 

“Son of a bitch. Will just come to Mike’s now. I’ll explain everything when you get there.” Dustin replied hanging up the phone.

Will showered and dressed within ten minutes of Dustin’s call. He didn’t know what was going on, but it was nothing good. The worst possible scenarios where flying through his head. maybe the Mind Flayer was back or worse, Brenner. What if El was missing again? What if something had happened to James?

He scribbled a note for his mother before running out the door. He chained his bike out the front of his house. It took a few minutes of fumbling before he got the bike lock off. Will cycled as fast as his legs could carry him towards the Wheeler house. The whole way there Will’s stomach was twisting with anxiety.  

After twenty minutes of riding at top speed, Mike’s house came into view. The rest of the party bikes where sitting on the Wheelers lawn. Will jumped off his bike and throw it down beside the rest. Will ignored the front door and went straight down to the basement. Instead of knocking, he walked straight into the basement.

Mike and El where sitting on the couch wrapped in each other’s embrace. Dustin was pacing up and down the basement with incredible speed. Lucus was sitting on the ground flipping through an amazing spiderman comic. Will seemed to be the only one worried. except for Dustin.

“What took you so long Dustin said turning to him and waving his hands,

“What the hell is going on, I cycled here as quick as I could,” Will gasped trying to catch his breath.

“He won’t tell us” Lucus said without taking his eyes off the comic. Will looked over Mike and El, who seemed just as confused as the rest of rest of then.

“Not until all party members are present, except,” Dustin tried to say.

“Except for James. Yea, we know you’ve told use ten times.” Lucus said throwing the comic back on top of Mike’s stack.

“Why can’t he is here, Is it to do with the upside down” Will said as panic raised in his voice. He looked at Eleven.

“I have opened no gates. I have felt none either,” El said shrugging her shoulders. 

“You’re so cute” Mike said kissing her. Will was getting frustrated. 

“DUSTIN. What the hell is going on” Will shouted at him. Dustin stopped pacing and turned towards him. it was only when he faced him that Will noticed his forehead. It had a long gash in it with three paper stitches across it. AN ugly bruise was forming around it.

“What the hell happened your head” Will said forgetting he was angry.

“He won’t take about that either” Lucas said standing to take another comic off the stack.

“Where the hell is Max. Did you say it was a code red,” Dustin asked looking to Lucus.

“Yup” Lucas replied turning the page on the X-Men comic.

“Then where is she” Dustin shouted down at him. Lucus shrugged his shoulders and kept reading. Nobody was taking Dustin seriously.

“You ask and she shall appear” Max said closing the door behind Will.

“What took you so… look it’s not important. I have to tell you all something it’s important,” Dustin said.

“What happened your head” Max said joining them. They all squeezed around the sofa to listen to what Dustin had to say.

“Last night I was looking for Muse the second around Mirkwood and…” Dustin explained.

“You went to Mirkwood by yourself,” Mike asked looking worried.

“Look that’s not the point. I was looking for Muse when I spotted James’s Camero parked on the side of an old dirt road,” Dustin continues to explain.

“What the hell was James doing in Mirkwood at night” Will asked. A pit was forming in the base of his stomach. This would have been after their fight. Dis something happen to James?

“I thought maybe he was with a girl or something, so I went to take a peek,” Dustin confessed.

“Creep” Max interrupted.

“Was he with a girl” Will asked. Dustin looked back at all of then and shook his head. Something in his face had changed, he looked scared.

“He was… He was injecting drugs” Dustin whispered. All eyes where focused on Dustin, looking for any trace of a smile or laugh. Any excuse to believe it was all one of Dustin’s sick jokes. Instead he wiped the tears that fromed his eyes.

“Your wrong… You made a mistake” Will said standing from the couch and walking to the other side of the room. It wasn’t true, it couldn’t be. He loved James he would have noticed if he was a drug addict.

“I’m not wrong Will, I saw it with my on eyes,” Dustin said.

“What did you see, maybe it’s all just one big misunderstanding,” Mike hoped.

“I walked to the window and looked in. When he saw me he looked like a deer in headlights. I didn’t understand it until I saw the needle in his arm.” Dustin announced. Everyone was silent as they processed the information. 

“Maybe he’s diabetic or something and was embarrassed to tell us” Lucas said shattering the silence. Will’s heart jumped for a second. Of course he was a diabetic. Maybe that’s why he lost the weight.

“No. He admitted what he was doing” Dustin muttered. Will felt a final nail being plunged into his coffin.

“Dustin… What happened your head” Max blurted out realising something the rest of them had forgotten.

“I… I told him I would tell you. I told him we could help him. He got angry. Worse than I have ever seen him. Worse than I have ever seen anyone. He…” Dustin said choking up.

“He choked me. I couldn’t breathe, begged him to stop. When I thought I would pass out, he threw me to the ground. I hit my head on a rock,” Dustin continued. The room returned to Silence. Mike was clenching his fists together.

“Your lying. I dont know why but your FUCKING LYING” Will screamed at Dustin. He wasn’t angry at Dustin, deep down he knew it was the truth. But he was angrier than he had ever been before. Dustin was just the unlucky soul to inform him. Dustin adverted his eyes to the ground.

“IF I GET MY HANDS ON THAT SON OF A BITCH,” Mike shouted in Dustin defense.

“MIKE… You don’t believe this right. How can any of you believe this,” Will cried? He looked to everyone for an ally but couldn’t find one.

“It’s the truth” El said speaking for the first time since Dustin started his story.

“What… What are you talking about,” Will whispered.

“Hopper, he… He asked me about James today. He never asks me about him. When I asked why, he wouldn’t tell me. But he looked worried. Anxious.” El told them.

“I’ll KILL HIM, That son of a…” Mike shouted.

“No…” Dustin interrupted. All eyes once again fell to him.

“I didn’t tell you all to isolate him or punish him. I told you because a party member is in needed of assistance and I’m sure as fuck going to make sure he gets it,” Dustin said making Mike look ashamed. He was right, Will thought. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to help him.

“We have to find him,” Will announced. 

“El can you use the void,” Dutin asked.

“Yes I think so. I need a blindfold and some static. Everyone has to be quite” El said standing. Everyone spread out to prepare the basement. Mike reluctantly helped El push the T. V into the centre of the room, while everyone else look for something to act as a blindfold. Once everyone prepared the basement, they gathered themselves in a circle around El. 

Mike flipped the channels on the T. V till he found a static channel, while El tied the scarf tight around her eyes. Everyone was holding their breath. Will’s mind kept onjuring images of James dead in the back of his car with a needle in his arm. A single drop of Blood began to makes its way down to El’s lip. She removed her blindfold and wiped the blood from her nose with the back of her sleeve.

“He driving, looks like he’s going towards his house,” El said. Thank god, Will Thought. He’s ok. 

“Ok El and Mike should stay here in case she needs to find him again. We’ll cycle there and keep in touch via Will’s supercom.” Dustin demanded. Will had never seen him take control of a situation like this before. Mike and El agreed to stay and everyone ran out the front to collect their bikes.

Will mind was traveling faster than his bike ever could? He, Lucus, Max and Dustin cycled as fast as their legs could carry them over to James’s house. Will was thinking what he was going to say when he tells him. How would he convince him everything was going to be ok? 

The large house came into view about twenty minutes into their sprint. Will’s heart leaped in his chest when he saw James’s Camero parked down the street. The teens approached the door carefully. Will was wondering what to say to his parents Would they be able to tell something was wrong? 

However when they reached the front door it was patialy open. Will thought about knocking but he could hear a women crying? He turned to look at Dustin, Lucus and Max, each just shrugged their shoulder. Will placed his hand on the door and pushed it open. His legs carried him into the house without his brains permission. When he got to the open living room, his breath seized. 

James’s stepfather was lying on the ground with a blood pouring from his forehead. His stepmother was weeping into Hoppers chest. The teens just looked in shock. The situation was worse than he thought.


21st March 1986


James made his way through the dense woods. He would arrive at Will’s house any moment. The friendship he shared with Will was the only thing that was keeping him afloat. Now he would say goodbye. James was no fool. If he left Hawkins, he would never see Will again. Chances are he would be dead within a year. Jame was ok with that. Even death had to be better than this.

He came out of the fruit crouching in the bushes. Wills house looked quiet. Joyce’s car was not in the drive, which suggested she went to work. James sneaked around to the back of his, the same way he had when he visited Will the night before he visited his father. Just like before, he went to Will’s window and knocked it gentle. He couldn’t hear anything from Will’s room.

Maybe he was in the living room. Jame walked around to the front of the house. He tried his best to look respectable as he knocked on the front door. After a few minutes of waiting, he knocked again. He knocked a third and final time before giving up. If Will wasn’t at Home where was he? He thought of Will’s routine, having leaned it a long time ago. Will might have gone to Mike’s, there was nowhere else he would go on a Saturday morning. James planned out his expedition to The Wheeler house, thinking about the best way to remain unseen. 


James made his way towards Mike’s house. The basement had been a social club for the party. There were times he never wanted to leave. Mike and El cuddling in the corner when they watched a film. Max and Lucus arguing about something stupid. Dustin smiling with the glow of a star. Then there was Will. The boy who held his heart in the palm of his hands. It killed James To contemplate what he was throwing away, but another fix was already tempting him.

He half walked, half ran through the woods until he reached the edge of Mirkwood. It would take James another ten minutes of walking in the open streets until he reached Mikes. house. The chief wouldn’t be looking for him in this part of town. It was a respectable road full of a respectable family and he was a useless junkie, soon the whole world will know that. How would he explain it to Will?

James walked the quiet streets towards Mikes. His house quickly came into view. James noticed only two bikes sitting in the lawn. Shit, maybe Will wasn’t here after all. Perhaps Mike will know where he is. James walked up to the basement door, trying to calm himself. He was just one friend checking in on another, there was nothing suspicious about that, Mike didn’t know what was going on right.

 James was about to knock on the basement door but noticed someone already opened it. he opened the door open edging his head inside. Mike was siting with his back towards him. Across from him El was sitting cross-legged. She would have seen him if not for the blindfold wrapped around her eyes. They had pushed the T. V across the room and on a static channel. What the hell was going on. James was about to announce himself when Mike spoke.

“El did you find him” Mike asked. Who where they trying to find, and how. A single drop of blood slipped down from her nose. James was getting seriously confused. El suddenly jumped from her seating position and pulled the blindfold off. She stared right at James as if she knew he was already there. Mike wiped his head around to see what she was looking at.

“Hey guys” James said, trying to sound casually. And failing spectacularly.

“James. What are you doing here” El asked looking at her feet? 

“What are you doing” James asked looking to Mike.

“None of your business” He spat at him defensively. The unexpected hostility confused James.

“is everything all right,” James asked.

“Dustin told us everything” Mike said clenching his fists. James heart skipped a beat. Dustin had told them. His greatest fear was unraveling in front of him. Us, who was us. Did he tell Will?

“Does Will Know” James asked, not wanting the answer.

“We all know. James we can help you” El said speaking up. Mike rolled his eyes but remained silent.

“Yous don’t understand” Jams tried to explain. He didn’t understand it himself, how was he expected to explain it.

“Help us understand, James” El said stepping closer to him.

“You couldn’t understand. None of you could,” James whispered.

“Where is Will” James asked.

“Looking for you, it’s more than you deserve,” Mike hissed at him.

“James we can help. I can call Hopper and…” El said.

“Does he know I’m here” James interrupted. The mention of the chief was forceing thr rage to the surface.

“No, James your sick, we can help…” El cried.

“STOP. JUST FUCKING STOP. You can’t help me. You want to talk about helping me. How about you start with what the fuck you where doing when I walked in? How did you know I was here while wearing a blindfold? I dont know what you are all hiding but I know you and Will are at the centre of it all. SO just mind your own FUCKING business” James screamed at her. El retreated behind Mike who was dashing towards him. James didn’t see what happened, he just felt the force of the blow rock against his temple. Before he could react, he was already on his back looking up at the ceiling. Had Mike hit him, fuck his reflexes have gone to shit. His eyes where coming back into focus just in time to make out Mike on top of him. James watched helplessly as Mike raised his fist and drove it down on James’s face. His knuckles connected with James eyebrow. He could feel the blood drip down the side of his face. He could faintly over hear El’s voice screaming at him to stop. Mike smashed his fist down on his face again, this time connecting with the bridge of his nose. 

Mike raised his fist again but before he could punch him, he was shoot backwards with incredible force. He landed at El’s feet with a thud. Another few drops of blood where falling down her nose. James could she El helping Mike to his feet, she was apologizing to him. James was lingering on the edge of consciousness, what happened wasn’t making any sense. How did El get Mike off of him? She was across the room. James rolled off his back onto his stomach and pushed himself up. While he was looking at the ground, a significant pool of blood formed. He was bleeding bad. The drugs where probably thinning his blood.

Once he got to his feet, he looked at them. El was bleeding and crying while Mike was trying to comfort her. James wanted apologies, possible rectify the situation but instead he decided to leave. When he got outside, he checked if Mike had broke his nose, it seemed just cut and bruised. He had to leave before he done anymore damage. He ran towards the bus station.


21st March 1986


Will listened to what Charles had to say. Although he had the scars to prove it, Will refused to believe James could do something like that. Had things gotten that bad. Max comforted Jess while Hopper tended to Charles wound. The cut was four inches wide and would require stitches. First, he hurt Dustin now his step father. James was spiraling fast. 

Hopper was going to drive Jess and Charles to the emergency room then continue looking for James. He contacted the station and told them to stop looking for James. If another officer found him with a gun and drugs, there would be nothing Hopper could do. Charles insisted he was not filing assault charges. If not for Hopper insisting he goes the hospital, Charles would be on the street looking for his son.

Will thought about where James would likely run if he didn’t have a car. Dustin was with Lucas discussing what to do next. Will heard the crack of his supercom coming from his back pack. He went out to the front lawn and removed his backpack. It was out of hearing distance from the rest of them.

“Will you copy? Over” Mike asked over the supercom.

“Yea, Mike I’m here. James wasn’t at his house. Over,” Will said.

“I know, he was here. Over,” Mike replied.

“What. You mean he is in your basement. Over,” Will asked hopefully.

“No. He was here. I… I hit him. Over,” Mike said.

“Mike, what the fuck” Will said trying to keep his voice down. Why would Mike hit James?

“Look it doesn’t matter. El found him again, he’s waiting at the bus station. Over” Mike replied. Will was silent for a few seconds. Was James really trying to leave Hawkins for good.

“Will I’m sorry…” Mike stressed.

“Over and out” Will said cutting him off. Will put the supercom back into his bag and swing it back over his shoulder. He was about to go back inside but something stopped him. If he found James he couldn’t say everything he wanted to say, with Dustin, Lucus and Max present. Will peeked inside James house. Max was still with Jess and Dustin was talking with Lucus.

There wouldn’t be much time before they realize he’s gone and go back to Mike’s. Will moved quickly. He mounted his bike and cycled away from James’s house towards the bus station. There was one chance to fix this. He would not fuck this up.

Will cycled as fast as his legs would allow. He thought about what he would say to him when he arrived. How could he convince James to stay in Hawkins, to stay with him? He arrived at the bus station after fifteen minutes cycling flat out. Will was glad he had come alone, he was too emotional to hide who he truly is and wasn’t ready to tell the rest of the party. 

The bus station was virtual empty, not that surprising giving it was early on a Saturday morning. The where no busses and only one person sitting on a bench outside. James was sitting down with his face resting in his bloody hands. Mike had done some real damage. Will walked to him slowly. His heartbeat increased with each step he took.  When he was close enough James raised his head and spotted him.

“Will” James whispered standing up and closing the space between them.

“James… Please don’t go. Please don’t leave me” Will said. He didn’t have time to maintain his pride. no more walls or secrets. Only the truth was left.

“There is nothing left for me here Will,” James replied.

“I’M HERE… I’m here James. I’ve always been here.” Will shouted at him. He couldn’t stop the tears from falling down his soft cheeks. James averted his eyes.

“I don’t care what you’ve done. You can get better. I will help you get better,” Will said talking a step closer to him.

“I DON’T want to get better Will. I deserve what’s happening to me. I’ve hurt too many people. Theres no redemption for me,” James said his own tears now spilling from his eyes.

“Please James don’t do this. I… I… I LOVE YOU” Will said finally saying what he has always wanted to say.

“This can’t happen Will,” James whispered.

“WHY? I know you feel something for me too,” Will cried.

“YOU KNOW WHY” James shouted back at him. Will knew exactly what he was talking about. Gay wasn’t a word widely accepted in Hawkins.

“I don’t care what anybody else thinks” Will stated. James just looked at him. Will could she his bus pulling into the station.

“goodbye Will” James said walking closer to him. Will was about to shout at him to stay but he felt James lips press on his? He tasted like cigarettes and blood. Will kissed him back for a few seconds before his brain stopped it. He broke the kiss and hugged him tight.

“Please James. I’ll go with you. I’ll tell you everything. No more secrets. I love you.” Will whispered into his ear. James broke the hug and took a few steps backwards.

“Where I’m going is no place for someone as good as you” James said. His tears where washing some dried blood from his face. Will watched helplessly as James entered the bus to leave Hawkins forever.

Chapter Text

21 March 1986

James fought his tears for the whole bus journey. Everything Will had told him was in the past. It didn't matter if they loved each other; that kind of relationship could never happen. It could never be what they wanted it to be, not in this world anyway. James sat at the back of the bus and kept to himself. He received a few odd glances from the other passengers. In all fairness, his blood covered most of his face and clothes. 

The longer he got into the bus journey, the more he wanted to shoot up.  He had no needles but the pills would be sufficient. He swallowed three of them dry. Their effects hit him immediately, and he sprawled across the backseat. He spent the rest of the journey high on methadone. It made the trip go a lot quicker.  Once he arrived in Indianapolis, he bought a one-way ticket to Detroit. He had spent enough of his life suffering in this city; he wasn't keen on spending any more. The second bus journey went by in a literal haze. Anything to keep his mind off Will and Hawkins. The bus took about five hours to reach Detroit. James eyed the city carefully once arriving. It was dirty and violent; he would fit in exceptionally. James disembarked the bus when it stopped at a station that seemed large enough to contain bus lockers.

Walking around the city with this much cash and drugs was a death sentence; he needed to stash it somewhere safe. Where no one would accidentally find it. He explored the station until he found the service he was looking for. The locker rental counter was a single shack with a woman sitting behind thick glass that looked to be bulletproof. This really was the city for him. James approached the counter and knocked on the glass. The black women behind the glass looked to be in her early forties.

“You ok honey,” she said, looking at him suspiciously. For a second James wondered why she would ask that then remembered what he must look like.

“Yeah, I’m fine, rough day is all.” He said exhaling. The effect of the pills was fading, and it exhausted him.

“If you say so, what can I do for you?” She asked with a smile.

“I want to rent a locker. For two weeks,” James said, sliding some cash and his driver's license under the glass. Maybe he would move on to a new city in a few weeks. Hopper might come looking for him.

“You can't rent a locker unless you’re eighteen,” she said sympathetically.

“I am eighteen,” James said sliding another wad of cash under the glass.

“Ok then. You have a nice day,” she said, sliding a key under glass. James took the key and examined the number printed on it. Locker 336. He quickly found the locker and opened it. The first thing he placed in it was the revolver. He removed it from his jeans carefully making sure no one said it. Then he stashed the drugs and most of the cash. About two hundred dollars in small notes still remained in his pocket.


James left the bus station and walked in no particular direction. He knew what he was looking for and he would know it when he saw it. Detroit was a big city, but James reckoned if he followed the sirens he would find it. The longer he walked the rougher the area looked. It was getting late, the only people still on the streets where the homeless and the addicted. Nobody would bother him though. His face is covered in blood, his clothes where filth and anybody who stood within a couple of feet could tell he was coming down. He walked until he spotted an abandoned warehouse. It looked to had been abandoned years ago but there was still light coming from some windows. A barbed wired fence that had been cut through in several places around the warehouse.

James edged his way through one hole in the fence. There seemed to be only one entrance into the warehouse. James walked closer spotted the two figures sitting at the door. One was a small skinny white guy, not dissimilar to James. Massively infected needle marks littered the guy’s arms, and the other man must have weighed close to four hundred pounds. He didn’t look to be a junkie. Once James got close enough, the smaller guy jumped off the seat he was sitting on.

“What do we have here,” the addict said stepping close to James.

“I need some H,” James asked.

“Sorry pal no strangers allowed,” he replied.

“My name is James,” James said holding out a fifty dollars. 

“Okay James, they call me Flake and that kitten is Tiny,” Flake said pointing towards the giant man.

“Come on inside James, I’ll show you around,” Flake said gesturing towards the door Tiny was leaning on. He stood up and opened the massive cast iron door to the warehouse. James avoided eye contact with him as he walked through. The guy looked like he could lift a truck.

Flake waked him around the abandoned building. There were about twenty to thirty people all living there together. Flake introduced him to everyone inside who was conscious. James had a lot of expectations of the kind of people he would meet in a place like this but everyone seemed friendly. Most of them were high on an array of different drugs. The whole building was like some kind of weird community. Flake set him up in a room with about three or four other people. All of them were passed out.

“We're like a big happy family here James” Flake said smiling, revealing his crooked brown teeth. The whole situation going on here was confusing him.

“I’m just looking for a fix man I don’t need any friends,” James said feeling more confident now that Tiny wasn’t around.

“That’s cool, here take this” Flake said handing him a cardboard box with a couple of clean needles, a belt, and a stainless steel spoon.

“Thanks” James replied taking the box off him. Flake turned and walked half way out of the room before turning back.

“Hey, James. You won’t survive long here without people watching your back” Flake said before he turned around and left the room. James looked around the room. It looked like it was once an old office or something. He left the room and wandered around until he found an empty room. It was on the top floor and had a hole in the roof. James looked up at the stars as he passed out with a needle in his arm.


22 March 1986


Will was devastated. There weren’t many other words for it. He confessed everything he had been holding in for months and it didn’t make a difference. All his love couldn't keep James in Hawkins, couldn’t keep him with Will. He was only gone a day but Will already felt a hole in his chest that wasn’t there before. It was getting deeper and wider the more he focused on James.

When James left on the bus Will stayed in the station and cried hysterically by himself. He needed to get it out of his system before returning to the party. After he had cried himself out, he walked back to Mikes. Dustin, Lucas, and Max were already there. Mike’s knuckles were still covered in James blood. He begged for Will to understand but he couldn’t hear him. His mind was somewhere else. The party listened as he told them a distorted version of the truth. He left out key details such as his complete rejection or the fact he was willing to leave Hawkins for James. That would only bring up to many difficult questions. Questions he wasn't willing to answer.

Once they had all settled down in Mikes basement, they tried to process everything that had happened. Their friend was gone, and it wasn't clear if they would ever see him again. El wanted to use her powers to find him but she was tired from doing it so many times already. That’s when the chief came. He entered Mikes house through the basement door to not raise any suspicion. Hopper wanted to talk with all of them but El was already passed out on Mikes coach and Will thought he would soon follow. They planned to meet back at Mikes house first thing the next morning.

Joyce came and picked Will up after almost everyone else had left. The car ride was spent in absolute silence. Will didn’t want to talk about it and the chief had already explained everything to Joyce. She didn’t ask any questions, she just comforted her son as he cried on her shoulder for most of the night.


Will woke up early the next day. The few times he did sleep he suffered from horrible nightmares. As planned, the whole party meet in Mikes basement. Will sat on the couch next to El and Mike while Max sat on the ground with Lusus and Dustin just paced up and down. Hopper was about to start shouting at him but didn’t, it wasn’t going to help. Will had forgiven Mike almost immediately after entering the basement. It wasn’t his fault, once James decided to punish himself there was nothing the rest of them could have done to stop it. The Chief stood in the middle of the room and waited for everyone to stop talking. It looked like he didn’t get too much sleep either.

“Okay, El used here powers this morning to find James,” Hopper said speaking to everyone.

“Where is he,” Dustin asked.

“Detroit. He is staying in some abandoned factory or something,” El replied, making everyone turn to face her.

“El and I are going to drive up to Detroit to go get him. Charles and Jessica already left to search in Indianapolis. It is easier if we don’t have to explain how we know exactly where he is. I can make up some tip I got from Detroit P. D or something,” Hopper said.

“I’m coming” Will announced. Hopper was about to argue but realized it was a losing battle. 

“I want to go to. I’m part of the reason he’s gone I have to make it right,” Mike added.

“Fine but no one else. Someone will notice the Chief of police going on a road trip to Detroit with a bunch of minors.”

“What if he doesn’t want to come back,” Max asked. Everyone looked at Hopper.

“He will. I'll make him if I have to” Hopper said with a stern frown forming on his face. Mike explained to his parents that he was going to spend the day in the city with Hopper and El. Karen didn’t seem to buy his story but knew the Chief was going to be with them. They all piled in too Hopper's truck. Mike was in the front and Will and El were in the back seat. They set off for Detroit early on Sunday morning.


The car journey lasted around five hours. Will tried to sleep but most of the time he closed his eyes the nightmares returned. Hopper was silent for most of the journey. About halfway to Detroit Mike crawled into the back seat to cuddle with El. The chief seemed not to notice or at least pretended not to see them. Will wanted so badly to have what they have with James. Could things ever be like that with them? Was it just some fucking stupid pipe dream that was never going to come through? Will didn’t know anymore. 

When they arrived in Detroit Hopper pulled over on the side of the road and switched the radio channel to static. El place the blindfold she brought around her eyes while everyone stayed as quiet as possible. A few seconds passed before El removed the blindfold and wiped the blood off her nose. El didn’t know what the name of the street was or anything but she could point out the correct directions on how to get there. Nobody really understood how El’s abilities worked. 

They drove for another thirty minutes until El told them to a stop outside a large abandoned warehouse. Will was skeptical they were in the right place. The building looked like it was abandoned years ago. All of them left the car and crouched through a hole in the fence. They walked for a few seconds before Hopper noticed the two people at the door. He gripped his revolver.

“Go back to the car,” Hopper told them.

“No. We came this far. I’m not leaving without him” Will said. Hopper was about to argue but Will walked right past him toward the two strangers at the door. One of whom was incredibly large.

“Will. Will get back here,” Hopper said following the small boy towards the two strange men.

“Hey there. This is no place for kids little one,” Flake said holding up his hands at Will.

“Will, get behind me,” Hopper said pushing the small boy behind him. Even Hopper seemed intimidated boy Tiny’s impressive size.

“We're looking for someone,” Hopper said.

“Arnt we all” Flake replied.

“He’s just a kid, we know he is here, Let us in” Hopper insisted. Flake looked at Hopper then to the three kids.

“I know who you’re looking for,” Flake responded.

“Good then let us in,” Hopper said, aggression building in his voice.

“You see, we have this no strangers allowed policy and I don't know what you want with James,” Flake said. Will jumped at the mention of his name. Hopper was confused about why this junkie was trying to protect James.

“We want to help him,” Will said stepping out from behind Hopper.

“Let us pass or I’ll make you,” El said also stepping out behind Hopper. Flake looked at El and then looked at Tiny with a confused expression.

“Okay okay, you seem like decent folk. You can go, but the children stay here. This is no place for them,” Flake said observing the innocence in front of him. 

“Fine. El, Mike, Will stay here.” Hopper said.

“This is bullshit” Will shouted. Hopper wondered how James had turned such a timid boy into the brave man in front of him.

“Listen Will I’ll bring him back. I promise. All of you go back and wait in the truck,” Hopper said. Will remained silence.

“Probably not the best idea in this part of town. They will be safer here with Tiny. He’s great with kids” Flake said seriously. The giant stood up off the door and pushed it open. He politely nodded at the Chief when he and Flake walked into the warehouse. 


22 March 1986


James woke with his usually aches and pains. It took him a couple of minutes to remember where he was. Everything that had happened the previous day all came back in a flood of guilt and regret. That was the past, he told himself. There is no point on dwelling on it know. Hawkins was just one in a series of foster homes that never could have worked. A small echo in his mind told him it could have worked. He pushed it down deep in his sub-conscience. 

James remembered the basic layout of the building but didn’t remember many of the faces he had been introduced to. He started in the room Flake had brought him into. The same three dudes were still passed out in the same position they had been in the previous night. James walked into the main floor of the abandoned warehouse. There was a large ecosystem of tents and temporary houses all interconnected together. In the middle of the small camp, there was a large enough cleaning to fit twenty or thirty people around a fire. It looked like a campsite but indoors. Well more or less indoors, most of the roof had caved in. 

There was a fire roaring with about ten or fifteen people huddled around it. James took an empty seat at the end of a bench close to the fire. He desperately needed the warmth. He didn’t get a chance to pack any clothes, and he defiantly wasn’t dressed for the situation. There was a man cooking some kind of meat over the fire. James didn’t know what it was, but it smelled delicious. The man took the lump of meat off the fire and started cutting it into different pieces handing everyone a tray. James was starving but didn’t know how things worked around here.  The man cut off a larger piece than the rest and put it in a plate with some rice and walked towards James. 

“Here breakfast,” The man said handing James the plate of food. James couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten. He took the plate and nodded to the man.

“May I sit?” The man said pointing at the empty space on the bench next to James.

“Sure,” James said not knowing if he had the option to refuse.

“I’m Peter by the way. James right,” Peter said holding out his hand.

“Yea,” James said taking his hand in his own. The man looked to be in his early thirties or late twenties. He didn’t look like a drug addict but he defiantly lived here. James looked at him closely and eyed the white collar around his neck.

“You a priest. That why you came over here to convert me,” James spat at him. He hated this kind of manipulation.

“No I'm not trying to convert you and yes I was a priest, in another life. You must be freezing, I have an old coat I can give you,”  Peter said standing up.

“And why would you do that” James said questioning his motives.

“Because you look cold” He replied before walking away and entering one of the larger tents. A few minutes later he emerged and walked back to James. Peter held the coat out for him. James hesitated, he didn’t understand what game this guy was playing. But fuck he was cold. James stood and put on the old jacket. It was way too big for him but he could stuff it with newspaper later for extra warmth.

“So what are you like in charge around here,” James said trying to understand the dynamic.

“Ha, no nothing like that. Nobody is in charge. People are free to come and go as they please. I'm just a man trying to do a little good in an evil world,” Peter explained.

“And you don’t care that Flake sells drugs to everyone in your little cult,” James asked.

“We're not a cult James and Flake is allowed to make his own choices as is everyone. Where not all addicts here and I hope one day neither will you. Flakes a good man. People here wouldn’t survive without him.” Peter said handing him a cup of coffee. Who is this guy?

“Tell me your story, James. I would like very much to hear it” Peter said. James was about to refuse but there was something about Peter that just made to want to tell him everything, so he did. James spent a couple of hours talking with Peter. He told him everything from living in New York to moving to Hawkins. Then his mother's death and moving to Indianapolis. He told him how happy he had been in Hawkins before he ruined everything and he told him about Hopper. James didn’t leave any of the horrendous things he had done out of the story, but Peter didn’t judge him. Peter told his own story. How he ended up in this current situation. It was filled with as much heartbreak and death as James’s. He wondered how someone who had dealt with so much pain could seem as happy as Peter did. Things didn’t seem so bad here.


He talked with Peter until he felt comfortable joining the rest of the people sitting around the fire. He was younger than everyone there but not by much. Some of them where addicts like James but most where just homeless or lost souls. James wondered how something like this could ever work. Where were all the parts of people he was familiar with? Where were the lying and stealing and murdering?

James got talking to a few people around the fire. Everyone he talked with where friendly. Some of them were quiet or shy or just plain crazy but none were aggressive. When tiny came in for food James chatted with him. He was surprised by how soft he was. He asked James if he would like to see some of his paintings sometime. He was surprised by everyone here. James was letting down his guard down.

“Hey James there is a guy here to see you,” Flake said making James turn around. His breath stuck in his throat when he saw who was with him.

“What the FUCK are you doing here” James shouted. Everyone around the fire stopped eating and eyed the two. Hopper seemed confused about the whole situation. It definitely wasn’t what he expected.

“Maybe you two should talk in private” Peter said leading the two away from the main camp. They walked in silence up to where James had slept the previous night.

“James what is going on here,” Hopper said looking for some kind of explanation.

“Why are you looking ways to ruin this too” James hissed at him. Hopper didn’t understand what he meant by that.

“James please come back to Hawkins,” Hopper said.

“There is nothing there for me. You made sure of that didn’t you,” James spat at him. 

“James what are you talking about,” Hopper asked.

“How did my father know we were in Hawkins,” James asked. Hopper took a deep breath in.

“Because I told him” Hopper whispered. James felt something snap in his stomach.

“WHY” James screamed at him. Hopper just looked to the ground.

“I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know until the night of your mother's death when I arrested your father. When I put that piece of shit in cuffs he told me one of my best friends was a rat. I was so close to putting a bullet in his head but I didn’t want to orphan you.” Hopper explained his eyes still planted on his feet. James couldn’t believe it was all true.

“How could you” James cried. 

“I’ve come to terms with the evil I’ve done. But everything I’ve done after that I did to help you.” Hopper said.

“That’s why I couldn’t live with you. Because you couldn’t look me in THE FUCKING EYE. Just like right now,” James shouted.

“That’s not true” Hopper whispered.

“ADMIT IT” James screamed.

“YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITH ME BECAUSE I WAS GOING TO KILL MYSELF” Hopper shouted back. His words cut through James like a knife.

“But I was too much of a coward to even do that right,” Hopper said.

“Please Hopper. Leave me alone” James muttered. Hopper stood looking at him for a few seconds before turning and walking back down the stairs. James collapsed back in the same spot he was in the previous night. He couldn’t control himself, he smashed his fist off the concrete until it was a bloodily mess. 


