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Bad Liar

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The intercom was staticky, sending wave lengths of sound to the speakers in choppy fragments. 

 “M-Mike.” 

In a flash, Mike grabbed the handheld transmitter. “El? Are you there? Eleven?”

“Mike.” It was her voice, clear as day. 

“What’s wrong?” Mike’s face was contorted with worry. It was midnight, why would she be calling unless something was wrong? 

“I’m scared.” El whispered. 

“Scared? Scared of what?”

“Being alone.” She said quietly, “Hopper is at work. He is working the night shift. I am not common at being alone.” 

“Common? Oh, I think you mean used to. You’re not used to being alone.” 

“Yes. And it is raining. Mike, please, I want you.” 

Mike felt his face flush, and his body start to sweat from nerves and excitement. “Okay. Say no more. I’m coming over.” He said. 

“But it is late.” 

“That never stopped me before.” 

“Hopper will be mad.”

“Ah, Hop will be fine.” Mike said. Then he said his goodbyes to his girlfriend and set his walkie talkie down under his pillow. His parents would kill him if they knew he left the house after midnight, so he had to be careful. 

It didn’t take long before he was in the basement with a quick knapsack full of comfort items like two packs hot coco, a blanket, his Walkman, two comic books, his dinosaur named Rory, and a board game called Upwards. It’s similar to Scrabble because players have to build words using the tile letters. Mike and Eleven have been practicing words all month long. It was Hopper’s idea. 

When Hopper brought Eleven to his cabin, she was still an outcasted girl who grew up in a laboratory. She knew nothing about this world, but Hopper taught her as much as he could. He went over words of the day, everyday. When he officially adopted her, Hopper started homeschooling her. He signed up for a program and everything. Eleven has a teacher come in once a month to check on her. But most of the time it’s Hopper teaching her, and sometimes Mike. Hopper still doesn’t like Eleven leaving the cabin. But he lets Mike come over everyday after school. And Hopper even takes them to the arcade on the weekends or lets Eleven go to Mike’s house. Either way, the kids have spent a lot of time together which is all they asked for, so Mike was fine with the no leaving the house thing. He just didn’t understand why Hopper was so paranoid. The gate was closed. The story was over. The demogorgon was destroyed. What was there to be scared of anymore? 

Opening the outside door quietly, Mike slipped around the front yard and retrieved his bike. He put his knapsack over his shoulders and started peddling fast. 

Eleven was right when she said it was raining. God, it was pouring so badly Mike could barely see. He was instantly soaked through his clothes which was becoming more and more uncomfortable every second. It was moments like this that Mike wished Hopper’s cabin was closer to his house. 

He braved it out though, ignoring the lighting flashes that bolted in a zig-zagged line directly aimed for the ground. Instead, he focused on his sneakers, watching them go up-and-down as he peddled around a slippery corner. 

When he finally reached the forest area, Mike hid his bike under the bushes, (another rule per Hopper’s request) and he began climbing up the dirt path in the woods to get to Eleven. 

The storm was vicious, Mike couldn’t believe how loud the thunder was booming. It sounded like gunshots from the sky, and Mike has had the unfortunate experience of hearing real gun shots up close and personal. He shivered at the memory, hugging his skinny arms as he continued hiking up the hill. 

When he reached the door, Eleven greeted him immediately, throwing her arms around him. 

“Mike... the sky is angry.” 

Mike chuckled, walking inside with her and shutting the door. “The sky’s not angry, El. It’s just thunder. It’s the sound caused by lightning.”

“Lightning?” She asked, watching as he peeled off his soaked tan jacket, and hung it up on the coat rack. 

“Yeah, you know, the bright flashes of light in the sky. That’s lightning. It’s a huge discharge of electricity, and this electricity shoots through the air, causing vibrations to be formed.” 

“Electricity in the air.” El repeated like she was trying to remember what he was saying. 

Mike nodded sheepishly. “Um...El? I’m really drenched from the rain. Can you see if...um...Hopper has any clothes I can borrow. I’m sorry.” He said, face flushed from embarrassment. But now that he was inside, the heat from the house was making his clothes stick to him in the most uncomfortable of ways, not to mention his skin was cold and clammy. 

Eleven simply laughed, which made Mike blush even harder. His whole face was a giant tomato when she came back with a comfy T-shirt and some sweatpants. 

“These are the sweatpants you gave me,” El said, looking at the floor with a smile on her face. “And this is Hopper’s shirt. It’s going to be big on you.” 

“No problem. Thanks El.”

When their hands brushed against one another their eyes locked. Mike took a step forward, and Eleven leaned in and that’s when Mother Nature intervened and the thunder rumbled. They jolted back. 

“Oh...um...Do you want to do something? I brought a bunch of stuff to keep your mind off of the storm.” Mike began emptying his knapsack. 

“Oh! A blanket! We should set up a blanket fort!” Eleven exclaimed. 

“Yeah. That’s a great idea!” Mike agreed. He took his baby blue blanket and draped it over the kitchen chair. 

“We can go right under the table.” Eleven said, throwing one of her bedroom blankets on the floor. Mike took a sheet off of Hopper’s bed and threw it over the other chair. 

“Perfect!” He said. He and El crawled under the table and cuddled against each other. They stayed there for a while, talking about everything under the moon. They played with Rory, and read a Batman comic. 

Everything was going well until Mike went to the kitchen to make hot chocolate, leaving Eleven alone. When he came back, she was hugging her knees to her chest, shivering a little at the memories of when it would rain and she was in the lab. 

“Here you go.” Mike said sitting down and handing her the dark purple mug. “Hopper was out of marshmallows so I settled for whipped cream. My mom used to - Hey? Is everything okay?”

Eleven looked at him with a sad smile, “Yes” she replied softly but as soon as the thunder rumbled she cringed. 

“Hey,” Mike whispered, “Don’t be scared. It can’t hurt you.” 

“No,” Eleven shook her head, “But they can.”

“What? El, the bad men are gone.”

Eleven nodded. “I guess you’re right. But I feel like there is always more. What they did to Momma...” Eleven’s throat constricted and she felt her face heat as her eyes burned. 

Mike grabbed her hands into his own. “Listen to me. What they did to her, what they did to you, it sucked. It wasn’t fair. You didn’t deserve it and neither did your mom. I’m so sorry that people hurt you, but I promise you, I will never hurt you.”

“Promise.” She repeated, a huge smile forming on her beautiful face. 

“Promise.” He confirmed, leaning forward and kissing the side of her mouth. She turned, brushing her lips against his. It was slow and soft, comforting in ways that words would never be. Mike’s hand rested below her ear, his thumb caressing her cheek as their breaths mingled. She ran her fingers down his spine, pulling him closer until there was no space left between them and she could feel the beating of his heart against her chest.

“Mike,” She whispered, “You make me feel safe.”

Mike gazed at her lovingly, his eyes softening with tenderness. “You make me feel like I matter.” He said. 

Slowly, Mike tilted Eleven’s head to the side and kissed her. She never knew a kiss so innocent could be so intimate and electrifying. Mike felt El’s hands on the back of his neck play with the ends of his black hair. It tickled, and he giggled into her neck. 

Suddenly the window to the cabin was pounded on. The kids pulled apart quickly staring in horror at the dark shadow of a man standing outside. 

He pounded again on the glass. “You’re in danger. All of you.” He yelled loud enough for the two children to hear him through the glass. 

“What do you mean?” Mike yelled. He was trying to be brave but he felt lightheaded he was so afraid. Eleven had her hands wrapped around Mike’s neck, and her face hiding behind his head.

“The best way to protect yourself is to just act like normal kids.” The man said. 

“We are normal kids.” Mike said back. A bright flare of lightning flashed and Mike could now make out his face. It was Murray Bauman, the guy that his sister, Nancy, met when discussing the conspiracy theory to get justice for Barb. 

“I think I was followed.” Murray said, looking behind his shoulder in a desperate panic. “DON’T TRUST ANYONE.” He warned so seriously, Mike and Eleven were both visibly shaking. Without any other explanation, Murray took off into the woods. The kids could see his shadow dance off the trees for a few seconds before he completely disappeared into the night. 

“Murray.” Eleven whispered, gripping Mike’s hand tightly. 

Suddenly, the door burst open, and both kids screamed at the top of their lungs squeezing the hell out of each other and knocked the blankets over top of them for some type of pathetic hidden protection. 

When the blankets were ripped off of them, so much for hiding, Eleven used her powers to fling the assailant across the room. There was a loud smashing sound, as the man hit into the kitchen cupboards. 

“Jesus!” The man shouted. “Put me down. Now!”

Mike and El looked at each other, then at the man. “Hopper?” They said in unison. 

“I’m going to give you to the count of three.”

Convinced it was Hopper, Eleven dropped him immediately and he fell to the floor with a thud. 

Grunting, Hopper stood up. He straightened his shirt collar, and brushed off his clothes. 

“What the Hell do you think -“

Before he could finish, Eleven and Mike were both hugging his waist. 

“I’ve never been so glad to see you.” Mike said, burying his head into the man’s chest.

“So happy.” El whispered. 

“Thank God,” Mike continued. 

At this point, Hopper’s anger upon seeing the Wheeler kid in his cabin at 2:30 in the morning had completely diminished. It instead turned to confusion as he tried to revaluate the situation. 

Mike Wheeler was in his house with his daughter under a blanket fort and the kid was wearing his t-shirt which was way too big on him. His hair was wet and he was hugging Hopper like he just saw a ghost. Eleven was equally as scared, staring up at him with her big brown puppy-dog eyes. 

“What happened?” 

“We were scared.” Mike said, while biting his lip, “Of the storm.” 

“The storm?” Hopper snorted. “You faced a beast from another dimension and you’re scared of a storm?”

“Actually El was scared,”

“Oh is that so?” Hopper mused. 

“Yeah, so she called me. That’s why I came over. I’m sorry it’s so late.” Mike said, looking down. 

Hopper hummed, lifting Mike’s chin with his fingers. “I thought we had an agreement on that. You were going to call me every time before you came over.”

“Sorry.” Mike said with a shrug, “I guess I just forgot.” 

“You’ve been forgetting a lot of rules recently, Wheeler.”

Mike stared at his bare feet. He hated being lectured, especially when he deserved it. “Yes sir.” He muttered dejectedly. 

“You sure you aren’t scared, Mike? You seem pretty shaken up.”

“No. It’s just...the storm is loud and all.” 

Hopper turned to Eleven, but she was staring at Mike. When her eyes finally met Hopper’s, she nodded. “Yes. Very loud.” 

“Well then, what do you say we watch a movie and try to drown out the noise?”

“Yes.” Eleven smiled. 

“Great. We’ll do it right after I take Mike home.” 

Mike’s eyes widened, “Home? You can’t be serious.”

“Are you kidding me, kid? Of course I’m serious. It’s almost three in the morning, your mother will kill me if she knew you stayed the night.”

“Please Hopper. You can’t take us out there. It’s dangerous.”

“You’ll be in the car with me. Ain’t nothing dangerous is going to get you.”

“I don’t want to be alone.” Eleven’s hand grabbed around Mike’s arm. 

“Then you’ll come with us. Either way, I’m dropping him off.”

“My parents won’t even notice if I’m home or not.” Mike tried, but Hopper shook his head. 

“Car. Now.” The Chief ordered. 

Mike and Eleven stepped out of the Cabin, looking around for any sign of the man. Luckily, they saw nothing but the trees as they climbed into Hopper’s truck. 

On the quiet drive back, things were tense, so Hopper turned on the radio. He has learned, during the four months with Mike, that a little music calmed him down drastically. Like a charm, Hopper saw Mike’s shoulder’s relax as the song Forever Young by Alphaville blared through the speakers. 

Over the past four months, Hopper and Mike had grown incredibly close. On weekends, Mike spent most of his time with Hopper and Eleven, playing board games and watching movies. During all the time, as much as Hopper hates to admit it, the kid grew on him. 

Mike was sweet. He was small and shy and funny and his cheeks turned red in the cold. He was very rarely rude or sarcastic, and he seemed to be unbelievably grateful that Hopper spent time with him. Hopper didn't really talk to him, its more like he throws sarcastic comments or even insults at him when he said something stupid. Which actually happened a lot. 

Still, Mike made things nicer for Hopper and Eleven. He was funny and endearing, kind of like a puppy, but also smart and opinionated. Not to mention that he loved music almost as much as they did, just to a much nerdier extent. Right now he was singing every word under his breath, trying not to be too noticeable. He made Eleven visibly happier, the two of them would parade around the house, laughing at each other’s jokes, and dancing over the kitchen floor. 

And then, when the day would come to an end, Hopper would drop Mike off at home. He quickly learned that Mike’s parents were rarely home these days to take care of him. When they were home, they were arguing. Most of the time, his sister Nancy would greet him at the door. The few times when Karen Wheeler would answer the door, Hopper could see the anger on her face. He could tell from the way Mike spoke that his mother was a caring woman under too much stress and that his father was basically out of the picture. That made Hopper feel even more attached to the kid, like he was responsible for him or something. 

It was stupid, Hopper didn’t like how much of an effect the young black-haired boy had on him. But it was inevitable. Especially when Mike was always there to help clean Eleven up when her nose was dripping with blood or when he was there to wipe El’s cheeks after a bad day. Hopper couldn’t help but to let the boy in. 

“Hey, you call me if you need anything.” Hopper said after Mike hopped out of the car. He didn’t need to say this. Mike knew he could count on Hopper, but every time the Chief dropped the kid off, he made it routine to say this. 

“I will.” Mike whispered, grabbing his bike from the back. As he walked towards his house, Hopper waited to ensure the kid was safely inside before driving back home. 

Eleven was smirking, and he didn’t want to ask. 

“Just shut up.” Hopper scolded. 

“You like him.”

“I do not. He’s a brat.”

“He made me feel safe.” 

“Then he’s a good brat.” 

Chapter Text

Susan Mayfield/ Hargrove walked down the hallway to her daughter’s room. 

“Knock knock,” she said as she gently pushed open the door, “Wake up sleepy head.” 

Max, who was sprawled out over her bed, with one leg draped over the side, lifted her head towards her mother. 

Susan smiled at her, “Aw look at your beautiful red hair. It looks so cute now that you cut it to your shoulders. Come on! You’re going to be late for school.”

Max let out a groan. “It’s too early.” 

“Maybe you shouldn’t have stayed up so late.”

“Maybe Neil shouldn’t have been screaming so late.” 

Max and her mother shared a look for a solid two minutes. Finally, Susan averted her eyes. 

“Breakfast is in five minutes. Don’t be late. You know he hates it when we’re late.” 

Max sat up, and leaned against her headboard. She peered over at the small nightstand right beside her bed, the corner of her mouth turned up. The picture was still there and he looked amazing in it. Max grabbed the wooden frame so she could get a better view. Her Dad was on the beach in a surfers outfit holding her over his shoulders. The two of them looked so happy,  they were happy. But that was before her parents got divorced and she had to move all the way to Indiana. 

In a surge of anger, Max chucked her picture onto the nightstand, not caring when it fell over. She got up, ran to her closet and threw on an orange and white stripped shirt. She left the red jacket in her closet because it was much warmer now that it was April. It still wasn’t any California weather though. 

Max plopped down at the long rectangle table, seating herself across from her mother, and diagonally from her step-father, who sat at the head of the table.  She yawned, stretching her arms over her head as she leaned back in the chair.

Billy arrived two seconds later and sat next to her. He hasn’t caused her any troubles ever since she threatened him with a baseball bat, but that doesn’t mean things are any better because Neil was still an asshole and Max was still stuck to suffer his wrath.

She chose the piece of toast on the table, while Billy picked up the Lucky Charms cereal box. 

“Don't you think you should eat some real food, for once?" Billy’s father suggested, "You've been eating nothing but junk for the past week.  All that sugar can't be good for you."

Billy sighed, and set the box back down, and chose a piece of toast instead. 

"And stop moping around in your pajamas!" his father added.

“Yes sir.” Billy responded. 

It was so damn routine, Max sword this conversation was scripted. Then again, she supposed Billy has just learned how to deal with the man at this point. Honestly, Max has too. They both ignore him to the best of their abilities and when he says something hurtful they bite their tongues until they taste blood to ensure that they don’t say something to make it worse. Because every time one of them tries to argue, they end up with a bruised cheek. 

No surf, no Dad, Max was not happy with how things had turned out this year at all. In fact, she would sum it up as the most difficult year of her life. 

It started with the move from Cali to Indiana in October. Then it continued to go downhill when she met four boys who were the only people that even spoke to her in this new school. But then the one boy seemed to have it out for her, and he tried his absolute hardest to keep her from joining his group of friends. But she now understands why Mike was so distant and cold to her at the time because in November, she learned the truth about everything. Now that she knows that monsters really exist and that she is a part of a huge government secret, and that there is a girl with mind powers walking around Hawkins, Max isn’t sure she wants to know the truth anymore. It made life ten times more difficult, but it also made her life interesting. She felt exhilarated and honored to be part of this small group of friends that literally saved the world. Plus, meeting Lucas was probably the best thing that happened to her all year. He made everything that was dark in her life a little bit brighter. December she went to the snowball with Lucas. That was when she had her first kiss with him. It was definitely the best thing to happen so far, that, and Billy stopped messing with her. But things were still really bad at home. 

In January on New Years Day, when the ball dropped and the year changed to 1985, things took a turn for the worse. Neil stomped in drunk and started cursing up a storm. That night he beat Billy like he never did before. Max has never seen it that bad. Luckily things died down in February. She learned to ignore Neil and her mother. Billy ignored her so she was utterly alone despite Lucas being there for her every step of the way.

 In March, Neil hit her. Slapped her across the face so hard she was left with her mouth agape, a bruise the size of Montana forming. After that, she ran to Mike’s house. She had meant to go to Lucas’s, but Mike found her first. He took her in, gave her some ice and good company. He was surprisingly nice about it which makes sense, Mike is an exceptionally nice person. And since Eleven is back he has been more than kind towards Max than ever. In fact, they have become really good friends especially after he learned about Neil. Funny how perceptions of people can change when you finally get to know them. 

Now it was April, and Neil was getting rough with Max’s mother. Max notices the marks on her mom’s face. She really wants to go home, to leave Neil and go back to her father. But her parents hated each other, and things were never going to go back to the way they used to be. 

“So Maxine -“ Her step-father began. 

“It’s Max,” she muttered under her breath before she could even stop herself. 

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“As I was saying, you should really think about getting rid of that skateboard. I almost tripped on it when I came home yesterday and that really pissed me off.”

Max inwardly cringed at herself. She had meant to put away her skateboard in her room like always, but she was in such a rush to hide the comics Lucas gave her that she had forgotten. 

“Sorry. It won’t happen again.” 

“It better not. Or I mean it. I’ll throw that damn thing away.” 

Her skateboard was the last thing she had left from who she used to be. For the millionth time this year, Max saw the ceramic plate below her, splotch with her tears. 

_______________________________________________

A spoonful of scrambled eggs was put onto Mike’s plate. He set his plate down, and grabbed a piece of toast. 

Nancy handed her plate to her mother, and watched as a spoonful of eggs was served to her as well. 

On his way to his seat, Mike stopped by Holly’s chair. She was four-years-old now, almost five. She was big enough to sit in a regular chair. “Hey Holly.” Mike greeted. “Do you want some more Apple juice?”

“Yes please.” Holly clapped her hands together. Mike was more than happy to fill-up her Micky Mouse sippy-cup with juice. 

“Michael, while you’re over there, can you get me the ketchup.” His mother, Karen, asked. 

“Sure.” Mike grabbed the juice and the ketchup and went back to the table to sit next to his big sister, Nancy. 

“Hey. I have something I want to tell you.” He whispered. 

“Okay. Shoot.” She said. 

“No. Not here. I need to tell you in private.”

“Really Mike? Can’t it wait? I have plans tonight.”

“This is really important.” Mike pleaded with his eyes. “Besides, I want to announce it to everyone, like Dustin and Lucas and Will and even Max.”

“Well then why can’t you tell me right now and tell the others later?”

Mike glared at his sister. She was really making this difficult for him. Karen finally sat down across from her kids. She grabbed the ketchup and put it on her scrambled eggs. Then she handed the bottle of syrup to her husband. 

Ted Wheeler, however, was too busy reading the morning newspaper to even notice. Karen gave him a nudge and he took the bottle with a grunt, not a thank you. Karen stared at him in disbelief.

“Because,” Mike sighed, “I want to talk to you about some D&D stuff with the rest of the party. You know, demogorgons, mind Flayers, and oh yeah, the upside down.”

Nancy dropped her fork; her mouth was wide open. “Jesus. Okay, meet me at Jonathan’s house immediately after school.” 

Mike nodded. He was about to say something else along that line of thank you, when his father decided to put down the newspaper and speak. 

“Dungeons and Dragons? Really Michael. I thought since you are in your last year of middle school that you would give up on that crap.”

“It’s not crap.” Mike looked at his food sadly, poking around at it with his fork. 

“Didn’t you give up on it after you gave away most of your toys?” 

“No. Besides, you forced me to give away my toys, I didn’t do it willingly.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Karen began, “That you two want to spend time together. Nancy it’s really nice that you are playing his Dungeons and Dragons game.”

Nancy shrugged and Ted rolled his eyes. 

“Why can’t he play a sport like a normal boy.” 

“Ted.” Karen scolded. 

“Because I hate sports!” Mike exploded, slamming his hands down on the table. Holly winced, and Karen turned towards him. 

“Michael -“

“I do mom! I hate them. They are stupid. Where’s the intelligence in sports, I mean it’s the same thing every time. Take the ball and score with it. How people can sit there and watch the same thing over and over again, and not get bored out of their minds is beyond me. I could never do it. It’s just a way to get injured for no reason. It’s total shit.” 

“Language.” Ted yelled. 

“I don’t want to play sports. I don’t want to watch sports. I want to write stories and adventures for my friends to go on. I like D&D, it’s different every time. It’s actually fun.” 

“When are you going to grow the hell up.” Ted shouted. 

The table was now flooded with silence. Mike’s face fell and his adam’s apple bobbed. “Can I be excused.” He whispered to his mother. 

“Yes of course sweetie.” His mother said. 

Wasting no time, Mike leaped up from the table and ran off to the basement leaving the rest of his family in silence. 

Ted looked over at his scowling wife. “What?”

Karen shook her head and stood up. “Come on Holly. We need to get you ready for preschool. Nancy, have a good day and thank you for spending time with your brother.” Nancy gave a tiny smile and watched as her mother leaned over Ted’s chair to pick up his plate, her lips right by his ear. “Lord knows that boy needs someone to spend time with him.” 

_______________________________________________

First period science was about to start and so far Dustin was nowhere to be found. 

“Did he contact any of you?” Mike asked. He looked nervously over his shoulder at Mr. Clarke who was preparing the projector for class. 

“No.” Lucas shook his head, “I hate when any of us are late because now I have to worry about different dimensional monsters kidnapping -“

“Shhh.” Max put a hand over his mouth and Lucas pushed it away, peeved at her antics. 

“Shut up, stalker.” She said, smacking the back of his head lightly. “Do you want someone to hear you?”

“They’ll just think we’re talking about make-believe bullshit.” 

“Guy, I’m really worried.” Mike said. His eyes darted around the room at the other students, then he leaned closer to his friends. “Someone said we were in danger last night.”

“What?” The other three kids yelled. 

Mr. Clarke smacked his desk with a ruler. “We’re going to start now.” 

“I’ll tell you after school. Meet me at Will’s house.”

Will furrowed his eye-brows. “Why my house?”

“Because that’s where Nancy and Jonathan will be.”

“Mr. Wheeler. Care to join the class?”

“Sorry.” Mike squeaked, his face flushing. He never usually gets in trouble at school, and he can’t stand being scolded. Max, Lucas and Will all shifted back to their seats and slumped down. They opened their science book to page 34. 

“We’re going to go over some of the most dangerous chemicals in the world.” Mr. Clarke said with enthusiasm. “Starting with Digoxin. Digoxin is a purified extract of the foxglove plant. In proper quantities, digoxin increases the efficiency of the heart. Charles Cullen, a nurse and the "angel of death", used a pharmaceutical grade digoxin to kill over forty patients using the drug.”

The door to the classroom opened and Dustin raced fo his seat. “Sorry Mr. Clarke. I’m here. Keep going. I’m just going to sit down.”

“Dustin. This whole being late situation has become quite a bad habit.”

“I’m sorry. So sorry, Mr. Clarke. My mom wouldn’t let me leave so I had to listen to her talk for half-an-hour only to find out that she’s going to announce some big news to me tonight.”

Mr. Clarke crossed his arms over his chest. “Dustin. This is hardly the time for an explanation. Please do not be late again tomorrow or I will have to take disciplinary actions.” 

“Yes Mr. Clarke.” Dustin said solemnly, crossing a hand over his heart. 

Lucas leaned forward and whispered in Dustin’s ear, “I’m just glad your not in the freaking upside down.” 

“What? Why would I be there?”

“Mike said that someone told him that we were all in danger again.” 

“Holy shit.” Dustin turned around to face Mike. “Is that true.”

Mike nodded. “I’ll tell you after school. Meet me at Will’s house.”

“Got it.” Dustin said, then he spun fully around to talk to the most distant party member, the girl sitting closer to the back of the room. “Max, meet us at Will’s house-“

Her eyes grew wide and she scooted down further in her seat. When Dustin turned around, he jumped at the sight of Mr. Clarke standing at his desk. 

“Go in the hallway.” 

The whole class ewed and Ahhed as Dustin took his backpack out in the hall and sat at the desk out there. Mr. Clarke handed him a piece of paper. 

“Read page 34, and write an essay on venom.”

“Yes, Mr. Clarke.” Dustin mumbled before the door was shut. 

“As I was saying, the Toxins found in snakes, spiders, and other species’ venom has shown promise for treating chronic pain, heart conditions, blood clots, type 2 diabetes, and more. Venom is one of nature's great paradoxes. At its most basic level it's designed to kill – and to do so quickly and efficiently. Yet, the same properties that make it deadly can also be harnessed to provide potential healing.” 

_______________________________________________

The final bell rang causing a chaotic mass of students to pour out of the big blue doors to Hawkin’s Middle School. 

The high school kids were already let out twenty minutes earlier, but Steve was still in the parking lot waiting to give Dustin a gift.

“Hey little dude.” 

“Steve!” Dustin screamed. “What’s up!” They ran to each other, Steve lifting Dustin over his shoulder and spinning him around. The other kids snorted and laughed, as they walked around the swinging child. 

“Steve, don’t hurt him.” Max decided to say. “If he falls on the concrete, he’s going to need plastic surgery.” 

Steve set Dustin down, clapping him on the back. “Nah. Dustin’s tough. He could handle a fall. Oh, here. I got you this.”

“Yes! You got me another Green Lantern comic!” Dustin screeched. 

“Yup. It’s a gift because you helped me get a summer job.” Steve explained. 

“You got a summer job! Holy shit! That’s awesome.”

“Yeah. I took your advice and applied at that new mall that’s opening and I got a job at Scoops Ahoy. It’s an ice cream shop. Now I can give you little shits free ice cream.”

Dustin high-fived him. “Awesome, so when do you start?”

Steve shook his head “You just want free ice cream. Well bad news. I start on June 8th, so you got like two months to go.” 

“That’s okay. You have to focus on school anyway. How’s it going for you? Are you still graduating or did you flunk out?”

“I’m doing fine thank you very much jackass.” 

“So we’re talking C minus.”

“Get in the car.” Steve laughed as he ruffled Dustin’s curly set of hair. 

“Oh. I can’t.” Dustin winced. “I’m sorry. Mike said we have to go to Jonathan’s house to talk about something important.”

“Oh. Can I come?” Steve asked. 

“Sure.”

“No wait. That’s not a good idea.” Mike intervened. 

“Come on Mike.” 

“Dude, I don’t want to drag Steve down in this mess.” 

“What mess? What did you kids do this time?” 

“Nothing.” Mike stated bluntly. “Look it’s nothing big. But I don’t want to put you in danger.”

“Well shit, I’m definitely coming now.”

“No Steve. Then you’ll have to see Nancy.” Mike muttered. 

“Oh please, Wheeler. I can handle seeing your sister.”

“With Jonathan?” 

“If you’re in danger than yes.” 

Mike sighed. “Okay.”

Steve started walking to his car. “I’ll meet you there. I’ll wait outside until you bike-riding babies get there.” 

“Gee thanks.” Mike spat. 

“Oh shit. Before I forget. I’m holding a little pool party in celebration of my job hunting success. You’re all invited. Bring a change of clothes and sunscreen. It’s on Saturday.” 

“Wow. That’s soon.” 

Steve simply shrugged in response. 

_______________________________________________

Nancy was laying on Jonathan’s bed, with Jonathan on top of her. 

“Nancy,” He started breathlessly, pulling back from a frantic, messy kiss because he figured at this point one of them should. “Nancy.”

“Jonathan.” She tipped her head back and let him have her throat. “Jonathan.” She gasps. 

A hand runs through Nancy’s hair, as the kisses become harder and more urgent. Another hand slides around her waist, and pulls her close to his cinnamon scented body.

Nancy kissed his lips again, then she uttered the word, “Mike.” 

Jonathan pulled away quickly, “What?” 

She nudged her head in the direction of the doorway. Jonathan turned around to see Mike, Will, Steve and the rest of the kids standing behind him. 

“Dammit.” 

He stumbled to his feet, anger boiling through his veins. “Don’t you know how to knock?” 

“Sorry.” Mike said, but he moved into the room with speed. Will and Jonathan made eye contact for a brief second, before Will chose to stare at the floor, face flushed matching Jonathan’s perfectly. 

“This is important. It’s about Murray.” Mike sat at the windowsill while his sister and Jonathan sat on the bed. 

“What about him?” Nancy asked. 

“He practically attacked Eleven and I last night.” 

“Wait, you were at Eleven’s last night?” 

“She didn’t want to be alone.” Mike shrugged.

“Does mom know?” 

“Look,” Dustin piped in, “Mike said that Murray said, that we were all in danger.” 

“Right.” Mike agreed, “And he said to just act normal until he contacts us again.”  

“Great.” Steve said, shrugging, “So is that you know, telepathy normal, or we’re the subjects of a government conspiracy man hunt, normal? 

“This sounds wrong, like some sort of trap.” Lucas said. 

“Lucas, he was really scared.” Mike explained. “I believed him.” 

“What that we’re all in danger?” Dustin gawked. 

Mike nodded, “Yeah. Why not? We’ve been in danger before.” 

“Let me remind you Mike, Eleven closed the gate.” Jonathan said matter-of-factly. 

“But why was Murray warning us? And what kind of danger is he talking about?” Nancy asked, and Jonathan looked at her.

“Nance. The gate is closed.” 

“This might not be something from the Upside Down.” Mike elaborated, his teddy-bear brown eyes flickered, the way they do when he’s thinking things through. 

“Then what could it be if it’s not something from the Upside Down?” Jonathan’s jaw was set, hands clenched at his side. 

“I don’t know. But the way that he was talking...he seemed like he was just as scared for himself as he was for us.” 

“Then I say we listen.” Will said. “We should meet with him and get more information.”

Jonathan’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Yeah? Well I say we don’t. We have no idea where he’s been these past four months. For all we know, he could be working for -“

“For who?” Mike yelled. “Finish that sentence. You said it yourself all the bad men are gone, right? The gate is closed?  Then who could he be working for?”

“I don’t know.” Jonathan yelled, standing up, “But when this guy, who has always been a little crazy, goes missing for four months and then comes back just to threaten you kids, I don’t like it.”

“I don’t think he was threatening us.” Mike exclaimed. 

“He was warning us.” Max finished. 

“Exactly.” 

“Well I don’t trust him, and none of us should.” Steve said. 

“Whether we trust him or not, it doesn’t hurt to take his advice.” Nancy said. “We are all normal kids. No one says a word about ‘mind-powers’ or the ‘upside down’ or talks about this in public, okay?”

“Yeah Nancy, because we were going to share this with the whole middle school in the first place.” 

“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you kids don’t talk about this anymore, even to each other. If we really are in danger, someone could be watching our every move. We can’t allow them to hear anything.”

“Why would someone be watching us? What is happening?” Max asked. 

“My guess?” Nancy said, “Someone wants to cover up their mess. We were a part of that mess. If they want to pretend the upside down never existed -“

“They have to get rid of us.” Mike finished. 

“Covering up shit is the kind of stuff Murray looks into. He must have stumbled on to someone dangerous and now he’s warning us about it.” 

“I can’t believe this is happening. I thought this was all over with.” Max whined. Lucas slipped his arm around her shoulders.

“It’s gonna be okay.” 

“Lucas is right. We’ll be fine.” Jonathan assured. “We just need to be careful and stay together.” 

Nancy nodded, and slipped her hand into Jonathan’s. 

_______________________________________________

Dustin put his bike in his garage. Slipping the key into his front door, Dustin walked inside his home. 

“Mom, I’m back. I got good news. Steve has a job at the ice-cream - HOLY SHIT.” 

There was a strange man that Dustin’s never seen before sitting on the couch smiling at him. “Hello Dustin.”

“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” He ran for the phone that was hanging on the wall but his mother walked in.

“Dusty, calm down. This isn’t an intruder.”

Dustin’s heavy panting began to slow down. “He’s not?”

“No honey. This is the announcement I wanted to tell you earlier.”

“You have a new...boyfriend?”

“Not exactly... Dustin, this is your father.” 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Dad?” 

“That’s right, son.” The man with short blonde curly hair, said. He had Dustin’s blue eyes, set charmingly within their sockets and a skinny face. 

“Dusty, this is Bryan.”

“I have a father?” 

“Of course you do, champ.” 

Dustin shook his head with a scoff. “Where the hell were you my entire life?”

“To be fair, I didn’t even know you existed.” Bryan began. “See, your mother and I split before you were even born.” 

“I’m sorry I never told you about him, baby.” Claudia said. “But I never expected to see him again.”

“Yeah, why are you here?” Dustin turned his angry eyes onto his so called ‘father.’

“I wanted to meet my boy. I finally got word of your existence when I moved to Hawkins and started working as a guidance counselor at your school.” 

“You..you work at Hawkins middle?”

“I just started a few days ago and that’s when I saw your name. I called your mom up right away to see if it was true. And it turns out, you are my son.” Bryan walked closer to Dustin with open arms. “Bring it in.”

“No.” The boy shouted, pushing past Bryan and running directly for his room. 

The older man bit his lip, and turned to Claudia. “That went worse than I had hoped.”

“Don’t feel bad, Bry. It will take some time.”  Claudia whispered. 

_______________________________________________

Nancy Wheeler slapped her tan tray of green beans and mashed potatoes onto the cafeteria table next to Jonathan. She started opening the tiny container of applesauce while Jonathan sipped his coco-a-cola.

“So, did you hear Steve got a new job?” Jonathan asked, “Will told me about it.” 

“Yeah. Mike told me. He’s really excited for the free ice cream he thinks he’s going to get.” 

Jonathan laughed, “That’s what Will said too.” 

Nancy twirled her ‘ballerina shoes’ necklace between her fingers. “Does it scare you? You know, thinking about getting a job after high-school?”

Jonathan chuckled, “I’m pretty sure it’s just a temporary job for Steve. I don’t think he’ll be working at Scoops Ahoy his whole life, Nance.” 

“Yeah, no, of course. But do you ever worry about graduating? Because it’s happening next year for us, and it’s so soon.” 

Jonathan shrugged gently, “A little I guess. But I have a plan. At least I think it do. I have known what college I wanted to go to since I was six-years-old.” 

“Oh.” Nancy looked at her tray, her blue eyes focusing on the applesauce. “That’s nice. Where do you want to go?”

“I’ve always wanted to go to college in NYC.” 

“Wow.” Nancy smiled. “I take it your love of photography has something to do with that dream?”

Jonathan smiled even more, “Maybe.” 

“Well that’s great Jonathan. Have you started applying yet?”

“Not yet. I’m planning to start this summer. With everything that has happened to Will recently...it makes me want to not leave.” 

Nancy nodded, gazing at him with admiration. “Me too. I want to stay close, I think. I mean, it’s funny because my whole life I couldn’t wait to get as far away from my perfect little nuclear family as possible, but now...I just want to stay. If the kids are really in danger, I can’t imagine leaving them alone.”

“I can’t imagine leaving you.” Jonathan said quietly. 

Another tray plopped down at their table, and a girl with short blonde hair as straight as a line sat down. “Hello. Do you mind if I sit here?”

“Oh, you’re the new girl, right?” Nancy asked. 

“Yeah. I’m Nina.” 

“Hi Nina. My name is Nancy, and this is Jonathan. Of course you can sit here.” 

“Thanks,” the girl said, digging into her brown paper bag to pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

“So...” Jonathan laughed nervously, “Welcome to Hawkins. What year are you?” 

“Oh, I’m a sophomore.” she said with a smile, “I always hate the first day at a new school.” 

“Have you done this before?” Nancy asked. 

“Only about a hundred times. Everyone is always so... nice.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Jonathan asked. 

“Well the guys are usually nice because they want in my pants. And the girls are usually nice because they want to find out if I want to jump into their boyfriend’s pants.”

Nancy smirked, “How about the girls that hang out with you so they can learn who you are dating and then spread nasty rumors about you.” 

“Or the boys who say they understand when all they really want is five minutes alone with you in the janitors closet.” Nina giggled. 

“We use the space under the bleachers.” 

“Thanks for the warning.” Nina said as she sprinkled sugar on her yogurt. 

“Let me see your schedule, I wonder if we have any classes together.” Nancy said, scooting closer to the new girl, while Jonathan back out of the way. He looked between both girls, and tried to debate of this was a good thing. 

The bell rang creating a chain reaction as every student got up at once to clear their trays and head back to class. As they were walking, Jonathan tugged Nancy’s arm. 

“Nance, wait. Do you really think we should be talking to a new person?”

Nancy looked offended. “What’s the matter with it? She’s new. I’m just trying to help her catch up.”

“What if she’s one of the people Murray was trying to warn us about?”

“You think Nina is what? A government spy? She’s like fifteen.” 

“She’s a stranger, Nancy.” 

“I thought we were supposed to be acting normal?” Nancy walked back into the classroom leaving Jonathan to think. He followed a few seconds later and sat in the back of the class. 

_______________________________________________

“Nancy please.”

“No Mike. I said no.”

“But Jonathan is driving Will. You finally got your license. I don’t see why you can’t just drive me to Steve’s pool party.”

“Because.” Nancy spat, clipping her hair in the back just to have short curly strands in the front fall in her face. She grunted in frustration and threw the hair clip at the mirror. “Why can’t you just bike there like everyone else.”

“I have to pick up El. She lives so far away, please Nancy.”

“Go ask Mom and Dad to drive you.”

Mike’s mouth dropped open, before his expression turned into a death glare. 

“Oh yeah, and what would I tell them exactly? Oh hey Mom and Dad just drive me to Hopper’s secluded Cabin in the woods. I’m picking up my girlfriend that you know nothing about.” 

Nancy shrugged. “You’re good at coming up with lies.” 

“No I’m actually not.” Mike replied. “Besides Mom and Dad are always too busy to drive me around anyways.”

Nancy sighed. “Look Mike. I don’t know what to tell you. But I am NOT going back to Steve Harrington’s house. Okay? I’m not.” 

“Jeez. I knew you guys broke up but I thought you were at least friends.”

“We are.” Nancy growled, opening and closing her hands. “We are, okay? It’s just...” she looked into the bathroom mirror and saw Mike’s reflection behind her. She stared at him through the mirror with sorrowful eyes. “The last time I was at Steve’s house, Barb went missing.” 

Mike bit his lip, instantly feeling guilty for even asking his sister such a ridiculous request. Sometimes he forgets that his sister is still hurting over the loss of her best friend. But he understood all too well how absolutely heart wrenching it is to lose someone you love. He’s been given a second chance twice now. Once with Will, and the second with Eleven. Poor Nancy never got a second chance. 

“I’m sorry.” Mike whispered, knowing full well it could never be enough to heal the hole in Nancy’s heart. But it felt right to say. “I’ll ride my bike. I’m sorry, Nancy.” 

“It’s okay,” she breathed out raggedly. “I’m sorry too. I wish I could help you.” 

“It’s okay. A little exercise is good for me.” Mike teased. 

It didn’t take as long as Mike thought to pick Eleven up. He met up with his friends half-way to Steve’s house. 

Lucas was on his bike and Max was skating.

“Where’s Dustin?” 

“His Mom’s driving him.” Lucas said, “I thought Nancy was taking you.” 

Mike shook his head. “Nah, she didn’t want to. It’s alright though.” 

Mike stopped abruptly, “Hey, is that, Dustin?” 

Lucas and Max stopped moving too. They stared at the car in Steve’s driveway with Dustin and a strange man. 

“Who the hell is that?” 

“Steve!” Dustin screamed running out of the car and at the teenage boy. “This is so cool. I have never really been to your house in all the time that we have known each other.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed, “That’s because my Dad’s kind of an ass about having people over. But he’s not here this weekend, so PARTY!” 

All the kids dropped their biking equipment in the driveway and ran towards the pool. Steve had everything set up. There were balloons on the chairs, a grill, and music playing from the radio. 

“Guys. Wait. I have something to tell you.” Dustin announced as the kids were stripping down to their bathing suits. 

“This is my Dad.” 

The group of kids stared silently at the said man. Mike gave Lucas and questioning glance and Lucas nodded back at him. 

“Wow Dustin.” Max finally said after standing in extremely long awkward silence, “That’s great. Isn’t it stalker.” She elbowed her boyfriend’s chest. 

“Yeah I guess.” Lucas muttered. “Where has he been all your life?”

Max elbowed Lucas in the gut this time, smiling as he doubled over in pain. 

“What Lucas means to say,” Mike interjected, “is why come into his life now?”

“I didn’t know I had a son.” Bryan said, patting Dustin’s head. “And once I found out, I couldn’t stay away.” 

“He split up with my mom before I was born.” Dustin explained. “Okay. That’s all I wanted to say. Come on guys. I’ll race you to the pool.” 

“Wait. We have to wait for Will.” Mike said. 

“Oh I’m already in the pool,” Will screamed. “Jonathan drives fast.” 

“Byers!” The kids screamed, running full force towards Steve’s pool. 

“No, no, no!” Will screamed as his friends jumped on top of him. 

“Easy guys.” Steve screamed. “Hey Jonathan. Don’t let them kill each other.” 

Jonathan gave Steve a thumbs up, and helped lift Lucas off of Will’s flailing body. 

As Steve went back to the grill, Bryan followed. He stood next to Steve awkwardly and watched as he flipped some patties. 

“So,” Steve said, realizing the man wanted to make conversation. “Are you and Dustin getting to know each other?” 

“Yes of course. It’s going to take some time for him to open up though.” 

Steve nodded, “Well, you have an amazing son. He’s one of my best friends. For a little while there, I felt like his father. But..it’s good that you’re here. He needs a real father. Not someone like me.” 

“He seems to like you a lot.” Bryan said. “I appreciate what you have done for him while I was away.” 

Smiling like an idiot, Steve threw a rag over his shoulder while flipping another burger. “It was nothing. Those little shits are real trouble, you know?” 

“Can I help you cook?” Bryan asked. 

“Sure man.” Steve moved over. “I’ll go get the grape juice.” 

Jonathan was holding a beachball in the air. “Okay, get it.” He said throwing it as far as he could to the other side of the pool and laughing when the six kids tried to reach it at the same time. 

“Get off of me.” Max yelled, elbowing everyone that was in her way. 

“Too slow suckers.” Lucas said. He threw it back towards Jonathan. 

“All the way over there? Really Lucas?” Dustin whined. 

“Yeah go all the way over there.” Lucas splashed Dustin’s face. 

“Hey!” Dustin yelled, splashing Lucas back. It quickly turned into a splash fight and the kids were all picking sides. Max and Will joined Lucas whereas Eleven and Mike chose Dustin’s side. Mike was more than happy to dunk Lucas under, only to have the same thing happen to him in return. 

“Alright you crazy cats, come get something to eat.” Steve said, tugging the kids out of the water. He handed them some towels. Mike, being the gentleman he is, wrapped Eleven in a towel first, before getting one for himself. He rubbed her arms to dry her off, and pulled her close to him.

“You look beautiful.” He whispered, as her forehead rested against his. 

“Come, grab some drinks,” Bryan said, handing out glasses of soda to everyone. 

He handed the last glass to Eleven and she thanked him for it. 

“This girl is so polite.” Bryan exclaimed causing El to blush. Mike frowned, moving towards Dustin as Bryan went back to the grill. 

“Dustin. How do you really feel about this guy?”

“Man, I don’t know. It is weird though. He just shows up out of nowhere and wants to be my best friend.” 

Mike shrugged. “I wouldn’t know what that’s like. My Dad wants to be anything but my best friend. But I guess it’s possible. If he didn’t know you existed...maybe he wants to make up for lost time?”

“Maybe. But he’s trying too hard. I’m not just going to love him instantly. I mean, honestly, he’s a stranger to me.” 

Mike nodded and handed Dustin a potato chip from his paper plate. Accepting the offer, Dustin placed the chip in his mouth and glanced at his feet swirling in the crystal blue pool. 

“Do you want to play Chicken fights?” Mike asked to which Dustin smirked. 

“COME ON MAX, BEAT HIS ASS!” Dustin screeched from the sidelines. 

“SHUT UP, DUSTIN.” Mike screamed from his spot in the pool. He had Will on his shoulders, fighting against Max. Lucas was the one carrying Max, and Mike personally saw this as an unfair set-up. There was no question Lucas was the strongest out of all six of them. So it was no surprise when Max knocked Will right off of Mike and the two went crashing underwater. 

“Alright, alright. Let’s have a fair match.” Steve said, swimming towards the group. “Come on Jonathan. Let’s see what you got. Pick your player. I’m choosing Dustin.” 

Dustin clapped Lucas’s hand before hopping onto Steve’s shoulders. “Hell Yeah.” 

“Fine. I’ll take Will.” Jonathan said. 

The kids made a ton of ruckus, cheering for both sides as much as they could. Finally, in the end, Steve and Dustin pulled through victoriously. 

_______________________________________________

“Hey Kid,” Hopper greeted as Eleven walked through the front door. “How was the pool party.” 

“Good.” She said quietly, but her smile told Hopper it was better than she was letting on. 

“Wheeler better not have taken off his swim trunks in front of you.”

Eleven’s eyebrows furrowed at Hopper’s quiet remark. “Why would he do that?” 

Clearing his throat, Hopper wanted to change the subject because he was not answering that. 

“Hey. There is dinner in the refrigerator. Oh, and a note came for you. I think it’s a little strange he didn’t just tell you when you were at the party, but I guess he wanted an excuse for sending flowers,” Hopper handed his adopted daughter a bouquet of roses. 

El gasped, “Pretty!”

“Yeah that Wheeler kid isn’t half bad.” Hopper agreed. 

“He wants to meet me in the junkyard tonight. Can I go?” 

“Why? What are his intentions in the junkyard?” Hopper put his hand on his hip. 

“We usually listen to music on his Walkman.” Eleven explains. “Maybe he wants to show me a new song.”

“Yeah or maybe he’s finally getting too big for his britches.”

El’s eyebrows furrowed together once again, “what are britches?”

“Pants. Trousers. It’s more of a saying than anything that actually makes sense.” 

“Can I go?” She asked again, this time her tone was more sharp, more impatient. 

“No.” Hopper replied. 

“Why not?” She shouted. “He sent me flowers.”

“And now he probably expects something from you and I won’t let that happen.”

“Mike never does anything that makes me uncomfortable. He is good.” 

“He’s also a teenage boy.” 

“So.”

“So he has uncontrollable desires. Look. I’m not about to have this conversation with you. Not when you still don’t understand the difference between a boy dog and a girl dog.” 

Eleven huffed, “How was I supposed to know to look underneath it?”

“This is what I’m talking about.” Hopper said closing the refrigerator, and heading over to the table. “You are not going. End of discussion. If you really want to see him, call him and tell him to come over here.” 

Eleven stomped into her room. “This isn’t fair.” She shouted before slamming the door. Hopper sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. Would it have been like this with Sarah? 

_______________________________________________

El was pretty much a master at sneaking out at this point. She and Mike had done it plenty times before. Every time Mike knew she was sneaking out, though, he would talk about it the whole time and they would never have any fun. He was too good sometimes. So Eleven learned not to tell Mike about sneaking out. She didn’t see that as lying. She would never lie to Mike because friends don’t lie. But maybe she wouldn’t tell him everything. 

The junkyard was dark already even though it was only seven-thirty. Eleven walked onto the bus where she usually meets Mike. Strangely enough, he wasn’t there yet. The note said 7:30. As Eleven turned to leave, Murray was standing directly behind her. 

“Shhh. Don’t draw attention to us.” Murray whispered, “That’s the only way we’re going to make it.”

“Why are you following me?” Eleven stuttered, now terrified. “I did nothing wrong.” 

“We can play that game all night, or you could listen to me and maybe save all of our lives.” 

Eleven’s brown eyes bore into Murray’s. She was too scared to even speak. 

“You’re a smart girl, Eleven.” Murray said. “I knew you were the one I could get through to.” Murray looked behind his shoulder, outside the bus’ window. 

“They don’t know I’m here.” Murray explained. 

“Who is they?” 

“The people I exposed.” 

“Hawkins National Laboratory.” Eleven clarified. 

“More complicated than that.” Murray explained. “I’m a private investigator. I figure things out...but I’ve learned things, seen things that no one would believe.” 

Eleven’s mind flashed to the demogorgon. She wondered briefly if Murray actually saw it, or if he saw something more terrifying than that, like the Mind Flayer. 

“Where have you been all this time?” She asked instead. 

Murray took Eleven by the shoulders and looked her so deep in the eyes, she could swear he saw her soul. 

“To hell.” He replied. “And I’ve climbed out to warn you... that there is a hunter, an experiment hunter with the sole job of tracking down the Hawkins Laboratory experiments and getting rid of them. This hunter is buried deep within the FBI. Do you understand what I am saying?” 

Eleven nodded slowly. 

“He answers to no one and he will stop at nothing to get what he is looking for.” 

“What is he looking for?” 

“Michael Wheeler.” 

Eleven felt her heart stop. She couldn’t breathe. It’s like those very words sucked the air from her lungs and she was left gasping.

“And you, and anyone he thinks is a threat. Anyone who knows about the Upside Down is in danger. All six of your names are on that list.”

Murray grew eccentric, “You have to believe me!” He shouted. 

“I believe you.” Eleven whispered. 

Murray smiled, tears welling up in his eyes. “Oh Thank God. I knew you would.” 

Out of the corner of her eye Eleven could see a shadow outside of the bus. Murray quickly followed her gaze. Panic began to set in. 

“We can’t be seen together.” He yelled. “Meet me behind the theater at 8pm tomorrow. We’ll talk more.” 

With that, Murray raced out through the back of the bus. Eleven watched him go with a tear dripping down her cheek. 

_______________________________________________

Eleven had immediately ran to Mike’s house after that happened and used her powers to communicate through the walkie-talkie. Once Mike knew she was outside, she waited for the back door to open. 

Mike’s back door led directly to his basement. She immediately felt at home, and safe in Mike’s crowded basement full of toys and night lights. 

“What’s wrong, El?” He was concerned, which did not come as a surprise to her. She wiped the blood from her nose and asked him to contact the rest of the party. 

Soon, Max, Lucas, Dustin and Will were sitting in Mike’s basement. They had rushed over after Eleven said it was an emergency. 

Currently, she was sitting on Mike’s couch, with her knees drawn up to her chest. “He was so scared.” She whispered, wiping a tear from her eye. 

“Have you seen me lately?” Dustin muttered. “I’m so scared I’m shaking over here.” 

“Don’t you get it?” Lucas roared. “That’s exactly what he wants: to scare us. And now he’s waiting for Eleven to go alone to some back alley so he can kidnap her and sell her to the FBI.”

“Shut up!” Mike shouted. “That’s not what’s going to happen. No one is going to hurt El.”

“Damn right.” Lucas said, “because she’s not going to meet Murray again.” 

“Says who?” Mike yelled, “You? Because last time I checked, this party was a democracy. We make our decisions together.”

Max shook her head. “There is no decision to be made. We trust no one. It’s simple.”

Mike shot Max an annoyed glare. “There is nothing simple about this, Max.” 

“Guys?” Will whispered. He was shaking really badly too. “If there really is a hunter out there, who do you think he’s coming for first? Do you think it would be me because I was actually in the upside down and I had connections to the Mind Flayer?” 

“There is no hunter out there, okay? This is insane!” Lucas yelled. “Can’t you people smell a set-up or am I the only one thinking straight here?” 

“Why don’t we put it to a vote.” Dustin suggested. “Do we meet Murray again or not?”

“I say we meet, hear what he has to say.” Mike said. 

“I say we stay away.” Max countered. 

“I have to agree with Max.” Will whispered. 

Lucas shrugged, “You know my vote.” 

“If anything happens to you guys, I would never forgive myself for putting you in danger” Eleven clutched her legs tighter. “If we hear what he has to say, maybe we could be prepared. We need to meet him again.” 

“Great it’s a tie.” Lucas muttered. 

“No.” Dustin muttered, “I don’t think we should go. It’s too dangerous.”

“Dustin.” Mike exclaimed, shooting up from his spot on the couch and hovering over his friend with a hurt expression. 

“I’m sorry, Mike.” Dustin couldn’t look his friend in the eye, “We can’t take that risk. For Eleven’s sake.” 

“She wants to go.” 

“But, is that really what’s best for her?” 

Shifting uncomfortably, Max put her hands through her hair. “Four ta two. We stay away.” 

 

Chapter Text

Hopper walked inside his office on Monday evening, ready to start another night shift, but he noticed something move in the dark room. His cop instincts kicked in immediately and he reached for his revolver. 

“Hello?” Hopper flipped on a light switch and saw Murray Bauman standing in the corner by the curtains. 

“Left without saying goodbye, Murray.” Hopper said, he noticed the blood shot eyes as Murray moved towards him. “You okay?”

“I’ll never be okay again.” 

“Are you here to tell me about it?” 

“I’m here because they won’t listen to me.”

“Who?” Hopper asked. 

“Mike. Eleven. The kids. I asked them to meet me and they didn’t listen. They aren’t taking this seriously. I know things about the government -“

“Wait? Are you telling me the government is investigating these kids?” 

Murray shook his head frantically, “Oh I’m afraid it’s much worse than that.” 

“You look like you could use a drink, Murray. What do you say we go somewhere -“

“NO.” Murray ran at Hopper and grabbed his arms. “Even If everything stays a secret now. I will never make it out of this alive.”

“Make it out of what?” Hopper watched with growing concern as Murray stumbled towards the window. 

“Did you really think something could kill every scientist in the Hawkins Laboratory and not send out a red flag?”

“What do you know about the Laboratory?” 

Murray closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. “I know so much more than you think. Last year, those two hormonal teenagers, Nancy and Jonathan came to me with the truth about everything. I helped them water down the evidence enough to expose the Laboratory and get it shut down for good. But the Hawkin’s Laboratory is not the only one. And apparently we pissed off some important people in the FBI. What I didn’t know was you were protecting that little experiment weren’t you? You’re protecting all of those kids.”

“Why don’t you just tell me what the hell you’re talking about.” Hopper hissed. Murray was hitting too close to home. 

“I started investigating another case and when my cover was blown I was sent back to Washington. That’s when I found out about the special unit. They employ Hunters that track down the experiments gone rouge. Also known as exterminators, because they want to erase any trace of the alternate dimension from ever existing.”

“We signed contracts that provide us safety as long as we don’t speak of it.” 

“These Hunters don’t give a shit about that. They want this mess cleaned up so they can start over.” 

“Is it because you exposed them?” Hopper said, veins popping out on his neck. 

“I spent four weeks being debriefed on what I’ve learned about these kids. His name is Alastair, and after he did what he did to me I would hate to see what he would do to those kids. When it was over that’s when he told me. I was theirs for life. Once you know about the unit, you can’t get out.” 

“So how does that affect these kids. So far no one has come after them. You’re the first thing to cause any trouble around here since we closed that gate.”

“Wrong again, Hopper. It’s already started. A hunter is already here.” 

“And yet, nothing has happened.”

“YET! Jesus, do you not understand what I’m trying to tell you? These hunters kill people.”

“If the FBI wants to collect all the experiments and they are after Eleven, why don’t they just swoop in and pick her up?”

“For fear of what she might do. She’s already killed a bunch of men. You forget, Jim, but she’s a powerful weapon. Hell she was raised to be a weapon.” 

Hopper scoffed. “This is getting a little far fetched, Murray, which is typical for you but still...”

“Look your name is on that list, Jim, and you wouldn’t be the first person he killed to erase this mess. Remember what happened to Benny? Innocent people are dying and i’m telling you those six innocent kids are next. I’m trying to save their lives here, but if you don’t want my help than screw you.”

Murray started walking for the door, but Hopper grabbed his arm. “Whoa, Whoa. Murray, maybe we can get you some protection. If you’re really worried about these people coming after you.” 

“I already told you, it’s too late for me. Just get those kids help. That’s all I want.”

Hopper was staring at him skeptically. Murray sighed, “If you still don’t believe me, I saw what Alastair did to Five. He used her as an example on what would happen to the rest of us if we tried to escape...piece by piece by piece. Get them to trust me. It’s the only way.”

Murray scooted past Hopper, “oh, and I’d check on them if I were you. Last I heard, Al was making his presence known on the corner of Cornwallas.”

With that, Murray was out of the sheriff’s station. Pulling out a cigarette, Hopper reached for the phone. “Hey Flo, I’m heading out to check out a lead.”

_______________________________________________

Nancy and Jonathan didn't get a lot of alone time. In fact, most of the time when they were alone, it was never for anything more than bickering and playing detective about the strange things that were happen in Hawkins. It was like they couldn't catch a break where they could just sit down together and hold hands, doing what normal couples do.

But finally, things have settled down for the most part and Nancy couldn't have been happier. She put all of her school work aside for the night and made room for the one man that meant more to her than anyone else in the world.

They were at a restaurant called Buccali’s which was the best they could do on a minimum wage salary. Sure It wasn't some exotically expensive restaurant, but it had good food, and Nancy actually loved it. 

Ordering their food, the two of them gazed at each other for a moment. Jonathan reached across the table, taking Nancy’s hand and lacing their fingers. He smiled at her sweetly as his pointer finger traced circles around the soft scar on Nancy’s hand. Just as he was about to lean in to give her a kiss, the waiter came back with plates of food, cutting their moment short. The waiter slid bowls and plates onto their table and told them to call him if they need anything else. 

As soon as the waiter left, they both dived into the food. It really looked so good. Grabbing their forks and spoons, their craving for the delicious food had overcome their thoughts of finishing that sweet moment they were having before the waiter came.

"This is really nice," Jonathan commented, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "Being here with you on a date... it's been a while since we both could just relax and spend some time together.”

Nancy smiled at him and took his hand again.

“I know. Even though it’s been like four months since we closed the gate, school has been keeping me so busy.”

“And work.” Jonathan replied for himself. 

“And my parents.” Nancy rolled her eyes. “I’ve been trying to keep them from ripping each other’s throats out. I know it’s only a matter of time before they explode. I just hope it doesn’t lead to...”

“A divorce?” Jonathan tired to finish for her. 

Nancy nodded, and squeezed his hand. “I mean, I would understand if they did. I told you a while ago, I really don’t think my parents ever loved each other. But I would hate to see what it would do to Mike and Holly.”

Jonathan nodded, “It was hard with Will when my Dad left. He was too young to fully understand, but I tried my best to ease him into it. In the end, he was alright. It’s better for him to not have to listen to them fight.”

“I know,” Nancy agreed, “It’s literally the worst when they fight.”

Jonathan let go of her hand, and looked at the desserts on the menu. “You know, if it ever gets too bad, you are always welcome in my house. Mike and Holly are too. I’m sure my mom wouldn’t mind.”

But Nancy was shaking her head. “No, I can’t do that to her. After everything she has been through this year...well she just doesn’t deserve to take on any more problems.”

“You’re not a problem, Nancy. She’d love to have you. Hey! Remember when Will used to run away to your house because he was angry at my Dad. He would spend days over there before your parents could coax him out.”

Nancy laughed, “That’s because my brother is a grade A brat. He used to throw tantrums every time they threatened to send Will home. My Dad was all for doing it anyways even if Mike was bawling his eyes out, but my mother, she can’t stand to see him cry.”

“Sounds like my mom.” 

“Yeah, but Mrs. Byers has a backbone. She’s not that easily manipulated.”

“Hold on, Nance. I’ve seen your mom and she’s got quite the backbone. I once heard her scream at all four of them to clean up and go to bed and two seconds later they were in bed.”

“When was that?”

“The night I stayed over because my mom was dealing with court issues for the divorce.”

“Oh I remember that.” Nancy’s face began to burn. “Shit, I was dressed as an elf for those stupid kids.”

“I thought you looked adorable.”

“I wanted to die the second you saw me.”

“But you made Mike so happy. I remember how much he hugged you. I remember thinking, wow, this girl is just like me. She would do anything for her little brother.”

Nancy smiled sadly, staring at her food. “I’m afraid I haven’t been that great of a sister recently.”

“I think you made up for it by fighting a demogorgon with me.” 

“Shhh.” Nancy put a finger over her mouth.

Jonathan laughed lightly. “We probably sound crazy.”

“Nancy!” The couple turned to see Nina standing next to them, holding her purse and smiling. 

“Wow, what a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Hey Nina.” Nancy said, taking a sip of her water. This situation just grew incredibly awkward. 

“Would you mind if I asked you for some girl advice, really fast. I have a date coming in and I’m super nervous.”

“Oh. Sure.” Nancy looked over at Jonathan apologetically. 

“It’s cool. I’ll go out for a smoke break.” He said, standing up. 

It was drizzling outside, so Jonathan walked around the corner to where there was a roof that covered his head as he stood to smoke. 

A few cars passed down Cornwallas, but one car slowed down right in front of Jonathan. 

The dark window that was impossible to see through rolled down just a crack. “You’re Jonathan Byers, right?” It was a man’s voice. 

Jonathan physically shrieked away, trying to hide under the shadow of the roof. 

“It’s okay, Jonathan. Murray sent me. I’ll take you to him.”

“Why didn’t he just come himself?” Jonathan asked, preparing to run as fast as he could away from this car. Maybe he could dash through the back alley. 

“He’ll explain everything. Don’t worry, I’m on your side. Get in the car.”

Suddenly a police siren could be heard, and Hopper’s patrol car pulled up behind the black vehicle. 

Hopper stepped out, asking, “Is anything wrong here?”  

The driver of the black car slammed on the gas, and sped away. 

“You wanna tell me what that was all about?” Hopper asked the shaken teen. 

_______________________________________________

Lucas Sinclair was riding his bike to his house. He was leaving the arcade late, courtesy of Max and her constant high-score on Dug-Dug, which meant getting home late. 

He was so not looking forward to his parents lecturing him. As he rounded the corner, a person jumped out of the woods, directly in front of him. 

Lucas screamed like a little girl, tipping over on his bike and crashing to the ground.  

“If I give you proof, will you believe me then.” Murray shouted. “There is a video tape of the hunter. It’s hidden in the Unit. But I have access to the special unit. If I risk my life for you, and get that tape, will you promise to stop him.”

“You’re crazy.” Lucas said, quickly trying to jump back on his bike and get the hell away from Murray. 

“No Lucas. We are all going to die, and it is not going to be pleasant. They have something else...another way to open it. They are going to erase all the people that know about it, so they can start over. This time, no one will be able to stop it.”

“Why would they want to open the Upside Down?” 

“Because HE wants them too. Will was not the only person the mind-flayer attached itself too. It may have left Will, and the girl may have closed the gate, but it’s not dead. It’s angry, and it has a connection through someone else.”

“Who.”

“We only have one chance. I will meet you tomorrow afternoon, 2pm at the junkyard with the video tape and you can see it all for yourself. If you ignore me this time, there won’t be a next time.”

_______________________________________________

Last night, Billy came home completely ballistic. He kept screaming at Max’s mom, asking her where she put it. Max had no idea what “it” was, but whatever it was her step-brother missed it badly. He missed it enough to ask Neil if he took it. That only ended in a beating. Max couldn’t sleep at all last night. She just kept hearing her step-brother scream over and over in her head. She hated him, but still, listening to him being tortured over something that he missed dearly, it made her stomach sick. 

Maybe that is why her friends are staring at her in class today. It was English class, and she only had that with Mike and Will, but they were looking at her with the most worried eyes. 

Max, herself, couldn’t really keep her eyes open. She felt like she was going to faint from exhaustion. When the sound of Billy’s screams returned to her mind, her stomach gave a lurch and Max knew it was time to leave. 

“May I go to the bathroom?” She asked, after she was called on. 

“Of course.” The teacher had responded, and Max was out of her chair in a flash. Mike looked ready to jump after her, but he was eyeing the teacher wearily. Boys are not allowed to go to the bathroom if a girl student just left and vice-a-versa. Apparently Hawkins Middle school thinks that everyone is going to have sex the second they are in the hallway together without supervision. 

After Max threw-up she felt a lot better. She took a drink from the fountain and started walking back to class when she saw Lucas at his locker. 

“Stalker?” She called, and Lucas jumped four feet in the air. 

“Max. You are way too good at scaring people.”

“What are you doing?” Max asked. She gave him a once-over and noticed he was holding his wrist-rocket. 

“Son of a bitch.” She whispered, “You’re going to meet Murray aren’t you? After everything you said to the others.”

“Yeah. Just don’t tell alright. I got to do this thing, but I have to do it alone.” 

“Are you insane?” Max shouted.

“Keep your voice down. We’re in the middle of a school.” 

“I’m going with you.”

“No.” Lucas growled. 

Max made her hand into a fake telephone and said, “Hello Chief, yeah Lucas is heading out to the junkyard by himself.”

“You wouldn’t call the police on me.”

“I would if you go alone.” 

Lucas glared, “You’re staying in the car with your head down.” 

He started walking towards the exit doors and Max had to think fast. 

“Wait, where are we going?”

“The junkyard.” Lucas yelled. 

“I need my jacket from my locker. I’ll just be a second.”

“Hurry up.” Lucas yelled, walking outside. 

Max and Lucas had left over ten minutes ago, but the bell to switch classes rang. Mike raced out of the room, and towards the girls bathroom. 

“Max?” He called from the outside. “Dammit, I wish El went to school here.” 

Will finally caught up to Mike. “What’s wrong.”

“I don’t know.” Mike decided to go to the only other place she might be, which is her locker. 

“Look!” He shouted. Hanging on Max’s locker was a note that read: “Meeting Murray at the junkyard. HURRY.” 

“Shit.” Mike muttered, grabbing the note and crunching it in his hand. “Get Dustin and Lucas! Hurry. We need to get to the junkyard fast.”

“What’s going on.”

Mike was already racing towards the exit doors. “Max is meeting Murray. I have to try to get Eleven. Maybe she can talk some sense into her.” 

“Mike. There’s no time for El. We have to leave now.”

Mike knew Will was right, but he didn’t like it. “Okay, let’s get Dustin and Lucas.”

“Lucas left.” Dustin said as he walked towards the pair of friends. “What’s going on.”

“He left? When?” Mike demanded. 

“Like ten minutes before class ended, why?” 

“They went together.” Mike stated. “THEY WENT TOGETHER. LET’S GO.” 

_______________________________________________

“This isn’t a good idea.” Max yelled at Lucas as he pulled up to the junkyard on his bike.

“I didn’t ask you to come.” Lucas yelled. 

“This is a mistake.” Max said, “if you’re too stupid not to protect yourself than I’m going to have to do it for you.” 

“This is not your decision to make. This is mine.” 

“This isn’t just about you. What you do affects me too. That’s how a relationship works. Besides, it affects all of us. We are all on that list.” 

“I don’t get it,” Will said on the bike ride over. “Why would he do this after we all agreed not to?” 

“Because it’s Lucas.” Mike spat. “He’s always doing irrational stuff.” 

“Funny. He says the same thing about you.” Dustin mumbled. 

“There they are.” Mike spotted them. The three rode up next to Lucas and jumped off their bikes. 

“What are you doing? We have to leave now. This could be a trap.” Mike yelled, grabbing Lucas by the arm. 

“No.” Lucas said, he firmly planted his feet in the ground making it impossible for Mike to budge him. 

“He has a video tape to prove it alright?” Lucas grunted as he and Mike wrestled with one another. “And I have to find out what’s going on.” With that, Lucas shoved Mike back as hard as he could, and Mike went stumbling back a few steps. 

“Shit, guys. Come on.” Dustin said, “Don’t -“

Mike had bounced back from the shove and took a few striding steps towards Lucas. He swung his fist right in Lucas’s face, as soon as it connected, Lucas was on the ground. 

“Oh my God!” Max screamed. 

“MIKE!” Will shouted. 

Lucas stood back up, his hand over his busted lip. “You hit me? YOU HIT ME?”

Lucas lunged at Mike and grabbed his shirt in a death grip. 

“No! no! no!” Max, Will and Dustin were screaming, trying to break the two up.

 “Stop it. This isn’t helping anything.” Max cried. 

“I was trying to knock some sense into you.” Mike grunted, as Lucas got a few good punches on his arm. He even pulled Mike’s hair pretty good causing the black haired boy to yelp. 

A car’s headlights broke the fight up, and all five kids huddled together. Another car pulled up behind them, trapping them in the center. 

“Shit.” Dustin cursed, hugging Lucas and Mike tightly. “You’ve been good friends. I’m going to miss you.” 

A guy stepped out of the first vehicle and Dustin released the grip on his friends, stepping forward. 

“Dad?”

Mr. Henderson was standing in front of them in a suit. “Sorry kids, but Mr. Bauman won’t be meeting with any of you.”

“So he wasn’t lying? You killed him and now you’re going to kill us?” Lucas asked. 

Dustin turned to his friend, and threw his hands up in the air, mouthing the words: what the hell. 

“No Lucas,” Hopper said, “He’s not. This man is from the district in Maryland. He worked at a psychiatric unit until just recently when he moved to Hawkins to be a guidance counselor.”

“I’ve been treating Murray for the last six weeks.” 

“He’s a psychiatric specialist.” Hopper added. 

“Murray had a break down. He’s diagnosed as paranoid delusional which means he’s desperately afraid of things that do not exist.”

“Bryan tells me Murray was in a mental facility until a few days ago when he just took off.”

“The police tracked his credit cards back to Hawkins and when they caught up with him, he was hysterical.” Bryan finished. “Hopper told me that Murray knew you guys and he’s been telling you crazy things like he wants to meet with you. So I came to put your minds at ease. Oh and don’t worry about Murray. He should be back in the mental institution by now, getting the best care possible. So please, no more late night trips to the middle of nowhere. Anything could be out here. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you kids.”

“Thank you, Dr. Henderson.” Hopper said, “I’m sure we’ll all sleep better.” The tone in Hopper’s voice was difficult to read, but Mike recognized that it was not a happy one nor was it one that sounded at peace. 

“Come on, kids. I’ll give you a ride home.” Hopper said. 

“Dustin, you can come with me.” Bryan opened the backseat door to his car. 

The kids watched apprehensively as their friend got in that strangers car. They knew one thing. They did not trust him. 

_______________________________________________

Hopper refused to discuss it further while he was driving the kids home. He nearly chewed Mike’s arm off for asking repeatedly so Max knew the conversation was officially going to be dropped. The situation would be forgotten about. But Max and her friends know something is up. 

As she approached the front door of her house, Max supposed she could forget about all that for a little while and focus on making sure her step-father does not abuse her mother tonight at dinner. Or better yet, her. Skipping the last period of school was sure to get a phone call home. If Neil knew, she would be in so much trouble. Swallowing her fears, Max went inside. 

Three days later, Max saw Mike and Lucas sitting behind the baseball field at recess. They were smiling, which was a good sign. Soon she saw a handshake which apparently meant the friends were all good again and they made-up. She was glad, because fighting within the Party sucked.  Tension was running high with everything else going on, they didn’t need to create their own tension. 

“Can I interrupt?” Max asked, sitting down next to Lucas. 

“You just did.” Mike said, but he wore that smile that told Max he wasn’t really upset. Thank God. 

“Thanks Pup.” She teased. 

“STOP.” Mike warned. 

“What?” Lucas was totally confused. “Did you just call him, Pup.”

Max nodded, “mmhumm” 

“She caught Nancy saying it to me over dinner. This is why I did not want you to stay for dinner you Raggedy Anne Doll!”

“Buck teeth.” Max shot back at him. 

“Callous hands.” Mike yelled.

“Ugly nose.”

“Freckled freak.”

“You have freckles too, Mike.”

“Do not.” 

Max chuckled, “Yeah you do.”

“Mine are lighter than yours.” Mike said, because he just had to have the last word. 

“Whatever, pup.”

“God I hate you.” 

Lucas threw his arms around his two best friends. He loved being in the middle. “We need another game night.” Lucas announced, “This bickering reminds me of our last campaign.”

Both Max and Mike groaned. 

“Oh my God, she failed so badly.”

“Shut up! I literally had enough knowledge points to save your sorry asses from the Zombie troll.”

“Yeah, but then you communicated with the enemy.”

“I didn’t know he was the enemy! You’re the Dungeon Master, you’re supposed to tell me that stuff.”

“No. That’s the whole point of being a Dungeon Master. I create the story, so naturally, I know stuff that you are not supposed to know.”

“Why? So I can make stupid moves and kill half the party?”

“Exactly.” Mike smiled. “And it was hilarious.”

“Guys.” Will ran over to them.

“Hey Will, What is it? I thought you were taking a make-up exam?” Lucas said.

“Hopper is in the principal’s office. He wants to speak with us.”

When Will took the group back inside, they saw Dustin and El already sitting in the office. Hopper told the principal he would like a minute alone with the kids. He claimed he was going to use a scare tactic on them so they don’t ditch school again. 

The kids knew better. Hopper had information. And from the looks of his hand twitching, it was important. 

Once the Principal left, Hopper shut the door. 

“We need to talk.” He began, sitting himself across from the children. “Now I don’t want to scare you, but I need to get this off my chest. Last night, there was a fire in the psychiatric hospital in Maryland where Murray was being treated...and seven people were killed. Murray was one of them.”

Most of the kids gasped, some of them shifted uncomfortably. 

“Now they say the fire was accidental.”

“But you don’t believe it.” Mike whispered. 

“Do you?” 

The kids looked around the room, no one knew what to say. 

“What if everything Murray told us is true? The FBI, the special unit, Alastair, the experiment hunter, everything! What if the hunter just killed Murray and six other innocent people? This is serious, kids, people are dying. That list Murray talked about...we are all on that list. Nancy and Jonathan and Steve are on that list. We need to help each other and you kids need to trust me. Do you understand?”

Everyone of them nodded. 

“Good. Because there is someone out there right now. Everywhere you turn, he could be watching you.” 

Chapter Text

The six kids were sitting around Mike’s basement table, deeply invested in a Dungeons and Dragons game. 

Mike was delivering his speech, “The sailor stands up and shouts, ‘what do you think you’re doing? Are you trying to cheat me boy?’ He draws a sword from his side pouch. ‘We have a cheater.’”

“I want a redo.” Dustin whined. 

“You can’t redo a roll.” Mike shot back. 

“Yeah Dustin. You screwed up by rolling a one, and now you have to pay the consequences.” Will said to which Dustin flipped him off. 

“Come on, Mike. I don’t want to die.”

“Play deception.” Lucas shouts. 

“Seriously Lucas?” Mike flicks his wrist. 

“It was too obvious. I had to help him.” 

“Hey man, I was just reaching for a tissue.” Dustin said, as he picked up the dice and rolled again. “Eleven plus my deception points of six which means... seventeen. HA YOU BASTARDS!”

“Wow. Very deceptive.” Max clapped for him.

“Screw all of you. You’re just jealous because I made it out alive and you didn’t.”

“I made it out alive.” Mike said.

“Me too.” Lucas exclaimed. 

“And me.” Eleven added. 

“Whatever. Will and Max died.” Dustin said. 

“So the sailor apologizes to the Bard.” Mike explained, getting back into game mode. “Then as you are playing cards, the Tavern doors open and a cloaked women walks in. You see a bunch of civilians in the Tavern look at her. You recognize the cloak immediately and you realize you have done some trading with her before when you first arrive to Vandor.”

The kids were so focused on the story, they hardly heard the basement door open until Mike’s mother screamed his name. 

“Oh my God.” Max jumped out of her skin. 

“MOM. WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A CAMPAIGN.”

“It’s time for dinner.”

“But.”

“MICHAEL GET YOUR BUTT UP HERE AND EAT.” 

Mike flushed a dark shade of red. “Sorry guys. I guess we’ll have to be done for the night. We can pick up tomorrow morning.” Mike suggested since tomorrow was a Saturday. 

Max nodded along with Eleven. Lucas was already gathering his things. 

“I bet you could eat here, if you wanted to.” Mike told Eleven. “I bet you all could.”

Max smiled weakly at him, “Your parents sound like they are still in a heavy debate. It’s probably best if we leave.”

Mike frowned. “They’re just talking.”

“Sure.” Dustin said, “They are talking at the volume of a jackhammer.” 

“I don’t want you guys to go yet. We didn’t even get to the ghost part.”

“We will get there tomorrow.” Will said, grabbing his backpack. “But if it makes you feel any better I have to wait for my mom to pick me up so I guess I will be joining you for dinner.”

Mike’s face lit up. “Yeah! That’s great.” 

He said goodbye to Max and Lucas. Dustin promised to take Eleven home, so as he kissed Eleven goodbye Dustin had to wait. 

“Oh would you hurry up. That is so gross.”

“Bye El.”

“Bye Mike.”

“I’ll call you tonight.” He promised. 

She nodded, and then winced. 

“Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. My head just hurts.”

“Aw, El. You could stay and take some Advil and I could take care of you.”

“Mike. She has a headache. Not the plague. She’s fine and it’s time to go.”

Reluctantly, Mike let go of her hand. He watched sadly from the basement as he friends all left out the backdoor. 

“MICHAEL I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL BEAT YOUR ASS IF YOU DON’T GET UP HERE.” That was his father. Good old Dad. He’s usually laid back and docile on a general basis, but when he was angry, it was like watching an array of fireworks explode. 

Will looked a little traumatized at all the yelling so Mike walked over and nudged his side. 

“Are you okay, Will.”

The brown haired boy nodded, gulping slightly. 

“Come on, we should go.”

“I called my mom.” Will whispered. “She should be here soon.”

“Oh. Well okay.” Mike and Will made it upstairs and sat at the table. 

“Will, sweetie, what are you still doing here?” Karen said, as she stirred the mashed potatoes forcefully. 

“I’m waiting for my mom.”

“Mrs. Byers doesn’t want him walking around after dark. You know what happened last time.” 

Karen smiled sweetly, but her make-up was a mess. She was clearly crying all day long. Ted Wheeler was also, clearly in a bad mood because he slammed his plate down at the table making Will jump. 

“Nancy, you need to stop spending so much time on the phone. It’s expensive.” He yelled. 

“Since when do you care about money?” She asked, playing around with her pieces of ham. 

“Do you see?” Ted screamed looking at his wife, “Do you see what I’m talking about. They are ungrateful little -“

“TED. We are not doing this at the dinner table. Not with Will here, and not in front of our children.”

“Our children need to hear this.” 

Mike slouched down further in is seat. His broccoli looked really good right about now. 

“How am I ungrateful?” Nancy asked, “You’re the one who told me when you put the phone in my room that the amount of calls I make doesn’t matter. You said you got the money under control.”

“So you abuse that power and make a million calls a day.”

Gasping, Nancy dropped her fork. “I do not make a hundred calls a day. How is this fair.”

“Stop it. Both of you.” Karen shouted. 

“Mom, I don’t -“

“I know Nancy. Your father is just picking a fight with everyone because I upset him earlier today.”

“You picked a fight with me in the supermarket.” Ted shouted. 

“Because you insulted me in front of my friends at the supermarket.”

There was a knock at the door, and Will slipped out of his chair. “Oh look. That’s my mom. Gotta run. Bye Mike.” 

“No Will, please don’t leave me alone. Stay five more minutes.”

Will sent him a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry.” He said before he left. 

“How about I just take the phone away from you.” Ted said, and Nancy was out of her seat in a second. 

“I HATE THIS FAMILY.” She screamed, “Just because your pissed off at mom, doesn’t mean you can take it out on me, I did nothing wrong.”

 Storming out of the room, Nancy stomped upstairs and slammed her door. 

“Michael, were you playing that stupid game again.” 

“Okay, Ted. That’s enough.” Karen yelled. “Mike, honey, why don’t you go to your room. Take your food.”

Mike stood up, but his father’s voice boomed. “Sit down.”

The boy sat down immediately. 

“Karen, you are taking this too far.”

“No I’m not.” Karen said, “you humiliated me. And Michael, I gave you an order.”

Mike stood back up. 

“Michael, sit down.” Ted yelled. 

Down he went, and then back up.

“You are picking a fight with our children over something I did.” Karen growled. 

“Mike sit your butt down.” Ted ordered. 

This continued for a while until Mike felt like a human jack in the box. 

“Upstairs!”

“Sit Down.”

“Upstairs.”

“Sit Down.”

They were rambling so fast, that they were speaking over top of each other and Mike wasn’t sure if he should be standing or sitting and he was getting really tired of bouncing up and and down. 

“I CAN’T DO BOTH!” He finally screamed over top of the shouting. Mike was shaking, as he stood before his parents. 

“I just want to leave.” He whispered, feeling tears cloud his vision, but he did not want to cry. 

“Look what you did.” Karen said, gesturing drastically to Mike’s shaky stance. 

“Fine. Go upstairs.” Ted caved. “This is between your mother and I anyway.” 

Forgoing his food, Mike raced upstairs like he used to do when he was little and his parents would fight. Old habits die hard, he supposed.

He ran past his sister’s room, only to see her holding Holly, who was bawling. It never even occurred to Mike that his youngest sister wasn’t at the table, but now that he’s thinking about it, he knows she was missing. 

He stood in the doorframe of his big sister’s room. Nancy was on her blue and pink covered bed, bouncing Holly on her lap. She looked up at him and sighed. 

“Not you too.” She said sadly. It took Mike a second to realize that she was talking about the tears streaming down his face. He didn’t even realize he was crying until now. Nancy opened her arms wide, beckoning him over. Mike sat down next to her, and leaned into her touch. 

Nancy doesn’t think she has ever heard her father so angry before, doesn’t think she’s ever seen her family so upset before. Everyone’s either yelling or crying, the noise too loud for her sensitive ears. Nancy feels like throwing up. Her limbs are heavy with exhaustion, weighing her down on the bed.  She wants to get up, wants to stop them, because Holly and Mike are crying for goodness sake, but she’s afraid herself to go down there right now. 

When the yelling gets louder and Holly starts scream crying, Nancy shifts out of their hold and climbs off the bed. She peels back the covers, nudging them towards it. 

“Come on guys. We’ll sleep this off, okay?” 

Before joining Mike and Holly on the bed, Nancy searches for something else. She heads into Holly’s room to find what she’s looking for. Holly smiles when she offers it to her.

“Thank you.” She whispered, slipping the pink pacifier in her mouth. 

When Nancy lies down next to her siblings, she feels Mike rest his cheek on her stomach, the tear tracks leaving marks on her sweater. Gently, Nancy rubbed his back. She could hear Holly sucking on her pacifier and it soothed her. It soothed both of them. 

It was quiet in the room, but downstairs it only grew louder. 

“You never understand how I feel! Ever!” Karen screamed. “It’s like you don’t care about me anymore. What? Am I too damn old for you to love? Is that why there has been no love this past year?”

“There has been love this past year.” Ted countered. 

“Ted. This has been the most loveless year of my life! I thought about screwing a seventeen year old boy I was so damn lonely.”

Nancy threw a hand over her mouth in utter shock and anguish at the confession she just overheard. “Oh my God.”

“Yeah, well at least you wouldn’t have picked a fight with him after he does everything to please you! Seriously, I agree with everything you say and you still pick a fight. You are the most unsustainable woman I have ever met.”

“I’m the only woman you have ever met. Maybe that’s the problem, Ted. You were so inexperienced and so ready to get married -”

“What? So now our marriage was a mistake?”

Nancy felt Mike’s grip on her shirt tighten, his neatly-trimmed nails digging into her skin while he clenches his eyes shut. It doesn’t take long before Nancy feels fresh tears wet her sweater.

“Don’t cry, Mike,” she whispered, fingers slipping underneath Mike’s shirt so she can caress the boy’s back. Mike sniffled an apology into the fabric of her sweater.

Nancy is about to promise Mike that their parents are just talking things through, when she hears something break, the loud noise followed by her father’s cursing. The two started throwing things at each other like it was a snowball fight, all while tossing insults at each other as they argue, and quite frankly, Nancy’s had enough of it.

“I’m gonna go downstairs, guys. I’ll make them stop,” she promised, gently prying Mike’s fingers off of her body. Mike nods weakly, eyes wide with fear, a fresh set of tears ready to spill. Holly reached her tiny hand out, beckoning Nancy to come back. 

“Nanny.” The little girl called from around her pacifier. 

But Nancy had to go, she had to try and stop this. 

“Can you two stop?” She hissed when she reached the bottom step, still completely unnoticed by both parents. 

“Holly is crying.” The last sentence is no louder than a whisper, a comment muttered under her breath, but Karen doesn’t waste a second before flying up the stairs. She drops the plate she was about to throw, pushing past Nancy to see her little girl.

At least her father had the decency to send Nancy an apologetic look before grabbing his jacket and walking out the door. 

As she stood on the staircase, Nancy heard Mike and Holly’s cries die down, and her whole body started to shake. A silent sob escaped her quivering lips, and slowly, she let herself slide down onto the step. Burying her face in her hands, she cried without making a sound. Old habits die hard. 

Chapter Text

Will was sitting at his kitchen table, scribbling in his notebook with a golden crayon. He was concentrating so much, he didn’t notice the figure enter the room. 

“Will?”

 

He jumped five feet in the air, clutching at his chest. 

 

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to scare you.” His mom said, rushing over to his side. 

 

“It’s okay.” He whispered, finally able to breathe again. 

 

“What are you doing up so late? It’s three in the morning.” 

 

“Oh. I couldn’t sleep.” He said, going back to his drawing. 

 

“Why not? Is something bothering you?” Joyce asked, sitting down next to him, trying to make eye-contact, but he was focused on the drawing now. 

 

“I just have a lot of school work to make-up.” Will said. “It’s kinda overwhelming.” 

 

“Oh honey. Do you want me to call the -“

 

“No Mom, please.” Will begged. “You already called the school like a hundred times over stupid stuff.” 

 

“Making sure you are at A.V. Club is not stupid.” 

 

“Okay. Well, I don’t think you should call. They’re going to get annoyed. They already are. Yesterday I overheard the secretaries laughing at you.”

 

Joyce frowned, “I don’t care if they laugh at me as long as you are safe and happy.”

 

Will smiled. “It’s okay, Mom. I’m fine, really. I just want to color for a little while. Then I’ll go to bed, I promise.” 

 

Joyce pushed his brown bangs out of his face, and kissed his forehead. He whined, complaining that she was messing up his drawing. 

 

“What are you drawing anyway?” 

 

“A Mage for D&D.” 

 

“Ah right. That’s that game you kids play right?”

 

“Yes mom. It’s supposed to be Eleven. Mike wants her to be a Mage with ice powers for this new campaign we’re doing.” 

 

“Well it looks very nice.” Mrs. Byers praised. 

 

“I want to make him happy. His parents were fighting again today... he didn’t want me to leave.”

 

Joyce bit her lip. She felt for the family that she has grown to love. Karen Wheeler went to school with her. When Joyce separated from her husband, Lonnie, it was Karen who was there for her through a lot of it. She hated to hear that her marriage was also struggling. Karen always seemed to have everything so together, so perfect. For a long time, Joyce was jealous of her. She would always see Mike with these new toys that she wished she could provide for her own son. But Will never seemed to mind. He was happy with his crayons and friends. 

 

“Seeing him like that... it reminded me of when Dad would fight with you and I ran away to Mike’s house. He gave me peanut butter and banana sandwiches and watched cartoons with me until I fell asleep. Mike was always there for me. I just wish I could have been there for him. But I didn’t know what to do, you know? It’s weird.”

 

“Oh honey, you did all you could. I’m sure you leaving was actually a good thing. Mike’s family needs some space. But if he’s sad tomorrow you could always invite him over to our house.”

 

Will smiled. “Yeah. Maybe I could. He might not take me up on it though. We’re supposed to play D&D and Mike’s basement is the official gaming spot.”

 

“Well maybe after your game? It can’t hurt to offer. He doesn’t have to take you up on it.”

 

Will leaned into his mother, and gave her a quick hug. “Thanks Mom.” 

 

Kissing her son’s head one last time, Joyce stood up. “Good night, Will.” 

 

“Night mom.” 

 

_______________________________________________

The alarm clock on Dustin’s nightstand read 2:15am. Groaning, Dustin rolled back over trying to get comfortable. He couldn’t sleep after what had happened at the junkyard. How did his Dad know to meet them there? Was his Dad working with Hopper? Was his Dad the reason for Murray’s disappearance? All of these questions kept swirling around in his head. He needed some type of answer if he ever wanted to sleep again. 

The house was so silent at 2:15 in the morning. It seemed strange, almost like it wasn’t his home at all. But Dustin could clearly make out the shapes of his Wolverine posters, and he could see his book shelf filled with all types of knowledge and fact books that he took from serval different libraries. This was definitely his house even if it was so quiet. 

Kicking the covers off, Dustin gave up on the thought of sleeping. Instead, his mind was racing with new ideas. I just need some proof. 

Then it hit him. He could sneak into his Father’s ‘den.’ That’s another thing that irritated him. The man was gone Dustin’s entire life and now he comes back and takes over? What the hell? Suddenly he has a private den and he’s sleeping next to Dustin’s mother and that just sucked. 

He was more than happy to break into his old den and find out what his father was hiding. There has to be something, right? 

Well the desk had typical office supplies on the surface. He saw a stapler, pens, and a few old notebooks. 

Glancing inside the notebooks, Dustin saw patients entries and reports. Work stuff, Dustin thought. He stared looking in draws, under the desk, inside the random cracks and crevices that no one would look under. Nothing. Shit. 

While Dustin was crawling around on the floor, a light flipped on. “Dusty.”

It was his mother, dressed in her night-robe, crossing her arms at him. “What on earth are you doing in here.”

“Mom.” Dustin laughed nervously. “Oh you know...I’m just trying to get to know Dad better.”

She gave him a sympathetic smile and rushed over to give him a suffocating hug. “Oh sweetheart, I know this must be hard for you. But instead of looking through his things, why don’t you just ask your father.”

“Ask him what?”

“Anything.”

“Can I ask you something.” Dustin said, looking at his mother with huge blue eyes. 

“Sure dear.”

“Why did you Marry him?”

Claudia sighed. “Well that’s an interesting story. I guess you could say it was because I was lonely. I never really had boyfriends all throughout school. When I went to college, I thought I would find someone but I didn’t. My friends were all getting married and I felt really left out and behind, so the second someone took an interest in me, I sped it up and got married to him. Which, as your mother now, I am going to advise to never do that. Because look how we ended up. He left me a month after we got married.”

Dustin looked down at his hands, “How am I supposed to like a guy that left you?”

Claudia pulled Dustin to her chest, “because he wants to be a part of your life. I think it’s wonderful that he came back for you. It makes me wonder...if he would have known about you...would he have stayed?”

“He should have stayed whether I was born or not. You don’t need him mom. We don’t need him.”

“Of course we don’t, Dusty. We have made it this far without him. But don’t you want to spend time with a father figure. Don’t you ever want to talk to a guy about...I don’t know guys stuff. Like football.”

Dustin scoffed, “That’s what my friends are for. And I hate football. We talk about guy stuff sometimes.”

“But they are young like you. They can’t give you that Dad advice.”

“They’re pretty smart. But I know what you mean. But that’s why we have Steve and Jonathan and even Nancy if we need some extra mom love, but we don’t want to actually tell our mothers. No offense, mom.” 

Claudia only laughed. “Tell you what. Why don’t you try to spend some time with him, and then we can kick him out and say he got his father and son time. We’ll say, go find a home that you didn’t run away from and live there.”

Dustin nodded. “Sounds good to me.” 

_______________________________________________

“Then she said we’ll kick him out!” Dustin explained as he rolled the dice for his D&D mission. 

“Ha! I persuaded my way out of that mess. Check it out, 18.”

“Good job, Dustin.” Max mumbled. “You’ve been on fire. But do you really need to rub it in about your Dad coming back. I can’t believe you’re going to kick him out.”

“Excuse me, but when did you care about what happens in my life?” Dustin glared. 

“Oh I don’t. You can do whatever it is you want, but if my Dad shows up I’m not kicking him out. I’m going to beg him to take me with him.”

Lucas sat straight up in his chair, “To California?” 

The couple made eye-contact and Max bit her lip. “Well...”

“Unbelievable.” Lucas shouted, screeching his chair back. 

“Where are you going?” Max called. 

“Home.” Lucas said. 

“Lucas sit down.” Mike barked. 

The other boy simply scoffed. “You gonna hit me again, Paladin. Mr. holy leader of all things good.”

Instead of getting extremely pissed off, like Mike usually did, he instead spoke in a quiet voice, “We haven’t even gotten to the ghost part. Please.” 

Lucas frowned and looked Mike over. He had an emotionless expression on his face, dark circles under his eyes, and he was fidgeting even more than normal for Mike. 

Then Lucas looked at Max, her pleading blue eyes on him. Her equally exhausted shoulders hunched together. In summary, both his friends looked like crap. 

“Fine.” Lucas muttered. “I’ll stay for you, Mike. Not Max who apparently wants to move away from me.”

Max rolled her eyes, “oh my God, I don’t want to move away from YOU. I want to move away from HIM.”

The entire party had forgotten about the D&D game for a second because they knew Max needed to get this off her chest for a long time. Even though an explosion is not the best way to do it, if she is willing to open up, they were willing to listen. 

Lucas nudged his head towards Mike, “He’s not that bad.” 

“Not Mike you idiot, Neil! I’m talking about getting away from Neil. Jesus how stupid -“

“Max.” Mike cut her off with a shake of the head, but it was too late. Lucas heard what she said. 

“Great now we’re throwing insults at one another. Fine. You’re so self-absorbed that you would think about your own father when Dustin was talking about his. News flash Max, your Dad and Dustin’s Dad are not the same people.”

“Guys stop.” Mike yelled. “We don’t need this fighting. Everyone always fights.” He whimpered. 

“I know my Dad is different than Dustin’s because my father would never try to kill a person.”

Dustin slammed his fist on the table, causing the game board to shake, and the players to fall over. 

“MY DAD DIDN’T KILL ANYONE.” 

“So That fire that killed Murray was just a coincidence then?” Max said, raising an eyebrow. 

“No. But what does my Dad have to do with that?”

“He’s the one who said Murray was back in the psychiatric hospital.” 

“That doesn’t mean he killed him.” 

Eleven grabbed her stomach, and started shaking. “Guys, I don’t feel good.”

Mike looked over at her, and grabbed her hands. “What’s wrong?” He whispered as the other’s continued fighting. 

“My head still hurts. I feel sick.”

“Nauseous from the headache probably.” Mike said with a sigh. “Did you take anything last night?”

El shook her head, then her body started convulsing slightly. 

“Jesus.” Mike muttered. “El, you should have taken some medicine.” He started rubbing her back in gentle circles but it didn’t seem to calm the little convulsing shakes. 

“Are you gonna throw up?”

Eleven nodded, and Mike got up quickly to get a trash can. 

Dustin was screaming so loudly, that no one was even paying attention to Mike and Eleven, “DO NOT ACCUSE MY DAD OF MURDER JUST BECAUSE YOU MISS YOUR OWN.”

“He’s up to something.” Max yelled. “I thought we were all on the same page here? Is it seriously just me?”

“No I agree.” Lucas said, and Dustin started cursing him out. Lucas simply spoke over Dustin. “I agree with you Max because we agree on pretty much everything. We’re really good for eachother. At least, I thought we were. But if you want to leave me the second you get an opportunity then I don’t even know why we’re still dating.”

“For the last time, I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE YOU! I WANT TO LEAVE MY ABUSIVE STEP-FATHER WHO STARTED BEATING MY MOTHER, MY STEP-BROTHER AND ME!”

Eleven puked at that very moment into the waste basket, and everyone turned towards her. 

“Oh my God.” Max whispered. “Is she okay.”

“She’s fine.” Mike growled. He looked at Eleven and continued to rub her back, “Right, El? You’re going to be fine.”

Eleven pulled away with tears streaming down her face, but she nodded. 

“Here.” Will handed her a water bottle that was sitting on the table. She happily accepted. 

“Gross.” Eleven whispered after she drank the entire water bottle. 

“It’s okay.” Mike assured her. “It happens sometimes. It’s natural.”

“Natural?”

“Yeah, you know. Normal.” Mike explained, continuing to wipe her with paper towels that Dustin now brought from upstairs. “You’re sick. Must have caught a bad bug.”

“Ew bugs.”

“No. I mean a virus. Never mind. I’m gonna stop talking before I confuse you.” Mike stood up and grabbed El’s hand. “Can you walk okay?”

“Yes. I feel better now.”

Max furrowed her eyebrows. “You’re not shaky? Or weak feeling?”

“No.”

“Still feel nauseous or feverish?” Dustin asked. 

“No.”

“Huh. Weird.” Will said. “Maybe it’s because she has superpowers. It makes you extra strong when fighting diseases.”

“I hope so.” Mike said, leading her towards the door. “Just in case, I’m going to take her home. You can all leave. The game is over and I don’t think we should play tomorrow.”

“What?” Dustin was alarmed, “Why not? You Love D&D. We all love D&D.”

Lucas scoffed, “Well maybe not Max.”

“You are so oversensitive!” Max screamed. “I didn’t even mean to hurt your feelings.”

“What did you think -“

“THIS IS WHY I DON’T WANT TO PLAY WITH YOU ASSHOLES TOMORROW!” Mike screamed louder than the other two. His voice was official hoarse at this point from all the screaming and crying he did over the past two days. 

“I’m done with fighting. I get enough of that every freaking day in my house. If my best friends are going to start doing it too, then I don’t want to spend time with you. Go home.”

With that Mike slammed the door to his own basement, and led Eleven towards his bike. 

“I’m sorry for yelling, El.” He whispered, his voice going in-and-out because it was so hoarse he could barely speak. 

“Not mad.” Eleven said and Mike smiled, pecking her lips even though she was sick. He could care less about that right now. 

“I want you to be happy, El. Come on. We can go to your house and watch movies and eat chicken noodle soup together.”

Eleven didn’t know what chicken noddle soup was, but the way Mike said it, she knew she would love it. 

_______________________________________________

Turns out, Hopper was more than happy to let Mike take care of Eleven. 

“She’s sick? Oh God. Oh God. Of course this had to happen. Shit!” 

That was Hopper’s first reaction. 

“What’s wrong with you? She’s not trying to be sick.” Mike muttered. 

“Look kid. I’ve got three fears in this world. Three fears. Number one, watching someone I love get hurt or die. Number two, sharks, and number three watching someone I love get sick again.”

“Again?”

Mike and Hopper shared a brief stare. “Go set up some blankets, I’ll make her some chicken soup.”

“Was your daughter Sarah sick?” Mike asked. “My mom told me you had a daughter but she passed away. Is it because she was sick.” 

Hopper was on the verge of wanting to punch something, or cry. He wasn’t sure which one he wanted to do more, so he settled for ignoring the boy completely and going into the kitchen to make soup. 

“Hopper-“

“She was sick.” Eleven said and Mike looked towards her.

“You know what happened?”

She nodded, “He told me. She loved astronomy. But now she is gone. Had cancer.”

“Oh Hopper.” Mike whispered, looking at the closed kitchen door. The world was really unfair sometimes, Mike concluded feeling like the weight of everything was absolutely suffocating him. 

But then she squeezed his hand, and he could breathe again. Eleven was there. She needed him to be strong, so Mike sucked up all his emotions and turned it into a smile. 

“Let’s pick out a movie.”

Chapter Text

Eleven and Mike finished watching footloose and Hopper was about ready to shoot himself in the foot if he had to hear those kids sing one more time. 

He was currently trying to finish his cigarette in peace, while reading the newspaper, but all he could hear was their loud laughter. Which, in all honestly, Hopper didn’t mind. It wasn’t until he saw the time read 4pm and he started to cook dinner that he minded the two hour long laughing fest. 

“Would you two knock it -“ Hopper had walked into the living room where the TV was and saw it was floating in the air along with a few records and a book. 

“What the hell are you doing?” He asked. The two kids turned to look at him with big grins on their faces. Eleven’s nose was dripping blood. 

“We’re playing a game.” Mike informed him. 

“Well stop it. I don’t want my shit floating in the air.” 

Eleven dropped all of the objects at once, and the TV went crashing onto the couch. Hopper had leaped for it with a string of curse words but luckily it wasn’t damaged thanks to the couch. 

Mike, on the other hand, got clipped with a book. Despite the pain spreading across his head, Mike was howling with laughter. 

“I win!” Eleven screamed, swiping at her nose. 

“Good job El.” Mike said. 

“No!” Hopper shouted, “Not good job. Bad job. You are not allowed to use your powers to play. You could have broken something.”

“Hopper relax.” Mike had began but Hopper turned on him with such a dangerous look, Mike retreated a few steps.

“Do not tell me to calm down. This is my house, and my rules. She is not allowed to throw objects around. Someone could get hurt. Like you. Look, your head is bleeding.” It was the first time Hopper noticed it throughout his ranting, but Mike’s forehead had a tiny gash that was leaking blood. He went into the kitchen and grabbed a wet rag. “Here.” 

Mike didn’t know he was bleeding either, apparently, because when he pulled back the rag and saw the red, he looked surprised. 

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” Eleven said tearfully. 

“It’s okay, El. I’m fine.” Mike assured her. “I can’t even feel it.” 

“This time.” Hopper said firmly. “Powers are only to be used for life or death situations. There better not be a next time, you understand me?”

Eleven nodded a few tears slipping down her face. Hopper felt badly now, both kids were just staring at him like he was a foreigner, their smiles long gone. He didn’t want to do that to them. 

“You can keep playing.” He said a few seconds later, “I’ll be in the kitchen. But no more floating stuff around.”

The two frozen dinners finished heating and Hopper briefly wondered if the Wheeler kid was staying for dinner. Mike didn’t usually stay over. He usually took Eleven other places on the weekends. Most of the time he dropped her off at home before dinner but never stayed. 

He walked around the corner to ask them if he was staying when two bodies lunged themselves at Hopper’s legs. They knocked him onto the sofa before high-fiving each other. 

“See El! I told you we could do it without your powers.”

They were practically sitting on top of Hopper’s stomach.

 “Oh yeah?” Hopper teased, sitting up with a grunt. “You think you can take me down? You have another thing coming.” 

Hopper wrestled the two kids until they were laying on the couch unable to get up and laughing so hard they started getting the hiccups. 

“Say you surrender.” Hopper advised. 

“Never!” Mike laughed, slipping underneath his hold. 

“Hey, get back here you rascal.” Hopper managed to wrap a secure arm around Mike’s waist and pulled him back into the same lock he had Eleven under. 

“I can’t get up!” Eleven grunted before falling into another fit of hysterical giggles. 

“I know, he’s too fat.” Mike added. 

“Fine. We surrender.” Eleven said, finally submitting to the hold. She was exhausted from all the struggling and her head was starting to pound again. 

“Yeah. You win.” Mike agreed. 

Hopper let them up, ruffling both of their hairstyles. Mike grumbled about it a little more than Eleven did. 

“Do you want dinner, Wheeler?”

“Am I allowed to have dinner?” 

Hopper stifled a laugh, “Of course you are, if you want to stay. What about your parents, though?” 

Damnit, Hopper hadn’t even thought about Mike’s family. It was not uncommon for the Wheeler kid to run off without telling his folks. Hopper would drop him off late at night and he would overhear Karen yelling at him for worrying her sick. 

The look on Mike’s face told Hopper everything he needed to know. “Oh kid. You need to start telling your mom. She’s going to blow a gasket one of these days.”

“She already has.” Mike muttered. “It doesn’t matter. She won’t even know I’m gone.”

“Mike.”

“She won’t!” Mike defended himself. “She’s too busy talking with my Dad about stuff.”

Hopper stood up from his place on the couch, “Frozen dinners are in the kitchen, go eat, both of you.”

Hopper sighed to himself, last night he spoke with Joyce over the phone. They have fallen into the habit of speaking everyday to one another. He tells her about Eleven, she tells him about Will. They talk about work, politics, and gossip. It’s been nice for Hopper, having someone to talk to that knows what she’s doing when it comes to raising kids. He never thought he would have a second chance at being a father so his skills are a little rusty. Besides, Eleven is not exactly your typical kid. Joyce Byers provides the company and reassurance that Hopper seeks most of the time. He feels like he can be his most honest self when he talks to Joyce considering she’s been through it all with him. They both value integrity. Which is why he told Joyce everything about Murray. In return, Joyce told Hopper about Mike’s family fighting. Apparently Will over heard some of it, so Joyce was putting it out there. 

It didn’t surprise him to hear that Karen and Ted Wheeler were fighting. What did surprise him is that it took this long. Three kids later, he would have hoped they could have work things out, but apparently they still collided over the stuff they used to in high school. Still, Hopper felt sorry for the boy sitting in his kitchen. Before, he wouldn’t have given it much thought, but the more he has gotten to know Mike, the more he realizes just how much this situation affects him. There have been a few nights where the kid has slept on Hopper’s front porch because he so badly didn’t want to go home. 

When he walked into the kitchen he saw Mike spill out a few pills from the Advil bottle and put them on the table. 

“Are those for El or you?” Hopper asked, planting himself in the chair next to his adopted daughter. 

Eleven smiled at him. “For me.” She said weakly.

“She’s got a bad headache again.” Mike’s expression was familiar. He was looking at Eleven the same way he looked at Will when he was in the hospital. 

“She’ll be alright. You did say she was sick. I was going to say, you look a little sick yourself. Are you feeling okay?”

Mike focused his eyes on Hopper. “I’m fine.” 

“Lying is bad for the soul Michael.”

Eleven smiled when Mike laughed, “And Hopper says you are bad at lying.” She explained. 

“Thank you? I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“What’s bugging you? Did you get any sleep.”

“Yeah, a little. I guess I’m just tired of all my friends fighting. Max and Lucas went at it this afternoon and then El got sick and it was all a little too much, you know?”

“Yeah. I know.” Hopper said. “I know you didn’t ask for my advice either, but I’m going to give it to you. Don’t you dare say anything either or I’ll send you right back home. But, I think you should try to reconcile things. Life is too short to be holding grudges and fighting. If you want the fighting to stop, then stop it.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Instead of arguing back, take one of your friends out of the room and let everyone cool down. Then listen to each person’s perspective without choosing sides. That’s very important. I made that mistake in the eighth grade.”

Mike almost choked on his water. 

“Watch it kid. Not a word, or we’re going in my car.”

The Wheeler kid held his hands up innocently. 

“Good now make your friends forgive each other and stop getting so riled up over little comments. Laugh when you can, apologize when you should, and let go of things you can’t change.”

“Wow. Deep. Thanks Hopper. Now, I know you didn’t ask for it, but I’m going to offer you some advice.”

Hopper looked taken aback, ready to say something, but Mike wasn’t coming up for air. He just went right into it. “Stop beating yourself up about not doing everything ‘perfect.’ I hear you talking to Mrs. Byers sometimes and you think you have to be this perfect parent, but there is no such thing. You don’t have to be perfect to be good. You are a good parent Hopper, because you care about El. You care about her for who she is, and you never try to make her into something she is not and that is why you are a good parent. My Dad isn’t like that. He wants a son who is into sports. He’s ashamed of who I am, and that hurts. It hurts not being accepted by your parents. So as long as you accept El for her insane telekinesis ways, then you are a good Dad.”

Eleven grabbed Mike’s hand, and looked towards Hopper. “Dad.” She repeated quietly. 

“Jesus.” Hopper mumbled, because he was getting emotional over something a fourteen year old said. He got up to make a frozen dinner for himself, and to turn away from the children. “You’re pretty wise for a kid, you know that Wheeler?” 

“Thank you sir. You’re pretty wise for an old guy.” 

“A smart ass too.” Hopper smiled. 

_______________________________________________

Nancy met up with Mike outside of their house later that evening. He was riding home from Hopper’s house at 11pm. 

“Mom is going to kill you.” Nancy said, but she wasn’t bragging about it like she used to when he would forget to take out the trash or do the dishes. She sounded genuinely concerned. 

“I’m sorry it’s late.”

“Mike, she had no idea where you were. You just left! I finally had to lie and say you were at Will’s house because Mom was about to call the police. Then I had to pray you were actually at one of your friends house and not lying in a ditch somewhere because I had lied to mom for you and -“

“Nance. Calm down. I was at El’s house. I’m fine.”

“Well you won’t be when you go inside. I’m serious, Mike. It’s bad. She threw away all of the bored games in your room, and confiscated your Atari.”

“Nooo.” He whined. “Why would she do that?”

“Because she’s pissed. Not just at you, but at Dad. You know how bad it’s been lately. Why would you go and make it worse? They screamed about you for hours. Finally Mom just had enough and started tossing stuff out of your room. She even put your pictures into a box along with everything else on your dresser and took it to her room.”

Nancy stopped talking abruptly when her brother’s eyes were glossing over with tears. 

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make you upset, or yell at you. I just want you to be prepared. Tonight is going to suck.”

Mike nodded, blinking back his tears. He was not going to cry about his parents anymore. “Thanks for the warning.” He said to his sister, before heading into the household. He could really use his best friends right now, but unfortunately they were all technically in a fight. 

“Michael Wheeler where the hell have you been.” Karen exploded when he walked inside. “You cannot just leave without telling me. Do you understand?”

“I’m sorry.” He said, because what else could he do? He couldn’t turn back time. He made a mistake. 

“Go to your room. We will deal with this in the morning.” 

Mike didn’t like the sound of that, but he went into his bedroom completely prepared to see it stripped of his stuff. Even though he was prepared, it hurt to see it like that. It hurt that his parents were still fighting. It hurt that his friends were fighting. Mike was just hurting. 

_______________________________________________

Steve Harrington was bored out of his mind. His old friends, Tommy and Carol wanted nothing to do with him. Nancy was probably busy with Jonathan, and as much as Steve wanted to call her, he knew he had to lay off. Then there was Dustin. Steve knew he could hang out with Dustin whenever he wanted to, but now, the kid was dealing with his new father which totally throws a wrench into Steve’s plans. Not sure what to do, Steve walked out of his house with the intention of going on a walk. Maybe he should buy a dog? Then he would have someone to take care of 24/7 and the kids would love a dog. 

With the new intention of heading to the animal shelter tomorrow, Steve started mapping out what route he would take the dog on for walks. As he was walking his pretend dog, Steve saw Billy Hargrove playing basketball in his driveway. The guy was good, dunking the ball every time. It took Steve this long to notice it, but Billy had the potential to be professional basketball player if he wanted to. Steve watched with a growing fascination as the ball made it through the net every time. Again, and again, and again. On the twentieth attempt, Billy finally missed the basket. He grabbed the ball and flung it against the wall of the house with such rage, Steve suddenly remembered why he never realized how good Billy was. The kid was way too violent. 

“Stupid.” Billy screamed as he smashed the ball against the wall again, “Jackass, Son of a bitch, retarded, lying, snake! GO TO HELL.” He screamed at the top of his lungs now pounding the ball into the wall with his hands. “Go to hell.” 

He was more quiet now, and if Steve didn’t know any better, he’d say Billy was breaking down into tears. Either way he was clearly having some type of mental breakdown and Steve wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, but he wanted to go unnoticed.

“WHERE IS IT!” Billy yelled, this time looking up to the sky. “WHERE THE HELL IS IT?”

Thankfully, while Billy was preoccupied with shouting at God, or whoever he was talking to in the sky, Steve had made a stealthy escape onto the other corner of the street. Man that family had some problems, Steve thought as he continued to map out his dog walk. 

_______________________________________________

Surrounded by four pink and white striped walls, there was nothing else for Nancy to do but stare at them. To look at the paint that had started to chip off as time passed, or gouged by her little brother the night he played sword fight in her room. Her walls were thin...she could hear everything in her big house from the coffee brewing in the morning, to people’s voices whispering. But tonight, there was only yelling. It seemed like that’s all she could hear nowadays. Her ears were burning from it, as she put a pillow over her head to drown the sound. It didn’t work. 

Mike’s sobs could be heard as well. They were mixed in with the yelling. At least he was safely tucked away in his bedroom and not in the line of fire downstairs. Nancy briefly admired Holly, and how she could somehow sleep through this noise. Or maybe her little sister was lying silently awake in her bedroom like Nancy was, just staring at her wall. 

The telephone rang, scaring the living hell out of her. Nancy grabbed the baby blue chord as she picked up the phone and put it to her ear. She twirled the chord around her fingers as she spoke. “This is Nancy Wheeler, who may I ask is calling?”

“Nance. It’s Jonathan. Nina is lying.”

Nancy furrowed her eyebrows together, “What are you talking about?”

“I went to her house today. Nobody lives there.”

“You went to her house? How did you even get her address?”

“I looked in her file at school.”

“Jonathan!” Nancy scolded. 

“That’s not the point. Listen, a pair of military officers showed up a few minutes after me. I was hiding in the bushes and I watched them go inside. I don’t know what the hell is going on, but Nina cannot be trusted.”

“Ok.” Nancy said after thinking it over. “We need more information on her. Let me try to talk to her. Maybe I can figure out what is going on.”

“You have to be careful. This girl could be dangerous.”

“I know. But she trusts me. She thinks I’m her friend, so I’m our best bet at getting any info out of her.”

“Fine. But I don’t like it.”

“I’ll just ask her if I can come over to her house for a girl’s night. We’ll see what she says and go from there.”

Jonathan agreed with her idea, still nervous about Nancy hanging out with this girl. But she reassured him everything would be alright. If only she believed herself. 

Chapter Text

Lucas cracked his eyes open to the worst sight imaginable. His little sister was standing next to his bed. 

“What do you want.”

“Mom wants you to get dressed for church. By the way, she also said you need to put your dirty sheets in the washing machine instead of just leaving them in the hamper because they smell -“

“GET OUT.” Lucas screamed, face heating with embarrassment. 

Erica started laughing, “It’s the day of rest. We are supposed to be praising the Lord and your jacking off.”

“I wasn’t - it’s natural - how do you even know about that? Who have you been hanging out with at school.”

Erica shrugged, “I watch TV. I see things. Have you heard some of the AC/DC songs?” Erica grinned devilishly, “She was a fast machine she kept her motor clean.” Erica sang quietly. 

Lucas was about to respond but his mother walked by his room. “Come on kids. Get dressed, we leave in fifteen minutes.” 

Lucas threw on his dress shirt and nice pair of slacks then went downstairs to grab the newspaper for his Dad. Outside of his house, he saw Max pacing back and forth on the street. She turned to see he was standing there and took off. 

“Whoa! Hold up!” Lucas called, running after her. He had to really pick up the pace because she was so far ahead of him.

“Max, Wait!”

“I don’t want to talk, Stalker.”

“Then why did you come all the way out here?” He managed to catch her by the arm, but she backed away, skittish. 

“Get the hell off of me.” She shouted like a feral cat, slashing blindly at any perceived threat. Lucas stared at her bewildered but withdrew his hand. Max felt immediately guilty for lashing out and buried her face in her hands. “I’m sorry.” 

“It’s okay.”

“No. I’m sorry for upsetting you yesterday. It’s just... you have to try and understand where I’m coming from. I miss my house. I miss my old family, I miss my old life. This place isn’t my home. I hate it here. You and the rest of your friends are the only people that make living here bearable for me. But my life sucks. My step-Dad is making us all miserable. If my real Dad came back for me, I would be so freaking happy.”

Lucas looked down at his shoes, “Happy enough to leave me?”

Max closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe. “Yes.”

He turned around, ready to storm back to his house, but she grabbed a hold of his jacket. “Hold on. You can’t be mad at me for that.” She said. 

“Why not? You basically just said you would leave me.”

“This isn’t about you Lucas.” 