22 March 1986


Will waited outside with El and Mike, they killed some time talking to the large man at the door. He was surprisingly nice. Will sat in the seat Flake had been sitting in, Mike and El sat together on the ground. El wanted to go back to the truck to use her powers, but they decided to just wait for the Hopper to come back with James. They were not waiting long before there was a bang from the door inside. Will’s heart began to beat out of his chest. What would he say to him? The last conversation they had, Will told him he loved him. It was defiantly going to be awkward but Will was excited to see him. No matter what was going to happen Will would not abandon him.

Tiny stood up of the door and pushed it open with his massive arms. Hopper walked through with two other men. Neither of whom was James. Will looked past them into the warehouse to see if he was following him. Will’s heart sunk in his chest when the two other men walked back inside with the Tiny closing the door behind them.

“Hopper where is he,” Will said looking around again.

“He’s not coming back kid,” Hopper said avoiding eye contact.

“You promised you would get him,” Will said struggling to keep his emotions out of his voice.

“I'll go get him” El announced moving towards the closed door.

“No, El. He doesn’t want to come Home. We can’t force him” Hopper said. El stopped at the door and hesitated. Will really wanted her to rip it off its hinges. 

“If I just talk to him” Will tried to explain.

“How will it be different from the last time,” Hoper asked. Will considered it got a second. he was right. He had said everything he wanted to say, and it didn’t keep him in Hawkins. Will’s face dropped from the realization.

“NO. No, we can’t just leave him here” El cried. Mike hugged her as she cried on his shoulder. They all walked back to the truck without another word said. Will got into the backseat and crawled into a ball. The whole five-hour drive was spent in silence. Once Hopper pulled into his house Will exited the truck without saying goodbye. When he entered his house Joyce asked him if they had brought James home. Will ignored her and went to his room. He didn’t know if he would leave it ever again.

Chapter Text

May 18th, 1986

James thinks saying goodbye to Will was possibly the hardest thing he had ever done, but deep down he knows it is also the best thing he could have done for him. Will needed to live his best life without James dragging him down. It had been no easy two months since his departure. James always believed he would thrive on the streets. Nothing but his fists and his quick wit to navigate him around dangerous situations. It was a stupid fucking idea. 

He wasn't exactly homeless. James had spent the last two months moving from shit hole to shit hole. Every new crack house was a little worse than the last. There was always Peter’s warehouse to fall back on, although he didn’t stay there often. For two months James would buy enough Heroin for a spectacular bender then end up in Peters care after almost overdosing. Peter never refused him no matter how fucked up he was. His door was always open and a plate of hot food ready. James would have been dead now if it wasn't for him. Dead several times over.

This time was no different. James made a stop to the bus station locker and removed enough cash for at least a week or two. It was common for him to withdraw cash from the locker like an ATM, except the cash in there was finite. The drugs were still there and James kept the revolver there too.

The cash was supposed to least a week, maybe even two if he played his cards right. Instead, the whole supply had gone in one big blur. The last thing he remembered was filling another syringe, then there was just darkness.

James rolled onto his back but felt arms guiding him back on to his side. He tried to move his legs, but it was like someone had severed them. His arms felt like a hundred-pound weight tied them down. James opened his eyes and looked up at the starry sky. He took in his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was the giant man standing in the room's corner. Tiny was hard to miss. The other thing that stood out was Flake’s face about a foot away from his own.

“You awake bud,” Flake said way too loud.

“No” James replied weakly.

“You gave us a real scare James, again,” Peter said, stepping into view.

“What happened?” James asked. The last thing he remembered was shooting up in a crack house across town.

“The gentlemen who owned the place you where staying thought you overdosed. They tossed you in the ally behind the train station. Flake heard about it so he and Tiny got you,” Peter explained as he knelt down beside James sleeping bag.

“Thought I overdosed,” James asked, it confused him that someone thought he overdosed. If he did, he would have been dead. They must have made a mistake. 

“You overdosed pal,” Flake said in the softest voice he could conjure.

“If I overdosed I’d be…” James tried to say.

“The priest, he did C.P. R and then hit you with the adrenaline from the first aid kit,” Flake said. Peter remained silent.

“You got lucky kid, you got really fucking lucky. Peter saved your life,” Flake said standing up.

“Try to get some sleep, we can talk later,” Flake said walking out of the room. Tiny followed him giving him a nod on the way out. Peter and he were the only people left in the room. 

“I guess I better say thank you,” James said turning to look at Peter.

“That makes it what three, four times you have saved my life,” James joked, putting a smile on his face.

“Do you want to thank me, James?” Peter asked. 

“Or do you resent me for saving a life you didn’t want saved?” Peter said. James really hated the lectures he got from Peter. Every time he showed up strung out or high out of his mind he would receive a lecture along with whatever help Peter could provide. The opportunity for change was the only thing Peter charged for his hospitality. Give him the chance to change your perspective on life and in return, he would do whatever was in his power to help you. They were never angry or forceful or even persuasive; they were only ever the truth.

“It’s not like that, Peter,” James assured him.

“Then tell me what it is like,” Peter asked.

“It was a mistake,” James replied.

“What about last time and the time before that?” He questioned.

“They were mistakes too,” James said looking for an end to the conversation.

“You will die, James. There is only so much the body can take,” Peter said directly. James appreciated his candor. Was he okay with that fact?

“I know what I’m doing so how about you mind your own business. Don’t you have a flock to look after or something,” James sarcastically said.

“It's never too late,” Peter said as he stood up and walked out of his room. James collapsed back onto his sleeping bag. He rolled up his sleeves and examined his arms. Large needle marks littered both of them. He had already destroyed the veins in both his arms and was now tapping his legs or feet. Whatever allowed the easiest access to a vein. He rolled over and tried to rest until the morning.

The sun woke him up first thing in the morning. James crawled out of his sleeping bag and walked down to the main fire. People usually came and went from the warehouse quickly. The people who never seemed to stay long were the addicts. The homeless people who lived there seemed to have settled into a permanent residence in the warehouse. These were the faces that were gathered around the fire.

Peter tried to guide them all to salvation. James never believed in any God and he thinks Peter doesn't either. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to save all of their souls. Not from damnation in the next life but suffering in this one. James doesn't think he has ever respected a man more. He ate a breakfast made from the scrapes of canned food and coffee that were most likely stolen. It was far better than not eating at all.

James had lost more weight since he had left Hawkins. Every now and again he would get a look at himself in the mirror and struggle to recognize himself. His cheeks were sunken into his face. His hair was thin and dirty and he had grown a rough beard. He didn't look sixteen anymore; he didn’t even look human. The person who looked back at him in the mirror was an absolute stranger. Except for his eyes, his father's eyes still stared back at him.

James left and made his way back to the bus station locker. He opened it and counted the remaining cash. He removed enough to do him a week or two. James closed the locker and left the bus station, walking to the nearest place he could get high.

22nd May 1986

Will had spent and an entire week locked in his bedroom when James had left. Joyce hadn't seen him act like that since the mind flayer had left his body almost two years ago. When that happened, Will shut himself off from the outside world and refused to get out of bed. This time he wasn't even speaking and never ate. 

Johnathon took a couple of days off college to come down to Hawkins to be with his brother. He and Joyce did everything they could to make him feel better, but nothing worked. The party visited often but they were also suffering from the loss of a friend. Mike and Dustin felt responsibility for him leaving. El thought she should have done more to help him. Max and Lucus just missed someone they loved.

One week after James left, Will crawled out of bed, showered and went to school, saying nothing to Joyce or Johnathon. When he came home he sat with his family and eat dinner as nothing had happened. Will slowly started taking again and socializing with his friends, but Joyce could see he still carried a heavy heart. His brightest smiles seemed fake and his laughs sounded hollow.

Will woke up earlier than he usually did. The routine of school was helping him concentrate on exams rather than worrying about James every hour of every day. Most days he went without crying but every now and again he would see something that would remind him of James and he would crumble again. But Will had gotten good at surviving the last few years and he was comfortable pretending everything was okay, even if he still felt like there was a knife in his chest. 

Thankfully, his mother had stopped asking if he was okay. He always gave her the same fake answer, anyway. The party talked about James every now and again but never all together. He occasionally overheard Lucus and Max talking about him or Dustin with Mike and El. When they did, Will tried not to listen. Mike still felt guilty, and Dustin insisted it was all his fault. Neither of them was to blame for what happened. 

Right after he left, El checked in on him almost every day. But it was too painful for Will to hear what she saw. So he stopped asking and El stopped telling him. It was never good news, and he fell into a depression every time he heard what he was doing in Detroit. Will could always tell when El found him in the void, even if she didn't tell him about it.

Will packed his bag and left for school before Joyce got ready for work. Lately, he had been avoiding his mother. It wasn't always intentional, but sometimes he saw the way she looked at him. Like some broken puppy who would crack at any moment. Will was absolutely heartbroken, but he was stronger than that. If he survived the Mind Flayer, he could survive this. It was just easy to do it without thinking about what his mother must feel, as she watched him go through this again and not being able to help.

He cycled his usual route thinking about the math homework he failed to finish the previous night. Once he arrived he locked his bike in the same place, he always did. Before he entered the school, Will noticed Mike and El’s bikes locked up in another bike rack. Most of the staff hadn’t even arrived yet, what where Mike and El doing here this early? Will walked into the school and checked the Library to see if they had come in early to study. It was completely vacant. Maybe they were in the A. V. room?

Will walked out of the library and walked to the side of the school to the A. V. room. When he reached the A. V. room, he didn't hesitate to walk in. When he did, Mike and El jumped up from the seats around the radio in the center of the room. They both looked guilty of something. Will didn’t understand until he saw El’s face. A smear of blood spread under her nose and her eyes were red and sore. Will didn't need to ask what they were doing he already knew.

“Will what are you doing here?” Mike asked. He avoided eye contact with Will.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Will replied.

“We where just…,” El said.

“I know what you were doing,” Will interrupted.

“Will were sorry we just…” Mike said.

“It’s fine Mike. How… How is he?” Will asked. El’s turned her face away from him.

“That bad, huh,” Will whispered.

“You don’t want to know” El replied, tears were forming in her eyes again. She was right, he didn’t want to know but he couldn't help himself.

“Tell me, please,” Will asked, regretting it the moment the words left his mouth.

“He’s still in Detroit but he…” El tried to say but couldn't get out.
“What is it?” Will asked, Why was he asking questions he didn’t want the answers too.

“I don't… I can't recognize him anymore. He’s getting so much worse.” El cried.

"What did you see," Will asked, he was screaming inside to stop.

"He was sitting right in front of me sticking a needle into his foot. But it wasn't him. He looked so different, he looks like he is dying" El said turning and hugging Mike tight.

Will regretted asking. Every time he asked he got so disheartened, Ignorance was truly bliss. He stayed in the A.V. room with Mike and El until the first bell signed them to go to class. Thankfully he was going with Mike and wouldn't be alone. They could talk about anything that wasn't James White.

The rest of the day was going as planned. Will finished his class for lunch at one o'clock, just like every other day. He sat with the party and made plans to go to the arcade on Friday after school, just like every other Friday. Every now and again he would sneak a glance at James's empty seat and his stomach would drop.

Will dreaded the next class after lunch. Since James left, he was forced to be Troy's new Biology lab partner. Troy was the same bully he had been in middle school, but high school had made him extra vicious. Most of the abuse was the same. Faggot, queer, fairy where just some of the colorful words Troy used to describe Will. After all the years he had gotten desensitized to hearing them. This was forcing Troy into new ways to upset him or break him down, but Will wasn't giving an inch. He usually just ignored him and focused on his work.

Will walked into the classroom and took his seat at the back of the room. Troy followed him in a few minutes after everyone else had. When Troy sat down Will noticed how much he smelled like cigarettes. It reminded him of James. Troy looked at Will for a few seconds, obviously thinking of something clever or hurtful to say.

"What's up cock sucker," Troy said with a smirk on his face, clearly happy with what he had come up with. Will remained quite and started copying the notes left on the board. Troy looked angry that his insult didn't get a reaction.

"What kind of sissy sucks another man's dick, huh," Troy asked pushing Will on the shoulder lightly, but with enough force that Will drew a long line through his notes. Will exhaled slowly and turned the page to start again.

"Leave me alone Troy," Will said getting frustrated.

"So it does speak. I was only asking what it was like to be a faggot. There is no need to get upset" Troy said turning away from, clearly satisfied he had humiliated him enough. Will was really trying to not let Troy get to him.

They continued in silence for most of the class until the teacher announced she had to deliver a message and left the room. Will tried to finish the homework she had assigned but Troy obviously had other plans. Troy grabbed his notebook and throw it clear across the room. The large snapping sound it made when it connected with the ground made everyone in the quite room turn there heads towards them.

Will hated everyone looking at him like that. With all eyes on him, he got up from his desk and walked over to collect his notebook. Without saying a word he walked back over to his desk and sat down. He wanted to just crawl into a ball and cry, but Troy wasn't finished.

"So homo, wheres your junkie boyfriend," Troy asked, everyone was listening to them now. James's whereabouts had raised a number of awkward questions. It was a weird deja-vu for those who remembered him in middle school. Just like last time, James had up and disappeared one day and most of the school had a ridicules reason why. Will's breath hitched in his throat and he averted his gaze. A wide grin spread across Troy's face, he knew he had struck a nerve.

"I heard he was in the city sucking dick for a dollar each. All so he could be a junkie. What a fucking loser" Troy laughed. Will clenched his fists and tried to calm himself.

"That's not true" Will replied, but everyone was already whispering about what Troy had said.

"Bullshit everyone knows that psychopath loves smack" Troy announced loud enough for the whole class to hear. He was right. Most of the rumors floating around about James involved drugs in some shape or form.

"Shut up," Will said felling the tears sting his eyes.

"So is it true, the two of you are pillow bitters," Troy spat at him.

"I SAID SHUT THE FUCK UP" Will shouted standing up from the seat.

"Or what" Troy replied, suddenly getting serious. He stood up of his seat and faced Will. The size difference between them was vast but Will couldn't take it anymore. He pulled his fist back and smashed it into Troy's face with all the force he could.

Troys head rocked back and he brought his hands to his face. Will couldn't believe what had just happened. Neither could the rest of the class, judging by their shocked expressions.

Troy placed his hands back by his side and looked at Will. Should he run? There was absolute silence in the classroom. Will was about to open his mouth to curse him out but he heard the classroom door open. He turned his head and watched their teacher walk into the classroom. She stopped and watched the two boys standing at the back of the room.

Will turned back to Troy just in time to catch a glimpse at his first being propelled at his face. Even if he had seen it coming he doubted he was quick enough to get out of the way. The last thing he remembered was Troy's knuckles colliding with his nose.

Will woke up lying in a bed. He tried to sit up but his face was in so much pain. From looking around the room, Will guessed he was in the nurse's office. He successfully sat up on the bed this time and looked at himself in the mirror across the room.

His nose was smeared with blood and was swollen. it was also turning a bluish, black color. Will tried to breathe through his nose but it stung too much. He waited there until the nurse came in and examined him, it wasn't broken, just badly bruised.

Unfortunately, they had called his mother and she was on her way to collect him. On the bright side, Troy had been suspended and he had gotten away with punching that prick in the face. Will's memory was a little fuzzy, but he remembered how good that had felt. His happiness turned to guilt when he left the office and saw Joyce waiting for him.

They left the school together without saying a word. Once they reached the car Will climbed in the backseat and put his head down. They drove home in silence. Will was thankful she wasn't asking him any awkward questions or demanding explanations.

Once they entered the house Will throw his bag on the kitchen table and quickly walked towards his room. He planned to spend the rest of the day listing to his records tying not to think about James or what Troy was going to do to him.

"Will can we talk for a few minutes," Joyce said pulling out a kitchen chair for him and gesturing towards it. Will stopped dead at the edge of the kitchen. Maybe he could just ignore her?

"Please Will," Joyce said sitting on a chair across the table. Will reluctantly walked over and took a seat across from his mother. His eyes never leaving his feet.

"What is going on Will. You can talk to me" Joyce said.

"I know but you... you couldn't understand" Will replied.

"have I ever told you about me and Hopper dating in high school," she asked.

"No, I don't think so" Will replied.

"Hopper and I started dating in senior year, I was head over heels in love with him" She explained. It was weird for Will hearing his mother talking about her youth. She didn't speak about her childhood often.

"Then what," Will asked.

"Then he got drafted to Vietnam. He left and I was alone. He came back for a couple of months before he moved to New York but I was with your father" She said.

"I didn't know hopper was a soldier" Will whispered.

"I remember how I would lay awake at night thinking about Hopper dead in some jungle across the world, I didn't sleep for months," she said. Will thought maybe she could understand.

"How did you get over it," Will asked.

"I just gave it time," She said reaching across the table and taking Will's hand.

"I know you're worried about your friend but..." Joyce tried to say.

"He's not just my friend" Will interrupted. He didn't mean to say it out loud. What the fuck did he just do? Will ripped his hand back from his mothers and averted his eyes from hers.

"You love him don't you," Joyce said standing up from the table and walking over to him. She crouched down next to him and looked him in his tear-filled eyes.

"Yea... I love him. I... I'm..." He tried to speak but couldn't find his words.

"It's okay Will. It's okay. Everything is going to be okay" She said wrapping her son in a hug. Will cried into her shoulder like he did when he was a child.

"I don't want to be " Will cried. Joyce pulled him by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes. She was crying now too.

"You can only ever be who you are, do you understand." She said looking at him seriously. She wrapped him in the tightest hug Will had ever felt. His mother finally knew him and accepted him. For the first time since James left Will started to believe that everything was actually going to be okay. He didn't know how, but he knew it would work out. He would make it work out.

4th July 1986

James stumbled down the back ally towards the bus station. The desperation was sinking in. If he didn't get another fix soon things were going to get ugly. The heat was making him sweat more than usual and his skin was already starting to itch uncontrollably.

His addiction had shifted from Heroin to whatever drug he could get his hands on. Over the last two months, he had added meth and crack to the long list of drugs that fueled his addiction. Anything that provided a high was suitable no matter the cost, financially or physically. It didn't take long for him to completely run out of cash. He survived on favors and free hits for as long as he could. One night he got really desperate, so he started begging for change in a nicer part of the city. It got him a couple of dollars but he needed real cash.

When he arrived at the bus station he opened his locker and reviewed its contents. The revolver was still stashed at the back wrapped in a dirty rag. He was going to have to find a new place to stash it. The locker was only paid for another two weeks and if he was seen with a gun on the streets no one would sell to him. All the cash in the locker had been completely depleted. James had also consumed most of the drugs but not all of them. There were still a couple of full pill bottles, a few bags of cocaine and a large bag of weed. The temptation to use them was almost overpowering but if he did, there would be nothing left. He was going to have to sell them. Cocaine was worth a lot more than Heroin and it wasn't going to provide the high James chased.

James filled his deep pockets with all the contents of the locker, excluding the revolver which remained wrapped up at the back. He closed the locker and put the key in his sock where he always keeps it. The pills in his pockets rattled around loudly as he exited the bus station. It really was an absolute melting day. If he sold enough James planned to get high somewhere he could see the fireworks. For years he had a tradition of watching the fireworks with his mother. The color and fairly explosion had excited him when he was a child. Now its the short life of the firework that he finds most interesting. They are only beautiful in death.

James walked back towards a rough part of town where he knew he could attract a few customers. The people he required would either be incredibly stupid or incredibly desperate. The stupid ones would pay a big price for the coke and the desperate ones would give whatever money they had stolen for whatever drugs he had.

He walked onto a street he was familiar with. It was a quiet intersection with a corner shop. But he knew the ally behind the shop had a small gap connecting it to a smaller ally. It would come in handy if any police should up. James hovered around waiting for anyone eager customers. The crack epidemic proved to be good for business.

James stayed there for most of the day and sold everything he had. Overall he had made a couple of hundred dollars. This time he promised himself not to waste it all so quick. It was all he had left in this world. Well, that and a revolver with six bullets. Most of the people he sold two where junkies but there was one nice SUV that rolled up. The man inside was wearing a nice suit and gave James two hundred dollars for cocaine. He had gotten lucky. With this, he might actually survive for another couple of weeks.

James walked back towards the warehouse. Flake wouldn't sell to him but there would awalys be someone else who would. It was the safest place to buy in the city. The security was worth a lecture from Peter about turning his life around. James crossed the street and took a short cut down an ally, he could see the warehouse in the distance.

He continued walking down the length of the narrow ally. He could see someone walk off the street and started walking towards him. James would have continued right by him if he hadn't of stopped in his path and stared at him. Shit, James thought, This wasn't good. James wiped around and started walking back the way he came as quick as he could. But two more men had started walking towards him from that direction. He was trapped.

"Gentleman, " James said casually turning around to the first guy he saw. They where all gathered around him now. They didn't look like junkies. all three of them were tall and built and looked clean. They looked European. James recognized one of the men. It was the guy from the SUV.

"you've been selling in our territory" one of the men barked at him.

"Come on guys we can work something out," James said looking for any way to escape. These guys weren't messing around.

"Give us everything," One of the men behind him said. James thought about handing over the role of money in his pocket. There was no guarantee they would let him go even if he did. Anyway, he needed that money, he wouldn't go far without it.

"Yea sure just take it easy" James reached into his pocket as if he was going to give up the money. Once he withdrew his empty hand from his pocket he made a break for it. He launched in the direction of the single man in from of him. James wasn't nearly heavy enough to knock him over or even knock him off balance. Instead, he bent low and tried to squeeze by him. James passed under the man's outstretched hands.

He took a couple of steps after dodging his hands. The other men where all collapsing on his position. James started sprinting in the direction of the street. He thought he was going to get away until he felt someone grab onto the hood of his jumper. All of a sudden he was launched backward, being chocked by his own hood. James swung his elbow back with all the force he could. The moment it connected with the man's nose, James knew he had broken it. He could feel it crunch under the weight of his elbow.

The man released his grip on the hood and dropped to his knees. James didn't look back he just tried to run again. He got a couple of steps away before one of the other men grabbed him by the long hair on the back of his head. James tried the same maneuver and swung his elbow back again. This time the man easy caught it and pushed his arm high up behind his back. James could feel the tendons in his right arm being stretched to the point of tearing. The man held him there for a second before pushing him around to face the other two men, one of whom had a severely broken nose.

"Let's talk about this" James hissed through clenched teeth. The pain radiating from his arm was unbearable. The man with the broken nose walked a couple of steps towards him. He swung his fist right into the soft spot of James' stomach. The forceful blow caused him to double over. Which put more pressure on his arm twisted behind his back. James' stomach ached. If he had eaten anything in the last couple of hours, it would have been on his shoes.

The man with the busted nose turned and removed his jacket. The other one just stood behind him. James was still crouched on the ground holding his stomach with his free hand. This was his chance. Without hesitating, James swung his free elbow back crushing the man's testicles. As soon as he released his arm he swung his head back and split his face open. The contact blurred his vision. His head was spinning but he still tried to run. The headbutt was a bad idea his head was spinning and he couldn't see. The other two men caught him almost immediately.

This time they were taking no chances. The man with the broken nose grabbed him and pushed him into the arms of the other guy. He held both of his arms painfully behind his back. James tried to think about how to escape but a punch rocked against his cheek. The blow completely wiped his mind. James tried to drop to his knees but he was being held up. The second blow shattered his nose. James was on the brink of consciousness. He barely felt the next blow or the one after that or the one after that. James lost count of how many times he punched him. The man raised his fist again, but this time smashing him in the ribs. He did it repeatedly until James felt his ribs crack.

James tried to cry out or scream but his jaw was too swollen. Blood was pooling in his mouth and his right eye was completely swollen shut. The man pulled a rag out of his pocket and wiped some of the blood off his hands. James was struggling to breathe in the awkward position the man was holding him in. The breathe he did take made him wish he couldn't breathe at all. Every time he inhaled his chest expanded pushing shards of rib against his lungs.

Once the man had cleaned enough of the blood from his hands he approached James, reached into his pocket and removed all the cash. James tried to say something but it just came out as a groan. The man counted the money and put it in his pocket. James didn't even care anymore, as long as the beating was over.

The man James had hit in the balls was finally off the ground. He limbed over to James looking furious. He tried to cry or beg but nothing was coming out. The man produced something from his pocket. James couldn't make it out until he heard the horrible sound of a switchblade. He wiggled in the man's grip and tried to get away but it was hopeless. The man took a couple of steps towards him and plunged the knife into James' stomach. The blade felt hot as it sunk into his flesh. Once the blade was in him the man jerked it horizontily, before pulling it out of his stomach. James could feel his warm blood pouring down his body. James groaned in pain before finally being allowed to fall to the ground. He tried to keep a hand over the knife wound in his stomach but his consciousness was leaving him.

4th July 1986

Happiness wasn't something WIll ever considered. He doesn't really remember what it felt like, to begin with. It had been almost four months since James had left. Will considered them some of the worst months of his life. Four months of sleepless nights wondering when El would finally call saying she found a body, but the call never came.

Will didn't want to move on but life never much cared what Will Byers wanted. He hadn't seen James in almost four months. Nothing made him further from happy. But every day he genuinely smiled a bit more, laughed a bit more. The nights he stayed up worrying about James were getting further apart. Sometimes Will wonders if he ever loved James in the first place. Then the memories of the time they spent together would flood his brain. The times they spent driving in circles around Hawkins, the hours they used to spend talking about everything, the way he smelled of cigarettes and whiskey. It's then Will thinks he will never love someone the same again.

Will sat in Mikes basement with the party just like they do every 4th of July. Karen always throws a 4th of July party. The party normally played a campaign or watched a movie marathon while the parents got drunk upstairs. The whole party was going to stay in Mikes house. El and Max were going to stay in Mikes room and the boys were talking the basement, as per Hopper's strict instructions. The whole party was there but they still felt incomplete. No one said anything but Will knows they can all feel it.

Will and Joyce had arrived with Hopper and El. Usually, his mother would just drop him off and pick him up the next day, but this year she attended the party as a guest with Hopper. The fact Hopper's daughter was dating Karen's son, made the whole scenario so much more awkward. As soon as Will and El said hello to the host, they practically ran towards the basement door.

Will was looking forward to the evening. Dustin had planned an epic horror marathon including Halloween one and two, A Nightmare On Elm Steet and Alien. Will had seen all of them before but was looking forward to Dustin pretending not to be afraid as he hides behind a pillow, just like he did every time they watched a film.

Will and El descended the creaky stairs one after the other. The smell of stale popcorn and body odor hit him almost immediately. It made Will laugh. Mike was stretched across the whole couch with his socks sticking out over the bottom. He had gotten very tall Will randomly thought. Dustin was playing chess with Lucus and Max was sitting on the other chair, looking bored. Her eyes lit up when she saw El. Mike jumped off the couch to greet his girlfriend but Max got to her first.

"you know I'm right here" Mike whined. Max just shrugged her shoulders as she led El over to her seat.

"Sorry Wheeler, there is too much testosterone down here. El and I have to stick together." Max replied sitting down in her seat, making room for El.

"Hey, guys what's up," Will asked as he sat in the space Mike created when he sat up.

"I'm just kicking Lucus ass" Dustin gloated.

"No your not," Lucus said clenching his jaw and licking his lips in concentration. Will thought maybe Dustin was telling the truth for once.

"Come on let's start the film," Dustin said.

"No, not until we're finished," Lucus said, never lifting his eyes off the board. Will never saw Lucus think so hard before.

"Come on babe, you're not going to win" Max pleaded talking a seat on the ground in front of the tv.

"I got him exactly where I want him" Lucus announced moving his knight.

"Checkmate" Dustin replied making another move.

"SHIT" Lucus shouted standing up in frustration.

"Fine let's watch the film." He muttered taking a seat on the ground beside Max. El moved onto the couch with Mike and Will while Dustin sat on the ground.

"What are we watching first," Mike asked the group.

"I don't care as long as it's not Alien, that alien freaks me out," El said.

"Xenomorph" Dustin corrected.

"You're such a nerd" Max laughed as she throws stale popcorn at the back of Dustin's head. Everyone was giggling to themselves.

"yea that's true, remember that time James and I..." Dustin said. Dustin looked to the ground. The whole party fell completely silent. Will snapped back to his default feeling, missing James. Nobody made a sound for what felt like hours. They rarely ever talked about him as a group.

"What do you think he's doing" Max asked. Everyone turned to look at El, her eyes were filling with tears.

"It doesn't matter anymore, we have to move on" Mike interrupted trying to keep El from bursting into tears.

"I don't know, I haven't checked in weeks, It was too hard," El said wiping her eyes dry with the back of her sleeve. Will wanted to know more than anything. But he dreaded it too. They returned to silence, Everyone was thinking the same thing.

"We shouldn't do this" Mike said looking at El. He knew exactly what she was thinking. Without saying a word she snapped her head turning the dial on the television until it was on a static channel.

"Are you sure?" Max asked her.

"Get me the blindfold" El asserted. Nobody was going to argue with her. Max handed her the scarf and everyone else gave her some space. El wrapped the blindfold around her eyes and took a deep breath. Everyone took a deep breath. They waited in silence for El to travel through the void searching for their friend.

The anticipation was killing him. He opened his mouth to speak, but El erupted in a scream. She pulled back off the coach clawing at her face to remove the blindfold. Mike sprinted to her, it was the tastest Will ever seen him move. Once El pulled the blindfold off she looked to Mike. Will had never seen anyone look so terrified in his life. She collapsed into Mikes' shoulders in tears.

Will's knees felt weak. His stomach was in knots. The worst nightmare he ever had was happening in front of his eyes. James was dead, he had to be. There was no other explanation for the current situation.

"El... El what did you see" Mike said struggling to keep his voice calm.

"He was... he" El tried but erupted into tears again. Max hunkered down pushing Mike out of the way and grabbed El by her shoulders. Everyone was shocked by her brazenness.

"El where is James," She said calmly and directly. El calmed herself a bit and nodded.

"I found him. He was in an ally, I couldn't... his face it was. He's dying" El finally managed to explain.

"What" Will whispered. His legs were shaking. They finally gave away and he fell to his knees. This couldn't really be happening.

"He was bleeding. There was blood everywhere, so much blood" El whispered as the shock was slowly setting in.

"What... What do we do" Mike said looking around. Mike was the paladin, the leader he was supposed to be telling us. Will was panicking, his thoughts were going faster than his brain could process. Will could distantly overhear Lucus and Dustin shouting at each other. Mike was holding El close to his body, he looked terrified.

"STOP. Everyone calm the fuck down" Max shouted, silencing everyone. All eyes fell on the redhead.

"Let me think... The first thing we need to do is get Hopper. Dustin go get him" Max said pointing Dustin towards the door. Dustin didn't argue with her, he made his way up the stairs and disappeared through the door.

"Okay. El if we ring a hospital could you direct them to James" Max asked. El just stared through her as if she wasn't there.

"ELEVEN" Max shouted making El jump in Mikes' arms and focus on Max.

"I don't know I... Yea I think so" El said trying to concentrate on the image of James in the ally. The door to the basement flew open. Everyone turned to see the Chief running down the basement steps followed by Joyce and Dustin.

"What the hell is going on," Hopper said looking around confused. El felt Mikes' arms and hugged her father tight. She recounted the whole story as quickly as she could. It didn't take long for Hopper to spring into action.

4th July 1986

The last thing James remembered was looking up at the sky. He gave up on trying to stop the bleeding from his abdomen. There was too much blood gushing out of him to control. At first, he clutched his stomach tight and tried to crawl to the street. He had gotten maybe five feet before almost passing out due to the pain. His shouts came out as barely audible whispers. In the end, James turned over onto his back and watched the night sky. He could hear the loud echos of fireworks in the distance.

James thought it was a fitting end to his miserable life, bleeding to death just like his mother did. If his father had killed him that night, he would have saved him an extra six years of anguish. His father couldn't even do that for him. He could feel the last few threads of conscious leave him. The last thoughts that ran through his head where all the best memories he had. His memories of Will.

James was in complete blackness. Is this what death is. The blackness stretched as far as he could see in every direction. The floor was a shallow pool of reflective water. James took a couple of cautious steps into the darkness. There where sounds echoing around the emptiness. It was like hearing a conversation through a thick wall. He could make out the distinct piercing noise of a siren. Then there people shouting. He couldn't make out what they were saying but it seemed important. James walked further into the darkness until it consumed him.

The first thing he noticed was the pain spreading from every inch of his stomach. He tried opening his eyes but his vision was too blurred to make anything out. He tried moving his arms but they were too heavy. The memories of the beating flooded back to him. The steady beep of a heart monitor echoed in the room. It didn't take a genius to figure out he was in an E. R. But how did anybody find him in that ally?

James tried to lift his arms again. They felt like they weighed a hundred pounds. He felt around his stomach until he felt the thick bandage around his midsection. He pressed down on the bandage and instantly regretted. A sharp wave of pain pierced his side. He raised his hand to his face but it stung as soon as his finger made contact with the swollen flesh.

James vision was slowly coming back to him. He was in the Emergency room surrounded by other patients. The clock on the wall read twenty minutes past twelve. He had been out for hours. The E.R was surprisingly quiet. Except for the heart monitors beating and the odd cough or groan.

The nurses' station was at the very end of the room. There were only two nurses sitting behind the desk. Understaffed for the holidays probably. One of the nurses behind the desk looked up from her files and notices James looking at her. Shit, James thought. She got up from the nurses' station and started walking towards him. Once she reached his bed she pulled his chart off the bed and read it quietly.

"What's the damage," James asked breaking the silence. He tried to smile but found it too painful. James also took the chance to run his tongue over his teeth. He was missing two molars from the side of his swollen jaw.

"Three fractured ribs, two orbital fractures, an extremely broken nose, several facial lacerations, a ruptured spleen that caused internal bleeding and a stab wound that knicked your liver." She explained reading off the chart. James collapsed his head onto his pillow. He shouldn't be alive.

"You got lucky. Very lucky" She said.

"I don't think I did" James replied looking away from her. She looked up at him from her chart.

"You are going to have to stay here until your out of critical condition. The police will be here in the morning to ask you some questions" She said making James turn back to look at her again.