“Yes it is, Max. Remember what you said to me in the junkyard, when I was about to meet with Murray. You said it affected you because we were in a relationship. What one person does affects the other. So if you would leave to California, then it would affect me because I wouldn’t see you anymore. Do you understand?”

“That’s not fair.” Max muttered. “You can’t make me choose between my old life and you.”

“No, It’s not fair to me.” Lucas yelled. “You can’t start dating me and then just leave one day if your Dad comes back. That’s bullshit. I’ll get attached to you. We’ll share secrets. We’ll be best friends.”

“I never asked you to be my friend, or my boyfriend. You chose to seek me out, and now you’re blaming me?”

“I don’t want you to leave me.”

“Well I probably won’t. Because my Dad probably won’t come back.”

“Thanks Max. That’s so reassuring.” Lucas said, walking away. 

“Why don’t we just take it day by day.” Max said. 

“Then I’ll be getting closer to you.”

“We are already attached.” Max stated. “Look nothing has to change. And if my Dad shows up, and that’s a big if, then we can talk about this. But for now, let’s forget I ever said anything. Please, Lucas. You are one of the best things in my life and I really don’t want to lose you.”

Lucas studied the redhead's profile, the way her blue eyes literally sparkled with the reflection of the sun. He leaned forward and pecked her lips. “I don’t want to lose you either.”

They smiled and their hands slipped together. Lucas’s mother called his name from his front porch. 

“Do you want to go to church with me?” Lucas asked with a tiny smile. 

“Sure.” She shrugged. 

_______________________________________________

A soft groan broke the silence of the room and Hopper turned to look in the direction of the couch where El laid sleeping. She groaned again and rolled over, her hand unconsciously curling into a fist. Something must have been wrong. Hopper silently got out of his chair and walked over to the couch. 

“Do you still feel sick?” He asked quietly. Eleven’s eyes were open slightly and she nodded. 

“You slept through the whole night, I’m proud of you.”

Eleven smiled. She made a half-hearted attempt to sit up, but then fell back onto the bed again defeatedly. 

Hopper frowned, placing his hand on her forehead. “You’re not feverish. What’s wrong?”

“Head.” She winced, “Pounding. I feel dizzy.”

Reaching for the bottle of Advil, Hopper poured two into his hands, then set them on the end table. 

“We’re going to eat some eggos first to get some food in our stomaches, then I’m going to give you some medicine. How does that sound?”

“Okay.” She whispered. 

“Good. Would you like the blueberry kind?”

“Yes! With whipped cream and a cherry please.”

Hopper laughed. He taught her all of that and he felt pretty damn proud. 

“I’ll get you an ice pack for the pain, and we’ll make sure the lights are off and the TV is off so you can rest.”

“Thank you.” She replied. 

Everything Hopper was doing, grabbing ice packs, medicine, reading material...it was all too familiar. There was nothing more painful than the death of a child. Hopper has never experienced a worse pain in his life. He would take hours of torture over losing her.  Just seeing his new adopted daughter, Jane, in this state reopened a wound that had never fully healed. 

Sarah’s death robbed him of the ability to carry out his parenting role as he imagined it, as it was “supposed” to be. He felt an overwhelming sense of failure for no longer being able to care for and protect his child. He knew he would feel like a failure for the rest of his life. Most days he felt utterly hopeless, like there was no point waking up in the morning. Then, Will Byers went missing and suddenly, Hopper had a purpose again. He had the ability to save Joyce Byers from the same agonizing pain he went through, and he did it. He saved Will Byers, but he did not feel like a hero. It did not replace the hole in his heart like he thought it would. 

Then something else happened. He took in this little girl, who would be close to his daughters age, and suddenly he didn’t have time to worry about the hole. He had someone else to protect. 

He’s become a control freak since then. He needs everything to be perfect and he feels like he cannot fail. Now, with Eleven sick, he’s already failing again. 

Perhaps the Wheeler kid was right and he does not have to be perfect. But Hopper doesn’t know how to let it go. 

“Hopper.” Eleven whispered quietly. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong, I’m just worried about you.” 

“Because of Sara?”

“No because you’re hurting and, okay, yes. I’m thinking about Sara.”

“I’m not her.” Eleven reminded him. “I’m not that sick.” 

Hopper nodded. “I know. I know. But still. I wish I could stop this, you know? I hate not being able to help.”

“You are helping.”

“But I can’t make it go away.” Hopper sighed. “That’s the worst feeling. Sickness is out of our control as people.” 

“Papa tried to control everything too. He tried to control me. I had no say in anything, but things worked out in the end for me. I found Mike by fate. You can’t control everything. Sometimes you just need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and just let life happen.” 

“Wow you know a lot more words than when I first met you.”

“Because you are a good teacher and a good Dad.”

Hopper raised both of his eyebrows. “You gonna call me Dad?”

“Yes. If that is okay?”

Hopper nodded. “It feels a little weird.”

“Very weird.” Eleven laughed. “But we will get common to it.”

“Used to it.” Hopper corrected her. 

_______________________________________________

It’s funny, Mike thought, how his father was against him playing pretend. Doesn’t he realize that he does it everyday? His father is an actor, pretending to be someone he wants people to think he is. A good husband and father, for instance, is what he pretends to be. It works in the public eye because people don’t really know Mike’s father. They’ve never lived with him for more that four hours.

It felt wrong being at Church with his Dad because Mike knew the real Ted, but the Pastor didn’t. Mike saw the fighting but the church people didn’t. 

As they were leaving, Mike gave Lucas and Max and small wave. It was weird seeing Max here. She is not an everyday attender, but it was nice seeing her with Lucas again. They didn’t look like they were faking anything. So he’s pretty sure they made-up. 

Once they were out of the safety of the public eye, and in the car, Karen and Ted picked back up on arguing over Mike’s punishment. At this point Mike would take anything if it meant his family could be at peace. But he’s learned not to intervene.

Nancy was staring out the window, leaning on her chin, while Holly was in the center playing with her toy bear. 

“Michael.”

“Yeah?”

“You’re going to do extra chores for a week and you are going to bed early every night.”

“Okay.” Mike has gotten good at saying one thing when he’s thinking something else. He can act like he’s listening when he’s really not. He can pretend to be calm when he’s freaking out inside. It’s one of those skills he’s perfected as he has grown older. 

As soon as they got home, Nancy told her parents she was going out to Ally’s house. Maybe she was, but Mike believed that was a lie. Nancy was probably going to see Jonathan somewhere. 

Ironically, Jonathan’s brother was ringing the Wheeler’s doorbell a few hours later. “Is Mike home?”

“Michael.” Karen called his name, so he threw his D&D campaign under his bed before racing to the door. 

“Will! Hey. What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to know if you wanted to come over to my house, you know. To get away for a little while.”

For once, Mike felt like he could breathe again. Will was the best friend anyone could ask for. 

“You have no idea how much I want to.” Mike muttered. 

“I think I do. There was Lonnie after all.”

He never even equated his parents to that bastard Lonnie, but the more Mike thought about it, the more he couldn’t deny the similar feeling for the need to escape.  

“I’ll have to ask.” He finally said before turning and screaming at the top of his lungs, “MOM CAN I GO TO WILL’S HOUSE?”

“Be back by seven.” Karen yelled. “Your new bedtime is eight.”

Leaving with Will, Mike slammed the door behind him. 

Chapter Text

Nancy sat with Jonathan and Steve in the cafeteria on Monday afternoon.

 “I talked to Nina yesterday.” Nancy informed the two, “She said she and her parents have been staying at Patterson’s hotel until the moving truck arrives with their stuff. See. There is a perfectly normal explanation for why no one was in her house.”

“And what was the military doing outside?” Jonathan asked, to which Steve put down his fork with a raised eyebrow. 

“She answered that too without me even asking. Apparently her Dad works as an FBI consultant.”

“So he’s a spy.” Jonathan clarified, shaking his head. 

“Hey. Would someone clue me in on what the hell is going on?” Steve asked. 

“Jonathan looked into Nina’s flies to find her address and then he freak out because he didn’t see anyone living in the house.”

“And I saw a freaking military truck pull up. I’m just saying, guys. Don’t you find it a bit odd? This girl just shows up around the same time Murray warns us about a dangerous hunter in town.”

“Oh and you think that dangerous hunter is Nina?” 

“Maybe it’s her father.” Jonathan said, “I don’t know. But yeah, I think she’s really suspicious and I don’t like that she lied to us.”

“She didn’t lie. She’s moving into that house. Her stuff just hasn’t arrived yet.” Nancy huffed. 

“Well if we’re talking about strange, Billy Hargrove was acting really weird yesterday.” Steve said. “I mean. He was violent, which isn’t strange for Billy at all, but then he was asking where something was.”

“Like someone stole something from him?” Nancy asked. 

“Exactly.”

“I’m sorry, what does this have to do with a dangerous hunter?” Jonathan asked. 

“Well. Nothing I guess.” Steve mumbled, “But maybe the hunter stole something from him. If that’s true, this hunter might have access to all of our households already.”

“How is that possible?” Nancy asked. 

“They did it before. They used to listen to all of our calls, have our homes monitored. I bet they still do.” Steve explained. “So we really do have to be careful what we say.”

_______________________________________________

Mike met up with Will after class, and walked with him towards the rest of the party. They were all sitting at a table in the cafeteria. Lucas and Max were talking, but Dustin was kind of just sitting there. He smiled when the two of them showed up. 

 

“Finally. Where have you been? I had to listen to Romeo and Juliet over there sing poems to each other.” 

 

“We’re talking about The Who’s lyrics.” Max corrected. 

 

“Guys, I just want to say I’m sorry for kicking you all out of my house on Saturday.” Mike said. “It was a real messed up thing to do and I’m sorry.” 

 

“Don’t worry about it, Mike. We’re cool.” Lucas said. “I was angry too but I shouldn’t have been. At least you kicking us out gave Max and I a chance to talk and make-up.”

 

“That’s good.” 

 

“Yeah fantastic,” Dustin rolled his eyes, “Now we gotta listen to them talk about romantic lyrics.”

 

“Dude!” Lucas batted his arm. 

 

“How’s El? Is she still sick?” Max asked. The rest of the Party looked to Mike worried for his response. 

 

“Unfortunately Yes.” 

 

“Dammit. Our poor Mage.” Dustin bit into his sandwich, spraying mustard everywhere. 

 

“I tried to cheer her up on Saturday. Then I got my ass handed to me on Sunday because my parents were upset I was gone all day.”

 

“Couldn’t you just say you were taking care of your sick friend?” Max asked, throwing her arm out in a big gesture. 

 

“They weren’t in the mood for any of my explanations.” 

 

“Sorry Mike.”

 

“It’s cool. We just won’t get to the ghost part of the Campaign until Friday night.”

 

“That’s okay. We can all still go to the arcade.” Will suggested. 

 

“Hey that’s not a bad idea.” Lucas said. “That way we can official declare this fight over.”

 

“I am declaring it over right now.” Mike said. “Cause I hate fighting with you guys. Your my best friends. We shouldn’t be wasting our time fighting together.” 

 

“Thanks Mike.” Lucas walked around the table to give him a ‘bro handshake’ which they turned into a hug. 

 

“Let’s plan on going tonight.” Will said. 

 

Max bit her lip in distress, “Tonight’s not going to work. I’m sorry guys but I have a tone of homework to catch up on and my Step-Dad wants to have dinner together so...”

 

“So Tuesday night?” Mike suggested. “5pm. We can eat hotdogs at the arcade and a whole bunch of cotton candy.”

 

“Sounds good to me.” Max said. 

 

“Cool.” Lucas agreed. “We’ll meet up there.”

 

_______________________________________________

Will was watching TV after school on his living room couch. His mom was still at work, and his older brother was in his bedroom. 

“Hey Will. I need your help with something.” Jonathan called. 

“What’s up?”

“Can you make this work?” He was holding up a wireless camera. The same kind Will took with him when he went Trick-or-treating. 

“Sure.” Will fumbled with it for a second and it turned on. 

“How did you do that?” Jonathan asked. He was usually an expert when it came to cameras, but video cameras was something different. Luckily his nerdy little brother was in the A.V. Club. 

“It’s a wireless system. It’s an integrative camera with a micro transmitter.”

“How do you know about all this? Does Mr. Clarke really teach this to you guys.”

Will nodded, “Yeah. I love this stuff. I’m really glad I’m able to use what I know to help you out... but what exactly am I helping you with?”

Jonathan laughed, “I’m using this to spy on the new girl in my school.”

“Jeez, Jonathan, don’t you think that’s a little drastic.”

“I’m not spying in a creepy way. I just want to make sure she’s not working with the FBI.”

“Right. Just like you didn’t spy on Nancy in a creepy way.”

“How do you know about that?”

“Steve talks a lot.” Will shrugged. “But listen, you can’t just break into someone’s house and plant a camera.”

“I already staked out a perfect position. But If you’re so worried, you can think of something better.”

Will threw his hands up in surrender. “Just don’t get caught.” He said, shaking his head. 

_______________________________________________

There was a knock on Nancy’s window later that evening. She put down her flash cards, and saw Jonathan standing outside her window. 

“What are you doing?” She asked, after opening the window up and letting him in. This was a typical Steve Harrington move, not so much a Jonathan Byers move. 

“I put a camera in the hotel. You’re right. Nina was there. I had to make up some elaborate story on why I came over and when she wasn’t looking I put the camera in her plant.”

“Are you insane?” Nancy yelled. “If she would have caught you -“

“Listen. There is something really weird going on. There was a package on the floor, I went to help move it and she got really strange.”

“Strange how?”

“Strange, like, strange. She basically yelled at me and said ‘don’t touch that.’ Then she tried to play it all cool and smiled at me. Let me tell you. It was the creepiest smile I ever saw.”

“Stop it, Jonathan! You’re freaking me out.” Nancy scolded. 

“I’m sorry. But I don’t trust her. That’s why I set the camera. If she is FBI, or her father, then this camera should tell us everything.”

Nancy shook her head, “That’s illegal.”

“When did that ever stop us? Come on, Nance. We recorded what Hawkins lab said. Murray was able to use that to shut the facility down.”

“Yeah, and look what happened to Murray. This is dangerous, Jonathan. I don’t like you going alone to these places.”

He smirked, “Now you know how I felt.”

“Jonathan if you did this just to teach me a lesson, I swear to God -“

“No Nancy. I did it so we could learn the truth. Don’t you want the truth?”

Nancy sighed. He knew her too well. Her blue eyes answered yes for her and Jonathan smiled. 

“I need your help.” He said. “We can take turns watching the film.” 

“We should get Steve.” Nancy suggested. “Three people watching is better, that way we can all take more shifts.”

“Okay.” Jonathan agreed. “Let’s call Steve. Tell him to meet me at my house.” 

Chapter Text

Stretching out on his bed, Will offered Mike a piece of candy, but Mike denied it politely. He was sitting at Will’s desk, staring at the carpet. They were trying to figure out what to do. They narrowed their choices down to playing Monopoly or Stay Alive. 

“Are you feeling okay?” Will asked. 

“Huh?” Mike’s eyes looked glossed over and dazed. 

“I asked if you were feeling okay?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine.” Mike tried to smile, but that just worried Will more. 

“Why don’t we play monopoly?” 

Mike nodded, and started ceremoniously setting up the game. It was too formal, too robotic. Will wanted to cheer him up, not watch him perform another mundane task. 

With that in mind he picked up a pillow from his bed. Oooft, was all Will heard as the pillow smacked Mike in the face while he sat there, on the floor, setting up the game board. After Will watched Mike process what had just happened, he flung the spare pillow at him and took off towards the living room in a fit of giggles. Holding the pillow between his hands, Mike glanced up with his brows raised as he caught the sight of Will rushing into the bathroom at the end of the house. He smirked and shook his head before he stalked off along the hallway behind Will, slipping a little on the hardwood floor.

As Mike neared the door, he made sure to creak a little and make it out like he was going past the bathroom door, but in reality he was ready to take on Will. When Will thought he'd gone past the bathroom door, he moved out of the bathroom and was ambushed from behind. A pillow to the back of his head, whooped him and sent his hair flying. The only response Mike got was another giggle as Will turned himself around. 

"You're going to regret that, you know?!" Will smirked at him, slowly raising his pillow in his hands, preparing himself for battle. 

"Well, I don't know about that." Mike’s response was smooth, with the damn eyebrow again.

"And, why not, Mr. Wheeler?" He countered, pretending to have a deep Hopper type voice, his pillow now raised at his shoulder, ready to attack. 

"Are you sure you wanna do that, Will?" Mike raised a brow, tipping his head to the pillow at Will’s shoulder. “Because, if you do... you’ll be sorry.”

"I don’t think so." Will announced and smirked back to him.

"You're completely wrong in every way, but I like a challenge." 

"So you've said. Plenty of times, Paladin. But tell me this, are you going to challenge me to a duel or a battle?"

"Do you think you can handle either one? Mike smirked at him, his eyebrow shooting up for at least the twentieth time that evening. He watched Will rooted to the spot before he raised his own pillow and inched closer to him, socks sweeping the varnished floor. He clenched at the pillowcase and broadened his smirk slightly as he neared Will.

"If you think you're going to fool me, Think again!" Will burst into laughter as he flung his pillow at Mike, narrowly missing his head as he tore off along the hall and into his living room, a flurry of laughter trailing behind him. 

By the time Mike reached the living room, Will had already rounded the sofa, leaving it between the two like a barrier as he stared across the room at his smiling best friend. Will could see him trying to figure out how to get to him; if Mike moved one way, he'd move the other, there was really no way he would get him. As Will was lost in thoughts, wondering how he would attack Mike in the end, he narrowly missed Mike creeping up on him. The brunette squealed a little before diving for the sofa, clambering up onto the seats and hurdling the backrest to escape Mike.

"Not so fast!” Mike screamed.

"What? You surrender already?" Will raised his brows, now the other side of the sofa was to Mike, as Will clung onto his pillow, still ready for war.

"What if I am?" Mike teased. 

"That is not what I would expect from the leader of our Party.” 

"If you want a leader, I'll give you a Leader." Mike rasped as he began to move around the sofa towards Will. When he reached the end of the sofa and Will hadn't moved, he smirked slightly. 

As he took two more steps towards Will, he raised his pillow in record timing and clipped him in the face. The war had begun between them. Pillows were being flung at each other, hoisted over shoulders, whipped through the air at record timing. And, through it all, all Will could hear were Mike’s giggles. They dodged and swiped at each other, the whole time, with massive grins spread across their faces. And, as Mike moved in to smoosh Will’s face with his pillow, stepping forwards, Will stepped backwards, grabbing at Mike’s shirt, and he stumbled. He fell over the back of the sofa just as his pillow burst open, sending a flurry of snowflake-like feathers into the air around them.

With the feathers billowing in the air around them, falling like snow, Mike looked down to Will who was now laying on the couch. 

"Looks like I won…" he smiled. Sassily little shit, Will thought bitterly. 

“Yeah, Yeah. You win.” 

“I’m glad your mom is at work.” Mike mumbled. “We just made a big mess.” 

Will looked around at the feather sprayed floor and nodded. “I’d probably get my butt busted over this.” 

Mike’s eyes widened. “Shit, we better hurry and clean this up then. Your mom will be home any minute.”

“It’s okay. Jonathan is in the other room with your sister. If my mom is angry with me, I’ll just direct her attention over to them.”

Mike started full on laughing at that point. “You’re more devious than I thought, Byers.” 

But even as he said it, Mike was going to the kitchen closet to grab a dust pan and vacuum. “What do you think Nancy and Jonathan are doing in there anyway?”

“Don’t know, but Steve’s with them, so it can’t be bad.”

_______________________________________________

“What the hell are they doing out there?” Steve asked for the millionth time as he laid across Jonathan’s bed. 

 

“It sounds like they’re having fun.” Nancy laughed. “They both need it, so leave it alone, Steve.”

 

“They are LOUD, Nancy.”

 

“Welcome to the world of little brothers.” 

 

On the computer monitor, Jonathan saw Nina drop a glass of water on accident. She jumped back cursing. Then he saw her just stare at the glass with unnerving eyes.

 

“Hey guys.” Jonathan said frantically. “I think I got something.”

 

“What’s going on?” Steve asked. 

 

“I’m not sure.” He said. The three teens watched as Nina extended her hand towards the broken glass. Suddenly, every shard raised into the air and started circling around. Within a second, the glass cup was back to normal as if it had never been broken at all. 

 

“Oh my God.” Nancy whispered breathlessly, her hand unconsciously going over her mouth. Jonathan and Steve just stared at one another. 

“Mike! Will!” Jonathan slammed his bedroom door open against the wall. “Kids, contact the rest of the party and have them meet us -“ Jonathan paused then pulled them both by the wrist, so he could get close enough to whisper in their ears. 

“Go outside to contact them...in case someone is listen right now on our conversations. Have them meet us behind Melvald’s general store.” Jonathan said. 

“Why? What’s going on?” Mike demanded to know. 

“Just do as your told.” Jonathan said, but Mike was never one to be bossed around.

“I want to know why.”

“Mike. Please.” That was Nancy. He looked past Jonathan, at his older sister and slowly nodded. 

“Okay.” He whispered.

“Make sure you get ALL of the party. Even your Mage.” 

Mike shared a long gaze with his sister, desperately wanting answers, but he figured he would get them when they were at a safer place. So he did as he was told and took Will with him to Mirkwood. 

“Hello, Lucas, do you copy?” Mike asked through the intercom. The signal was weak, but he was hoping to get through. “Code red, Lucas.” 

“Hey. I’m here.” Came the response. “I need you to meet us at out back of Melvald's General Store.”

“Did I hear you correctly through all this static? It sounded like you said Melvald’s General Store.”

“That’s right. I did.”

“What the hell is the emergency?” 

“I don’t know the details. Jonathan and Nancy are freaking out about something. Meet us there. Over and out.”

Will grabbed Mike’s shirt. “Dustin said he’s on his way. Did you get Eleven?”

“I’m about too. Make sure you get Max.”

Eleven could hear Mike through the walkie- talkie he gave her. She touched it, and It hurt. Everything hurt suddenly, out of nowhere. Eleven clutched her stomach while dropping to the floor. She was gasping for air as if someone sucked what was left in her lungs out through a tube. She whined pitifully. Her head ached, and everything was spinning. She just wanted it to stop. 

 

“Hello? El? Are you still there? Eleven?” 

 

She reached for the dropped device, pain coursing through her body in vibrations. “Yeah.” She grunted out, intercom now at her cheek, “I’m here.” Her voice sounded strained, and she was struggling to hold back tears. But she didn’t cry. Jane Hopper does not cry that easily. 

 

“We have to get to Melvald’s General Store and meet the others. It’s really important.” 

 

She managed to grunt out a small, “Kay.” 

 

“El, seriously, what’s wrong.”

 

“Nothing. I’m fine. I’ll meet you at the store in a second. bye.”

 

_______________________________________________

 

Everyone was there. Hopper, Joyce, Jonathan, Steve, Nancy, Mike, Will, Eleven, Lucas and Dustin. 

 

“Where’s Max?” Mike asked Will. 

 

“She said she had homework.”

 

“Homework? Are you freaking kidding me? Did you tell her it was a code red!” Mike yelled. 

 

Will shrugged. “She figured we could handle it.” 

 

“Lucas, tell your incompetent girlfriend what we talked about today.” Steve said. “Because this shit is crazy.”

 

“We saw Nina, this girl in our school, lift shards of glass with her mind and put a glass back together.” Nancy explained. 

 

“She like another experiment.” Jonathan concluded. “Like Eleven, But I’m guessing another number.” 

 

Eleven’s mouth dropped open, but she didn’t say anything. The news was too startling. 

 

“Wait. You’re saying there is another experiment from Hawkin’s lab on the loose?” Joyce questioned. 

 

“Precisely. I mean, what else could it be?” Nancy said. “She did the exact same thing Eleven did. She even had the blood dripping from her nose.”

 

“What the hell were you kids doing putting a camera in her house?” Hopper yelled. 

 

“I tried telling him it was dangerous.” Nancy said, giving Jonathan’s shoulder a nudge. 

 

“Come on. A little gratitude here. I just found out Nina is an experiment.”

 

“I am too.” Eleven whispered. 

 

“We know, El.” Mike grabbed her hand for comfort. “But you’re good. What if this one is...”

 

“Bad.” Eleven finished. 

 

Mike nodded.

 

“What if she’s one of the monsters the scientists and Murray seem so afraid of?”  Jonathan said. “What if she’s the reason there is a hunter out there. What if she’s killed people.” 

 

“I’ve killed people.” Eleven said. 

 

“Yeah, but yours was out of self defense.” Steve said, with a nervous chuckle, “right?”

 

“Yes.” 

 

“Did you know any of the other kids in the lab?” Nancy asked her gently. But Eleven shook her head. 

 

“I just remember playing with number 8.” 

 

“This isn’t Kali.” Jonathan told the rest of the group. “This girl is a little younger than me. She’s got blonde curly hair.”

 

“I think all of the test subjects were good.” Mike said, and Lucas just shook his head at him. 

 

“What?”

 

“You don’t know that, Mike. Just because Eleven was good doesn’t mean the others were. Besides, there must have been something wrong with them because Brenner got a new one.” He pointed to Eleven who was wincing in shame. 

“Stop it.” Mike said, smacking Lucas’s hand down. “Don’t talk about her like that. She’s not a new shirt you can just ‘get.’ She’s a human being!” 

“All I’m saying, is there must be something wrong with that other one.”

“There wasn’t anything wrong with Kali.” 

“She was a criminal!!!!” Lucas screamed. 

“Alright. Settle down.” Hopper yelled. “We need to think about our next move and we all need to stay safe. Now this camera thing was going behind my back, and I’m not okay with that. We cannot keep secrets from each other.” Hopper walked closer to Jonathan. “I want you to remember this: the more I know, the safer you will be. Our best plan right now, is to pretend we know nothing about her. She doesn’t know that we know and we need to keep it like that. If we can figure out her motives first, maybe we can stop her.” 

“How are we going to do that?” Steve asked. 

“One step at a time, kid.” 

“I’m still friends with her,” Nancy said. “She would trust me the most. Maybe if -“

“No. Absolutely not.” Jonathan wrapped his hands protectively over Nancy’s thin shoulders. “I’m not let anything happen to you.” 

“I want to meet her.” Eleven said. “If she really is from the bad place then I might remember her.” 

“It’s not a bad idea.” Hopper agreed. “Nancy, you should bring her to your house. Jane and Mike can be there, and they can get a glimpse of her without actually talking to her and that way the girl would be hanging out with Nancy, so nothing out of the ordinary would tip her off.”

The group agreed more or less, Jonathan was still protesting, so Hopper allowed him to go too. 

“You can hide in the basement if it makes you feel better,” he had said. 

“Halfway happy?” Eleven asked Jonathan and he ruffled her hair with a nod. 

_______________________________________________

Max and Billy were standing in Max’s bedroom, with him hovering over her. His one fist wast clenched at his side adding to his vicious demeanor. His right hand was extended about his head, with a picture clutched to his palm. 

“Give it back.” Max barked like a menacing pit-bull.  

“Right after you give me back my necklace.” Billy said. 

“I didn’t take your stupid necklace.” 

Billy crinkled his nose, then out of nowhere, shoved his step-sister as hard as he could. Max fell back against her bed, bouncing a few times on the springy mattress. 

“Someone took it. It wasn’t my Dad, and I really don’t think it was your submissive mother, so it had to have been you.” Billy seethed. 

“I didn’t take it.” Max held her glaring eyes firm, but her hands were shaking. 

“Stop lying!”

“I’m not lying.” 

Billy started to laugh, which made Max even more nervous. “You know,” he began, “I’ve been good to you recently. I haven’t picked on you. I haven’t beaten up your pathetic friends. I haven’t bothered you for the past three months. All I ask in favor, is that you leave me the hell alone. And you were doing great, but now, now you’re pissing me off.”

“Billy, I didn’t take it. Maybe you lost it somewhere?”

“I looked everywhere!” He screamed, but his anger was diminishing. Lowering his arm, Billy tossed Max the picture of her father. 

“If you find it, give it to me.” Billy slammed the door behind him. 

Chapter Text

There was a knock on the Wheeler’s front door. Ted was sleeping in his Lazy-boy and Karen was out of the house with Holly doing some last minute shopping. Holly was hitting a growth spurt and running out of clothes that fit. Luckily Nancy had some hand-me-downs, but Holly hated dresses. 

The knocking at the door increased in tempo, but Nancy was barreling down the stairs. “I got it!” She yelled, as she opened the door for Nina. 

“Hey! Are you ready for our girls night?” Nancy boomed. “I’ve got a list of romantic comedies to watch, nail polish to use and gossip to talk about.”

Nina’s smile brightened. “That sounds exciting.” She said. 

“Oh. Hey would you mind walking with me to the basement. I have to get this load of clothes from the laundry machine.”

“Oh sure, that’s no problem at all. I’ve been doing my own clothes since I was little.” Nina smiled. 

“Hey, uh, my little brother is down there with his girlfriend. Don’t mind them. He’s a little pest most of the time, but he shouldn’t bother you.” 

Nina’s smile widened even more. “I didn’t know you had a little brother.”

“Yep. My parent’s greatest punishment for me was having him.”

Nina chuckled, “I kinda have a little brother too so I know your pain.” 

“Oh yeah? What’s his name.”

Nina’s smile faltered. “He goes by bullet. He’s a weird kid.”

“How do you know him?” Nancy asked. 

“Long story. Wow, your basement is big.” Nina said, changing the subject quickly. But she truly sounded surprised at the sight of the Wheeler’s basement. 

“Nice pillow fort.” 

“That’s El’s.” Mike said from his place on the couch. “You must be Nina.”

“And you must be Nancy’s little brother...um...”

“Mike.” The boy replied. “This is El.” He said, pointing to the girl sitting next to him with short brown hair. Nina stared at her for a second, completely absorbed in her own little world. 

“Nina?”

“Huh?” The older girl turned away from El and saw Nancy holding the basket of clothes. 

“Are you ready?” 

“Oh. Yeah. Of course.” With that, the two teens went upstairs, never once looking back. 

Once the door closed, Mike turned to Eleven. “Did you recognize her?”

Eleven shook her head. “No, but the way she looked at me... it’s like, she knows who I am.”

“How can she know who you are if you don’t know her?”

Eleven shrugged. That was a good question. 

_______________________________________________

“Dustin? Can I talk to you for a minute, son?”

Dustin looked up from his desk to find his father standing in the bedroom doorway, a single eyebrow cocked expectantly as he waited for a response. Dustin was just in the process of finishing his history homework. 

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” he finally stammered, blinking a little in surprise. His Mom was at the grocery store, and Dustin wasn’t comfortable being in the house with a stranger. Especially a stranger that knew about Murray’s disappearance. “What’s up?” Dustin nervously tapped his pencil. 

Bryan smiled. “Come here, son. I have something for you.”

“Okay?”

Dustin stood and, just as confused as he was a moment ago, obediently followed his father into the living room. 

“Take a seat,” Bryan said, nodding towards the couch. Dustin did so, and Bryan took post in front of the TV, crossing his arms as he looked down at his son’s very confused face.

“You, uh…said you had something for me?” Dustin asked.

“I do.” He reached behind the TV and pulled out a wrapped present. “This is the least I could do for missing so many years of your life, Dustin.” 

 

“Wow. Thank you.” Dustin exclaimed. “I’m not sure if I should accept this.”

 

“Nonsense. Go on. It’s yours.” 

 

That was all Dustin needed to hear to start tearing the gift wrapping apart. “Whoa! He-Man and the Master’s of the Universe Volume 3 VHS tape. This is the coolest thing anyone has even done for me. Thank you.” Dustin threw his arms around his Dad’s waist. 

 

“I know you said that friend of yours... what’s his name? He has all of the cool things, like a bigger TV?”

 

“Mike. Yeah, we compete a lot with the stuff we have. But we don’t really care. Like, I understand his parents have a decent amount of money. But right now, I feel wrong for even bragging about stuff I have because his parents are totally freaking out over money and everything.”

 

Bryan bit his lip, “yikes. That sounds bad.”

 

Dustin shrugged. “He’s alright. Mike’s tough.”

 

“Is he? Well, what about your other friend, uh, Lucas? Does he have a lot of stuff?”

 

Dustin nodded, “Yeah, an okay amount. Why?”

 

“I just want to get to know my boy, and his friends. Speaking of your friends, how long have you known them?”

 

“Since Mom and I moved to Hawkins. I was in the fourth grade. So I’ve known them for a while now.”

 

“And they are your best friends?” 

 

Dustin nodded, “Yeah. We’re really close.”

 

“And what about the girls?” 

 

Dustin furrowed his eye brows. “I don’t think I ever mentioned hanging out with any girls.” But after he said it, Dustin remembered Steve’s pool party and how his Dad saw Max and Eleven hanging out with him. 

 

“I’m just assuming.” Dustin’s father replied, “You must know some ladies. You are my son after all.”

 

Dustin snorted, “I have two girls that I hang out with, but they are dating my friends.”

 

Bryan nodded. “Ah Yes. I remember how that is. To have a love stolen by your best friend. It’s tragic really.” 

 

“It’s not really like that. I sort of liked this girl named Max, but I’m over it.” Dustin said. 

 

“You’ll find a girl someday.” Bryan assured him the way a father would. 

 

“I know. I’m not worried.” 

 

Bryan ruffled Dustin’s curly hair, accidentally knocking his hat off. “Sorry kid.” He said laughing. “I’m just admiring your confidence.” 

 

Dustin smiled. “I’ll just show them my pearls and I’m sure the ladies will love me.” He said while making some type of snarling cat noise. 

 

Bryan laughed uneasily, “okay then...yeah... so your friends, you should invite them over.”

 

“I’m meeting them tonight at the arcade. You can go, if you want to meet them again. You know, if you wanna get to know them better.”

 

“I’d love that.” 

_______________________________________________

Nancy set her nail polish down on her bed with some music playing slightly in the background. “I think I’m going to paint mine light pink. What about you?”

“Oh. I guess blue would go good with my eyes.” Nina said. 

Nancy agreed, spreading out the newspapers, so no nail polish would get on her bed. There was a specific red container of nail polish that had the letters B.A.R.B on it. Nancy watched as Nina picked it up. 

“Barb. Who is that?” 

“My friend.” Nancy stared at her bracelets, trying not to get emotional over this simple conversation, which was not simple at all. 

“Oh my God.” Nina could see Nancy’s eyes getting misty. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. She’s that girl from the newspapers. I remember. She’s the one who died from the leak at the Hawkins lab.”

A part of Nancy wanted to scream. She wanted to blow her cover and ask Nina straight up what she knew about the Hawkins Laboratory since she was clearly a part of it. She was angry about Nina playing dumb. But more importantly she wanted to know what the motive was behind Nina’s sudden interest in Hawkins, so Nancy bit her lip and pretended to play dumb as well. 

“Yeah. The leak took my friend. I haven’t had any other girls over since Barb. You’re the first person I trust to let in after what happened.” Nancy wanted to laugh at her own lie because it was so obviously false, she thought Nina could see through it for sure. But the girl looked flattered. 

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you and I’m so sorry for your loss. I heard that place stole a lot of lives.” 

“Where did you hear that?”

“Oh it’s in the papers. Something about kids being taken from their families and forced to be experiments. It’s really screwed up, if you ask me.”

“I agree.” Nancy said. 

“So... why don’t you tell me about Jonathan while I do your hair.” 

“Okay.” Nancy said, readjusting her seating position, while Nina grabbed the hair curler. “What do you want to know?”

“How did you two meet?”

“I’ve always known Jonathan because Mike has been friends with Will since forever. Oh Will is Jonathan's little brother.”  

Nina nodded, “Got it. So it’s like a childhood romance?”

“Kinda... um... I never really thought of Jonathan in a romantic way until two years ago.”

“What changed your mind?”

His little brother went missing, and he was determined to find him and save his family which was extremely attractive. He understood me more than anyone else ever did. He wasn’t a typical jock. He was a mystery, so much so, that he took creepy pictures of me while I was having sex with another boy. Then we really fell in love when we were fighting a monster from another dimension created by the Hawkins Laboratory.  Now we have scars on our hands as a reminder of our adventures together.  Not to mention he fought with Steve to defend me after Steve called me a slut in front of the entire town.

“We just clicked.” Nancy said instead.

“That’s nice.” 

“What about you?” Nancy asked. “You’ve been in town for a while. Do you have any boys on your mind?” 

“No, not really. There’s this one guy back in my home town, but it’s not going anywhere.”

“Why not?”

“Because I won’t let it.” 

Nina finished curling Nancy’s hair, and smiled. “You’re so beautiful. I’m jealous.” 

“Stop. You have one of the cutest faces I have ever seen.” Nancy told her. “Don’t be jealous of me.”

“ I think I’m going to run to the bathroom really quickly.” Nina said, “I’m sorry.” 

“It’s no problem. The bathroom is two doors down the hall to your left.” 

“Thanks.” Nina slipped off the bed. 

Mike and Eleven were playing a card game when the basement door opened. 

“Hello.” Nina said as she walked down the stairs. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“No. We’re just playing uno.”  Mike explained. 

“Cool. Hey Mike, can you get me and El a drink? I’m not sure which one’s I’m allowed to take.”

Mike stood up and started to go upstairs. “Do you want coke?” 

“Yeah that sounds great.” Nina said. As soon as Mike was gone, Nina turned to El. 

“Eleven.” She whispered. “We need to get out of here. Hawkins isn’t safe for us anymore.” 

Eleven stared at her with unblinking brown eyes. “How do you know who I am?” 

“Don’t you remember? I was in the same test room as you.”

“How did you know I was in Hawkins?”

“There’s been a lot of talk about a Russian spy in Hawkins. I knew you were no spy and definitely not a Russian. Now come on, we have to hurry before he comes back down here.”

“I’m not leaving. This is my family.” Eleven explained. 

Nina sighed, “I know how you feel. I had to leave my family too. But it’s not safe for them  if we stay. You can come back. But first, we just need this hunter to give up. Besides, we have to stick together. We’re family too.” 

Eleven still wasn’t moving, and Nina was in a hurry. As soon as the basement door opened back up, Nina grabbed Eleven’s wrist and tried to yank her out the door. 

“Let go of her!” Mike screamed, dropping the drink onto the steps in order to run after them. He didn’t need to, because two seconds later, Jonathan was tackling Nina to the ground. 

“Get the hell off me!” She screamed, slapping him across the face. She managed to get up, but not without a struggle. Jonathan went to grab her, but was completely stopped by some type of force. 

“What the...” he looked at Eleven and noticed the blood dripping from her nose. 

“Don’t.” Eleven whispered. 

“What the hell is going on?” Nancy asked from the top of the stairs. 

“Nina tried to kidnap Eleven.” Mike screamed. 

“I wasn’t kidnapping her!” The blonde girl put her hands on her hips. “Is that what you seriously think of me?”

“You tried to take her out the door.” 

“I remember her.” Eleven blurted out. Everyone in the room turned to stare at her. 

“You do? Who is she?” Mike’s gentle voice eased Eleven into releasing her mental hold on Jonathan. He was free to move again. 

“She’s a friend.” Eleven whispered. 

Jonathan, Nancy, and Mike looked at one another, sharing equally confused expressions. 

Jonathan grabbed Nina by the wrist, and she grunted, scrunching up her nose to glare at him. 

“I don’t care what Eleven says,” Jonathan exclaimed. “For all we know, you could be forcing her to think she knows you.”

“No.” Eleven said. “She heals.”

Nina smiled before yanking her hand away from Jonathan. “That’s right, Eleven. I knew you remembered me.”

“You saved me.” Eleven said, “Back in the lab.” 

“I saved a lot of people. That was my job. That’s the only reason they kept me alive.” 

“What are you doing here Nina. If that even is your real name.” Jonathan asked. Always a skeptic, Nina thought bitterly. 

“My name is Nina. It used to be Nine when I was nothing more than a test-subject. My name before that didn’t matter.”

“What do you mean your name before didn’t matter?” 

Nina glared at him, Jonathan was causing her the most problems. After all, he was questioning everything she said. “I was a foster kid before I got sold to a lab. I never knew my birth parents. Never really had a lasting name. Everyone called me something different. When I was eight-year’s-old, I got sold to the Hawkins Laboratory so my foster father could make a quick buck. I was there until I was twelve. Then I busted out with the help of my friend, Bullet. I’ll get to him later. The point is, I spent a few years in that lab, and it’s a miracle I survived. I know a lot who didn’t.”

“How the hell did you escape?”

Nina rolled her eyes, “Are you going to let me explain myself to you, or are you going to keep interrupting me?” 

Jonathan put his hands up in defense. “Go on then.” 

Nina sighed. “Alright. I’ll try to give you the summary version here. When I was in the lab, I was the ninth experiment to communicate with another person in a different room. They read me lists of words and asked me to repeat them. I was able to do this successfully. Then Brenner wanted to see if I could communicate from a further distance. So he got an experiment from a different lab, one outside of Hawkins, to communicate with me.”

“He had another lab?”

“Yes. Another place, at least, for where his useless experiments went. It was the island of misfit toys, as I’ve taken to call it. Anyway, I was able to listen and communicate with the boy from the other lab. He was an injured experiment that got shot performing one of the missions Brenner had him do. So I called him bullet.” Nina sighed, “Okay, long story short, Bullet and I communicated when we weren’t supposed to because once we found out we could, we wanted to talk to eachother to plan an escape. He told me about the kids in that place where he was. It wasn’t just the island of misfit toys. It was a place where experiments were supposed to breed and make more children. It was a place where other kids who were kidnapped were stored until they showed potential telekinesis abilities. It was a place where bad experiments were punished. It was hell.” 

Mike grabbed El’s hand, and squeezed it tightly. She gave him a soft smile. 

“It’s okay. Eleven was never there. Neither was I.” Nina said. “But I helped them all escape. Bullet and I came up with a plan, and we enacted it. Only four kids made it out with us. But at least some of them escaped. The rest of them were stuck there to suffer. A month later, the island of misfit toys burned down. I don’t know who did it, but I always assumed it was Brenner because he was so angry that I escaped. He used to call me the golden one.”

“Golden like Nine.” Eleven whispered. “Papa used to say that to me.”

“Yeah,” Nina smiled at the bitter-sweet memory. “I’m sorry, Eleven. I guess you took my place.” 

“Wait. How did you save Eleven, if you didn’t know her.” 

“Eleven was kept in a rainbow room for most of her childhood. I had little contact with that room. She is only two years younger than me, but she was kept far away. Brenner would talk about her though. He told me she was special. That she had potential to be like me. You were supposed to be my greatest rival. My challenger that pushed me to be better. My first challenge happened when you were eight and you drowned in the bath. Something went wrong, the helmet came off.  I was brought in to test my healing abilities on her. It worked. She’s still alive.”

“Thanks.” Mike mumbled, still holding El’s hand. 

“Don’t mention it kid. I didn’t have much of a choice, but I would like to think I would have saved her even if I wasn’t forced.” 

“You still haven’t told us what you are doing here?”

“Right. So after I escaped, Bullet and I learned about this world. I had an easy time since I was in it as a foster kid. I knew how to talk, I knew what money did, I remembered everything. But still, being a kid with no parents made living difficult. Bullet and I had to resort to stealing to keep us all alive and fed. Those kids, it’s been three years and they still don’t understand how this world works. They expect orders. They act like soldiers. That’s because they were raised to be soldiers, and weapons. They know how to shoot guns, but they don’t know how to read.”

Nancy sighed. “I’m sorry.” 

Nina shrugged. “It’s not your fault. I’ve done the best I could. I still am trying to help them. And I’m sorry I lied to you, Nancy. I just needed to find Eleven. I needed to get her someplace safe. A hunter found one of my kids, he left a note warning us if we don’t surrender ourselves to the special unit that they will kill Bri.” 

“The special unit, is that -“

“It’s a government operation that specializes in the Laboratory experiments. They are the people that helped Brenner. They are also the people responsible for the mess they created. They have to get all of the experiments out of the ‘real world.’ We don’t belong there. And if you know anything about any of the experiments then you are in danger as well. They are going to want to take you in, debrief you, and then they will probably kill you.”

“So my friends are in danger.” Eleven whispered. 

“Only if they are with you.” Nina explained. “If the hunter doesn’t know the people that have helped you, then they will be safe.”

“It’s too late.” Nancy said. “An old friend warned us that Alastair already has a list and we’re all on it.” 

“Oh no.” Nina’s eyes grew the size of saucers. 

“It’s okay. We can run away with Eleven. Or we can stay and fight.” Mike said. 

“No.” Nina explained, “My family. They’re in danger. If your names were on that list, my family’s names... I have to go back!”

“I thought you were a foster kid.” Jonathan yelled, as Nina rushed towards the door. 

“I am. But I have found people that took me in. Really nice people that I love.”

“Like Hopper.” Eleven whispered. 

“I don’t know what that means,” Nina said, “but I have to go.”

“Wait. I could try and find them for you.” Eleven said, she held out her hand. Mike quickly went to grab the blindfold. 

“Find them? You mean, go into the void?” 

El closed her eyes as Mike tied the blindfold around her. Nina hesitantly grabbed El’s hand, and closed her eyes. She began thinking of her family. 

Eleven was in the void, with water surrounding her feet. Everything was completely black. She saw Nina standing there with her. Together they saw a smoky vision of an older man. He was talking on the telephone with a big smile. Eleven looked over to see Nina reaching out to him. 

“Mr. Kyle.” She smiled. “He’s safe.” 

Soon the vision dissolved, and another one came into view. 

“I’m warning you, don’t listen to him. It’s a trap.” This was a younger boy, a little younger than Jonathan. He had dark brown hair, slicked back, and doe brown eyes. He must be Bullet. Standing in front of him was three kids, a girl, and two boys all around Eleven’s age maybe even a little younger. 

“We have to save her.” One of the kids said. 

“I’m telling you, it’s a trap. Don’t go out there.” 

The kids were not listening. The last thing Eleven and Nina saw were the group of kids walking away from Bullet. 

“Shit.” Nina screamed, opening her eyes. “I have to go. The kids are in danger.”

“What? Why?” Nancy asked. 

“I don’t know. But they are not listening to Bullet. Whatever they are doing, it can’t be good. The special unit tried to kill them before. Now they are probably trying to finish the job.” 

“I’ll come with you.” Nancy said, rushing over towards Nina and grabbing her wrist. “You’re not in this alone anymore. You have friends now.”

Nina looked like she was about to cry, as she gripped Nancy back. “Thank you.” She whispered. 

“Nance!” Jonathan shouted. “Seriously?” He threw his arms out to the side, looking at her as if she grew three heads. 

“Yeah, come on. You should come too.” Nancy grabbed her boyfriend’s wrist and started pulling him out the door despite him dragging his feet. 

“I have to stay here.” Mike said, gently guiding Eleven towards the couch. “El, doesn’t look so good.”

“Call Hopper.” Jonathan ordered. “I have to go with your sister to make sure she doesn’t kill herself helping this stranger.” 

“Look. You don’t have to help me.” Nina said, “But this is happening because of me. I told them to run away and hide out. If they get caught it’s because I’m not there. They are my family. Some of them don’t act like you, or me, or anything anyone has ever seen before. But I’m responsible for them just the same.”  

“We’re helping. Let’s go.” Nancy yelled, pulling Jonathan out the door. 

Chapter Text

Max was a girl, but she knew how to handle a shotgun. Lucas thought that was incredible. He was in awe watching her tackle the game, Blue Shark –each shark that swam through the water barely made it an inch before she blew it apart like an egg left in the microwave. 

Next to Lucas, there were a bunch of chiming bings from a pinball game. Suddenly, Will slapped his hand against the machine, then walked back over to Lucas. 

“How is she doing?”

“Phenomenal, like always.” 

Max grabbed her drink and took a quick slurp before the next level kicked in. She squeezed the trigger, killing sharks right and left. 

“Where is Dustin? He better get in here and try to reclaim his top spot on Dig-Dug. Max blew him out of the water.”

“He’s probably too scared to face me.” Max said, before jabbing buttons and cursing at the machine. 

“I hope he comes soon. Mike and El too.”

Lucas smiled wickedly, “They probably stopped to...” He puckered his lips, making the most annoying smooching sound anyone has ever heard. 

“Gross.” Will scrunched up his nose. “Even if they did that, Mike’s never this late. Something must have happened. Maybe we should go.”

“Dude, you’re being paranoid. Mike and El are just a little bit late.”

A voice startled them, and they turned around to see where the source was coming from. Turns out Dustin was entering the arcade. “Dim-witted losers, bow down for the great Dustin the Destroyer.” 

“Oh hey man, we were just talking about you.” Lucas said, clapping Dustin’s back as he walked over to them. 

“Yeah, What took you so long?” Will asked. “And have you seen Mike?”

“Negative on the Wheeler. As for me, I’m sorry guys. He wanted to come and meet you again.”

“He?” 

Bryan put a hand around Lucas’s shoulder, scaring the boy to death. “Hello kids. Good to see you again.” 

“You brought your Dad?” Lucas’s eyebrows drew together, jaw going slack. 

Curling the corners of his mouth upright, Dustin shrugged. 

The kids headed towards the Pac-Man machine. Will slid some of his quarters into the slot, and started playing. “If I beat Max’s high-score, she has to buy me dinner.”

“You’re on little dude. There’s no way you’re beating me.” 

Will’s bright yellow Pac-Man was eating dots left and right, turning the colorful blobs into blue ghosts that he snacked on like he was eating a bag of potato chips. His score was rising, rising, rising, and suddenly he was cornered. The red blob on the left, and the pink was coming around from behind and bam! Will’s last Pac-Man was destroyed, his high score a few thousands away from Max’s. 

“I would like a cheese Pizza, please.” Max laughed, patting Will’s back.

Dustin’s Dad smirked, then pulled his son aside. “So, is that the girl you like?” 

“Daaaad.” Dustin whined, before giving him the shhhh finger. 

“So, I’m guessing that’s the boy who stole her from you?”

“He didn’t steal her... she chose to be with him. It’s fine. There are plenty of other girls out there. Like, Nancy. She’ll wait for me.” 

“Nancy?” Bryan’s eyebrows snapped together. 

“You wouldn’t know her. She’s an older woman.”

“Ah.” 

“Come on guys,” Lucas called, “We’re ordering dinner.”

“Just get me a Pepsi and a slice of cheese Pizza.” 

“Where the hell is Mike?” Lucas said, slamming his paper plate down on the table. “He would totally be trading me his quarters for a piece of my pizza by now.” 

Max shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m worried too. It isn’t like them.” 

“I’m getting really tired of him doing whatever he wants and not telling us about it.”

“Lucas, I don’t think he’s skipping on purpose. He usually let’s us know if his plans change. That’s why I’m worried too.” Will said. 

Dustin check his walkie-talkie. “He didn’t call?”

The three shook their heads, while Lucas stabbed his Pizza with a fork. 

“What is your problem?” Max gave him a dirty look. 

“I told you. I’m sick of his attitude recently. It’s always about Mike. He calls the shots, then he changes the plan and leaves the rest of us to worry. Well I say screw him. We’re not worrying about him tonight. It’s not fair to us.” 

“It might be Eleven that’s hurt.” Max snapped. 

“Why would you say that? Because she’s sick?”

 Max threw her hands out in front of her. “Yes because she’s sick.”

“So? I was sick last month and no one gave a shit about me when I was late to the arcade.”

“That’s because you called and told us you weren’t coming.” Will pointed out. 

“Thank you, Will. That’s my point, exactly. He should have called.”

Max yanked the paper plate away from Lucas, before he had the chance to stab it again. “We’re talking about Eleven.” She growled. 

“Then she should have called.” Lucas said, pulling the plate back to it’s original spot. Max and Lucas started a full out shoving the plate war, going back and forth until Dustin’s Dad spoke up. 

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but did you say, Eleven?” 

Everyone’s eyes flew towards Dustin’s Dad, their mouths hanging half open. 

“Um...uh...”

“No. No we said...Kevin?” 

Dustin shook his head, smacking Lucas in the chest. They began bickering like children so Will jumped in. 

“Eleven, it’s her nickname. Her real name is Eleanor. Don’t ask how she got the nickname cause it’s a long story, but yeah. She’s our friend.”

The rest of the kids nodded. Dustin gave Will the thumbs up sign. 

“She’s sick?” Bryan asked. 

“Yeah but it’s not that bad.” Lucas said while chewing on his food. 

“Well...” Max bit her lip, “Actually, she seemed pretty bad when I went to visit her yesterday.”

“You visited Eleven?” Lucas exclaimed, throwing down his fork and staring at her with wild eyes. “I thought you were busy with homework? So busy, in fact, that you couldn’t go to the arcade yesterday.”

“Yeah or meet with us about operation Veil of Shadows.” Dustin piped in. 

“I was doing homework, I swear, but then my brother started accusing me of stealing his stuff, so I went looking for his necklace.” 

“At Eleven’s?” 

“No. But I ended up there. We were talking, and she ended up passing out cold. Guys, I’m really worried about her.”

Lucas’s nostrils flared, “And you’re just telling us about this now?” 

“She made me promise not to tell.”

“I thought friends weren’t supposed to lie.” Lucas said, as he stood up. “Excuse me.”

“Lucas wait. I didn’t lie. I was just keeping a secret. It’s different.”

“It sucks. Friends shouldn’t keep secrets.” 

“Guys, calm down.” Dustin said. “The important thing is that we find out if Eleven is okay or not.”

Dustin’s Dad scooted over, while the kids were all focusing on each other, and he opened a packet of black powder and poured it into Will’s soda. 

“We should call.” Max agreed. 

Lucas nodded. “I’ll find Keith and ask if we can use the phone here.” 

“I’ll go to the payphone down the street.” Max offered, feeling the need to get the hell out of there. 

“Let me know if she’s okay.” Bryan said, watching as Will sipped his Pepsi. 

_______________________________________________

Hard hands were gripping Mike’s shirt collar painfully tight. Hopper’s eyes had gone dark, as he shoved Mike further against the wall and shook him like a rag doll. 

“What did you do?”

“I told you I didn’t do anything,” Mike cried, his voice cracking several times. “I didn’t do anything. Let me go. I didn’t do anything.” 

“Why is she unconscious? Huh? She was fine when she left my house this morning.”

“She...she used her powers to find Nina’s friends. It wiped her out. She’s just drained. But she said her head hurt and I’m worried. I think we should take her to the hospital that’s why I called you.” Mike spluttered, a single tear making it’s way down his face. “I didn’t call you to beat me!” He spat, trying to look menacing but failing miserably through the cascade of tears that started leaking down his face. 

Hopper let him go, and shook out his hand. Mike’s head was throbbing from being shaken roughly for the past five minutes. 

“I’m sorry, kid. But she is important to me.”

“She’s important to me too.” Mike snapped, glaring at Hopper with burning rage. “I would never hurt her. How could you even think that?” 

“Go get your backpack, we need to get her to a hospital.” Hopper muttered, as he lifted Eleven into his arms. Mike had picked up his blue backpack, but he didn’t drop the scowl from his face.

“You did the right thing, calling me.” 

Mike scoffed. “Yeah. Whatever. If I could drive, I wouldn’t have even needed you.” 

He took El’s dangling and lifeless hand into his own, squeezing it tightly. “You’re gonna be okay, El. I promise.” He whispered. 

Hopper couldn’t hold it together much longer, just seeing Eleven in this state was killing him. “We gotta go.” He said, walking out the basement door. 

“MICHAEL!” His mother’s voice boomed from the driveway. Great, just great, his mom must have come home and probably woke up his father. 

“What?” Mike brushed by her, because Hopper wasn’t waiting around. Hop was taking Eleven to his car, so Mike followed, but his Mom grabbed his arm as he passed. 

“Are you out of your mind? What are you doing? It’s 8:30 at night, you should be in bed. It’s your punishment, remember?”

“I have to go to the hospital, Mom. El needs me.”

“Who?”

“Hopper’s daughter.”

“You mean, Jane?”

“Yeah, Whatever.” 

“Don’t talk to me like that young man.” She was grabbing his arm tightly now, holding him in place as he tried to get in Hopper’s car. 

“Mom. I need to go.” 

“The only place you are going is bed.”

“No.” Mike growled. 

“Listen to your mom, kid.” Hopper ordered as he buckled Eleven into the passenger side. 

“ I need to go with her. I’m not going to leave her side, not when she’s like this.”

Hopper looked past Mike and over towards his mother. “If you let him come with me, I will bring him straight home after this is over.”

Mike nodded quickly. “I’ll even call you from the hospital. Please Mom.” 

Mike noticed his father was perched against the front door listening into the conversation. 

Karen rubbed her son’s shoulders gently. “You really care about her, huh?”

Mike nodded vigorously and his Mom smiled. “Okay. Go ahead. I’m proud of you sweetie.”

Ted snorted, “Are you kidding me? Our son is breaking his punishment and you are praising him? I knew you were a different person than the Karen I married, but I didn’t know you were this bad.” 

Mike watched his mother turn around with such vengeance, he was honestly terror-stricken. He’s never in his life seen his mom so angry. Not even when he spilled red paint on the new white carpet. 

Mike’s eyes grew in size as he watched his mom raise the middle finger at his father. “I am so sick and tired of you embarrassing me in front of everyone. Jim is literally right there!” She screamed. 

Mike could see his mother was on a roll, her fists were clenched at her side, her jaw was so set in anger it matched her rabid eyes. She took two menacing steps towards her husband, pointing a finger at him. “and don’t you DARE question my parenting. I am the only person in this house who actually takes care of this family!!!” She kicked the flower pot over, and smashed the ceramic to pieces. “YOU NEVER DO ANYTHING.” 

Hopper was as captivated as Mike was at the scene that was unfolding. He knew Karen and Ted were fighting, but to actually witness it was a completely different story. 

“I GAVE YOU A ROOF OVER YOUR HEAD, YOU UNGRATEFUL WHORE.” 

Mike’s mouth fell open, his breath completely gone. Honest to God, he never thought he would hear his father swear, much less, at his mother. Speaking of his mother, her face was now scrunched up, eyebrows knitted together like she was about to cry. 

Mike’s Dad continued ranting, “If you don’t appreciate what I provide for you, then maybe we should get a divorce. Then you can go sleep with that other ungrateful kid, Billy the teenage wasteoid, and you can go live out on the street.”

Mike’s mom was crying now, real tear droplets smearing the make-up on her face. “At least someone would love me.” She whispered it so brokenly that something inside of Mike snapped. His wide eyes narrowed, his blood pressure spiked and he turned his gaze on his father. 