"Thanks, I'm going to get some sleep," James said closing his eyes again. He waited until he could hear her footsteps carry here back to the nurse's station. James pretended to sleep, every now and again he would sneak a glance. Eventually, both of them left, swapping shifts more than likely. James took the opportunity.

He sat up in his bed, the pain from his stomach was unbearable but he worked through it. At the bottom of his bed was a clear plastic bag with all his clothes in it. James ripped the medical gown off leaving himself exposed in the middle of the E.R. His clothes were filthy and covered in a ridiculous amount of blood. James dressed as quickly as he could which was difficult with broken ribs. The last item in the plastic bag was the little key from the bus station. James grabbed it and put it in his jean pocket.

Once he did get his clothes on he scanned the other beds in the E.R. There was a middle-aged man a couple of beds down with a leather jacket hanging off the end of his bed. James swiped the jacket and painfully pulled his arms through the selves. It was several sizes too big for him. Nine months ago the jacket would have fit perfectly. He zipped up the jacket covering most of the blood on his clothes. His blue jeans still had blood stains running down the legs but it was going to have to do.

He limped out of the E.R and towards the main hospital exit. James walked out the front door discreetly as possible. On his way out he got a glimpse of his face in the door reflection. His face looked like someone had hit him repeatedly with a shovel. It felt like that too. His nose was swollen and a disgusting blue color. His left eye was the same horrible color and his right eye was still swollen shut. The whole right side of his face was swollen. The bruising wouldn't set in until the swelling went down, James figured he was going to look even worse when it did. If that was even possible.

Thankfully James knew exactly where he was and where he was going. He left the hospital car park in the direction of the bus station. Every step he took caused his ribs and stab wound to throb. But there was one thing on his mind. That revolver sitting in the empty locker.

Once James got to the bus satin he sat on the bench to catch his breath. His body was in agony. For a few seconds, he wished those bastards had finished him off. Then his mind snapped back to rage. he was going to find them and take back what they took from him. When the pain in his body dropped to a manageable level, he limped over to the locker and produced the key from his pocket. He grabbed the gun wrapped in cloth and stuffed it into the leather jacket, making sure no one was around. It was almost one o'clock on the 4th of July, the bus station was completely empty.

James was in no state for a fight. He was going to have to rest and heal until he got what was his. If he went back to the warehouse there was a chance someone would spot him for the night. James needed a fix more than he has ever needed anything in his life. It scares him what he would be willing to do for a hit.

He left the bus station towards the warehouse. The familiar walk had never seemed so long before, but now every step felt like a mile. James didn't know why but he turned and walked away from the warehouse towards the ally he had been beaten in. halfway down the ally, there was a large pool of dried blood than a small trial to an even bigger pool of blood.

James thought about the events that occurred. He remembered most of the beating. The fist smashing into his face, the knife tearing through his stomach. It didn't make sense, he should have died. James looked around the ally. There was nothing in this part of town. No one was stupid enough to walk around at that time of the night. How did the ambulance know where he was?

James gave up on the train of thought. It was confusing and he was in too much pain. Seeing so much of his blood spilled on the ground was making him furious. He felt the grip of the revolver through the leather jacket. he didn't know what he was going to do if he found them but he knew it wasn't going to be good, for them.

James regretted the detour. His rage was bubbling under the surface and the extra distance was just more pain. Once he approached the warehouse he spotted Flake and tiny sitting in there usually spot.

"Hey, James... WHOA, what the fuck happened" Flake shouted suddenly when James' face came into the light.

"Fell down the stairs" James replied sarcastically.

"I need some on thick" James asked. His tone implied he wasn't asking.

"James that's not..." Flake tried to say.

"Please. I... I'm in a lot of pain. Please, Flake I just need a fucking hit" James begged with tears in his eyes.

"Okay James just this once." flake replied going into his pockets and handing him the little bag.

Without another word, tiny opened the door for him. James tried to climb the stairs to his makeshift room on the top floor. He was really regretting that decisions now. He got about half way up before falling to one knee. It was too painful. He couldn't go any further, this was it.

"You need a hand" James heard a voice from above him. He looked up and saw Peter smiling down on him. James just weakly nodded his head. Peter place James arm over his shoulder and gently lifted him up the stairs.

"James you can't keep..." Peter said.

"Stop, just stop. I don't need a lecture" James said cutting him off.

"Okay James, I'm here if you need me," Peter said carrying him up the last flight of stairs and into the room with no ceiling. James lay down on the sleeping bag and tried to get comfortable. His whole body was on fire. Peter stood over him as James fumbled with the little bag but his fingers were shaking too much.

Peter knelt down and took the bag from James shaking hands. He was about to protest but realized Peter had a syringe. Peter filled the syringe and found a vein behind James' knee. As soon as Peter pressed on the syringe James passed out.

4th July 1986

Will sat with El in the back of the chief's truck. She was sleeping with her head resting against the window. Small blood stains spread down the shirt she was wearing. El used the void to direct an ambulance to James' location. She was determined to find him, regardless of the fact she had never used her powers like that before. There was nothing going to stop her from saving her friend. Will admired her more than he could ever describe. He envied her strength and courage. The process had taken a lot of energy, she was asleep soon after leaving Hawkins.

Mike sat in the front seat across from Hopper. The two didn't speak to each other. They didn't have much in common and even if they did, the situation didn't create an atmosphere for small talk. He drove quicker than Will had ever seen. If they hit any traffic he would turn the sirens on and weave around the stationary cars. The roads had gotten quiet after midnight. It was almost 3 A.M.

They had been driving for hours but Will still felt wide awake. The thoughts of James dying terrified him more than any Demogorgon or Mind Flayer. There was a pain in his chest that was growing the closer they got to Detroit. He was in physical pain worrying about the man he loved. Love. The thought of it seemed so foreign to him. He loves his mother, he loves his brother, he loves all his friends. But he doesn't feel for them the way he feels for James. It's different in ways he can't describe. Will sighed and looked out the window at the night sky. His emotions where confusing he had been thinking about his feeling all night. Behind the worry and fear and pain, there was one constant. He loved James more than he thought he could love anyone.

The signs indicated they were close to Detroit. He could see the lights of the city approaching quickly. The plan was to drive straight to the hospital the ambulance took James to and stay there until he was well enough to drive back to Hawkins. The possibility of James refusing came up in the basement. Hopper made it very clear that he wasn't going to give James a choice this time.

Will could feel El turning in her sleep, she must have been having a bad dream. Hopper drove on in silence. About ten minutes after Hopper told Mike to look for directions to the hospital. Will thought about waking El up and asking her to check on James but she needed her sleep, besides he really doesn't think he could take it. In Wills mind, James was alive and well, he was safe in a warm hospital bed waiting for them to take him home. He wanted to avoid anything that contradicted that reality.

They drove for another thirty minutes before pulling into the parking garage of a hospital. El slowly opened her eyes as they ascended the parking structure, looking for an empty spot. They all jumped off the truck and practically ran through the doors of the hospital. Wills' stomach was in knots. What if the doctor told them he was dead. What if Will never saw him again. The pain in his chest had doubled since entering the hospital. It made him want to fall to the ground and curl into a ball. Hopper and the kids ran through the doors and straight to the administration desk. There was a single nurse sitting behind the thick glass. Hopper approached the desk out of breath and started knocking on the glass.

"Can I help you?" The woman asked looking up from the paperwork on the desk in front of her. Hopper was still catching his breath so Will pushed in front of him.

"We're looking for a patient here, his name is James White" Will spat out as quickly as he could. The women looked over all four of them before standing up and walking over to a stack of folders on the table behind her. Will was getting annoyed with her lack of urgency. After fifteen minutes she walked back over to the desk and sat down.

"I'm sorry, there is no James White in my files" She replied nonchalantly. Will was getting extremely frustrated.

"We know he is here, He is about six two, blue eyes, brown hair, he was brought in with a stab wound a couple of hours ago. " Hopper quickly explained.

"I know who you are talking about but..." She replied.

"Great, where is he, " Will said, cutting her off.

"I don't know" She replied taking a slip of paper of the cabinet beside her legs.

"YOU JUST SAID..." Will tried to shout at her through the thick glass.

"He was here. He was emitted and treated for several injuries before he snuck out of the E.R while the nurse was switching shifts. It's all there in the incident report. " the woman behind the glass explained. She slipped the single piece of paper under the small space in the glass. Hopper grabbed the paper as soon as it was passed through. His eyes quickly scanned the paper before his face went white.

"What is it, what does it say," Mike asked from behind Hopper.

"Your friend is in a very bad condition" The women answered. Will felt like getting sick. His stupid little fantasy was demolished. He was just left with the crushing truth, James was out on the street somewhere dying.

"Okay... Okay let's go find him" Hooper said as he folded the paper and put it in his back pocket.

They ran out the same door they had entered in. It only took a few seconds for all of them to be sitting int he same spot in Hopper's truck. Hopper started the engine and flipped on the radio while El pulled out the blindfold that was her backpack. The car was suddenly filled with the static noise from the radio. El pulled the blindfold thigh around her eyes. The rest of them stayed absolutely silent as El traveled through the void. Will was waiting for the worst, for El to rip off the blindfold in tears after finding James's cold corpse. But it didn't come. El pulled off the blindfold and wiped the blood from her nose.

"Where is he, " Mike asked. Will's heart was in his throat.

"The same warehouse we found him in last time" El replied.

"Is he Okay?" Will asked hopefully.

"No" El responded gloomily. Hopper turned around and through the truck into reverse. He seemed to remember his way to the warehouse. The sirens were on the whole way there. Will's hearth had dropped as soon as he El answered his question. How bad was he? What should he expect? It could possibly be as bad as it was in his head.

Hopper parked the truck in the same spot he had four months previously. They all squeezed through the same cut in the wire fence. As Will got closer, he could see the two familiar figures standing at the door. When they got closer Flake stood up and approached them. Will really wasn't in the mood to argue with this gut again. If they didn't let him in, El would make him.

"Did James call you?" Flake asked.

"Yea its time for him to come home" Hopper replied. Will was expecting some retaliation but Flake just nodded his head ar Tiny. The big man turned around and opened the door for them.

"You should prepare yourself. He is not doing so good" Flake said.

"And yous fault is that" Will hissed at him as he walked through the door. Flake just looked at the ground. So did Hopper.

They all walked into the warehouse together. Will watched looked at everything around him. It absolutely wasn't what he expected when he walked in. There was a lot of rough looking homeless people gathered around a fire in the middle of a bunch of connected tents. There were tarps and boxes set up all around the ground floor.

"How many people live here?" Will asked.

"It doesn't matter. There is about to be one less" Hopper said walking towards a set of dangerous looking stairs across the ground floor. El, Mike, and Will all followed the chief as he crossed the floor. A few people gave them weird looks but most people just ignored them. A few of them looked like drug addicts, looked like James.

They climbed the stairs and until they came to a room on the top floor. Will didn't think his legs could carry him into it. James was on the other side of the wall. The thought terrified him. Hopper walked into the room without hesitating, Mike and El followed him. Will took a deep breath and walked into the room.

There was a man kneeling beside someone sitting on a sleeping bag. The man looked to be around Hopper's age. He was wearing a black shirt with a white collar. Peter stood up and looked at all of them. Will looked at the man sitting on the ground. His heart broke at the sight of James. If he wasn't told it was James he would have never guessed. He looked small and fragile. The swollen nose and cheek along with the dark purple bruising made his face impossible to recognize. His hair was long and wild and he had grown a beard. His clothes and face were dirty and covered in blood. James looked like he weighed less than Will. His arms and face were so thin you could see his bones.

Will tried to control the tears but they spilled out of his eyes. None of the conditions he imagined they would find him in, were as bad as this. James sat with his back against the wall looking shocked. His eyes floated over Mike and El then to Hopper then finally falling on Will. The two boys stared at each other for an eternity. Will couldn't look at him like this, it hurt him too much. The pain in his chest was a burning inferno. It made him want to scream. Nobody said a word. James struggled to his feet and stood in front of them. Will couldn't believe he was really in front of them.

"I will give you a minute," Peter said turning and walking out the door. James eyes never left Hoppers, James looked at him with pure disgust. James didn't acknowledge Peter as he left the room.

"What are you doing here," James asked through gritted teeth.

"We are here to take you home, kid" Hopper said calmly.

"Is that right. What makes you think..." James started.

"James please" Will suddenly said stepping closer to him. James face changed. He looked Will in the eyes as they filled with tears.

"I'm sorry Will, I cant. I..." James said.

"Yes, you can. All you have to do is come with me." Will said, tears splashing onto the ground.

"No. I'm toxic Will. I'll poison every last good thing in my life until there is nothing left. I can't do that to you. I won't" James responded putting his hand in his jacket pocket. Will felt Hopper put his hand on his shoulder.

"Listen, kid, I know you hate me and that's fine I hate myself but you have to come home," Hopper said stepping closer to him.

"I don't have a home" James whispered.

"Yes, you do. We are your home" El said stepping closer to him.

"Charles and Jessica haven't given up, they are still looking for you, your friends love you. I love you" Hopper added.

"You have a home," Hopper said taking another step closer to him. Hopper was about an arm's length away from him now. James was looking at the ground as tears fell from his good eye. Hopper took another step and put a hand on his shoulder.

"NO" James suddenly cried pushing Hopper's hand away. With his other hand, he pulled something out of his jacket pocket and pointed it at Hopper.

"STAY the fuck away from me" He shouted at him. Hopper immediately paced backward. He grabbed Mike, El, and Will by the arm and pushed them behind his large frame. Will tried to step out from behind him but he was being held in place by the Chief's large arms.

"JAMES put the fucking gun down" Hopper shouted at him panicking. Will moved to look at James. He was pointing a gun at Hopper. What was he thinking?

"No... No, you're trying to trick me" James shouted erratically. His hand was shaking violently.

"James you're delusional. Please put down the gun. Come home" Hopper said trying to reason with him. The chief lowered his hand and placed it around his own revolver.

"I CAN'T GO HOME" James screamed at them. Will couldn't take it anymore. Hopper had put his hand on his gun this was his chance. Will ran out from behind the chief and in front of James. Will didn't even know what he was doing but he had to get through to James. Hopper tried to pull him back but he was too quick. James turned and pointed the revolver straight back at Will.

"Remeber that time we drove to the quarry together. Just the two of us. " Will said taking another step closer to him.

"It was freezing, I wore your jacket. Remember it was way too big for me. We listed to Bowie and the Clash for hours" Will cried. Will took another step closer to him. James kept silent. he just continued to stare into Will's hazel eyes.

"Please James. We can go back to that." Will cried.

"No, we cant. I'm sorry Will" James finally said. Without another word, James raised the point of the revolver to the side of his temple, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

4th July 1986

"You have a home," Hopper said taking another step closer to him.

James was reeling from his friend's sudden appearance. They all looked different from how he remembered them. Mike had grown at least three inches taller. El was still as pretty as ever, but her chest and hips had grown curves. Mike was a lucky guy. Then there was Will. James had accepted the realization that he was never going to see his best friend again. He accepted it the second he stepped on the bus out of Hawkins. But then he walked into the room. Walked back into James life, no matter how much he didn't want him to. Will was never meant to see the man he turned into, the man he turned himself into.

When James first spotted Will's deep hazel eyes, he thought it was a hallucination or some dream inspired by the drugs. In reality, he knew it was real life. If it was a dream he wouldn't be in this much pain. A fever had been slowly gripping him since he left the hospital. His face and body were on fire. If it was a dream he would have awoken screaming by now.

Every detail of Wills' face, every line, every curve was burned into James memory. He drew on that memory a lot in the last couple of months to get him through cold nights or rough comedowns. That memory of Will's face had become depreciated. He had lost some of his boyish features. His chin and jaw where more outlined than James remembered. His hair was cut shorter than it used to be. He looked more like a man. James thought he looked handsome.

He didn't realize how much he had missed him until he saw his face. He missed all of his friends, but it didn't change the reason he left in the first place. Why didn't Will understand? If James stayed in their lives he would burn them all. The more he tried to protect the people around him the more damage he does. It had to end.

Hopper took a couple more steps towards him. James kept a hand around the but of the revolver in his pocket. The pain in his stomach had gotten worse. He could feel small trickles of blood seeping from the bandage around his abdomen. His stitches were tearing. The fever was making him delirious. It felt like his brain was on fire. Hopper stepped closer to him. Home. The word made James feel sick. Every home he had ever know was covered in blood or pain. Hopper was a foot away from him now. He placed a hand on James' shoulder. There was a part of James that just wanted to hug him. Hug him and cry into his shoulder as he did in that hospital room all those years ago when his mother was almost beaten to death. James tried pushed the painful memory away but he couldn't. The floodgate was open. It felt like he was falling.

"NO" James screamed as he pushed Hopper's hand off his shoulder. James didn't realize he had pulled his other hand out of his pocket until he was pointing the gun at Hopper.

"STAY the fuck away from me" James shouted. Thoughts were flashing through his head faster than he could comprehend. Every shitty thing that happened him was suddenly being relived all at once. Hopper pulled the teens behind his back. He just needed space, time to think about this. Time to get them to understand that he wasn't the person they thought he was. He didn't deserve to be loved by them. He didn't deserve to be loved by anyone.

"JAMES put the fucking gun down" Hopper shouted at him panicking. James could see Will pushing to try and get around Hopper. What was he thinking? The pain in James' head was exploding. He tried to hold the gun still but his hands where shaking forcibly.

"No... No, you're trying to trick me" James shouted erratically. He won't go back with them. Nothing was going to make him ruin Will's life. It was too late for him, but Will still had a chance. A chance for a good life, but only if he wasn't in it.

"James you're delusional. Please put down the gun. Come home" Hopper said.

"I CAN'T GO HOME" James screamed at them. James infected every home he had ever been a part of, corrupted the people around him. Nothing was going to change. Nothing ever changed. James could see Will pushing past Hopper. He ran out from behind the chief and in front of James. He pointed the revolver to Will, however, he weakened his grip and took his finger off the trigger. Would Will really jump in front of a gun to bring him home?

"Remeber that time we drove to the quarry together. Just the two of us. " Will said taking another step closer to him.

"It was freezing, I wore your jacket. Remember it was way too big for me. We listed to Bowie and the Clash for hours" Will cried. Will took another step closer to him. James thought about the time at the quarry. The two of them drove to the cliff in the middle of the night. It wasn't the first time they suck out in the middle of the night to hang out with each other.

"Please James. We can go back to that." Will cried.

"No, we cant. I'm sorry Will" James finally said. Everything in James' head went silent. The onslaught of noise was suddenly replaced by emptiness. Everything became clear for a split second. After all the year's of unbearable suffering, he finally figured out how to stop the pain.

James raised the point of the revolver to the side of his temple, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The loud gunshot echoed in the small room.


4th July 1986

"Please James. We can go back to that." Will cried. He tried to remember the times they spent together. Maybe if James could just remember the good times he could see that there was still hope. All the times Will felt like he could be himself around James. The times James made him laugh when all he wanted to do was cry. No one touched Will the way James had and Will knows he affected James. Will wanted to go back to those days more than anything.

For some reason, the memory of the night they spent at the quarry felt like the memory that might break through to him. The memory that might spark something in him. Remind him that there are people who love him, remind him that he loves him. It wasn't a particularly powerful memory for Will, but it was a happy one.

James clutched the revolver loosely in his right hand. The gun pointed towards Will. James was a lot of things but a murder wasn't one of them. James wasn't going to hurt him, he was sure of that. Will couldn't control the river of tears making their way down his face. He thought he had shed his last tear. Will had believed he had moved on from loving James. He stopped crying over him, stopped worrying about him. Then he saw him again. Now he realized he could have never stopped loving him, no matter how much he told himself he could, no matter how much he pretended to be okay, pretended not to feel sick every day thinking it could be James's last.

James stared back into Will's eyes for what felt like a century until he gently lowered the revolver down to his side. Will's heart was jumping in his chest. Had he finally gotten through to him? Will wanted to embrace him, hug him and kiss him. Tell him he loved him. He didn't care who was in the room, he didn't care who would find out about him, but something wasn't right. Something was very wrong. James didn't look like he accepted the idea of returning to Hawkins. His face was white and his eyes looked hollow almost as if all the life had drained from them.

"No, we cant. I'm sorry Will" James finally said. Will could feel his stomach drop. Deep down he knew what James was thinking but he refused to believe it. He refused to believe James could do that to him, do that to his friends, his family, James slowly raised the revolver to his head and rested the tip of the barrel against his temple. Everything felt like it was happing in slow motion. Will wanted to scream but he couldn't open his mouth. All of the air was suddenly sucked out of the room, he couldn't breathe. James closed his eyes. Will's heart stopped beating. This couldn't be real, It was all some sick nightmare.

Will knew what was about to happen. Knew that if he watched the man he loved, blow his brains on the wall it would be the thing he saw every time he closed his eyes. Will wouldn't be able to live with that image in his mind. James slowly squeezed the trigger. Will jerked his head around as the gunshot echoed in the small room. Out of the corner of his eye, Will could see a spray of blood flying onto the ground. The gunshot was deafening. Will could hear the heavy thud of a body hitting the ground followed by the metallic clang of the revolver falling next to him.

Will tried to stay on his feet but it was pointless, his legs were shaking uncontrollably. He collapsed onto his hands and knees. Everything in his mind had seized to function. The whole world felt like it had stopped spinning. It didn't seem real to him. How could it be real, never in his worst nightmares would he find himself here. Will was numb. The shock was slowly consuming every inch of him. His stomach had dropped out of his body, he was going to throw up. This cant be happing? Will tried to move his arms or legs but they were glued to the ground. A part of his brain screamed at him to turn around. Look at James and see him one last time, but he couldn't, he simply didn't have the strength. They had failed him.

Hopper was on his knees. He too couldn't bear to look at James's body. Instead of looking away he had his face covered in his hands. Will could hear quiet sobs. Mike was standing up behind Hopper. He was trying to wrap El in his arms but it looked like she was trying to push past him.

"El STOP. You don't want to see" Mike cried as he tried to hold back El. She just squirmed in his grip. She looked panicked, borderline hysterical.

"Mike, you don't understand" El replied pushing him off of her. Once she was finally realized from his grip she ran straight passed Hopper towards James body and out of Wills view. He couldn't follow her, he didn't have her strength, he didn't have the strength to look at James like that. Will started to feel his extremities again. Everything was becoming real. The numbness was slowly seeping away and was revealing the stabbing pain in his heart. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. He could feel the earth-shattering screams bubbling up in his chest. He couldn't hold it in any longer.

"JAMES" El screamed. Will couldn't take it anymore. How could he live with this pain? How could he move on from this? Nothing was ever going to be the same after this. Will knew the rest of his life was going to spend pretending to be fine. James was the only person that he didn't have to pretend with, the only person who made him feel the way he pretended to feel and know he was gone.

"HE'S ALIVE" El screamed at them. Will could feel a spark of hope igniting in his stomach. How could he be alive, he saw James shoot himself. Will wanted to turn and look with his own eyes, but he was too afraid of what he might see. Instead, he watched Hopper get off his knees and run towards El and James. Will was waiting for Hopper to tell her she was wrong. That James was gone and there was nothing they could do. Instead, he could hear Hopper barking out orders. Mike was on his feet now and running over to them. Will couldn't take it anymore. slowly he climbed to his feet and turned around. He could only make out James legs the rest of his body was blocked by Hopper and Mike who were on their knees. El was crouching down across from them. Hopper was tearing one of the sleeves off his shirt.

Will pushed between Hopper and Mike and dropped next to James body. He was unconscious but he was breathing. A large wound was opened from above his ear across the top of his forehead and into his hairline. Hopper was wrapping the sleeve of his shirt around James' head. Will felt like someone had stopped standing on his chest. All the air returned to the room. He started to inhale again. James was alive. Will couldn't believe it. Had he missed? He didn't understand what he was seeing how could James still be alive.

"I don't... I... How" Will muttered looking around him.

"I pushed the gun, but I wasn't quick enough," El said quickly. Will noticed the two trails of blood making their way down El's face. Will wanted to hug her.

"You saved his life" Will whispered. El seemed to realize this for the first time. El had saved them from interdimensional creatures but now she had saved James as well. There wasn't one person in the party who didn't owe their life to her. Will knows there is no way he could pay her back. She probably doesn't even understand she saved the love of his life. Will hopped one day he could tell her what she did for him.

"Is he... Is he going to be okay" Mike asked.

"Physical maybe. The cut will need some stitches but..." Hopper said as he wrapped the improvised bandage around James' head.

"No... No, he's not going to be okay for some time, but we're going there for him." Hopper assured them.

"Why would he do that" El asked. Will could hear the traces of anger in her voice. He knew his own feelings of anger would come but for now, he couldn't see past the relief of James not being dead.

"He thought it was, what was best for us" Will answered. As a result of living in isolation for so many years, there are some things El just could never understand. Although she has seen more pain than anyone she could never see how ending her own life would protect someone else.

"That's bullshit" El exclaimed.

"Yea. Yea it really is" Will replied. He knelt closer to James's unconscious body. If there was no one else here he would kiss him. Kiss him and never let him go again. The right side of James' face was covered in a mass of swelling and bruising. The left side covered in blood from the gunshot wound. James didn't resemble the man Will meet on the first day of school, they both had changed so much in the last year. No matter how much changes between them Will knows he will always love James, no matter what. It doesn't matter what life will throw at them. Will was given a second chance and he wasn't going to waste it.

"we should get out of here," Mike said standing up.

"were bringing him to the hospital, right," El asked looking up to Hopper who also rose to his feet.

"No" Hopper replied simply.

"You must be joking right, look at him," Will said pointing towards James's face. Will noticed for the first time the growing blood stain originating from James' stomach. Hopper opened his mouth to reply but he was interrupted by Peter exploding into the room, he was clearly out of breath from running up the stairs. Once he saw James on the ground he ran to him.

"WHAT happened," Peter asked looking rapidly swinging
his head between all of them.

"James tried to... He tried to..." Will tried to say but he could articulate it. The situation was really hitting him for the first time. James tried to kill himself. Will felt like he needed to sit down again.

"He tried to shoot himself. He missed" Hopper spat at the priest. He stood a couple of inches closer to Peter. Hopper backed down when Tiny and Flake entered the room, each having there own moment of shock.

"We are taking James home," Hopper said.

"We should be taking him to the god damn hospital" Will insisted.

"Look we don't know what mess James has got himself into. If we take him to the hospital with a gunshot wound the police will ask him questions. We don't know where he got the gun, or if he used it on someone" Hopper explained.

"No, James wouldn't do that. He isn't a murderer" Will argued.

"I don't know if there is anything James wouldn't do for a fix at this point" Hopper replied as he walked over and picked up the revolver that was still lying on the ground. Will wanted to disagree but the chief had a point, James was acting erratically. This was so much worse than he could have ever imagined.

"we are going to take him home. Jess can patch him up." Hopper said.

"I'll bring him to your truck," Tiny said walking past hopper and picking James up. He looked miniature as Tiny gently lifted him off the ground. Peter walked over to James as he was being carried out. Tiny stopped and gave him a second.

"Farewell James," Peter said turning to walk out of the room.

"Wait. He is probably still alive because of you. Thanks" Will said. Peter just nodded to the boy and started his descent down the stairs.

"What about the drugs," Mike asked breaking the silence. He considered it for a second. There was nothing on this planet Will wouldn't do to help James, but he hadn't a notion how to help someone with an addiction. He assumed there wasn't just medicine that would cure an addict.

"He will get morphine or painkillers for a couple of days until the wounds heal, but then he goes cold turkey" Hopper replied firmly.

"What will that be like," Will said, he was frightened of the Hoppers tone. Almost as if Hopper was dreading it or afraid of it.

"It won't be easy. James will wish he didn't miss. We have to assure him he's wrong" Hopper said as he started walking down the stairs after Tiny. Once they reached the ground floor, everyone who lived in the warehouse was on there looking at James being carried away. Will wanted to protect him from there curious gazes but didn't know how. Once Tiny reached the door he turned and placed James in Hopper's arms. The Chief looked broken once James was placed him his arms. Hopper could feel how light he was, how fragile he felt. Tiny pushed the huge door open and let them through. Hopper walked through the door first followed closely by Will then Mike and El.

The drive home was quieter than the drive to Detroit. It was ten minutes in the car before El and Mike fell asleep. Mike was riding shotgun and Will and El were in the back. James was lying across both of them. His feet were on Els lap and his head was resting on Will. He was threading his fingers through James' hair or gently stroking his face.

"I see the way you look at each other" Hopper suddenly said from the front seat. Will jumped and quickly pulled his hand off James' face. He could see Hopper looking at him through the rearview mirror. Shit, he thought no one was looking.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Will said looking out the window. He could feel Hopper's eyes on him.

"Where you two em... dating," Hopper asked. This conversation was killing him. Will could feel his face going red.

"No, why would you ask that" Will replied wishing it would come to an end.

"But you love him," Hopper asked quickly.

"No, I... " Will thought about it for a second. He really didn't know why he was lying to Hopper. It was surprising his mother hadn't let it slip to him already.

"Yea I love him, so what" Will replied getting defensive.

"Does your mother know. That you're... you know" Hopper said dancing around that word.

"Does she know I'm Gay," Will asked. He doesn't understand why he is being so forward with him. It still felt weird for him to say it out loud.

"Yea she knows. I suppose you do to" Will realized.

"I'm pretty good at keeping secrets kid," Hopper said smiling in the rearview mirror.

"He's going to need you. I see the way he looks at you too. James built a wall around himself years ago, it was the only way he knew how to survive in the situation he was in. Your the only one I've seen breakthrough it" Hopper added. Will thought about what Hopper said. He tried to get through to James so many time before, each time failing miserably. He is certain he will try again, and again and again. No matter how many times it takes Will was determined to help James recover. Determined to change his view on life, show him it's worth living, show him he doesn't need a needle to hide the pain.

After another few hours, Will could start to see signs for Hawkins. One thing was playing on Wills mind ever since they had left the city. Why did Hopper assume James was angry with him. Hopper said he hates himself. Now that Will thinks about it, he never learned what happened between, what caused James to develop such hatred for Hopper. Surely he couldn't still be pissed about what happened at Bella Thorn's house, it seemed much deeper than that.

"Hey Hop" Will said breaking the silence.

"Yea kid" Hopper replied.

"What... What happened between you and James" Will questioned cautiously. Hopper exhaled slowly and removed a cigarette from his front pocket. Will remained silent as Hopper lift the cigarette and cracked the window.

"Back when I lived in New York, I told someone that Emily White was living in Hawkins Indiana with her son. Word got back to James father and he... he..." Hopper explained.

"James told me what his father did" Will interrupted.

"I'm sorry I didn't" Will tried to apologize.

"It's a fine kid. It was a long time ago, I've accepted the things I cannot change no matter how much pain they are still causing" Hopper replied.

Hopper was driving through the outskirts of Hawkins. The sun was just starting to rise over the tops of the trees. Will's eyes were starting to feel heavy. He tried to remember the last time he had stayed up all night. It was probably the last time they had all played a D&D campaign together. It felt like a million years ago now. Will continued to rub his fingers through James' hair. He hadn't made a noise since getting in the car, Will even had to periodically check if he was still breathing.

Hopper drove down the main street. Will watched the quite street pass by the window. The town looked so peaceful this early in the morning, it almost makes Will laugh when he thinks about Hawkins being the center of an interdimensional rift and government conspiracy. Hopper continued through Hawkins until finally pulling up outside the Hughes residence. Mike and El woke up once the truck stopped moving.

James was still lying quietly across both El and Will. They all exited the truck and Hopper went around the side to carry James out of the car. The chief hoisted him out of the backseat like he weighed nothing. Will reckoned Mike might even be able to carry Mike into his house. They all walked to the front door together. Once they reached the door Mike knocked hard on the door three times. Will assumed they were probably walking them up.

They waited outside for a few moments, Will could hear movement from inside the house. Another few seconds passed before the door swung open. Charles Hughes looked genuinely confused to see all of them standing on his door steep this early in the morning. His eyes went to Hopper first then to the teens than to the man in Hopper's arms. Charlie didn't seem to recognize him. Hopper didn't wait for an invitation he carried James into the house forcing Charles to move to the side.

"What the hell is going on Jim," Charles said turning around to look at his wife, who was standing at the top of the starres in a night dress. Mike, El, and Will followed Hopper into the house without saying anything.

"We found him," Hopper said as he carried James over to the couch and laid him down gently.

"James...JAMES" Jessica shouted as she ran down the stairs. Charles also rushed over to the coach. Once both of them reached James they could see the severity of his condition. Jess broke into tears and planted her face into her husband's chest. Charles was looking pale.

"what...what happened. Where did you find him" Charles breathed.

"he was in Detroit, I got a tip from a detective who works there" Hopper answered.

"Mrs. Hughes can you help him," Will asked. Jessica tried to calm herself and look back at James.

"what happened to him," Jessica asked as she composed her self and knelt down beside James to examine his wounds.

"He got a pretty bad beating and he was...he was stabbed" Hopper explained. Will could see Jessica trying to keep herself together as she removed Hopper's sleeve from around his head.

"And his head," Jessica asked turning to look at Hopper.

"He...He emm" Hopper tried to find the best words.

"He tried to shoot himself" El finished. Charles was the first one to react. He fell to his knees next to his wife. Tears were falling from his ghostly white face. Jessica remained silent, she just continued to poke around the large scar across his head.

"He needs to go the hospital" Jessica finally said.

"No, we don't know what James might have done, can you treat him here" Hopper replied. Jessica started to understand the situation and nodded back to him.

"Honey can you go get my medical bag," Jessica said looking to Charles. He didn't reply at first, but just got to his feet and floated up to the stairs and out of view. Hopper knew he was in shock.

"Thank you, Jim, thank you so much. You're a good man" Jessica said as she got to her feet. She walked to Hopper and tried to wrap her hands around him.

"Everything is going to be okay," Hooper replied hugging her back.

"Thank all of you," Jessica said looking to Will, Mike, and El.

"We're going to go, we will come by later once he awake," Hopper said. Jessica just nodded and turned back to James. Hopper, Mike, and El all started walking back towards the door. Will stayed and watched James for a second. He still couldn't believe he was back in Hawkins, back in his life. Jessica lifted James shirt and looked at the blood-soaked bandage around James' stomach. Will could see every last one of James' ribs sticking out of his skin.

"Byers you coming" Mike called back once he reached the front door. Will turned to Mike and nodded. He took one more look at James before turning and walking over to his friends. They left the house and went back to Hopper's truck. They dropped Mike off first. El had fallen asleep again before they reached Wills house. Once they reached the edge of Will's drive Hopper stopped and turned to face Will.

"You okay kid," Hooper asked.

"yea I'm going to be fine," Will said. He almost believed it too.

"Alright kid, give your mom my best" Hooper said as he exited the truck. Will opened the door to the house as quickly as he could. He thought he had gotten away with it but as soon as he entered the house Joyce was on him. Will didn't have much energy left so he gave her the basics of what happened. She hugged him and told him to get some sleep. He wasn't going to argue, sleep hit him the second his head hit the pillow. He dreamed of James.

Chapter Text


6th July 1986

James woke because of the sharp stabbing pain in his head. He opened his eyes and looked around the room. The room was instantly familiar, it was his. The morning seemed like any other, the sun was shining brightly through the windows, there was a distinct smell of coffee in the air. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Afterall he was in his own bed in his own room. His desk and posters were all in the right position, the clothes in his wardrobe were untouched. It was like any other day. He almost expected to get up, dress and drive the Camero to meet the party for the school.

However, he didn't try to get up. There was something in the back of his mind pulling at him. Something was off, he didn't remember going to sleep the previous night. It was like in a dream when you don't remember waking up. When he thought about it he didn't remember how he got to his house in the first place. What was the last thing he did remember? The sudden confusion was scaring him. He tried to sit up on the bed but was paralyzed by a sudden piercing pain erupting in his stomach. James quickly laid back down on the bed and tried to lift his shirt off. That's when he noticed the pain in his arms and shoulders. His whole body was in agony from the movement. James slowly and gently tried to lift his shirt up again. When his shirt was halfway up his thin body he could feel the thick bandage around his midsection. His ribs ached and were covered in black bruises.

James was confused about the wound for a few seconds before the incident in the ally came rushing back to him. James remembered the pain of the knife opening his stomach, the sting of the knuckles connecting with his jaw and ribs. He clung onto that memory and tried to remember what happened after. The hospital room was the next thing to come to his mind. But he remembered leaving and going to the warehouse and scoring a bag from Flake. How did he end up back in Hawkins? Then it came to him, first, he remembered seeing Hopper and then Mike and El, then finally Will. He remembered arguing with them then Will spoke to him.

James seized up when he finally remembered what happened in Detroit. The whole thing came rushing back to him. Carefully he lifted his hands up to his forehead and felt around the thick bandage. The pain in his head was making more sense. The slightest touch was enough to cause his head to erupt in a new wave of pain. He felt the bridge of his nose and the right side of his face, they didn't feel swollen but it was painful to the touch.

James thought about how the barrel of the gun felt against the side of his temple. The cold steel against his skin, the weight of the gun in his hand. He pulled the trigger, he tried to kill himself. James could feel the tears building up in his eyes. Was it his first suicide attempt. Now that he thinks about it, he has been playing a game of chicken with death for a long time. His father had committed suicide, maybe he should just give up and accept the fact that he is destined to follow in his fathers' footsteps. No matter how much he denied their similarities.

He tried to kill himself in front of the people he loved. James had never hated himself more then he did right now. How could he try and do that to Will? Someone he wanted to never hurt. Someone he thought he loved. If he had ever loved Will he would have never done that to him. The idea of watching Will blow his brains out in front of him made him want to get sick, but he put Will in that position. Forced him to watch him commit suicide. He wondered if Will could ever forgive him for what he put him through. If Will had just stayed away he could have died alone in some ally. The whole reason he left in the first place was to avoid hurting the people in his life he loved.

James tried to avoid the questions he was too afraid to ask. He knew why he did what he did. But did he regret it? Does he want to die? James tried to push the idea deep down inside of him. He couldn't keep it locked away forever but he didn't have to ask himself that right now. For now, he will worry about the things in front of him. Like what the hell he's going to say to his foster parents.

Did James get lucky or unlucky? It scared him either way. James tried to remember what had actually happened that night. He had the barrel of the gun pressed against the side of his head. It didn't make any sense. Why was he still alive? Every logical outcome would result in his death. The gun definitely fired he had the scars to prove it. Did he miss? No, he thought to himself. There was no way he could miss that kind of shot, something else was definitely going on. There was a lot of unexplained things going on. James wasn't stupid. How did Hopper find him in the warehouse all them months ago? How did someone ring him an ambulance when he was stabbed. What was El doing with that blindfold in Mikes basement? It had something to do with the secret the party was keeping from him. It couldn't be a coincidence. Everything was sincerely fucked.

James tried to reach over and drink some of the water left on the side of his bed. It was then he noticed the bottle of pills lying on the bedside table. James' heart lept in his chest. After everything that happened James still couldn't resist the itch. He grabbed the bottle and fumbled with the lid until it popped open. Inside was a single pain killer. James deflated and laid back down in bed. Jess and Charles were smarter than that.

Just as he laid back down the door to his room opened. James stopped breathing when he saw Jess and Charles enter the room. Shit, he thought. Was it too late to pretend to be asleep? Jess and Charles noticed he was awake and slowly entered the room. James could remember the last time he felt this nervous, or this guilty.

"How you feeling," Jess asked waling and talking a seat at the end of the bed. Charles took the desk chair and rolled it next to his wife. James was feeling trapped.

"I am in a lot of pain" James replied. He cursed at himself as soon as he said it. Was there ever a time he wasn't trying to score drugs.

"Yea you were pretty banged up," Charles said.

"I guess so" James replied. The room returned to silence. It was excruciating. James wanted to say so much to them but didn't have a clue where to start. In the silence, James took the single painkiller and threw it down his throat. Jess cleared her throat a bit and looked to Charles.

"James we have a lot to talk about. " Charles said firmly.

"We never had a real discussion about the drugs" He added. James looked away from both of them.

"No we didn't, because I pointed a gun at you and split your head open," James said. He could see the scar on Charles' forehead. The drugs he so desperately replied upon usually made it impossible to feel things like guilt or shame, but now he was drowning in them.

"yes, you did do that, but I forgive..." Charles tried to say.

"Don't do that. I don't deserve it. Do you know where I was when Hopper found me." James interrupted.

"No we don't," Jess said for both of them.

"I was in the hospital with a knife wound, I had gotten into a fight with one of the kids in the house. I was about to be kicked out of my hundredth foster home. The point is I had nothing when I came here. No home, no family. But you gave me both of those things. And look at how I repaid you." James explained. Tears were steadily falling down his skinny cheeks.

"You gave us something we thought we were never going to have again, we love you, James," Jess said as she moved up the bed and took James hands in hers.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," James said as he started sobbing. Jess wrapped him into a hug. James cried on her shoulder for a minute before trying to compose himself. He was so sure his foster parents had forgotten about him, like every other foster parent he ever had.

"James you need to get clean, you can't keep going like this" Charles said once James had wiped his eyes.

"I... I can't it's too hard. I'm not strong enough" James whispered.

"Yes you can, you are the single strongest person I have ever meet, you can do this, we will be there every step of the way," Jess said squeezing his hands. James had never thought about getting clean before. He always assumed he would die with a needle in his arm.

"It won't change anything," James said looking Jess in her eyes. Jess took a deep breath as she prepared to ask him the thing she was most afraid to.

"James. Did you try to kill yourself" Jess asked directly? James dropped her hands as soon as she asked and averted his eyes. He should have seen the question coming but there was something so real about hearing her say it out loud.

"No... No, I..." James tried to lie. He knew it was pointless.

"It was the only way," James said as he felt the tears start again. James had never felt this vulnerable before. He felt like a helpless child.

"The only way for what," Charles asked.

"The only way to permanently stop the constant pain" James replied. Charles exhaled deeply and wiped his own eyes dry. Jess stayed quiet, her face was turning pale.

"Are you going to try again?" Charles asked slowly.

"I... I don't know" James answered honestly.

"I just want it to stop" James added. If he didn't have drugs to numb him anymore what other choice did he have.

"We will help you. Whatever it takes. You're sixteen years old you have your whole life ahead of you" Charles pleaded with him. James didn't reply, he just looked back down at his feet. The room returned to silence. The idea of getting better seemed so foreign to him, never once when he was shooting up did he ever think he was going to have to stop. Getting clean wasn't going to be easy. He had seen first hand what the effects of detoxing done to his father. He didn't want to go through that. It terrified him, but then he thought of Will. If not for himself then maybe he could get better for him, be better for him. James snapped out of that line of thought. He was delusional. The idea of him and Will being like that was crazy, they could only ever be friends, but he had to try.

"Okay, I'll try" James finally said. Charles and Jess's heads both show up when he spoke. They had massive grins on their faces.

"We are going to do this together. Everything is going to be okay" Jess said as she hugged him gently.

"So what now," James asked. Given the state of his condition, he would probably require pain killers for a couple of days. Maybe he could get a week.

"Today and tomorrow for the wound on your head to heal, then you stop," Jess said taking his hand.

"Just like that" James questioned. It all seemed very real now.

"Just like that" Charles said patting him on the shoulder.

"We should let you get some sleep," Jess said as she stood up off the bed.

"Try to get some rest," Charles said as he walked to the bed and wrapped him in another hug. James didn't think he would ever get used to being hugged like that.


7th July 1986

Hawkins usually had good summers, especially around the 4th of July. The weather in the last couple of days had been particularly glorious. Will knew it had its cost. The forecast was dry but Will could feel the coming storm in his bones. His instincts about things were normally dead on. It was always something he could tap into, an itch in the back of his mind telling him the situation was going south. He felt it with the Demogorgon, he felt it with the mind flayer and he felt it when he drove to Detroit to find James. The dread of knowing what was happening but not being able to do a thing to change it.

Will sat in his empty house, listening to the gentle tap of the first few drops of rain colliding with the window. He was going to have to leave soon if he didn't want to be caught in the storm. Will searched for his rain jacket and rain boots, finally finding them in a box under his bed. He sat on the end of the bed to put on the boots. Once he had the boots on he remembered he was sitting in the same place he was sitting when James first kissed him. The kiss had played in his mind a thousand times since it happened. James soft lips on his, the smell of cigarettes and whiskey, his deep blue eyes and wild black hair. The memory was a good one until it was corrupted. James was high then. Once Will thought about it James was high a lot. All the times he seemed out of it or made some bad excuses to leave. Will was a fucking idiot not to have seen it, maybe he just didn't want to admit something was wrong.

Will was pulled out of the memory by a sudden knock on the door. The kiss. It wasn't their last kiss either. James had kissed him when he left Hawkins. That memory was much more unpleasant. The whole fucked up situation was confusing to him. He would have liked to sit and think about it for the rest of the day but there was another knock on the door. Will exhaled loudly and exited his room towards the front door. He didn't need to see who it was, he already knew.

Will opened the door and looked at Mike, Lucus, and Dustin. All of them were dressed for the coming storm, they also looked like they were attending a funeral. Not because of their attire, but because of their facial expressions. Will knew what was upsetting them. A couple of hours after they had returned to Hawkins their friends had demanded information about what happened. Will didn't feel like telling them after he had already explained it all to his mother, so Mike told the guys and El talked to Max. Needless to say, it was obviously a difficult conversation.

"You ready" Mike asked.

"Yea I'm ready" Will replied as he left the house and locked the door behind him. The four of them walked over to where Will kept his bike and the guys dropped theirs.

"Hey Will, you okay," Dustin asked. Will thought about it for a second.

"No Dustin, not really" Will answered truthfully. Normal he would just lie but he was so tired of lying. All four of them mounted their bikes and began cycling away from Will's house. The first few minutes of the journey were spent in absolute silence. They rode in their usual formation.

"Why do you think he... you know," Lucas shouted. Will could see Mike looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Will guessed he wasn't looking at him to gauge his reaction, he was looking at him because he to was not really sure why James tried to do what he did.

"you can ask him yourself" Will replied, he didn't mean for it to sound so passive aggressive. However, Lucus's feelings were the last thing on his mind today. They rode again in silence for a few minutes.

"How bad is he," Lucus asked again. Will could feel the bubble of rage inside him being poked.

"Lucus" Will replied calmly.

"Right, sorry" Lucus added. They continued the rest of the journey without any more questions. Will wanted to feel bad for putting his friends on edge but he had bigger things to worry about. The four teens took the last right towards James house and continued until the impressive house came into view.

Will could feel the nervous building up in his stomach. Although it was dwarfed by his feelings of anger and rage. How could James do something so stupid? Will loved him so much but he was furious. he was in love with a stupid selfish asshole. He tried to calm himself once they pulled up on the Hughes lawn. Max and El were already standing around, waiting for them. They had the same look on their faces as the guys.

Mike, Lucus, Dustin, and Will all disembarked from their bikes and set them down on the lawn. Will could feel the rain finally start to fall heavily. It felt like the sky had given up and released everything it had been holding onto. The whole party ran to the door to seek shelter from the sudden onslaught of torrential rain. El was the one to reach the door first and rock her knuckled against the heavy wooden frame.

Will was getting more nervous by the second. The whole party felt tense in a way that Will had never felt before. There was so much confusion between all of them. James had beaten Dustin. Mike had beaten James. El used her powers around him, multiple times. The tension and guilt clung to all of them. James had fractured the party. Nothing had changed between them but nothing felt the same after he left. Will just wanted everything to go back to the way it was, wanted to clear the air. He also definitely wanted to kick James's ass.

They waited in the rain for a few seconds before Charles opened the door and quickly gestured for them all to come inside. The six of them stayed huddled together in the warm living room like a herd of sheep. Jess was making her way down the stairs.

"Thank all of you for coming," Jess said sincerely.

"Anything for James" Dustin replied for all of them.

"Can we see him?" Will said not waiting for Jess to reply.

"Of course, just remember he's still recovering so take it easy," Jess said as she directed them upstairs. The party, like a herd of sheep, followed her in silence. Once they got to the top Jess stopped outside a closed door.

"He's right inside, I'll come and check on you in a few minutes, you can't stay for too long," Jess said opening the door and turning to walk back down the stairs. The party started at one another for a second, silently debating who should go in first. Max opened her mouth to say something, but Dustin interrupted her by walking past her and straight into James room. The rest of the party followed.

Will looked around the room for the first time. He often wondered what way James would keep his room. James had told him that there where foster homes he didn't even bother unpacking his suitcase. This room told a different story. James clothes hung in the wardrobe, his school books were sprawled on his desk, rock and car posters littered the walls. In the center of the room, James was sitting up in a king-sized bed.

Will took a closer look at James' face. He was still incredibly skinny and was sporting a wild beard. His forehead was wrapped in a new thick white bandage. His nose looked like Jess had painfully shifted it back in place. The swelling on his nose and face had gone down. James looked like he could finally see out of his right eye, but the white of his eye was flooded with blood. The swelling was replaced by a horrendous black and purple color that spread over half of his face. Will imagined his body was covered in similar dark bruises. Will had prepared himself for what they were looking at, he had already seen the worst of it. The same couldn't be said for Max, Lucus, and Dustin. The three of them starred in shock at the man on the bed, he wasn't recognizable.

"Hey dude," Dustin asked awkwardly.

"Hey guys, thanks for coming" James replied. The party took different seats around the bed. Will decided to lean against the desk furthest away from the bed.

"You look like shit" Max suddenly said. James giggled a little until he painfully clutched at his stomach.

"Oh, don't make me laugh" James replied smiling. Will liked how he smiled but he wondered if it was real.

"James about what happened in Detroit..." El tried to say.

"Thank you, for coming to get me" James interrupted.

"James you tried..." El stressed.

"I know what I tried to do. It was a mistake" James interrupted again. Will watched his face closely. He doubted James really believed it was a mistake.

"We are all here for you, we all love you," El said.

"I appreciate it. But there's a couple of things I want to say. Dustin, I don't even know how to start to say sorry for what I did" James said looking Dustin in the eye.

"It's okay, I know it wasn't you, It wasn't who you really are" Dustin replied.

"I beat you and you still told everyone because it was what was best for me, even if I couldn't see it at the time. Your a good friend Dustin" James said sincerely. WIll could see Dustin tear up a bit.

"Mike, El I said some fucked up shit to you before I left, I'm sorry," James said now turning to face the Mike and El who were sitting together at the end of James bed.

"No James, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have hit you I..." Mike said quickly.

"It's okay. I had it coming" James laughed.

"Max, Lucus, all of you, I'm sorry for putting you through all of this," James said looking to all of them. Will stayed silent and James skipped over him.

"We forgive you, James" Mike said on behalf of all of them. Will exhaled sharply through his nose. Mike seemed not to notice. Forgiveness was something Will was struggling with since he got back from Detroit.

"What about the... you know... drugs and stuff," Max whispered. Everyone seemed to go quiet. They all had their own questions about that. James exhaled deeply.

"I'm trying to get clean" James answered slowly.

"How did it start, why did you start," Lucus asked.

"I know it seems strange. It started out with a couple of pills to relax, then a couple to get through the day. Then I discovered how little I feel when I'm on them. They became constant. After I visited my father I went to get more but my dealer was out, so I improvised. I suppose you can guess the rest " James said as he shifted in his bed. The topic was clearly an uncomfortable one for him. Will knew he was ashamed of it.

"What will happen to you now" Mike asked.

"Nothing good Mike, I don't want any of you around for a week or two," James said seriously.

"We can help" El replied.

"No I don't want you to see me like that, please" The room returned to silence. Will was still standing at the desk.

"Come on guys enough about me, I haven't seen you in months what have you been doing," James asked, the tension in the room was being to deflate as Dustin talked about what he had been doing during the summer. Especially how much he loved Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the Karate Kid part 2. He practically explained the whole films to James.

The whole party essentially summed up the last couple of months of their lives for James. Will thought James looked happy to sit there and listen to his friends tell stories of the parties antics. Every now and again Will could spot a hint of sadness in James' eyes. Most of the time it was when they told him about the big moments he missed like Mikes sixteenth birthday. The party stayed and talked with James for over an hour but Will never opened his mouth.

"She's not real" Mike joked.

"She is real, son of a bitch. Her name is Suzie" Dustin replied.

"Really, hotter than Phoebe Cats" James questioned.

"Yous guys are such losers" Max laughed. Dustin opened his mouth to retaliate but was denied by the sound of knocking on James door. Everyone looked to the door and watched Jess poke her head through.

"Hey Guys, visiting hours are over," She said smiling to them.

"I don't care if you don't believe me she's real. I'll see you soon dude. You're going to kick this thing in the ass" Dustin said as he walked over to James and hugged him.

"We are here if you need us" El added, hugging him after Dustin. They all hugged him and assured him that no matter how bad it was going to get, he was going to get through it.

"Thanks, guys, your the best," James said after hugging Max last. Will was the only one to not say anything. The rest of the party turned for the door and waved goodbye. Will silently followed them out of the room.

"Will," James said. Will stopped just at the edge of the door. The party turned around and looked at him.

"You guys go on, I'll head home by myself," Will said to the rest of the party. Everyone else just nodded there heads and gave one last wave goodbye to James. Once the door was closed behind them Will walked slowly back towards James bed. The tension in the room was nail-biting. Will had so much he wanted to say but couldn't think of a single word.

"Will I don't know where to start?" James said quietly. Will chuckled out loud.

"Why don't I give it a try," Will said sarcastically.

"Will I..." James whispered.

"No, No, No I'll give it a shot. Let's see. First, you kissed me and pretended it never happened." Will hissed. James flinched a bit when Will spoke.

"Then you ignored me for months. Then you absolutely broke me in the school parking lot after I found out you were a drug dealer." Will continued. He couldn't help but pace back and forwards around James room. James just continued to stare at him and remained silent.

"Then you tried to leave Hawkins forever, without saying goodbye. I told you how I felt. Told you the thing that scares me the most and you rejected me. Kissed me and left me for good." Will added.

"Will please I" James interrupted.

"IM NOT FINISHED. You looked me in the eye and tried to FUCKING kill yourself" Will shouted. James was stunned. Neither of them had seen Will angry like this before.

"I think that's a FUCKING good place to start," Will shouted. James looked like he had been slapped. Will exhaled deeply and tried to calm himself. Will didn't know he had that inside of him, but once he released it he felt a thousand times better.

"What were you thinking," Will said calmly.

"I wasn't I suppose. I'm sorry Will. About everything." James muttered. Will took another long deep breath and sat beside James on the bed. The closer he got to him the worse his face looked.

"Why did you kiss me," Will asked plainly. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest. James looked up at him.

"Because I wanted to, why did you kiss me back" James answered. Will nervously shifted in the bed.

"Because I wanted to," Will asked. James laughed and clutched his stomach again. Will smiled for the first time since entering the room.

"James, I'm gay," Will said with a smile. It felt good to say it out loud to him.

"Yea I guessed as much" James laughed.

"Will I don't know what I am. I've liked girls before but I look at you and it's different. I've never felt anything like it before." James admitted.

"It doesn't matter anyway. We could never be like that" James said.

"Stranger Things have happened," Will said with a smile. James opened his mouth to argue but Will quickly closed the distance between them. Will kissed him softly. He didn't really know he was going to do it until he was an inch from James' face. Will pulled away from him slowly. It was the first time Will had initiated a kiss.

"Nobody has to know," Will said leaning in and kissing him again. This time he lingered for a few seconds. James didn't pull away either.

"I love you, Will," James said breaking from the kiss.

"I love you too" Will replied. Will leaned in to continue their kiss but jumped in the bed at the sound of the door knocking. Jess opened the door and looked in, she looked confused when she spotted Will.

"Oh sorry I thought everyone left," She said.

"Mrs. Hughes if it's alright with you I want to stay," Will said. James looked surprised by the question.

"Will, absolutely not," James said strictly.

"I'm not letting you go through this without a friend. I'm not leaving. No matter how long it takes." Will said. His tone implied he wasn't going to change his mind.

"Will honey, I don't think you fully understand how bad things could get," Jess said sympathetically.

"Trust me I've seen worse" Will replied.

"Okay then I'll have to talk to your mom, but if she says okay then I'll get Charles to make up the spare room," Jess said as she left the room. Will got up to follow her out of the room.

"Thank you, Will," James said before he left.

"You can thank me by getting better," Will said before walking out of the room. How the hell was he going to explain this to his mother?


Chapter Text

8th July 1986

James turned over in the bed for the hundredth time. No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn't stay still. Nothing made him comfortable. Every slight movement caused him enormous pain. His body was burning him from the inside out. He sweated through the bedsheets quicker than they could be changed. His body was an inferno, but he knew soon the cold would return. It would come out of nowhere and he would be freezing. No matter how many blankets he was wrapped in he could never get warm. That's how it had been so far. Scotching one minute, then glacial the next. It was absolute torture for James.

Will was sitting on the desk chair which he pushed up next to James bed. His face told James things weren't going well, he was in a bad condition. Will insisted he was okay, that things were going good. Bullshit James thought. He knew things where bad but he also knew it was going to get worse, a lot worse. Will had not left James's side since he came. James told him he should go home, but it was the last thing he wanted. He needed Will now more than anything, but he hated thinking of himself as a burden. He didn't want to be some helpless child that needed a babysitter. Although James realized he barely had the strength to lift his arms above his head. Will just ignored his suggestions to leave and James couldn't be more pleased that he did.

Jess and Charles rotated spending time with him. When Jess is with him she usually just plays a board game or something. Charles usually puts a movie on or listens to records. Will normally just talked or read him comics or books until he passed out. James welcomed the distractions, he needed anything that took his mind off the withdrawals.

The pain in his head and stomach were elevated. Every nerve in his body felt hypersensitive. Jess had changed his bandages and disinfected the two severe wounds. It was possibly the worst pain James had ever felt. Will stayed in the room when she did it. He could remember Will's face dropping when he saw the massive stab wound and the gash in his head. James's body and face were still covered in painful black bruises.

James thought he was tough. He thought he could force himself through this, but now he was having doubts. His nose any eyes wouldn't stop running no matter how much he rubbed them dry. It was worse than any cold he had ever had. There was an ache in all of his joints like they were filled with glass. Every time he moved he could feel the tendons and ligaments seizing. His skin was itchy and it felt like it was too big for him. Having an itch that couldn't be scratched was driving him to the edge of madness.

Just the thought of food made him vomit. Even if he wasn't thinking about the food he vomited anyway. He had shit himself twice since the withdrawal had started. Drinking water was getting more difficult. Will was never supposed to see him like this. however, James was so far past pride or ego. It was at this point James began to beg for the release of death. Every second that passed felt like an hour. Time was irrelevant, it had no meaning to him anymore. James started to wish he hadn't missed with that bullet. Every time the idea would pop in his head, he would curse himself. He wanted to live, didn't he?

"Will please... talk to me," James said through clenched teeth as he rolled onto his back. Will could see how much pain he was in.

"About what," Will asked.

"Anything. Talk to me about anything" James spat out quickly.

"Okay... Emm, let me think" Will scrambled.

"I punched Troy in the face" Will added quickly. The surprise on Will's face indicated he wasn't planning on telling him that story. James sat up a bit and looked at Will in the eyes. Once he saw that Will was serious he burst out laughing.

"What happened," James asked after his laughter was cut short by a searing pain in his entire body.

"We were in class and Troy was being Troy" Will responded.

"What did he say to you" James inquired.

"He called me gay and said you were a drug addict.... that sucks.... you know, for money" Will replied. James smiled at his answer.

"Ha, Troy can be a real prick. I'm guessing he didn't take being punched well" James said.

"No, he punched me back, but the teacher saw him and nobody was going to believe I hit him first, so he got suspended," Will said with a smile. James was fighting not to break out laughing again.

"So Troy said I was an addict. Anybody believe him" James said. Will looked away for a second. James already got his answer.

"I'm sorry James. The party tried to tell people you were visiting family, but the rumors started building up. Most people gossip about the freshmen drug addict. It's was all anyone talked about before summer." Will explained. James took a deep breath.

"I don't care what people think about me, I care what you think," James said. He was used to people thinking he was a freak, especially after Bella's house.

"I know who you are," Will said stretching across and holding James's hand in his. To James, it felt like a lifeline.

"You have grown so much since I left," James said with a smile. He couldn't believe how much Will had changed and grown.

"What happened in Detroit. What have you been doing for the last four-months" Will asked? James was thinking about how to defect the question the same way he did a thousand times when Will asked him something about his past or questions a lie. This time was different, James didn't want to lie anymore.

"Ha, Where to start" James chuckled and squeezed James' hand.

"I spent most days in a haze, to be honest. I usually stayed in some run-down crack house, stoned on heroin or crack or anything else I could get my hands on" James answered. Out of the corner of his eye, he was gauging Wills reaction. So far Will didn't even blink, he just continued to hold James' hand.

"What was that place we found you in," Will asked.

"I don't know to be honest. Peter's group of outcasts I suppose. I would be dead by now if I didn't have that place to fall back on when things got rough" James said. It was strange for James to think back on all the times he recovered under Peter's care. He never really thanked him.

"And your injuries" Will enquired.

"I was getting desperate. I burned through every last dollar I had. I tried to sell the last of my stash to get some quick cash. Turns out I sold some drugs to the wrong guys. They stole my money and kicked the shit out of me. It was my own... Ugg" James said leaning forward. The pain in his stomach was suddenly spiking, the night in the ally was a painful memory. it wasn't easy for him to relive. He could feel himself starting to panic

Will instantly reacted to James's sudden discomfort and tried to help but there was nothing he could do. James waved for the bucket that was stationed beside his bed. Will quickly understood what he needed and grabbed the bucket. He positioned it in front of James just in time. James could feel the familiar pain of vomit and bile burning its way up his throat. Will patted him on the back until he was finished vomiting. James collapsed back onto the bed.

Will picked the bucket and brought down the hall into the bathroom. James just stared at the ceiling. The conversation had done a good job killing the pain but now it was back in full force. Will returned a few minutes later and put a glass of water to his lips James drank what he could. James could see Will was looking anxious again.

"Will it's okay. I'm going to be okay" James said trying to sound confident.

"Are you going to tell you step-parents about us?" Will asked.

"Tell them that I like you? Will I'm happy you were comfortable enough to tell your family, but I'm just not there yet" James answered. It's not like he was afraid to tell Jess and Charles he is attracted to Will, it was more like it was private or something.

"What about our friends," Will asked shyly.

"Probably not a good idea. I'm sorry Will, We don't even know what this is yet" James answered. He didn't like the idea that he was forcing Will to keep a secret that he would be more comfortable revealing.

"It's okay. I'm not ready to tell the party" Will replied.

"You know you still haven't told me about that big secret yet" James smiled. He was expecting Will to panic or squeal but instead, he just laughed.

"I'll tell you but it's not exactly the time or place." Will laughed.

"Fair enough" James responded. He didn't even care about secrets anymore. He was here with Will and once he kicked this thing everything could go back to normal. He wanted to belive that so badly but a small part of his brain was telling him it was never going to be okay. The reason he started using in the first place was still lurking deep down in him. He was still carrying all that depression and grief around. Only now he wasn't going to be able to rely on drugs to lighten the load. James rolled over in bed and tried to get some sleep but the train of thought wouldn't leave him. What if he was broken and couldn't be fixed.

12th July 1986

Will sat watching James as he slept. It wasn't a peaceful sleep, not by a long shot. James had promised he was going to get better but his condition was deteriorating every day. He had stopped eating completely and was unconscious most of the time. If he was awake he usually was delirious. Jess had given him an ice bath in an attempt to lower his fever but it seemed not to work. Nothing they tried helped James. In the end, all they could do was watch him go through this torture and make sure he wasn't going through it alone.

Will was sitting on the sofa that Charles had dragged into James's room for him. Every night Jess told him he should go home and every night he politely refused. Will hadn't been home in over five days. Joyce called often to check up on him or bring him fresh clothes but she never asked him to come home. Will appreciated her understanding what he was going through. James was talking in his sleep. His attempts to decode the frantic mumbling had failed so far. It was most likely just a fever dream. Jess entered the room after gently knocking the door.

"Hey Will. your mom's downstairs," She said as she walked over to James and started to put a thermometer in his mouth.

"Thanks, Jess" Will replied as he got up from the sofa. What was his mother doing her? He was running out of fresh clothes but he hadn't asked her to bring him some. Will entered the kitchen and found Joyce sitting down at the table drinking a cup of tea.

"Hey, baby. I got you some clean clothes" She said standing up.

"Thanks, mom" Will replied as he crossed the room and hugged her. No matter how old he got he knows he isn't ever going to outgrow a hug from his mother. Will held on for a couple of extra seconds.

"You going to come home soon. I'm getting worried Will" Joyce said once Will had released her from his grip. They both took a seat at the kitchen table.

"I'm sorry I think it's going to be a little longer," Will said.

"How is he," Joyce asked him.

"Jess says it's going to get worse before it gets better but I don't see how he could get any worse than now. He is rarely awake. Jess id going to put him on an IV." Will stopped. It was hard for him to talk about this.

"I'm sorry Will," Joyce said holding his hand.

"You're friends are worried about you." She added.

"really," Will asked.

"Yea they come by every day to see if your home yet" Joyce replied with a smile. Will smiled aswell. He would like to see them but James had made them promise to wait until he was over this. If he gets over this. Will pushed the idea away instantly.

"He's going to be fine," Joyce said as if she could almost read his thoughts.

"I know I'm just... I can't lose him again" Will said.

"So is he like your boy..." Joyce started.

"MOM please," Will said suddenly laughing.

"Okay okay, I was just asking," Joyce said before she started giggling.

"Thanks for coming. I needed this" Will amitted. Joyce stayed for about an hour. Will stayed in the kitchen with her and talked the whole time. Johnathon had called relentlessly since Joyce had caught up with the situation. Even Nancy was concerned about James despite having never had a direct conversation with him. Joyce had been supplying Hopper with constant updates on James condition. Will thought about all the people who cared for James if only he could see it.

Will hugged Joyce goodbye and promised he would be home as soon as he could. He returned to his position on the sofa next to James bed. There where several occasional Will crawled into James bed and cuddled next to him. Always with his head on James skinny chest listening to his heartbeat. He had fallen asleep like that for the last couple of nights. The worst thing he could imagine is hearing an end to that persistent beating. Jess had set up the IV in his neck due to all the veins in his arms and legs being shrunk.

Will could feel the tiredness weigh on him. His eyes were getting drowsy and his arms and legs felt like weights. He finally closed his eyes and sunk into the sofa.

"WILL, Is that you," James said suddenly.

Will shoot up on the sofa and looked around the room. James was lying on his side with his eyes open. It was the most conscious he had been in days. Will could feel genuine hope, he was getting better.

"James your awake" Will said getting off the sofa and approaching the bed. The room was dark and Will struggled to fully make out James' face. The closer he got the more he could see the slick shine of seat on James forehead or the bones in his jawline poking out from him clenching his teeth so hard.

"I'm right here," Will said once he was next to James.

"Will... Will... help me," James said. He pushed his hand off the bed and tried to grab Will. Will took his hand and held it firmly.

"Yeah, sure whatever you need" Will replied quickly. His hope for James recovery was plummeting. He was in more pain than ever.

"Mirk... Mirkwood. Follow Mirkwood until an old radio tower" James spat out with. His face was turning red veins were popping from his forehead and neck. Will was getting scared.

"James I don't know what your talking..." Will said confused. He was on the brink of tears.