“You think that asshole loves you?” Ted scoffed, “Please, he just wants between your legs. But you want that too, don’t you honey? That’s why you’ve been flirting with him at the -“

“SHUT UP.”  Mike screamed, his face as red as a fire truck. He took a deep breath, then in a shaky voice repeated himself. “Shut up.”

“How dare you talk to me like that. I am your father.”

“Then act like it.” Mike cried. It’s like everything in his brain had stopped working and he was just letting the words that he held deep inside fly off his tongue like he was on a debate team. “You never encourage me, or support me. All you do is make me miserable. You keep trying to change who I am, but you can’t do that. I am who I am. So accept it or get out of my life. Mom doesn’t need to listen to your constant complaining. She needs you to support her too, and not just with half-ass words. Sometimes she needs you to run an errand or help with dinner. Stop making her do everything and stop complaining about it. You told me to grow up, well guess what, Dad? YOU GROW THE HELL UP!” 

At this point, Hopper had snagged Mike by the waist, and was literally carrying him to the car. 

“Enough.” He kept saying in Mike’s ear, but Mike wasn’t listening. 

“Grow up, or take mom’s shiny diamond ring off of her finger and shove it up your ass.” 

“Mike, stop.” Hopper screamed, physically pushing the boy into his car. 

“No. No.” Mike screamed, hitting Hopper’s arms and trying to get out of the car. “He needs to stop.”

“Shhh.” Hopper was holding him down, forcing him to breathe into his chest.

“H-he nee-eds” Mike’s face crumbled, hysterical sobs shook his thin frame, but no sound came out. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. As he fought to regain control of his body, he was surprised by the sounds that started to escape from deep within his chest. 

He was so freaking pathetic, he thought, balling his hands into fists. Mike screamed through his teeth, enraged at everything, slamming his fists into the dashboard repeatedly.  He probably looked absolutely nuts, shrieking as he ferociously pummeled the interior of the car, seeing red.  

Hopper waited patiently until Mike was done with his tantrum. The child leaned back against the leather seat, tense, breathing harshly through his nose. “I’m sorry.” He cried, tears once again coming to his eyes, this time more graceful. “I’m so sorry.” 

Hopper slide into the drivers seat, turned his gaze to the steering wheel, then pedaled out of the Wheeler’s driveway.

 “It’s okay, kid. It’s okay. Just breathe. In and out.” Hopper said, once again his mind drifted to his daughter that day in the park. The first time he noticed Sara’s cancer. His knuckles turned white on the steering wheel, which Mike noticed. 

Thinking Hopper was angry with him, Mike couldn’t calm down. He continued to cry pitifully until Hopper finally said, “She wouldn’t want to see you upset.”

Mike looked at him with confused watery eyes. Hopper, not taking his eyes off of the road, nodded towards Eleven. “She needs you to be strong. You gotta calm down, kid. You are going to make yourself sick.” 

“I’m s-s-sor-rry” He started coughing, loud nauseating coughs. 

“What did I just say, you’re gonna make yourself sick. Stop apologizing, because it’s okay. I understand you’re going through some crap. I know you’re hurting, but you gotta put all of that behind you and focus on her. If she is truly what matters to you, you will suck it up, and focus on her.” 

Mike nodded, his crying finally slowing down. The moon was reflecting off of the windshield as they drove incredibly fast towards the hospital. Hopper was not messing around, he was speeding like hell. Mike took in the sight of Eleven sleeping next to him in the passenger seat. His throat hurt, and he was still sniffling like mad, but Mike was calm enough to speak. 

“Y-you’re gonna be okay,” He hiccuped in between words, “okay, El. You’re gonna be okay.” 

“So are you, kid.” Hopper told him. “So are you.” 

They pulled into a parking space, barely waiting for the car to come to a complete stop before jumping out. 

_______________________________________________

“Yes!” Lucas exclaimed. He had managed to grab a stuffed animal out of the claw machine. 

“That’s impressive.” Dustin agreed. “Those things are usually impossible to get.”

Will shifted beside Dustin, he was doing a little dance, shifting back and forth on both feet. If Dustin didn’t know any better he’d say Will had to go to the bathroom. 

“Will? Do you feel okay?” 

“Mmmhuhhh.” He mumbled wincing a little as he spoke. “My throat really...burns.” 

“Jesus, Yeah. You sound raspy as hell.” 

“It’s getting late anyway.” Max said, holding the stuffed animal Lucas won for her to her chest. “We should go home.”

“Do you kids want a ride?” Dustin’s Dad asked. 

“Yeah that would be great.” Lucas said, checking his watch one more time. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, my house will become Alcatraz.”

“What?” Dustin’s Dad was looking at them strangely. 

“Means Jail. His house will be like a jail cause his parents will put him on lock down. Come on, Dad. Keep up.” 

“Watch it buddy or you’ll be on alca-Whatever.” 

“I’m just going to go to the bathroom.” Will said, holding a hand over his mouth. 

“Oh that does not look good.” Max muttered. “What’s with everyone getting sick?”

Bryan pulled his son to the side while Lucas and Max were talking about the illnesses. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a beautiful butterfly hair clip. 

“Here. Give this to your lady. She’ll appreciate it and that way you can be back in the game.”

“Dad,” Dustin shook his head, “She’s with Lucas -“

“For now. And Lucas gave her a stuffed animal, so you have to step up your game and give her something too. I just thought I’d help you out. But if you don’t want it...”

“Give me it.” Dustin said. Maybe, since Lucas and Max were fighting so much, Dustin did still have a chance. That’s what he was thinking, at least, when he offered her the hair clip. 

She blushed. Max actually blushed and then she thanked him while putting it in her hair. The world could not get better. Her eyes were so sweet, so happy, so nice. Shit. Lucas was glaring at him like smoke might come out of his ears. 

“Hurry up, Will.” Lucas screamed, bumping past Dustin purposefully. 

“Lucas I was just giving her something.”

“Why?” Lucas yelled. “To be nice, or to steal her from me?” 

“To be nice...” Dustin whispered quietly. But he couldn’t bring himself to look in Lucas’s eyes. Not when he bluntly lied. 

“You can’t lie worth a shit.” Lucas spat. “Screw your Dad. I’m walking Max home.” 

“Come on Lucas. Don’t be like that. Lucas! Lucas!” 

Dustin frowned as he watched his two friends walked off, out of the arcade by themselves. He turned around to see Will emerge from the bathroom paler than a sheet. Things were really sucking recently, Dustin concluded. 

Chapter Text

The warm weather made everything hot in the house; stifling, really. Every window was open, but with no breeze outside, everything just felt muggy. Joyce was glad her work shift was finally over. With the unusual spring heat, Joyce was finding it difficult to concentrate on anything except ice cold water. 

“Will. Jonathan. I’m home.” 

That was weird. She knew Mike was at the house yesterday and she figured he would come over today too, but everything was so quiet. Then she remembered, they were at the arcade. Still, she hated being alone in her house. Not after Will went missing. She wanted him home at all times. She wanted to make sure he was safe. 

She turned on the TV and sat down, trying for force herself to concentrate on anything other than the nagging feeling that something was wrong. 

Soon enough, she heard Will’s bike pull up outside, and the fear in her stomach dissipated. 

“Mom.” Will’s voice cracked as he walked through the door. 

“Hey kiddo. How was the arcade?”

“Good,” Will winced, clutching his stomach. “But if don’t feel...Oh God,” He whimpered. He doubled over, falling to the floor. 

“Will!” Joyce screamed. “Honey. What’s wrong?”

“I- I don’t know. My stomach it - ah - it hurts.”

Joyce crouched down beside her son, sitting back on her heels. 

Will’s whole body was trembling. Muscles spasming and sending jittery cramps into his back, down his legs and Will was sure he was about to die. 

“Mom. It hurts.” He cried out. 

Joyce carefully pushed Will’s t-shirt up, 
Ignoring her son’s mortification, and checked his belly. The skin there was clammy, but there was no physical sign of any damage. Joyce took a deep breath, and pressed gently on Will’s abdomen.

“Ow!” Will’s body arched off the floor, and Joyce scooted back out of the range of her boy’s legs. Then Will closed his eyes and his fingers curled into tight fists and Joyce realized he was almost in tears.

“Did you eat anything today?” Joyce asked. 

Will nodded, “Pizza, and a Pepsi for dinner. I think I had PB&J for lunch.”

“Okay,” Joyce presses her hand to her son’s forehead. “Will! You’re burning up.”

“My skin. It feels like it’s burning again.” He cried, shivering against the floor. “Why does this always happen to me?” 

“Wait. Burn like...like when you were near the tunnels to the Upside Down, and you went into that seizure.”

“Yes.” Will gasped out, “It feels exactly like that.” 

Joyce bit back the swearwords that sprung to her lips. Then she saw the skin on his abdominal turn red in a diagonal line down her son’s chest. That was not normal. No, it definitely had the definition of the upside down written all over it. Joyce noticed the red skin started to blister. A few red bumps formed along the line on his chest, and one of them burst. 

Will’s shriek of agony goes straight into her ear. Joyce feels like she might pass-out for a brief second before switching completely into mother hen mode. She ran to the kitchen, screaming for Jonathan, but he wasn’t home. In the kitchen she poured water onto a rag and grabbed the first aid kit under the sink. 

“Hold on sweetie. I’m going to get you to the hospital.” She said as she dabbed the injury with a wet rag. 

The blisters were gone now, and the red line, was transforming into a white jagged scar, with a bunch of red charred skin around it, no doubt from the blisters. 

Her son was crying, raw and unguarded cries. His small fingers clutch at Joyce’s hand, and she reflexively squeezed back. As carefully as possible, she lifted him off the floor and carried him to her car. She had no idea what caused this, but luckily it seemed to be over now. 

What she missed, was the small black goo that burst from Will’s blister onto her floor. It slithered away, into the very tiny cracks of her house. 

_______________________________________________

Jonathan was driving his car, with Nancy beside him. They were following close behind Nina, who had a motorcycle, which was pretty cool. It would be cooler if they weren’t diving out of Hawkins towards an unknown area where Nina’s family supposedly was. 

Jonathan quickly recognized the city area because it was the same place his father lived. 

“I know this place,” He whispered to Nancy. But soon, they exited the city and went into another rural town. 

Nancy pointed out the window, “quick stop! She’s pulling up a narrow dirt road.”

“Where is she going?” Jonathan pulled off into the grass, shutting off the engine. 

They climbed the path through a forest covered area. Trees were all over the place, blocking most of their view. No wonder Nina chose this place as her hideout. 

As they walked closer, Nancy saw a bridge. She grabbed Jonathan’s arm, halting him in his tracks. 

“What?” He looked down at her, but Nancy was pointing towards the bridge. 

When he took a better look, he saw military trucks lined up right in front of him, and on the other side of the bridge, there were three children in green camouflage uniforms. 

“What happened to the hospital gowns?” Jonathan whispered. 

“I think those kids are from the other lab. You know, the one Nina mentioned. What did she call it? The island of misfit toys.”

“Oh right.” Jonathan remembered now. “So those kids are like the experiments gone wrong?”

“Or experiments waiting to happen. Maybe they were supposed to be after Eleven.” Nancy shrugged. “Who knows. But what is Nina doing?”

“See this girl bothers me because she just runs into dangerous situations without a plan.” Jonathan said. 

Nancy shrugged. “I think she’s kind of cool.” 

“She’s going to get herself killed, Nance. Look. She’s just riding up behind the freaking army.”

“There are only five men with guns.”

“WITH GUNS.” Jonathan emphasized. 

They watched as Nina rode up behind the men on her motorcycle. She threw her balance to the right and the vehicle tipped over, sliding into the five men. They fell over, their guns falling to the ground. 

“Run!” Nina screamed to the children. They turned around and quickly took off as fast as their small legs would let them. 

Nina picked up her vehicle, and twisted the bar on her bike causing her engine to roar. She spun off, riding quickly behind the children. A flare of gunfire went off, and one of the kids fell over, wailing in pain. 

Nancy’s mouth dropped open, and she quickly turned her head away, hiding in Jonathan’s chest. 

“It’s alright, Nance. It was just his leg. He’s still alive. Look! Nina pulled him onto her motorcycle.”

“Should we go?” Nancy asked. 

“Yeah there’s not much more we can do.”

“No. I mean, should we go after them. You know, follow them?”

“Well.” Jonathan pointed towards the small army of soldiers chasing after the group of kids, “They definitely are.” 

“Hurry.” Nancy said, but Jonathan grabbed her arm. 

“Wait. I bet there is a short cut across that bridge. Let’s go back to my car.” 

Jonathan drove around the outside of the forest. He stopped abruptly when a little girl jumped out of the trees and ran across the road. Soon, a boy followed and so did Nina on her motorcycle. 

“Follow me.” She screamed at Jonathan and Nancy. 

They made it to a small garage area where an older kid was sitting. One of the younger boy’s rushed over to him to inform him what happened. 

“It was an ambush.” 

“They shot at us.”  The other kid added. 

Bullet sat up, hearing the motorcycle noise. “If you idiots let them follow you...” He noticed the blonde hair, and sighed. 

Nina came stumbling into the garage with the young boy hanging off of her shoulders. 

“I need something to tie his leg with.” She ordered.

The kids cleared a table by tossing everything to the ground. Nina gently placed the wounded child on the flat area. 

“What the hell are they doing here?” Bullet asked, looking directly at Jonathan and Nancy. 

“I would explain but we don’t have time.” She said. “We gotta hurry up and clean his wound and then get the hell out of here.”

“They didn’t even have Bri with them.” The little girl cried. 

“Who is Bri?” Nancy asked. 

“One of our own. She was taken by Alastair. We think she might still be alive and being used as a hostage.” 

“Okay. The bullet went straight through. We’re going to patch you up.” Nina said, pulling out a switch blade from under her boot. She tossed it to Bullet and he put it under his lighter until the metal was burning red. 

“I’m not going to lie. This is going to hurt like hell.” Nina handed him a piece of cloth from her shirt for him to bite down on. 

For the second time that day, Nancy threw herself against Jonathan’s chest, squeezing her eyes shut as the little boy screamed at the top of his lungs. 

“If they didn’t know where we were before, they do now.” Bullet muttered. 

“Come on. We gotta go.” Nina said, lifting the injured boy up. 

“I got him.” Bullet took the kid and slung him over his shoulder. 

“We should go to the house on Oak. I heard it’s vacant.” Nina explained. 

Suddenly there was a sound of shattering glass, as a smoke bomb flew through the window. 

“Shit.” Bullet screamed. Nina had dropped the the ground, the kids following her lead. Jonathan and Nancy did the same. 

“Why are they using smokes? I thought they wanted us dead?” The boy said. 

“Me too.” Nina agreed, crawling over towards a van. “Get in. All of you.” 

Nancy, Jonathan and the kids pilled in the back, while Bullet chose to drive. 

“When this door opens, get the hell out. That’s an order.” Nina screamed. 

She turned towards the opened door, and extended her hand. The men that walked inside with their guns locked and loaded were tossed against a wall. As the blood dripped from Nina’s nose, she kept her hand extended and thus, kept the men trapped against the wall. 

“What are you waiting for? Get out of here.” Nina shouted at them, but Bullet had other ideas. He opened the car door. 

“Get it.” He called. “I’m not losing you too.”

“No. I can hold them off.” She cried. 

“I’m not leaving without you.”

“I don’t want them to follow us.” She said, grunting. It was getting more and more difficult to keep them against the wall. 

“Nina, get in the freaking car.” 

She looked at him, breaking her concentration. As the men fell to the floor, Nina jumped inside the van and Bullet took off, speeding out of the garage building. 

“What if they follow us?” Nancy’s heart was hammering in her chest. 

“Bobby, can you build a barrier?” Nina said to the young boy that was sitting next to Nancy. He threw his hand outwards, wincing like crazy, as if something pained him greatly. Watching the garage behind her, Nancy saw pieces of gravel and bricks being lifted by this kid’s mind. Soon there was a brick wall built. 

“Oh my God. That was incredible.” Nancy said, smiling at the boy. He had dirty blonde hair, but his almond brown eyes reminded her of her brother’s eyes. “So your name is Bobby?”

The boy nodded. He was feeling weak and dazed. “Nina gave it to me. She said we all deserve to have names not just numbers.” 

Nancy agreed, and smiled at her friend. She was glad she had met Nina, even if the girl was only at Hawkins to save Eleven. She was still glad to have met her. 

Nina shrugged at Nancy’s smile. “He can build things. My mind flashed to Bob the builder, so he became Bobby. April, here, loves the rain. She doesn’t have any mind abilities, but she can fight like a beast in the rain. So I call her April. Then there is Chuck because he throws up a lot.” Nina pointed to the kid who was shot. “Bri Just liked that name and Bullet can shoot people from a mile away. The things he can do with a gun is so impressive, I wanted to call him Robin for a modern day Robin Hood, but he choose Bullet because he doesn’t use arrows. As for me, well my name was Nine for the longest time. So I dropped the e, and added an a. Voila! Nina.”

“Nancy Wheeler. I didn’t get to choose my name. But I’m still a fan of it, surprisingly. I guess you could say I’m like a modern day Nancy Drew.”

“I like Nancy.” The young boy, Bobby, said and Nancy blushed. 

“Well Nancy is not supposed to be here.” Bullet glaring through the rear-view at Nina. 

“Oh would you relax.” 

“How could you bring them up here? You know the special unit is close? What if Alastair would have gotten a hold of them? He would have tortured them to get a hold of Eleven.” 

“You’re really scared of Alastair, aren’t you?” Jonathan said. For the first time, he was realizing that Nina and Bullet were just like him. They were just as scared as Jonathan was. 

“He’s smarter than the others were.” Bullet said. “He has killed everyone that was on the island.” 

“The island of misfits?” Nancy asked for clarification. 

“Yes. Those kids...some of them were only three-years-old. They were my friends. I grew up with them my whole life and this asshole...no screw that, this inhumane monster killed them. All of them.”

Jonathan shook his head, and pushed back a lump that was growing in his throat.

 “Do you have a little brother or sister?” Bullet asked. 

Jonathan nodded. “I have a little brother.” 

“Good.” Bullet said, his hands on the steering wheel turning white. “Now I want you to imagine you ran way from home and two years later you get the news that your little brother had been viciously murdered by the government agent named Alastair. Tell me, how would you feel.” 

“I’d want to kill him.” Jonathan whispered. 

“Then we understand each other.”

Nina took in a shuttery breath. “This is the only family Bullet has left. As for me, I have Eleven, and Kali, and I’m not sure who else. They are the only people I was able to find. I’m pretty sure the others are dead as well. That’s why I want to protect her. I’ve been on the run ever since we found out Alastair is after us.”

“Why doesn’t he just take Eleven.”

“He’s afraid of her.” Nina answered. “I think they are afraid of me too, but I’m an outcast, running from place to place. It’s easier to fight me because I won’t cause a disturbance. The news people can pretend I’m a criminal. With Eleven...it’s different. She’s in a town. A very fragile town that is already questioning the Hawkin’s lab because of that article you put out there. The point is, it will take more time to get her. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get her. In fact, the last I heard, there is a hunter in Hawkins already trying to kill her. That’s why I wanted to get her out of there. The hunter could get her any second. The longer she stays, the more danger she is in.”

“But if she’s out here with you, she is still at risk.”

“Yeah. I know.” Nina looked at her shoes, “But at least we can stick together and protect one another. Still, a life of running is not much of a life. I wish we could stop being fearful of everything we do.” Nina explained. 

“Alastair needs to die.” Bullet said. “It’s the only way any of this will stop.” 

“We can’t kill him. First of all, I don’t believe in killing anyone and secondly, Even if we want to, we can’t. We don’t know where he is.” Nina said. 

“We could try to trap him.” Bullet suggested. 

“How?” Nina asked. The van went silent. “Look Bullet. I know running our whole lives has sucked. But we’ve been making it work so far, and it won’t be forever. We can stop once they give up.”

Bullet snorted, “You really think they are going to give up? Come on, Nina.” 

“If we keep running. Yeah. Someday.”

“Look. I’ll drive you guys back to Hawkins.” He said, looking at Jonathan and Nancy, then his gaze switched to the children, “Then I’ll take you kids to our new hide-out.” Bullet looked Jonathan in the eyes for a second before turning back to the road, “Look all I’m askin’ is that you stay in Hawkins and out of our way, got it?” 

Jonathan glared at him, but he nodded. He wanted nothing to do with them anyway.

Chapter Text

“We’re almost there, honey” Joyce soothed her son, but Will wasn’t listening. His face was ghostly pale, his bottom lip caught between his teeth in an effort to control the gasps of pain.

She makes it to the hospital without stalling the engine, and she follows the signs to the ER. Joyce parks as close as she can to the entrance, without getting her car towed. 

“Sweet heart?” Joyce looked over her shoulder. Will was sitting very still. “You good to walk?”

Will doesn’t answer. Joyce twisted in the seat, reaching over to shake his shoulder. “I will carry you, If you need me too.”

No reaction. Joyce was out of the car and ripping the door open. Will’s head flops off the edge of the seat, and his arm dangles lazily, his body was slack and unresponsive. 


Later Joyce was glad that her boy was unconscious. It was definitely for the best. If he had been awake to witness his mother screaming for help in the middle of the hospital parking lot, he would have been mortified for sure. 

_______________________________________________

“What the hell were you thinking?” Neil yelled at Billy as he shoved his son into the house. Before Billy could answer why he was late to his father’s meeting, Neil placed his shoed foot on the teen’s shin, forcing Billy to lose balance and fall to the floor. 

Max, who was watching TV in the living room, quickly rushed to her bedroom. 

Billy turn his head to the side, looking back at the man. As quickly as he had knocked Billy down, Neil grabbed him by his hair and jerked him to his feet.

“What? What do you have to say for yourself?" His father yelled down into his face.

"My car keys were in the den last night," Billy answered softly. 

"So?" Neil challenged.

"You took them away from me.” Billy responded in almost a whisper. He stopped short of saying anything else when he saw the look on his father’s face. 

“Oh, I get it," Neil screamed at Billy, his face so close, Billy could smell the bitter sweet smell of bourbon. "Did you hear that,Susan? Billy here thinks it's our fault he was late to my meeting and embarrassed me in front of all of my associates. It's always someone else's fault, isn't it son?" 

He didn't answer his father. He also didn’t see it coming because he had turned in the direction of his step-mother, who stood silently by the stove. But Billy felt the impact of the back of his father's fist against his nose and upper lip and then his father's fist in his stomach, causing him to lose his breath.

Susan stood emotionless and motionless by the stove, watching. 

Gasping for air, the Billy spoke quietly, "I'm sorry. It's my fault, sir."

"Now that's more like it," Neil responded. “Since it was all your fault, you should be punished, don’t you think? After all, you made me look unprofessional today. We’re supposed to be a perfect family. We can’t be perfect if you’re flinching in front of my associates!”

Billy watched his father fumble with his belt buckle. He knew what that meant. Depending on how much alcohol the man had consumed determined the extent of the whacks with his belt. That night he appeared to be steady on his feet, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad, Billy hoped. 

When Neil no longer had the energy to continue striking his son with his belt, he commanded that Billy pick up Max from school tomorrow. 

“I’ll need my keys back, sir.” Billy said. 

“No back talking.” Neil ordered, but he reached into his pocket and threw him a pair of keys. 

“I also expect you to wash my Ferrari before I get home tomorrow.” 

“Yes sir.” Billy hissed. 

With that, Billy limped to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Max had to admit that was a risky move. If her step-father had any energy left he might beat Billy some more. 

She hears Neil’s footsteps approaching her room, and she breaks out into a sweat. Once the footsteps pass her room, she lets out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. 

As the door to the basement opened, Max was finally able to relax knowing that her step-Dad would spend the rest of the evening downstairs sleeping on the couch. Throwing her head back against her pillow, Max winced as something pinched her skull. She realized it was the hair clip that Dustin gave her. She unclipped it from the back of her red hair, and re-clipped it near the front. 

Looking in the mirror on her dresser, Max sighed at her pale complexion, and eyes that were shadowed and black from lack of sleep. The picture of her father sat next to the mirror to remind her that he had been a part of her life. She was counting down the days until the summer, July first to be exact, because that is when she would see him again. 

To be held by her Dad, to be back in California, was a dream come true. All she had to do was wait 70 days. 70 days and she would be home. Max heard her step-brother smashing things in his room. He currently had his radio blaring, Heaven and Hell playing by Black Sabbath. She prayed he wouldn’t come in her room and start screaming at her tonight. 

The noise of his music was vibrating the items on her dresser and Max wanted to scream at him to stop. But she wouldn’t dare tell Billy to stop. Besides, her step-brother needed to let out some of that pent up anger. 

She collected her dark green jacket from the closet, threw on her van sneakers, then got ready to sneak out to see El. 

At least Eleven understood her. She was a fantastic listener, and she never made Max feel silly or stupid for feeling a certain way. El was almost like Max’s therapist. It was nice to just vent to someone who would listen. Lucas listened, and cared, but he always threw in his own advice and sometimes Max just didn’t want advice. 

She went to grab her intercom, something Mike got her for her birthday, and was surprised to hear a voice calling out to her. 

“Hey, I’m here.” Max shouted, trying to hear herself over the loud music in her small house. 

“Max, What the hell? I’ve been trying to reach you for like fifteen minutes.” That was Mike’s sass, she had no doubt it was him. “Are your ears deaf?” He continued. “Did you turn off your intercom like we told you not too. I always knew you were incompetent but I never thought you were stupid.”

“Are you done?” Sassing Mike came easily to her. He rubbed her the wrong way 90% of the time on purpose, so she did the same back. 

“Yeah. I’m done.” He said, she could practically see the smirk on his face, then he dropped a bomb. “Hey listen. El is in the hospital.”

“What? Holy shit, Wheeler. Way to just spring that on me.”

“Listen. I’m with her now. Hopper is here too. I need you to not come to the hospital. Do you understand. Do NOT come to the hospital.”

“Why?”

“Something’s going on. I can’t explain right now. I’ll have to tell you somewhere private, but I gotta stay with El for now. So just stay put, please. The only reason I told you is because I know you were going to try to go to El’s house soon and I didn’t want you to make a trip to the woods for nothing.”

Max smiled, that was Mike alright, always thinking of others before himself.

“Ah Mike, were you thinking about me?”

“Shut up, Max.” He sounded disturbed. Good. 

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come over tomorrow after school?” Max asked. 

“Yeah i’m sure. Stay away please.” 

“Jeez your an asshole tonight.”

“Sorry.” He sounded tired, “It’s just been a long day. I’m worried about El, and I got in a fight with my parents, and now I’m gonna miss school tomorrow and I just feel like...like everything is falling apart.”

Max nodded, “I get that.” As Billy’s song changed to something else, Max sighed. “I feel like my life has been falling apart for a while now.”

“I’m sorry, Max.” He whispered. Something about him was refreshing. Maybe it was the way he actually sounded genuine. Not someone who pitied her, but he didn’t brush off her problems either. Mike truly understood her.  

“It’s alright. Not your fault.” Max said. 

She heard some commotion on the other end of the walkie-talkie. “Is everything okay over there?”

The signal was growing weaker. “I gotta go.” Mike said, and then the signal went dead. 

To say she wasn’t curious would be a lie, but Max didn’t want to go against Mike’s wishes. So she decided to remain in her household for the rest of the evening. 

_______________________________________________

 

When Jonathan got home, it was pitch black outside. He waved goodbye to Bullet, Nina and Nancy as they drove away towards the Wheeler’s house. 

 

When Jonathan opened the door to his house, he was greeted with emptiness. “Mom?”  Silence answered him.

 

 “Mom?” Jonathan cried. “Will?” The stillness was unsettling. Jonathan did not like it at all. 

 

He picked up the phone and dialed Hopper. Unfortunately no one answered, not even Eleven. Next, Jonathan tried his mother’s work number. 

 

“Melvald’s General Store, Donald speaking.”

 

“Hey Donald. This is Jonathan. Is my mom still working?”

 

“No son, she left a few hours ago. Is everything alright.”

 

Jonathan wished he knew. “Yeah. Everything’s fine. Thanks.” He put the receiver back, leaning his head against the wall. Another quick glance at the clock hanging on his wall, and Jonathan could feel his stomach knot up. Where could they be? Will wouldn’t still be at the arcade, would he? He wasn’t at the Wheeler’s, if he was, Nancy would call. Jonathan supposed Will could have been staying over with one of his other friends. But his mother should be home. If she wasn’t with Hopper, Jonathan had no idea where she would be. 

 

The minute hand on the clock continued to swing. Jonathan picked up the receiver calling the only other person he could think to call. “Hello. Lonnie?”

 

“Well if it ain’t my eldest son. How have you been, Jonathan?”

 

“Is mom there?”

 

“Why would your mother be here?”

 

“I don’t know. Did she stop to see you for a minute to yell at you some more. Or maybe, you begged her to bring Will over, so she did?”

 

Lonnie scoffed, “I would never beg your mother for anything.” 

 

“Is she there? Just answer the question!”

 

“No. She’s not here. Don’t call again if you’re going to be a little brat.” The line went dead. 

 

“Son of a bitch.” He muttered under his breath. 

 

He tried to put on some TV. He tried pulling out his English homework. But nothing he did was settling the nerves in his stomach. Finally, Jonathan grabbed his keys and headed outside. He had no idea where he was going, but maybe if he drove around he would find them. 

 

_______________________________________________

 

Hopper was standing in the hallway of the ICU, watching the Wheeler kid talk through his walkie-talkie. He warned him fifteen minutes ago the signal was going to be weak. 

 

Jane was laying in the bed, awake now, but heavily sadatied. Hopper couldn’t stop hearing the doctor’s voice running through his head. Some rare form of poison was found in her blood stream. We’ve never seen anything like it before. Honestly, we are not quite sure how to treat this. 

 

Shit. Hopper wanted a smoke. He needed a long drag to fill up his lungs with something other than fear. 

 

He felt uncomfortable every time he stepped into Jane’s hospital room since the equipment hooked up to her looked exactly like the stuff hooked up to Sara.

 

The Wheeler kid, on the other hand, was dealing surprisingly well now that he had settled down. It reminded Hopper just how many times Mike has been in a hospital room supporting one of his friends. It was wrong for a boy his age to know how to handle this type of situation. He shouldn’t have to be exposed to this crap at such a young age.

 

"He seems like a great friend." A female voice said and Hopper turned his head to the side, blinking at the nurse that had shown up next to him.

The nurse gave Hopper a warm smile and nodded in direction of the kids. 

"Yep." Hopper agreed and followed the nurse’s look back to Mike and Eleven. 

He was reading a comic book to her, trying to keep her distracted from any pain she might have been feeling right before he picked up the walkie-talkie.  Even as he spoke to Max through the device, he was drawing circles on Eleven’s right palm with a finger. 

"He rarely leaves her side for more than five minutes at a time." Hopper admitted to the nurse and then swallowed around the lump in his throat. 

Suddenly there was a commotion coming from down the hall, Hopper could see a kid being put on a stretcher. God, he hated hospitals. They were so heart wrenching. 

“I need help here, now! He's not breathing, and I can't find a pulse!" One of the nurses was panicking. The nurse that was talking to Hopper rushed down the hall. She titled the kid’s head back, and placed a translucent blue oxygen mask and bag over the kid’s nose and mouth, while another paramedic, readied to start compressions.

“Ma’am we need you to wait back here.” A voice said.!

“No! that’s my boy. Let me see my boy.” The woman was crying. Hopper scrunched his eyebrows together. That woman sounded like...Joyce Byers. 

“We’re going to take care of your son. But you need to stay out here.”

“Mrs. Byers” Mike was standing in front of Hopper, and Hopper didn’t even realize how he got there. 

“Kid. Go back in the room.”

“Is that Will!” Mike screamed, his heart rate accelerating. 

The stretched was taken to another room, and Hopper had to actively hold Mike’s wrist to keep him from following. 

“WILL!” He screamed, tugging as hard as he could to get away from Hopper. 

“Stop it. Stop it.” Hopper was scolding him, pulling him back with great force. But Mike was a slippery devil when he wanted something. 

“Let go.” Mike screamed, hitting Hopper’s shoulder. “Let go.”

“No.” Hopper spun Mike around so he could look into his eyes. The poor kid’s eyes were so red-rimmed and swollen for earlier, they looked ready to fall asleep at any second. “Listen to me. They are going to help him. But You need to stay back here.” Mike tried to pull away again, so Hopper yanked him forward. “Do you understand?” 

Mike searched his eyes before nodding. “Can you please let me go. You’re hurting me.” 

Hopper looked down at the bruised wrist in his hand. Quickly, he released him. “Come on. Let’s talk to Joyce, see what happened.” 

When Hopper and Mike appeared in the waiting room, Joyce’s face lit up. “Oh my goodness.” She said hugging Mike tightly.

“Jim? What are you doing here?” She asked, after pulling away from Mike.

“El is hurt.” Hopper whispered.  

Joyce covered her mouth with a shaky hand. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry, Hop. What - What happened?”

“The doctors say it’s some type of poison. I have no idea. I’m so tired of stuff like this happening. She was fine before she went to Mike’s house.”

The black haired boy glared at Hopper. “She was fine until she used her powers.” Mike explained. 

He turned to Joyce, “You know how El gets nose bleeds every time she uses her mental powers? Well, I think it’s like that, only this time it’s headaches, and now loss of consciousness.”

“But why?” 

“I don’t know.” Mike said, his shoulders shrugging gently, “Maybe it’s too much mental exhaustion.”

Hopper shook his head, “Then how do you explain the poison.”

“It clearly has something to do with the Upside Down.” Mike was thinking out loud. He did that a lot, but Hopper seemed to be offended. 

“Clearly? Are you sure? How do you know? Did you do something to her.”

“For the last time, NO.” Mike yelled. 

“Whoa. Whoa.” Joyce gently tugged Mike’s sleeve. “Settle down.” Mike let himself be pulled into her warm embrace. He needed a hug after everything that had happened in the past few hours. 

Joyce’s forehead creased as she shot Hopper a worried look. Mike was trembling in her arms. She pointed at him, mouthing ‘is he okay?’ 

Hopper didn’t respond. Instead, he changed the subject entirely. “What happened to Will?”

Twisting her face, Joyce glanced away. “I don’t know. He...he just came home and said his stomach hurt. Then suddenly everything burned. I mean, he actually has burn marks on his chest. I watched them come out of nowhere almost like... like...”

“ - the Upside Down.” Mike finished for her. 

Joyce released a shaky breath. “Yeah.” 

Hopper shook his head. “No. Impossible. The gate is closed. I saw El close it.” 

Mike pulled away from Joyce’s hug. “But what if something remained. Like a virus. The last time Will was infected, the Mind Flayer took over his body. Well, what if, even though it’s gone, it left something behind.”

“Like what?”

Mike shrugged. “A poison that makes people sick?”

“Then why is Eleven affected?” Hopper asked, deciding to play along. He didn’t fully believe in what Mike was saying, but stranger things have happened. 

“Okay. So what if this virus only affects the people that went to the Upside Down?” 

Joyce shook her heads, “We were all in those tunnels. Wouldn’t we all be affected?” 

“Good point.” Mike muttered. “Look. I don’t know how this is happening and I don’t know why. But I do know this is not a normal disease. We’re dealing with a poison from another dimension.” 

“If this thing can spread we’re all screwed.” 

Mike’s face lit up, “No! That’s it! It can’t spread. Poison can’t spread. Even poison Ivy can’t be spread from person to person. It can spread from plant oil that may have stuck to clothing, or other items that have come in contact with these plants but not a person. And if it’s a poison you ingest, then it’s not contagious either. But don’t you see. Something or someone had to have given them poison to ingest. Or they rubbed against something when they were in the Upside Down.”

“Are you suggesting someone poisoned my boy?” Joyce’s mouth was pulled in a thin line. 

“Maybe. I think it’s in the realm of possibilities.” 

“And why is that?” Hopper had his hands on his hips. 

Mike bit his lower lip, his eyes darting back and forth before he quietly whispered, “Because they warned us a hunter was after us. Who else would try to poison Eleven and Will? Think about it, they are the two people who know the most about the Upside Down.” 

The safety and comfort of the waiting room shifted drastically. More medics rushed past them, and a mother let out anguish cry as the doctor said something. Hopper and Joyce felt a chill run down their spines as Mike’s words sunk in. The paraphrase of his message: none of them were safe. 

Chapter Text

After Bullet dropped off Nancy, he drove the kids in his car home to their new hideout. 

 

Nancy, on the other hand, walked through her front door expecting to see her father in his favorite chair. Instead, what greeted her was an empty chair, and a quiet house. 

 

Oh, this was not good, Nancy thought while walking into the kitchen. The dirty dishes were piled in the sink, the oven was still on, and there was no sign of her mother. 

 

Nancy shut off the oven. Then her senses picked up on the sound of running water coming from upstairs. 

 

“Mom?” She called out as she neared the top of the stairs. “Are you okay?”

 

The bathroom door was locked, the sound of water spilling from the faucet was mixed with cries of anguish. 

 

“Mom?” Nancy knocked. 

 

“Everything is fine.” Her mother lied. Nancy could hear her sniffling. 

 

“Did something happen between you and Dad?”

 

“No. Your father decided to go to bed early, so I’m taking a long bath. Just go do whatever you want, Nancy.”

 

Listening to that hopeless talk, Nancy felt horrible. It sounded like her mom had completely given up. 

 

“Mom...I know you always say this to me, but I want you to know it goes both ways. If you ever need to talk, I’m here for you. Okay? I want you to feel like you can talk to me too. I promise I will listen.”

 

There was a long pause in conversation. Nancy let her eyes flutter shut before turning around. But there was a clicking sound, and the bathroom door opened. 

 

Nancy saw her mother standing in the doorway with her pink silky bathrobe tied around her waist, mascara running down her cheeks. She opened her arms up for her daughter, and Nancy happily hugged her back. She closed the bathroom door, ready to listen. 

 

_______________________________________________

 

Jonathan drove around Hawkins at least ten times, looking for his mother and brother. He had no idea where they could be. After making one last round, Jonathan concluded that he would call the police early the next morning. As for the rest of the night, he was going to sit by his phone and wait for a call. 

 

Jonathan pulled up into his driveway, twisted the keys, got out of his car, and started walking onto his porch. The last thing he heard was the rustling of bushes and movement behind him, then everything went black. 

 

_______________________________________________

 

 

Steve was not having the best day. At the moment Steve was in gym class and they were in the middle of their track and field unit, where they ran for kilometers on end. In middle school, Steve had hated this unit, but since puberty hit, his fitness had improved amazingly and running was one of his favorite activities by far. It let him blow off some steam. His classes were stressing him out, and he was really worried about graduating in the next few months. Dustin might have been joking when he asked if Steve flunked his classes, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong. Calculus was killing Steve and his grade was boarder-lining an F. 

 

He was so focused on thinking about his math grade that he missed the hurtle on the field and tripped over it, landing flat on his face. 

 

God, the humiliation was real. Four beautiful brunettes pasted him, giggling at his fall. This was not his day. 

 

Steve fought his way through the crowded doorway to the boys' change room, gagging slightly on the deodorant fumes left from the class before. Steve reluctantly hung up his bag on a vacant hook and slowly began taking out his clothes. 

Steve ripped off his PE shirt and quickly threw on his green t-shirt and stone washed jeans. 

He went to pick up his bag, only to notice a a sliver chain wrapped around the hook. It was a necklace with some type of holy saint on the medallion portion. Steve suddenly realized where he had seen this necklace before. It was around Billy’s neck. His mind flashed back to the night he witnessed Billy shooting some hoops outside screaming at the sky. “Where is it.” Could this be what he was talking about? 

There was only one way to find out. Steve zipped up his bag and headed for eighth period. Once the bell finally rang, Steve walked to Billy’s car. 

“Hey.” He called, gaining Billy’s attention. Soon, Steve’s heart was in his throat and his hands were sweating like crazy. This was the guy that beat the holy hell out of him four months ago. 

“Um... is this yours?” Steve tossed him the necklace. Luckily, Billy’s reflexes were fast. He grabbed the chain, and looked at it for a few seconds. 

“Holy shit, Harrington. Where the hell did you find it?” 

“Locker rooms. You left it on the the hook. I totally get how you might have missed it. I barely noticed it myself. It blended right in with the wall.” 

The corner of Billy’s lips turned up. “Thanks. I owe you one.” 

Steve could have walked away then, and perhaps he should have. But the moment proposed an opportunity that Steve would never have again. It was the opportunity to talk to Billy without the guy screaming in his face or threatening to beat his ass. It was the only chance Steve had to make amends for what happened four months ago, and to stop being Billy’s target. 

“That thing really means something to you, doesn’t it?” 

Billy glowered at him. 

“What are you like, religious or something?”

“Harrington. Go screw yourself.” 

Steve nodded. This wasn’t going anywhere. “Okay then.” He turned to leave, feeling Billy’s eyes on the back of his head the whole way to his car. Shit that was terrifying. 

_______________________________________________

Max has never been so grateful to hear the school bell ring. Things were really horrible amongst the party. Lucas and Dustin weren’t speaking to each other, and Mike and Will weren’t at school. She tried to tell Lucas what Mike said to her about Eleven, but he was too busy complaining about being grounded. 

“Well maybe if you took Dustin’s Dad up of his offer and let him drive us home, you wouldn’t be grounded.”

Looking back, Max probably shouldn’t have said that. Lucas completely ignored her the rest of the day. 

She gathered her homework, and Mike’s homework then shoved it into her backpack. She went outside and threw her skateboard on the ground. Billy was waiting for her, by his car, like Neil told him to. But Max had other plans. She wanted to see Eleven despite Mike’s orders to stay away. 

Who the hell does he think he is, anyway? Why is he the only one who gets to see Eleven when she’s hurt?

With her mind made up, Max skated off towards the hospital. The sun began to set somewhere in the horribly long state of Indiana, shining straight into Max’s eyes with the bill of her hat giving her little relief. 

The hospital corridor was stuffy and the air had an undertone of bleach. She walked to the waiting room, feeling very out of place. When she didn’t see anyone she knew, Max walked over to the front desk. 

There was a young woman typing on the keyboard of her computer.

“Excuse me.” Max said. 

The lady peered over her desk. “Can I help you?”

“Yes. Um. I’m a friend of Jane Hopper. Is she here?”

“Jane is in room 420.” 

“Thank you.” Max scurried off to find her friend. When she arrived to room 420, Max shoved the door open with her left hand, her right was curled firmly around her skateboard. 

Eleven was sitting on the examination chair, the miserable hunch of her shoulders almost comical paired with her long limbs. Hopper, Joyce and Mike were sitting around her. They all looked up with surprise at Max’s sudden entrance.

“Hey guys,” she says awkwardly. “How is it going?” 

Christ, Eleven looked awful. Her face was flushed now instead of white and her brown hair was stuck to her forehead with sweat. She was shaking slightly and unevenly, muscles twitching beneath her skin, and Max spotted a tiny bit of blood at the corner of her mouth from where she must have bitten her lip or cheek in pain.

“What the hell are you doing here.” 

Max turned to Mike and was surprised to see how livid he looked. 

“I brought you your homework.” She said, trying to find an excuse for why she would defy his wishes.

“I told you not to come here.” 

“Why not? I want to help Eleven too.”

“You don’t understand what’s going on. I told you, I had it handled.”

“Yeah, well, I know all about the secret now. So you can stop trying to exclude me.”

“Max. Someone poisoned El. She is in real danger, and you coming here just puts her in more danger.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Max said. “The only thing me coming here does, is take her attention away from you. Wait. She was poisoned?” 

There was a soft knock on the door, and a doctor stood there. “Mrs. Byers. You’re son is awake now. You may see him.”

Joyce leaped out of her chair, ready to follow the doctor anywhere. Mike and Hopper went too. 

“Wait?” Max asked, “Will is here too?”

“Yeah. He came in last night after our talk. I think it’s the same thing.”

“What? Poison?” 

Mike nodded. 

As the neared the room, they could see Will was propped up in his bed, his body racked with tiredness. 

“Your son is stable. He woke up with no sign of anything being wrong. The weird part is there is just a single burn scar on his chest. But it’s impossible for a burn to heal that quickly. I don’t understand what’s been happening around here.” The doctor patted his forehead with a handkerchief. 

“Thank you, sir.” Joyce said. “But I don’t care  what happened just as long as my boy is okay.”

“He is, fortunately.” 

Mike stood by Will’s bedside and grabbed his hand. “Hey Will, you gotta stop landing yourself in the hospital. Come on, dude.”

Mike’s plan worked, Will cracked a smile. The kid shifted in bed, trying to get more comfortable. “I’m glad your here, Mike. I missed you yesterday at the arcade.”

A lightbulb went off in Mike’s brain. “Oh yeah. I totally forgot, yesterday was arcade day. How did it go? I’m sorry I wasn’t there. El was sick.” He babbled.

 Mike’s been babbling about stuff since he was five. If his mom ever threatened to yell at him, or punish him, the babbling would start. If Lucas and Dustin were fighting, the babbling would kick in to ease the tension. If Will was sad about his father leaving, Mike would talk for hours on end to keep him company. It was a trait Will appreciated Mike having. It’s what makes Mike, Mike. Sincerity and compassion is what makes Will, Will. Together, they have always been a kick-butt team. 

“She’s sick?” Will asked. 

“Yeah she’s here too. In the room right down the hall.” 

Max stepped forward and waved. “Hey Will.”

“She’s not supposed to be here.” Mike growled. 

Scowling, Max flipped him off. Mike would have returned the gesture, but Mrs. Byers was behind Max, approaching Will’s side. So Mike scooted out of the way. 

When Hopper and Joyce were next to Will, Mike grabbed Max’s arm and took her out in the hall. 

“Get off of me.” Max shrieked. 

Mike let her go, but not before spinning her around and getting close to her face. “Did someone send you here?”

Max furrowed her eyebrows. “No.” 

“Are you sure? Think Max.”

“Yes I’m sure. Jesus, why?” She could tell by the way he was looking at her that he was serious. 

“I think the hunter that’s after all of us, poisoned El and Will.” He whispered. 

“Are you serious? Wait. No. That doesn’t make any sense. Why is Eleven still sick and Will getting better?” 

“I don’t know.” Mike put his fingers between the bridge of his nose. All of this thinking was giving him a headache. Plus, all the crying he did earlier was not helping. Not to mention Hopper was tossing him around like a rag doll. No wonder his head throbbed. 

“We have to be careful.” Mike explained. “Someone is already hurting us, and we have no idea how.”

“Are you sure someone poisoned them? Maybe they just came in contact with some poison plant when they were in the Upside Down?”

“I don’t think the symptoms would take four months to show.” 

Max shrugged. “It could. We don’t know how that weird dimension works.” 

“I’m pretty sure someone poisoned them.” 

“How?” Max threw her arms out. “I was with Will all last night. He just started getting sick out of nowhere.” 

“You sure? You didn’t see anything weird happen?”

“No, Mike.” 

“Maybe in the morning, then? At school? I don’t know, Max. I’m working with pretty much nothing to go off of.” 

He leaned against the wall. “I really hate this.”

“Me too.” Max shivered in her thin jacket, a product of the brutal cold that was blowing down on her from the air vents. Max hated the cold. She dreaded winter and was so thankful summer was coming soon. Already the spring heat wave they had today was better than she usually got with Hawkins. 

Next to her, Mike was dressed a little warmer. He always had to bundle up in thick sweaters underneath bulky winter coats in the winter. Max bet he had flannel underwear underneath his jeans too. Now that it was spring, he settled for his favorite go-to blue jacket. 

“Nice hair pin.” Mike said, noticing the gold and pink butterfly that clipped a few strand hairs away from Max’s face. 

“Thanks,” She said, reaching up to touch it. “Dustin gave it to me.”

“Dustin? I didn’t know he had that kind of money.”

Max never even thought of how much this might have cost Dustin. Suddenly, she felt horrible for accepting the gift at all. Maybe Lucas was right, and Dustin was trying to get together with her. But would he really do that to Lucas? 

Inside the hospital room, Joyce had pulled up a chair. 

“Will. Honey. I was so worried about you.” Joyce said. She brushed a few strands of hair away from his face. 

“I’m sorry, mom.” He said. 

“Hey. No sorries. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Will nodded. “I feel fine.” 

Hopper sighed. “Listen kid. Do you mind lifting up your shirt and letting me see this scar?”

Will’s face flushed and he turned to his mom with a look of distress. It was no secret that Will got embarrassed easily. He was extremely modest his whole life. If Jonathan would walk in on his when he was changing Will would try to duck and get away, complaining to his mom afterwards about privacy. When his friends through pool parties, he always kept his shirt on, even in the water. 

“Please, sweetie. Hopper just wants to see if it looks anything like something he has seen before.”

Frowning, Will reluctantly lifted his shirt up and over his head. Feeling mortified, and naked, Will wanted to hide under the covers while Hopper brushed his fingers along the line tracing down his chest.

“It looks completely normal. Like he got burned on the stove or something. Just doesn’t make any damn sense.” 

“HOPPER!” 

That was Mike screaming. Joyce and Hopper rushed into the hall. 

“What’s the matter?” 

“It’s El. She’s gone.”

Hopper and Joyce ran into the hospital room where Eleven was supposed to be. They saw Max, but no one was occupying the bed. 

“What the hell.” Hopper had just about had enough of this shit. He clenched his fists at his side, trying to control his rage. 

“Where would she have gone?” Joyce wondered aloud. 

“She didn’t go anywhere.” Mike practically yelled, “She was too weak to even walk. Someone took her.”

“Someone kidnapped my daughter.” Hopper punched the wall as hard as he could, not even caring about his knuckles splitting open. 

It was then that it dawned on Max. She thought about what Mike said about noticing anything strange last night. 

“I was with Will all night, last night before he got sick,” Max said. “But So was Dustin’s Dad.

Mike’s mouth dropped open. “The drinks...at Steve’s pool party. He handed out the drinks!” 

“We were all drinking Pepsi with out Pizza.” Max explained. 

Mike rushed over to Max’s side and yanked the butterfly clip out of her hair. 

“Ow. What the hell?”

“It’s a tracking device.” He said, pulling apart the tiny gold pieces. “He bugged you, Max, and you led him right here!” 

Throwing the clip to the floor, Mike kicked it under the hospital bed. “They have El now, thanks to you.”

Time slowed to a halt, though Max was almost entirely certain that it doesn’t really. That the world is still very much spinning and that time is indeed moving forward. But it doesn’t feel like that for her, because Mike has that awful, dead expression on his face again—the one makes it painfully clear that Max is absolutely, one hundred percent nothing to him. Worse than, even.

Max is not exactly sure what could be worse than nothing, but whatever that is, she’s pretty sure that’s what she is to Mike. 

“I told you not to come here. Why can’t you listen?”

Max nearly collapses in on herself underneath the weight of the awful reality. She felt like the entire universe crashed on her. 

“I didn’t mean to.” It was all she could manage to get out. 

“Come on.” Hopper said, grabbing Mike’s wrist. “We need to track down Bryan Henderson.”

Chapter Text

When Dustin opened his front door at 7:30 in the morning, he didn’t expect to see Lucas standing there with a box. 

“What do you want?” Dustin crossed his arms over his chest. 

Dark colored hands shoved the box into Dustin’s stomach. “Here. This is all your stuff you left at my house.”

Shaking his head to the sky, Dustin pushed the box away from him. “Are we seriously still fighting over Max? Come on, Lucas. I said I was sorry.”

Lucas shrugged. “Not sure what you want to do with the extra comic books but... it’s here.”

Dustin pulled his lips into a thin smile. “Thanks. I can bring by your stuff later.”

“No need. Erica will stop over and pick it up. Unless, of course, you want to hit on her too?”

“For the love of Nightcrawler! You need to get over this. Max clearly still likes you.”

“I’m grounded now, thanks to you.” Lucas spat. 

“Then how the heck are you standing in front of my house.”

Lucas stood dumbfounded, unable to come up with a good excuse. It looked like he was bobbing for apples the way his mouth was opening and closing without a sound. 

Just as Dustin was about to call victory on this fight, Hopper’s patrol car pulled up his driveway. 

“Henderson, Where is your father?”

“My Dad? He’s..he’s not here.”

“Shit.” Hopper threw off his hat and threw it against the wall.

Mike and Max were now standing beside Lucas. 

“What the hell is going on?” Lucas yelled. 

“Dustin. Man, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Mike began, “but...”

“Your Dad is one of the bad men.” Max finished. 

“Thanks Max.” Mike rolled his eyes, “Way to sugar code it.” 

“What the hell are you guys talking about. My Dad is at the grocery store.”

Hopper scoffed, “Yeah. I don’t think so.” 

Max reached out, grabbing Dustin’s hands, “I know this is hard to hear, but he put a tracking device in that hair-clip you gave me.” 

“He kidnapped Eleven.” Mike nearly screamed. 

Dustin shook his head frantically, “No. No. nonononono.” 

Max threw her hands out, and grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him a few times. “Get a hold of yourself!”

Dustin shook her off, face screwed up in what Max supposed was anger. 

“All of you are lying. You’re just angry because I haven’t been spending time with you. Or maybe this is all a huge prank. Yeah that’s it, isn’t it, Lucas? You want to punish me for trying to steal Max away from you. Well guess what? This is too far! You hear me? This is too damn far!” 

“Oh my God, Dustin. Listen to us.” Mike said at the same time that Lucas admitted to having nothing to do with them coming here. 

“Did you actually see my Dad kidnap Eleven?”

“Well no,” Mike wanted to say more but Dustin cut him off with a shrilling laugh. 

“If you didn’t see him -“

“But he put the tracking device in Max’s hair. And he was the only one that was there the night Will got sick, other than the rest us, but of course we didn’t do anything. Your Dad was also passing out drinks at Steve’s pool party. I bet he poisoned Eleven at the pool party, and he got Will last night.”

Dustin took a dangerous step forwards, his fists raised. Lucas and Max screamed, trying to hold him back.

“You take that back!” Dustin tried swinging, but Lucas was holding him back. 

“No!” Mike screamed. “Dustin, your Dad is the hunter! Don’t you see? He’s the guy Murray warned us about. They all said the hunter was already here in Hawkins. Then your Dad shows up out of nowhere after being gone for fourteen years. Did you ever once stop and think how strange that is?”

“Mike is right.” Lucas agreed. “I mean, it makes sense. Come on, Dustin. Until  a week ago, you didn’t even know your father existed.” 

“Yeah, man.” Mike whispered, “Who are you going to believe: a guy you barely know, or your two best friends.”

Max cleared her throat. “Hello? I think you meant, three best friends.”

“He barely knows you. For all we know you could be the hunter’s apprentice.”

Max let go of Dustin’s side, and got up in Mike’s face. “Okay, you know what? I made a mistake! I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you, but please don’t act all childish again and try to exclude me from everything. You know I am your friend. You know I’m on your side, and you know I know about the Upside Down. So piss off.”

Lucas let go of Dustin too, his eyes glued to Max, practically cooing at her speech. “God, I love her.” He whispered. 

Mike let out a deep breath. “You know what, You’re right. I’m sorry, Max. We have a good friendship going right now, and I don’t want to ruin that. Can you just forgive me right now. I’m freaking about about El.”  

“Yeah, if you promise to forgive me.”

Mike gave her a hand a small shake, ending the feud. Hopper was back at the patrol car talking on his intercom the whole time. “Kids! I got something. My deputies said there has been a shooting.”

“Oh my God.”

“No one was hurt. But it was a message. Whoever this shooter is, he knows how to use a gun. It said, meet me at the fair.”

“What said that?”

“The bullets in the ground.” Hopper explained, “Come on. Hurry up. We need to get to the fair.” 

Dustin followed behind his friends, “I’m coming with you to prove that my father is innocent.” 

Hopper shifted the gears in reverse. As soon as all the kids were in the car, he tore out of Dustin’s driveway. 

“I didn’t know the fair was in town today.” Mike said. “I thought that only happened in the summer.”

“It’s a special event for the election.” 

“Shit, my parents will probably be there.” Mike mumbled. 

_______________________________________________

Jonathan woke up with a sharp pain in the back of his head. When he sat up, the first thing he noticed was he was in a moving car. But who was driving? His mom? 

“Oh your finally up. That’s good. You were starting to worry me.” It was male’s voice. 

“Bullet?”

“Hey, Yeah, Sorry for bashing your head with that flashlight. I needed you to take a drive with me and I couldn’t risk you escaping.”

“Who are you?” Jonathan yelled, body going into a full panic. 

“Relax. I’m who I said I was. Everything I told you was true. But I have to get Alastair to stop hurting my people. I have to kill him.”

Jonathan’s eyebrows contorted. “Then what do you need me for?” 

“You’re the bait. Sorry.” Bullet looked at his radio, then through his rear view mirror at Jonathan who was sitting in the back with the doors locked. There was a bar separating the front of the car from the back, just like a police car. 

“Did you steal a cop’s car?”

“Yup. I picked it up after I dropped my family off in their new hide out. Then I went to your place and waited for you to come home.”

“This is crazy.”

“I have to do this!” Bullet smacked his hand off of the steering wheel, his eyes glazing with water. “That man ruined my life. He put a wound in my heart that I can’t fix no matter how many times I try to help people and do good things. I need revenge.” 

“Bullet, listen to me. We can kill this guy. We should kill this guy. What he did to you and your family is seriously messed up. But this is not the way to do it. We should have Hopper with us. We could have Eleven and Nina. I’m sure they could fight this bastard.”

Bullet shook his head, “I’ve lost too many people. I’m not going to risk losing Nina and El too. It’s better if I risk my own life...and yours. Sorry again.” 

Jonathan tried shaking the door knob, he even tried to break the windows, but since it was a police car, he was not having any success. 

“I left Alastair a note at a gas station. Wrote it with my gun. He’s going to meet us at the county fair.” 

“Bullet listen. You’re making a huge mistake. This plan is never going to work if Alastair is really as strong as you say he is.”

“Shut up, young Steve King. This is happening.” 

_______________________________________________

Nancy had a great talk with her mom. They spoke all night long about everything that’s been going on in their lives with the exception of talking about Nina and the threat that Nancy’s been under. But they talked a lot about their family and Nancy let her mom know, if she wants a divorce she shouldn’t let the fear of how her kids will take it, get in her way. 