"Listen to me, Will. Once you get to the tower there is a dirt road. Follow it until you get to a caravan" James hissed. Each word he spoke seemed to add to his agony.

"What does this have to do..." Will said.

"Listen, Will, please. Knock on the caravan. Tell Spoon I sent you" James cried.

"Who the hell is Spoon" Will questioned.

"FUCK SAKE Will please just go. Give him some money and he will give you a package. Bring it straight back here okay" James shouted. Will finally understood what he was asking him to do.

"I'm not buying you drugs" Will whispered.

"Please I can't do this anymore" James cried. Will couldn't believe he was saying this. James couldn't just give up again, he wouldn't let him.

"James just hang on. Please just a little longer okay. You can do this I know you can" Will said as his tears started making their way down his face.

"I need the FUCKING drugs. Please, Will. Please if you love me, help me" James cried desperately.

"I am helping you," Will said dropping him to his side. Without another word, Will walked out to the room and collapsed on the outside of James door. A significant part of him wanted to do as James asked. He hated seeing him like this. If there was a way to make him feel better shouldn't he help him? Will cursed at himself for even thinking about it. There was only one way they could fo now. Forward.

18th July 1986

The worst of the symptoms seemed to past a few days ago. After he stopped sweating and vomiting he was just tried. Although he slept every day since the withdrawal started he didn't feel rested. Instead, he felt drained. The last few days had been spent sleeping or getting out of bed to move around or getting some fresh air. Jess had kicked his ass when she found him out the back smoking some cigarettes he had stashed away. One habit at a time he told himself and smoked away. The first day his muscles ached with stiffness but finally, after everything that happened, he was starting to feel like himself again. He felt clear for the first time since he started popping pills. The worst was definitely behind him.

James sat up in bed eating waffles with a way to much maple syrup. It felt good to eat real food again. Being able to taste food was something he didn't know he missed until he started eating again, but fuck did he miss it all the same. His appetite had returned with a vengeance. Jess couldn't keep up with his constant hunger and meal requests.

James had demanded Will go home a few days ago once the withdrawal symptoms subsided. Will wanted to stay but James convinced him to he was well enough to be alone. Jess and Charles started going back to work and James were left in the house alone. Ever since Will left all he could do was think about what the boy had done for him. There was no chance he could have gotten through this fucked up ordeal if Will hadn't been by his side every step of the way. It meant more to him than he could ever really express, but he would try to no matter how long it takes. He would pay Will back if it was the last thing he ever did. He started with apologizing for putting Will in a horrible position by asking him to buy drugs. it was a hard conversation but Will understood he was just in pain. Will did the right thing no matter what James had said at the time. It didn't take much for Will to forgive him and James loved him for it.

James finished his breakfast and crawled out of the bed. He made his way into the bathroom and started hid morning routine. Once he finished showering he looked at himself in the steamy mirror. The was a dull pang in his chest. He pushed it aside quickly. The time for self-hatred and pity had passed, it was time to come to terms with his internal damage. Starting with the fact he was his father's son and there was nothing that could ever change that. James can't control the fact they share the same name or the same face. But he can make sure that's all they have in common.

Jess had removed the stitches from his head the previous morning. All of the swellings had gone and most of the bruising were just a light blue and faded black. His cracked ribs had healed well but the stitches and bandage on his stomach would have to stay on for another week. James looked at his appearance in the mirror for a few minutes before pulling an electric razor out of the draw and getting to work. He carefully cut around the scar on his head. He completely shaved off his beard and cut his hair short. Cutting his hair was something he learned at a young age living in the foster system. The short hair revealed more of the scar on his forehead but he didn't mind too much. The more he looked at the scar the less sense it made. The angle was a complete mystery to him. How could someone possibly miss like that? James tended to shrug off questions about it quickly, preferring not to dwell on that night too much.

The clothes he dressed in were way too big for him. It looked strange but he wasn't too bothered about his style at the moment. As he walked out of the bathroom he spotted the leather jacket he stole from the hospital. It to was probably too big for him but he tried it on anyway. There was something strange about wearing it. It made him feel stronger for some reason. He couldn't quite put his finger on it. Maybe it just reminded him of his progress. Regardless he left it on and walked down to the kitchen. Jess and Charles were both sitting at the table enjoying there day off.

"Woah James you look good," Jess said lifting her eyes from the newspaper.

"You think, even with this on my head," James said sarcastically and pointed to the scar on his head.

"You know chicks love scars," Charles said.

"Is that right" James laughed.

"You know I won over Jess with this bad boy" Charles announced proudly displaying a small scar just under his right knee.

"Crashed my bike in college. Six stitches but I'm not bragging" Charles boasted.

"Wow, impressive. you're a real badass" James replied rolling his eys causing Jess to laugh and Charles to deflate a little.

"Remeber you have your first session with Dr. O'Brien tomorrow," Charles said.

"Yea I remember," James said unenthusiastically. They all had agreed James needed to deal with his anger and grief in a healthier way. Heroin wasn't very sustainable and Charles had a colleague who had experience dealing with similar cases. James wasn't entirely convinced seeing a shrink was going to help him but at this point, he didn't have anything to lose.

"I'm heading over to Will's can one of you give me a lift," James asked. He was overly excited for his first time out to the house. But was also a little terrified about hanging out with the party again. Jess and Charles shared a weird look.

"Why don't you drive," Charles said tossing him the familiar keys. His heart leaped in his chest as soon as he caught them. Was this happening?

"Shit really," James asked in shock.

"It's your car, James. If you think you're okay to drive than its fine with us" Jess said with a smile.

"After what I did I thought I would never see it again," James said.

"Look James we are not going to punish you. You made a big mistake and you regret it. Addiction isn't something that you can just discipline out of someone. It's more complicated than that" Jess replied. James stayed quite. Jess approached him and wrapped her arms around him. James relished these embraces more than Jess could ever understand.

"Thanks, mom I'll see you later," James said turning to walk out of the back door. As he walked to the door he waited for them to say goodbye but it never came. James turned around slightly confused and was surprised to see Jess staring at him with tears in her eyes. James looked to Charles for answers but he just had a massive grin across his face. After a few bewildering seconds, it hit him like a bus. He had called her mom. It just came out, he didn't even mean to call her that.

"I emm... Got to go" James quickly added and left towards the garage. He opened the car door and sat in silence for a minute. Jess had felt like a mother to him for a long time now but he never acknowledged it before or vocalized it. Every time he thought about Jess in that way he would be overcome with guilt as if he was betraying his real mother. James knew it was foolish, she was gone and there was nothing that could change that, it was time to move on and accept what can't be changed. James inhaled deeply, taking in that old leather smell of the Camero. It was his favorite smell in the world. He gripped the leather steering wheel with one hand and turned the ignition with the other. The engine roared to life in the small garage. He didn't realize how much he could miss a stupid car.

He drove to Wills house faster than he probably should. If there was one good thing about living in a small town it was the lack of police monitoring roads. The closer he got to Wills house the more nervous he started to get. What was he going to do if Joyce opened the door instead of Will? Will and his family and Hopper were the only people in Hawkins that new about him. It was definitely going to be awkward.

James pulled into Wills drive and turned off the engine. A part of him thought about just honking the horn and waiting outside for Will but that was a cowardly thing to do. He was going to have to talk to Will's family sooner or later. James took a deep breath and jumped out of the car. The walk to his door felt like an entirety. James' palms were sweating and the scar on his head was starting to sting. He knocked on the door three times and took a step back. To his surprise, it wasn't Will or Joyce who opened the door. Johnathon stood in the door looking at him for a few seconds before stepping aside and gesturing for him to enter. James entered the small house without a word and stood in the living room.

"So Johnanton I thought you and Nancy were staying in New York for the summer," James said. The small talk was painful.

"On vacation" Johnathon replied sharply.

"So... Where is Will," James asked. The tension in the room was becoming unbearable.

"He'll be out in a minute" Johnathon replied quickly.

"Will told me about the two of you. So are you like dating" Johnathon asked. James almost jumped at the question. He really didn't know how to respond to something like that. Fuck he wished Will was here to answer it for him.

"Is this the older brother speech?" James asked, deflecting the question. It wasn't that he was ashamed of being with Will but he wouldn't call it dating either. Dating envolved dinners and making out in movie theaters. They couldn't do the normal couple stuff like hold hands or kiss in public no matter how much they wanted to.

"No this is the, please don't hurt him again speech," Johnathon said sincerely. James went quite. All of a sudden the guilty came rushing back. He had always assumed leaving Hawkins had hurt WIll but he was too afraid to see how badly it hurt him.

"I wont, I promise" James replied.

"I will hold you to that" Johnathon said just as Will emerged from his room down the corridor. Once they saw each other they had a matching pair of grins. James could never no smile when he saw him.

"What are you guys talking about," Will asked once he was in the living room.

"Baseball," James said.

"Music," Johnathon said. Both of them shared a nervous glance.

"okayyy. You ready to go" Will said looking at James.

"Sure" James replied nodding to Johnathon on his way ou the door. Will walked around the car into the passenger seat. As soon as they started to drive Will was fiddling with the radio and selecting what cassettes to listen to. James watched Will out of the corner of his eye the whole time. Them being in the car together, just driving and listening to music was blissful. It made him sad that Mikes basement was only a ten-minute drive. Even if he crawled there. James wasn't going to let this moment pass him by.

"James, I thought we were going to Mikes," Will asked confused. James had taken a turn in a completely different direction.

"The party can wait," James said with a mischievous smile. It only took a couple of minutes for Will to figure out where they were going. James drove the Camero through the busted open gate in the query and drove up to the cliff where they had spent that night together. James parked the car and turned down the radio. Both of them sat in silence for a few minutes as James thought about what to say. James took a deep breath and leaned over to Will.

"Will I literally owe you my life. I don't how what I can do to make it up to you but I will try" James said breaking the silence. Will looked a little surprised to hear it.

"James you don't owe me anything" Will replied as he turned and faced James. They were closer now. Their noses were almost touching.

"Will I owe you everything," James said again. Instead of replying Will closed the distance and kissed him gently. After a second he pulled away much to James disappointment. Before Will opened his eyes again James dragged him closer and kissed him again. This time it was different. Very different, it was sexual and passionate. James could feel Wills tongue pressing against his. Nothing they had done before was close to this, previously their kiss would last a few seconds but this was continuing. It wasn't only not stopping it was getting faster and more intense as it went on. James could feel how hungry Will was, the boy was pushing against him and running his hands through James' hair. It was driving him crazy. James could feel his cock painfully pressing on his jeans. It was good to know the drugs hadn't affected him in that area but he was getting dangerously close to ruining his jeans. James didn't care, nothing as going to make him stop. However, Will painfully ran his fingers over the wound on his head.

"Ahggg" James grunted pulling away from their make-out session.

"Shit sorry" Will panicked.

"It's fine," James said quickly. They were both out of breath and breathing heavily. Besides there breathing the car was dead silent. It was awkward. The longer the silence went on the more uncomfortable the situation was getting. James hand even looked at Will since they stopped. Both of them sat in there seat staring out the front window. James snook a peak ant Will and found him looking back at him. Once they made eye contact Will started to grin. It wasn't long before both of them were crying in fits of hysterical laughter. Neither of them knew exactly why they were laughing but they knew they weren't able to stop. All the awkwardness melted in seconds.

"We should probably get to Mikes" Will struggled to say between bouts of laughter.

"Yea alright" James said turning the key in the ignition and driving out of the query the same way he drove in. James and Will talked the whole way to Mikes house. They talked about the kiss they just had but also about random movies James hadn't seen or comic books he had missed. Once they parked outside Mikes house Will opened the door and got off the car. James hesitated for a second then followed Wills lead. He was nervous to see the party again. He had apologized to all of them but it still felt weird. What he did to them was unforgivable.

Will walked down the side of the house to the basement door and opened it without knocking. Will entered first and James followed. Mike and El wherein there usual spot on the couch. Lucus and Dustin were playing a game fo chess while Max played the Atari. All of them stared at James. It was like some weird calm before a storm. James' stomach dropped. In a split second, they were on him. Each of them hugged him or kissed him on the check. They were excited to see him and he was excited to see them.

"Dude you look so much better," Dustin said.

"That is one gnarly scar" Max added.

"We missed you" El quickly added slapping Max on the arm.

"I missed you guys too," James replied. Once the initial excitement had calmed down the party returned to the beginning position. James sat with Mike and El and talked to them for a while. He played Chess with Lucas and Dustin. He was in the middle of a game of Donkey Kong with Max when Will stood up to say something. For the last hour or so he was quickly whispering with Mike and El. James started to get worried when he noticed how nervous WIll looked. It wasn't exactly a nervous look it was more like fear.

"Hey, guys," Will said to the room. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to him. Even his voice sounded shaky.

"El and I were talking and we agreed to tell James the truth. The truth about the upside-down." Will announced.

What the hell is the upside down?

Chapter Text

18th July 1986

James watched as the plastic Melian Falcon floated high in the middle of the room. His already painful head was spinning. What they told him couldn't be true there was no way in hell it could all be true. It must be some kind of complex magic trick involving wires or mirrors or something. It was a prank that's all, probably orchestrated by Dustin. Then he got the rest of the party in on it because there was no way it was true. Yet here was the proof right in front of his eyes. James knew it wasn't a prank or a practical joke. The story made sense regardless of how absolutely outrageous it was. James ran over it in his head trying to find any fault or hole in the story but it was flawless. Everything was explained. The consequential secret they where keeping from him. The Demogorgon, Wills fear, the way El could always find him.

All of a sudden he finally realized what had happened that dreadful night in Detroit. He was right, there was no way James could have fucked up shooting himself that bad. It was because he didn't. El had moved the gun with her mind. Just the thought of that sentence made his head spin all over again. A sudden wave of gratitude washed over him. El was another person added to the long list of people who saved James life.

The Melian Falcon toy crashed into the basement floor. The sudden noise made James jump in his seat. He looked up and realized the whole party was just staring at him. He also noticed a small trail of blood running down El's nose. She wiped it away with the back of her hand. James looked back at them and panicked. Was he supposed to say something?

"James are you okay," Will said breaking the silence that had enveloped the room since El demonstrated her abilities. James looked back into Will's eyes. He could clearly see how worried he looked. How afraid he was of James rejecting him once he knew the truth. He seemed so vulnerable.

"I... I need a cigarette" James whispered. He struggled to his feet and walked slowly to the basement door. His mind was going a mile a minute thinking about everything they had told him. Will got to his feet to follow him out the door.

"Will can you give me a second" James said with a weak smile. Will just nodded and sat back down looking a bit defeated. It made James stomach heart hurt a little. The warm air hit him like a wave. James fumbled in his jeans for a cigarette and a lighter. However, lighting the damm thing proved to be more difficult than he thought. His hands wouldn't seem to stop shaking. He didn't even know why they were shaking. Was it fear or shock?

James took a deep pull of his cigarette. Out of everything, he learned in the last hour the one thing his mind kept returning to was what Will had been through. Learning El had superpowers was definitely world-shaking but finally been giving the opportunity to fully know Will was all he had wanted since the first time he talked to him. However, James still couldn't help but feel awful. Will had been through so much. He had dealt with just as much trauma as James had in his life. After everything that happened between them, he finally realized why he was drawn to the boy all them months ago. He understood why Will alway had such a commanding presence in his thoughts. That unexplainable connection they had made so much sense now. They where that same in so many ways. But Will was stronger than he was. He was so much stronger than James. He didn't need drugs to deal with his pain he didn't act out or have problems with violence. Will haad a strength that James could only dream of possessing. He loved him so much.

The idea of interdimensional monsters was fucking crazy. All of a sudden he felt so small, so insignificant. What was kicking a drug addiction compared to monsters trying to invade this world or dimension or time? James didn't even want to think about what the upside-down really was. It could drive a man sense if he thought about it too much, he remembered what the party had told him about doctor Brenner, a shiver ran down his spine.

Fear wasn't the only thing that was affecting his body. Jess had long conversations to him about what to avoid in the first few months of sobriety. Temptations, bad influencers things like that. But she told him stress was a key factor in a lot of relapses. It made sense because fuck did he want to shoot up. James feared the need would never go away. He rocked his head off the back of the house. The small knock caused enough pain to clear his head a little. He chain-smoked two more cigarettes before the urge for heroin started to pass him.

James hesitated before going back into the basement. What the hell was he going to say? What did they want him to say? It's no big deal that they literal might have saved the world. He took a deep breath and opened the basement door. The room was dead silent. All eyes were on him as he walked back to his original seat.

"Are you okay?" El asked. She looked scared of what he might say.

"It was a lot for me to hear too" Max added.

"It's pretty cool though, right," Dustin said with a smile. Everyone else just sighed.

"Dude shut up," Lucas said slapping Dustin's bicep with the back of his hand.

"What I thought it was cool when I found out" Dustin argued. At this point, James wasn't even listening to the two of them arguing. He was to busy going over the whole story in his head again.

"What. Dude, you freaked out like a total baby" Lucus shot back at him.

"Guys, please. James, say something" Will said taking a step closer to him. James reacts to his voice and snaps out of his head to look at him.

"I'm fine Will" James lied. Even he had to admit that did not sound convincing at all. The truth was he wasn't fine. It was torture not to run to Will, hug him and tell him he understands and everything was going to be okay. It was torture not to kiss him and tell him how sorry he was for piling his own shit onto Will's plate. It was torture not to show him how much he loved him. But he was surrounded by the party.

"He's totally freaking out," Mike said as he stood up and began pacing around the room.

"I knew it was too much to take, we should have waited" Mike protested.

"He will be fine," El said. Her voice sounded confident but her face was telling a different story. They where all scared that they might have just pushed James over the edge. After all, he was still recovering from a suicide attempt and a drug addiction.

"James I know it's a lot but..." Will tried to say.

"El is like Jean Grey" James suddenly announced. Everyone looked at him with pure confusion, everyone except Dustin who had a massive grin on his face. Mike was right of course, James was freaking out. Learning about an ominous shadow dimension full of unstoppable monsters was definitely making him question his sanity. However, learning El had superpowers was extremely cool.

"Yes EXACTLY" Dustin shouted. His voice was pure excitement. El laughed at Dustin's outburst. James always noticed how El liked to laugh. He tried not to dwell on how she had gotten these powers. Tortured and experimented on for her whole life and yet here she was one of the most loyal and vivacious people he has ever known. Here where two people who James loved who understood what true sadness is. Two people who fully know what loneliness feels like. Neither of them is violent or a junkie so what was his excuse. That's all his tortured past has ever been. An Excuse.

"You sure you are okay," Will said throwing him a weird smile. James was going to freak out later but for now, it was going to have to do.

"I mean yea its a lot but I'm okay. I'm glad you told me" He said taking El's hand in his.

"Thanks, El," He said. She quickly wrapped him in one of her signature comforting hugs. Once she released him, he crashed back down onto his seat.

"So we finally got the party back together. What do you guys want to do"Lucus asked? It was a nice change in tone and lifted some of the tension still lingering in the air.

"We could go the arcade" Dustin suggested.

"In the middle of July," Mike asked with a raised eyebrow.

"It would be almost empty at this time and I missed the place" James added.

"Alright sound good to me," Mike said with a smile. Since nobody else had any suggestions about how to spend the rest of the day they all crowded into the back of James Camero and took off. It was extremely cramped. For the back seat anyway. James was fine and WIll was in his usual spot in the passenger seat. Nobody challenged him for shotgun. the rest of the party where all squashed into the back seat. The only way to get everyone into the back seat was for El to sit on Mikes lap. She seemed fine about it but Mike was visibly uncomfortable the whole way there. After then quick ten-minute drive James pulled into the arcade parking lot. There were no other cars there so James parked directly outside of the arcade doors. Everyone jumped out of the Camero and walked through the arcade door, everyone except Mike. He stayed in the backseat alone. James seemed to be the only person who noticed his absence before entering the arcade. James turned around and approached the car.

"Mike you coming" James shouted. Mike just sighed and stayed where he was.

"Just give me a minute" Mike shouted back. James curiosity got the better of him and he approached the back seat window. Mike shot straight up and was blushing. James understood the situation immediately and then burst out laughing.

"Well someone is excited" James laughed.

"Dude It's not funny," Mike said seriously.

"Alright, I'm sorry. I'll give you a minute to emm... calm down." James said with a smile as he walked away from the car. He lit a cigarette and smoked as he looked around the quiet street. The cigarette just burned out when he heard Mike close the door of the Camero and walk up behind him.

"Not a word to the party," Mike said. His voice indicated it wasn't a question but James hadn't messed with Mike in months and he missed him

"I thought friends don't lie" James mocked.

"James" Mike hissed.

"Dude, of course, I won't tell anyone," James said sincerely. Well maybe Will. Both of them walked into the quite arcade. There was something strange about the araced not being full of screaming pre-teens. James spotted El standing in the middle of the arcade clearly looking around for her boyfriend. Once she spotted him she wandered over.

"Where have you two been" El asked. There was no malicious in her voice but James could feel Mike start to panic beside him. When Mike didn't immediately answer she looked to James then back to Mike who began to sweat.

"Ehhhh" Mike stuttered. James smiled. Mike might be a good boyfriend but he wasn't very good at thinking on his feet. James remembered how much he stumbled over himself when Mike accidentally told El he loved her for the first time in front of the part. James had to stifle a laugh.

"He was keeping me company while I smoked." James lied flawlessly.

"Ohh okay. You want to play pac man" El asked never questioning their alibi. Mike nodded his head in agreement and they walked over to the pac man machine holding hands. James would have to admit the whole taking on the radio for 353 days was the most romantic thing he had ever heard. Nice move Wheeler, he thought. The rest of the arcade was deserted except for the rest of the party crowded around the dig dug machine.

James waled over watched Dustin play the game for a few seconds before he gentle gripped Wills's hand. Will just whipped his head around clearly surprised about the sudden public display of affection. It didn't take long for Will to figure out that the Mike and El were on the other side of the arcade and the remaining party was glued to dig dug. Without a sound, James pulled Will away by the hand. They walked between the machines, hand in hand until something caught James's eye. Without explanation, he dashed toward the back corner of the arcade, where there was a strategically placed photo booth. It was in the back corner of the arcade and was positioned behind a pillar. James took a couple of quarters from his pocket and feed them into the machine.

"Really a photo booth. SO cheesy" Will mocked with a fake whine. James just smirked and pulled the curtain open gesturing for Will to enter first.

"Such a gentleman" Will laughed as he sat on the bench in the photobooth.

"Shut up Byers" James laughed following him into the cramped space. Will hit the button to start the timer as James pulled the curtain shut. Being this close to him was getting his heart racing, especially since they were in a public place.

"What pose should we..." Will tried to say but was interrupted by James' lips on his. They were making out before Will even knew what was happening. James wished he could say he didn't plan this as soon as he saw the photo booth in the corner. James kissed him deeper and Will eagerly reciprocated. He could feel himself melting away as Will ran his fingers through the hair on the back of his head. How was Will so good at this, James wondered. Will let out a soft moan into his mouth, he was going to the death of him. James really had just swapped one addiction for another and Will Byers was a massive upgrade. The whole time they were making out James could hear the click of the camera. He kind of forgot about the photos, he was more interested in the momentary privacy. James pulled away when he heard the machine developing the photos.

"We should probably go get them" James smiled as he looked into Wills giant brown eyes. Will sighed and pulled the curtain open.

"Fine" Will huffed. James got out of the booth first and looked to see if the party was around. They hadn't moved an inch. Will stood guard as James waited for the machine to print the photos. Once it was finished James took them and smiled. Overal there two reels of four photos each. He examined each of them and couldn't help but laugh. They looked like every obnoxious couple James had ever seen and made him want to vomit. He wasn't crazy about public displays of affection but he was crazy about Will.

"Here," James said holding them out to him.

"Don't you want one?" Will said as he examined the photos with a similar smile James had.

"Of course I do but I suspect Jess will be randomly spot-checking my room for contraband so its probably better you hold onto them" James explained. Honestly, he would like to carry them around in his wallet or stick them on the wall or inside his car. But just like most other couple stereotypes. They didn't apply to them, even if they wanted them to.

"yea okay," Will said quietly.

"It sucks we can't be... normal," Will said with a hint of frustration in his voice. James snapped his gaze to Will immediately.

"Will look at me," James said seriously. Will raised his head and looked back at him.

"There is nothing wrong with you okay. Nothing" James insisted.

"Then why does it feel like we're doing something wrong," Will said. James hesitated for a second.

"Because there is something wrong with everyone else" James answered.

"I know your right. It just sucks we can't do the regular couple stuff. I look at Mike and El or Mac and Lucus. It kills me" Will said. James could hear the genuine sadness in his voice.

"It just sucks that things are like this" Will said. James could feel his heartbreak. James would be willing to change the world if it made Will happy. Anything to make him smile.

"I know it does but tomorrow will be better than today. Besides once you kick my ass to the curb and go off to some artsy college you'll fit right in" James whispered. This made Will smile a bit. He extended his arm to take Wills hand but pulled it away when he saw Max and Lucus approaching.

"Hey, guys where have you been" Max asked. James and Will both spun around to face them. Will quickly stashed the photos in his back pocket.

"Ski Ball," They both said simultaneously and smiled.

"Okayyy..." Max said suspiciously.

"If you guys aren't to busy playing Ski Ball, the rest of us are going for fries. Yous coming" She asked.

"I'm starving" James amitted. All of the teens quickly crammed back into the Camero, this time with Mike sitting on Dustin's lap. It wasn't easy for Mike to come up with an excuse for that one. Each of them boasted about there respective victory as James drove and Will fiddled with the radio. It took a few minutes to reach the drive-through. They opted to eat inside and the whole party watched amazed as James devoured two burgers and three orders of fries.


8th August 1986

Will had never felt the way he had the last couple of weeks. He didn't even know it was possible to feel like that. The time he spent away from James was some of his loneliest memories. James was gone and Will felt alone even with his friends. But then he got him back and everything changed. Not only was he back in his life he became the man Will used to know. The man he first fell in love with. Will knows he would love him no matter what but it was definitely better when James was not using.

But that wasn't the true source of WIll's newfound happiness. That was definitely something to do with kissing James White. It made him giddy just thinking about it. The past few weeks had been exceptional. It was all holding hands and sneaking kisses when the party wasn't looking. At first, the whole secret thing had upset him but know it was exciting. Every time Will and James where not with the party they were sneaking into Wills room for a make-out session. They had talked about it and had never actually settled on what was going on between the two of them but neither of them cared.

They both sat on Wills bed as the rain smashed against the window James had climbed through. It was a cold and wet Friday night. The party wasn't doing anything so they were in their usual spot in Will's bed. James was laying on his back and Will was on his stomach cuddled next to him. James was always so warm which was a stark comparison to how cold Will usually was. Ever since the Mind Flayer, he usually struggled to get warm but with James it was easy. He was essentially a big volcano who also just happened to be a very good kisser, which reminded Will.

"How did you get so good at kissing" Will whispered as he pushed closer and kissed James softly.

"Lots of practice with countless people," James said smiling. Will laughed quietly and punched him lightly on the shoulder. Will noticed the feel of his shoulder when he hit him. James was definitely regaining some weight. He was still drastically lighter than he was when they first meet but it was still something. Will wasn't body shaming him or anything. It's not like Will could judge someone on muscle mass but he knows it was important to James.

"Wow feels firm," Will said gently squeezing his bicep and pressing his hands on his chest. Will wanted to pull off his shirt more than anything. James's body was littered with scars Will had only started to see the new ones he brought back from Detroit. The scars never bothered him though not in the slightest. When they cuddle he always runs his fingers back and forth over the scars on his hands and forearms.

"I know what you trying to do but thanks" James as he leaned in and kissed him back. Will genuinely believes he could stay in bed with James for the rest of time.

"What have I ever done to have such an amazing boyfriend," James said. Will pulled away and grinned. Did he really just say that?

"So I'm your boyfriend now, is that it," Will said sarcastically. James just smiled and blushed. Will didn't remember if he had ever seen James blush before, it was incredibly cute.

"I mean if you don't want to I can go somewhere else" James laughed.

"Is that right" Will replied

"Oh, yea I got options" James shot back. Will laughed and pushed his head away. There was nowhere in the world Will would rather be than here with him.

"Just kiss me you idiot," Will said as he pulled James closer to him and kissed him. This time their kiss didn't stop, after a few seconds they were making out again. With no sign of slowing down, Will got more into it, more aggressive with his hands and tongue. He could feel himself getting too excited but he wasn't going to stop.

Will has never been a forward person or adventurous or bold. He had spent his whole life playing it safe. So he really doesn't know to explain his next move. Will pulled away from James' mouth and signaled for him to sit up with his back against the headboard. Once James had followed his instructions Will crawled over him and straddled his lap. He rested there with his thighs on each side of James's hips. As soon as he was in the position over James lap he could feel him pressing on the inside of his thigh. It was making his heartbeat out of his chest. James seemed shocked by the bold maneuver, his eyes were wide and his mouth was hanging open. It was definitely out of character. James seemed to notice the bulge in his pants was rubbing against Will's leg and turned red, really red.

"Will I..." James tried to say but Will just attacked his lips again. Will knew what he was going to say before he said. Will was in the process of lifting off James shirt. Once he did he throw it across the room and pulled back and examined James. Regardless of the weight, he lost or the scars he had, Will thought he was irresistible. James looked at him nervously before Will crashed back down on him again. Will ran his hands all over James body cataloging every scar, freckle, and curve. He was in pure bliss, they where both so caught up in the moment neither of them heard the door to Will's room open.

"WILL" Joyce shouted in surprise. Will leaped off of James in a split second. When he turned around he saw his mother standing in the doorway looking like she had seen a ghost. James was scrambling to get something to cover his bare chest.

"Mom I... I..." Will stuttered.

"I'll give you a minute," She said quietly turning and leaving the room. She was pale white. Will looked around the room frantically. He was looking for something anything he could break or kick or punch. He could feel the panic setting in his chest he was really starting to freak out.

"Shit, shit, shit... Fuck" Will said pacing up and down the room.

"Will calm down" James whispered. The taller boy rested both of his hands on Will's shoulders to keep him still. It helped but Will's heart was still beating out of his chest.

"This is bad, this is really bad," Will said.

"She knows your gay Will. She knows about us" James said trying to relax him.

"She knows I'm gay in theory, not in practice. Jesus what if she looks at me different from now on. I knew something like this would happen" Will panicked.

"It's okay we're talking about Joyce Byers" James replied. Will knew he had a point, he knew he was probably overacting but he couldn't see it just yet. Will was starting to calm down until he heard his mother's voice coming from the next room.

"Will, James can you come here for a moment" Joyce shouted through the wall. Her tone was neutral but it didn't matter to Will.

"Oh, we're so fucked," Will said breaking free of James grip and started pacing again.

"Just stay cool we didn't do anything wrong" James reassured him.

"You just keep telling yourself that when she forbids us from seeing each other" Will said seriously.

"Will your overacting have you meet your mother she wouldn't do that" James replied with a smile. James leaned in and kissed him softly. Will needed it bad. He took a deep breath and gripped James's hand in his.

"let's go," Will said. James nodded in agreement and they walked out of Will's bedroom together. Once they walked into the living room they spotted Joyce sitting down on the dining room table. The same place she was sitting when Will came out to her months ago.

"Boys please have a seat," Joyce said pointing towards the two chairs across the table from her. Will took another deep breath and sat down with his boyfriend and his mother. He never thought he would be in such a strange position in his life.

"I think it's time we all have a frank discussion about what's going on," Joyce said. Will listen carefully. If she was angry there was no trace of it in her voice.

"I realize this is the only place where you can be yourselves and don't have to hide your relationship and I would never take that away from you," She said.

"Wait so your not mad" Will said surprised. Joyce just smiled at him the same way she used to do when he was a child and asked for a cookie before bed. It melted him. He realized his mother was his mother and that was the end of it.

"No honey, of course, I'm not mad at you. I definitely wasn't expecting that when I came to ask you if you were hungry though" She said smiling at him.

"Look I realized that yous are like any other couple. I love both of you and support you but their needs to be boundaries." She explained. Will could feel James shift in his seat. To be fair Will had suspected something like this when James first started coming over. He was surprised it took his mother this long to say him and James couldn't do whatever they wanted but fuck was it good while it lasted.

"What kind of boundaries," Will asked cautiously.

"No late nights on a school night. If James sleeps over he sleeps in Johnathon's old room. I don't want your grades to start slipping and when James is in your room I would like if the door was halfway open" she said. Will thought about it for a minute.

"Okay sounds fair" Will agreed.

"There is something else I wanted to talk to you boys about," Joyce said as she sat up in her seat. Will noticed that now she looked kind of nervous.

"When a man loves a woman... I mean sometimes when a man loves another man they want to express their love..." Joyce said slowly.

"MOM. I really don't need the sex talk right now" Will said. He could feel his face turning beet red and James holding back a laugh. He was mortified.

"I know teenage boys have certain needs and..." Joyce said almost casually.

"OKAY this seems like a family thing so I'm going to go," James said standing up to leave. Before he did he bent down and kissed Will on the cheek. Will thought his mother might explode.

"Yous are so cute," Joyce said squeezing her hands together.

"I'll see you later Will. Bye Ms.Byers" James said as he turned and walked out the door. Will thought he might actually combust from embarrassment but then he realized he was alone with his mother. He was really not going to enjoy this talk.

11th August 1986

James shifted his weight in the comfortable brown leather chair. His eyes traced around the entire waiting room. It was quite and brightly light with classical art hanging on the walls. The receptionist desk was in the corner of the room. The receptionist was a young woman, she was maybe in her late twenties. Amanda, James thought her name was but he could be wrong. There was a coffee table placed in front of him, he had been scolded more than once for resting his foot on it.

James had come to Dr. O' Brien's office twice a week every week since he had gotten clean. He was glad to move it to one session a week when he returned to school. If he returned to school, he still didn't know if he wanted to return to Hawkins High. James still thought the therapy sessions were a massive waste of time and money but Charles insisted he give it a try. Overall he didn't dread the sessions like he did when he first started.