“I never want you to feel like your trapped. Like you can’t leave because of us. Because that’s not true, Mom. We just want you to be happy.” Nancy remembers herself saying that very clearly. 

Now it was 7:30 in the morning. They finally dried the last of their tears and decided to start breakfast. 

“I’ll wake Holly and Mike.” Nancy said, pressing a handkerchief under her eyes before putting it in the garbage can. 

“I’m making blueberry pancakes for you, sweetie.” Her mother said, giving her one last hug. “I am so lucky to have a daughter like you.”

“Mom, stop. You’re going to make me cry again.” Nancy said, already feeling her eyes begin to mist. 

Their loving smiles vanished as soon as Ted made his way past them. He walked down the stairs to the living room where he would no doubt sit on his Lazy-boy and read the newspaper. 

Making good on her word, Nancy walked into Holly’s bedroom, ready to tickle her awake. 

“Good morning kiddo. We’re having pancakes today.” 

Holly rolled over and smiled. “Nancy.” She said, reaching her small hands towards her big sister. Nancy wrapped Holly into a hug, then stood fully up, lifting her and settling her against her hip. 

“Come on chickadee, let’s wake your bad brother up.” 

Nancy whispered in her ear as they walked into the blue pained bedroom. She flipped on the light switch, looking towards the empty bed. 

“Mike?” 

She turned, shutting the light back off, then whispered to Holly, “Where did he go?” Holly shrugged her little shoulders, before shoving her blonde hair in her mouth. “Do you think he’s in the basement? I bet he is.” Nancy rubbed her nose against Holly’s nose. 

After dropping her sister off at the table, Nancy went to the basement searching the famous pillow fort. “All right, time to get up.”

She pulled the blanket away to find no one laying on the blankets. Nancy swallows uneasily, her mouth going dry. 

“Mom?” She asked when walking into the kitchen. “Is Mike here?” 

Karen stopped, her eyes on the fluffy forming flapjack. 

“Oh my...” The realization was forming on her face, “You mean he never came home?”

Blowing out a breath of air, Nancy pushed some of her strands of hair behind her ears. “Okay. Let’s remain calm. When did you see him last?”

“Last night.” Karen’s mouth suddenly became agape and she drew in a breath of air sharply, “He saw us fighting. He was really upset. Do you think maybe that’s why he didn’t come home?”

“I don’t know. How upset was he?”

“He screamed at your father. If Hopper hadn’t dragged him to the car, he might have tried to punch your Dad.”

“Mike? I can’t see him doing that. Wow.” Nancy shook her head, “Wait a minute, did you say Hopper took him?”

“Yeah. He was leaving with Hopper to go to the hospital, something about Jane being hurt.” 

Then it hit Nancy faster than a moving train. She remembered Eleven feeing sick after helping Nina find her family. Jonathan told Mike to call Hopper. 

“He must still be at the hospital. She must be worse than I thought. I need to go to the hospital. I’m sorry, Mom. You and Holly can enjoy those pancakes they look delicious.”

“Yes, please find your brother. Tell him I’m so sorry about yesterday.”

“I will.” Nancy threw on her white boots. 

“Bring him home, Nancy.” 

“I will.” 

Chapter Text

“What do you mean she’s not here?” Nancy yelled at the hospital’s secretary. 

“We believe Jane unhooked her IV and then left the premises.” 

Nancy shook her head wildly, “That doesn’t make any sense. She wouldn’t do that.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I don’t know what else to tell you. She’s not here.” 

Before Nancy could say anything else, Joyce Byers walked into the waiting room with a tray of hospital food. 

“Nancy?” 

“Mrs. Byers?” 

“Imma let you two get caught up.” The secretary said. 

Nancy and Joyce sat in Will’s room sharing stories about what had happened. 

“Someone kidnapped El?” Nancy whisper yelled. 

“Not just someone,” Will added, “We think it’s Dustin’s Dad.”

Her mouth dropped open before she could stop it. “You think he’s the hunter sent to kill us all?”

“That’s what Mike thinks. He has a pretty good theory.”

Nancy pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay. So where are they now?” 

Joyce shrugged. “I think they went after Bryan.”

“And Will is okay?” Nancy looked down at the poor boy laying in the hospital bed. 

“He’s due to be  released today.” 

Nancy let out a huge breath of release, collapsing back into the chair. “Phew.” 

“Hey, sweetie, can you tell Jonathan where I am? I just realized he must be worried out of his mind.”

Nancy sat back up with a nod. If she can’t find Mike, the least she could do was inform Jonathan. 

As it turns out, informing Jonathan was going to be difficult too considering he wasn’t in his house. That is how Nancy ended up in the police station, begging deputy Phil Callahan to start a missing persons case. 

“Protocol says the person has to be missing for more than forty-eight hours.”

“That’s bullshit!” Nancy screamed, flailing her arms out like an inflatable tube man at a car wash. “I’m telling you he is missing and something bad has happened to him and your just going to sit here and do nothing? What is wrong with you?”

She noticed out of the corner of her eye some papers in the deputy’s hand that said kidnapped victim, female, Jane. She wanted to ask him for it, but the deputy pulled her aside and said, “Miss Wheeler, has it ever occurred to you that maybe he just went for a drive.”

“Screw you.” She deadpanned. She snatched her bag off of the counter then walked out of the station. She fought a monster on her own without these jokers, and she would find Jonathan without them too. There was no way in hell she was going to wait long enough to let what happened to Barb happen to Jonathan. 

The Volkswagen Nancy was driving skid to a stop over top of a curb. She was still new at driving, plus her nerves were not helping her focus. 

She ran up the Harrington’s steps and pounded repeatedly on their front door. 

“Jesus, calm the f- Nancy?” 

She was lucky Steve was the one who answered the door. 

“I need you to help me steal some papers from the police station.”

Steve snorted out a laugh. “What? Your serious?” Shaking his head, Steve looked towards the sky. “The things you ask me to do.”

“Look. Jonathan is missing. I think he was kidnapped like Eleven.”

“What the hell! Eleven was kidnapped? When?” 

“Early this morning, at the hospital. Hopper is tracking her down. I think the deputies have a lead because I saw them holding some papers. I just need to see where Jonathan and Eleven are. All you have to do is distract them while I take a peek at the files. Please, Steve.”

Biting his lip, Steve glanced at his feet. “I want to help. But, Nance, I can’t get caught by the police. I got busted for shoplifting with Tommy and Carol last summer and my father bailed me out. He warned me that next time he was just going to let me rot in there.”

“Would he really do that?”

Steve nodded, “I wouldn’t put it past him.” 

Her blue eyes drifted to the side as she looked off into the distance. He must have been her last hope. Seeing Nancy sad was not something Steve could handle seeing. 

“I can’t do it. But I might know someone who can.”

Just like that, the spark of hope returned. 

Steve drove this time, which Nancy was rather thankful for because the way her hands were shaking she was certain she would have hit something or someone.  

As they pulled onto Cherry Road, Nancy began to figure out where they were headed. Steve pulled into the Hargrove’s gravel driveway. 

“Are you out of your mind?” Nancy whispered harshly in Steve’s direction. 

He shrugged. “What better person to steal police files than a criminal himself?” 

“I just want to find my friends, I don’t want to go to jail for assisting in a crime.” 

“Relax Nance. Only Billy would go to jail” 

They knocked on the door, waiting anxiously for a response. After a few tries, Nancy was beginning to think no one was home. A loud screaming sound changed her mind. But it wasn’t coming from inside the house. 

“Steve,” She nudged him towards the opened garage off to the other side of the house. 

Billy was standing over the latest Ferrari mid-engine supercar. It was fast and was sexy and different than the previous cars Steve has ever seen. The car is no doubt a plaything, the way it was completely spotless. Billy slapped it with a rag, then yelled under his breath. 

“Hey Billy...” Nancy walked into the garage, her determination to find Jonathan out weighing her fear. Steve on the other hand was much more hesitant to walk in. 

“Um...” Steve was startled to see a face glaring back that was purple around the cheek bones. 

Billy stood from his crouched spot, wobbling a little on unsteady legs. He didn’t say anything, just stared at them with swollen eyes. Purple welts scattered across his arms like a disease. 

“Are you okay?” Steve asked, cautiously going closer to the car. 

Once again, Billy said nothing. But he flashed a pained smile, eyes falling to the car. 

Steve’s eyes drifted to Nancy, but she was already looking at him, biting her lip. They were unsure of what to do, or what to say. How were they going to ask for help when Billy clearly needed some help himself? It seemed like the wrong time to spring upon him, ‘hey, do you mind stealing some police files for us?’ 

Billy’s shoulders were slumped and his eyes were cast down in a mournful gaze. “Max didn’t come home today. I was supposed to pick her up.” Billy scoffed, shoving his hands in his jean pockets. He fumbled around until he found a pack of cigarettes, then pulled them out with sweaty hands. “My father used my face as his personal boxing bag.” 

Nancy swallowed, her eyes looking anywhere but at Billy. 

“Don’t matter. He’s been doing this shit for a long time.”

“Billy, he shouldn’t...hit you. It’s wrong.” Nancy said, forcing herself to make eye contact. 

He shook his head. “Nah. I deserve it.”

Steve’s eyebrows drew together, and he crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not your fault that little shit didn’t come home. You’re not responsible for her.”

“No. I’m not talking about her. But apparently, according to Neil, I am responsible for her.” 

“Wait? If it’s not because of Max, then why do you think you deserve being beat like that?” 

Steve!” Nancy gave him a ‘shut-the-hell-up’ look. 

“What? The guy thinks he deserves to be used as a personal punching bag, and considering I’ve been on the other side of his fists, I know he can put up a good fight, so I want to know why he just stands there and takes it.”

Walking hastily towards him, Nancy grabbed Steve’s sleeve and whispered into his ear, “It’s not our place.”

“Why do you listen to your asshole father, Harrington? Cause he’s your Dad, right?”

“Yeah, but my Dad doesn’t hit me. If he did, I would fight back and get the hell out of there. Because I know I don’t deserve to be treated like shit. So why do you think you do?”

“Because I screwed up. I am a screw-up. It’s my fault my Dad is lonely. It’s my fault he drinks.”

“You are not responsible for his actions.” Nancy said softly. 

“No. But I am responsible for killing my mother.” 

Words left Nancy. She stared into those bright blue eyes burning with guilt, and her heart fell silent.

“I was ten-years-old and I went to this kid’s birthday party. It was late, and we went camping in the backyard. But I heard a noise, all of the kids started freaking out saying bullshit stuff like it might be a bear or a wolf. I mean, we were in the freaking backyard, not the actual woods, but I was scared. I called my mom and asked her to pick me up. She never should have been driving that night.” Billy’s voice broke off, and he took that time to shove a cig in his mouth and light it. 

“Billy -“

“Don’t.” He snapped. Then let sucked in a large amount of chemicals and let out a puff of smoke. “Just don’t.” 

“I’m sorry about your mom,” Steve whispered. “I really am. But you shouldn’t have to put up with your Dad’s shit. He shouldn’t blame you, and you shouldn’t blame yourself. If your mad enough at him for forcing you to watch Max, and you want to piss him off...we have an idea.”

He took a drag, staring at them skeptically. 

“You know, I did everything I could to keep Neil away from that pretty little red-head, Susan, who showed up on my doorstep a year ago. I didn’t want him to ruin another family. But this lady was rebounding from her ex-husband. The kid didn’t help either, pretending to like everything. Acting like everything was fine. We all just lied and pretended and look what happened. It’s her fault we’re living here. If she would have just told the truth then her mom would have never married my father. Then Max wouldn’t have to be so miserable. I couldn’t say anything because I would have been murdered by my father. So it was up to Max. It’s all her fault.” 

He scrunched his nose, then threw his cigarette on the ground. Stomping in it, Billy turned around and started digging through the tools in his garage. The corners of his mouth turned up as he found what he was looking for. 

“But you’re right. Maybe if my father wasn’t such an asshole -“

Nancy and Steve jumped back as soon as he pulled out a sledgehammer. 

“- maybe if he’d actually give a damn about me, or my step-sister, or even my step-mother for that matter -“

Billy was walking very carefully towards the car, “- then maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about his precious possessions getting destroyed.” 

“Billy!” Nancy shouted, taking a step forward, but it was too late. Billy had swung the sledgehammer has hard as he could against the back window of the car. 

Steve flinched, and Nancy jumped back again. 

A deranged smile was plastered on Billy’s face similar to that of the joker. He jumped on the hood of the car, then climbed to the top. Once on top, he started bashing the windshield, then he pounded the top repeatedly as if he were pounding a rod into the ground. When he finished, he flung the sledgehammer over his shoulder and clapped his hands together. 

“Well. I got nothing to lose now. What do you losers want me to do?”

“Um...we need you to steal a police file.” 

Billy smirked, hopping off of the car onto the ground. “Is that all?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.” Steve rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. 

“Alright. Let’s do it.” Billy said slapping Steve’s chest and running towards Steve’s car. 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t touch my baby!” He screamed chasing after Billy. 

_______________________________________________

A black Ford Capri pulled into the parking lot of Bradley’s Big Buy. The driver, Bryan Henderson, leaned forward to turn off the engine. 

He got out of the car, and went to the payphone, making sure he kept Eleven in his sight. 

“Hello. Agent Alastair please.” He waited a second to be connected. “Hello Sir. I have the girl. Where do you want me to bring her?”

“Bring her to the county fair. Someone sent me a message this morning and wants to meet me there so I guess that’s where I’m going. Meet me in the fun house.” The line went dead. 

Bryan sighed, then hung the phone up. As he walked back to the car, he saw Eleven try to put her head up from it’s resting position but she was too weak. It was the perfect plan. Poison the girl with mind powers, wait until she is too weak to fight, but not dead, then take her to the special unit. 

He went inside the building to buy a few snacks for the road. Once he was out of view, Eleven forced herself to sit up. With a grimace, she managed to open the door. But her feet were like jelly at this point. Actually they felt more like tree roots. Long, bendy sticks that were impossible to stand on. She dropped to the pavement, her eyes squeezing shut. 

If she could just get to the payphone, maybe she could call Hopper, or Mike. She could ask them for help. Or maybe she should call that number Hopper told her to call for emergencies. 

“Nine. One. One.” She whispered. But she didn’t have the strength to pull herself. She thought about what Kali had told her a while ago, when she tried to move the crate. Focus on the anger, not the weight of the crate, or in this case, the pain. But she couldn’t do it. The second she tried to use her powers her head exploded with pain and her nose started gashing blood worse than normal. 

“Ah what the hell.” That was Dustin’s Dad. He quickly lifted Eleven back into the car, a piece of her hospital gown tore against the door handle. “Jesus kid.” He muttered, handing her a handkerchief for her nose. Blood smeared onto his hands, and he grimaced. 

“You have to stop thinking. Just stop using your brain, okay. Shut it down.”

“How?” She chocked out, feeling like this could be the last thing she saw on this earth when all she wanted was to be home again. To see Mike, and Hopper. 

The more she envisioned Mike’s face, the faster her blood started to slow. 

“That’s it. Whatever your doing, it’s working.”

“Home,” she whimpered. “I want to go home.” 

Bryan lowered his head, a perpetual frown on his face. At least the girl had stopped bleeding. He gently rested her against the cool leather seats of the car. 

“I’m sorry.” He whispered, so softly he wasn’t even sure if he wanted her to hear it. As Bryan sat back in the drivers seat, he stared for a long time at the door to the connivence store. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lafayette Indiana, 1984. 

Bryan walked out of the convince store with a tape recorder. He smiled at a woman standing two feet away from him. “Here.” He tossed her the recorder. “Now if you don’t mind. I’d like to leave.”

“What did you mean, when you said this was your last gig.”

“It means I’m done.” Bryan deadpanned. 

The older woman laughed. “Boss is not going to like that.” 

“He doesn’t have to know.” 

“He knows everything.” She said, shaking her head. 

Throwing his head back, Bryan sighed. “Look, Annie, as much as I enjoy beating people up, I’ve got bigger plans for my life.” He pointed towards the money in Annie’s hands. “And this is going to help me get started.”

She handed it to him with a final warning. “Be careful Bryan.” She disappeared into the darkness and Bryan went to his car. The moon casted a reflection on the window, and Bryan saw two men standing behind him. He turned, eyes going wide. 

“What do you guys want?” 

The agent on the right whipped out a taser, shocking Bryan with high voltages of electricity. 

When he awoke, a bright white light was shining in his face. He sat up to avoid the painful glare, and noticed bars surrounding him. He was sitting in some type of cage. 

A tall man, with a sharp jaw, in a full suit stood a few feet away from the cage, with piercing eyes. “That was an impressive stunt you pulled back there. It would be a shame for the unit to lose you.” 

Bryan shook his head, “Wow. It’s so nice to have fans.” He quipped. 

The man’s lips twitched upwards. “Tell me Bryan, have you been in contact with this girl?” He pulled out a picture of a young girl in a hospital gown and a shaved head. Bryan shook his head. 

“We’ve been looking for her,” the suit said. “She escaped from the Hawkins National  Laboratory last year and hasn’t been seen since November 10th 1983.”

“Oooh, sounds like another experiment went Rouge. You know, you should really keep a tighter cap on your ‘secret’ business. With the amount of mistakes you guys have made, this whole world is about to know what your up to. I don’t think they will be happy to know half of their tax dollars were spent of tormenting kids.”

“What about the other experiments.” The man barked. Bryan clearly hit a sensitive spot. “Have you been in contact with any of the other experiments?”

“I make it a rule not to fraternize with freaks. So what are you? FBI? NSA?”

“Let’s just say, I’ve been sent to wipe out all evidence that the Hawkins Laboratory ever existed. It’s too bad you wanted to leave the unit, Bryan, because I could’ve been your new boss.” 

“You are taking over the special unit?”

“That’s right.” He turned to his two suits standing beside him, “Make sure you dispose of the body completely. We don’t need any more...mistakes.” 

“Wait!” Bryan screamed, “Killing me won’t solve any of your problems.” 

“You know too much, Bryan. I need to get rid of any links to the Laboratory and you worked for Brenner.”

“When I was younger! That was forever ago, and I just needed some cash. I barely knew anything about what he was doing. My only job was to guard the outdoor gates, make sure no civilian came through.”

“Like I said, I need to kill every single link.” He turned to walk away, snapping his fingers at the suits. They raised two automatic riffles towards Bryan. 

“You gotta find the other links first! I can help.” Bryan shouted. 

The man raised his hand, silently ordering his goons to stand down. 

“Is that so?” 

“Who better to hunt Hawkins lab experiments, than a guy who worked at the Hawkins lab?” 

“You expect me to believe you would turn on a bunch of kids? We’re talking about everyone that was involved. Moms, teens, and even children. Quite frankly, I don’t think you have it in you.”

“Try me.” 

The man smirked, walking towards the cage and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a key then placed it in the slot. As the cage opened, Bryan stepped out, but the other two suits still had their guns on him. He raised his hands above is head, showing his compliance. 

“Here’s what were gonna do,” the leader said, reaching out for Bryan’s wrist. He secured a watch to him. “This is a little something to ensure you won’t run off on me as you were undoubtedly planning to do.” 

Bryan shrugged. The man was right. He was also smart. “Who are you?” 

“My name is Greg Alastair, like I said, I was sent here to erase all evidence of the experiments existing. Just know one thing: I am in charge. You will follow my orders. And that little watch on your wrist is going to ensure you do as I say. If you don’t, all I have to do is press this button and boom. There’s a tiny explosive inside. It won’t cause too much damage, but it will do the trick considering it’s lodged against your arm. If that thing goes off, you lose a limb, and it’s a tracking device so I can see where you are at all times. Are you following so far?”

Bryan glared daggers at Alastair. 

“I expect a yes sir from all of my employees. Now let’s try this again. Are you following?”

“Yes sir.” 

“Excellent. I want you to hunt down three experiments and kill them. Bring back their numbers.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

Alastair pulled out a switchblade from his pocket, and tossed it to Bryan. “The experiments all have numbers tattooed to their wrists. After you kill them, you are to cut off the skin with the numbers and bring it back to me. Understand?”

“Yes sir.” 

“Here’s the thing. You can’t just - kill - these mutated freaks. They can do things with their minds, things that could kill you quicker. So you need to be cautious. I have a way.” 

Alastair reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a bottle of black goo. “This is a poison. It’s venom from the monster itself. We managed to collect it from the spit the monster left behind on the dead bodies.” 

Bryan officially checked these suits off as mentally inside, but he took the bottle anyway. 

“This will weaken the experiments. It will make it impossible for them to use their powers. That is when you will kill them.” 

Bryan nodded, grasping the bottle in his hands. 

“Oh and one last thing. If you find this girl, number 11. Do not kill her. I want you to poison her with this,” he pointed to the black venom, “and then I want you to bring her to me when she is weak.” 

“Why?” 

“I want to know how her mind works.” 

Bryan’s eyes widened. “Are you going to torture her?”

“I’m going to experiment on her. It will be nothing new, I’m sure she’s used to it. But yeah, I’m going to cut into her brain at some point, so it will probably hurt.” 

Bryan’s face turned white. 

“I told you, I don’t think you have the balls, agent Henderson. If you don’t think you can do it, my men here can end your misery.” 

“No. I can do it.” 

“Good luck.” 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

His dazed eyes came back into focus. He glanced from the store towards Eleven and sighed. 

“Come on. I’ll buy you some cotton candy when we get to the fair.” She deserved one last treat before he sent her back to captivity. 

The girl physically shivered next to him. “Cotton candy?” She asked weakly. 

Bryan tried to pretend it didn’t hurt. He tried to reason with himself that he was doing the right thing. But looking into this girl’s eyes, there was no denying it: Bryan was a monster. 

Chapter Text

Billy returned from the police station with a vanilla folder full of papers. 

“How did you get that so easily?” Nancy was flabbergasted, leaning out of the car’s window. Steve was still at the steering wheel ready to spin out of there in case the police started chasing them. 

“Get in,” Steve said, and Billy listened, hoping in the back. 

“So this is a lot of Bullshit about whoever Jane is, but the most important thing is it says there was a shooting at a gas station.”

“Oh my God.” Nancy’s heart leaped out of her chest. 

“No one was hurt.” Billy quickly clarified. “But he bullets left a message. They said meet me at the fair.”

“The fair? That’s weird.” Steve said. 

“Wait. Did you say the bullets made a message?” 

“Yeah. Dustin’s Dad is apparently a sharp shooter, who would have thought.” Billy snickered. 

“I don’t think Dustin’s Dad did that.” Nancy mumbled. “Pull over. I want to make a phone call.” 

Steve looked at Nancy like she grew three heads. “Are you serious right now? Nance, the cops are going to find that file missing any second. We need to be as far away from here as possible.”

“Just pull into the High School parking lot, I need to use the payphone.”

“Why?”

“STEVE JUST DO IT.” 

“FINE.” He tore down the street, swiveling into the parking lot. Nancy got out, walked to the phone, and shoved a few quarters into the slot. She looked at the sleeve of her jacket, at the spot where Nina wrote her phone number to the new hideout. 

“Nancy? Is that you?” The girl on the other end of the phone asked. She sounded scared. 

“Yeah it’s me, listen. Is Bullet with you?”

“Oh my God. How did you know he was missing?” Nina cried. 

“Because Jonathan is missing too.” Nancy said quietly. “And um, there was a message left in bullets.”

“Like...actual bullet bullets?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Dammit!” Nina screeched. “Damn him to hell. Nancy, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think Bullet took your boyfriend.”

“It’s okay, Nina. I was thinking that too. Glad we’re on the same page. But my question is why would he do this?”

Nina groaned, “he’s trying to draw out Alastair so he can kill him and get Bri back. He’s using Jonathan as bait. I’m so sorry. Where are you? I’ll help you find him with my powers.”

“It’s okay. We just found out he’s heading to the fair. I’ll have Steve swing by and pick you up. Where are you?”

“Can I trust you?” Nina asked. 

“Yes, of course you can.”

“Please don’t tell anyone where we are. I don’t want the kids to be in danger. Make sure you are not being followed. In case this phone is being monitored, I’m going to give you a code.”

“Um..okay.”

“The Loch Ness Monster is one of the greatest mysteries of all time. In the loch in Scotland, or in this case Hawkins, people believe it's home to a mysterious creature known as Nessie. Some people say it could have been just a log, but most people believe it's a creature that lives in the loch. Another question is what could Nessie be? Some people say she is an animal that has gone extinct, such as the Plesiosaur. Others say she could be a real live Sea Serpent. All we know is that it would be dangerous to see the Loch Ness monster. Especially if you jumped on it’s back.”

“Okay, I know where you are.” Nancy smiled. “I’ll make sure we are not followed. See ya in a few minutes.” 

_______________________________________________

Hopper was speeding down the side roads, trying to get to this county fair held at Gilbert’s farm. All of the kids were sitting in the back, nervously hovering over Hopper’s shoulder. 

“If you don’t sit your asses down, I swear your going to make me crash.”

Mike plopped down, throwing his hands in his hair. “It just doesn’t make any sense. Why would Dustin’s Dad leave a message with bullets?”

Shrugging, Lucas was digging around in his backpack. He found the purple bandana he was looking for and began to tie it around his forehead.

“I don’t know.” He said, “Maybe he wanted to prove he was a vicious killer hunter that knows how to handle a gun?” Lucas felt four pairs of eyes boring into him like lasers. He shrugged it off. 

“It was clearly a message for someone else, not us,” Mike closed his eyes in frustration. “But I thought the hunter wanted to kill us. Why would he be taking El to a fair?”

“It’s like you said,” Max interjected, “He’s meeting someone there. Maybe he’s going to exchange El to that person.”

Dustin slammed his hand down on the back of Hopper’s seat. 

“Watch It!” Hopper yelled, glancing in the rear-view mirror at the kids. When he looked back at the road, he saw a black car stopped at a gas station, presumably the gas station with the bullet holes. 

“I’ve had it up to here with all of you!” Dustin shouted. “What motive would my father have for taking Eleven back to the bad men.” 

“Money.” Mike countered.

“Black mail.” Lucas added. 

“Revenge.” Max murmured. 

“What means did he have?” Dustin asked, crossing his arms. 

“You mean what ability did he have to kidnap Eleven?” Max rubbed her chin sarcastically. “Well, let’s think, shall we? Considering he was your Dad, he had had multiple interactions with us, multiple opportunities with us alone, so yeah, I’d say he had plenty of chances to poison and kidnap us.”

“Screw all of you. My Dad is not evil. I’m not Luke Skywalker, okay? My father is not Darth Vader.”

“Dude that’s exactly what he is.” Mike muttered. 

Hopper whipped around in his seat, “Shut up.” He yelled. Dustin was so busy shouting he didn’t realize Hopper had pulled into the gas station. “Stay here.” He ordered, as he threw on his chief hat and went to talk to a few men in suits leaving the kids back in the car. 

“What’s going on here?” Hopper asked. 

“Back away. This is a case involving national security.”

“National security? Wow, must be really important there. Why don’t you let me take a look.”

Hopper was shoved back by a tall man with piercing gray eyes. “Get back in your car and drive away.”

“Hey this is my county! I deserve to know what’s going on.” Hopper yelled. 

_______________________________________________

Steve drove to Loch Nora, a lake just off of Cherry Road, a few fields behind the high school, where Nina was hiding. All the rich people live up there, but there is also a dangerous lake that has rocks in it. Some kids try to jump in from a high level and they usual end up with broken bones. 

When Nina got into the car, she gave Nancy a hug. “Girl you’re smart. When I was saying all that stuff about the Loch Ness monster I was thinking there’s no way she’s going to know what I’m talking about. But here you are.”

Nina turned to Billy and extended her hand, “I don’t believe we have met.”

Billy shook her hand, flashing her a devilish grin. “My name’s Billy, and might I say, you look stunning.”

The girl blushed and Nancy had to keep herself from gagging. 

“He flirts with everything that moves.” Nancy whispered in her ear and Nina giggled. 

“Are you telling dirty secrets about me over there, Wheeler?” Billy winked. 

Steve rolled his eyes, feeling the sudden need to drive the car off of a cliff. Resisting that urge, Steve headed down Mulberry road passing the General Store where Joyce worked. As he went further down he saw police sirens surrounding the gas station. 

“Is that Hopper?” Steve wondered aloud. 

“It is! I see his patrol car.” Nancy stated. 

Nina spotted the black van and then the man in the suit. Her hands clasped Nancy’s wrist tightly. 

“Keeping divining!” She order, her voice panic stricken. 

“What why? Mike is in that car.” Nancy was alarmed at Nina’s reaction. 

“That man Hopper is talking to, he’s a part of the special unit. Hurry up, drive past them.” 

“How do you know? Billy asked. 

“I’ve been running away from the unit for years now. I know what they look like.” 

As Steve’s car passed the station, Nina couldn’t help but look back at the black van with fearful eyes. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hawkins Laboratory: 1980

Nina was in a hospital gown, standing inside a small darkly lit room that had two dull light bulbs and a mirror where she could see a group of scientists shuffling about, doing their own tests. Then there was a tall man standing in front of her, outside of the mirror along with her ‘papa,’ also known as Dr. Brenner. 

“State your number, and your assignment.”

“My name is Nina!” She screamed, kicking at the mirror. Whatever it was made out of, Nina couldn’t shatter it. 

“See,” Brenner said to the man, “This is what I’m talking about. Ever since she learned how to communicate with the others, she has been refusing orders and calling herself...Nina.”

“I hate to break it to you, Sir, but I think you made a mistake teaching her how to communicate with others through her mind. We don’t need to communicate with the Russians. We need to spy on them. We need someone that will listen. Besides, learning how to communicate obviously taints the experiments mind. They turn disobedient and insolent.”

“What do you suggest I do? She’s one of my best! She’s the only one that can use her mind to listen and speak at all. The others, they are struggling to make objects move. But Nina was twirling things into the air before she was in the double digits.”

“Well. I would focus on the others. Once a subject learns to think on it’s own, it’s dangerous. The mind is a dangerous thing,  but intelligence is absolutely terrifying. Why do you think the south never taught slaves how to read? Education is the key to freedom, and this girl is too educated.”

“Should I send her to the lab of misfits?” Brenner asked. 

“You can always try...discipline.” He said, as he pressed a button. 

Suddenly the walls in the room started to push in closed to where Nina was standing. She growled at the tight compactment. 

“I hope you’re not claustrophobic, Nine.” 

“My name is Nina.” She barked. A drop of sweat rolled down her forehead, and she was wincing at the uncomfortable position. 

“How long can a child last in there?” 

“Without food and water? About three days.”

“I’ll see you in three days, miss Nine.” The man in the suit pressed a button which closed a wall over the mirror. The dull lightbulbs faded leaving Nina in complete and total darkness, in a room that was entirely too small. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Nina? Are you okay?” 

The girl jumped, looking at Nancy with startled eyes. “Oh. Yes. I’m fine.” She was breathing heavily. 

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Billy said. 

“I just really hope we find Bullet before Alastair does. Poor guy doesn’t understand how smart and cruel Alastair is. If he think’s he is trapping him, he’s got another thing coming. I bet Alastair is already planning something.”

Steve pulled into the fair parking lot. “Well. We’re here.” 

_______________________________________________

Faint music could be heard from beyond the tall gates with the occasional happy scream suddenly piercing the air. Closer to the entrance and the massive structures of the rides could be seen: a rollercoaster, a big Farris wheel, and a marry-go-round. 

Below, younger children stood watching, eating their sweets and snacks. Ice creams wobbled perilously over the cones and dripped down their small fingers. 

Jonathan stood next to Bullet at the Cotton Candy stand. He would have ran, but Bullet had a gun on him. It was inside his jacket pocket. No one else could see, but Jonathan could feel  it pressed against his side. 

“Any minute now, Alastair will show up, and I can finally end all the running. I can finally get my family back.”

Jonathan turned down the offer of cotton candy. He dug his shoe in the grass trying to think of a way out of this situation.

“How are you going to do it?” Jonathan whispered. “Are you just going to shoot him out in the open? You know you’ll go to jail.”

“I don’t care.” Bullet whispered. “I just want this to be over.” 

“Look. You don’t need me. Why don’t you just let me go home, and you can kill this guy on your own.” 

“I told you, I need you for insurance. You will increase my chances of survival.”

“Or he’ll just kill us both!” Jonathan yelled, practically going ballistic. This was the worst plan he’s ever heard of. They were walking through the crowd of people, searching for any sign of Alastair when Jonathan got an idea. 

“Why don’t we sit down and play a game.”

“This is hardly the time.”

“Come on. I want to see what a sharp shooter you are, since I missed the whole shooting at a gas-station thing.”

Bullet scoffed. “You want to see me play a shooting game?”

“Yup. I’ll even bet you money that you can’t hit all of the targets.”

“Prepare to lose.” Bullet said, sitting down. Once he was preoccupied, Joanthan made a run for it. Unfortunately, Bullet caught on pretty quickly. He leaped up from the table and chased after Jonathan through the crowd of people causing many shrills and curses.

Jonathan had no idea what he was doing or where he was going, but he knew, with Bullet on his tail he would be caught instantly if he tried to make an exit, so instead he ran for the fun house. He could lose him in the dark of the fun house. 

As he ran by, he noticed a vaguely familiar outline of a girl that looked like...Nancy? 

Nancy’s eyes popped out of her sockets. “Look. There’s Jonathan.” She called to her friends. 

“And there’s Bullet.” Nina took a step forward, but someone grabbed her arm. She turned to see Chief Jim Hopper standing over her. 

The group of kids were behind the Chief watching as this random guy chased after Jonathan. 

“Who the hell is that?” Max yelled. 

“Is Jonathan in trouble too?” 

Nina nodded, “My friend, Bullet. He wants to kill Alastair so he took Jonathan as collateral.”

“Who the hell is Alastair?” Dustin asked. 

“The bad man.” Steve explained. “Apparently he’s like Brenner or something.”

“Or something is right,” Nina said, “He’s worse than Brenner.”

Mike had an epiphany. His eyes grew three times in size as he stood in front of everyone and tried to explain himself.  “Wait,  If Dustin’s Dad is the hunter then that means he works for Alastair. If Alastair is inside the fun house...Eleven must be inside too.” 

Meanwhile, Jonathan was running through these tunnels with the wacky, misshaped mirrors, when he saw three men in suits and a familiar face. 

“Eleven?” Joanthan called. The girl was being held by Bryan Henderson. “Let her go!” Jonathan shouted. 

Behind him were footsteps. Jonathan turned to see Bullet barreling towards him. The brunette came to a halt when he saw Alastair. 

He raised his gun at the guy in the suit in the middle, who Jonathan pegged to be Alastair, “Finally. I was waiting for you to show up.” 

“Funny.” Said the guy, Jonathan assumes it’s Alastair. He looks like an evil genius. “We were waiting for you.” 

Back outside, Hopper was holding Mike back, ordering him to wait. 

“Stay here. All of you. I’ll handle this.” He pulled out a gun, then loaded it. Trotting quickly to the fun house, Hopper disappeared inside. 

Steve gave Dustin and Max a giant hug. “I’m so glad you guys are okay.” 

Billy grabbed his step-sister’s neck collar and squeezed. She spun around, but winced the second she saw the bruises on his face. 

“Did Neil? Shit, that’s right, you were supposed to pick me up. I’m so freaking sorry.”

Before Billy could respond, the group of kids heard a gunshot ring out from inside the fun house. 

“Eleven.” Mike yelled. He started running for the entrance, and Nancy followed. 

“Mike. Stop! It’s not safe.” 

Dustin and Lucas agreed, screaming for him to come back. Max piped in with ‘you’re being an idiot.’ 

But he went inside anyway, and Nancy was about to follow but Steve grabbed her around the waist and picked her up. 

“Stop it,” Nancy screeched, kicking her legs out. “Put me down, Steve.”

“I’m not letting you go in there. Not when there is an active shooting.” Steve put Nancy down, but grabbed her shoulders, leveling himself to her. “Grab the kids, we need to get to the car.”

“No. No way. I’m not leaving without my brother and Jonathan! I’m not.” 

“Nancy -“

“I’m not!” Her eyes were blazing, like looking into a pit of fire. 

Immediately after the gunfire, Hopper had ducked behind one of the bench seats. He heard his daughter scream, so he continued running through the house, feeling the floorboards shake as he tried to walk down the narrow stairs. When he reached the array of Mirrors he saw the boy that was chasing Jonathan laying in a puddle of blood, but his eyes were still open. Hopper rushed to his side. This must be Bullet. 

“DAD!” He turned towards Eleven to see her being handed to Alastair. 

Hopper shot at the man, but the mirror in front of him shattered. It was only a reflection. He turned around to see the real Alastair and Eleven. 

Hopper took very careful aim for the guy’s head, so he wouldn’t hit Eleven, and he fired. The man, Alastair, instantly ducks, releasing his hold on Eleven.

At this point Jonathan is hiding behind a creepy clown doll and Bryan is on the floor covering his head. 

Alastair and his two men start firing at Hopper, so the chief of police jumps back behind the bench using it as a shield. 

“RUN EL.” He screamed to his daughter. “Go out the exit door.”

But Eleven was too weak to walk, and too afraid of the gun shots. In the middle of open fire, Mike comes from behind El, out of nowhere, and grabs his girl’s hand. 

He takes her behind the clown doll where Jonathan is. 

“Guys, there is an exit over there.” Jonathan pointed to the spot that was a few feet behind them. The only problem was a guy in a suit was guarding it. 

“Follow my lead.” Jonathan called. 

The kids waited for Jonathan to move. He was watching the gunfire to ensure they wouldn’t be shot, once they had an opportunity, Jonathan ran down the narrow hallway and towards the door. He grabbed his lighter from his pocket and threw it in a different direction. The goon guarding the door, took off to follow the sound. 

“Now!” Jonathan whisper yelled, waving his hand in a quick motion. Lifting Eleven into his arms, Mike ran towards Jonathan. The door opened and Jonathan made it out, but as soon as he did, the goon returned, snatching Mike’s shirt collar. 

“Not so fast,” the guy said. 

Eleven shrieked in fear, and Jonathan was running back in, he opened the exit door and saw Mike being held by this ginormous thug. 

Thinking fast, Mike did the only thing he could think of, he shoved Eleven into Jonathan’s arms. 

“RUN!” He screamed. 

“MIKE!” Eleven cried. 

“They are over here!” The goon screamed. “Hurry. Help me get all of them.”

Mike kicked the guy as much as he could, making sure he wasn’t able to grab Eleven and Jonathan. 

“Guys RUN!!!” Mike panted and groaned kicking his feet like his was running a marathon. 

“Get your hands off of him.” Eleven screamed kicking her legs in Jonathan’s hold too. “Mike! Mike!”

Jonathan wasn’t moving. He didn’t know what to do. Mike was Nancy’s little brother. Will’s best friend. He was a good kid, but if Jonathan tried to save him, there is a good chance the bad men might get El too. He gave Mike a longing look. 

“Please. You have to run!” Mike begged him with his eyes it was enough to convince Jonathan of what he needed to do. 

“No. We’re not leaving you.” Eleven screamed. 

But Jonathan had whispered the words, “I’m so sorry.” He saw Alastair coming towards the exit so he slammed the door shut and connected the lock that was hanging around the outside door. He just locked Mike inside. 

“What are you doing!” Eleven yelled. “We have to save him.”

Jonathan continued to drag her away from the fun house, he needed to get her to safety. 

“Mike! I’ll come back! I’ll come back for you. I promise I will find you.” She cried as she was taken towards the center of the park, and protected by a sea of people. 

Upon noticing the exit door had opened, Hopper stopped firing his gun, and started running out the way he came in. When he exited he saw the rest of the kids standing by the door where he left them, hugging each other. 

“What happened? Where are they?” Steve asked. 

“They got away. They must be lost in the crowd.”

Nancy spotted Jonathan’s hair a few feet behind her. “I see them!” She screamed, running towards him. The whole group followed. 

Nancy threw herself into Jonathan’s arms and held him tightly. “Oh my God.” She whispered. 

“El.” Max called, reaching out for her hand. The girl had tears streaming down her face, and the rest of the party waited anxiously to hear what she had to say. 

“El what’s wrong?” Dustin whispered. 

Eleven sniffled, her face crumbling. “They got Mike.” She said, her body trembling. “They got..” her voice broke off as she started to break down crying. Hopper instantly pulled her in for a tight hug, but his mouth was agape. Nancy turned towards Hopper with terror stricken eyes. 

They got Mike. 

 

Chapter Text

Mike woke up in a completely white room. White tile floors, white tile walls, white tile ceiling. Everything blended together, making it difficult to tell what was the floor and what was the ceiling. Mike sat against the corner of the room, with his back pressed against the wall, although sometimes he wondered if his back is against the floor. 

He looked down at his bare feet to see grey hospital pants on, and a short sleeved hospital shirt. 

“Good morning, Mike.” It was a voice over top of some loud speaker, like how the principal at Hawkins middle school would talk over the loud speaker sometimes.

“Where am I?” Mike asked, assuming the voice could hear him too. 

“Someplace no one will be able to find you.”

Mike whimpered at that. No. Eleven promised she would find him. He knew she would be out there looking for him. She would save him. She always has before. 

“Why am I here?” He asked, willing his voice to stop shaking. 

“Because you know something I want to know.”

“No. I don’t.”

“You’re going to tell me everything.”

Mike’s lower lip wobbled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m Mike Wheeler. I live on Maple Street. You can call my parents. They’ll tell you that I am who I say I am.”

The voice was not impressed. “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” It said, and Mike sucked in a gulp of air. “What did Will Byers see when he was missing?” 

Mike thought about it. Why do they want to know. Is it bad if he says anything? He doesn’t want to incriminate Will. Maybe if he just stayed quiet they would stop asking. No such luck. When he was asked for the third time, Mike lowered his head and muttered, “Nothing.”

“Okay. Hard way.” It was like an ice cube was slipped down Mike’s back. Everything felt eerie and creepy and down right scary. 

The suddenly, a noise blared out and a bunch of people entered the room somehow.  Mike couldn’t even see where the door was when it was closed, but he could make out a vague opening in the far right. Men barreled through the room towards the child. 

Mike pressed himself further against the wall, trying to get as small as possible, but the men grabbed him and threw him on a table. 

“Stop!” Mike cried as he felt them strap his hand down to the table. There was a sharp pinch in his right arm, and he realized they just injected him with something. 

“If you won’t tell us what Will saw and how he felt,” the voice over the speaker said, “Then we’ll just have to test it for ourselves. With you.” 

“What did you just do to me?” Mike shrieked. 

“It’s a little dose of venom. We just injected it into your blood stream.”

Mike’s mind flashed to the baby demogorgon Dustin found. His stomach felt ill at the thought of that disgusting creature in his blood. 

“Your an asshole!” Mike shouted, “Why would you do that!” 

“I told you, Kid. We need answers.” 

_______________________________________________

Hopper burst back inside the fun house, searching around for Mike. The kids came with him. 

“Mike! Are you still here?” 

When they came across a bloody body, Nina ran forward. 

“Oh my God. Bullet!” She shouted. She crouched down next to him, and put her hand over his bleeding shoulder. 

“Nina. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She shushed. “It’s okay.”

Blood started dripping from Nina’s nose, but Bullet’s blood started to go back into his wound. It took everyone a second to realize, but Nina was using her mind powers. 

“You’re...healing him.” Dustin was in awe. “Oh my God. You’re like a shaman.”

“A What?” Steve asked. 

“A shaman. You know, they are the bridge that connects the material world and the ethereal world. They can cast spells or use the very spirits to help them heal people.”

“But that’s D&D, right?”

“Yup.”

“So what is she actually doing?” 

“Brenner called it Psychic Energy Medicine.” Nina explained, as she helped Bullet sit up. “I realized that I could heal people with my mind and my hands. I also learned to telepathically communicate with animals, people, or even inanimate objects.”

“That’s incredible.” Dustin said. 

“Come on. Help me carry him to the car.” Nina slung Bullet’s non-wounded arm over her shoulder. 

Hopper walked towards her and help lifted the boy. 

“This kid caused us a lot of trouble.” Hopper shook his head at the injured boy. “He kidnapped Jonathan.” 

“He thought he was helping his family.” Jonathan said, stepping to his defense. 

Hopper looked at Dustin. “Your Dad caused us a lot of problems too. Mike was right. Your Dad was here, Dustin. I saw him.”

“Yes.” Eleven whispered weakly. “He was going to trade me to Alastair in exchange for your life being spared. I don’t know what that means. But that is what he said.”

Dustin stood awestruck. “He..he was going to try and save me.”

“Yeah by handing Eleven to some psycho with a murdering problem.” Jonathan added, but Nancy swatted his arm. 

“Sorry. I’m sure Mike’s fine.” The brunette whispered, but Nancy was breathing heavily, on the verge of breaking down.

“Where is my father now?” Dustin asked to which Hopper shrugged lightly. “He’s not here. I have no idea where he went, or where they took Mike.”

“We need to get him to a bed.” Nina said, pointing to Bullet. “He’s not a bad guy. He just made a mistake. Please, help me save him. I can only heal so much with my mind. He will need stitches and a clean bandage.”

Hopper agreed to take him somewhere safe. 

_______________________________________________

The group of friends sat around the worn-out sofa in Joyce Byer’s living room. Located in the heavily wooded area on the outskirts of town, the Byers house was the perfect place to be for privacy and safety. 

Hopper knew he needed to catch Joyce up on all the insanity that spiraled out of control not even an hour ago. It was broad daylight as the group sat around the living room, but the way they were feeling it might as well have been pitch black. No one was in the mood for a fun sunny day. 

Joyce, Jonathan, and Will were sitting on the couch. Joyce had her arms around her eldest boy, who was shivering as if he were dunked in an ice cold bath. 

“I should have never left him there.” He said, face crumbling. Joyce cupped his face with her hands. 

“No sweetie. Don’t do that to yourself. You had to get out of there. You saved Eleven.”

Steve was leaning against the wall breathing through his mouth. “We should have never split up in the first place.” He exploded, “As soon as you were at the hospital you should have called us.” He threw his hands in his long fluffy hair.  “I never should have let him go in there.”

“Alright. Settle down.” Hopper ordered. “We can play the What if game all day, or we can figure out a way to help Mike.” 

“What if he’s already dead?” Max whispered, shakily pushing back the red strands of hair that fell in her face. 

“No Max, you can’t even talk like that,” Nancy said firmly, “cause you know...Mike is too smart to let something like that happen.” 

Nina nodded her head, “Alastair won’t kill him right away. He wants answers.”

“How the hell do you know?” Steve shouted towards her. 

“I’m sorry. Who is she again?” Lucas asked from his spot on the floor. Eleven was leaning against his shoulder, sleeping. Dustin was sitting on his other side, and Max was sitting next to Dustin. Billy was looming around somewhere by the door as if he was planning to exit any time. 

“This is Nina.” Nancy whispered. “She’s another girl that was experimented on like Eleven.”

“I’m technically number nine.” The girl said. 

“Wait.” Said Joyce, “So, you know about Alastair and this special unit.”

“Only a little bit. He was there when I was in the Hawkins Laboratory. I heard him discussing some of his plans because I listened to him with my mind. But that was before this whole other dimension monster was an issue. Once they found out about the ‘Upside Down’ he has been wanting answers. He’s always been a person to want to understand why something happened so I bet he will be grilling Mike on why the gate opened. He’ll want to know everything that happened in the past two years. Everything that Mike has seen.”

“He wants to know about the way it communicates, doesn’t he?” Joyce asked. “Like through the lights.”

Nina nodded. 

“And the way it’s attracted to blood,” Nancy whispered. 

“And the gate,” Eleven whimpered. 

“Even the demodogs?” Steve asked. 

“He’ll definitely want to know how many it’s killed, and how it kills.”

“Bob,” Joyce shivered, tears pricking in the corner of her eyes. 

“He’ll want to know about dart,” Dustin added. 

“And how Will was the mind flayer’s bitch,” Lucas said before Max smacked him in the back of the head. Joyce Byers sent him a glare and Lucas felt his face heat, as he averted his eyes. 

“They’ll want to know EVERYTHING.” Nina emphasized. “And they won’t stop asking him, until he tells them. So if your brother really is as smart as you say he is, Then he will keep his mouth shut. Because once they know everything..well...there’s no reason to keep him alive.” 

“No!” Lucas screamed, “We won’t let that happen. We’re going to save Mike. He won’t talk. I know he won’t. He could have ratted me out for spilling chocolate milk all over my mother’s bedroom floor, but he didn’t. Instead, he took the blame. And when my mom called his mom, he still never squealed on me. He got one hell of an ass-beating, but he never told on me. Mike’s a good friend, and a smart person. He’d do anything for anybody. And if the situation was reversed and I was trapped, he would find a way to save me.  So no matter what the risks are, i’m willing to take them. I’m going to save Mike. Even if I have to risk my own life. Friends save friends.”

“Yes.” Eleven agreed. “Friends save friends.”

Billy scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t know what the hell you losers are talking about. I have no idea what a demogorgon is, or whatever shit you just said, but the fact that this girl just healed someone with her mind...is mental. How are you all not freaking out over this! She’s like a..like a...witch!”

Nina smiled sheepishly. “Not a witch. Just someone who learned to use the full capacity of her mind.”

“Are you calling me stupid.” Billy asked, walking up behind her. She turned her head slightly, her ponytail waving in the air. 

“No. I’m simply saying everyone has the power and the ability to connect with the life energy that brings healing. But you have to be challenged to find it. It’s mentally exhausting.”

“I’ll bet.” Hopper mumbled. “I know from just watching El, how exhausting it can be to use telekinesis.”

Nina nodded. Steve threw his hands out in the air, gaining everyone’s attention. 

“We have to find Mike people!” 

“Hold on a second,” Hopper said, “What makes you think we can go up against these special agents and win. This is a very dangerous game, and these people are not playing around.”

“What the hell choice do we have?” Nancy asked vehemently, “Should we just let him die?” 

“No, of course not,” Hopper shook his head. “But we need a plan.”

“I second that.” Jonathan agreed. “That was the whole problem with Bullet. He rushed in, his emotions running high and look what happened. He got shot. If we run in there, assuming we find out where there is, then we can’t be emotional. We have to be strategic. We have to know what to do, or else we’ll screw up and get killed.”

“Exactly. Now I am the law, I have resources.” Hopper explained. 

“And I have resources too.” Nina said, “My abilities will help us find him.” 

She turned towards Eleven, “What about you? How are your powers?”

Eleven looked at her with dark circles under her eyes, “Weak.” She croaked.

“That’s right.” Will whispered, “She’s been poisoned, remember? There’s no way she can find Mike.”

“I can.” Nina said. Then she bit her lip. “Well, maybe I can’t find him, but I can talk to him. If Mike knows where he is, then we will too.”

“And if he doesn’t?” Lucas asked. 

“One step at a time.” 

 

Chapter Text

Mike was laying flat on the table. He tried to move his arms, but found that they were held flush to his sides by leather cuffs attached to a belt around his waist. His hands were taped into fists, preventing him from moving his fingers. Testing his legs revealed his ankles were tied together in a similar fashion. He started squirming around, trying to free himself when two men in lab jumpsuits walked in. They had the helmets over their heads, just like they did when they were walking into the Upside Down. It was as if they expected Mike to be infected with the toxins that were in the Upside Down. 

A man lifted Mike’s table, propping him upright so he could stare at a screen that Alastair brought in. 

It was the first time Mike has every really seen the man close up, but he was what the others described him as: tall, slicked back hair, and grey eyes. 

“I want you to look at this photo.” Alastair said, the projector flashed an image of Mike with Eleven in the school the night El sacrificed herself to save him. The night she destroyed the demogorgon. 

“This was taken from your school’s security cameras. I got the footage the very next day. We erased any sign of it from the school, but I’ve been watching this closely in my office. Tell me, Michael, what is she doing to it.”

Mike’s stomach churned, his heart hammering in his chest. This was his worst nightmare come to life, watching Eleven disappear all over again. It was bad enough the first time when he sat on the floor of his school with his hands over his ears crying his heart out. Watching it again made him physically sick knowing that she would be gone from him for 353 days. 

“What is she doing to it?”

“I don’t know.” Mike whispered. 

Alastair nodded. “I know there are others like her. Other experiments from Dr. Brenner’s Lab that can do remarkable things. Can they do what she is doing in this photo?”

Mike shrugged. “Do what?”

“This!” He closed his hands and then opened them while making an explosion sound. “Ka-boom. Can the others do that?”

“Can the others kill a demogorgon?” Mike asked, his voice strained because his wrists ached. 

“A what?”

“A demogorgon. That’s what I call that thing.”

Alastair clenched his fist again, “Fine. Can the others kill it?”

“I don’t know.” Mike spat. He was growing equally as irritated as agent Alastair. 

“And that girl, she created that thing?”

“No. She just let it out.” 

“How?” 

“I don’t know.” Mike lied. 

“It lives in another dimension?” Alastair asked. 

“Maybe.”

“Did the girl let it out the same way she locked it back in?” Alastair asked. 

“I don’t know. Maybe.” Mike’s eyes were boring into Alastair’s. He had no problem looking directly in his eyes and lying. He felt a spark of anger that was driving him to be bold and brave, rather than fearful. Mike would never rat on his friends, especially not his girlfriend. This bastard could kiss his ass. 

“Okay,” Alastair said, lips curving upwards. “Have it your way, kid.” He bent his hand forward, motioning for people to come in. Soon the big empty room had three guys in  lab outfits crowding around him with a bunch of tools. Mike couldn’t lift himself enough to see what the tools were. 

“I’m going to be nice.” Alastair said. “I’m going to let you take a nap, and when you wake up, hopefully you will be less grumpy and willing to talk. If you refuse to tell me what I want, I will have to squeeze it out of you...very very painfully.” 

With that being said, one of the men roughly hooked an IV into Mike’s arm and he drifted into sleep. 

“While he’s sleeping, test his vitals. See what kind of progress the Virus is making.” Alastair ordered his goons. 

_______________________________________________

Nina sat on Joyce Byers couch, with everyone surrounding her in a giant circle. She was looking into her lap, mentally preparing herself for a long journey through the void. 

“It’s dangerous,” Bullet explained to everyone from the kitchen table. His shoulder was completely bandaged at this point, curtesy of Joyce. But he was still in too much pain to move much. “There was one time, when someone we cared about was in trouble. Nina went into his mind, and she barely made it out.”

“Yeah, but I have to do this,” Nina whispered, “No matter how risky.” 

“We’re gonna stay with you,” Joyce said kindly. “I stayed with Eleven when she went to find my son and she could still hear me.”

El nodded. “It is true.”

Nancy grabbed Nina’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “I won’t let go. That way, maybe if I’m holding on to you, you won’t get lost.” 

Nina smiled gently. “Thank you. You have all been so kind to me.” 

She grabbed the piece of fabric Lucas gave her; It was his purple bandana, and tied it over her eyes. 

“I need something of his.” She whispered. 

Will got up fast, and went to his bedroom. There was a thud as he shuffled through his dressers, but he came back when he found what he was looking for. 

“Here. It was Mike’s. He left it at my house when we had a sleepover a long time ago.”

“His stuffed animal dinosaur. Oh he loved that thing,” Nancy said. “When he lost it, he cried for like a week. That’s why my parents went out and bought him Rory the toy dinosaur in the first place, which he loves now more than any of his other toys.”

Will seemed shocked, “He gave this to me. He didn’t lose it.”

“He told me he lost it.” 

“Typical Wheeler,” Hopper muttered. He let out a sigh, then grabbed the fluffy beast from Will’s hands. “Can you find him with this?”

“I can try,” Nina said. Hopper placed it in her hands since she was already blindfolded. “Here goes nothing. Come on, Mike. Let me in.” 

The static of the TV was helping her mind feel at ease. Nina’s body jolted, and suddenly, she was in a white room. She felt dizzy instantly. The room was spinning, up and down, and all around. It was like a horrible carnival ride gone wrong.

Her physical body at the Byers’s house fell to the floor, causing everyone to gasp. 

“Oh God, Mike. Stop this.” Nina whispered to herself. Suddenly, she caught a visual of a boy strapped to a table, with IV tubes sticking out of him. He was in hospital clothing, so it looked like he was in a hospital. But she knew better. He couldn’t be in any hospital. 

“Mike.” She said, trying to walk over to him, but falling on her face because the room was so dizzy. “Mike!” She called again. 

The boy whimpered, and Nina managed to crawl over to the table where he was tied down.  “Where are you? Tell me where you are.”

“I don’t know,” Mike whispered. 

The entire group at Joyce’s house gasped as they heard Mike speak through the intercom. 

“He’s alive.” Nancy’s breath shuttered. “Oh, Thank God.” It wasn’t like when Eleven tried to find Barb, and she was dead. Nancy had been dreading the words ‘gone’ to escape from Nina’s lips, but luckily they didn’t. 

Nina was grabbing Mike’s face now, searching his blinking, drowsy, brown eyes. “Think harder, Mike. How did you get here?”

“Van. They had a black van...six Nina’s one loser plenty options.” 

“What did he just say?” Lucas whispered, but was shushed by Dustin. 

“Six Nina’s. one loser. plenty options.” Mike repeated, and then Nina felt a wave of cold breeze. “You have to go now.” Mike said. 

“No, wait. I don’t know what that means! Mike!” Her vision of him was vanishing by the second. 

Nina shot up off of the floor, sweating and panting like mad. 

“It’s okay, Nina. I’m here.” Nancy said. 

“What happened?” Joyce asked, handing the girl a glass of water. 

Nina’s face crumbled, “He’s being drugged. Alastair is going to hurt him really soon. There were knives and - oh God, horrible things on that table.” 

Nancy’s hand flew over her mouth, but her eyes looked ready to cry. 

“It’s alright,” Joyce shushed the girl, pulling her in for a much needed hug. 

“Where is he?” Hopper nearly shouted. 

“I don’t know...he didn’t know himself.”

“Shit!” Steve screamed, kicking the wall. 

“Guys,” Nina’s voice broke, “We have to do something immediately. I’m really worried about him.” 

“What was he saying?” Lucas asked again.

“Um...” Dustin scratched his chin. “Something about Nina being a loser.”

Max rolled her eyes, “He said, Six Nina’s, one loser, plenty of options.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Lucas asked and Mad shrugged. 

“You heard Nina, the kid was drugged.” Billy said, “He’s probably hallucinating.”

“No.” Nancy shook her head, “He said that twice, like he was repeating it to himself. I think it’s one of his codes. You know how Mike has codes for everything.”

“Maybe not a code,” Jonathan said, “But a remembering tactic. Six is a number, and so is one. Nina’s name stands for Nine. What if what he is saying is numbers.”

Hopper ran a hand over his beard, pulling down the hair that was growing there. “Why would he be saying numbers?”

“Is experiment one still alive -“

“No.” Bullet said, shooting down the idea. 

“Wait a second,” Will said, “He’s not talking about experiments. He’s talking about actual numbers. Six, nine, one. Then he said Loser, so L. Then he said, Plenty so that is P. Then Options makes O.”

“691LPO.” Jonathan raised an eyebrow. “I still don’t understand.”

Hopper’s mouth dropped open. “Holy shit. The Wheeler kid got the van’s license plate. I can track down the vans location and that means -“

“We can track down Mike.” El finished with a smile. 

“Well we better hurry. He’s about to be hacked into little pieces.”  Nina whispered. 

Chapter Text

Hopper hung up the Byers phone, then rushed to the dinning room table and grabbed a piece of paper. 

“The license plate Mike gave us tracks back to a black van located outside of a laboratory in Indianapolis.”

“That’s our old Lab.” Bullet explained. “That’s the island of misfit toys. But I don’t understand. I watched them burn that place to the ground.”

“The must have rebuilt stuff for the special unit over top of the ashes.” Hopper muttered, as he stood up and went towards the door. 

“Alright!” Nancy said, “We know where he is, now let’s go.” 

“Whoa, you kids can’t go to a place like that on your own.” Hopper said. “It’s way too dangerous.”

“Maybe they can’t,” Nina explained, “But we can.” She pulled Bullet next to her. 

“You guys aren’t going there without me.” Nancy said fiercely. 

“I’m going too.” Eleven said. 

“Look.” Hopper said with an equal amount of force. “You want the truth? You’re all liabilities. Do you know what that means, Eleven?”

She shook her head. 

“It means, a person whose presence will put someone at a disadvantage. You kids will hold us back, and Mike can’t afford for anyone to slow us down. Do you understand.” 

Tears collected in Eleven’s brown doe eyes. “I just want him to be okay.” 

“I know.” Hopper whispered. “And I promise you, I will bring him home. But you need to wait here with Mrs. Byers. Okay?”

“Okay.” She whispered.

Lucas shook his head. “Not okay. We can help save him! He helped us save Will.”

“Are you listening to me? We have no idea what this place looks like, the more people, the more chances someone else will get caught or used as a hostage.”

Jonathan cleared his throat. “It’s true guys. Look what happened when Mike went in the fun house to save El. He ended up getting caught. The same thing might happen if one of you goes too.”

Hopper nodded towards Jonathan, a silent thank you on his lips, “The only people that are going are the ones that can use their minds to stop this guy.”

Nina and Bullet began walking out the door, but Nancy followed. 

“Hopper. I’m coming with you.” 

“For the last time -“

“Screw that!” Nancy screamed, “He’s my little brother and if you think I’m just going to sit back and worry about whether or not he died at the hands of some asshole agent, then your crazy. I know how to use a gun. I won’t hold you back. I’m one extra person that your going to need.” 

Hopper bit his lip. “Fine.” He agreed. “But only you. Everyone else stays. Joyce make sure those kids get home safely. I don’t trust this neighborhood anymore. Not with Bryan Henderson still on the loose.”

Dustin’s face fell. “I still can’t believe he’s bad.” 

“I’m sorry, man.” Lucas whispered, rubbing his back. 

It took about an hour, but Hopper made it to the Indianapolis Electric Laboratory. It looked astoundingly familiar to the Hawkins National Laboratory. The dark clouds lingered ominously above them, and Hopper had a bad feeling about all of this. 

He gestured for the group of teens to follow him as he made his way towards the fence. He found an underground passage, similar to the tunnel that they thought Will had climbed through to get to the Hawkins lab, but really it was Eleven who escaped through the tunnel. 

Either way, Hopper was stealthily making his way through, with the teens following behind him. They ended up in a basement hallway, so they carefully climbed the flight of stairs. 

In this dimly lit laboratory nothing but machines were seen. There was no movement and no odors of any kind. But there were lights. However, just like the stars in a night sky, they do little to lift the blackness of the gigantic laboratory. 

They carefully pressed onwards, making sure to scan their surroundings throughly before turning down another hall. They wondered aimlessly for a while, none of them having the slightest clue as to where they were going or where Mike would be. As the rounded a corner, they stopped moving, finally spotting a person. 

They followed him to a door with bars. Safely hiding behind a wall, the group peeked around to see the agent scan his thumb print. 

“Access granted.” The machine said, and suddenly the doors opened. They closed directly behind the man. 

“Oh boy.” Hopper muttered, leaning back behind the wall. “This is going to be harder than I thought. We’ll need precise timing.”

Loud clunky footsteps were coming down the hall. Hopper quickly moved them all to the other side, hiding behind a different wall. 

They watched with growing concern as two men walked into a room right by them. Nancy squeezed her eyes shut, praying they couldn’t see them from the window inside the room. 

The group of men walked back out with a body bag. “Oh my God.” Nancy’s eyes were glistening, “if that’s him.”

“We don’t know that it’s him.” Hopper reminded them. 

Bullet took one look at Nancy and said, “There’s one way to find out.” Bullet went down the same hall he saw the men drag the body bag through. 

Hopper growled, and followed the boy. “He really doesn’t think before he acts, does he?”

“No. Not usually.” Nina admitted, biting her lip. “Sorry.” She replied meekly. 

A few men in lab coats came walking out of the room, so Bullet had to dive back behind the wall, right into Hopper and Nancy. He started complaining about his sore shoulder, when Nancy put a hand over his mouth. 

“Shhh.” She scolded. 

As soon as the men passed, thankfully not looking in their direction, the group went into a room titled: Morgue.

“They have a morgue in the laboratory? What the hell is wrong with these people.” Nancy whisper yelled. 

The light shimmered off of the stainless steel. It felt freezing cold in there, and it smelled like antiseptic. 

They spotted the body bag laying out on one of the tables. Nancy winced, turning to Hopper. He stepped forward and grabbed at the zipper of the bag, before he opened it, he closed is eyes. 

“Please don’t let it be the kid,” he whispered, unzipping it. 

A simultaneous sigh of relief was heard from the entire group as the person laying in the bag was not, in fact, Mike. 

Still, that was too close for comfort. If they don’t figure out a way to get behind those bars and into the testing room, then Mike could very well be the next face they see in one of those body bags. 

More determined than ever, Hopper re-zipped the bag and turned to the teens. “We need a plan.” He said. 

_______________________________________________

Mike’s bleary brown eyes vaguely noticed a shape of a man hovering over him, but his ears could pick up on the words. 

Tell me about the girl, Mike. How did she stop it?” 

“Tell me about Will. How did he break free from being possessed.”

“What about the other experiments? What can they do?” 

Alastair grunted, then turned to his lab men in the suits, “Wake him up.” He ordered angrily. 

“Tell me what you see, Mike? Since we injected you, are you acquiring sight into the other dimension?” 

The white lab suit guy was waving ammonia under Mike’s nose, trying to wake him up. 

Alastair, grabbed than man by the shoulder and shook him roughly. “This is getting us nowhere!” He screamed. “I want everything flushed out of his system NOW!”

“What about the virus.” 

“Re-inject the virus after everything is flushed out of him. I want him completely coherent for the next phase.”

“Yes sir.” 

_______________________________________________

Joyce placed a package of store bought chocolate chip cookies in front of the group of kids still at their house. 

Lucas is the only one who went home for dinner with his parents. The rest of the kids did not want to go home. 

Dustin claimed that since his father was evil, he refused to go home Incase he saw the man again. Max and Billy didn’t want to go home and face Neil and Eleven did not want to be alone since Hopper was gone. 

Of course, Jonathan and Will were already home since they lived here, so they were sitting at the kitchen table trying to cheer everyone up. 

“I’m sure they found him by now.” Jonathan said. 

Will nodded, “They’re probably on their way back.” He took a sip of his hot chocolate. 

Eleven stared at the coco with burning rage. The first night Mike ever showed her hot chocolate was the night all of this stuff began. It was the night Murray came to El’s cabin. All Mike wanted to do was make sure she felt safe, secure and loved and all that ended up happening was he felt endangered. She was a horrible person for inviting him over. She’s put his life in danger too many times. 

“Yeah right,” Max scoffed, looking at Will. “I wish I could believe that.” 

“Well they could be on their way back. You don’t know!” 

“What if they all die?” Billy asked. “I mean, there is only four of them. What if they are out numbered and -“

Billy bit his lip, realizing that everyone was glaring daggers at him. 

“Never mind. I’m sure they’re fine.” 

“No.” Eleven whispered, “Billy is right. What if something happens to them? I would never forgive myself if I lost Mike, Nancy, and Hopper all because I wasn’t there to protect them.” 

Jonathan patted Eleven’s hand, “Alright, Look.  Let’s give them until six’o’clock. If they are not back by then, we will go after them.”

Joyce bit her lip. “I don’t know. Hopper said to stay here.”

But Eleven was nodding, “Six Zero Zero.” She repeated, looking at the watch Hopper bought for her. There were too many good people in her life now, she wasn’t about to lose any of them if she could help it. 

_______________________________________________

“Okay, kid,” Alastair said, unwrapping the cloth that held four different types of sculpting tools that Mike had only ever seen in biology class. There was a scalpel, scissors, forcepts and a clamp. 

Mike had no idea what Alastair planned to do with some of those things, but he didn’t want to find out. 

“Please.” He cried. “I can’t tell you what I don’t know. I CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT I DON’T KNOW.” He repeated. It’s a habit Mike has to repeat things when he’s scared, embarrassed, or just thinking out loud. 

“But you do know.” Alastair said leaning close to his ear. “You know about Eleven. After all, you were there the night she killed that...demogorgon as you called it. You gave her your home to live in. Surely you have seen what she can do. She must have told you how she did it.”

“We never really talked about it.”

Alastair slammed his hand against the table, causing the instruments to wobbly. “Liar!” He screamed. “You do know. She told you how she opened the other dimension and she told you how she closed it.”

“No I don’t know. I’m pretty sure she just used her powers.”

“But what powers? Her telepathy, her telekinesis, teleportation, mental manipulation? What did she use?” 

“I. don’t. know.” Mike growled. 

Alastair snorted out a laugh, “You, Mr. Wheeler, are a bad liar. But no worries. You’ll be screaming the truth when I’m done with you.” 

Mike’s eyes grew wider as he watched Alastair picked up the clamp. 

“Wait! No. I’m telling the truth.”

Handing the clamp to some other guy behind Mike, Alastair smirked at him for a while. When the clamp was back in Alastair’s hand, the tip end was scorching blue light as if it was electrified... Holy shit, they lit it was electrified.

Then Alastair was standing over Mike, and then--

--pain exploded across Mike’s entire body, originating from his foot. He screamed involuntarily as the agent stepped back with the clamp in hand. They just branded him like a horse. 

When Mike arched his back to try and get back out of the chair, Alastair pressed the clamp to his right foot again, and Mike sobbed as another shock ripped its way up his leg. His breath was gone and he couldn't catch it because his chest was locked up from the pain. Tears that he'd refused to shed earlier now poured down his cheeks from the agony, and his leg muscles felt weak and rubbery from seizing.

He wanted his Mom. He wanted his Dad. He wanted his sister, his best friends, he’d even settle for the bully Troy. But most of all he wanted Eleven. 

Sucking in deep breaths, Mike glared through his tears at Alastair. The man in question ruffled Mike’s fluffy hair condescendingly, then nodded at the other men in the room, and they were gone leaving Mike to sit there with his wounded foot and think about telling the truth. 

_______________________________________________

Eleven was staring at the clock on her watch. “Six Zero Five.” She whispered. She’s been calling out the numbers every time a minute goes by and it changes. 

Will was busy talking to his mom privately in his bedroom while the rest of the group sat around the table, bored out of their minds. 

Max threw her head down on the table. “Five minutes later than you predicted, Jonathan.” 

Eleven shook her head, and pushed back her chair. “I’m not waiting any longer.”

She started walking towards the door, “I’m going to do what Mike would do for me.” 

Steve, Jonathan and the party leaped off of their seats, and ran to stop her. 

“Wait a minute!” Max grabbed El’s sleeve. “Are you sure you are ready for something like this? We don’t want to slow Hopper down.”

Lucas nodded, “Yeah, what if we mess up his plan?”

El pulled her arm back angrily, “Mike needs us. I can reach him. He will listen to me.” 

“But El...you’re powers make you sick every time you use them.”

She shrugged. “I am saving Mike.” 

Steve let out a shaky breath, “If the kid’s mind is made up, we’re not going to be able to stop her.”

Max nodded, “Okay. You can save Mike. But we’re all coming with you.”

Steve threw his hands up, “oh great, let’s just go completely against Hopper’s wishes!” 

Billy shrugged halfheartedly, “it beats sitting around here looking stupid.” 

“Billy’s right,” Dustin paused, scratching his chin, “Wow, I never thought I would say that. But yeah, Billy has a point. Since when do we sit on the bench? We need to be in the game, saving our best friend.”

Eleven nodded, “Friends save friends.” 

Jonathan nodded, leading the group to his car. “Okay, I’ll take Eleven and Lucas and Max, Dustin and Billy, go with Steve. 

“We’re taking two cars?” Billy raised an eyebrow.

“The way I see it, they might need a getaway car and if there are two cars driving away, then maybe if we are being chased, only one of us will be tailed.”

“Or maybe,” Steve chimed in, “They’ll chase both cars, and we’ll all DIE.” 

Jonathan didn’t respond, he just got in his car, and waited for the kids to follow. 

Sighing, Steve went to his vehicle, patting the roof for good luck. 

_______________________________________________

Nina checked her watch. “Alright. The most important part of this plan is timing. Set your watches, 6:07.”

Nancy, Bullet, and Hopper all set their watches. “Here,” she handed Hopper a map of the building. 

“I found it on the wall. I outlined our escape route, everyone try to memorize that.”

Nancy glanced at Hopper, and he glanced right back with a similar expression. 

Nina sighed, “look. I know it’s not easy, but we have to have a way out. Now, our next obstacle to tackle is the security door. We need to get through somehow.”

“Easy,” Hopper said. “The next guy I see that walks by, I’ll jump him. Then we use his thumb print to get in.” 

Nina nodded, “Not bad. Okay. Hopper and Bullet will get inside the security door. Nancy and I will wait outside the door, ready to escape. I will use my powers to talk to Mike and help him escape with you guys. Sound good?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Hopper said. 

“Alright. Pay attention to the time. I will talk to Mike at exactly 6:10. Then, at 6:15 on the dot, Mike will be ready to escape.”

“How?” Nancy asked. 

“You know how Kali could make people think they saw things. I can do that too. Only a little bit though. I came after her, because she was eight and I was nine. So I learned some of the skills she had. That one thing they decided to try to keep me from doing. I never really perfected it, and it’s extremely difficult for me to do. But, I think I can make Alastair think he’s seeing Mike on the table, long enough for the real Mike to escape without being noticed. But that’s why we need to be precise on our timing. I don’t know how long I can last.”

Hopper nodded, “okay then. Everyone’s watches are set. 6:15 and we’ll see you back here.” 

Leaving the girls, Hopper and Bullet made their way out of the morgue and down one of the halls. They spotted a man talking to someone else, so they quickly dodged behind a wall. 

As footsteps grew louder, Hopper waited until he was sure the man was right in his sight and then - bam. 

He whacked the guy over the head, and dragged his unconscious body behind the wall. 

“Alright. You lead the way.” He told Bullet, and he threw the man over his shoulders. 

Once they reached the security gate, Hopper scanned the man’s thumb print, and then tossed his body to the floor. 

As the bars opened, Hopper and Bullet went inside. They were in another hallway. It was long, painted white and brightly lit, a stark contrast to the hallway Hopper had previously been in. There was nothing on the walls, no clocks or calendars, but luckily Hopper had his watch. The lights overhead were overly bright and overwhelming, making Hopper flinch every time he looked up. Doors resembling cell doors lined the hall. Hopper watched them go by with a sinking feeling, wondering how many more people they had trapped inside these hellish rooms. He worried even more about what they might be doing to the Wheeler kid behind doors. 

“Do you know what room he’s in?” Hopper asked, to which Bullet shrugged. 

“I’m assuming it’s the room where all of the surgeons are headed to.” 

Hopper stopped, noticing four to five people in surgeon outfits, walking into a room. Hopper started walking, but Bullet grabbed his arm. 

“Dude, What are you doing?” 

“Mike is in there. We have -“

“It won’t help Mike if you get yourself killed. We have to do this the right way.” Bullet looked at his watch. “Three minutes.” 

_______________________________________________

“Okay,” Nina said, push back her curly blonde hair. “I’m ready to do it.” 

 

“Three minutes.” Nancy said, her eyes glued to the watch. When she looked up, she saw Nina was looking at her. “What? You’re the one that said we have to time this perfectly. Three minutes.”

 

“Okay. You’re right. I’m just anxious. I don’t know if I can do this.” Nina mumbled. 

 

“Of course you can.” Nancy whispered. 

 

_______________________________________________

 

Mike’s foot was just starting to feel better, when he saw a group of surgeons walk in. Surgeons wearing hospital masks were standing over his strapped down body. Metal trays with surgical tools, needles, scalpels, and nightmarish instruments sat on either side of the operating table. Gathered around were various other people wearing scrubs and masks, some holding notebooks and one of them holding a camera, as if to document the procedure. 

 

Mike’s heart started panicking, beating too fast every second. Alastair walked in last, with a cruel smirk on his face. 

 

“Okay Mike.” Alastair gestured for one of the masked people to come forward. Suddenly, the masked person, picked up a pair of scissors. 

 

As the man approached Mike, he brought the sharp instrument closer and closer to Mike’s torso. 

 

“What are you doing?” Mike’s voice was hoarse from all the screaming he did earlier. “No. No.” He cried, tugging at his restraints to try and stop this man from doing something horrible. Unable to free himself, Mike squeezed his eyes shut. Suddenly he felt a wave of cold air, and he realized his shirt had been cut off. The masked man, put the scissors down. 

 

“Do you see this scalpel?” Alastair asked, “This is going to hurt you. Do you see this shot? Tell me what I need to know, and this shot will take the pain away.”

 

Mike sniffled, eyes burning with unshed tears, “You’re evil.” He whispered. 

 

“Me? I’m evil? I’m risking my life to save my country from people like Eleven, Nine, and Eight. I’m trying to stop them before they hurt anyone else. So I’m sorry it has to come to torture, Mike. I really am. But I’m not the bad guy here. If you would just tell me where they are, what they can do, and who has been helping them, I’ll stop hurting you.”

 

“I don’t know what they can do. I don’t know how Eleven killed that thing, but even if I did I would NEVER tell you. I would never let you hurt her the way you are hurting me. I’d rather die.” 

 

Alastair laughed dangerously low, “See. It’s that stubborn little attitude of yours that’s going to get yourself in a world of hurt.” He turned to his surgeons, “Open him up.” 

 

Mike shook his head, his eyes burring with tears and he weakly held eye contact with Alastair. “Who’s the monster now?” He whispered. 

 

After a few minutes of silence, Mike noticed the surgeons were gathering their tools. 

 

“Mike.” 

 

That was a girl’s voice...inside of his head. He wondered who it was, and she answered. 

 

“It’s me, Nina. This is how I communicate. Just think something, and I can hear it.” She said. “Look, there is no time. Hopper and Bullet are going to rescue you.” 

 

“He..wants.. me to tell him how Eleven closed the gate.” Mike thought. 

 

“Okay,” Nina whispered breathlessly, “tell him anything, but get Alastair alone. It’s the only way.” 

 

Their connection was ripped short because Mike felt a small line of pressure at his collarbone. Suddenly it was sharp, and burning. It dragged over his skin towards the center of his chest. Mike realized that the pressure was the blade of a scalpel cutting into his skin. The surgeons were peeling him open like some kind of fruit.

 

“STOP!” He screamed at the top of his lungs. In all honesty, it was a surface cut, not deep enough to need stitches, but it was a cut, a purposeful cut. He couldn’t help himself, Mike started bawling like a baby. 

 

“Stop.” Alastair told him surgeons. “Are you ready to tell me now?”

 

Mike nodded, “I’ll tell you how she did it. But only you.” He said. Alastair looked at all of the surgeons. Waving his hand dismissively, he ordered them to, “Clear the room.” 

 

Regaining control of his emotions, Mike managed to stop crying, but unfortunately he was left sniffling like crazy. 

 

Mike was uncuffed, and let up. He instantly went to touch his bloody chest. There was a small incision directly in between his pectorals. Mike winced, looking at the blood on his hands in astonishment. 

 

“Little boy,” Alastair snapped his fingers in front of him. “I’m waiting.” 

 

“Oh. Um... right. Eleven closed the gate with her telepathy powers. She was thinking about closing it, and she was communicating with the other dimension and this dimension. Yeah, she, um, she told them to come together and the gate closed.” He gave Alastair his best ta-da smile. 

 

“Wow. You are an incredibly bad liar.” Alastair said. “I’m bringing the surgeons back in.”

 

“No. Please don’t.” Mike cried. 

 

“Sorry, boy. But you had your chance.” 

 

“Go.” Nancy screamed to Nina and the girl quickly put her hands to her head, blood dripping out of her nose. 

 

Alastair was suddenly captivated by the sight of Mike levitating. His eyes popped out of his head, as he rushed towards the boy. 

“How are you doing that? Do you have some of her powers too?”

 

Hopper and Bullet burst through the door and rushed in the room. Bullet smirked, and bumped Hopper’s shoulder. “See. Timing is everything.” He said. 

 

“Hopper!” Mike all but cried when he recognized the man. 

 

“Yeah, I’m here, kid. Come on.” He rushed to Mike’s side and picked him up. “Let’s go.”

 

“What’s happening?” Mike asked, a panic to his voice. 

 

“Nina is making Alastair think you are still there. She’s using her powers to create a fake image in his mind just long enough for us to escape with you.” Hopper explained. 

“Get out of here,” Bullet told Hopper, “use the escape route.”

“What are you doing? Come on.” 

“I have something to take care of.” Bullet said. 

Hopper glared, but with Mike in his arms, he knew he had to leave no matter what. 

“Don’t get yourself caught. If you do, we’re not coming back for you.” Hopper warned, then he turned and left. 

Nina’s eyes popped opened, and she collapsed into Nancy’s arms, exhausted. 

Suddenly, Alastair looked very confused. His eyes roamed around the room and landed on Bullet. “What the... experiment x-4? What are you doing here. Where is the boy?”

Bullet whipped out a gun, and Alastair ducked behind the table Mike was on. As soon as the shot rang out, a bunch of men in lab suits walked in with guns, and they started firing at Bullet. He was hit a few dozen times, falling to the ground.

“Stop!” Alastair screamed, “Guard the exits!”

He got up from his hiding spot, and stared running down the hall, pulling out his own gun. 

“Come on!” Nina screamed, as the two girls waited for the door with the bars to open, and let them out. They used the unconscious guards thumb again. 

As soon as they got it opened, Nancy pulled Mike into her arms. “Oh thank God.” She said, then she noticed Alastair coming down the hall. Nancy flung her brother back into Hopper’s hold, and yanked out his pistol.  

She aimed, shot, and the bullet hit Alastair right in the forearm, knocking the gun out of his hand. 

Hopper slammed the bar door shut, then continued running with the kids towards the escape route.

Alastair placed his thumb on the scanner to the security door, but access was denied because he had blood all over his hand. “Dammit.” He yelled, kicking at his own security door that was now preventing him from escaping. 

Chapter Text

Hopper was carrying Mike outside of the old laboratory, running as fast as he could, without tripping over his feet, towards the fenced gate. 

“How are we going to get over that?” Nancy screamed. 

“Over here!” It was Eleven and Jonathan. They were cutting through the wired fence with hedge trimmers. 

“The closed security door won’t hold Alastair for long, we have to get Mike out of here.” Hopper told them, as he ran towards the opened part of the fence. Sliding through, he was careful of Mike’s dangling limbs and made sure the boy didn’t cut himself on the sharp wires. 

“I know somewhere safe,” Nina said. “It’s the place where Steve picked me up, Loch Nora. If we get there it will buy us sometime. We need to split up, so it will make it harder for them to follow us.” 

“But that place is huge. If we split up, we might not be able to find each other again,” Nancy said. 

“MIKE.” Eleven screamed once she got sight of the boy. She ran to hug him, realizing quickly the cut going down his bare chest. “Mike? Are you alright.”

“Where’s Bullet?” Nina asked as Steve and Jonathan helped carry Mike to Steve’s car. 

“Fell behind,” Hopper muttered. Nina shook her head, trying to process what he was saying. 

Jonathan laid Mike down in the backseat of the car, and Eleven jumped in beside him. 

“Get him out of here, Steve.” Hopper ordered, smacking the side of Steve’s car. “Everyone else, come with me, we have to get to my car.” 

“I can try to distract them,” Billy said, as he pulled up in Jonathan’s car, behind Hopper, “I’ll drive north, you go south.”

Hopper nodded, “Hey we’re meeting at Loch Nora.” 

“Where the hell is that?”

“Nevermind. Just go to the Byers house but first make sure you are absolutely not being followed.”

Billy gave Hopper a thumbs up, before slamming on the gas, and rolling out of the facility. Two large SUV’s were moving, and Hopper knew he had to get to his car in a matter of seconds. He screamed at Jonathan, Nancy, and Nina to follow behind him. They made it, just barely, to Hopper’s patrol car. All three of their cars went in three different directions. 

As Steve was driving he noticed a pair of rapidly approaching headlights. 

“Hang on!" Steve shouted, as he yanked the wheel to the right and their vehicle tore around the corner. The few cars that were unlucky enough to be populating the road at the late hour filled the air with blaring horns. Steve missed a few people that had been crossing the street by mere inches, before yelling an unheard apology through the window.

Mike and Eleven were holding on to one another, scared out of their minds. “I was being tortured five minutes ago,” Mike rasped, “But this is the scariest thing to happen to me so far.” 

The black SUV behind them didn't slow down as it too skidded around the corner only a few seconds back. 

“Shut up Wheeler,” Steve squealed as he took another turn. His fingers were wrapped around the steering wheel so tightly that he was sure they would never come off. His brown eyes quickly glanced towards the backseat as he gasped at the sudden revelation, "Are you not wearing your seatbelt?"

Taken aback Mike shook his head, "Steve, we’re being chased by a bunch of pissed off men equipped with high-powered guns who have every intent to kill us. I’m sorry but putting a seatbelt on never crossed my mind.” 

“Put your seatbelt on right now!" A crack sounded from behind them shattering the back window. Eleven screamed out in terror, and they all ducked down quickly. Another spray of bullets rattled the car and Steve did his best to drive while barely peeking above the steering wheel. Seeing the sign for a turn, Steve yanked the wheel to the left gritting his teeth as he did so.

Mike started shivering, his teeth chattering together as the cold air conditioner blew air on his bare chest. Eleven’s wide eyes and pouty lips were suddenly in Mike’s face. 

“Mike?” She asked quietly. “Hurt?” 

He shook his head. Okay, so it was a tiny lie, but he figured Eleven didn’t need to know what they did to him. “I’m just cold.” He said because that was the truth. 

Noticing another pair of headlights coming from in front of them, Mike screamed at Steve to ‘watch out.’

Steve’s eyes caught a glimpse of the large lake on his left that sat just beyond the barrier and just below overly high cliff. 

It was beautiful with the reflection of the full moon lighting up the obscure water that stretched on for at least a few miles. Steve couldn't help but stare at it, as its foreboding image consumed him and filled him with a sense of magnificent dread. He searched for some kind of understanding of the feeling that rose within him. The feeling that was chilling his bones and freezing his very blood  to the core. He realized the source of his dread was the fleeting thought that this is where he was going to die.

“Steve!" Mike’s eyes were wide as the other car that came out from the trees obscuring some hidden road before leaping back into its place behind them. Another shot rang out this one blowing out one of the tires, sending the car into a tail spin. Steve held on for dear life as the car spun out of control. 

The kids jumped out of the car and started running on foot and Steve followed behind them. Mike and El climbed over the ledge of the bridge where they were standing. 

“What the hell are you doing?” Steve screamed. 

“We have to jump.”

“It could kill you.” Steve said. 

“Those gun’s behind us could killed us too. We have to jump.”

El turned Mike’s face towards hers and they kissed one last time, just in case they didn’t survive this fall. Then, they locked hands with one another and toppled over the bridge. 

Another gun shot rang out and Steve knew he had to follow. When he leaped over the edge, all he could see was the dark moonlit water of the lake coming closer and closer and his final thoughts were, at least this lake surrounded by trees and bushes and life... wasn't a bad place to die.

_______________________________________________

 

Hopper swerved onto a side road, trying to find the place Nina was talking about. Speaking of the blonde, she was going off on him about leaving Bullet behind. 

“Look,” Hopper yelled, “He might not have made it. I heard gun shots.”

Nina shook her head, “No we have to turn back.” 

“No.” Hopper said firmly, “I warned him if he didn’t make it out we weren’t coming back for him. He should have listened, but instead he felt the need to take on Alastair alone.” 

“He was trying to kill a monster.” 

“I understand, but doing it alone was dangerous and Alastair was the one walking out of that room after the gun shots...”

Jonathan put a comforting arm around the young girl’s shaking body, and she leaned into him. Nancy placed her hand on Nina’s hair, then started stroking it. 

“I’m sorry.” She whispered. “If he really is gone... I know how much that hurts and I’m so, so sorry.” 

Nina tried to smile, but her face was falling apart. “Thank you,” she managed to whisper before allowing herself to go limp against Jonathan’s chest.  

______________________________________________

 

The freezing water nipped at Mike’s bare chest, reaching all they way up to his chin. Water seemingly jumped into is mouth and down his throat as he gurgled and coughed it back out. 

 

Getting a handle on his surroundings, Mike searched for Eleven. Hoping that it wouldn't just be her body. Then she saw her, floating face up a few yards away.

"El- El," Mike sputtered, as he dragged his arms up and over his head. He silently thanked his mother for forcing him to take swimming classes when he was a little boy. It seemed to take ages for his heavy limbs to reach the still form of his friend as the water was dragging him down as well as holding him up, "Eleven.” 

Taking the still unresponsive form by the arm, Mike pressed forward to the rocky edge, his body burned and his head spun, but he was being driven by some boiling force of determination that swelled within himself. Suddenly he was being lifted by someone and onto the rocky surface, where he could stand. Using all his might Mike pulled Eleven onto the shore that bordered the lake and knelt over her.

Mike noticed the guy who lifted him out of the water was Steve, and he was staring at Eleven with worried eyes. 

Blood dripped from Steve’s chin onto El’s eyelids and nose as he spoke her name and shook her shoulders.

With a strenuous lurch, a burst of water escaped Eleven’s mouth as she turned painfully over onto her elbows. Squealing with a relieved delight Mike collapsed next to his friend and breathed in deeply, giggling rather loudly.

“Mike, what the hell are you laughing for?” Steve asked. 

“She’s alive. We’re all alive! It’s so...” He was laughing hysterically now, and Steve was starting to wonder if it was laughing or crying. 

“Alright. Alright. Come on, you two. We still need to move. Those bastards are still looking for us.”

“The tunnels,” El pointed towards the black, water reservoir tunnels underneath the bridge. 

Steve nodded, “That will keep us safe and out of sight for a little while.” He carefully helped Mike and Eleven to their feet, every single one of them limping towards the tunnels. 

The kids collapsed down on the floor of the tunnel, needing to sit and rest. It was then that Steve realized just how blue Mike looked. Not to mention he felt extremely cold as well.

“Shit. We’re all about to catch hypothermia if we don’t warm up soon.”

“We can keep each other warm.” Eleven said, curling against Mike’s shivering body. He latched onto her, wrapping his arms around her back, and kept her as close as possible. Eleven pressed her lips against his, and Steve rolled his eyes. 

“Great, while you two try to get warm by sucking each other’s faces off, I’m going to find us some logs so we can hopefully make a fire.”

Mike would tell Steve they were surrounded by water, and the odds of making a fire were not in their favor, but he was too busy kissing Eleven and he didn’t want to stop. 

After Steve splashed off, Eleven started kissing him more passionately. Suddenly, she pulled back, her nose dripping with blood. Her beautiful brown eyes were filling with unshed tears. 

“Oh Mike,” she whispered, looking at him with such pity it made Mike feel ashamed, “I saw what they did...” Her voice trailed off as a few tears slipped down her face. 

“El.” He said, but she stood up and started pacing, while he was still sitting. 

“They hurt you.” She sniffled. “It’s my fault. I put you in danger.” Mike was staring at her, always patient and willing to listen to everything she had to say. A sob escaped Eleven’s lips. “I just wish, I could have stopped you from finding me that day in the woods.”

“Don’t say that.” Mike said, shaking his head. El leaned back down, sitting next to him. 

“Mike, the day you found me...your normal life just ended.” 

“No, that’s the day my life began.” Mike said, grabbing her hands. “El, when I was in that room, and they did...what they did to me, you’re what kept me alive. The thought of you. The way your eyes look into mine.”

Eleven gave a small gasping laugh, she was so happy to hear this. Her hands were holding on to Mike as tightly as she could. 

“Your smile, the touch of your skin, your lips. Everything that you are.” Mike gulped, but looked directly in her eyes, “Knowing you has made me...complete. Whether I die tomorrow or fifty years from now, my choice is the same. It’s you. I want to be with you, El. I love you.” 

“I love you,” she repeated, while gently caressing his cheek.

They leaned forward for another kiss, this by far the most gently kiss they have ever had. 

“I wouldn’t change anything, okay? I would go through all that torture again if it means I get to have you in my life.” 

“Mike.” She was crying again. “Is there a word that means more than love?” 

Mike shook his head, “Um...I don’t think so.”

“Because I love Hopper, and I love Max, and Lucas, and Dustin, and Will. But I LOVE you. I just feel like..there should be another word for how much I love you.”

Mike was sheepishly grinning, he couldn’t help himself this girl was amazing. “Um..adore? I adore you? Cause, you know, I love and respect you deeply.”

“Yes. Adore. I adore you.” Eleven agreed. 

Splashing water sounds interrupted the moment, and soon Steve was standing back over them. “We gotta run.” He said. 

______________________________________________

Hopper and the group reunited with Billy and his group of kids in Nina’s underground home. 

“I thought you didn’t know where this place was?” Jonathan said to the mullet haired boy. 

“I didn’t, but Dustin showed me.” 

Nina said hello to the few test-subject kids and they hugged her, asking where Bullet was. 

“I’m going to find out,” Nina explained, then she asked for a blindfold. 

“Be carful, Ni.” One of the little boys said. “Is Bri still trapped inside there.” 

“I sure hope not.” Hopper muttered. “That hallways was disturbing. When I saw Mike on that table...” Hopper took a deep breath, “I don’t know. It just wasn’t right.”

“Hey, speaking of Mike, where is he?” Nancy asked. 

“What? Steve’s not back yet?” Hopper asked. 

Billy shook his head, “It doesn’t look like it. I saw him being chased by a few cars.”

Lucas nodded, “I used my wrist rocket to shoot at their windows and distract attention away from Steve.” 

“And all it really did, was put us in as much danger as Steve, but you know...whatever right.” Max said shrugging her shoulders. 

“If they are still out there, then they are in danger.” Nancy explained. 

Hopper was already walking to his car. “I’ll go back, retrace their route.”

“I’m coming with you,” Nancy said. 

“The rest of you go with Jonathan back to his house.” Hopper ordered,  “We will meet you at the Byers’s house.” 

“Nancy!” Jonathan yelled, stopping the two from leaving. She turned to him with a sigh. 

“Jonathan. I’ll be back with him soon. I promise. You take care of these kids, okay?”

Leaning forward, Jonathan answered with a quick kiss, and then Nancy rushed off with Hopper. 

As they were driving, Hopper and Nancy didn’t really speak. They didn’t know what to say to one another. 

“Thanks for helping us,” she finally said. 

“It’s my daughter out there too.”

“Oh yeah, I know. But I mean, thank you for helping us save Mike from that place.”

Hopper nodded. “There’s a right side and a wrong side here, and clearly torturing children is the wrong side. I would like to do work for the right side.”

Nancy nodded, she couldn’t argue with that logic. 

“There they are!” She gasped when she saw Steve, Mike and Eleven running up a hill with a black SUV on their tail. 

“Oh my God. What if they shoot them?”

Hopper slammed the breaks, calling out to them. “Watch out behind you!” He shouted. 

Eleven whipped around with her hand extended towards the vehicle. In a sudden adrenaline rush, she managed to raise the SUV in the air, and then fling it four miles away from them.

“Holy shit!” Steve screamed. “Did she just? She just threw a car with her mind. Wow. That was awesome.”

“El!” Mike cried, catching her as she collapsed onto the ground. Hopper and Nancy were at their sides instantly. 

“It’s okay,” Hopper assured him, “I got her. Let her go, Mike.” 

“Come here,” Nancy said to him, pulling him into a hug. “Oh God, you’re freezing.” She took off her red jacket and slung it around her baby brother’s slim shoulders. 

“Nancy...” He whispered, “I don’t feel well.”

“It’s okay, Mike. It’s okay, now.” She shushed, as she tried to help him up. Steve noticed her struggling, and came to her aid in picking Mike up. 

“Oh Steve. I think your nose is broken again.” Nancy mumbled sadly. 

Steve shrugged, “I like to get it busted every four months or so.” 

Nancy smirked, as they continued to guide Mike towards the car. Hopper had already carried Eleven to the backseat. 

“She’s still breathing, thank God.”

“She’s probably just wiped.” Steve whispered. 

“She’s still got that poison in her.” Hopper said sadly. “Lifting an SUV could have done some real damage.” 

Putting the car in reverse, Hopper spun back out onto the road, where he started driving fast towards the Byers house. 

Chapter Text

When Hopper arrived at the Byers house, Nina was weeping on the floor with her kids around her. 

“Bullet’s dead, isn’t he.” Hopper whispered to Joyce. 

She nodded sadly. 

Eleven was limping in behind Hopper, “Gone?” She asked. 

“Yeah kid. He’s gone.” Sliding a comforting arm around his little girl, Hopper helped her over to the couch to sit down. 

Then Steve and Nancy entered the house, with Mike in between them. One of his arm’s were slung over Nancy’s shoulder, the other was around Steve’s. They were helping him stand upright. 

At the sight of him, everyone in the room stood up. Suddenly it grew so quiet that even Nina stopped crying to look up and stare at him. Mike felt bashful and ashamed that everyone's eyes were on him, looking at him like he was damaged goods, and a porcelain plate all at the same time. 

“What? Stop looking at me like that! It isn't that big of a deal!" he yelled. 

“Calm down, Mike. They are just concerned and happy to see you.” Nancy whispered. 

Still, no one said anything and Mike felt like screaming. I’m still the same me. He wondered if things would be different now that he was taken by Alastair. Would his friends treat him like a fragile doll for the rest of his life? Was he going to be asked a million times to talk about it? 

As he was thinking, Joyce Byers walked gently towards him as if he were a wild animal that might try and flee at any second. 

“He's so cold,” Joyce whispered quietly, not looking up at Hopper but talking to him, “He barely feels alive.”

Mike didn't look alive. His cheeks were hollowed out and there were dark half-circles carved under his eyes. Even his throat looked too thin to hold the weight of his head. 

Joyce settled for touching the ends of Mike’s hair. It was filthy with collected grime and sweat, uncared for and wet from being dipped into the lake. 

“He needs a warm bath. We need to get his temperature up, and clean his skin.”

Nancy nodded, and she and Joyce guided him towards the Byers bathroom. 

Once they were gone the rest of the group could breathe again. Max let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and Lucas released his subconscious grip on her wrist. 

“Holy shit.” Dustin said what was on everybody’s mind. 

“What did they do to him?” Max asked, turning towards Hopper with those accusing eyes. 

“He was in a lab with a dangerous man that wanted information. What do you think he did?” 

With that, Hopper took Eleven’s hand and guided her towards Will’s bedroom. The two carefully walked together, Eleven feeing even more sick than when she went to the hospital. She really shouldn’t have used her powers to lift that car. Hopper placed her on Will’s bed, and tucked the covers around her. 

“It’s like Han Solo getting tortured in Cloud City.” Dustin said to his friends. “Maybe they tortured Mike to draw Eleven into the Lab?” 

“I think they just wanted answers,” Nina said. “That’s what they used to do to me. They would press me for answers and then torture me if I refused. But when I told them, then they had no use for me and would lock me up for hours.” 

“This is seriously messed up.” Lucas said, slapping his wrist rocket against the table. “I feel like our mission was a failure.” 

“He’s home and he’s safe now.” Jonathan said, “I’d say your mission was a success.” 

“But Mike’s hurt.” Lucas mumbled, “and Alastair is still out there.” 

Jonathan sighed. “Let’s focus on taking care of Mike and El for now. We’ll worry about Alastair when Hopper tells us to.”

Mike stood at Nancy’s side, with his lanky arms wrapped around her, hugging her from the side as the waited for the tub to fill with water. 

“I’ll get some of Will’s clean clothes,” Joyce said, leaving Mike and Nancy alone. 

"Can you get in yourself?” Nancy asked. She watched her little brother carefully, “I don’t want you passing out on me halfway through.”

She waited for a Mike to object, for a mortified ‘hell, no’ at the very thought of needing help in the bath, but there’s nothing. Mike just nodded, his weary acceptance telling Nancy more than she wanted to know about just how badly Mike was hurting. 

“Okay, don’t fall in and drown.” She teased, ruffling his dirty hair. She gently took her jacket back, and checked the temperature of the water one more time before turning around to leave. After she closed the door, she couldn’t let go of the handle. She noticed Steve pacing in the hallway. 

“Hey Steve can you go get some pills for him.” She asked, not wanting to leave her spot just outside the door. She figured, if he fell in, she would be able to hear it with her ear pressed against the door. 

“Sure” Steve said, walking off into the kitchen area where the other kids were talking. 

Sure enough, Nancy does hear a sharp click of bone smacking off of something and Mike’s hissed profanities. 

“Mike?” She cracked the door open. 

The boy is rubbing at his hip bone, which he must have cracked hard against the sink when he lost his balance trying to get his wet hospital pants off. 

“I hate these stupid freaking pants!” Mike yelled, face flushed from exerting so much energy, and surly embarrassment. “Why are they so tight?” He yelled kicking his leg like it’s on fire as he tries to get it out.

“Hey, Hey,” Nancy gently walked towards him and helped him out of those blue stretchy pants. “We’ll burn these hideous things tomorrow,” Nancy said, holding up the ugly pair of pants. 

Mike snorted. He remembered when Nancy used to burn her clothes when she had a bad day. One day, she had been throughly humiliated in front of the whole school because she accidentally opened a Pepsi Can and it overflowed on her jeans. It looked like she peed herself and she was mortified, crying in the bathroom for hours. 

When she got home, she refused to tell Mike about it at first. She already suffered enough, she didn’t want her nosy little brother to make-fun of her too. So instead of explaining what happened, she told Mike she had a bad day, then proceeded to take the pair of pants outside and burned it on the front lawn. Mike thought it was the coolest thing ever, so he opened up about his bad day, and together they burnt his ugly sweater.

“Okay.” Mike’s voice was hoarse, cracking on the second syllable. “You got the shampoo?” He asked as he lowered himself into the bathtub. He left his shorts on considering his sister was with him, but he didn’t really mind. The warm water still felt heavenly. 

Nancy swallowed, her own throat tightening, knowing how much it must have cost Mike to ask for help and allow himself to be vulnerable. 

“Sure,” she said, as casual as she could manage, then she turned and strided over to the shower. 

Mike’s back was curved away from her, the tight line of his spine in sharp relief, his head bowed under the fine water spray of the shower head. 

Water ran down Nancy’s arm, trickled down the back of her neck, and seeped through her shirt. 

Mike doesn’t speak. He kept his head down, ducked away from Nancy. Steam rises quickly, as the fine spray of the water hits the cooler air. There was a rivulet of grimy water at Mike’s feet, ash-gray against the white of the tub. Nancy squeezed a drop of shampoo into her palm, and lathered it into Mike’s hair. 

She worked the lather into Mike’s hair gently, then pushed her brother’s head under the spray, gently rinsing, until the water runs clear. Nancy reached in and turned the shower off, then grabbed a towel and wrapped it around Mike. It’s only then that she realized that Mike’s shoulders were shaking. Silently. It’s barely perceptible, but Mike was crying.


“Hey,” Nancy said. “Hey, now.” She patted Mike’s arm awkwardly, and the kid jerked away in horrified shame. “It’s okay, kid. Everyone is entitled to a good cry every once and a while. It’s good for the soul.”

Mike’s head came up then, and he fought to square his shoulders. “Sorry.” He swiped the towel over his face, rubbing roughly at his red-rimmed eyes. “Got soap in my eyes, I guess.” 

“Guess so.” If that’s how Mike needed to play it, Nancy was willing to go along with the lie. 

“My fault,” Nancy added. “Never was very good at washing your hair, even when you were a little kid.” 

Mike smiled fondly at the memory. When they were really little, their Mom often bathed them both at the same time and used a plastic cup to rinse out their hair. She would tell Nancy to cover Mike’s eyes and she would tell Mike to do the same for Nancy. Mom was really big on the whole siblings-take-care-of-each-other-thing.

On the nights when Mom was busy with friends, and Dad was working the late shift, Mom assigned Nancy the job of giving Mike the bedtime routine. Mike remembered his big sister sitting outside the tub playing shipwreck with him for hours before Dad would come up stairs and scold them for not being in bed already. Believe it or not, those were some of the best times. Nancy and Mike used to do everything together. 

A fresh batch of tears clouded Mike’s eyes, but this time it wasn’t from pain or embarrassment as it was from nostalgia. 

There was a knock on the bathroom door, and Mrs. Byers entered with a set of pj’s from Will’s room. 

“I hope these still fit.” She said. “You and Will have always been about the same waist size.” She said, setting the clothing on the closed toilet seat. 

“Let me know if there is anything I can do.” She said, noticing the tears streaming down Mike’s face. 

“Thank you, Mrs. Byers. We will.” Nancy said. Once the door closed she held Mike in place, averting her eyes to the ceiling to give him the sense of privacy while he got dressed.  

“Thanks Nance.” Mike whispered as they went to Will’s bedroom. 

“Mike.” Eleven’s smile lit up when Mike entered the room. 

Hopper couldn’t help but grin at the sight of a clean Mike, no longer covered in dirt or blood, walking into the room with some regained energy. 

He did, however, stop smiling when the said boy climbed on top of the bed, and laid next to his daughter. 

“Easy, Hopper.” Nancy laughed. “They’re not gonna do anything. He could barely stand up, let alone take off his own pants.” She teased. 

Glaring, Mike crossed his arms over his chest. Nancy grinned, then left for the kitchen to help Mrs. Byers make a really late dinner for everyone. All of the kids looked like they needed some food. 

As she was leaving, Steve entered the bedroom with a bottle of pills in his hand, and an ice-cold glass of water. 

Steve saw Mike lying on his stomach over Will’s bed, the same way Eleven was. His skin was so pale, almost as white as the bed sheets under him save for his flushed cheeks that were tinged bright red due to a small fever he probably had. Steve knew for a fact he had a fever himself after jumping into that lake. He had already taken a few Motrin’s. 

Eleven’s breathing was ragged and her eyes were glazed over with a look of pain on her face. She snuggled closer under Mike’s arms. 

"Hey there he is.” Steve greeted softly with a slight smile but Mike was startled at the sudden voice and tried to get up which wasn't a good idea as he winced in pain and slumped back onto his bed.

"Woah kid! I don't think you should be trying to move yet." Steve said as he went to help Mike in adjusting himself back.

"Wh…when did you get in here?" Mike asked, he didn't notice Steve entering at all.

"Just a moment ago." Steve replied.

"Oh"

“Anyways,” Steve scratched the back of his head, “I brought you some pills for the pain and fever. Trust me, I burning up thanks to that lake.”

 

Eleven furrowed her eyebrows and whispered in Mike’s ear, “Is he on fire?”

 

Mike laughed loudly, but shook his head. “Nah. He’s just got a fever. It means your body is warm because it’s fighting off an infection.”

 

“Infection?” Eleven repeated. 

 

Mike ignored that one, and happily accepted the pills. “I’m sorry you had to fall in a lake for me,” He whispered to Steve. 

 

“Are you kidding, that was like checking off bungee jumping from my bucket list except I wasn’t secured to a chord.”

 

Mike looked at his hands, and Steve just wanted to cheer him up in any way possible. 

 

“So is there anything you want to do?” 

 

Mike started coughing, and winced in pain. 

“Um..we could play a really quick game of scrabble with El. She’s supposed to be learning her words.”

 

“Sure. I’ll go get the rest of the kids.” Steve agreed. 

 

When Lucas, Will, Dustin, and Max entered, they were practically jumping on Mike and Eleven. 

 

“Oh my God, we thought you were dead,” Dustin said, and his friends smacked him. 

 

“Hey! I seriously thought we might never see him again.”

 

“I took out a car’s windshield with my wrist rocket for you.” Lucas said, handing Mike the so called weapon. “It was pretty awesome.”

 

Mike smiled and handed Lucas the wrist rocket back. “Thanks.”

 

“I knew you would be alive,” Max laughed. “You’re too much of a pain in my ass. I knew you would live just to make me miserable.”

 

Mike smirked, “Oh Max. That is the sole reason I held on.”

 

“I knew it.”

 

Mike winced, and the rest of the party quieted down. 

 

“How do you feel anyway?” Will’s kind voice asked so quietly Mike barely heard him. 

 

“I’m fine.” He said. 

 

“Yeah, you look totally fine, Mike. In your top condition, I see.” Lucas grumbled sarcastically. 

 

“Seriously Mike, can't you just stop hiding your pain and accept other's concern and help for once or is that impossible for the mighty Mike Wheeler?!" Max asked her voice rising with each syllable.

 

“Why are you yelling at me?” He retorted, “And no, it’s not impossible. But I just don’t want to complain because there is nothing to complain about. What’s done is done. So yeah. Now let’s play the game, please.”

 

“Come on Mike, you don't have to shut us out like that. We are just worried and you don't look so well so yeah and Max is angry because she is concerned, and you know how she is" Lucas said lightly but received a glare from Max for his last part.

 

“I said you don’t have to worry. I don’t want your pity.” Mike mumbled, flopping back onto his stomach and shoving his face in the pillow, because if he didn’t see his friends, it wasn’t as embarrassing.

 

Will sighed at Mike’s process of thinking. 

 

“Dude.” Dustin said, “We aren’t pitying you. We’re just making sure you’re alright. You went through some horrible stuff that you shouldn’t have gone through. Like Han Solo in Cloud City.”

 

“Yeah he’s been babbling about Han Solo for about an hour now,” Lucas muttered. 

 

Dustin looked appalled, searching Max and Will’s faces to see if they agreed with Lucas or not. 

 

"The point is,” Lucas said, “is that if that's the case and we’re ‘pitying you’ then when any of us or even El is hurt, kindly don't visit or ask about how we are doing because it means you are pitying us and it makes us feel pathetic" Lucas said with a carefully blank face though he knew that he was totally winning the argument.

 

“But that would be heartless,” Was Mike’s reply. 

 

“So you want us to be heartless?" asked Max but unlike Lucas she didn't bother to hide her feeling of victory as a smirk took over her face.

 

Ugh!" Mike groaned and buried his head into his pillow even more.

Will started snickering and Dustin burst out laughing.

"You are totally floored, Mike.” he managed after his giggling died down.

"That's unfair, all of you are teaming up against me" he scowled.

"how are you really feeling?" Will asked again as Mike gave him a playful shove. 

"Well I feel terrible, I can't even move from this damn position without causing my foot to burn like hell! Every time I even flex the muscle, it spasms. But other than that, I’m fine. Really.” 

“Is your chest bleeding?” Will asked, because he noticed the gash when Mike first walked in the door. 

“Yeah,” Mike whispered quietly, “That was the worst part. They...um..they cut my chest with a scalpel.”

He watched his friends wince, including Hopper. 

“Ouch.” Dustin whispered. “You sure that was the worst?”

Mike nodded. “Well also when they hurt my foot, and I feel really weak because I’m so cold and I haven’t eaten for a while. But I’m fine.” 

Dustin nodded, grabbing Mike’s hand. “Well, we are here for you. And we’re going to make those bastards pay.”

Joyce, and the rest of the teens walked in around that moment. 

“We were just talking about that.” Joyce said “We said to ourselves. Alastair will do anything to anybody as long as he thinks it will get him what he wants. So that leaves us with very few choices.”

“Well we sure as hell aren’t going to hide for the rest of our lives.” Nina said. “I’ve been hiding most of my life and it’s horrible. I don’t want the kids to experience that.”

“So that left us with leaving Hawkins for good. Or running away.” Joyce said. 

Hopper shook his head, “You mean to tell me you think we should runaway?” 

“I could go?” Eleven suggested. “Just me. That way you all don’t have to leave.”

“No.” Mike said, grabbing El’s hand. “I’m not leaving you. I’m tired of everybody separating. We need to stick together.”

“I agree.” Said Nancy, “Besides. Alastair could still hurt us, even we leave.”

“But if we leave, we have a chance to out run them. We just need to go to a town no one knows about.” Jonathan said. 

“That’s the same as hiding, and I told you, I don’t want to do that.” Nina said. 

“That’s why we should all leave,” Joyce repeated. “We’ll just go somewhere far enough away.”

“What like Canada?” Dustin asked. 

“No. We’re not going anywhere.” Mike said. “We’re taking our lives back.”

“What?” Lucas looked around the room at his friends. “Any idea what he means?” He whispered. 

“Nope.” Dustin whispered back. 

“If we run, they’ll just follow us. Then it becomes the same thing Nina is talking about. We would be hiding our whole lives. And there would be no going back. We would have to leave our homes, our families. Are you willing to live like outlaws, because I’m not. This is my home, my town, my life and I’m going to fight to keep it. I want things to be normal. The only way that can happen is if Alastair is out of the picture.”

“Fight the most elite unit?”Jonathan raised his eyebrows. 

“He knows almost everything about us.” Nancy said, shaking her head. 

“True. He knows who we are, but we know who he is too. And we are stronger than he thinks.” Mike turned to Eleven. “We might even be stronger than we think.”

Everyone nodded in agreement, holding onto one another for support. 

“Hey,” Max shrugged, “I helped take down a demogorgon before. What’s a powerful agent compared to that.”

“True.” Lucas said, turning to point at Eleven, “and El has saved our butts again and again. She can do it one more time.”

“Unfortunately Lucas,” Max said with a grimace, “I don’t think this will be the last time. If I’ve learned anything about you guys. It’s that trouble follows you.” 

Everyone groaned and Max raised her hands in defense. “Hey people. I’m just saying. Ever since I met you, things have constantly been crazy.” 

The kids shrugged, because Max had a point, but so did they. 

“But we’re crazy enough to fight for our town.” Lucas said. 

“Yeah, and our lives.” Jonathan added. “I’m willing to fight for my life.” 

“Then it’s settled. We fight.” Mike grinned. 

“Give me liberty or give me death.” Dustin shouted and everyone groaned. 

 

Chapter Text

Nancy hung up the Byers phone. She was talking with her mom about staying over at Will’s house with Mike. She made up a fake story about how she’s helping Mike and Will study for an impossible exam. Her mother had told her she was proud, and Nancy hated herself for lying. But what could she say? Sorry Mom, your son was tormented by a special agent in the FBI because he knows too much about another dimension? Yeah, that wasn’t happening. The less her mom knew, the safer she would be. Nancy honestly felt sorry for Jonathan because his mom was so involved in this mess. Then again, she was thankful to have someone she thought of as a mother figure involved because at least she could help them when they needed it. Nancy smiled sadly at Mike, who was sleeping on the couch, curled into Joyce’s side. Nina had spent the past hour healing Mike’s wounds to the best of her ability. Fortunately, he didn’t have many, but the ones he did have were pretty bad, especially his leg that was electrically burned. 

 

“All set?” Jonathan startled Nancy out of her thoughts. 

 

“Yeah. My mom thinks we’re helping Will study.”

 

“Alright. Well I’m going to drive Lucas home. Steve already left, and Max called her mom and told her she was staying at Jane’s house.” 

 

Nancy smiled. That girl took after her own heart. “So I’m assuming Billy is staying too.” She said. 

 

“Yeah. He doesn’t want to go home, and I figured we will need him if we are planning to raid this government facility and kidnap Alastair.”

 

“That Bastard deserves worse than that for what he did to my brother.” 

 

Jonathan gently placed his hand on Nancy’s shoulder. He stood in silence for a minute, giving Nancy a chance to calm down. 

 

“I know. But we aren’t murders. We’re going to call the police on him and then lock him up in some prison cell forever.” 

 

Nancy shook her head. “I’m still not sure if this is such a good idea.”

 

Jonathan sighed. “We can talk more after I drop Lucas off.” She agreed, beckoning him out the door. 

 

Hopper was sleeping on the floor in Jonathan’s room. Eleven was sleeping in Jonathan’s bed with Max, and Billy was sitting in front of the TV, watching it at a low volume so he wouldn’t disturb anyone. Dustin and Will were sleeping in Will’s bed, and Steve was on the floor hugging one of Will’s old stuffed animals. 

 

“Mrs. Byers?”

 

She would’ve ignored it, would’ve pretended to be asleep, had it been anyone else. But it was Mike, and her voice was lacking all reluctance when she responded.

 

“Yeah Mike?” 

 

She could hear Mike’s erratic breathing, the forebode of the tears that would soon soak Joyce’s couch pillow. Mike’s trembling could be felt through the cushions of the couch where Joyce was listening anxiously.

 

“It’s okay honey. You can tell me.”

 

That’s when Mike started leaking tears. His hands searched for Joyce’s in the dark, fingers clammy with fear and his grip too tight with desperateness.

 

“I’m so afraid,” he whimpered. “It was so scary. They just, they just left me in there, and my foot hurt, and everything hurt, and why would they do that? It was so dark in there sometimes. I couldn’t see anything, not even myself, but I could hear things. And there were horrible surgeons in masks and I wanted to run. I wanted to run so bad but I was trapped, and it hurt so much. It hurt, everything hurt, and it was so cold.”