The first session was by far the worst. James had argued and complained the whole way to Indianapolis. He had this irrational fear the doctor would do some Rorschach test that confirmed his insanity, then force him into some mental institution and throw away the key. James had always questioned his sanity and he knew people have been committed for less, he had tried to kill himself after all. Although the first session didn't go anything like that. Instead, Dr. O' Brien spent their first hour getting to know him. James liked him even if he pushed him to talk about things James would rater just berry deep inside himself. Dr. O'Brien never asked him to look at ink blots and he told him the word crazy was banned in his office, it made James laugh and relax.

Dr. O' Brien always insists to hear his side of the story even though James knows Charles had already filed him in on everything that had happened. That didn't stop James from dodging almost every question or constantly trying to change the subject. Still, James was committed to getting better so he told him everything that had happened since he had returned to Hawkins, well almost everything. Essentially he told him everything related to his drug addiction and attempted suicide. There was never any shame or judgment from Dr. o' Brien but more importantly he never pitied James either, he appreciated that.

"James Dr. O' Brien will see you now," The receptionist said from behind her desk. James lifted himself off the seat dragged his feet into the office.

"James please have a seat," Dr. O' Brien said gesturing towards the usual seat James sat in. The doctor was dressed in a well-fitting grey three-piece suit. He always dressed in something similar, always formal.

"How are you today," Dr. O' Brien asked with a smile.

"Fine, I guess" James replied. Dr. O' Brien opened the large leather notebook and rested it on his knee.

"Did you do it?" Dr. O' Brien asked. James was almost looking forward to this question.

"Yea I asked him. He said yes" James replied with a smile. He had never planned to tell the doctor about his relationship with Will. But the more he talked about what had happened when he got back to Hawkins the more he suspected the doctor knew there was something between them. After awhile Dr. O' Brien straight out asked him if he was attracted to Will and James didn't want to lie.

"That's great. Being in a relationship is a big responsibility" Dr. O' Brien said. James thought about it for a second. Hearing he was in a relationship with Will made his stomach lift. James enjoyed having someone on the outside to talk to about him and Will.

"James I would like to pick up where we left off last week. You were discussing your recent temptations. Pills I believe you mentioned" Dr. O' Brien asked as he flipped through the pages in his notebook. James dropped his head and sighed.

"yea emm... I was in Will's bathroom and I opened his medicine cabinet. There were some painkillers in it. At home Jess and Charles always keep that stuff locked up in their room." James admitted.

"Why didn't you steal them," Dr. O'Brien asked. James thought about. He thought about Will, his friends, his step-parents. They would all be crushed.

"I wanted to. I mean I really wanted to but I don't want to hurt the people around me. Not anymore" James answered.

"But you still feel the need to use drugs," Dr. O' Brien asked.

"Have you ever tried Herion doctor?" James asked with a smile.

"No, I can't say I have" He replied.

"If you did you would know that's a pointless question. Sometimes it makes you feel incredible, sometimes it just makes you not feel anything at all" James replied. The doctor just nodded his head and scribbled something down in his notepad.

"Why did you use drugs in the first place," Dr. O' Brien asked.

"Because they make it easy to not feel anything. I needed the numbness" James said.

"What were you trying not to feel," He asked.

"Anger, guilt... grief" James replied. He didn't like where this was going.

"Do you still grieve for your mother?" Dr. O' Brien asked. James looked away. He had to think of something, anything to change the topic. But his mind was blank.

"Yes," He said breaking the momentary silence.

"You don't talk about her often," Dr. O' Brien said.

"It's painful to take about her," James said.

"Why" He replied. James almost laughed at the pointlessness of the question. He knew exactly why James didn't like talking about it. It was obvious.

"Because every time I think of her even the good memories, My mind forces me back to the night she was murdered. So it's easier just to not think about her at all" James said. His voice was getting louder. As soon as he had said it his head was filled with pictures of his mother lying on the ground unconscious. How he could only watch as his father stabbed her to death.

"How does that make you feel," Dr. O' Brien asked calmly.

"How do you think it makes me feel. ANGRY. PISSED OFF" James was fully shouting now. The doctor just continued to calmly take notes and nod his head.

"At your father. It must be difficult to be angry at a dead man" Dr. O'Brien replied.

"Yea it is" James huffed in his seat. His blood was still boiling.

"And Hopper" Dr. O' Brien added. James froze then exhaled. He regretted telling him about his resentment towards Hopper.

"What about him," James said trying to brush off the question.

"It's it possible your anger was aimed at him because you could no longer actively hate your father," Dr. O' Brien asked. James was dead silent. The doctor was quiet for a minute.

"You do see him as a father figure don't you" He added. James had enough of this.

"No... HE... HE... I don't know" James said as he settled back down in his chair. When he thought about Hopper he didn't feel the same things he felt when he thought about his father. It was the opposite. He felt sorry, he felt regret. Did he ever actually blame him for what happened or was it just another excuse. James took a deep breath and tried to relax.

"I don't... I don't blame him" James whispered.

"Maybe you should try reaching out, forgiveness can be a powerful tool," Dr. O' Brien asked.

"Yeah, maybe" James whispered.

"How are things with your friends," He asked after a long silence. James appreciated the change in topic. He talked a lot about the party. He talked about him and Will for the rest of the session. Told him Joyce had laid down some ground rules between them. It was a nice conversation.

Charles drove him back to Hawkins in silence. They usually didn't talk much on their trips back to Hawkins. Charles never pushed him to open up. The whole way back James thought about his conversation with Dr. O' Brien. Should he try to make things right with Hopper? He would be surprised if Hopper even wanted to talk to him after the shit he pulled.

When they reached the outskirts of Hawkins James asked if he could be dropped off in town. He made some bad excuss about meeting up with the party. As soon as he saw Charles round the corner he started his walk towards the police station. Hawkins was quite at this time. Most shops were closed or in the process of closing for the night. He didn't have long.

James entered the station ten minutes later. He looked around the lights were still on but there were few people inside. It was weird being in a police station when he wasn't under arrest. James walked up to the few steps to the main floor and towards Hoppers office. A part of him hoped he had gone home for the night. He was nervous, really nervous.

"Hey, Flo. Is Hopper in" James said to the elderly woman? She was in the middle of packing her things up. It took a second for her to put the glasses on and look at him, she seemed surprised to see him.

"Yea goes on in," She said pointing at the door. James hesitated before entering. He slowly read the glass. Jim Hooper Chief of Police. He took one more shaky breath and knocked on the door.

"Come in," said a gruff voice on the other side of the door. James pulled open the door and slowly walked into the office. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest and he could not stop sweating. Hopper to a second to lift his eyes off the paper on his desk. When he saw James he looked shocked. Not angry James thought just shocked.

"Hey kid you want to have a seat," Hopper said pointing to the seat across the desk. If was the same seat he sat in when he Hopper had kept him out of Juvie after Bella's party. It was the same seat he sat in when he used Sarah to hurt Hopper.

"So the last time we saw each other was a bit intense" James joked trying to break the tension. it failed desperately.

"Hop look I'm sorry for so many things I don't even know where to start" James confessed.

"You pointed a gun at me, at El," Hopper said. This time his tone did imply he was angry. James dropped his head towards his knees. He could feel the tears start to build in his eyes. He could feel the pressure form in the back of his throat.

"I know I'm sorry I was never going to hurt you or El I just..."James tried to explain.

"Hurting yourself would have hurt us. All of us" Hopper said directly.

"I just came here to tell you..." James tried to find the right words.

"I don't blame you for what happened with my mother," James finally said breaking the silence.

"you should" Hopper shot back quickly.

"No, I shouldn't. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't my fault. The truth is she was dead the moment she left my father and there was nothing you or me or anyone could have done to change that." James explained. He didn't know how long he was going to be able to hold it together.

"There is only one person to blame and he's rotting in the ground," James said. Hopper stayed silent.

"I'm sorry Hopper... I'm so sorry" James said but he could hold it back any longer. He was going to cry and there was nothing he could do about it. He felt like an idiot as he sat there in the chair letting heavy sobs rock through his body. Before he knew what was happing he was being pulled up off the chair. Hopper wrapped him in a dear comforting and warm hug James quietly cried on to his shoulder constantly muttering I'm sorry. At least he figured out where El got her hugs from.

After a few minutes, James pulled away from him taking a deep breath. Hopper and James sat back down back in their respective seats. James was in embarrassed about breaking down like that in front of someone.

"Thanks for that Hopper. I really needed to let that out" James admitted.

"You look good kid you getting better," Hopper asked trying to change the subject.

"Yea I'm doing okay" James replied.

"I'm sure Will had something to do with that" Hooper laughed. James just shook his head. He understood the situation immediately.

"Joyce told you didn't she" James laughed.

"She's not always the most discrete person" Hopper replied. They both burst out laughing at that.

16th August 1986

Will had never enjoyed his birthday. Even when he was a kid he would hate his mother making plans for a big party. It would usually devolve into an argument with Will eventually getting his way and having a small party with just his friends. It usually just involved a star wars marathon and lots of junk food but Will always enjoyed them nights more than thirty kids from his class that he didn't know singing him happy birthday.

His feeling for his birthday was still as strong today as they were back then. That is why he was quietly dreading the conversation he currently found himself in. The whole party had been hanging out in Mikes basement and Mike brought up the subject of Wills birthday. For some reason, they decided Will had to be the person to celebrate his sixteenth birthday. The party didn't even know James had turned sixteen till it was too late. Max opted for a girls day out with just her and El when she turned sixteen. Lucus was out of town for his. For Mikes birthday over the summer they just chilled in his basement and played a campaign, reminiscing about the old days. So why is it that his birthday has to be something special.

"What about bowling," Dustin asked.

"When did Hawkins get a bowling ally," James asked looking around with a confused expression.

"It doesn't but Bloomington does and it's only an hour drive" Dustin replied.

"Really an hour there and back for a game of bowling" Lusus complained. Will wasn't pushed about going bowling or anything that required him to throw a ball.

"Look guys I don't know why you are making such a big deal about this" Will argued. In his head, there was still a possibility they could just start planning Dustin's birthday instead. Even if it was months from now.

"James, Lucas, Mike, and Max are already sixteen and nobody made a big deal about that" Will added.

"It is a big deal. Its not just your birthday it will be the last chance to do something before school starts" Dustin said. Will had to give him that. They were scheduled to start there sophomore year in less than three weeks. Will was looking forward to going back but he knew it meant spending less time with James, which he of course hated.

"I know this summer kind of sucked but we can still save it," Max said. James looked away. Will knew he was probably already blaming himself.

"We're all back together," El added.

"Yea exactly James missed out on all the fun summer stuff. Swimming in the query, staying up late, riding bikes " Dustin said.

"What if we did all of it" Mike suddenly added.

"What do you mean," El asked.

"What if we fit the whole summer into one weekend" Mike added with a smile. Will was very confused.

"I'm still not following" Will replied.

"Guys we should go camping" Mike almost shouted with a smile. Everyone remained silent for awhile considering the suggestion.

"Camping. Shit, that's a good idea" Dustin piped up.

"I'm in," Lucus said.

"Me too" Max added.

"I think it sounds like fun," El said. Will and James still remained silent. Will guessed James was just waiting to gaze his reaction so he could back him up.

"I think it sounds like fun" James finally added. All eyes were on Will.

"Camping it is," Will finally said. Despite his hesitation, he was excited.

"But you realize Hopper will insist on coming," Will said. Everyone let out a simultaneous groan.

Chapter Text

22nd August 1986

James examined all of the equipment that was spread out on his bed. Truthfully he didn't know what he would use half of it for. The only thing he thought would be useful was the clothes and hunting knife. James had never been camping before in his life, thankfully Charles had experience camping and had spare equipment lying around in storage. James was a city kid at heart which made it difficult for Charles to take him through the basics of camping and what to expect when sleeping in a tent. He wasn't thrilled about the prospect of sleeping in a small confined space but he had slept in much worse conditions. Slept or passed out, James questioned what the difference was.

Satisfied that he had packed everything he required, James grabbed his bags and went downstairs. Charles was sitting alone at the kitchen table, he was dressed for work. James checked his watch as he entered the kitchen. It was almost six o'clock in the morning. The rich smell of roasted coffee hit him as soon as he walked in. The smell alone would be enough to wake him up.

"Morning dad," James said casually as he walked over to the coffee pot and poured a generous portion into a travel mug.

"Morning James, sleep well," He asked without taking his eyes off his morning paper.

"Yeah okay, wheres mom" James replied taking a wary sip of the hot coffee.

"She left for work early. You excited" Charles asked as he folded the paper and placed it on the kitchen table.

"Yea I am. I'm going over to meer everyone at Will's house" James said as Charles crossed the kitchen to wash his coffee mug.

"Hopper's going aswell, right" Charles asked. James thought it was nice to have people who worried about him. Even after the last year, it was still a foreign feeling to him.

"Yea Hopper and Joyce," James said. He was a bit disappointed Joyce was tagging along. James absolutely adored her but ever since the incident in Will's room, it could be a bit awkward, to say the least. Will was more cautious around her now, less likely to take stupid risks. It was probably a good thing when James thought about it.

"Why. Do you not trust me," James asked with a smile. Charles just washed his mug and put it back in the press.

"I trust you but I know it's not been easy since you got... clean," Charles said thinking of the best way to phrase it. James wasn't angry about Charles's concerns about his ability to stay sober. James had opened up to him on one of there drives back from Dr. O' Brien's office. He told him that he was still struggling with his addiction. Which wasn't exactly a surprise to him. Charles knew it wasn't something that just went away.

"I don't think the woods will have too many stashes of Heroin sitting around," James said sarcastically.

"James that's not the point. I just want you to be safe" Charles said exhaling. James felt familiar guilt start to build in his chest.

"I will be, I promise," James said. Charles just looked at him for a second before wrapping him in a hug.

"Alright, I have to go will you lock up before you leave. Make sure to have fun you deserve it" Charles said as he put his coat on and picked up his briefcase. James nodded to him as he left and closed the door behind him. James relaxed and took a seat at the kitchen table. A few seconds later the door flew open again and Charles poked his head into the kitchen pointing his finger at James.

"But not to much fun," he said seriously. James couldn't help it, he started laughing immediately.

"Bye dad," James said in between deep breaths. Once James was sure Charles was gone for the good he made a breakfast of Beacon and waffles before packing all of his bags in the back of the Camero.

James locked up the house and drove the Camero into town. If he was going to be stuck in the wilderness for three days he was going to need to stock up on cigarettes. After hitting the one store in town that didn't ask for ID he drove in the direction of the Mayfield residence. Max didn't have a car and wasn't pushed on waking her brother up this early in the morning to request a lift, so James offered to drive her to Will's house. James was looking forward to spending the entire weekend with Will. Even if they did have to pretend that they were just friends. James didn't care, in the end, it was still time spent with the people he loved and they had gotten good at pretending the last couple of weeks.

James pulled up to Max's house and put the car in park. He was about to honk the horn before remembering it was six o'clock in the morning. Instead, he got out and walked to the door and knocked, hoping he wasn't waking anyone up inside. A few moments later the door swung and it definitely wasn't Max. James found himself eye to eye with some guy with long hair. He was wearing a tank top and a dirty pair of jeans. James looked in his eyes and guessed the stranger was in that unfortunate position between being drunk and being hungover. It was a position James had come to know like an old friend. Either way, the guy in the door didn't look happy to be there.

"Who are you" The stranger spat at him.

"James, I'm here to pick up Max. I assume your Billy" James fired back. He had heard some fucked up stuff about Billy from Max over the last year. Small stuff she would let slip when they were sharing an intimate cigarette.

He and Max always had a strange relationship. They were incredibly close, often sharing deeply personal stories but yet don't speak alone that often. There was something different about Max, something the rest of the party wouldn't understand. They could be kind of naive sometimes. It wasn't a bad thing in James' opinion, more just a side effect from growing up in a small town in middle America. But Max was a city kid just like he was. She also had a home life he could resonate with.

"You her boyfriend or something," Billy asked through hazy eyes. James snapped out of his train of thought. It took him a second to remember where he was. Billy was just staring at him slightly swaying from left to right. James knew what he was thinking about behind those bloodshot eyes. It was clear Billy craved confrontation. There also wasn't a hope James could win in a fight against someone like him. Not in his current condition. Besides his fighting days were behind him, he was putting all that shit in the past. No matter how much he wanted to knock him out, for Max.

"No, just a friend, can you tell her I'm here," James said trying his best to keep his voice calm and neutral.

"Whatever" Billy said as he turned walked back into the house grappling with the wall for support. James realized he was drunker than he thought, maybe he could have taken him. A few minutes later Max emerged from the house with a backpack and a carry bag.

"Hey sorry about that," Max said gesturing back towards the house.

"So that was the infamous Billy," James said as they both walked towards the Camero. Max just sighed and looked to make sure billy wasn't still lingering in the door frame.

"Yea that is Billy. A real piece of work" She said. James regretted bringing up the subject. The trip was supposed to be fun, a chance for all of them to relax a bit. Instead, James was bringing up shitty family members. He helped Max load her stuff into the trunk of the car in silence. They set off towards Will's house with an underlying tension building between them. It wasn't angry or malicious but its presence couldn't be denied.

"He doesn't know about you and Lucus does he," James asked beating away the silence that had developed them. Max exhaled and looked at him. She didn't have to say anything, James knew what that look meant. He reached into his pocket and produced his cigarettes and lighter and handed both of them to her. Max rolled down the window and lit one of the cigarettes.

"No, he doesn't know. None of my family know" She said as she blew smoke out of the window. Max held out the packet and lighter towards him.

"Keep them. That sucks by the way" James said sympathetically.

"It's hard trying to keep a relationship secret. Especially since I actually love that stalker" Max said as she took another pull of her cigarette. James could tell it was really bothering her.

"I know what you're going through," James said. Max looked at him through the corner of her eye. James didn't know why he said that. It was a stupid thing to say. He definitely understood what she was feeling though. Even if she had El to talk about her relationship with Lucas it wasn't the same as having the support of your family.

"How so," Max asked as she put out the cigarette. Shit, how did she turn this around?

"You know just from keeping the drugs a secret and all" James lied. He internally scolded himself for coming up with such a weak response. There was something about Max that made it hard to lie to her. The way her eyes pierced right through you.

"yea sure," Max replied. She didn't poke around that part of his life, nor unless he brought it up.

"You okay," James asked sincerely.

"Yea I'll be fine," Max said brushing it off.

"So. You love Lucus" James teased her with a smile. It was funny hearing Max talk about her romantic feelings.

"Shut up and drive," Max said with a laugh. James noticed that she didn't answer the question but decided to leave her alone. They drove the remaining mile or so in relative silence. Max fumbled with the radio and James whistled along to any tune he recognized.

Once they pulled up to Will's house James instantly spotted the Chief's truck parked in the Byers drive. In fact, it looked like Max and James where the last to arrive. The party was standing around talking all gripping massive packs and bags. James could see Will talking with Joyce. He pulled the Camero in behind the truck and got out. Once he did, he spotted Hopper and approached him.

"So who's with who," James asked. He already knew that Will would be in the Cameros passenger seat, that was obvious.

"You got Will, Mayfield, and Sinclair. I got the rest" Hopper explained. James was happy with the arrangement. Max's stuff was already in his car and this way he wouldn't be stuck in a confined space with Dustin eating junk food for hours.

"So follow me and stay close. If you need to get in touch just call Dustin with the super com" Hopper said before leaving to help Joyce lift her stuff into his truck. James followed suit and walked over to Will to give him a hand packing his stuff into the car. Once Lucus had his gear packed away they set off.

Unsurprisingly Will sat shotgun while Lucus and Max were sharing the back seat. The first hour of the drive went by quick. Will kept them supplied with great music as the conversation drifted between them naturally, easily jumping from one topic to another.

After a while, the conversation lulled and they all listen to Will's mixtape without speaking. At least that's what James thought they were doing. When he looked through the rearview mirror he spotted the couple in the back making out regardless of the fact they weren't alone in the car.

"HEY" James playfully shouted as he honked the horn. Max and Lucus shot apart in a second, both of them looked panicked.

"Fuck you. I almost had a heart attack." Max said as her chest rose and fell rapidly. She inhaled quickly trying to catch her breath in between flipping James off.

"Seriously dude not cool," Lucus said shifting closer to Max again.

"That's what you get for making out in my car" James replied as Will's eyes were calling him a hypocrite.

"We're bored what are we supposed to do" Lucus whined.

He had a point James was starting to feel the drive, the early start was talking a toll and his stomach was starting to pain him. Jess had given him the all-clear weeks ago but there were times his stab wound still felt as if he was bleeding in that ally, destined to die. Dr. O'Brien suggested his pain might be psychosomatic but either way it still hurt like a son of a bitch. The lack of painkillers only made things worse.

Then there was still the effects of the delayed withdrawal. He sometimes broke into sweats and felt nauseous, plus the crippling pain all over his body. Sometimes it would last a minute sometimes it was closer to twenty. Jess said the episodes where normal and should pass in a couple of weeks but James still knew there was only one way for him to really feel normal again and that wasn't an option.

"What if we played twenty questions" Will announced.

"yea okay. I got someone" Lucus said with a big grin. Max stared out the window looking disinterested.

"Is he a singer?" James asked.

"Maybe," Lucus said unassumingly.

"Micheal Jackson," Both James and Will said at the same exact time. James and Will both burst into laughter when Lucus grin turned sour.

"You guys are jerks," Lucus said huffing the back seat. Max nudged him in the ribs and forced a smile onto his face. James opened his mouth to ask him to think of another person when he heard the crackle of the super com.

"This is Red leader to Red One do you copy. Over" Dustin's voice rang out over the super com. His tone was absolutely serious. Will looked at James and rolled his eyes. Dustin could be a bit over the top but it was also the reason why they loved him.

"Red One do you copy. Over" Dustin's voice echoed.

"Just answer the nerd," Max said.

"Yea Dustin we copy. Over" Will said trying to hold back a giggle.

"This is Red Leader. There is no Dustin. Over" Dustin said. Will took a deep breath and lifted the super com up to speak again. This time looking more determined.

"Yea Red Leader we copy. Over" Will replied.

"Red Chief said the ETA is 2 hours. Over" Dustin said.

"2 Hours copy that. Over" Will said.

"Were also getting fuel at the next station. Over and out" Dustin said. Will relaxed at putting the super com back into the glove compartment. James followed the road straight until he saw Hoppers truck parked in the only service station he had seen so far. They really were in the middle of nowhere.

James pulled in behind Hopper's truck and got out to pump gas. When he stepped out of the door he had to grab the car for support. His side was aching from the long drive. Hopper's truck was pulling out of the station by the time James was going ou to pay for the gas. Once he returned to the car he was starting to sweat. Two more hours of driving was going to be dangerous for all of them.

James opened the driver's side door and hesitated before getting in the car. Will stretched over to look them. He looked worried. James closed the driverside door and walked over to the back seat and oped the door. Max looked at him like he was crazy.

"What are you doing," Max said with a very confused expression.

"You want to drive" James asked. James really hoped nobody would question his motives for letting Max drive his car. Just a friendly gesture that's all.

"Shit, you serious" Max asked with a smile.

"I want to drive," Lucus said excitedly.

"Not a chance," James said with a smile and handed the keys to the Max. Once she jumped in the driver swat Will joined him in the backseat.

"This is so cool," Max said as she squeezed the leather wheel and turned the key in the ignition.

"Just don't make Hopper pull you over. If he finds out I let you drive without a full license he will kill me" James smiled. Max took off like a rocket. She could really put her foot down. James was about to protest about her speed but Hopper's truck came into view and she quickly dropped it to sixty.

"Are you okay" Will whispered to James in the back seat. Between the sound of the engine and the radio, there was little chance of them being overheard.

"You know I hate when you ask me that," James said with a weak smile. Since he had gotten some rest from driving he was feeling better. The stabbing pain in his side was subsiding but he could start feeling the uncomfortable itch make its way up his spine.

"I know but you don't look great," Will said.

"I'm fine" James lied.

"It's your scar, isn't it. It's still painful" Will said. James knew he only wanted to help but he hated the way Will was looking at him. Like he was a plain of glass that might shatter at any moment.

"Can we talk about this later?" James said as he turned away and looked out the window of his car.

"Fine" Will snapped and turned away to look the other direction. James tried to think of anything else besides the burning urge in his stomach. He could feel the sweat starting to run down his forehead. It will pass, he repeated over and over in his head. No matter how bad the episode gets, it always passes. Will could see how uncomfortable he was but stayed quit, Max and Lucus would notice if he tried to help him through it. James just lightly rocked back and forth in his seat scratching at some semi healed needle marks. His skin was starting to bleed from the force of his fingernails but James liked it. The pain distracted him. Will was looking at him with tears in his eyes but James just nodded. He was going to be okay it was starting to pass.

"That looked bad," Will said. His voice was shaky.

"I'm fine" James whispered back.

"James please" Will replied.

"Will I promise we can talk about it later" James repeated. Will knew that he was still in pain but he didn't know the extent at which James was still fighting his addiction. He didn't know how close he was from stealing drugs from the bathroom in his house. He didn't understand what it was like for something to have such an all-consuming power over you. Maybe he would? Actually, he might understand more than anyone in the world.

But as the scenery started to change he found myself drifting further away from it. The ache in his side was disappearing questionably quickly and the nausea was passing. The closer they got to the lake the more beautiful the surrounding area got and the better James was feeling. Max drove slowly through the winding road that Hopper lead them through. James tried to take it all in. He rolled down the window was washed in the smell of pine and wet moss. He tried to see the tops of the tallest trees but it looked as if they went on forever. He didn't know trees grew that tall.

Will seemed surprised by his reaction. Sure Hawkins was surrounded by miles of forest but it was nothing like this. James had never seen anything like it before. His whole life before Hawkins was spent living in the city. New York, Indianapolis, Detroit, he was a city kid a heart but there was something magical about this place.

Max stuck close the Hoppers truck when the started to drive on smaller roads. Eventually, they came to a small gravel parking area. Hopper parked his truck on the far left of the parking area. Max parked behind him, in Hopper's blind spot. Before Hopper was out of the truck Max had climbed into the back seat and James jumped into the driver seat. Max slipped him the keys and a thank him as they changed seats. Everyone rushed out of the car to stretch their legs. James went to the truck to start unloading all their gear. Hopper was doing the same with his truck.

"Hop, where we going," Mike asked.

"Ten miles that way," Hopper said pointing in the direction of the sun. All of the teens erupted in shouts and complaints at the same time.

"Ten MILES. Your joking right" Lucus whined.

"Nope, we best get a move on," Hopper said as he slammed the trunk shut and through two bags over his shoulder. Everyone followed Hopper to a small clearing in the tress. James hadn't noticed it when they drove in but they were a small path leading into the forest.

The hike was killing all of them. James was not nearly as fit as he used to be but he didn't realize just how out of shape he really was. They had just scraped one mile when James began to struggle to catch his breath. It only got worse from there. As much as he told everyone he was fine it was bullshit and he knew it. His body was still recovering. He thought about what he would do for some fentanyl or oxycodone or anything. James kicked himself for thinking it but he couldn't help it, no matter how much he tried.

It was taking hours to reach the camp. The path had ended several Miles back and now they were walking through rough terrain. Hopper also insisted on stopping to rest several times. Jame knew it was mainly for his benefit. He was struggling more than the rest. Will kept offering to carry his bag, which James thought was sweat. Despite the burning in his lungs and the aches in his legs, he was having a great time. James walked through the wood and appreciated things he had never noticed before. The sound of the birds, the smell of wildflowers. It was making him question his ideology of city living.

"Are we there yet" Dustin moaned. Everyone was thinking the same thing.

"Just up ahead and through that clearing," Hopper said. The party summoned their last ounce of energy and pushed forward. James was glad he did. Once they pushed through the tree line and into the large clearing they came to the lake. He had never seen water that clear in his life. James thought it was breathtaking how the sun bounced off the surface of the lake and reflected a golden hue over everything it touched.

"Wow," James whispered.

"How do you know about this place," El said as she walked over to her father and hugged his side.

"Old Hopper family secret," Hopper said as he shot a wink at El. Guess she was the next in line to inherit it.

"This place is amazing Hop," Joyce said as she kissed him on the cheek.

"Right we should set up the tents before it gets dark," Hopper said, throwing his bags into the center of the clearing. The party all took their tents out of their packs and attempted to assemble them. Nobody seemed to have a clue about how to assemble a tent. Except for Mike, he proved to be exceptionally gifted at setting them up.

James had been wondering about the sleeping arrangements since he thought about going camping. They had four tents in total. He assumed Joyce and Hopper would be sharing one together. The rest of the party didn't matter he just wished to be alone in a tent with Will. After Joyce had caught them they had decided to take it slow in that regard of their relationship but he wanted more than anything to sleep beside him. He wanted Will's face to be the last thing he saw at night and the first thing he saw when he woke up. Although he knew it was improbable with Hopper and Joyce here.

"All right got me and El's tent up" Mike announced.

"Oh, Mike you think I would let you sleep in a tent with my daughter. HA" Hopper laughed, as Mike looked absolutely defeated.

"The tents are me and Joyce. The girls. Mike and Will. Then the rest in the biggest one." Hopper announced. James could feel his stomach drop. The odds weren't on his side but he still held out some hope.

"I thought Will and James would be sharing," Mike said clearly annoyed that he couldn't share a tent with his girlfriend.

"There the groups. No swapping that's the end of it" Hopper said in his signature grumpy tone.

"Alright fine," Mike said trying to move on from the subject. He knew it wasn't a fight he could win.

After all the tents where assembled, Hopper assigned jobs to all of them. The guys were instructed to go collect firewood while the girls stayed with Hopper and Joyce to help get a fire going. The party spent about forty minutes messing around in the woods and another fifteen actually gathering firewood. Once they returned to camp Hopper drilled all of them in typical Hopper fashion. The rest of the night was spent sitting around the campfire as they took turns telling stories or just chatted about whatever. Just after twelve o'clock Hopper called it in and ordered them all to sleep. James wasn't thrilled about his sleeping position with Dustin on his right and Lucus on his left. There was only one person he wanted to be sleeping next to tonight.

23rd August 1986

Will awoke with a certain sharp and lanky elbow sticking into his side. Mike was gently snoring beside him in the small tent. He reflected on just how much Mike had grown in the last two years. It wasn't that long ago when the whole party could have squeezed into Castle Byers to play a D & D campaign. Mike wasn't the only one either. Everyone had grown up and changed so much.

Will could feel a wave of sadness gripping his throat. There was something in the back of his brain that itched at him ever since he started high school. It was like a clock had started a dreadful count down. Constantly remaining him that the days he had with his friends were numbered, limited to the time they had left in Hawkins. What would happen when they all went off to college. Would he be alone again?

Will took a deep breath and rolled over to try to claim some sleep. There was nothing he could do to stop the clock. He just had to accept it and enjoy the time he had left with the people he loved. After a few pointless minutes, he gave up and looked around the tent for his bag. Once he was dressed he checked his watch. Seven O' Clock, it would be a while since the rest of the party would be awake.

Will exited the tent and took a deep breath. The smell of the pine and the lake filled his lungs. It reminded him of the last time he had been camping, although he wished it hadn't. Lonnie took him and Johnathon when Will was seven or eight. It had easily been some of the worst experiences in his life. He and Johnathon were screamed at for messing with the radio while trying to play a mixtape they had made. Their dad threw it from the moving car after his rant. It was the first tape they had ever made together.

Once they got to the campsite things only got worse. Lonnie yelled at Will for not helping around the campsite while Johnathon was gone to collect water. He gave Will an ax and told him to stop being useless and start chopping wood. Will remembered trying to lift the heavy ax above his head but failing every time. Once his father noticed his desperate attempts he screamed at him until he burst into tears. That's when his father had really gotten enraged. He called him a sissy and a fairy and other words Will wished he never learned. Lonnie made him keep trying until he passed out in the middle of the night with a beer can in his hand and a discarded stack at his feet. At which point Johnathon took the ax and stayed up all night chopping wood then gave Will the credit. Almost every painful memory of his father co-existed with a happy memory of his brother. It was just a matter of perspective.

Will sat on the makeshift benches and chairs that were positioned around the campfire. Will threw two more logs onto the dying embers of the previous night's fire. Then filled the coffee pot with water and positioned it on the racks over the fire. At this pace, he would be lucky if the coffee was ready in an hour.

The sound of a tent zipping open snapped Will out of his daydream. He turned to see his mother exiting her tent and make her way over to the fire.

"Good morning sweetheart," Joyce said leaning over and kissing the top of his forehead.

"morning" Will mumbled.

"Happy Birthday," She said and wrapped him in a smothering hug. Will loosely hugged her back with a smile. He had completely forgotten about his birthday. Tick-Tock the clock in the back of his head shouted at him.

"Thanks, mom," Will said with a smile.

"I can't believe my baby is sixteen," Joyce said as she sat down next to him.

"I think we will do presents after dinner tonight." She added.

"Sounds good" Will replied.

"How did you sleep," Joyce asked. Will opened his mouth to reply then hesitated.

"Would have slept better if James was..." Will said.

"Will no," She said stopping him mid-sentence. She was firm but still had a smile on her face. He knew she wasn't going to weaver on the topic but it was worth a try.

"Fine. But I'm not a child. You said it yourself I'm sixteen" Will replied.

"You will always be my little boy," Joyce said and leaned into huddle next to him. Will couldn't help but notice how small she was compared to him now. Tick-Tock.

"I know but I don't want my son having sex for the first time in some tent," She said.

"Whoa, Whoa. That's not at all what I was planning on doing. Not that its any of your business." Will said as he blushed lightly and laughed. It was awkward but Will liked having this kind of relationship with his mother. There were no secrets between them.