 

Mike was raising his voice, his terrified whines disturbing the silence of the night. Joyce was holding him tightly now too, desperate for him to stop because she couldn’t handle hearing him like this. 

 

“It hurt and it won’t go away and they threatened to do horrible things to you guys.”

 

So Joyce hugged him. She pulled him into a bone crushing hug and just held him close like she does with Will. 

 

Neither of them moved at first. Then, when Joyce pulled him back, she cupped his chin with her hand. 

 

“You’re safe now, Mike. You’re safe with me.” 

 

“Promise?”

 

Joyce would have rolled her eyes if Mike hadn’t sounded so unsure.

 

“Promise,” She whispered, a sincere reminder that everything was going to be okay. 

 

Mike smiled, then recurved himself so he was snuggled directly against her side like a kangaroo baby. 

 

“Good night, Mrs. Byers.”

 

“Good night, Mike.” 

 

______________________________________________

 

There was a knock on a giant wooden door titled Greg Alastair. 

 

“Come in.” 

 

Bryan Henderson walked inside with his head bowed low. 

 

“Ah Mr. Henderson. Unless you have Eleven with you, I suggest you get out of my sight. I’m busy trying to find a way to take down seven people without it looking like murder.”

 

“Mr. Alastair. I don’t have Eleven, but I have other fascination information. Since I am the hunter you assigned to this case, I make it my goal to listen in on conversations. That being said, I overheard their plan.”

 

“Plan?”

 

“Right now they are planning to go back to Loch Nora to gather supplies for the young experiments to use. They plan on raiding this lab and taking you out.”

 

Alastair smirked, laughing softly. “Idiots. Fetch me my coat. I’m about to get everything I want in one shot.”

“Wait. You don’t know where their hideout is in Loch Nora. But I do.”

“Alright. Then tell me.”

“I will, but first, we deal.”

Alastair sat back with his hands behind his head, and his feet on his table. “Name your terms.”

“I want OUT after this. No more hiring men to come after me. -“

“Fine.”

“ - And, I want my son alive.”

“I’ll keep the two of you protected, and I will get you a new identity. But you are going to show me where they are instead of just telling me. I can’t risk you lying, can I?” 

“I’ll happily show you where they are.” 

______________________________________________

In the morning, Joyce and Hopper rode towards the lake hideout in Loch Nora with Nina and the other three experiments. After parking, Hopper and Joyce stayed outside the house while Nina and the kids went in to fetch some supplies. 

Joyce lit a cigarette and Hopper used her lighter to light his own. 

“Listen Hop. I’ve been thinking. Why don’t we just go to the police about this. I mean the ‘good government agents’ that won’t tolerate secret government action in this country.”

“If the press get hold of this they won’t tolerate it.” Hopper said. “But if I turn Alastair in, I turn all of them in too.” He nudged his head towards the hideout where Nina was. “And I can’t risk El being exposed like that.” 

“This guy kills people,” Joyce said, “He killed Murray, Bullet, and six other innocent people. And he was about to kill all of the kids. We can’t just let him get away with this, but we also can’t go charging into a government facility. Even if we survive, we’ll be locked up forever.”

Hopper let the smoke fill his lungs before he puffed it out into the sky. “We don’t have much of a choice.”

Years of police work had sharpened Hopper’s instincts to the slightest of sounds.  He snapped his head to the side. “Did you hear that?” He whispered. 

Alastair loaded his shotgun, then whispered in Bryan’s ear, “As soon as we see them all together, shoot to kill.”

Bryan nodded, but as Hopper started approaching the bushes where they were hiding, Alastair sighed. 

“So much for waiting for all of the kids to show up.” Alastair muttered, before pulling the trigger. 

A giant BANG sounded out, and Hopper had practically shoved himself onto Joyce, knocking both of them to the ground before the bullet could hit either of them. From where he was laying, he shot his own pistol at where he perceived the threat was coming from. 

At the sound of gunshots, Nina came rushing out of the hideout, right into the line of gunfire. Alastair had shot another few rounds. Quickly, Nina used her mind to make all the bullet shells float in the air. She then dropped them to the ground. 

“What’s going on?” 

Hopper stood, up keeping Joyce behind him. “Behind the bushes,” he managed to yell before firing a round into the green leaves.

Out of nowhere, like a phantom, Alastair emerged from the bushes firing as if he had a machine gun. If Nina was not there, using her mind as a shield, Hopper and Joyce would have definitely been killed. 

Stepping forward, Hopper took aim for his shoulder, then pressed his finger on the trigger. Alastair moved to dodge, but it ended up hitting him in the chest, and he fell backwards. 

Time froze in an eerie silence as all the gunshots had stopped. Carefully and cautiously, Hopper approached the body. 

Nina and Joyce stood behind, ready to protect Hopper in case Alastair pulled any tricks. 

Crouching down, Hopper put his two fingers on the man’s neck feeling for a pulse. When he felt nothing, he pulled back and tried to listen for breathing. Still, nothing. 

“He’s dead. Alastair is dead.” 

Suddenly a strong gust of black smoke flew out of Alastair’s mouth like it had a mind of it’s own. Hopper watched as it flew far into the distance. 

“Hey,” Joyce said, “The same thing happened when Will was possessed by the mind flayer...oh.” 

Chapter Text

“Wait? You think Alastair was possessed by the mind flayer?” Jonathan clarified from the kitchen. He was busy scrambling eggs, but the sound of his Mom and Hopper talking to the rest of the group caught his attention. 

“I’m telling you, it was the same smoke that came out of Will that night.”

“If Alastair really is dead -“

“He is.” Hopper said.

“ - then it would make sense for the mind flayer to leave his body. He wouldn’t be able to live in a dead host, would he?” Nancy asked. 

“I guess it’s possible.” Dustin said, “but unlikely.”

“The point is, that smoke just disappeared somewhere else.” Joyce said. 

“Well it’s gone now.” Hopper concluded. “But So is Alastair. You kids are officially safe.”

Nina shook her head in disbelief. “I’ve been hiding for so long. It’s going to feel so weird to finally be free.”

“Where are you going to live?” Nancy asked. 

Nina shrugged. “The kids and I had a home before we ran away to find Eleven. Mr. Kyle was a government agent that helped us escape. We’ve been living with him for a while. He’s going to be devastated to hear about Bullet and Bri.” 

Hopper eyes lifted to her thin face, “Did you say, government agent?”

“Yeah. He worked at the Lab for many years but when he helped us escape he never went back. He was too afraid he’d be labeled as a traitor.”

“Do you think he could go back and somehow take Alastair’s place?” Hopper asked, pacing as he spoke. “That way, we can be sure this situation is really over and no one will be coming after our kids.”

Nina nodded, “Yeah. I think he would love to go back and actually do something good for the unit. It might be a challenge, but he has the authority to take over.”

Dustin nodded, his curly hair bouncing. “Wow. I can’t believe it’s really over. The final fight was easier than I thought. I didn’t have to do anything.” 

“Yes.” Eleven agreed. She was cuddling with Mike on the couch. 

“Let’s be thankful it was easy.” Mike said, snuggling his face against the cool blanket. “Because trust me, Dustin. This whole thing wasn’t easy for me.”

“Yeah, How are you feeling anyway?” Joyce asked, looking towards the black haired boy. 

“He’s better.” Nina answered. “I gave him another healing treatment this morning and most of his wounds are gone. He’s going to be just fine. It’s Eleven that I’m worried about. My healing abilities don’t seem to be working on her.” 

“Is it because she has mind powers too?” Dustin asked. 

“No, I don’t think so. It’s whatever that poison was that they put in her. It’s preventing me from healing her.”

Will sighed, looking at his hands. He wanted to help, but he didn’t know what he could do for Eleven. Somehow the poison just took itself out of Will’s body. It’s like Will’s body was immune to it and Eleven wasn’t. But why? 

“I guess that means I have to go home now that this shit is actually over.” Billy muttered. “Too bad. I was looking forward to beating some ass before heading home.” 

“Maybe some other time, man.” Jonathan said, handing his mom a plate of eggs. “But the next time we need some muscle, you’ll be the first person we call.”

Billy smirked at that. “Good. You losers need all the muscle you can get.” 

Max sighed loudly, “We really can’t avoid going home can we?”

“Nope.” Billy mumbled. 

“Sometimes I wish I could just escape Neil and go back to California.” She whispered to Billy as they walked towards the door. 

“Sometimes I wish that for you too, Max. If your dad ever does come back. Escape while you can.” 

Max nodded, her logical mind agreeing with her step-brother but her heart was thinking of Lucas. She couldn’t stop worrying about how hurt he would be if she left. It made her angry. It was her fault for getting attached in the first place. Stupid, stupid, girl. She told herself not to do that, and yet, here she is attached to these five losers and their families. Why did she have to be a part of something so special. It was crazy right? These people literally dodged being killed. They put her lives in danger multiple times, and she could have been tortured like Mike, but yet she still wants to be around them. She can’t get enough of them. Not just because she faces life or death situations and it gives her the biggest adrenaline rush of her life, but because they were her family. But her dad was her family too. Max was too confused and tired to know how to feel. She numbly followed her step-brother and Jonathan to his car. He was going to drop them off at Neil’s house. All she knew is that she was leaving her home and going to hell. 

Eleven watched Max from the window with worried eyes. “She seems quiet.”

Mike heard El and followed her gaze towards Max. “Oh yeah.” He agreed. “I feel sorry for her. Going back to Neil probably doesn’t feel safe.” 

“She could stay with us.”

Mike shrugged. “She can’t hide forever. She’s going to have to face this eventually. It looks like she’s as ready as she’ll ever be.” 

“Poor Max.” Eleven whispered, snuggling further into Mike’s shirt. “Hopper never hurt me.”

Mike nodded. “And he never should. My Dad...as much of a jerk as he is to my mother...he never hits her. He’s never hit me. I’m really thankful for that.” Mike swallowed a lump in his throat as he realized the last conversation he had with his father was a screaming match. 

“What’s wrong?” El asked, noticing how his eyes were downcasted. 

“I feel guilty,” he mumbled. “About my Dad. I shouldn’t have yelled at him. I shouldn’t have said what I said.”

Eleven nodded. “Compromise.” She said, twisting her fingers into his. 

“What?”

“Compromise with your Dad.”

Mike thought about what Eleven was trying to say in her own adorable way. He summed it up as he needed to talk to his dad and apologize. But he also needed to still be heard. He didn’t say all that crap for no reason. Everything he said was true but it was coming from a place of hurt and anger. At least now, it came come from a place of peace and well thought out words. 

“Thanks El.” He whispered, his lips gently brushing against hers. 

Dustin stood up from the floor and sighed, “I better go home too. But I’ll wait until after school since my Mom think’s I’m at a sleepover. She’ll think it’s weird if I come home an hour before school.” 

Mrs. Byers nodded, turning to Mike. “Do you think you are ready to go to school.”

He nodded slowly. “Yeah. The pain is gone. I can do it.” 

Hopper was walking out of the Kitchen with Nina behind him. “We’re going to go find Kyle together and convince him to take over the unit.” Hopper said, as he put on his police cap. “Is it cool if Eleven stays here?” Hopper asked looked at Joyce, but she bit her lip in return. 

“Um...I have a shift at Melvalds. But she’s welcome to stay here with Jonathan.”’

“No it’s okay.” Hopper said. “Let Jonathan go to school. She has stayed home alone before. She can do it again. Right El?”

Eleven’s heart sank at the idea of being alone. That’s why she always called Mike whenever she was alone. Because she hated it. She’s been alone most of her life, isolated in a room, away from the world. 

“Don’t worry, El. I’ll meet with you right after school.” Mike said, as if he could read her mind. 

Soon the group slowly disbursed. Everyone was going their separate ways. 

______________________________________________

Clicking his pencil against the desk, Will sighed to himself. He was sitting near the front of the room, waiting for Mr. Clarke to pass out the science test. He didn’t study at all, but Will wasn’t worried. He excelled at science. He wasn’t sure why, but something about it fascinated him. He was, however, bored of Mr. Clarke giving the same ‘don’t cheat’ speech that he gave before every test. 

Will was doodling on his notebook, waiting for Mr. Clarke to finish already. Finally, when the kids were asked to give Mr. Clarke ‘high fives’ with both hands for good luck (and for Mr. Clarke to check to see who was dumb enough to write their answers on their palms) he finally passed back the tests. 

Will took one of the test booklets and passed the others behind him. Then he hunched over, and got down to business. 

Question number one was easy about ecosystems. Question number two was a little more challenging but Will handled it with ease. Question number three was the hardest by far. It said, 

“Sea anemones contain a venom that is used to sting and paralyze their prey. The clownfish contains an enzyme in their scales that makes them immune to the venom. This allows them to freely live in the sea anemone without being harmed. This is an example of what type of relationship?

A.) predator-prey

B.) mutualism 

C.) commensalism 

D.) parasitism 

Will knew it wasn’t a mutation or a parasite, and since the question was asking about this enzyme that was immune to venom he figured the answer was answer C. 

Circling the bubble, Will flipped his test booklet over when Mr. Clarke’s words echoed in his mind. “Venom is one of nature's greatest paradoxes. At the most basic level it is designed to kill – and to do so quickly and efficiently. Yet, the same properties that make it deadly can also be harnessed to provide potential healing.”

Will dropped his pencil to the floor, his mouth wide opened. Could that be it? Was venom from the mind flayer itself trapped inside El’s body. Maybe that’s why she can’t get better. But Will, he could, because he was possessed by the mind flayer before...so his body was immune to it. 

The mindflayer didn’t mean to heal will, but because he had already been possessed, the venom helped heal him instead of hurt him like it did with El. 

Will felt someone poke his shoulder, and he looked over at the girl that was sitting beside him. She was handing him his pencil back. He took it, but couldn’t even process a thank you because his mind was swirling. 

His chest had burned. The venom caused his body to burn out the toxic poison. Maybe that means, Eleven needed to burn out her poison too. But how? Was she supposed to actually burn herself? Will remembered his mom, brother, and Nancy, how they strapped him down and turned on burning hot ventilators to get the mind flayer out of him, and it brought him to his conclusion. El was going to need to be very toasty in order for that parasite to get out of her body. 

Will looked down at his exam, too worked up to focus on any of the questions. His eyes glanced towards the clock and he cursed himself for thinking of this five minutes into the exam. 

Mustering up the self-discipline it took to finish the exam, Will tried his very best. He hurried through it, but took the time to answer questions he thought were correct. 

Once he was done, he had to wait quietly for everyone else to finish. Will normally used this free time to draw pictures in his notebook, but he was still thinking about the whole venom situation. It reminded him of the evil spider man comics. So he pulled out a few that he had shoved under his desk. 

Venom is a villain who wants to kill Spidey because he intensely hates Spidey, but he has a moral code of not wanting to hurt innocents, so generally, unless an innocent is getting in his way of killing Spidey, he won't do bad stuff, like rob a bank or wantonly murder innocent people, this moral code also means sometimes he's an anti-hero. So basically sometimes he's the bad guy who's trying to kill Spidey, other times he's an anti-hero, (and sometimes the symbiote completely takes over and he's a monster who just eats people.)

That’s it! The Symbiotes. Will was almost positive the mind flayer was like a symbiotes. But to be sure, he wanted to check with Dustin after class. 

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the bell rang. Will leaped up from his chair and tracked down Dustin. 

“Tell me about the Symbiotes.”

“Why?” Dustin muttered, placing his notebook back in his backpack.  

“Please. Just do it.”

Dustin shrugged. He was never one to turn down the chance to speak about comics, “Okay. So you know Symbiotes are extraterrestrial parasites which appear in the Marvel Comics universe right?”

Will nodded vigorously. 

“Okay good.” Dustin said, “so they bond with their hosts, actually, it’s more like the Symbiotes envelop their hosts like costumes, creating a parasitic bond through which the host's mind can be influenced.”

“Like the mind flayer.” Will said. 

Dustin narrowed his eyes. “I guess...where are you going with this?”

“I think the mind flayer’s venom is is a Symbiotes. That’s how the mind flayer was able to control me.” 

“Sooooo?”

“So what if the mind flayer is trying to control Eleven, but because she has such a strong mind, it’s struggling to make the bond.”

Dustin eyes popped out of his head. “We need to get to that cabin.”

“We can’t just ditch school again.” Will mumbled. 

“We can go after.” Dustin said. They both agreed. But they realized, as they entered third period that Mike was not in his seat. 

“He must have skipped and gone to El’s house.”

“But why?” 

Dustin shrugged. “Lover boy always wants to see his girl. It’s not that surprising, she’s alone, remember. He never wants her to be alone.”

Will understood what Dustin was saying, but something about the whole situation felt odd. 

When the final bell rang, Will was running towards his bike. He looked back at Dustin, waiting for him, but Dustin waved him away. 

“It’s okay. You go without me. I’m going to go home and see my mom.” Dustin said. “I promised I would come home after our ‘sleep over.’”

Will nodded, understandingly, which Dustin always appreciated him for. 

“See ya around Byers. Take care of El.” 

“I will.” He said, as he biked off into the distance. 

When Dustin got home he saw his mom had stirred slightly at the sound of the door to the house opening. The door closed, and Dustin heard footsteps come from the other room. His mom stood slowly. 

Bryan Henderson walked slowly to the living room and just barely entered. He stiffened slightly when he saw the Dustin standing by the door a few feet away. 

Dustin’s mom waited for a moment, but her son made no effort to recognize Bryan’s presence.

Bryan tensed, and silently thanked Claudia for her presence, when the boy walked forward. Dustin’s steps were halting, and his feet dragged heavily across the ground before he stopped only two feet from where Bryan was standing. 

“Mom. Can you give us a second.”

Claudia shifted her eyes between the two of them. “Is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine.” Dustin said, not taking his eyes off of the man in front of him. 

“Okay.” His mom sighed. “I’ll be in the other room if either of you need me.”

Bryan’s brow furrowed deeper as he noticed the boy's change from his customary mood. Instead of looking at him with disapproval, Dustin was staring at him with rage. The boy's shoulders were ridged, arms hung tensely at his sides. Bryan expected an explosion from the boy as soon as Claudia was out of the room, however, that was not the case. 

Instead Dustin remained motionless. He didn’t say anything which put Bryan on edge. So Bryan cleared his throat and decided to start the conversation.

“So I guess you know what I did.”

Instead of the angry blue eyes Bryan had expected, there were two flat, lifeless blue orbs blinking at him. 

“We’re not going to tell her,” Dustin said, nudging his head towards the kitchen where his mother went. “She doesn’t need to know what a horrible person you are.”

Bryan flinched at the boy’s words. 

“Dustin, you have to understand. I didn’t want to hurt you. I never wanted to drag you into this. That’s why I did this. I wanted to make a deal with Alastair so he wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Eleven is my friend.” Dustin spat. “And you tried to give her away to some lunatic.”

“I was following my orders.”

“One of my best friends got caught instead. They hurt him. How can you live with yourself?” 

“They would have killed me. Once I was involved, I didn’t know it would turn into this. At first, it was just a few gigs to get money, then suddenly my life is being threatened and I’m assigned to murder people.”

Dustin shook his eyes, his blue eyes watering. “Everything you told me was a lie. You were just using me to poison Eleven and Will.”

Bryan looked down at the ground, his Adam’s Apple bobbing. “You’re right. I did use you. But everything I told you was true. I didn’t know you existed until Alastair assigned me this case. Once I found out I had a son, everything changed. All I wanted to do was to keep you safe.” 

He stepped forward, but Dustin stepped back, eyes dripping with tears. “I don’t need your protection!” Dustin shouted. “I don’t ever want to see you again. You tried to kill my friends! Jesus, do you even hear how messed up that is? You tried to kill them.”

“I had to!” Bryan cried. “Alastair would have killed me and you.”

Dustin shook his head, refusing to listen to any of this. “You had a choice. Everyone has a choice.”

“So What? You would have preferred if I just died instead? Is that it?”

“No!” Dustin shouted, putting his hands over his ears, “Yes! Maybe. I don’t know.” 

Bryan sighed. “Well. It’s over now. Alastair is gone, so I can finally get out. I’m going to try to go to Italy. I really do care about you Dustin, and I’m sorry for how everything turned out between us. I hope one day you can find it in yourself to forgive me. But I’ll leave, unless you want me to stay.”

“No. I definitely want you to go.” Dustin muttered, his cheeks burning with pent up anger. 

Bryan nodded, and went back into his bedroom. He came out with a suitcase already packed. Dustin snorted. Unbelievable. He was going to leave whether Dustin wanted him to or not. 

As Bryan approached the door, he turned back to Dustin with one last piece of advice. 

“If I were you, I would watch the people closest to you. You never know when they might switch sides.” 

In the blink of an eye, he was out of Dustin’s life, leaving the boy standing dumbfounded in the middle of the livingroom, dwelling on his final words of cation. 

Chapter Text

It was sometime in the middle of afternoon, Eleven thought, but the clouds outside were covering the sky in a cool grey blanket. It blocked out the sunlight, and instead filtered in a soft white light that barely lit the dim rustic cabin. The calm and muted atmosphere was interrupted only by the bright flashing colors and noise of the TV screen. 

Growing bored, Eleven slumped on the red couch, sighed, and let her gaze wonder to the raven haired boy’s head in her lap. She cocked her head and leaned forward to get a better look at his face, pushing some dark strands of hair out of the way. His brown eyes were hidden underneath his closed eyelids, rimmed with long dark lashes. The fabric of his thin blue hoodie covered his chest that slowly rose and fell with his breathing. 

After observing him for a bit, and becoming satisfied that he was asleep, Eleven carefully leaned back against the couch and with a flick of her head, the television screen went black. Eleven’s head began to hurt and she silently cursed at herself for using her powers. She huffed, the weight of Mike’s head that was warm and comforting less than an hour ago, was now making her upper legs sore. 

She internally debated over getting up, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Mike’s face looked so content and peaceful, the sight was too perfect for her to ruin. 

Besides, she knew the reason why he ditched the rest of school and decided to come to her cabin in the first place. He was scared. He had been having nightmares ever since he was taken to the special unit. Of course, Eleven understood and didn’t think it was unusual at all to be afraid of traumatic memories. She had enough of those herself to understand how it can keep you awake at night, but Mike feels shameful and angry at himself. 

The problem is Mike constantly compares his pain to Eleven’s pain or Will’s or anyone he thinks deserves more pity than he does. Consequently, he bottles up all of his emotions and worries about other people’s problems. Which is why Mike said he came to the cabin: to comfort her. He would never admit that he too could use the comfort. 

He worries about other people until the pressure builds inside him, and then the tiniest thing will make him explode.

Mike began to stir, and Eleven gently whispered his name, trying to figure out if he was awake or not. Mike hummed in response. 

“Your head is heavy,” she laughed. 

He was up in an instant, “Did I make you feel uncomfortable?” 

Eleven shook her head, her shoulder length, brunette hair falling against her face. “No. Well...my legs were getting no feeling.”

Mike pouted, “I’m sorry I made your legs go numb.” 

“Numb.”

“Yeah. Numb. No feeling.” Mike explained. 

Eleven nodded, watching as he looked towards the clock on the wall. 

“Two, one, five.”  Eleven whispered. It was an hour before school would end. Mike couldn’t go back now, even if he wanted to. There would be no point. 

“Oh man. My mom’s going to kill me if she finds out.” 

Eleven raised an eyebrow. “Just an expression?”

“Right.” Mike assured her. Then, interrupting the peace and quiet of the cabin was Eleven’s stomach as it grumble, and Mike couldn’t help but smile. 

“We should make some lunch.”

Her mouth widened, “Eggos!” 

Mike shook his head, “I think we need to get you addicted to something else. You’ve been eating Eggos for like a year straight.”

She frowned. “I want Eggos.”

“How about Peanut Butter and Jelly?”

“Hopper made it for me before. It’s good, but not as good as Eggos.”

“Okay. How about... a turkey and cheese sandwich.”

Eleven titled her head at that. She never had a turkey and cheese sandwich before. “Okay.” She whispered. 

As Mike was rummaging through the fridge, he found out quickly that Hopper did not have any turkey or cheese. 

“Jesus. I see what you only eat eggos. All the old man has is frozen dinners, and cans of soups.”

“Yes.” Eleven nodded. “But we have Eggos.”

Mike rolled his eyes playfully. “Okay, okay. You win. We”ll eat the Eggos.”

Ten minutes later and Eleven doesn't know how, but they've relocated to the floor in front of the couch, and they're playing Truth or Dare. This is only after some time spent arguing over the fact that Spin the Bottle needs more than two players to actually be fun ("I promise El, I'll make it more than fun enough," he winked and she rolled her eyes).

“Truth of dare?” Mike asked her.

Eleven played this game before with the rest of the party. They did it at Dustin’s birthday party and, then again, in Mike’s basement on a random Tuesday. That time, it got out of hand because Max dared Mike to drink a sip of his Mom’s wine. He was too afraid to go get it in fear of being caught by his mother, but he didn’t want to lose the game, so he recruited Holly to get the alcoholic beverage. 

Miracously, Holly didn’t get caught. Mike paid her five dollars and the party eventually ended up drinking the entire bottle together. When Mike’s mom came downstairs, she went ballistic. The whole group of kids were lectured for fifteen minutes and then she started calling everyone’s parents. Mike wasn’t allowed to see his friends for a week after that. 

But Dustin always said dares were the best, so Eleven decided she would chose dare. 

Mike smirked, “I dare you to play spin the bottle with me.”

Eleven snarled at him, because of course she should have seen that coming, but rules are rules so she got up and grabbed Hopper’s whiskey bottle out of the fridge. She put it to the floor in front of them and sent it spinning.

Mike stopped it, leaned forward, and kissed her on the lips. Eleven giggled. 

“This game is a lot of fun.” She admitted as he kissed her again. They separated eventually, lingering on three long, sucking kisses, and Eleven feels lazy and warm and happy.

But when Mike pulled away, his facial expression was grave, almost confused and scared. 

“Mike?” 

He fell backwards, planting his back on the the hard, wooden floor. Sitting up in his elbows, he scooted away from her, terrified. 

“Stay back.” He whimpered. He was looking at her as if she was a monster. 

Eleven hated it. She absolutely hated how he looked so small, unprotected and fragile. She hated how he was looking at her as if he was afraid of her. 

“Mike?”

“Stay back.” His voice was breaking just like Eleven’s heart. 

“Mike? What’s wrong?” She asked, watching as his breathing was coming out in terrified gasps. He was panting worse than a dog would after a long walk on a hot summer day. 

“Are you okay?” She was careful not to move because he seemed scared by her movements. 

Mike couldn’t see her face clearly anymore. Everything was really fuzzy and his head felt dizzy and her face kept spinning in all sorts of different direction. 

Crying out in fear, Mike squeezed his eyes shut. He had no idea what was happening to him but it didn’t feel good. 

“MIKE! MIKE! MIKE!” She was frantic now, each scream louder than the last. She noticed he was trembling in front of her. 

Mike’s hands flew to his hair, and he tugged harshly at the black strands. “No.” He screamed, but his body fell completely back, so he was laying on his back again. He started shaking as if her were having a seizure and Eleven could only watch in horror. 

Should she call Hopper? Mike’s mother? Should she just sit there and hope it stopped? 

Believe it or not, Mike did stop shaking. In fact, he was laying completely still on the ground a second later. Too still.

“Mike?” Eleven crawled carefully towards him, and leaned over his side. Mike’s eyes were closed, but she couldn’t tell if he was breathing. She needed to call the hospital if he was not breathing. 

Eleven studied his profile, then tried to watch his chest to see if he was breathing. Hopper said something about a pulse, but she has no idea what that means. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open, burning with emptiness and his hands shot out like silly string, his long skinny fingers squeezing painfully tight around her neck. Eleven’s mouth fell open, a strangled scream leaving her lips. 

Suddenly the door to the cabin flung open. There stood Will Byers with his backpack and comic books. 

“Mike?” Will stood awkwardly to the side of the door, staring at his friend literally choking his other friend. Mike released his death grip on Eleven and the girl instantly jumped away from him as if he were a flame. 

“What’s going on?” Will asked nervously. Mike was starting to walk towards him. 

“Mike?” The bowl cut boy repeated with a nervous shrill. 

“I’m not Mike.” The raven haired boy said. 

Will’s mouth fell open. So it looks like Mike was somehow poisoned too and now he must be possessed with the mind flayer or something.

Will backed up, as Mike drew closer. He took one look at the kitchen area, and then ran in that direction, Mike barreling after him. 

“Shit!” Will screamed, as Mike tackled him to the floor and gripped his skinny neck with his fingers, squeezing tightly. 

Small ragged gasps were escaping from Will’s throat as he felt his esophagus closing. 

“Mike! Stop!” Eleven screamed, standing behind him. 

“I-I-It’s not -,” Will could barely speak, his throat burned and all air was escaping his body. “-it’s not Mike.” He managed to say before his face turned a sickening red color. 

Eleven used her mind powers and threw Mike onto the floor, away from Will. The boy, dropped to the ground gasping for air. His neck burned, and was deeply bruised. 

Mike was back on his feet, running at Eleven with full speed. She used her powers again, to knock him back down. 

“Whoever you are, just stay away!” She screamed. 

“We need to burn it out of him.” Will muttered. “He’s possessed by the mind flayer.”

Eleven looked at Mike who was doubled over on the floor. He started trembling again. 

“El?” His quiet voice whispered. 

“Mike?” Both Will and Eleven asked. 

El dropped to the floor next to him, but Mike threw his arm out. “No. Stay away.” He cried. 

“Mike. What happened?” Eleven asked. 

“It’s taking over my body and trying to trap my mind. But I’m still fighting.” He groaned, rolling back on his back and wincing like he was in agony. “They poisoned me when I was in the unit.” 

“Why would they do that?” Eleven asked out loud. 

Will’s eyes widened, “Because Alastair was controlled by the mind flayer. It wants to see who it can recruit to become part of it’s army. And it wants to use Mike to kill you,  Eleven.”

Mike threw his head back screaming. “There’s no time. I can’t hold on for much longer. You have to burn this body.”

“No, Mike.” Eleven said, her heart hammering in her chest. “It’s still your body, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.”

“You have to.” Mike screamed. “It will kill you, if you don’t. Please... take the spatula, put it on the burner and then do it.”

Eleven was shaking her head repeatedly. “No. No. No.”

“Yes. El. Please.” Mike was begging her to hurt him. But she couldn’t do it. 

“There has to be another way.” She whispered, and Will saw Mike’s eyes grow dark again. 

“There isn’t.” Will said, quickly grabbing Eleven’s hand and tugging her up, just as Mike leaped towards her, ready to attack. 

They raced into the kitchen, and Will flipped on the burners. But Mike was too quick. He threw Will to the ground and started choking him. Eleven screamed, running to to drawer to grab a spatula. She threw the metal part on the stove, and watched it grow red hot. 

Tilting her head, Eleven flung Mike off of Will, his body flying into the pots and pans in the kitchen sink. 

He got up and lunged towards her but Will grabbed him by the stomach, wrapping his arms around his waist, keeping him back. 

The spatula was burning red, and Will was struggling to keep a hold of Mike. 

“Do El.” Will cried. “Do it now.”

Eleven grabbed Mike’s chin, “Look at me.” She said firmly. “It’s me! Please. You have to believe me, Mike. You have to fight it. Look into your heart. You know it’s me. I know you won’t hurt me.” 

“I can’t hold him back.” Will whimpered. “Please. El. You have to do it now.”

Eleven saw Mike wasn’t listening. This numb look in his eyes was horrifying and it wasn't going away. Eleven grabbed the handle of the burning spatula, and felt tears leak out of the corner of her eyes. “I’m so sorry Mike.” She whispered. “I’m so sorry. I love you. I’m so sorry.” 

She raised it up, then brought it down quickly over Mike’s arm. The boy cried out in pain, but he was even angrier than before. Using his full force, Mike threw Will off of him. 

“You have to press it against his bare skin.” Will screamed. 

Eleven grabbed Mike’s sleeve, and started rolling up the jacket, but she found herself being choked for the millionth time. 

Using her mind, Eleven managed to hold the spatula once again. She pressed the burning hot metal onto Mike’s exposed skin. 

“Auuuggghhh!" Mike screamed, tender flesh melting after being exposed to the excruciating heat, and something within Eleven broke at such a painful sound. But she held on, kept the hot metal plastered to his wrist, even as the boy she loved, the boy who had saved her, the boy who given her a home and made her feel loved everyday, screamed and cried bloody murder. 

Will was wincing along with Mike, his hands covering over his ears. They noticed a black piece of goo started to drizzle out of Mike’s ear, and suddenly, the goo landed on the floor in a tiny snake form. 

Eleven screamed, releasing her hold on the spatula and dropping it to the floor. Mike wailed, cradling his burning wrist tenderly, as his eyes drifted to the black snake on the floor. 

He whimpered, watching as it slithered quickly towards Eleven and up her pants leg. Mike watched in horror as her eyes grew dark and suddenly, Mike and Will were pinned against a wall. 

“El!” Mike screeched. “Eleven! It’s us.”

“I’m not Eleven.” The girl said. 

 “That bug can infect other people too.” Will screamed. 

“El. Please. It’s me, Mike.” The boy said as she picked up a knife off of the kitchen counter. 

But before she could step forward, she doubled over in pain, her head aching something awful. 

Blood was gushing out of her nose, so she released her hold on Mike and Will. As soon as the two boys feet hit the floor, they ran to the stove and grabbed the spatula. 

“Sorry, El.” Mike whispered, as he pressed the hot metal to her hand. Eleven screamed causing the lights in the cabin to flicker on and off. 

Her eyes dropped closed, but the black goo slid out of her ear. This time, Will was prepared with a pot. He slammed the lid down on it, and threw the pot onto the stove. 

Eleven’s eyes blinked open, and Mike tightened his hold around her. “El?”

“Is it dead?” She asked. 

Will took a peek in the pot and nodded. “Oh yeah. It’s dead.”

She exhaled loudly, resting her head on Mike’s lap. That was not fun. 

Chapter Text

Mike joined Eleven on the couch. She was sitting with her back against the armrest, a bag of ice laying across her hand. She returned his gaze with the corner of her lips turned up. They may have just burned the hell out of each other, but there was no denying, both Mike and El were deeply worried about one another. 

Mike took fifteen minutes bandaging her hand. He was so careful when he applied the cooling antibiotic, and when El winced, he was squeezing her other hand, talking her through it the whole time. 

When it was Mike’s turn, Eleven tried to do the same. In the end both his wrist and her hand were bandaged and healing. 

After a moment, their smiles faded, becoming just a glimmer. Mike was admiring the prettiness of her flushed cheeks and tousled hair when he suddenly realized that she was all but sitting on his lap. His cheeks heated as awareness filled him, the pressing together of their bodies immediately drawing all his focus. 

Their closeness didn’t escape El’s notice either, her heart picking up speed and her stomach getting that fluttery sensation Mike made her feel. He was close enough to kiss her if he wanted, and her lips got tingly with anticipation as she wondered if he was going to lower his head that small distance. Kissing wasn’t something they did really often, but it was one of her favorite things. It always made her feel so light and floaty, and filled her heart with warm, glowy feelings for him. 

Mike was wavering between the choice to press closer and kiss her, or get some distance between them pronto when the decision was made for him. In a very abrupt and terrifying manner.

“Oh my God!” Will shrilled. “I just thought of something. If the black goo snake thingy can escape the poison person’s body when they are burned, then that means, a snake must be loose in my house!”

Mike moved El away, and stood up, his wrist rubbing against his leg, making him wince. “Whoa. What are you talking about?” He asked. 

Will’s eyes were wide with panic, it was unsettling to say the least. 

“Don’t you get it?” Will explained with big hand gestures, “My body burnt out the snake naturally. I have some type of immunity to it. But that doesn’t mean the snake was destroyed.”

Now Mike’s eyes were wide with panic. “It infected someone else.”

“Who?” Eleven asked. 

“Literally everyone was in my house.” Will explained, falling back on Hopper’s red couch with an exasperated sigh. 

“Was anyone acting weird?” Mike questioned. 

“Oh, you mean did anyone try to strangle someone close to them recently like you just did? Um. No.” 

Mike narrowed his eyes in Will’s direction. “I’m just trying to help. Don’t be a jerk.”

“I’m sorry.” Will huffed, his hand subconsciously going to his bruised throat. “It’s just... you were really scary twenty minutes ago.”

“I’m sorry.” Mike genuinely apologized. “I didn’t mean to. That thing...it took over. I’m so sorry you guys.”

“It’s okay.” Will shushed him. “I’m sorry too. I’m just really freaking out. What if someone else tries what you just did?”

Mike chewed his bottom lip with his teeth. He looked nervously at Eleven, hoping maybe she had some way of knowing. Before he got a chance to ask, Will shot up off the couch. 

“I just remembered something. When Jonathan was combing his hair he found black stuff on the comb. He asked me about it, and we both just assumed it was a prank that Steve pulled a while ago but maybe...”

Will and Mike shared a glance at one another. Immediately, they rushed towards the telephone. 

Mike got to it first and he started dialing his home number. 

“Hello?”

“Mom! It’s me, Mike. Is Nancy home?”

“No. She was going to Jonathan’s house after school today. Speaking of which, I got a call from your principal saying that you skipped class. Care to explain?”

Mike slammed the phone back on the receiver. He picked it up, and let Will have it. 

“She’s already with your brother.” Mike muttered. “This is so bad.”

Will finished dialing the number he memorized a month ago. “Hey, Steve. You live the closest to me.” Will spoke quickly, “I need you to go to my house and make sure Jonathan isn’t acting weird.”

“Weird?” Steve asked. “Oh shit. You got to be kidding me. I thought this bullshit was over with.” 

“Yeah, turns out the poison was a baby snake or something and when the host body is burned it escapes the body and crawls into another person’s body.”

Mike snatched the phone out of Will’s hand, “There will be black goo in the person’s ear once it’s burned.”

“Whoa, you want me to burn Jonathan?” Steve asked. 

Will took the phone back. “Just make sure he isn’t trying to kill Nancy.”

“Kill Nancy!? What the hell?” 

“Just go there. Now!” Will screamed, slamming the phone onto the receiver. 

They contacted the rest of the party, urging them to go and help. “Bring curling irons.”

“Come on. Let’s bike over there.” Mike shouted, running towards the door. Eleven followed them. There was no way she was missing this. 

______________________________________________

Nancy got up off of Jonathan’s couch and maneuvered into the kitchen. 

“So...ice cream or potato chips. Personally my mom doesn’t like us to eat either, but she really hates ice cream which is like un-American, you know? So that makes me want to eat ice cream like ten times more. I’m actually really excited for Steve to get this new job because free ice cream would be awesome.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan’s voice rasped, “It would be, Nance.”

As Nancy was leaning into the freezer, Jonathan remained planted on the couch, his eyes staring at the TV screen. 

When Nancy brought out the ice cream bowls, she handed him one first before going back in the kitchen to grab some napkins. She felt like Jonathan followed behind her, which she thought was weird, but she didn’t think much of it. 

As she turned around, Jonathan was raising the bowl above him, ready to swing it down on Nancy’s head. She let out an ear piercing scream. 

Steve Harrington heard the scream from the driveway. He raced up the Byers front porch and slammed open the unlocked door. 

Nancy was sitting on the floor, blood dripping from her forehead. Jonathan was crouched over, clutching his lower region. 

“What the hell is going on?” Steve shouted and Jonathan instantly fled out the back door. 

Completely baffled, Steve rushed to Nancy’s side. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

“He was going to hit me over the head with a bowl, but I kicked him below the belt. Then he grabbed me by my hair and hit my forehead off of the counter. Who ever the hell that is, it is not Jonathan. He would never do that to me.” 

“You’re right.” Steve told her, “The kids called me. They think the monster can possess people through a parasite or something.” 

“Wait? Monster possession? That’s...” she wanted to say crazy, but then she remembered the night El closed the gate. How Mrs. Byers turned the heat up and tried to burn the mind flayer out of Will. “We need to find Jonathan. Do you have your lighter?”

“Yeah.” Steve nodded, unsure of where she was going with this, but willing to follow her out towards the shed. 

“If it’s really in Jonathan, we need to get it out of him.”

Steve was starting to piece it together. “You want me to burn Jonathan? Are you insane?”

Nancy’s thin legs stopped abruptly, and she spun around so quickly, she nearly tripped over Steve. It took him a second to realize why she had spun away, but as soon as Jonathan emerged out of the shed with an ax, he understood. 

Steve stuffed a hand in his pocket. Maybe Nancy wasn’t so insane after all. His long fingers scrapped against the metal lighter, and he lifted it up and flicked it on just as Jonathan turned towards them. 

Steve screamed, his hand starting to shake like he had a tremor disorder. 

Nancy yanked the lighter from his hand and took a step in front of Steve. “If you come any closer, I’ll light you up buddy. Whatever you are, get out of my boyfriend!” 

Jonathan smirked, but he took a step forward nonetheless. “You wouldn’t hurt little Jonathan, would you?”

Nancy took a considerably large step back, now retreating behind Steve, who in return, tried to hide behind her. 

“I’m warning you.” Nancy tried to sound fierce, but her voice was quivering. 

Another smirk from the tall brunette and then he raised the ax. Nancy turned, grabbed Steve’s arm and ran as fast as she could towards the Byers house. 

“Fu-“ Steve’s voice was cut off by a roaring engine of Billy’s Camaro pulling up onto the driveway. Nancy raced out the front door with Steve close behind her. Unfortunately, Jonathan was close behind them too. 

“Oh my God.” Max screamed when she saw the Ax. She snatched a hot poker out of the backseat. 

“Where did you get that?” Billy asked. 

Max shrugged. “They said to bring heat.” 

Nancy wasn’t sure where she was going, so she started making circles in the grass. “Can someone help!?” She screeched, trying to avoid a sharp and painful death as Jonathan swung the ax at her. 

Max rushed after Jonathan with the poker. She swung it across his leg and Jonathan dropped the ax. He was falling down, but Billy caught him, avoiding the potential of Jonathan landing on the ax. 

Billy jumped back when he witnessed the black goo slip out of Jonathan’s ear and onto the grass. 

“Get it!” Nancy screamed, but it was too late. The little worm slithered it’s way up into Max’s leg. 

Clutching the poker like a dart, Max chucked it across the yard at Jonathan. Billy pulled him out of the way in time, but Max had already rushed back into the Byers house. 

Nancy ran towards the poker, yanked it out of the ground, and followed the girl inside. With all of the commotion, the group hardly noticed Mike Will, and El rushing into the scene. 

As the kids entered the house, the first thing they noticed was Max laying on the floor with tiny specks of black slim in her ear. They saw Nancy standing over her with the poker in her hands. 

“Where is it!” She screamed frantically, jumping around the room. “Did you see where it went?” Her eyes went to Steve who was leaning against the kitchen doorframe, shaking his head.

“There it is!” Billy yelled. 

A little black worm or slug was darting across the carpet with the speed of a centipede. 

Mike and El screamed, jumping away as it slithered towards them. In the blink of an eye, the creature was in the air vents. 

“Oh that’s so freaking gross.” Max shivered. She was sitting up now, digging her finger into her ear to scoop out the remaining goo. 

“Does someone want to explain what the hell is going on?” Billy asked. 

Dustin and Lucas walked in at that very moment and everyone turned to them. 

“I second that.” Dustin said as Lucas rushed over to Max’s side. 

“That worm thing just crawled out of my ear.” She said. 

“It’s the virus Dustin’s Dad infected us with.” Mike explained. “The virus was some sort of black goo and once it’s inside a warm body, it turns into a - whatever that worm thing is.”

“Cool. I get to name another creature.” Dustin grinned a toothy smile while everyone else shook their heads at him. 

“The person infected turns into a monster.” Mike continued. “It becomes like a parasite, feeding off of the host, so the only way to get it out is to make the hosts body an uncomfortable living place.”

“In other words, we have to burn it out,”  Nancy finished. 

Mike nodded, “And once it’s out, we have to kill the worm or else it will get into someone else and infect them.”

“Wait.” Billy said, “Can it get into someone that has already been burned?”

“We don’t know yet.” Will replied. 

“The Shadow Snake!” Dustin exclaimed out of no where. “Get it? Shadow Monster, Snake-like-creature. Put them together and -“

“We get it.” Everyone muttered and Dustin’s smile dropped.

“Well. Excuse me for providing a unified name that we can all call this possessive creature.”

Sighing, Jonathan moved towards Nancy and hugged her closely. “I’m so sorry.” He whispered into her fluffy brown hair. 

“It’s okay.” To convince him that she wasn’t angry, Nancy sealed her words with a kiss. The rest of the group was standing ridged, watching the vent closely. 

“So are we going to just wait for it to come out and then try to kill it?”

“Yeah. We have to watch the vent.”

“What if it already escaped out of the other vents in the house?” Lucas asked. 

“Then we have to be prepared. Everyone watch the floor.” Nancy explained. 

All at once everyone started staring at the floor, trying to see if they could spot anything moving. 

Steve walked around and handed people the hot poker, a heated curling iron, and burnt spatulas. Meanwhile, Nancy grabbed a hair dryer from the bathroom and plugged it in. Lucas pulled out his lucky sling shot. He went outside to grab some ammo from Will’s gravel driveway. 

While everyone was waiting, Eleven decided to tell them the good news. “I can use my powers again.” She said. 

Mike peered up from his spot on the ground. He was busy pouring gasoline with Jonathan onto the living room floor. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I almost forgot to tell you guys. El doesn’t feel sick anyone. We assumed the virus was killed when we burnt her. I’m not sure why she never had a worm -“

“Shadow snake.” Dustin corrected, and Mike glared. 

“I’m not sure why she didn’t have a shadow snake inside of her, but when my shadow snake possessed her and we burned it out, it seemed to cure El.” 

“Maybe her mind and body were able to prevent the virus from forming into a shadow snake.” Steve said thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s why she felt so sick.” 

Just as Mike was agreeing that Steve was probably right, the lights went out. 

Chapter Text

When the lights flicked back on, everyone was on edge. 

“What just happened?” Steve’s breath caught in his throat as he looked around the room, at the people he cared about, and realized one of them was infected with the shadow snake. 

“Did anyone see it?” Lucas asked, preparing his wrist rocket.

Mike and Will shook their heads as Max back herself in a corner. 

“Of course the lights went out.” Jonathan muttered, “because it wanted to possess one of us without the others knowing.”

Everyone’s eyes were darting back and forth. The simple realization stuck everyone at once: no one could be trusted. 

“Wait...so one of us has the shadow snake inside us?” Dustin raised his eyebrows. 

“I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason the lights went out.”  Jonathan nodded. 

“Alright.” Steve started swinging the hot poker in the air like it was a baseball bat. “Who is it?”

Will ducked away after nearly getting his head torn off by Steve’s poker. 

“Careful where your swinging that!” Jonathan bellowed. He went to Will’s side and put the kid behind him. “Not all of us are possessed.” 

“Well who is it!?” Max yelled from her spot in the corner. Mike couldn’t believe it but she actually looked scared. 

“It’s not me.” He said. “I’ve had it once before and I know the feeling. It’s definitely not me.”

“You could be lying.” Steve said putting the poker close to Mike’s chest. 

“Go ahead.” Mike challenged. “It’s nothing compared to what I already went through this week.”

Steve lowered the poker and sighed. “I wish we knew if it could infect people that it was already in.”

Will shrugged moving around Jonathan to the center of the room. “There’s only one way to know for sure who it is in.” 

Everyone’s eyes drifted back and forth, sizing the others in their minds. Whatever Will was thinking it didn’t sound pleasant. Everyone watched as Will went into the kitchen and pulled out a mug.

Billy chuckled, “What? We’re going to drink it to death?” 

Will glared, “No. We’re going to drink Hot Chocolate and see which one of us reacts strangely.”

“To drinking hot chocolate?” Billy was looking more irritated than ever at the idea, but Mike’s eyes were dancing. 

“Because of the heat.” He said, nodding. “The Shadow snake will be repulsed by that much heat that it should give a big reaction like a flinch or something.” 

“I might freaking flinch if it’s too hot.” Billy expressed his dissatisfaction by punching a fist into his open palm. 

“As much as I hate to say it, Billy has a point.” Steve said. “Any of us could flinch from the heat. Haven’t you ever burned your tongue on hot chocolate before?”

“No.” Eleven whispered, but everyone else was nodding. 

“Sure,” Mike countered, “But if you have the shadow snake in you, the reaction will be way larger.”

“Like seizure type shaking.” Will clarified. He turned to Mike with a smile for helping him explain all of that. Mike was much better at taking charge and explaining things than he was. 

“Let’s hurry up, then.” Nancy clicked her fingers together, urging them to speed it up. In a few minutes, Will was passing around the mug of hot chocolate. 

“Wait. Take a sip yourself.” Steve said, before Will could pass it to him. 

“Why? I’m the one that came up with this idea. It’s clearly not in me.” 

Nancy put hot curling iron near his arm. “Will. Drink it.”

Offended, Will slugged back the brown liquid and licked his lips.  Steve sighed, then put the cup to his mouth. He took a small sip, but gave no reaction. He passed it to the next person, which was Dustin. When Dustin drank the liquid he winced, but then again he took a huge sip and probably burnt the top of his mouth. 

“Ow, that’s hot.” 

Steve looked ready to electrify Dustin, So Nancy threw her arm out and stopped him. She shook her head, giving him a disapproving glare. 

Lucas was fine, Mike was fine and Nancy was fine. Now the liquid was handed to Billy who turned his nose up in disgust. 

“I’m not drinking this shit.”

“Why not.” 

He cocked his head to the side, giving a look as if it were obvious. “Dude, it’s disgusting. You all just put your lips on that -“

“Drink it!” Steve shouted and Billy instantly clenched his jaw. 

He got close to Steve’s face, pointing a finger at his chest. “You wanna say that again?” 

“Guys!” Nancy yelled, physically getting in between them. “Just stop, okay?”

“Yeah and drink the drink.” Lucas ordered, trying to be a macho man. He smirked when Billy took a sip of the hot chocolate, and fist bumped a few of his friends. 

Everyone waited patiently, but Billy showed no reaction other than a look of disgust. 

“That’s not even good hot coco.” 

He handed the mug to Max and she grabbed it hesitantly. “Billy’s right. This is gross.”

“Just do it,” Lucas sighed. He watched as she looked at the mug with curious blue eyes. Then she nodded and put the cup to her lips. Lucas was about to sigh in relief, but  he realized Max didn’t take a sip, instead she poured the hot liquid over Lucas’s face and dashed out of the room.

Everyone disbursed immediately as panic set in. People were flailing in every direction trying to catch her. But Max was a speedy little devil, weaving in and out of chairs and tables like she was a roadrunner. 

Lucas ran around blindly screaming like a small school girl meanwhile Steve jumped over the couch to get to the front door and block Max’s exit. 

Barely thinking, Max’s feet took off down the hall, once she realized the door to her exit was blocked. Meanwhile several of the other kids ran to catch her. 

She was literally tackled by her peers, shoved into the floor, and her hands were tied behind her back. 

Steve carried a kicking and screaming Max over to the kitchen chair and Jonathan tied her down with ropes. 

“Alright.” Steve clapped his hands together like he was dusting them off. “Let’s do this. Someone get the curling irons.”

“Got em.” Nancy said as she stepped up next to Steve. 

Lucas and Mike eyed her wearily. 

“Nance...”

“Shut up, Mike. Someone has to.” She said before crouching down next to the red-head. “Besides this isn’t really Max.”

The girl smirked evilly. “Smart, this one.” She said looking Nancy up and down. “But weak. She doesn’t have it in her to hurt little Max.” 

Nancy scrunched her set face, and slammed the burning hot curling iron down on Max’s forearm. 

As soon as Max screamed, however, Nancy retracted the weapon and wiped the sweat from her brow. 

Max was panting heavily, glaring at Nancy. But as soon as her heart rate began to slow back down she smiled again. “See. I knew you couldn’t go through with it all the way.”

Nancy spun around looking her brother in the eyes. “I thought you said this thing would be out of her as soon as we applied heat?”

Mike blanched. “I thought it would too.” 

“I like it in this body.” The Shadow snake said. “There’s enough anger and fear in here to make me thrive. It’s going to be my new host.”

“Get out of her!” Lucas screamed. He loaded his wrist rocket with a jagged rock, but halted all movement. 

“Go ahead,” It taunted, “You’ll only hurt this body, and you don’t wanna hurt little Max, do you?”

Lucas clenched his jaw. “Just you wait. As soon as you are out of her, I’m going to stone you to death you slimy little worm.”

“Good luck getting me out. You’ll have to really increase the heat this time, and unless you want to risk permanently damaging Max, I think I’m staying.”

Nancy shook her head and pressed the curling iron on her arm again. A scream tore through Max like a shard of glass. Her eyes widened and pulse quickened. 

Lucas closed his eyes, and physically turned away. Eleven was tucked in Mike’s arms, and Mike was wincing while watching. 

The older boys in the room looked like they wanted to stop it, but they knew it needed to be done. Will looked like he was going to be sick, his body slightly gagging as he listened to Max scream again. It was the kind of scream that made your blood run cold. 

Nancy’s mind briefly flashed back to her childhood. Hawkins, April, 1974, Mike was three years old running around the kitchen playing with his toy cars. He was making them fly instead of drive because flying was way cooler. Nancy’s mom was busy baking Easter Eggs and she had scolded Mike for the millionth time about playing in the kitchen. She sent him back into the dining room, while Nancy was chatting her ear off about the school play she couldn’t wait to see. But her Mom had other plans. 

“You know your grandparents are coming over this weekend.” Karen said. 

“Barbs parents said she could go.” Nancy had said, hoping her mother would change her mind. 

“No Nancy. I’m too busy cleaning the house. Everything has to be perfect for when they come over.”

Nancy gasped. “This is so unfair.” She cried. “Everybody else will be there.”

“Well your not everyone else.” Karen said, putting an egg into the boiling water. She was about to argue more, but the phone rang interrupting everything. Karen shouted at Ted to pick it up, but he didn’t respond. He must be sleeping, Karen muttered under her breath. Then she turned to Nancy with hard eyes. “We’ll talk about this later. Watch your brother. Make sure he doesn’t come in the kitchen.” 

Of course, Nancy was too busy fuming over her mother’s decision, that she wasn’t paying any attention at all to Mike. He had ended up playing with his toy cars on the kitchen counter. He was too short to see the top, so he had to reach his arm up and imagine the car was zooming along the top. That’s how he ended up knocking his hand right into the boiling pot of water. If that wasn’t bad enough, the pot was knocked over, drenching him in burning hot water. Mike screamed. It was a scream Nancy would never ever forget. 

Now here she was, in the Byers house, years later, listening that very same scream and Nancy just couldn’t do it. She quickly removed the curling iron, and turned away. 

Tears were forming in her eyes as she shook her head towards Jonathan, whispering, “I can’t.”

Jonathan takes the curling iron out of her hand and gets close to Max. He mentally tired to tell himself it wasn’t Max over and over again, but the truth was, it was Max deep down and Jonathan couldn’t do it either. 

He turned to Steve, but Steve was practically crying. Rolling his eyes, Jonathan looked around the room for someone willing to burn this evil monster out of the little girl. Not surprisingly there were no takers. He tried to hand it over to Lucas, but he wasn’t taking it. He kept shaking his head turning away from Jonathan. So Billy snatched it out of his hands and walked towards Max. 

“I’ll do it.” He muttered. He took in the sight of Max’s burn marks and winced. “Why couldn’t you have just stayed in Cali where you belonged.” Billy whispered to himself, but it wasn’t a ‘I wish you never came to Hawkins because I hate you,’ rather it was a ‘I wish you never came to Hawkins because I didn’t want anything bad like this to happen to you.’ 

He toughen his heart, which wasn’t too hard for Billy and he envisioned the one thing that he wanted to burn more than the devil himself would, and that was his father. 

Billy clasped the heated metal onto Max’s skin and watched as her body shivered. She cried, but he ignored it. He warped it into Neil screaming at him. The more Max screamed the more Neil was yelling, which made Billy want to keep going. 

Suddenly a black snake creature poked it’s head out of Max’s mouth and everyone screamed including Billy. The snake dropped to the floor and started speeding off, like a centipede. Max coughed and gagged, then burst into tears because a Giant snake just fell out of her mouth. 

But Lucas was ready. One shot, and bam. The end of the snake was hit. But unfortunately the unearthly creature was still crawling even with it’s tail ripped off. This time, Steve knew what to do, he dropped a match onto the gasoline damped floor and poof. The snake went up in flames along with the rest of the house. 

“Don’t!” Jonathan screamed before Steve even dropped the match, but it was too late. The shadow snake caught fire and started burning with flames, but so did the curtains and the rest of the Byers house.

As the flames rose, Jonathan and Nancy quickly evacuated everyone from the house. The kids went flying out of the house, Lucas clung to Dustin while Mike, Eleven and Will were following behind Jonathan. Nancy was helping Steve and Billy maneuver around the flames, with her shirt over her mouth and nostrils to avoid the horrendous smell of burring wood. 

“Get in my car.” Jonathan screamed once he was outside. He had no idea if the place was going to burn down or explode or what, but he wanted to get as far away as possible. 

Steve has the same idea, because as soon as he was outside, he leaped into his car and sped away like a crazy man. 

“Steve! Come back. We need you to take some of the kids!” Jonathan screamed, but Steve was already a mile down the road. Shaking his head, Jonathan helped the kids into the back of the car. He left the trunk open, so some of them could ride in there. 

Nancy, slammed the passenger door shut and nodded towards Jonathan. “Go. Go. Go!” 

Shifting the gears, Jonathan started driving, but that’s when they heard a scream coming from inside the burning building. 

The kids sitting in the trunk looked at one another. Lucas’s mouth dropped open and Dustin bit his lip. “MadMax.” They said simultaneously. 

Lucas was about to jump out of the moving car to save her, but Billy beat him to it. Jonathan slammed on the breaks, and looked through the rear window. 

“What do I do?”

“Keep going.” Nancy said. “We have to get everyone else someplace safe. Then we can call the fire department to help.”

Jonathan nodded, then stepped back on the gas, speeding his way down the road. 

Without hesitation, Billy turned on his heels and bolted in the direction of the burning house. As he ran through the doorway towards where the girl was tied up, Billy kept picturing Max lying face first on the ground in a puddle, unconscious and bleeding out, and it made panic gnaw at the edge of his mind. He couldn't let that happen – not again. Not after his mother died in a car accident coming to pick him up from a sleepover.  No, he'd be damned before he allowed anyone in his family get hurt like that  on account of him. 