Will stayed with Joyce and chatted until the rest of the camp woke up. The first was Max and El. Then Hop. Then the rest of the guys. Everyone dragged their feet towards the fire. Dustin, in particular, was not a morning person. Once everyone was dressed, they sat around the campfire and waited as Hopper and Joyce cooked breakfast. Which mainly consisted of burnt bacon and burnt coffee.

"So what we going to do today," Max asked to no one in particular.

"We could go swimming in the lake" Mike replied. Nobody voiced any objections.

"What about later" Dustin asked.

"There's a great trail around the lake," Hopper said.

"You could go hiking" He added.

"What do you think Will. it's your birthday," El asked him. All eyes fell to Will.

"Sounds fine to me" He confirmed. Everyone took turns getting changed into swimming gear in their respective tents. Once everyone was ready they walked down to the lake together. Joyce and Hopper stayed at the camp. Will really didn't want to know how they were going to spend there day alone in the camp.

The party walked and chatted for a few minutes before reaching the edge of the lake. It was vast and beautiful. The tress reflecting on the surface of the water where a stunning shade of green. Will wished he had brought something to draw with. They walked around the edge of the lake looking for the best place to swim. Will didn't notice the steady incline until they found themselves looking over a cliff about thirty meters above the surface of the water.

Dustin walked over to the edge of the cliff and peaked over. Will could feel his knees becoming weaker the closer he got to the edge. He never thought he had a fear of heights, more like a general fear of falling thirty meters to a watery death.

"Dude don't even think about it" Lucus warned as Dustin walked along the edge of the cliff with his hands outstretched like a tight rope walker. It was making Will nervous just watching it.

"The last one in is a mouth breather" Dustin shouted as he threw his shirt aside and leaped off the cliff. Everyone gasped and lunged towards the edge of the cliff as soon as he disappeared from view. Will could feel his stomach-turning.

Once he looked down into the water he was greeted with Dustin's grin starring back at him. Will could feel everyone exhale and relax simultaneously. It was one hell of a drop, Will had to respect Dustin for jumping off.

"Common you mouth breathers" Dustin shouted up from the surface of the water. Will looked around and found everyone avoiding eye contact.

"No way. Not a chance I'm not doing that" Lucus insisted. Max stood next to him and shook her head in agreement.

"Someone should go after him. We can't leave him down there on his own" El said as she looked to Mike. it took Mike a second to realize everyone was looking at him. Will had to laugh at him. He was their paladin for sure but this wasn't a game of D & D.

"Absolutely not," Mike said backing away from the edge of the cliff and waving his hands in panic.

"Come on man. You jumped off the quarry" Lucus said. Will remembered hearing that story for the first time. The incident at the quarry as they referred to it. He would have given anything to have been there to see it for himself.

"That was different I had to help Dustin," Mike said. James seemed to be surprised about what Lucus had said.

"Bullshit you jumped off the quarry. No way someone lives after that kind of fall" James joked. He was still catching up on some stories relating to El and the upside-down. Will had told him most things from his point of view but sometimes he forgets about all of his friend's adventures without him.

"I did jump off the quarry for your information" Mike boasted.

"Yea but then your girlfriend had to catch you," Lucus said making Mike deflate. James let out a very sarcastic laugh.

"Doesn't count" James replied.

"Does too. I bet you won't jump off the cliff" Mike said. Everyone went silent and there gaze fell to James. It was a standoff like in some old western movie.

"You bet me huh. What's the wager" James said with a smile. Everyone's eyes flicked back to Mike. It was like they were following the ball in a tennis match. Will could feel the nerves bubbling around in his stomach. Dustin was fine but he didn't want James to do it.

"Ten dollars," Mike said with a smile. Will guessed he was just happy the heat was off him.

"I don't want your money" James replied. Will's curiosity was peaked. What was James thinking? He was always so difficult to predict.

"What then" Mike replied.

"Swap tents with me," James said quickly. Will's heart leaped into his throat. Was James serious? Was he stupid? Will was sure this was going to throw up some serious red flags.

"Why do you want to swap tents," Mike said suspiciously. Will was starting to sweat. What the hell was James thinking, pulling this shit in front of everyone was dangerous.

"Dustin snores incredibly loudly" James replied quickly, never breaking eye contact with Mike. Will held his breath and waited for Mike to call James on his lie.

"Okay deal," Mike said after a few seconds of unbearable silence. Mike held out his hand.

"Hopper said no switching so we have to swap back in the morning," James said as he clasped Mike's hand's hand and shook it. Mike nodded his approval. James turned around and his eyes meet Will for a split second, but it was enough for Will to see his resolve.

James kicked off his sandals and removed his shirt and handed it to Will. He had gotten accustomed to James's scars over the last couple of weeks. He knew them like the back off his hand. But not everyone had the same exposure to James' body as he had. Mike clearly averted his gaze. Max and El didn't look away but didn't look directly at him either. Lucus didn't react at all. Will guessed it was due to the time they spent sparring with one another. It was weird for a few seconds before James burst into a sprint and barreled towards the edge of the cliff. Once he reached the edge he dove off and disappeared from view. Will could hear the splash of the water before he had reached the edge of the cliff. Once got a view just in time to see James emerge from the surface of the lake and high fived Dustin.

"That idiot," Max said looking over the cliff.

"Common we can meet them at that beach down there," Lucus said pointing towards a small gravel beach at the base of the cliff.

Everyone turned to walk down to the base of the cliff but Will stayed and stared down into the water below. James hadn't hesitated for a second to jump. James never hesitated to do anything. He just goes. James wanted to sleep in the tent with him so he made it happen. Will envied his determination.

"Will you coming," Mike asked once he noticed the boy's absence.

"No," Will said as he removed his t-shirt. He dropped all of his and James' stuff besides his feet. At this point, he noticed everyone stop and look at him.

"You're not serious right," Lucus said, Will could hear the worry echoing in his voice. He couldn't be more serious right now. Tick Tok.

Will walked to the edge of the cliff and peered over the immense drop. It seemed twice as high as it was when James had jumped. Will could feel his heart beating out of his chest, his knees were shaking. He was terrified. It was exhilarating. Lucus opened his mouth to speak again but it was too late. All of a sudden Will could feel the air rushing past him and the blue water was rushing up to meet him. He was swallowed by the water in seconds. The cold water instantly brought him back to some sense. Will didn't even remember jumping. Once he emerged from the water he looked around and saw James and Dustin looking at him with a shocked expression.

"Yesss BYERS!" Dustin shouted and swim over to high five him. James just smiled at him. All of them swam over to the beach at the base of the cliff in a few minutes. They sat on the gravel drying off for a few minutes before the rest of the party finished their descent off the cliff.

Once they arrived everyone got back into the water and messed around for a couple of hours. They played a bunch of different games and had races to determine the fastest swimmer. Who Will was surprised to learn was Dustin. Will guessed to was due to the fact he goes to summer camp every year. Besides swimming, they just messed around and talked while in the water or taking brakes on the beach to dry themselves in the sun. Overall Will was loving it. The people he loved all together all happy. It was the best present he could have asked for. He was even able to silence that part of his brain that told him it couldn't last.

Once they had gotten their fill with the lake they got out and started walking along a rough path that seemed to follow the edge of the lake. Will guessed it was the same one Hopper mentioned. Will couldn't really call it a trail either. It didn't look like many people had been around in awhile.

As the party walked they naturally split into groups. Mike, Dustin, and Lucus were walking at a decent pace at the front. A few meters behind them were Max and El. Then Will and James were taking up the rear. Will tried to hide the fact he was dragging his feet. He wanted to talk with James without the chance of being overheard.

"So that bet with Mike," Will asked coyly. It wasn't what he wanted to talk about but since it happened Will was finding it hard to think of anything else.

"You don't approve" James replied with a smile. Will definitely approved but it was careless.

"It was reckless is all. What if someone where to start noticing things like that. What if Hopper or my mom find out" Will said. He wanted to sleep in the same bed as James. He wanted it more than anything, for him to be the first thing he sees in the morning. It was still not the best time.

"Everything will be fine. Besides what's life without a bit of risk" James said. Will stopped walking and turned to face him.

"What if they find out, I'm not ready for that" Will said. Besides his best effort, his voice came out as shaky at best. James stopped and picked up the distress in his voice.

"Me either but nobody is going to find out. I promise" James said sincerely. Will took a deep breath and nodded his head. James took that as a sign and continued walking along the path but Will didn't move.

"You okay," James said when he realized Will wasn't following him.

"Can we just... talk for a minute?" Will said quietly. James just smiled back at him.

"Will we are talking" James replied sarcastically.

"Your episodes are getting worse," Will said plainly. The smile slowly faded from James' face. He remained quiet. Will hated when he shut him out like this.

"Are you okay?" Will asked.

"Can you please not ask me that fucking question" James snapped at him. Will wasn't taken back by his outburst. He knew all of James tricks to avoid talking about himself. There was nothing he could do to push him away, not anymore.

"I'll stop asking when you tell me the truth" Will replied. James turned and started walking away from him down the trail. Will had completely lost sight of everyone else at this point.

"James, please talk to me," Will said running after him and pulling him back by the arm.

"Will can you just fucking drop this" James shouted back at him.

"No James, I cant" Will replied.

"What do you want to hear Will, huh" James hissed at him.

"Whatever is going on I want to help you," Will said. James just sighed and calmed down.

"You can't help me, Will, not in the way you think you can. I love you and your support means everything to me. but I'm a drug addict. I'm always going to be an addict." James said.

"I thought you were getting better" Will whispered.

"It doesn't work like that. Once an addict always an addict." James replied. Will didn't understand what he was trying to say.

"I don't understand James, help me to understand please" Will begged.

"Every day I wake up and think, is this the day I finally crack and break. Is this the day I wake up from this fantasy and realize I was fucking delusional to think I could make this work. I was so fucking close to stealing pills from your house a couple of weeks ago." James said. Will was silent for a moment. He had to process everything James had said. He knew James was struggling but he had no idea just how bad it was.

"But you didn't take them. You can beat this, we can beat this" Will said as he took James hand in his. He took a step into James and hugged him. Wills's head was resting gently under James' chin. He could hear the soft beating of his heart. It had an odd calming effect on Will. They stayed in the embrace for what seemed like an eternity.

"I love you, James, that's all that matters. Everything else is just... circumstance" Will whispered into his chest.

"I love you too, Will" James replied.

"I want to get lost with you" Will whispered. James broke from the embrace and looked Will in the eyes. Will adored his perfect blue eyes.

"Then let's go," James said softly. He grabbed Will by the hand and led him off the path into the woods. Neither of them could see any party members anymore. They made there way further and further into the woods.

It was beautiful here Will thought. He and James walked hand in hand without saying much. They walked in whatever direction they wanted. Will knew how dangerous and stupid it was but he didn't care. He hoped nobody ever found them. At least out here in the woods alone they didn't have to pretend to be something they weren't. He wished their adventure would last forever. They were together and that's all that mattered. They were getting lost but they were doing together.

They wondered for what felt like hours. Will had an idea that James was leading them back in a certain direction. How James kept track of their direction was lost on him. But before he could ask any questions he spotted the smoke from the campfire rising up through the trees.

Will was amazed that James was able to find his way back. For a city kid, he was pretty handy outdoors. Once they approached the camp Will could overhear Hopper yelling. It was a sound they were all overly familiar with.

"How could you just lose track of two people" Hopper shouted. Will could just about see the party huddled together cowering behind El. They looked like they were trying to hide from a bear. It made Will smile.

"They where there one minute and gone the next" El mumbled.

"It's okay where here" James shouted once they were on the outskirts of the camp. Everyone shot over towards them as they approached. Hopper looked like a bull whereas Joyce was wrapping Will in a dangerously tight hug.

"Where the hell where you" Hopper hissed at the two of them. Will and James shared a glance out of the corner of their eyes.

"We went for a walk," James said nonchalantly and shrugged his shoulders.

"You should have stayed with the group," Hopper said with a grim expression. James opened his mouth to retaliate but Joyce stepped between them.

"It's fine Hop, as long as their back safe," She said smiling at Will. He felt bad for making her worry but the alone time he spent with James was so amazing it was almost worth it.

After things settled and James and Will crafted and alibi, saying they walked back and around the opposite side of the lake. Nobody questioned their story. After they spent a few minutes explaining their disappearance everyone gathered around the campfire to eat dinner. Which Will had to admit wasn't awful. They ate either hamburgers or hotdogs and they were only slightly burnt. After dinner, Joyce produced cupcakes for everyone one of which had a large birthday candle sticking out from it.

Will sat and blushed as everyone enthusiastically sang him a happy birthday. He always was mortified every year by that damned song. It didn't take Will a second to decide what his birthday wish was going to be. He didn't believe in that sort of thing but he wished for it anyway. It was stupid, even he had to admit that. Maybe he was just a nihilist or maybe it was that fucking timer in his head but something told him all of this happiness was not going to last forever. If he couldn't have it forever then he wished it could last for as long as possible. After their dessert he opened the varies presents from all of his friends and mother. It was easily the best birthday he has ever had.

Once everyone was done eating, they drifted off to bed one by one. The first to go was Max and El, then it was Hopper and Joyce. The boys were the last ones around the fire.

"Alright I'm going to call it a night," James said standing up and heading towards Will's tent.

"Remember we switch tomorrow, I don't need Hopper chewing me out over some stupid switch, just so you can escape Chewbacca for the night" Mike shouted after him.

"A deals a deal," James said with a smile before he disappeared into the tent.
"I know that was supposed to be an insult, but I'm happy to be called Chewy," Dustin said. The rest of the guys sat around the fire in deep conversation about something. Will wasn't sure what though. His mind was narrowly focused on one thing and nothing could derail it. The only reason he was still out here was that he didn't want to seem too eager.

After a few minutes, he couldn't take it anymore. Dustin was halfway through some story when Will suddenly announced he was going to bed. Will was nervous but also incredibly excited. He really didn't know why. They were just sleeping in the same tent, it wasn't a big deal. Once he entered the tent he found James's eyes meeting his own.

"Took your time" James joked.

"You waiting up for me" Will replied with a grin. James started to blush which instantly made Will smile. James always looked cute when he blushed and it wasn't an easy thing to embarrass James White.

"Shut up" James laughed. He could feel James's eyes on him as he changed and climbed into his sleeping bag.

"You know there is loads of room in my sleeping bag" James whispered. Without saying anything Will crawled out of his sleeping bag and climbed into James. James's immense body heat warmed him instantly as he wrapped an arm around the smaller boy and hugged him closely. Will never felt more comfortable or safe as he did when in James' arms.

"You enjoy your birthday," James asked. Will almost laughed at the question.

"yea it was amazing. Thank you for your present" Will said and leaned up to gently place his lips on James. Will expected the kiss to carry but James broke it early.

"There's one more thing I wanted to give you" James whispered in his ear. Will was confused until he could feel James's hand slowly moving on his thigh. He liked where this was going.

24th August 1986

Perhaps it had all just been a dream. He was definitely going to wake up cold and hungry with Lucus's knees stabbing him in his ribs and Dustin's hand slapped across his face. Perhaps the previous night was just some fragment of his imagination, some part of his brain that yearned to be with Will in that way.

The previous night's activities came rushing back to him in an instant, it put a broad smile on his face. The more his and Will's relationship developed the less uncertain he was about his sexuality. It wasn't something James dedicated his thoughts on, it never really seemed important to him. He is attracted to Will, he was attracted to girls before Will. Was it really necessary to categorize everything in life? James didn't need a label to define himself by, he was going to love who he chose to love regardless of any group he might fall into. It didn't matter to him and more importantly, it didn't matter to Will.

James built up the courage and opened his eyes to face the morning light piercing through the tent. To his delight, he found Will asleep on top of him. Will was gently breathing while lying face down on James' chest. His head rose and fell slowly with every breath James took. He felt a strange sense of security as his boyfriend clung to him in his sleep. It wasn't a situation or feeling he was prepared to handle but one thing was for sure. He never wanted to wake up any other way for the rest of his life.

James kissed the top of Will's head and held his breath as Will shifted slightly on him. James waited until he was sure Will was relaxed again before scanning the tent for Will's watch. He knew Will had set an alarm and it hadn't gone off so he deduced it must have been around seven in the morning. Plenty of time before he had to switch with Mike. James remembered Will talking off the watch the night before. James spotted the small Casio watch touched under Will's t-shirt which was discarded beside his unused sleeping bag.

Once James read the digits on the face of the watch his heart dropped. He cursed at himself and threw the watch back down on Will's t-shirt. It was already eight O'clock. They had overslept, the plan was for them to have everything packed up and be gone by nine-thirty. Hopper would be up any second if he wasn't already.

"Shit, Will... WILL" James cursed and shuck Will awake. Will looked around confused., He seemed surprised to see James in the tent.

"James" Will said sleepily.

"Wake up we overslept," James said scrambling out of the sleeping bag. Will seemed to take a second to fully wake up and consider the situation. James was zipping up his jeans when Will's eyes went wide and grasped for his watch. James tried not to laugh at his panic when he read the time from the display.

"Fuck," Will said going towards the entrance of the tent. James looked for his t-shirt while Will slowly opened the door of the tent just enough to peek out.

"Okay, we're good to go," Will said zipping open the rent the rest of the way. Before stepping out James knelt down and kissed Will.

"Last night was fun," James said with a huge grin.

"Yeah it was okay I suppose" Will replied sarcastically.

"Last time I ever go down on you then" James laughed. Will suddenly turned a very deep shade of red.

"Go wake Mike up before Hooper catches you and kills us all" Will said leaning up and kissing him again. James stepped out of the tent and walked a couple of steps into the camp.

"Hey James" Will shouted after him. James turned around to look back at Will in the tent. He was looking at him with those big brown doe eyes that made James's knees feel weak.

"Best birthday present ever," Will said before disappearing back into the tent. James couldn't wipe the smile from his face if he tried. His stomach was vibrating like a thousand butterflies were swarming in him. He couldn't really describe the feeling. It was love for sure. James walked quickly over to Mike's tent and wrapped his knuckles against the slick fabric.

"Mike... Mike, it's James, wake up" James hissed. He could hear someone shuffling around inside the tent.

"Shit" James heard someone say through the thin material. A second later the tent flew open and Mike's head poked out looking panicked.

"Hopper up yet," Mike said looking around and scanning the campsite for any sign of the Chief.

"Nope hurry up though," James said waving his hand to hurry Mike up.

"Cant's belive all of this for some stupid bet. If we get caught and I lose visiting privileges with El I will seriously kill you." Mike said angrily while picking up his clothes and leaving the tent. Mike clearly wasn't a morning person, James thought.

James stood by the tent and watched Mike walk halfway towards Will's tent when he stopped dead in his tracks. Both of them could hear the horrible zipping sound from the direction of Hopper's tent. They stood frozen in their place as they watched the giant man awkwardly stumble from the small tent wearing only his boxer shorts. James could only feel bad for Mike having to see his girlfriend's father in this situation. Hopper seemed surprised to see them.

"You two are up early" He questioned suspiciously. He looked between the two of them. James looked casual while Mike just looked at his feet.

"Yea well Dustin's snoring" James lied. Hopper looked between them once again. There was an awkward silence as Hopper's gaze fell on Mike, clearly expecting an explanation for why he was up. James could feel Mike cracking under the pressure. Hopper hadn't even said anything. James truly felt sorry for any man in an interrogation with Hopper.

"Great you can help me pack the gear," Hopper said after a few tortures and painful seconds.

Mike was shooting him daggers the whole time they helped Hopper back the cooking and fire equipment into one of his packs. It didn't take long for everyone else to wake up from the noise of pots and pans being stuffed into bags. Everyone started packing up their individual stuff and with the help from Hopper, their tents. James was dreading their ling hike back but once everything was packed they, unfortunately, set off. James took one last look back at the lake before the left. He promised himself he would be back here, just him and Will. They didn't have to hide when they were lost in the woods. He was going to miss that.

James was physically exhausted but his stomach and head didn't pain him any more than normal. He wasn't getting the shakes or any muscle spasms or nausea. Nothing he would normally associate with the symptoms he had previously experienced. However, he was getting really tired and relieved when he finally saw the gap in the tress that indicated they were back at the cars.

Max and Lucus dragged their feet to the car. Everyone was tired but Will was practically asleep while leaning against the car. Max approached him and nudged him on the shoulder.

"Will why don't you go in the back and get some sleep," Max said shaking his shoulder again. Will just nodded his head and crawled into the backseat beside Lucus. Both of the boys in the back where asleep before James even got a chance to start the engine. James followed Hopper's truck back through the twisting and winding roads.

"So how did you sleep," Max asked about twenty minutes into the journey.

"Glad to get away from Dustin snoring" James joked casually. Max just looked at him through the corner of her eye.

"You know you can talk to me right," Max said quietly. James could tell she was serious from the tone of her voice.

"Of course Max," James said while smiling ar her. He wondered where all this was coming from. She like Will, was probably just noticing some of the long terms effects of his recovery. He hadn't talked about it with anyone but Will but it wouldn't have taken a genius to notice something was wrong with him on the journey to the lake.

"There's something strange going on between you and Will," Max said quietly. It took everything for James not to swerve the car when she said it. Where they really that obvious. Max just looked at him as he remained silent and searched for an escape route. Maybe crashing the car was a good idea?

"I don't know what you're talking about" James whispered. Why did he never sound convincing when lying to that red-headed witch. James could feel himself starting to sweat. He checked the rearview mirror and glimpsed at Will peacefully asleep in the back. Seeing Will calmed him slightly. Neither he or Lucus gave any indication they heard what Max had asked or where even conscience.

"You and Will have been acting strange since you came back to Hawkins. Constantly sneaking around without the party and whispering to each other. You have always been close but something is different" Max explained. James had to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. He was a fucking idiot. He and Will both were. Of course, someone was going to notice, He's not James Bond and Max isn't stupid

"Nothings going on," James said firmly and gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles were turning white. Maybe she would just drop it. Good one James, he thought.

"Alright, maybe I'm just being crazy," Max said with a smile. James audibly exhaled and tried to relax. Maybe she really was just going to drop it. That was a close one, he thought to himself. He and Will were going to have to be extra careful from now on.

"It just remains me of when El and Mike first started... dating..." Max slowly trailed off the sentence. James's heartbeat started to skyrocket in his chest. Max looked confused as if she was finally putting the last piece of a complex puzzle together. Then her eyes suddenly shot open in surprise and she spun her head around to look at him.

James could feel him himself really starting to freak out. Was this it, was this how everyone was going to find out. What was going to happen now? James knew the party loved him and Will but would this revelation change that. Would they still even be in the party. Nobody would understand what was between them. Was this beginning to the end that he feared so much.

"You and Will... you's aren't just friends are you," Max said still looking like someone had slapped her.

"Where together, we have been for a while now" James whispered. He got a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror. He was sweating buckets was looking a little white. This conversation was the last one he had ever planned on having, at least not for a while and definitely not until Will was comfortable telling someone if he ever will be. James could already feel the shame and embarrassment slowly creeping around his stomach. He couldn't give a shit what anybody thought about him, but Max wasn't just anyone. She wasn't going to understand, how could she possibly understand. Max stayed quiet until James couldn't take it anymore.

"Will you say something, please?" James said angrily.

"I think you two make a great couple," Max said with a smile. James whipped his head around to look at her. Where was all the disgust, the isolation, the hatred?

"What... Is that it" James shouted. His tone was angry although he really didn't know why.

"I mean I have a thousand questions but I'm happy for you" Max replied. James just remained silent. His head was spinning.

"Go ahead," James said.

"I always had my suspicions about Will but I didn't know you played for the other team" Max laughed. James was shell shocked. This was not how he was expecting this conversation to go.

"I em... I didn't until I meet Will or maybe just didn't realize until I meet him " James answered. Was he really having this conversation?

"It's okay James, you now that right" Max said, sensing his discomfort and fear.

"We both know that's not true" James replied somberly. James could tell Max was about to argue but she didn't. The world wasn't kind to people like James and Will, and she knew it.

"Look, Max, you can't tell anyone about this not even Lucus," James said looking back in the rearview mirror to confirm they were still asleep.

"Yea no problem, I great at keeping secrets, unlike you" She replied with a smile. James actually cracked a smile as well.

"And you're sure you are okay with this," James said cautiously.

"Are you kidding, of course, I'm okay with it and Fuck me if I wasn't. Don't live your life according to someone else's rules. " Max said with a grin. James was shocked. He would have never expected this kind of acceptance from anyone. But maybe he should have. A wave of guilt was made its way through him. Had he really thought so little of his friends? Maybe the rest of the party would react similarly. James took one more look at WIll sleeping in the back seat and imagined their life together if the party knew. Maybe he was being naive, but perhaps telling them wasn't the worst idea. Afterall El had trusted him enough with her literally reality-bending secret.

"Thank you, Max, I really mean it," James said sincerely.

"So who knows, Am I the first" Max asked. She was practically jumping out of her seat. James sensed it was the first of a thousand questions.

"Joyce, Johnathon and Hopper... and you" James answered.

"So your step-parents don't know" Max asked. James hadn't thought much about how he was going to tell them. Firstly he should just focus on repairing their relationship.

"No we have had enough drama to last a lifetime, I'm going to give it some time" James replied.

"How did you figure it out, you think anyone else will piece it together," James asked. If they were going to continue as a secret they were going to have to be more careful.

"Are you kidding. This is a small town in middle America. They could catch you and Will having sex and not put two and two together." Max said making James blush furiously.

"OH, so that's why you wanted to swap tents," Max said noticing his embarrassment.

"No that not what happened, I mean we didn't... We kind of... Look I'm not discussing this with you" James said as he contemplated jumping from the moving vehicle.

"I'm only fucking with you," Max said with a grin.

"There's one more thing I need you to do" James asked.

"Sure, anything," Max said quickly.

"Can you not tell Will you know. He isn't ready for anyone to find out. He will come around eventually but we're still figuring out what we have and I just think it might complicate things" James explained. Max listened carefully and nodded her head.

"Sure it's our little secret" She replied, great James thought, another secret to keep. At least he won't have to keep it from Max, but he hated lying to Will.

"Thanks, Max," James said. She probably will never understand how much that conversation meant to James. But he will make sure to make it up to her in some way or form.

The next hour or so of the ride was spent in constant conversation. He filled Max in on everything that happened between them. The first time he kissed him after sneaking into his room, he accidentally left out the part of him being high at the time. To Will's confession of love before he left Hawkins to the time they spent while James was recovering. James had never told anyone the full story like that before. It wasn't your typical boy meets girl love story. It was complicated and full of more pain than James would care to remember. But it was their love story and nobody could take it from them.

James abruptly stopped their conversation once Lucus woke up looking confused. Will wanst long waking after him. They spent the rest of the journey in casual conversation and singing along with the radio. When they got back to Hawkins he dropped off Lucus first then Max. Then drove to Will's house. instead of dropping him off and going home James followed him into his house and fell asleep against him on the couch.



Chapter Text

1st September 1986

The first day of his sophomore year in Hawkins high. James was exactly where he wanted to be. As he scanned the parking lot for a vacant space he thought about everything that had happened to him in the last year. He had lost so much but yet had gained something he thought he could never have again. A family. But maybe that just meant he had more to lose.

James wanted nothing more than to say his life was perfect right now. On the outside, it might seem like he had it all. Loving parents, friends that would die for him and a boyfriend that he loved so much he realized he had never known what the word had meant up until now. James knew he had everything he had ever wanted, so why did he still fell like something was missing. Maybe there was something wrong with him. He never noticed the absence when he was high, but now that he was sober it was undeniable. The drugs were just the treatment, not the disease, it terrified him.

James cast his feelings aside and drove the Camero into a free spot on the far side of the car park. He knew these feelings were like a bad dream, in a few minutes he wouldn't even remember thinking them. But they would still be there, lurking... waiting. The engine rumbled for a second then fell silent as James pulled the keys from the ignition and climbed from the driver's seat.

As he walked in the direction of the entrance he instantly spotted the gang of teens huddled at the doors to the school. His friends. His party waiting for him. No one ever waited for him before but they did. They were, without a doubt, the only reason he was still drawing breath and he thought about how to repay them every day. Once he was within distance waved to them.

James greeted them once he reached the school's entrance. Nobody noticed him, they were all stuck in their own world. Max and El gossiping about something James was not interested in. Dustin and Lucus were arguing about some comic James had yet to read. Only Will actually noticed him approach. His smile lingered over him for a few moments before Will averted his gaze. James wanted nothing more than to kiss him but he had promised himself to be more careful with there relationship. Afterall if Max could piece it together, someone else could.

She unsurprisingly had kept her word and not told the rest of the party or Will. He was entirely grateful to her but there was only so long he could push it. He would have to tell Will sooner rather than later. However, James was nervous about his reaction. They fight just like every other couple so, but he was still afraid. What if Will broke up with him? He knew it was a stupid thing to think about. After the activities in Will's tent, they were closer than ever, but a deep corner in his sub-conscience itched at him. Whispered to him that he wasn't good enough for Will, that it wasn't going to go the way he wanted it to.

But that was his problem and his insecurities to deal with. It wasn't fair to pile that onto Will. But maybe it was best to wait and tell him about Max at a better time. They were in a great place right now and he didn't want to jeopardize that.

The warning bell brought everyone back into focus. They all took a deep breath and walked into the school together. James hadn't really made the decision to return to school. Everyone just assumed he would return so he just went with it. Jess had sorted everything out with the school, stating his absence was due to medical reasons. Which wasn't too far fetched James thought. After everything that had happened to him, after everything he had learned, school just felt so mundane, so unnecessary. It's not like they would be teaching what to do if one of your friends had superpowers and can open gates to different dimensions that contain world threating monsters. James thought that actually sounded like class worth taking.

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more," El said as they walked through the doors and into the hall.

"Ugh... You just reminded me we have to study Shakespeare" Mike groaned as they walked in the direction of the homeroom to collect their class schedules.

"I know it's great," El said with a broad smile. Everyone else groaned at her enthusiasm.

"Your such a nerd," Dustin said. Everyone else just looked at him with absolute confusion. James could sense one of Dustin's strange ideas coming.

"That's rich coming from you" Max replied. Dustin ignored her comment and grinned. James knew it was coming. He could already guess it was one of his convoluted stereotypical schemes to become popular.

"I don't know if you guys have noticed but the ladies don't seem to be picking up on the whole nerd persona," Dustin said confidently. James tried not to laugh at him. Max obviously didn't try at all as her laughter rang out through the hall. She only got herself under control as they entered there homeroom.

"Persona, seriously" Will laughed. Dustin looked at them all seriously. it looked liked he actually believed what he was saying.

"So I have decided to be cool this year. I'm thinking something edgy, something a bit dangerous" Dustin explained as the rest of the party looked for any sign he was joking, and found none.

"So you want to be more like James, that's so cute" Lucus mocked, making Dustin shoot him a dirty look.

"It's obviously nothing like James. I mean he clearly isn't attracting the babes. No offense" Dustin said giving him a sympathetic smile. James just nodded his head in agreement. He could see Max looking at him through the corner of his eye. The irony was painfully apparent.

"So your plan to get a girlfriend is to change everything about yourself," James asked just to confirm the absurdity of his plan.

"Exactly" Dustin replied boldly. James thought Dustin was a complete idiot sometimes. But his optimism was something he envied. If it wasn't for Dustin's blind loyalty his drug problem probably would have never been exposed, well until they found his overdosed body in his car.

"Good luck with that" Mike said sarcastically as he walked past him to join the queue to collect his class schedule. Nobody paid him any more attention and everyone joined Mike in the queue to collect their class schedule. James stayed back with Dustin.

"Listen, man, if you want a girlfriend all you have to do is be yourself," James said sincerely. A hint of sadness flashed across Dustin's face before it was replaced with his cocky grin. James had built enough walls around himself to notice the ones other people put up.

"Yeah right, I tried that, it hasn't gone so well" Dustin joked. James knew he was joking but hearing Dustin put himself down like that hurt him.

"Look any girl who doesn't see your one of the best guys in this whole fucking school, she isn't worth being with. I promise you don't have to change a thing" James said seriously. Dustin just looked at him with a blank expression. James didn't really know where this was coming from but he wasn't going to let Dustin doubt himself like that.

"You really think that's true," Dustin said softly not wanting anyone to overhear the conversation.

"Every word," James said honestly. Dustin just smiled at him. Finally a real smile, James thought. He couldn't think of anyone else in the world who deserved to be happy and he made a promise to himself at that moment to make sure to spend more time with him. It must not be easy for him to be the only single friend in a group of couples, even if he didn't know it.

"Thaks man, come on we better go get our schedule," Dustin said with a smile. Both of them joined the rest of the party who seemed not to notice their absence, except for Will who eyed him curiously. James just shot him a wink which appeared to answer Will's curiosity.

Overall James was pleased with his classes for the year. He shared a couple of classes with Will, which opened the door to numerous possible study dates. But the main reason he was happy was that he didn't have any classes alone. The same went for everyone else in the party. He knew Will was particularly scared to attend classes without anyone. If that had been the case he would have found some way to swap or change classes.

"Do you know if they dumped my locker when I left?" James asked to no one in particular. Everyone was assigned the same locker they had the year before and James's was further away than everyone else. His locker was in the worst part of the building. It was the last corridor before entering the gym. It spent most of the time in the dark and James could, unfortunately, smell the overpowering scent of the boys' locker room when he was there.

"They were going to, but Will asked them not too" El answered. James tried to look at Will but the smaller boy turned his bright pink face away from him. James thought he was cute when embarrassed.

"Right I'm going to salvage what I can from last year's stuff. See you all at lunch" James said as he waved them goodbye and left down the hall. At that point, the halls were starting to fill up. Everyone was rushing from their lockers to classes. However, James couldn't help but notice the eyes on him. He had noticed it as soon as he entered the school. It wasn't like everyone was staring at him but there were a lot of odd glances and hushed whispers that disappeared as soon as he approached.

James could only guess at some of the rumors that likely spread after his abrupt absence. He knew that some of them had guessed at the truth. It hadn't been the first time he up and disappeared from Hawkins though last time he did it, he buried his mother first. James remembered that the first day of Hawkins high, the rumors about him and his family. Not much had changed he supposed.

It probably didn't help that he returned with a grisly scar ripping across his head. That was most likely what was raising eyebrows in the corridors. James suspected the absurdity of the explanation for his wound would increase exponentially as the school year went one. Thankfully these things had a way of dying out. Regardless of the rumors about it, the truth was more impossible than any wild imagination of a bored teenage girl.

James tried to ignore the lingering glance as he rounded the last corner into the deserted corridor. He guessed that he was the only one who hadn't switch their locker yet. The corridor was dimly lit and had a weird strange atmosphere hanging over it. It was sweat that Will lobbied for James to keep his locker but would it have killed him to ask for an upgrade. James thought about what Will did as he tried to remember which locker was his. Did Will always know he would come back to Hawkins?

James opened his locker and examined the few items inside. Overall it probably wasn't worth keeping. There was a spare t-shirt he removed and stuffed into his bag. Besides that, it was mainly loose notebooks and other discarded stationary. James was about to close the locker door and head to class but he hesitated. Behind a bunch of notebooks, stuffed in the back of the locker was a brown paper bag. Out of curiosity James removed the bag and examined its contents. As soon as he did, he froze solid. His hands began shaking immediately.

Inside the bag was a litany of drugs, mainly bottles of pills and a few small brown bags. James had no memory of ever stashing this stuff in his locker. Everything from that point was hazy at best. James cursed at himself, how fucking stupid was he to store this shit in school. Stupid or desperate he asked himself.

James quickly scanned up and down the corridor to make sure he was still alone. He folded the top of the bag closed and thought of the best way to dispose of it. He needed to get it away from him as soon as possible. If he threw it in the trash then someone was likely to find it. Fuck what if they could prove he put it in there. James was starting to panic, he could feel his heart pumping out of his chest. The small brown bag felt as heavy as an anvil in his hands. James took a deep breath and thought about the situation. There were no security cameras in the halls. Sure they could suspect it belonged to him but they couldn't prove it, James reasoned.

James quickly darted across the hall to the nearest bin and threw the brown bag into it. He quickly double-checked that the corridor was still empty. James had to be sure that there were no witnesses that could link him to the drugs. It wasn't going to take a rocket scientist to figure out the drugs in the trash belonged to the drug addict whos locker was next to the bin.

James cursed at the fallibility of his plan. Before he started to have doubts he crossed the corridor back to his locker and prepared for the class he was already late for. Will was going to be wondering where he was. The sudden thought of the boy overwhelmed James with guilt. All of a sudden it was like a gate opened in him, allowing all the negative emotions flow through him. All the thoughts he had worked so hard to block out. James could feel the scar in his side burning and his legs going weak. It didn't feel like one of his episodes, he hadn't one since the trip up to the camp but this felt different, more intense almost. He clutched the locker for support with one hand and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the other.

James turned around and checked the corridor again. He knew what he was doing but he screamed at himself to stop. As if acting by themselves, his legs carried him back over to the bin. Why was he doing this? What good could possibly come from it? Every logical cell in his body begged him to leave it alone. To forget about it and move on. But he already knew he couldn't. Logic never had much sway over his decisions.

James fished the bag out of the bin and clenched it in his fist. It felt lighter than it had before. It felt comfortable in his hands, almost like it was meant to be there. As soon as he picked it out of the bin he began to feel better. The pain dissipated questionably quickly. James carried it back to his locker and put it where he found it. As soon as he did he felt a weight lift off his shoulders, he felt relieved.

He closed the locker and set off to his first class of the year. The whole time it took to walk to class he didn't think about that bag in his locker once. He didn't need to. He knew it was there and that was all he needed. Once he entered the classroom he gave the teacher some half-assed excuse about sorting out a scheduling issue. James didn't provide any more explanation and the teacher didn't ask for any. Once he was given the all-clear he took a seat beside Will, who gave him a worried look.

"You okay, you look a bit pale," Will said. The concern was evident in his voice.

"Yea... Never better" James lied.



5th September 1986

Will was looking forward to the weekend, It was only the first week of school and he already felt exhausted by everything. He had an English paper due, he was absolutely lost in Math and his History teacher had surprised them with a revision quiz of last semesters topics, which he was certain he failed. It hadn't been an easy week for anyone, but he knew it had been worse for James. He was still catching up on the work he had missed and on top of everything else he had to start making up extra credit to make up for his absence. Will suggested he join an extra circular activity so that's how James ended up clearing away the equipment after gym classes or football training.

One thing was for sure, Will needed to blow off some steam and relax. In the past that might have meant going to the arcade to playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. But things were different now. Now there was only one thing that he wanted that really made him unwind. One person more like. Being with James was the ultimate cure-all. Anytime he felt depressed or anxious or afraid, it was always made better by James's presence.

Ever since the camping trip when he slept in his tent, it felt like something was missing in the mornings when he woke up. Every breath he took around James made him feel better. The more time he spent with him the more he understood James's addiction. He understood what if felt like to need something, for every cell of your being to hunger for something. James was his drug.

Will walked the last corridor before his locker. The halls were busy with people pushing past each other, slamming lockers and trying to shout over each other. It was in these situations that Will was glad he was smaller than most people his age. The corridors were always worse on a Friday, he thought as he squeezed past two ridiculously tall football players. The school still seemed intimidating to him, even after a year of attending. Although he wasn't the youngest anymore he was still among the smallest. He wasn't sure if it was just the crowds or some of the older students that made uncomfortable, but he only ever felt that way when he was alone. When he was with James he felt stronger, invincible almost. Like he could challenge anyone or anything in the world. It wasn't something he could explain or justify, it's just how he felt when he was with him.

Will politely nodded to Jenifer Hyes as he approached his locker, which bordered hers. She ignored him completely and left. How things change he thought to himself. It was, after all, her that asked him to dance in middle school, but Will didn't dwell on small things like that. He opened his locker and unenthusiastically rummaged around and collected what he needed. Just as he pulled his last notebook from his locker, a slip of paper feel from his locker and landed beside his feet. Will stared at the small slip of paper with curiosity. His initial reaction was to look over his shoulder or drop everything and run. Maybe it was a prank or some joke at his expense. He had heard of things like this happening around the school and Will knew he could be a target. Like a frighted animal Will scanned the corridor for any sign of threat or attack. Deciding it was safe, he bent down and picked up the paper. It was just a blank piece of paper with a single message on it.

Meet me in the equipment room

Will felt a flutter in his stomach. Although it wasn't signed Will had a strong suspicion as to who had left the message. James knew Will had a class in a few minutes. What was he thinking? He wasn't going to skip class and go sneaking around with James. That was absolutely out of the question. Will closed his locker and started walking towards his class. Or that's what he told his brain to do, but it had other plans entirely. Will turned around and walked in the complete opposite direction. He read the note again before stuffing it into his pocket. Maybe he could see him for a few minutes before class and be a minute or two late. Would it be the end of the world if he was a few minutes late? After all, he hadn't seen James all day and was starting to miss him. Crave him more like, his brain retorted.

Will was getting more and more excited the closer he got. His heart was beating fast in his chest. It was strange to think of the effect one person could have on him. James' presence built him up higher than he thought possible, while his touch electrified him. Will was almost out of breath once he reached the equipment room. It was always kept locked but James had gotten keys as part of his job. Will slowly creaked open the door to the pitch dark room. Then someone was pulling him inside and slamming the door shut behind him. He could barely see his hand in front of his face.

Will opened his mouth to speak but he felt soft lips on him before he could. Will kissed the familiar lips and wrapped his hands around the familiar broad shoulders that were pushing him up against the wall. James moaned softly in his mouth. It drove Will crazy, every touch he received felt like lighting. Will didn't understand how every kiss could feel like their first, but he didn't care. He could feel James's hands on him, pulling at his t-shirt. James was usually never this worked up.

"Your eager" Will joked as James kissed his way down the side of his jaw and down his neck. This time it was Wills turn to moan softly. He knew he should be afraid of James giving him a hickey but he could care less right now.

"I needed to see you," James said quickly before resuming his attack on Will's neck. All of a sudden James seized his onslaught of kisses. Will opened his mouth to protest to the disruption, he fell silent when he felt James fumble with his belt buckle and drop down to his knees.

"Oh," Will whispered quietly.

Once they where finished James turned on the light. The sudden brightness stung his eyes. Will couldn't tell how long they had been in the room for but he guessed he was very late for class, but he didn't care too much. It was hard to care about anything considering what had just transpired. He couldn't wipe the smile off his face even if he tried.

"What was that about" Will asked. He wasn't complaining, far from it actually. But he was curious what had sparked James to but the note in his locker.

"What. I wanted to see you is all" James said with a gleeful smile. His childish smile made Will laugh. James could be very coy when he wanted to be.

"Common I have to get yelled at now, because of you," Will said sarcastically. He doubted his absence had even been noticed by his teacher, but he wanted to tease James.

"Your the one who couldn't keep it in his pants" James replied. Will looked at him like he had been slapped. Then kissed him gently. Will wanted to stay in here all day, hidden away from the rest of the world, just the two of them. After his kiss, James turned off the light and Will opened the equipment room door and scanned the corridor. Thankfully the coast was clear.

James and Will both slowly and quietly crept from the darkroom into the deserted corridor. Will wondered how his friends would react if they knew why he was late for class. It made him smile but also a little sad. Would they ever know what was between them? Maybe it was time to stop sneaking around, Will thought. He didn't know why he was still not ready to tell his friends about him and James. On one hand, he wanted to tell the people he loved that he found someone that makes him feel special, someone he sees himself staying with for the rest of his life. He wanted to share that with them, they had a right to know the truth after everything that they had been through together as a group. He was still afraid but with James, he felt he had the strength to do anything.

Will and James walked slowly and quietly through the corridor together. They kept their conversation low and sparse, neither wanting to be caught skipping classes in the middle of the day. However, something told him James had done this a few times before. Will, on the other hand, was definitely not accustomed to sneaking around his own school. He could see the door to his classroom now. What was his excuse going to be? It wasn't like he had a lie in his back pocket that could get him off. The closer he got to his class the more he started to believe they were in the clear. That was until he heard footsteps echoing from around the corridor. Both James and Will froze on the spot and watched the stranger turn the corridor and spot them.

Af first Will was afraid because he thought they were going to be caught by a teacher or even worse the principle. But now he was afraid because he saw who was actually walking towards them. The last time he had talked to Troy, he punched him in the face, and Troy had knocked him out. They had seen each other in passing but never swapped words, he knew Troy was being threatened with expulsion after their fight. But it was a new school year and all the students were on a clean slate. However, Will wasn't afraid of Troy anymore, he had expelled that fear after they had fought. WIll may have come off worse but the altercation had ridden him of all his fear of Troy. No, now he was afraid of what James would do if Troy pushed him too far.

He still sometimes got nightmares about what James had done to Jackson Cooper's face at Bella's house. It was almost a year ago but he still remembered the look in James's face as he crossed the kitchen with the bottle tucked behind his back. He loved James but he realized a long time ago that there is something dark in him and whatever it is, it feeds on violence and conflict. There was more of his father in him than Will would like to admit.

Troy stopped walking when he saw the two of them approaching. Will took a deep breath and turned to gauge James's face. If he was angry or nervous his face didn't give any indication. Will looked around the corridor, maybe it wasn't too late to turn around go the opposite direction, but he didn't want to give Troy the satisfaction. Only if the fool understood he was trying to save his ass.

"Hey if it isn't Hawkins's worst drug dealer and his fairy sidekick" Troy joked with a cruel smile splashed across his face, He was clearly proud of himself for coming up with the insult. Will didn't take any offense from Troy's words. He had hardened himself against those attacks along time ago.

"I don't do that anymore" James replied with a smile. Will scanned every inch of his face, he didn't have that look in his eye. The look he always got before letting that part of himself out.

"Shame, I had to start looking elsewhere" Troy replied. James had stopped walking and stood facing Troy. Will stood quietly next to James.

"Too bad I suppose, anything else I can help you with," James said. Troy seemed taken back slightly, he obviously wasn't getting the reaction he had hoped for. Troy looked at James in the eye, then looked down at Will. Their eyes locked.

"What are you looking at faggot" Troy hissed at Will. This time James did act, quickly stepping closer to Troy. He was an inch away from Troy's face.

"Careful Troy" James said coldly. Will still couldn't see the rage he had witnessed before but James's face had gone cold. Will had to try and end this before it got any worse.

"Whoa look at you. Jumping in to protect your girlfriend" Troy smirked. Will was starting to get really scared. He could hear James's breathing change. It sounded hurried, more ragged. His face was turning hard as stone. Will couldn't let this go any further. He thought about jumping in front of them but if Troy hit him or pushed him, James would fly into a rage. He was running out of options.

"Common James lets go" Will pleaded, grabbing James by the arm and attempting to pull him aside. James didn't budge.

"You better listen to your girlfriend," Troy said with a grin. James never took his cold eyes away from Troys.

"I must say that is one fucking hideous scar. Just when I thought you couldn't get any fucking uglier. What happened. I heard you tried to off yourself... Shame that you missed" Troy said with a smile. Will felt his stomach turn. He knew there was no going back now. All he could do was try his best to stop James from killing Troy or permanently disfiguring him, He had to stop him before he did something he couldn't take back.

Will looked to James to try and anticipate when he was going to attack, James's jawline was protruding from his face, he could see the hard lines of his forehead forced down into a glare. But it was his eyes he was most worried about. He had seen them like that before when he had fought Jackson and pulled a gun on Hopper.

Will didn't know what to do. If he let this happen it could throw all of their hard work out of the window. Everything they had done to bring James back, could be undone in a few minutes all because of that prick. James clenched his fist, Will knew he had maybe a few seconds before James would be on top of Troy.

Will desperately shot his hands out and grasped James's arm just as he raised it and pulled it back. It wasn't exactly a hard grip but it was enough for James to look away from Troy for a second and look into Will's eyes. When he did all the anger in his face melted away, Will could hear his breathing slow and return to normal. In a few seconds, the face looking at Will was the one he recognized, the one he loved. James gave Will a gentle smile and nod. Will slowly lowered his hands to his side, it felt like a massive weight had been removed from his chest.

"I'm not going to fight you, Troy," James said with a genuine smile. Troy seemed disappointed but still determined to get his way. Troy opened his mouth to retaliate but James beat him to it.

"Where a lot alike, me and you," James said sincerely. Troy seemed surprised by the statement, he closed his mouth. Will really didn't know where he was going with this, they were nothing alike.

"I understand Troy, I understand what if feels like t have no control," James said quickly. Troy looked like he had been struck. The anger Will had seen was gone, washed away and replaced by something else. Will thought he looked almost vulnerable.

"I... I don't know what your talking about" Troy mumbled. Will looked at him but didn't recognize the boy standing opposite them. He had never seen Troy like this before.

"I don't know what it is that made you like this, Dick head father, overstepping mother, it doesn't matter. But you have to let it go, Troy. If you don't you will end up where I ended up and you might not get as lucky" James said signaling to the scar on his forehead. Troy swallowed and open his mouth. Will was expecting a string of homophobic slurs and insults. but Troy just slowly nodded his head and walked away.

"That was... strange," Will said turning to look at Troy walking down the corridor. A part of him though it was a dream.

"I'm proud of you," Will said moving his and up to James's shoulder. If they weren't in the middle of their school he would have kissed him.

"I don't want to fight anymore" James replied with an honest smile. Will was proud of what James had done. He knew how badly James wanted to hurt him but he didn't. He could control himself.

Will checked his wristwatch. The class he was trying to attend was more than half over. What was the point in going? Now that Will thought about it, what was the point of any of it? He was sick of always being the reasonable one. Just once he would like to be the one to do something stupid and reckless.

"Let's go," Will said suddenly pulling James by the hand, he dragged James to the nearest exit. James seemed more than happy to follow.

"Where are we going" James laughed as he allowed himself to be dragged through the school. Will didn't actually have an answer to his question. He just knew he didn't want to spend any more time away from James.

"Let's go somewhere, just the two of us," Will said between deep breaths as they left through on of the side exits of the school.

"I have to go to Indianapolis tonight, for a meeting with Dr. O'Brien," James explained, clearly confused as to where Will was going with this.

"Great let's go," Will said walking in the direction of the Camero. James was left standing alone and confused.

Will stormed on into the car park until he located James Camero hidden away in the back of the parking lot. Will tried his luck and tested his door. Unsurprisingly it was locked. He waited patiently as James finally caught up to him and opened the car. James didn't ask any more questions about Wills's motives or plans, he just followed him.

Once they got on the road Will started to genuinely think about what he was doing. James seemed happy to cut school and go to the city. But despite it being his plan, doubt started to sink in. It had always been a familiar feeling to him. He doubted himself constantly, what he should wear, how he should talk. It was probably just a normal teenage thing but James never seemed to doubt a single action he made, even the bad ones he made. He left Hawkins without looking back, Will wondered if James had doubted himself then. But he wasn't like James. He had never intentionally skipped school like this before. He had never done anything like this before.

His attention was broken by James rolling down the window and putting a cigarette between his lips. James managed to get it lit while still keeping both his hands on the wheel. Just another one of his weird hidden talents, Will thought.

"You should quit smoking," Will said with a smile. He wasn't going to be one of those partners that told their significant other what he can and can't do. But he really did hate to see James smoking.

"You want me to quite," James asked looking over to him. His eyes completely removed from the road. Will wondered what the hell he was he thinking about being those piercing blue eyes.

"Emm... yea kind of" Will replied. James shot him a smile before throwing his lit cigarette out of the open window. Before Will had a chance to ask him what he was doing, James reached into his pocket and produced his pack of Camels. They followed the single cigarette out the window.

"You serious" Will asked. What was James doing? Would he really quit smoking on such a whim? There really was no one else like him, Will thought.

"Yeah, why wouldn't I be" James replied with a cocky grin.

"You'd quit smoking, just like that, for no reason," Will said, still trying to get a grasp on the situation.

"It's not for no reason, Its for you... I'd do anything for you," James said with an affectionate smile. His voice was smooth as silk, his eyes and face appeared so warm. It crushed Will. All the doubt he had left his body in an instant.



5th September 1986

James sat in the familiar comfortable leather chairs and fumbled with his fingers, carefully avoiding eye contact with Dr. O'Brien. Instead, he scanned his eyes around the familiar room. All of the sessions he and in this room and James doubted a single thing was ever out of place. There's a place for everything and everything is in its place. His mother used to say that when the two of them took a random Sunday to clean Hopper's cabin. James eyed the photo sitting on the large mahogany desk at the back of the room. The photo was of Dr. O'Brien, but he looked younger and an attractive woman who seemed to be a similar age. In the foreground of the photo were two young children. His family he assumed. They looked happy.

It was at that moment James realized he didn't have a photo of his family. He didn't own a photo of his mother. His father's face was fresh in his memory, he saw it almost every night after all. But he hadn't actually seen his mother's face in almost seven years. In his mind her face was picture clear, but how accurate was it. Did he even remember what his mother looked like? The more he thought about it the more his brain pulled her image apart. Was she actually as pretty he remembered, where her eyes even the same deep blue as his. James didn't know anymore.

"We can ignore each other for the whole session if you want, I get paid the same" Dr. O'Brien said with a smile. James snapped out of his depressing train of thought and smiled at the doctor's joke, he seldom made them.

"I'm sorry, just a bit distracted tonight" James lied. He knew why he was not being honest with the doctor. He didn't want to open up like he usually did. James was afraid he might say something he couldn't take back. Something about what was sitting in his locker in school. He wasn't intending to tell Dr. O'Brien about what he had discovered, although he never really intended to tell the doctor anything, he usually just gently coerced it from him. James didn't want to take the chance this time. If Dr. O'Brien knew about the bag in his locker he would make him get rid of it. James knows he should, he couldn't think of one single good reason as to why he should keep them. But he knows, in the end, he doesn't have a choice.

"Perhaps we could start with school, how was returning to Hawkins High. Are you still having doubts about attending" Dr. O'Brien asked directly? James thought about his question for a moment. It was true that he never truly wanted to return to school, but he would admit since returning he did feel somewhat more positive about it. Perhaps it was the social interaction or perhaps it was the surprise he found in his locker. Either way, it didn't matter much, the only reason he was there was for Will and the party and his foster parents. If it weren't for them James would have never returned. He had seen too much, done too much to ever genuinely belong there again, not that he ever really fit in, to begin with.

"It was a waste of time" James answered honestly. He was never attracted to the idea of ever going to college, so what was the point in going to school. Dr. O' Brien seemed disappointed with his answer. He, like his foster parents, probably wanted James to go off and get a degree so he could be stuck in a dead-end job for the rest of his life. That wasn't what he wanted.

"That's a shame, you are very academically gifted, you could go to any college you wanted if you put in the work," Dr. O' Brien said. James knew he was only trying to help him, but all the talk about college just made him depressed. James knew what collage meant for him, or more importantly Will. The party would go off to college while James was left behind. It was an irrational thought but it still frightened him all the same.

"It's not what I want right now" James answered honestly. Dr. O'brien observed him over the rim of his glasses. After a moment he nodded his head and made a note in his leather notebook.

"How are things between you and Will," Dr. O' Brien said as he flicked through his notes. James thought about what had happened in the supply closet and a grin uncontrollably crept over his face. He hadn't intended things to go that way, but he learned quickly that things often go astray when Will was on his mind.

"He's outside," James said with a smile, as the doctor quickly shot him a surprised look from his notes. He was obviously confused by his answer.

"Oh... I'm sorry James but I don't normally do relationship counseling" Dr. O' Brien said with a nervous look on his face. It was the first time James had ever seen him rocked off balance. Through all the stories of drugs, murder, and attempted suicide the doctor was a rock. But the thought of counseling two gay teens had him shook. James laughed out loud.

"It's not like that. We cut school to spend some time in the city" James said still recovering from his sudden outburst.

They had arrived in Indianapolis a couple of hours before James was due to meet with Dr. O' Brien. They filled their time doing regular couple stuff, without the fear of someone seeing them and discovering their secret. First, they went to see a movie together. James had argued to see The Fly but Will wanted to go see something called Stand By Me. James had to admit that Will had made a good choice. They spent the rest of their time eating fries in the cheapest Diner they could find. It had been a perfect evening or it would have been if James didn't have to make the appointment. He thought about skipping it, but he had made Charles a promise and wasn't keen on breaking it.

"Well I don't condone skipping school but I'm glad you had fun," Dr. O' Brien said.

James examined the smile on his face. The whole idea of therapy still felt foreign to him. Did he actually care for James or was he just another patient. The doctor talked about James' treatment a lot. It was a curious thing to call it, James thought. His "treatment". Treatment for what exactly. How many sessions has he had with Dr. O' Brien and he still didn't know what was wrong with him or why he does the things he does. Perhaps it wasn't something they had a name for yet. A part of James whished he could just blame everything on some misfiring neurons in his brain, but he knew that was a cop-out. It was the same thing he felt when the doctor told him he wasn't bipolar or schizophrenic. Nothing was mentally wrong with him. That just left himself to blame.

"You got a nice family... that your wife," James said gesturing to the photo of his family on the desk. The photo of the women and the two kids.

"Thank you... yes that's my wife. She passed a few years ago... leukemia" Dr. O' Brien said slowly. James could see him try and remain neutral, but the sadness etched its way into his voice. He felt his chest tighten, what did he actually know about Dr. O' Brien. This was the first real thing he had ever learned about him.

"Do you miss her?" James asked. He knew it was a stupid question but he needed to ask it. Sometimes he had a weird feeling that he didn't grieve like other people. Why was he never able to move on?

"I miss her every day" Dr. O' Brien replied. James was disappointed with his answer. Maybe everybody grieved the same way after all. Maybe he was just weak.

"I'm tired of feeling my grief, I've been carrying it around with me for so long. I want to let it go, I want to let her go. But if I do then it's like she really is gone... forgotten" James replied.

"Sometimes I think about Emily and I wish my father had killed me in her place. She wasn't perfect... but she didn't deserve him" James said sadly. It wasn't something he thought often but every now and again he would look at his life after his mother had died. Was it worth it?

"You didn't deserve him either" Dr. O' Brien added. James had told the doctor almost every story he had of his father. Shown him every scar he had received from him. Will and Hopper were the only other people who had an idea of the scale of his father's cruelty and even they didn't know everything.

"I'm not so sure about that anymore. My father is apart of who I am. He made me what I am, for better or worse. I can't ignore the fact he's always with me, like a shadow. " James said indifferently.

"I think sometimes about what my mother would think of me now. Will, my addiction, all of it. Would she see her son... or my father's son" James said after a brief pause. It was a scary thought, seeing his mother again or what he would do to make that happen.

"I think she would be proud of the man you've become." Dr. O' Brien said after a moment of silence. James was slightly surprised by his words. Maybe he did care, just a little. James looked at the clock mounted on the wall and stood up from the seat.

"Thanks, doctor, see you next week," James said shaking Dr. O' Brien's hand and walking to open the door. When he did he noticed Will's eyes light up, as he got up from the coach.

"Okay James, drive safe" Dr. O' Biren as James walked from his office. Will eyes the doctor carefully as he turned and walked back into his office.

"You ready to go," James asked. Will nodded his head in agreement and they both walked towards the elevator beside the receptionist's desk. James was quiet as he faded out the awful elevator music, his mind was turning over his conversation with Dr. O' Brien. It was not unusual for his sessions with the doctor to play over in his brain on a loop. James normally had a lot to think about in these moments. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Will watching him.

"I'm fine Will," James said with a smile. He wasn't going to let his session with Dr. O'Brien be the thing that ruined there almost perfect evening. He had a lot to think about, but it was nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow.

"Okay if your sure" Will said with a worried smile across his face. James leaned in to kiss Will, just as the elevator door opened and an elderly woman entered the lift. James pulled away from the kiss slowly and noticed the disapproving look on the woman's face. In fact, she looked as if James had just spat on her shoes. Will also noticed the look on her face and held his hand over his mouth to stop himself from laughing. Once James saw Will's failing attempts to stop laughing he instantly started laughing out loud, which triggered Will. Both of them were laughing until the door finally opened on the ground floor and the women all but fled from the elevator, which caused them to laugh even harder.

All of James's existential anxieties had melted away as he walked with Will towards his car. They were both still giggling over the women in the elevator. They felt the building Dr. O' Briens office was located in and started their walk down the street towards the car. The cold wind wiped at James's face. He was beginning to wish he had brought a heavier coat just as he felt Will take his arm and wrap it over his shoulder. It felt strange for James to hold his boyfriend in such an intimate way while they were out in the street but he enjoyed it all the same and squeezed him tighter.

They walked like that until they reached the Camero and reluctantly separated. James started down the familiar route back to Hawkins. He had driven it a hundred times at this point and didn't have to concentrate on the mostly empty road. It wasn't like he could really concentrate on the road even if he wanted to. Not with Will in the car anyway. Will had a way of pulling on James's thoughts like a strong magnet to metal. It was quite extraordinary how excited James still got to spend an hour or two with him alone, just talking. As they drove they talked about the things they always talked about, the movie they had just seen, gossip among the party and anything else that floated to his mind. There was every little filter between the two of them. There was nothing James would hesitate to talk about with Will. Almost nothing anyway. The image of his locker suddenly floated through his mind.

James quickly discarded the thought as he focused on the story Will was telling him. Something about Hopper and Joyce spending more time with each other. James had noticed things between them changing in the last couple of months. There was rarely a time when Joyce was at home and Hopper wasn't with her. It also worked the other way around, which worked out well for James. On the nights Joyce would stay in Hopper's house James liked nothing more than staying over late with Will then having to sneak back into his house without Jess or Charles knowing.

James could feel a pit in his stomach as soon as he had spotted the road signs for Hawkins, Indiana. They had been driving for a few hours but it felt like a few minutes to him. He didn't want the night to end. James drove through the quiet town in silence. Without a word, he turned the car in the opposite direction of Will's house. Will gave him a curious look as James drove back towards the woods, within a few minutes Will could guess where James was taking them and a smile crept across his face.

The drive to the top of the quarry only took a few minutes. James parked the Camero in the same spot he always parked in when they came here. Will but in one of his mixtapes and put the volume up as they climbed out of the car and left both of the doors open. James went to the boot of the car and retrieved a couple of blankets that he kept there just for these situations. Within a few minutes both James and Will where wrapped up under a think layer of blankets as they looked up at the stars. Fittingly David Bowie's Life On Mars sounded over the Camero's speakers.

"It's beautiful tonight," Will said, gazing at the sky. He exhaled slowly and moved an inch closer to James. Will was right, the stars seemed to shine extra bright, the moon seemed so close he could almost reach out and touch it.

"They don't compare to you," James said sincerely, Will just laughed out loud. James looked at him curiously.

"Wow... didn't know you were such a romantic" Will mocked as he leaned over and kissed him. There was something different in the kiss that James couldn't but his finger on. They had kissed a thousand times but this was different. It was faint but something was unusual. He felt his stomach not as Will pulled away. It wasn't something with Will, It was him that was the problem. There was a sense of sorrow between them. James instantly remembered his discussion with Dr. O' Brien about collage. The sudden feeling of Will leaving him was rising in his chest. James pulled away from Will when he leaned in to kiss him again.

"What's wrong," Will asked as he tried to catch James's gaze, but James was doing anything to avoid eye contact. James didn't want to upset him but they never talked about what they would do in the future. James was all for living in the moment. Taking it day by day was the only reason he was still sober after all, but nevertheless, the future frightened him.

"Nothings wrong Will I just... I... What do you want to do after high school" James asked slowly. This conversation had been weighing on his mind for a long time and from the look on Will's face, it seemed it was weighing on his too. Will looked upset with the question, not like James had hurt him by asking, it was more like he was afraid of the question itself.

"I don't know to be honest... I would like to go to the New York Academy of Art I suppose. If I could get in" Will said after a moment of silence. James stayed quiet. He knew this was the part where he said what he wanted to do. Discussed what college he wanted to attend, what career he wanted to pursue. He felt like a loser for not wanting that.

"It's okay if you don't want to got to college you know" Will whispered to him as he cuddled into the side of him. James wondered if he had it written on his face. But it made him relax all the same.

"I just don't think its for me but I don't want to let you down," James said honestly.

"I love you, James that will never change," Will said as he leaned in to kiss James again. This time James meet him halfway. He was still anxious bout the whole thing but he felt like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.

They spent the next hour listening to Will's mixture of Queen, The Clash, Bowie and a list of other great artists. They spent most of the hour making out but some of it was also spent chatting. James recently checked his watch. He knew it was late but he suddenly shot up off the ground when he saw it was almost midnight. Will seemed strangely calm as he helped pack away the blankets back into the boot.

James probably broke a few laws as he drove Will back to his house. They laughed about the look on Hopper's face if he were caught sneaking back into Will's house at this time of the night. James had almost forgotten the fact that they had also cut school. The school had no doubt called Joyce and his own parents. James looked back on the evening, he would not change a single thing, regardless of the consequences. After a few minutes of speeding through the empty back roads of Hawkins, James slowed the car down to a crawl when he was within hearing distance of Will's house. James's stomach sunk a little as he saw Hopper's truck in the drive of the house. To make matters worse there was a light still on the inside. James looked sympathetically over to Will. He however still had a smile on his face.

"You do realize Joyce will kill you," James said as his own smile returned to his face.

"Yea I know but it was worth it" Will replied as he leaned over and kissed James goodbye. Will unbuckled his seat and opened the door. Before he got out of the car he stopped. James looked at the back of his head as Will just stayed there with one foot out of the car. James was about to speak when Will turned around again.

"Sneak around to my bedroom window," Will said, this time his smile was gone. His face was pure sincerity.

"You serious... Will if we get caught..." James tried to say.

"I don't care. I can't sleep without you next to me"Will interrupted. James could feel his chest tighten as his heartbeat speed up. The truth was James was sick that he had to leave Will home. He wanted nothing more than to sleep in Will's bed tonight. James smiled at him and pulled the keys from the ignition, killing the engine. It was the only answer Will needed.

They both got out of the car and closed the doors quietly. Maybe they would be lucky and nobody was waiting for them. James knew that the odds where slim. James crouched down into a low position and tiptoed around the side of the house as Will approached the front door. James's hopes that the house was quite were killed when he looked through a window into the living room. He could clearly make out Hopper sitting on the couch watching TV as Joyce was standing at the kitchen counter looking worried. James was watching them as the front door opened and Will entered. Hopper quickly turned off the TV and sat up like he was looking at the door the whole time.

Deciding it was a family moment, James crouched down again and walked further around to Will's window. He didn't want to eavesdrop on Will's conversation but he was also keeping an ear out for any shouting or yelling. To his surprise, none came. James kept waiting but there didn't seem to be any fighting at all. After about ten minutes crouched out the window of the darkroom, a light suddenly exploded into view. It took James by supprised and he stumbled backward and fell onto his back. When he looked up Will was watching him with a grin through the window. James was getting to his feet as Will pulled open the window.

"You going to stay out here all night" Will whispered with a grin. James flipped him off as he pushed the grass and dirt from his pants. He slowly and carefully crept through Will's window.

"That seemed to go well" James whispered with a questioning look. Out of all the times Hopper had caught him doing something he shouldn't have, very few ended with a peaceful talk.

"I'm sure they will have a fitting punishment taught up by tomorrow," Will said with a smile as he closed the window. James hadn't realized how cold he was until he was removing his coat in the warm room. He looked around the familiar small room and then looked towards the door. To his, relief Will had fastened the deadbolt. As soon as James had his coat removed, Will was pushing him onto his bed.

"Time to repay you for this morning" Will said with a playful grin. James was confused for a moment before he remembered what he did in the equipment room.

"Oh," James whispered quietly.