He didn't stop running, choosing to dart through the smoke and leap over some debris. There was no time to stop. No time to reflect on the past, and no time to consider the danger he was walking into, not when his little sister was trapped in a fire. Billy darted through the room noticing that the walkway had been shattered, broken metal fragments and spots of fire were everywhere, but he couldn’t see Max. 

He moved forward more cautiously this time, careful of the dangerously large flames that were rising and then he saw her, pinned on the ground by the chair she was tied to. She must have rocked the chair over, and fell to the ground. 

“Max,” Billy breathed, crouching in front of the girl. He pulled out a switch blade from his back pocket and began cutting the rope. 

“Nice of you to join the fun,” Max said, sounding almost cheerful. 

Billy snorted, “Just hold on. I’m gonna get you out of here.”

A piece of wood dropped from the ceiling, knocking Billy over. He slapped his palms to the ground and hunched over. 

“Billy!” Max screamed, unable to see where her brother was. The silence was killing her and for a second she feared the absolute worst, but then, he grunted. 

“I’m alright,” he groaned. He couched at sat up, “That was too close.” 

Already the roof was partially caved in and metal beams were wavering. Fire and debris littered the place. Max did not want Billy to be inside when things finally came crashing down. 

“We have to get out of here.” She said. 

“No shit.” Billy responded, his eyes searching around for the switchblade he lost. 

“No.” Max said, “I mean, you need to get out of here.” 

Billy’s hard blue eyes blared into hers. “I’m not leaving you.” 

“Are you kidding me? This place is going down and I’m trapped, but you’re not. So get out of here, Billy. Save yourself.”

Billy ignored her, his hands now desperately pulling at the rope around Max’s waist. Why did Steve have to tie the rope through the chair? Billy half thought about picking the chair up, that was attached to Max, and getting it out of there with her still on it. But he knew the wood would burn instantly. It was way too dangerous. She had to be freed. Using all of his strength he tugged at the thick stands of rope and tried to pull it apart. Using all of his energy to break the rope caused Billy’s lungs to fill with smoke. Unable to hold himself up straight any further after all the effort, Billy staggered backwards and found himself close to falling over with dizziness, but he managed to lean forward and put a hand against the wall to steady himself. It was hot to the touch and he ripped his hand away. 

“Billy. Listen to me. Please! You have to get out of here.” 

But Billy’s eyes had locked on something. He found his switch blade on the floor but it was sitting directly in the middle of a flame. In order for him to touch it, he would burn his hand badly. 

Max noticed the hesitation, practically saw the screws turning in her step-brother’s head. “Billy don’t.” Her voice cracked. 

Turning around, Billy locked eyes with Max.  Neither of them spoke, but Max understood what he was about to do loud and clear. 

Emitting something between an angry shout and pained yowl, Billy dug his hand in the flame and grabbed the painful metal blade. His face contorted into the same tortured expression that Max remembered from when he had been confronted by Neil and he quickly dragged the knife across the ropes before dropping it to the ground. 

Billy and Max jumped to their feet and began to run through the path that the flames haven’t yet touched. As the ran out of the building, Billy had an arm under Max, who was limping due to the smoke inhalation. 

Once they were finally outside of the building, Billy took a wheezing breath. He may not have been out of shape, but running through smoke was never any fun.

There were sirens blaring up the road, and soon Billy saw a bunch of fire trucks and an ambulance pull up to the house. Steve Harrington jumped out of the passenger side of the ambulance. He must have called them. 

Nothing was said out loud between Billy and Max as they gazed at one another. Billy could see her telling him how reckless his actions had been in the frown on her face, but the gratefulness for his determination and help in the glow of her eyes.

It was only when Steve’s shouts of, "I need a medic!" came that the two of them look away from one another. Billy nudged Max forward. She glanced at him once before staggering to the paramedic who was ready with an oxygen tank. 

“Are you guys okay?” Steve panted, nervously looking at the two step-siblings.

Another paramedic handed Billy an oxygen mask and he happily sucked in fresh air, letting it fill his lungs. This was the first time Billy got a chance to look at himself. He has rips in his clothing and maybe a few spots where he’d been burned, but besides the blood on his face and an obviously brunt hand, he looked dirty from mostly soot and dust. 

“You did something incredibly stupid today.” Max finally said to Billy as they both boarded the ambulance. “But it was also incredibly cool.”

“Max...don’t you dare say thank you or make this mushy. I saved you because I had something to prove. It had nothing to do with you. So stuff it.” 

But Max could see through him at this point. She knew Billy had cared about her at least a little. Otherwise he wouldn’t have risked his life like that. You only do crazy shit like that for family. And Billy and Max were family. 

 

Chapter Text

“I still can’t believe your home got seriously burnt to a crisp.” Nancy told Jonathan as she handed him a glass of coke and stole one of his fries.

Jonathan sighed. “It’s going to take forever to re-build our house. So I guess we’re spending the next few months here.”

Nancy’s eyes sparkled. “At good ol Benny’s Burgers. I’m going to get really fat hanging out with you.”

Jonathan chuckled. “Well, we don’t exactly get free food, Nance.”

He laughed as his girlfriend’s face dropped as fast as a drop tower. She shoved her milkshake away, wincing. “I’m not paying for all this.” 

Jonathan couldn’t stop laughing, so she kicked him under the table. “Jonathan. I’m serious. I can’t pay for all this.”

“I’ve got it covered.”

Nancy’s eyes narrowed. “Where did you get so much money?”

“Ah, Yes. I was going to mention it, but after all that’s happened to us this past week, I didn’t think it was a good time. But I guess now is as good as ever.”

Nancy put her chin in her hands, awaiting the news. 

“I got a summer job, just like Steve.”

Nancy hummed. “Really? I can’t see you in a sailors outfit selling ice cream, but I guess -“

“No no no. I got a job as a photojournalist.”

Nancy’s mouth dropped open, and she squealed with delight. “Oh my God. Jonathan! That’s amazing.”

“I know. Well, it’s a really small article. It’s about a basketball game. I’m just supposed to take some good candid shots, but I’m really excited.”

Nancy got up, and went to his side of the booth to give him a hug. She was so proud of him. 

“And...” Jonathan trailed off, “If you want, they are looking for someone to help edit some news stories at the Hawkins Post.”

Nancy clapped her hands together, “Yes! I’d love to! Oh my God this is so great.”

“I know,” Jonathan squeezed her closer, “We can work together.”

She took some whipped cream from her milkshake and bopped it on his nose. 

Suddenly two pairs of feet came hammering down the steps. Joyce’s new apartment was upstairs on the top floor of Benny’s diner. The place had re-opened under new management and the people were more than generous to temporarily give the open apartment space to Joyce and her kids. Since the couple that bought Benny’s Burgers has their own home, they weren’t using the apartment for anything so when they heard about Joyce’s house burning down, they offered her to stay as long as it takes until her house is re-built. Of course, Hopper is helping re-build the house along with someone of the other kind, upstanding members of Hawkins. It really was a good place to live, with the exception of an evil dimensional monster that lurked beneath the ground, but other than that, Hawkins was always safe and full of kind people. 

The footsteps were getting louder and suddenly, Nancy and Jonathan were being swarmed by their two younger brother’s. 

“Ew.” Mike said the second he saw Nancy sitting on Jonathan’s lap. “Can you please move your fat butt. We’re looking for a missing monopoly piece.” 

Nancy got up with a glare. She turned to Jonathan and whispered, “I liked it better when he was grounded for skipping school.”

“I thought you said you felt sorry for him.” Jonathan whispered in her ear. 

“Yeah, well. I take it back.” 

“Come on, Nance. You said he broke down crying because he thought he would never get to play his ghost campaign.”

“Oh he did. But I see now that he deserved to break down crying.”

Mike, who was not deaf, stood up from his crouched position and gave Nancy a playful shove. 

“Take it back.” He pointed a finger at her. 

“Get out of our booth.” Nancy said instead. 

“One second. We need to find the missing monopoly piece.”

Jonathan put his hand over his mouth to try and conceal his laughter. Meanwhile, Will was busy tearing over every other chair in Benny’s Diner. 

The door bell rang as Joyce and Hopper entered. They were carrying brown bags of groceries and Hopper’s face was dirty from working on the Byers’ house. 

“Hey. Don’t make a mess.” Joyce said, as she walked towards the back where the stairs were. “Come on, guys. You know it was very nice of Mr. and Mrs. Chase to let us live here. So I don’t want any messes, understood.”

Jonathan and Will nodded, and they both shyly apologized. As she walked upstairs, Jonathan quickly went to clear the table of the dishes, and Nancy went to help him. 

“So much for alone time,” she whispered in his ear. 

Jonathan smirked. “Yeah. I’ve already accepted we’ll never truly be alone.” 

“Well,” Nancy’s lips were twitching with a smile, “Maybe this summer, after school is out, we can take a few trips up to lovers lake.” She whispered quietly. 

Jonathan leaned forward, pressing his lips against hers. “That sounds wonderful.” 

He gripped her tighter and the pressure of their lips increased, the urgency making her pull at his hair. Jonathan’s tongue swirled with hers and he forgot where he was, all that mattered was making her happy. He nibbled her lip and she let out a moan. Everything was perfect until Will suddenly walked into the kitchen area. 

“Oh God.” He cried, his hands rushed to shield his eyes. “Sorry. I was just looking for...never mind. Mike and I will play something else.”

Nancy and Jonathan had already pulled away from each other looking at the ground with such embarrassment it was shameful. 

“Yeah. We really need to go to lovers lake. Because I can’t keep doing this to my brother.” Jonathan muttered once Will had retreated. It was Nancy’s turn to just laugh. 

Mike and Will’s new idea of a non-messy game included dipping paint brushes into large pint sized paint cans and drawing on a flimsy piece of paper. 

They were making images for the D&D ghost campaign. Mike has written in big red letters: Something Evil is trapping the souls of the dead.

Will was busy painting the white ghosts and making sure they looked evil enough to Mike’s standards. 

It was no surprise, when they finished, the paint had seeped through the paper and gotten the whole table messy. Both boys looked at each other with the classic deer in the headlights look. 

They knew they were about to be told off, and it didn’t take long for Hopper to storm over to them in a fuss. 

“Look what you did!” He exclaimed. “What did your mother just say?”

“No messes.” Will mumbled, looking at his shoes with flushed cheeks. 

Mike, however, wasn’t intimidated at all, and he turned to Hopper with an angry scowl. 

“We weren’t trying to. How were we supposed to know your stupid house paint was going to seep through?”

“You were using the paint for the Byers House!” 

Mike bit his lip, casually dropping his gaze. “Were we not supposed to use that?” 

Hopper huffed in annoyance, and grabbed the containers of paint then moved them away from the boys. “You’re cleaning that up.” He told them. Then he slowly turned his back to them and stomped over to the kitchen area, closing the door behind him. 

Will sighed, turning to Mike. He leaned into the boy’s ear and whispered, “Is he always like that?” 

Mike nodded, “unfortunately, yes.”

When Hopper came back out, he had a wet soapy tray in his hands, and dish rags over his shoulders. Both Will and Mike were subdued, silently staring at him, waiting to be told what to do. 

Hopper inwardly groaned at what a softy he had become, but both kids had been through hell and back this year so he decided to give them a break. 

“I’ll clean it up. Just go outside and have fun.” 

The boys perked up. Both of them were back to chattering away as they chased each other outside. 

Chapter Text

Hopper dropped his cigarette bud onto the concrete and smashed it with his foot. He moseyed on over to the alley behind Melvald’s General Store where the entire group of kids, teens, and Joyce were waiting. 

When they saw him arrive, they stopped their quiet whispering and looked at him with expecting eyes. Hopper tucked his pack of cigarettes into his chest pocket and nodded his towards all of them. 

“I suppose your all wondering why I called this meeting.” Hopper started. He noticed the wide array of nods and continued. “Well, I just wanted to let you all know that Nina is living in Indianapolis with Mr. Kyle, the man who basically adopted her, and together we were able to get Bri out of the unit. Bri is safely living with Nina and the rest of the kids.”

He was pleased to see smiles on all of the kids faces. The teens seemed a little more eager to hear the news about their own safety. 

“Mr. Kyle was able to secure a job as the leading agent of the special unit.” Hopper said, “Therefore, he will ensure the government will not be tracking down experiments or killing any other innocent person to cover up the laboratories mistakes. All we are asked is to keep quiet, like we always were. To summarize, it’s over. We are finally safe.” 

Cheers erupted like an auditory volcano. Everyone threw their hands in the air and shouted for joy. They were electrified, happy, and most of all relieved. When the high wore down, everyone started hugging one another and some of the kids looked like they were getting teary-eyed. Billy even hugged Max. 

“Alright!” Steve shouted, “This calls for a celebration! Everybody back to my house for another pool party!” 

Everyone cheered and agreed except for Nancy who lamely claimed she had to run an errand for her mother. But Mike knew the truth. He remembered Nancy telling him how she would never go to Steve’s house ever again. Not after Barb passed away. He understood even if no one else did. 

______________________________________________

The water in Steve’s pool moved softly around Dustin’s outstretched fingers. He pulled his hand out and watched the water drip. 

Steve sat next to him with two glasses of juice. Dustin grabbed the glass, but looked inside it. 

“It’s not poisoned is it?”

Steve laughed. “Not this time.”

Dustin snorted. “I can’t believe that actually happened.” He shook his head watching as Lucas bobbed across the water and quickly snatched Max in his arms. She screamed, and splashed him, and then they kissed. 

“Can’t believe what? That your father poisoned us?”

Dustin nodded, “Yeah. Just everything. You know, when he first showed up at my house, I was angry. But then...I just trusted him. I don’t even know why. I was such an idiot.”

“Your not an idiot.” Steve said, his warm eyes glimmering. “You just wanted to believe you could trust him. You wanted to believe he was a good man. Trust me, I get it. Sometimes I look at my old man and I think to myself about the cruel business decisions he’s made. How he laid people off, like really good people, just to make more money, and I choose not the look at that part of him. I don’t want to think about him not being a good guy. It’s normal.” 

Dustin smiled gently. “I don’t need him anyway. I guess a part of me wanted to believe my Dad really cared about me, but then I remind myself that I already have a Dad who cares about me.” He nudged Steve’s arm. 

“Dad? Whoa, maybe we should stick with ‘babysitter’ since, you know, I’m not that old.” 

Dustin laughed, holding his stomach and leaning into Steve’s side. “Good one, Steve.”

“I am not old you little shithead.”

But Dustin wouldn’t stop laughing, so Steve pressed and hand to his back and shoved him into the water. 

Landing with a giant splash, Dustin’s wet head bobbed up for air, he looked at Steve with an appalled expression. “Oh that is it.”

As he climbed out of the pool, Steve took off running around the yard. Mike and Eleven watched with amused grins. 

“Should we help him?” El asked. 

“Nah.” Mike smirked. “Let’s see what Dustin can do?”

It took a lot of chasing, but eventually, Steve voluntarily plunged himself into the pool with Dustin following behind. 

All of the kids swam over to Steve and started splashing him. He fought back the best he could, but they outnumbered him greatly. 

“That’s it. No one is getting free ice cream!” Steve joked as he gagged on some water. 

“Let’s dunk him!” Lucas roared. The other children cheered, and proceeded to pull Steve under water. They were careful to give him time to breathe before dunking him again. 

Joyce and Jonathan were sitting on the lawn chairs watching Steve get abused by the six kids. They shook their heads laughing, until Mrs. Byers finally decided to tell them to stop. After all, it was getting late. 

Chapter Text

The door handle to Billy’s room jiggled. “Dinner in five.” His father screamed over top of the blaring music coming from Billy’s speakers. 

He usually listened to music when he was angry, but today was different. Billy wasn’t feeling angry anymore. Well, he was. He was angry at Neil for treating him so poorly. But he wasn’t angry at himself. 

Billy’s fingers subconsciously fumbled with the medallion around his neck. He was standing shirtless, with his back to the mirror in his room. The skin was welted and bruised from Neil’s belt, but it didn’t fester in his mind. Thoughts like, ‘you deserved that’ never crossed his mind. 

Instead, Steve and Nancy’s voices were playing in his head, over and over again as if on a record. “It’s not your fault.” He mumbled to himself. 

Do you want to be like your father? Hell no. He didn’t. But was he like his father? Billy squeezed his eyes shut, his hand wrapping around the necklace. 

He just felt so lost and so angry ever since his mother died. He felt so guilty, so responsible for everything. He was the reason she died. He was the reason Neil was drinking. He was the reason Neil was angry. He was the reason Max got dragged into everything. And he hated admitting it, was ashamed to admit that he was responsible. 

But for this first time since his mother passed, Billy actually questioned whether or not he was responsible. Neil has told him it was, but Neil lies all the time. 

Taking in a shuttered breath, the teen turned around to look into the mirror. He didn’t recognize the face staring back. In his mind he was still a twelve-year-old-boy. A kid who was told not to hang out with anyone different than him. A kid who was told that the Hargrove’s were better than everyone else. A kid who was blamed for his mother’s death. A kid who dragged his father’s passed out drunk body over to the couch and covered him with blankets. A kid who suffered beatings on a regular occurrence. 

But in the mirror, he wasn’t a kid. He was an overconfident, arrogant, asshole. He was a guy who screamed in little girl’s faces, hit on older women that could be his mother, and go drunk at parties. 

His reflection didn’t resemble Billy anymore, but it showed a young Neil. Tears clouded Billy’s eyes and he pulled his necklace to his lips. “I’m so sorry mom. I’m so damn sorry.” 

The knocking on his door startled him, and Billy quickly grabbed his shirt, wiping his eyes with it first. 

“Dinner’s ready.” Max’s quiet voice said. 

Billy turned off his music and stood in front of the mirror to collect himself. “Be there in a minute.”

“You know how Neil is when we’re late.” Max whispered. 

Billy breathed deeply and sighed. “Okay.” He muttered, hustling over to the door and  unlocking it. “Let’s get this over with.”

Dinner carried on at the usual pace: slow and boring. Billy knew the right thing to do would be to forgive his father for all the years of abuse he suffered, but looking at the man sitting at the head of the table, Billy couldn’t do it. He couldn’t find it within himself to forgive the guy. Maybe he never would. But Billy forgave himself, and that was a start. 

______________________________________________

“Mom?” Dustin asked while they were eating TV dinner’s in front of the TV. She looked away from the crime show that was playing so she could give Dustin her full attention when her kitty started purring. She petted the animal while opening her ear to her son. 

“Yes Dusty?”

“Does it upset you that Dad left again?”

His mom smiled sadly. “No. I half expected him to. I just hope he didn’t hurt you. I know how hard it is to trust someone and then have it ripped away.”

Dustin nodded. “It did hurt. And if that’s what he did to you all those years ago, then i’m glad he knew he was free to go this time.” 

Claudia smiled. “One good thing came out of our relationship, and that was you. So don’t worry, sweetie. I don’t regret anything in my past. Everything I did, gave me you. Because of that, I would do it all over again.”

Dustin leaned into his mother’s arms and hugged her tightly. He felt so blessed to have such a wonderful woman in his life. 

“I love you, Mom.” 

“Love you too, sweetie.” 

Chapter Text

Opened potato chip bags are scattered all over the table along with six sheets of paper including Mike’s heavy binder that is propped up on his side of the table, covering his DM notes. 

The kids were four hours deep into the Ghosts of Saltmarsh Campaign. They were finally getting to the ghost part, and Mike was beyond ecstatic. They were all immersed in their character’s for so long, everyone was ready for this extremely climatic moment. 

Essentially Mike had began his campaign several weeks ago, right after they had finished closing the gate. With El back in his life, Mike spent every waking hour, and even sometimes pulled all nighters just to plan this campaign. Then he made up invitations for his friends and everything. El’s invitation was pink and had a heart on it. The rest of the boy’s invitations were all written in chicken scratch along with Will’s fancy drawings accompanying the front. Then he walked up to Max and pulled out an extra invitation he had made specifically for her. It was an apology letter attached to the invitation. If she wanted to join them on this new adventure, he would be happy to welcome her to the D&D lair, otherwise known as his basement. Mike wasn’t sure if Max would actually show up since she never gave him a response, but on the first day of the campaign she showed up. 

Having two girls play D&D for the first time ever terrified Mike, and it made him really nervous. Usually he deviates from the script he writes, but that day he had read it word for word. 

He set up the story by describing the setting. Here’s what he said: 

Nestled on the coast of the Azure Sea is Saltmarsh, a sleepy fishing village that sits on the brink of destruction. Smugglers guide their ships to hidden caves, willing to slit the throat of anyone foolhardy enough to cross their path. Cruel Sirens gather beneath the waves, plotting to sweep away coastal cities. Drowned sailors stir to unnatural life, animated by dark magic and sent forth in search of revenge. The cult of forbidden wizards, the evilest exiled wizards, extends its reach outward from a decaying port, hungry for fresh victims and willing recruits. Their job to turn the dead into vengeful ghosts.  While the village of Saltmarsh slumbers, the evils that seek to plunder it grow stronger. Heroes must arise to keep the waves safe! Squire Asce calls upon:

Righteous Mike, the Paladin. He is brought forth to Captain the ship. Due to his tremendous holiness, goodness, and virtuous personality Mike is able to sacrifice portions of his own health to heal others. 

Lucas, the Ranger, also known as lucky Lucas because of his amazing lucky shots, was summoned to protect saltmarsh. With his hunting skills, the ghosts should have a difficult time hiding from him.

Punster, Dustin the Bard, is called upon to inspire others through words of encouragement or through his music. The party will need him to get through difficult situations. 

Will the Wise, is summoned for his spiritual connections to the other side. He will provide great guidance for the party. However, the Cleric is part of the wizard class, so the squire is nervous about hiring Will. He might be tempted to betray his party at some point. 

Eleven, the mystical Mage is brought forth to cast spells that will affect her opponent. Her spell casting is a fantastic weapon. 

Finally, the Zoomer Max, the Rouge is called upon for her ability to sneak up on enemies and destroy them. She will be fast, and might steal a few things along the way, but she is definitely worth having in the party.

After Mike said all of that, the party began heading towards a village when they faced a few confrontations right off the bat. A group of pirates in a ginormous ship tried to board the party’s ship. 

Things got a lot more complicated and a lot more hectic as they always do in Mike’s D&D stories, which is why his friend’s love it so much. They ended up chasing a mute changeling, and they learned the main antagonist who is summoning the dead is actually a doppelgänger who they call the Drifter, because they originally thought he was just a harmless old man until he shape-shifted into a deranged looking ghoul. 

He’s leading an army of ghouls and ghosts. He’s raising the dead sailors for revenge. The party is finally at the point where they are facing the ghosts. 

Mike took a sip of his soda, then channeled his Dungeons Masters voice. “On the outside of the strange carved symbol door, there are thirteen people from this city, all of various ages and genders. They are all bound and gagged, helpless, facing the Drifter as he mutters quietly to himself. Occasionally, a few ghouls or the changeling would double check the bonds on some of their prisoners. There were also thirteen platforms, each one Had a spell book in front of it. Will the wise was watching the ritual go down, while trying to think of anything he could do to stop it.”

“Rolls initiative.” Will said, shaking the die in his hands before tossing it. Everyone held their breath as the d20 rolled. As it slowed, Will was crossing his fingers. But luck was not on Will’s side tonight. 

“A one!” He exclaimed nearly falling out of his seat. “I got a freaking one?” 

Mike shrugged, a look of sympathy passed his features before he handed the die over to Lucas. “Better luck next time.” He said. 

Lucas rolled a 7, which wasn't much better, Max got a 14, El got a 2, Dustin got a 16, and Mike rolled a 13.”

“Okay, I’m checking the dexterity to determine the order of attacks.” Mike scribbled furiously then tossed his pencil down. 

He went back into game mode explaining that, “The drifter finally stopped muttering to himself, and nodded at the changeling, who proceeded to walk around, cautiously opening the jars containing the black gems and then began chanting over the spell book. There is a loud screaming from one of the victims as they start to shake violently as if they are being possessed or something. Then the first victim drops his head, and his forehead begins to glow. A moment later, a ghost steps out of the body and the person remains dead, with a glowing forehead.” Mike stopped using his story-telling voice and told Dustin in a much more normal tone that it was his turn. 

“I choose to target my attack at the ghost that just appeared.”

Mike made a discouraging face, “Remember the ghost has a sixth sense. So it knows you are here. You will lose the surprise ability, and the ghost will be able to take an action on it’s first turn of combat.”

“I can kill it before it get’s a turn.”

“Punster. This is stupid.” Lucas yelled, “if you don’t roll a 14 or higher you could get one of us killed. Zoomer is already seriously weak from that changeling chase.”

Max nodded, agreeing with Dustin. Her character was in serious need of medical attention which wasn’t a good thing since they were heading into combat.

Dustin grabbed the die, and pointed directly at the miniature figure on the game board. “I’m targeting the ghost.”

Lucas rolled his eyes up to the sky, and Max slammed her head against the table. Mike was wincing along with everyone else. 

“And...and..it’s an Eleven!” It took a second but the smile wiped off Dustin’s face immediately. 

“Great.” Max muttered. 

“Good job, Punster. Now we’re all going to be captured.”

Mike gathered his thoughts, trying not to be upset about the whole situation as he threw himself back into DM mode. “The ghost witnesses Punster the Bard’s lame attack. He takes Eleven points damage, but that doesn’t slow him down. He strides towards the group of hero’s and directly attacks with it’s see-through claws. It rolls a d14.” Mike explains, as he carefully examines Dustin’s score chart. 

“I defend with my shield.” 

Mike nodded, “an invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you, until the start of your next turn you have a +5 bonus to AC.” 

Dustin sighed in relief and the rest of the party glared at him. 

He shrugged. “What? I saved myself.”

“You used up our shield.” Lucas said. 

“I’m literally so dead.” Max exclaimed. 

Dustin shook his head, “No way. Our Paladin can kill the son of a bitch next turn.”

Lucas shook his head, “even if he kills the ghost we still have an army of ghouls to worry about.”

Will nodded, “Not to mention the Drifter himself.”

Everyone agreed with Will and Dustin had no come backs after that. So the party continued to fight and dodge the ghosts. 

An hour later and the group was rolling with laughter because Dustin was doing his best Princess impression. 

“Your Majesties. Your Royal Highnesses. Excellences. Ladies and gentlemen. Family and friends.” Dustin flipped his fake long hair over his shoulder. He batted his eye lashes like crazy and got an even higher pitched voice. “It takes courage – and time – to find oneself. You have done so and you continue to do so. You have trod your own path, saved my people, and for that I am every thankful.” 

He hopped off the chair, and walked over to Will. Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to Will’s cheek. 

The room erupted with laughter at Will’s terrified reaction. He literally fell back out of his chair to get away from Dustin. 

“Oh God stop.” Max was doubled over, holding her stomach. “I can’t breathe.” She cried, actual tears coming to her eyes. 

Two hours later, Mike’s mom opened the basement door and told him it was time to wrap up the game. This time she actually gave them ten minutes to finish. 

Mike found a good place to stop, and he promised that they would conclude the adventure next time. 

As the kids gathered their things, Will turned to Mike with a smile. “So are you going to invite us to eat dinner with you?”

Mike shrugged. “If you guys want to, I’m sure my Mom wouldn’t be opposed. She likes when anyone likes her cooking.” 

Max raised her eyebrows. “I feel a ‘but’ coming on.” 

Mike shrugged. “I don’t know. Things have been...tense recently. I just don’t want to subject you guys to the awkward tension.”

Max understood that. She smiled gently. “Good luck.” She told him. It may have come out harshly but she meant well. She hoped her smile conveyed that. 

Collecting the last of their things, the kids finished cleaning up and left Mike’s house. 

“Bye.” Mike said for the last time before finally shutting the door. He went back to the D&D table and put the game board and papers away on a shelf in the basement. Since his basement became the typical D&D spot, Mike decided to just keep all of his things for it in the basement. 

When Mike reached the top of the stairs, he shut the basement light off, and shut the door. 

“There you are.” His mother said as soon as he entered the kitchen. “I was afraid I was going to have to get up again and tell you.” 

Mike shook his head. “I’m here now. It smells good.” He said quietly, taking his seat by his sister. 

Nancy smiled sadly, and passed the bread towards him. 

“Thanks.” Mike whispered. He looked up at his father, to find him shoveling food in his mouth. When he turned to his mother, she was busy trying to get Holly to eat her vegetables. 

“You can’t leave the table until half of these carrots are gone.” Karen said after a lot of coaxing. 

Mike had helped himself to the Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole. He kept his eyes focused on his fork as he poked his food and put it in his mouth. 

There were loud scraping utensils sounds standing out amongst the tense silence. Mike knew his parents were still angry with each other. He knew his mom would probably never get over being called a “w-word” in front of Jim Hopper. Honestly, Mike didn’t blame his mom, what he said was crossing a line. 

But at least Nancy and Mom were getting along. Mike didn’t know why, but Mom always smiled around Nancy. She started going into her bedroom at night and Mike would hear them talk like Nancy used to talk to Barb. He saw this as a good thing, because Mom was always really nice and happy after she talked to Nancy. She stopped fighting with Dad and just started ignoring him and focused more time on talking to Nancy. His sister seemed to feel better too. Maybe she needed to talk after all. 

As for Mike, well, he was still angry with his Dad for not accepting him, but the difference is, at least his Dad knows how he feels now. At least Mike got his feelings out there. He knows his father doesn’t like him playing D&D. But now his Dad knows Mike doesn’t want to play sports. To avoid a fight they don’t really talk about it. 

Mike decided to bring it up anyway to see what would happen. “I was playing D&D downstairs.” 

“I know.” His mother smiled, but Mike was gaging his father’s reaction. The thing was, he didn’t react. 

“It was fun.” Mike said. “We finally got to the ghost part.” 

That got a reaction. Ted scoffed under his breath, and shook his head slightly. 

“What’s wrong, Dad?”

“Ghosts Michael? Really?” 

“Well I know they are not real. Just like a Owlbear is not real. It’s pretend and it’s fun.”

Ted shook his head again, muttering something unaudiable. 

“But then again,” Mike said softly, “Some people believe ghosts are real, just like I believe demogorgons are real.”

Nancy dropped her fork against her plate, causing everyone to look in her direction. She tried to mask the fearful look that had crossed her face with a cheesy smile. 

“Son...never mind. Do what makes you happy.”

Mike smiled. “Thank you, Dad. Thank you.”

 

Chapter Text

There was a knock on Mike’s bedroom door at 11:53pm. He wasn’t sleeping because these days he couldn’t fall asleep easily, but he was still shocked to see his mother poke her head through his door. 

“Sorry to wake you.” His mom walked in anyways and sat on his bed. Mike slouched up, reaching a dark navy blue arm towards his lamp. When the light flooded the room, both mother and son crinkled their faces. 

“Sorry. I was just going to leave this box of toys on your floor. I didn’t know you’d be awake.”

“It’s okay.” Mike smiled. “You’re giving me back my remote controlled R2D2?” 

Mike’s mom nodded gently. She put her hand on his cheek, brushing the black strands of hair away from his dimly lit eyes. 

“This is everything. The last box of stuff I took from you.” 

Mike looked around his room cherishing the fact that all of his possessions were back on the shelves where they belonged. His room had looked so bare for weeks. But nothing would ever be as bare and lonely as the white room. Just thinking about it caused Mike to shutter slightly. But now his room was cozy again. And slowly his items were returning. 

“You do understand why I took them from you, right?” Karen looked almost concerned, maybe she thought he got the wrong message. So Mike nodded. He did understand. 

“I should have asked if I could go to El - I mean - Jane’s house. I’m sorry.” 

“I’m sorry too.” His mom said, and that shock him a little because parents never like to admit they are wrong. 

“What for?”

“I didn’t mean to be so hard on you. Your father picked a fight with me about how you always run off, and I let that anger fuel me to punish you. I shouldn’t have kept your stuff for so long. I’m sorry, Michael.” 

“It’s okay.” Mike’s eyes fell to his bedspread. He felt sorry for his mom, and here she was apologizing to him. 

He didn’t know what possessed him to do it, but Mike had reached his arms out, almost subconsciously towards his mother and her instincts took over, and she enveloped him in a bone crushing hug. 

Mike wanted to say a lot of things to her. So many things. But he didn’t know which one to say, or how to even speak without choking up, so he said nothing. Just held her tightly back and breathed in her scent. She smelled clean. Like she had just had a bath. Probably one of her sexy ‘me’ time baths. At that thought Mike pulled back. Because suddenly she wasn’t Mom anymore. She was a woman trying to flirt with a younger man. A high school man. Mike didn’t like the thought. He wanted to tell her that too. But it wasn’t his place. How would he even start that conversation? And moreover, he kept hearing his mom’s voice in his head. What she said that night when she was yelling at Dad about Billy. 

“At least he would love me.” 

It hurt. Mike realize his face must have been showing his emotions because his mom has scooped him up and leaned against the bed-board with him in her arms. 

“Oh Michael. I know this has been hard on you. Nancy has told me how much you kids have been affected by our fighting. I just want you to know, that no matter what happens between your father and I, It has nothing to do with you. I will always love you. Don’t ever forget that.” 

Mike swallowed thickly, feeling his throat tighten. He leaned against his mom anyway despite not being a little kid anymore. He’ll never stop needing his mom. 

“If you want something, like an extra comic book or whatever. Just let me know. I gave Nancy some money so she could perm her hair. She’s really excited about it.”

Mike’s mouth twitched upwards at the thought of Nancy getting excited over her hair. That sounds like the Nancy he knew before all this mess started. It was the Nancy he loved. 

“Can I have some money for the arcade? My friends are planning on going this Saturday.”

“Sure.” Karen smiled. “I’ll give it to you tomorrow.”

Mike pulled away from her and went back under his covers. 

“Just get some sleep.” She said, leaning forward to kiss his forehead. “You have worse bags than I do.” 

“Night Mom.” He whispered, watching as she left his room. 

______________________________________________

Max waited in the lunch line with her feet tapping. She was anxious to get her food and sit by Lucas. She made a gift for him yesterday in art class. 

She was no artist, and she definitely wasn’t the most romantic person in the world, but after Billy saved her life during that fire, Max’s view of the world was shifting. She realized that day that she really was loved and wanted in Hawkins. It started with her step-brother, someone she never thought would actually save her, but then it transformed into this recognition that her friends wanted her too. Well she knew her friends wanted her to stay, but it was more than that, she knew they wanted her to stay because they cared about her. She felt love in Hawkins for the first time since she moved. 

Before she looked at her friends as people that accepted her, but they didn’t really care for her. She could come over to play D&D, she could not. It didn’t matter. Not to Mike at least. He gave her that invitation as an apology. It was a start, and Max accepted it, but it wasn’t friendship material. Even when should would hang out with them, she felt like her say in the matter was less than Dustin’s, Will’s, Lucas’s and even El’s. 

But after going through that whole situation, she’s almost positive Mike cares about her opinion as much as everyone else’s. They had connected before, when she ran to his house after being slapped by Neil and they talked. She felt like he was her friend right then and there, but in the back of her mind something screamed, ‘he’s doing this to be polite.’ 

Max never allowed herself to accept the possibility that anyone here actually cared about her. But she was wrong. Billy cared about her enough to save her from a fire. Lucas cared about her enough to fight for her to stay in Hawkins. Mike cared about her enough to heal up her wounds and talk with her without making things weird. Even El became her friend. 

So she needed to apologize to Lucas. She needed to explain to him what was going through her mind when she said she would leave him to go back to California. With that in mind, she painted him a picture of something in art class a few days ago. Today was the day she was going to give it to him. But her heart was thumping and she had the sudden urge to runaway like she always did. But she planted her feet. 

“This is happening” she told herself. 

After gathering her lunch, Max took a seat next to her boyfriend. He was busy talking to Will about one of Mr. Clarke’s tests. 

“Yeah, But I still can’t believe I got a 98%.” Will said, biting into his apple. “I mean, I was literally out of it for half of the test. All I could think about was helping Eleven with the parasite.”

Lucas bit his tongue, a look of disgust on his face. “Ugh, that thing was so gross.”

“What did you get?” Will gestured towards the paper in Lucas’s green folder. 

“Oh, um. I got an 84. It’s no big deal.” 

“That’s good.” Will agreed. Mike and Dustin weren’t at the table yet, so this was Max’s moment. It might be her only chance before two loud mouths get in the way. But she couldn’t open her mouth. 

“How did you do on the science test?” Lucas was looking at her now, and she realized he was directing the question at her. 

“Oh. 74.”

Lucas turned his nervous eyes back to Will. She assumed he didn’t know what to say about the whole getting a  ‘C’ on her test thing. 

“So, where’s Mike? He asked, and Will shrugged. 

“I think he’s planning a game.”

“A game?” Max raised her eyebrows. It wasn’t surprising that Mike was creating a game. The boy was killer creative, but why was he planning a game during school?

“I asked him what arcade we should play first this Saturday, and he said something about creating this game to determine which game we should do first.”

Max chuckled. Then things grew quiet and awkward. Lucas smiled at her, and she wanted to reach into her backpack and pull out the picture, but it didn’t feel like the right time. But it was the perfect time. While she was having this internal debate, Mike rushed over to the table with Dustin. 

“You guys!” Dustin yelled, “Mike has the most ingenious plan. It’s D&D but with arcade games.”

Everyone furrowed their eyebrows. Lucas scratched his chin, “Come again?”

“Okay.” Mike said, sitting down next to them, “you know how for D&D we create our character sheets with a d6 dice, but we do it four times?”

“Yeah.”

“And you know how we choose like the race, background, and class of our characters?”

Lucas nodded. “Where are you going with this, Mike?”

“So when we roll stats we get four results and drop the lowest number. Then we add them together. So my idea is instead of using that tactic to figure out the ability score modifier like we usually do. We should put arcade names in each spot. Like we would with the characters. We’ll divide each game by different classes: video game machines like frogger and pac man, pinball machines, redemption games like skee-ball, and merchandise games that offer us a chance to win prizes like the mechanical claw.”

“It’s genius right?” Dustin said with a toothy smile. 

Lucas nodded, “Yeah I like it. That way we don’t have to spend half the time fighting over what to play when we get to the arcade.”

Mike snapped his fingers pointing at Lucas as if saying he was exactly right. 

“What are we waiting for, let’s go.” Dustin said. 

“Whoa, wait, we’re doing it now?” Max asked.

“Yeah!” Dustin exclaimed. “That’s the other cool part. We have it all mapped out on the sidewalk in chalk. That way it really gives us a visual.” 

“Hey,” Will said, “you should have asked me. I would have loved to drawn the map.”

Mike clapped his hand over Will’s shoulder. “Sorry Will. We wanted it to be a surprise.”

It certainly was a surprise. Dustin and Mike had put a lot of thought into this plan, as the chalk outside stretched across half the playground. It didn't matter though. They were in the back, near the trash cans so they wouldn’t bother anyone in the front of the recess court that was playing dodgeball. 

They were unfortunately in view of the track field where a bunch of kid’s were running around. 

“Alright. Will, you can go first.” Mike said handing him the dice. 

“Why?” Lucas screeched. 

Mike rolled his eyes. “Cause he’s younger. Just let him go.”

“Younger or smaller.” Lucas questioned, knowing full well that Will was self-conscious about his size. 

“I said Younger didn’t I?”

“He’s barely younger than -“

“Lucas! Can you please just stop.” Mike shouted. 

Max grabbed at Lucas’s jacket. “Hey. Come here. I want to show you something.” She said. 

Mike furrowed his eyebrows but shook his head as he watched his friends walk out of view. He turned back to Will grinning as the boy rolled the dice as hard as he could. 

“I really want frogger.” Will said as he crossed his fingers. 

______________________________________________

“So...” Lucas stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets, and looked at the ground. 

“So, I just wanted to say...” Max cleared her throat. Her fingers tightened over the painting in her bag. She pulled it out and nearly shoved it in Lucas’s chest. “Here.”

Lucas frowned. Grabbing the piece of paper he put it to his face. Then all of a sudden his face lit up. “Is this supposed to be us?” 

The painting Max gave him was of two kids standing by the sunset with big happy smiles on their faces. 

“Yeah,” she blushed. “I have a picture like that of my Dad and I in my room and I just wanted to make one for the second most important guy in my life.”

It was Lucas’s turn to feel embarrassed. “You didn’t have to -“

“No, I did.” Max bit her lip. “I know I hurt your feelings when I said I wanted to go back to California with my Dad. But when I said that, I was feeling so miserable here. I know you were always nice to me, but my home life sucked. And it still sucks, don’t get me wrong. But Billy, he saved my life. I feel like he doesn’t hate me anymore. And once I realized that, I realized you and the party never hated me. You guys always treated me like a member.”

Lucas shook his head, “Actually. We treated you pretty bad in the beginning.”

“I know. But I know why you did it. You were protecting me from the truth in Hawkins. But after going in these insane adventures with you Sinclair, I realized just how much I love it here in Hawkins. My life would be so boring back in Cali.”

“But you’d be safer.” Lucas muttered. 

“I wouldn’t be with you.” She blushed again, “I used to think moving was the worst thing that could happen in my life. But now, I think it’s the best thing that ever happened. I’ve never had a group of such nerdy ass friends before.”

Lucas laughed, leaning into her. 

“And I’ve never had...” She finished her sentence with a kiss. 

Lucas pulled away nodding, “I’ve never had that either.” He took another look at the painting and smiled. “I’m framing this and it’s going right next to my picture of the party in our ghostbusters costumes.”

Max smiled, and they walked back to their friends hand in hand. 

What they saw when they rounded the corner was hilarious. Dustin was slapping his hands against the ground. Shouting No, No, No!

“I take it he didn’t get what he wanted?” Max said, and Mike turned to her with a shake of the head. 

“He was going for Dig-Dug.” Will explained, and Max smirked. 

“Give me the dice frog face.”

“Here you go, Raggedy Ann.”

She glared at Mike, “Buck teeth!” She shouted. 

“Freckled freak.” Mike shot back. 

Max smirked, “Pup.”

“I’m going to kill you.” Mike growled, stomping towards her, but Lucas stepped in between the two. 

“Okay, easy now.” 

Flipping her red hair over her shoulder, Max rolled the dice across the map. It landed on the right category for Dig-Dug. But did she manage to roll the correct number?

“I got a 6.”

“Of course she did.” Dustin whined. 

The girl rolled three more times, then they dropped her lowest number which ended her with a total of 17.

“Shit!” Dustin screamed. 

Max threw her hands in the air “Yes!!! Bow down to your Dig-Dug Queen.”

“Hey just because you get first go, doesn’t mean your going to win.” Dustin said, getting up in her face. 

“Well well well. If it isn’t the losers.” 

Mike would have assumed that was Troy, but it was a girls voice. When he turned to see Stacy and her posse of girls, he wasn’t surprised. 

“Go away, Stacy.” He said, giving her the classic annoyed Mike Wheeler face. 

The girl scoffed. “Oh gladly. I don’t want to be this close to you freaks anyway. I might catch a disease.” She was looking at Dustin when she said it. 

He crinkled his nose, “It’s not a disease! It’s a disorder!”

Dustin felt a hand in his shoulder and he looked over to see that it was Lucas shaking his head a Dustin. A silent plea not to give into Stacy’s mean tactics. 

“Then what are you still doing here?” Max asked, shooing the girl away. 

Stacy laughed, “Wow. I can’t believe you moved to Hawkins and you choose to hang out with these losers. We could have been friends Max.”

“Sorry. I don’t like being friend with people that bully others.” 

Stacy rolled her eyes. “Oh my God.” She muttered. “She’s so pathetic.” She whispered to her friends as she turned to walk away. 

But unfortunately she didn’t turn around fast enough and she got a sight of Max flipping her off. 

“You bitch!” Stacy screamed storming over to Max, and slapping her across the face. 

“Hey!” They boys screamed. Max was about to lunge at Stacy, but Lucas held her back. 

Mike jumped in front of Max, so he was directly in Stacy’s face. 

“Don’t ever touch her again. Do you hear me? Never again.” He shouted in her face. 

Stacy backed away timid at first. “Wow. Listen to him defend his little girlfriend. News flash Wheeler, she’s with Sinclair.”

“I don’t want you hurting any of my friends.” 

Stacy scoffed, “This is why you don’t have a girlfriend. Because you treat women like crap.” With that, Stacy and her posse were gone. 

Mike couldn’t help but crack a smile, then he burst into laughter because no one at school knew about Eleven. No one that mattered at least. The people who did matter, they knew why he was laughing. 

“Yeah Mike. No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.” Lucas laughed. 

Max slipped her arms around Lucas and Mike, pulling them in for a sloppy hug. Dustin and Will joined in, piling onto the group hug. 

“I love you guys.” Dustin said, trying to fit his arms around them all. 

 

Chapter Text

Six kids busted through the Palace Arcade doors like nobody’s business. They walked through the doors with sunglasses, like they owned the place. They did, in fact, have a full-proof plan to play maximum arcade games and still enjoy food and ice cream half way through. They were about to play every game in the building. 

Keith rolled his eyes when he saw the group of kids walk over to the space invaders game. He threw another cheese puff in his mouth before moving towards them. 

“What’s up losers?” 

“Shh.” Max put a finger to her lips. “This is Will’s time.” 

“He won first choice on spade invaders.” Mike explained, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket and opening it up so it dropped to the floor. 

“Oh my God. How many games to you plan to play.”

“The whole place.” Mike smirked, “I got my mom to give me a boat load of money.” 

Lucas nodded, “I must admit it was one of the best douchebag moves I’ve ever seen. His mom felt all guilty for fighting with his Dad so she offered to give him 10 whole dollars. Then, Mike gave her puppy dog eyes and he even started to cry!”

Mike elbowed Lucas in the gut. “I didn’t cry.”

“He totally did. And then guess what his Mom did? She gave him 40 dollars!!! Isn’t that insane!? That’s batshit crazy.” Lucas exclaimed. “We can play arcade games until we die.”

“Calm down, Lucas.” Max said, patting his back. 

“So money is definitely not an issue. Now we just had to figure out how to beat the time issue. Cause Will’s gotta be back by 7pm.” Mike explained, but before he could say more his wrist watch started beeping. “SWITCH.” He screamed, and Dustin bumped Will out of the way. 

“So we are giving each other each one minute before switching people.” Lucas finished explaining. 

“It’s genius, right?” Will said. Keith shrugged while eating another cheese puff. 

“Oh and we figured out a fair way to determine what games we’re playing and in what order that way there will be no fighting.” Max smiled. 

Eleven, who was standing close to Mike the whole time, watching the little bright lights on the machines move, finally looked at Keith who was talking. 

“How long did it take you to come up with that 5 mile long list?” 

“Four days.” Lucas snapped his fingers together. “I think that’s a record.” 

Eleven smelled pizza filling the air and she smiled at the familiar scent. She had never been the the arcade before. This was her first time, and she was slightly overwhelmed. 

“Mike?” She whispered, his eyes were on her in an instant. 

“Yeah?”

“What are the blinking things?” 

Mike turned to the space invaders game and laughed. “Oh, okay. Um. This is a video game. So you control the green colored spaceship, and try to shoot down four different types of enemies. When you hit one, you get points. In the end, you want to have the highest score. Understand?”

“Yes.” She nodded. It made sense. Mike had shown her some of the video games on his Atari and she slightly knew how to control them. 

When it was finally her turn, Eleven didn’t do very well. Her score never even reached the thousands. 

“It’s ok, El.” Mike said quickly, when he saw the look of disappointment on her face. 

“You’ll get the hang of how to play. We’re going to have all day to practice.”

“Yeah, and besides,” Lucas added, “Not everyone is good at every game. Take Max for example. Sure she’s great at Dig Dug, PAC Man, Galaga, Frogger, and Shark Tank, but she sucks at Dragons Lair.”

“Oh shut up,” Max said, but she was smiling along with him. Eleven started to smile too. 

“Maybe I will be good at Dragon’s Liar?”

“Well we can find out. After five more games, then it’s Dragon’s Liar.”

So Max was realizing quickly that Mike was a bit of a show off. When it was his turn at the Star Wars pinball table, Max noticed as soon as he slipped in the quarter, he was batting the little pinball like crazy. 

What she realized even more was whenever Eleven cheered for him, he scored even higher points. As if he was just waiting to hear he clap before really giving her a show. Max rolled her eyes at the young couple, but she was glad to see they finally had a chance to play in the arcade together. Mike’s been wanting to bring her for a while now, but Hopper wouldn’t allow her to go to a crowded public place. Luckily he’s over that now. 

“Switch.” Dustin called out. The group of kids swapped places and soon Dustin was slapping the small silver ball into Darth Vader’s mouth. 

Half way through, the kids took a much need break and sat down and the red booth in the back and ate a bunch of candy, pizza, cheesy fries, and ice cream. 

They were going to have serious stomach aches afterwards, but this might be the only time in their lives they have 40 bucks for games and food. So they took advantage of the amazing opportunity. 

“So...” Max trailed off, her eyes on Eleven. When they made eye contact, Max dropped her gaze to her food. “Um.. El? I was thinking that maybe you and I could have a sleepover sometime? Like a girls night away from these boys.” 

Lucas and the boys rolled their eyes, but smiled at one another. It didn’t matter to them, they had sleepovers with each other all the time. 

Eleven looked to her right, at Mike, then to her left, at Will, before facing Max again. “Sleepover?”

“Oh right. It’s something friends do. I would come over to your house and hang out and then I would sleep at your house.” 

El shook her head. “Hopper doesn’t let Mike sleep over.” 

Max smirked. “Yeah but that’s cause he’s a boy. I bet Hopper wouldn’t mind if I sleep over.”

El’s dimples showed. “Really?” 

“Yeah!”

“Okay. I’ll ask Hopper.” The brunette said as she bit into her cheese Pizza, humming at the delicious taste. 

Once they finished eating, the group began playing according to schedule and everything was going perfect until they played Shark Tank. Max was absolutely on fire! She was so good that the other kids had circled around her and started cheering. 

“Go Max! GO!” Mike screeched. Lucas saw a shark pop up out of nowhere and started screaming like a girl, and the other boys jumped back wincing as they knew the game was over. 

“Dammit!” Max screamed, her foot kicking the side of the machine repeatedly, “Dammit Dammit Dammit!” 

“Hey Max, don’t feel bad. You did the best you could.”

“I want to go again.” 

“Max...”

“I WANT TO GO AGAIN.” 

“Fine.” Mike relented. Rolling his eyes he handed her another quarter. 

Twelve quarters later the group was behind schedule and Max still hadn’t beaten the high score. 

“Okay, well you beat all of our scores so can we please just move on.” Dustin begged. 

It was Max who had to reluctantly agree, and move onto a different arcade game. They made it to their last game of the night, the good old fashioned air hockey. 

Dustin and Eleven were going first. El realized quickly the goal of the game, but she wasn’t fast enough to beat Dustin. 

“End score 9 to 4.” Dustin clapped her on the back. “Not too bad for your first try.”

Mike loved going to the arcade with his friends because they always lifted one another up and cheered each other on. But as he was watching Eleven he realized there was another reason he loved going to the arcade. Eleven was beaming. And Mike couldn’t get enough. It filled him with such admiration and happiness, a feeling that is really difficult to describe, but he wanted to feel it all the time because it was amazing. 

Next was Mike and Will. It must have been the endorphins from Mike’s smile that was fueling his game because he ended up getting all 9 points, and Will got zero. 

“oh my God.” Max jumped up cheering. “I can’t believe he got all 9.”

“That’s incredible.” Dustin shouted. 

Mike was feeling really good about himself now, but the second he looked at Will his smile dropped. 

“Hey. We can go again if you want.”

Will shook his head. “I suck.”

“No. You don’t suck. I was just on fire. Come on. Let’s do a re-match. I’m sure you’ll do better.”

The rest of the party convinced Will to retry. He still lost in the re-match, but the scores were closer to one another. Finally, Lucas and Max went. That way by far the toughest battle, but Lucas ultimately pulled through to victory. 

Jumping on top of one another, the six kids were shouting and cheering and causing a down right ruckus. Keith came out of the back room and threatened to call security. So Dustin threw him the middle finger and the kids left the Palace arcade after seven hours of non-stop fun. 

Chapter Text

Eleven was leaning against Mike on the abandoned school bus in the middle of the junkyard. They were listening to music from his Walkman. 

They had just finished listened to Baba O’Riley, which Mike claimed was one of his all time favorite songs. Then a Whitney Houston song came on, and Mike was going to skip it, but Eleven stopped him. 

“Wait. I want to listen to it.” Eleven said. 

“But...” Mike frowned. He did want to give El the chance to hear all sorts of new music, but he personally wasn’t a fan of Whitney Houston’s music. He didn’t know why. He liked a bunch of other R&B music, other Soul music, and Gospel music, but for some reason he wasn’t into her. 

He wanted to show her the song Jessie’s Girl because that was the most recent song he loved as of now, but Eleven wanted to listen to Whitney. 

Eleven enjoyed certain songs like Papa don’t preach, hit me with your best shot, walk like an Egyptian, and I wanna dance with somebody. 

Mike liked things like the Ghostbusters theme song, the Star Wars music, Whip it, and any song by Bon Jovi. 

Mike’s learned to accept over the short period of time that he has known El, that their music tastes are different. Also, their TV interests are different as well as taste buds. And at first that bothered Mike. He felt obligated to change his own likes in order to fit with Eleven better. But as time he passed, he learned their differences are not only acceptable, but also part of the reason they love each other so much. When Mike’s trying to be too much of what he thinks El wants, they both end up having a bad day. But when the two of them are unabashedly themselves, they have a great time. 

So their differences were fine. It was something Mike accepted. But he also knew they had a lot in common too. 

They both love mystery movies. They enjoy strawberry ice cream. The list could go on and on. But most importantly, they agree with each other on the big stuff, and that’s what matters. 

As the sun began to set, Mike reached for the off switch on his Walkman. El pouted, shaking her head at him. 

“It’s late,” He said simply, “We should get you home.”

El could hear the twinge of anger in his voice towards Hopper. She wonder what had happened between the two of them while she was unconscious that day at the Wheeler house. Every time she had asked, Mike dodged the question and talked about something completely unrelated. 

“It’s getting dark,” Mike continued. So she stood up with him, looking around at the setting sun and the shadow on the trees. 

“Dark.” She agreed. 

The trip back to Hopper’s Cabin wasn’t very long on Mike’s bike. He knew the way by heart, and he went pretty fast on his new bike his mom bought him. 

Eleven wanted to laugh when Dustin teased that Mike’s mom was buying his love. But Mike had looked upset when Dustin said it, almost hurt, so she didn’t laugh at all. 

When they got to the warm cabin, Eleven unlocked the door with her mind. Since she no longer felt sick, she’s been abusing her powers a little bit, using them whenever and wherever she could. Hopper has been putting a damper on that, by scolding her every time she uses them for normal things. 

“I know,” she said apologetically as she walked into the cabin and saw Hopper sitting on the couch with his arms crossed. “I’m not supposed to use my gifts unless it's an emergency.” She repeated the drilled in response. 

“Then why did you use them?” He asked, rising from the couch like Godzilla. 

Mike bit his lip as he walked inside. “Um. El said I could eat dinner here. But if you want me to leave -“

“It’s fine, Wheeler. Take your jacket off and grab a plate.”

Mike smiled weakly and Eleven sighed. Something was off with the two of them, and she wanted to know what it was. For a while, Mike and Hopper were almost like father and son. But now...things were tense. 

Hopper Dug through his refrigerator, looking for something decent to make instead of just frozen meals. He didn’t want to look like pathetic father material in front of the Wheeler kid. It was bad enough he pinned the kid the the wall and shook him around a few times, but now he seemed to be too strict with Mike. He couldn’t help himself. After seeing El so hurt, something changed within Hopper. It made him ever more protective around his daughter, and that meant he had to protect her from even Mike. Although he knew he should be grateful for the Wheeler boy. He was a good kid inside and out, and Hopper’s seen him go through enough to know that Mike is almost part of them family. 

Hopper recalls the time when he was talking to Joyce underneath the stars on Benny’s outdoor chairs. He told her that she felt like part of his family. That her, Mike, El, Jonathan and Will felt like one large family. When he said it, Joyce had laughed, agreeing that she felt like the mother of all the children. Then Hopper had promised her that her house would be fixed soon and she could finally start a new life. But Joyce had muttered something about, “if the house gets fixed I might just sell it.”

For some reason, it was like a knife was shoved through Hopper’s chest and he felt his throat close up. He didn’t speak, couldn’t even look at her. So she continued to say that she had a lot of bad memories in Hawkins: The divorce of her husband, her child going missing, Bob dying, and now people trying to kill her friends and family. 

Listening to all of that, Hopper understood. When Sara had passed, he moved far away from his old house in New York and retreated back to his home town in Hawkins where everything felt small, but so very lonely. At the time, he cherished the loneliness. Carried it, like it was some kind of self harm. He never let anyone get close to him...until now. Now, Hopper had a purpose. He had Eleven, he had Joyce, and he had all those other kids to look after. He felt loved, needed, and wanted again. He felt like a father again, which gave him hope to maybe open himself up to a romantic relationship again. But Joyce was thinking about moving, and that was the knife that sliced him back into his lonely hole. 

He had every intention of asking Joyce out at some point, but Hopper felt as though it was pointless now. As if Joyce saying that her memories in Hawkins were painful, was to say that her memories of him were painful too. 

Before Hopper left the chairs outside Benny’s empty, he said one last thing. “The good memories I have here, outweigh the bad.” 

He could see the wheels in Joyce’s mind turning. Remembering the day she smoked those cigarettes with Hopper, the day of her fourteenth birthday when she finally got the dress of her dreams, the day of her wedding, the day she bought her own house away from her parents, the day she got to hold her new born baby boy, the day she took Will and his friends to the park and watched them run around without a care in the world just balls of giggling laughter, it was infectious. She remembered the good moments with Bob, even with Eleven. 

When Joyce looked back at Hopper, her brown eyes were glistening with unshed tears. She nodded in silent understanding. Then Hopper left. 

“Hopper?” 

Jim snapped his out of his daze, looking towards Mike.

“Are you okay? Your head’s been stuck in the fridge for like ten minutes.”

“I’m fine.” Hopper explained, grabbed a beer, then opened the freezer. He pulled out three frozen dinners and read the instructions before popping them into the microwave. Who cares if the Wheeler kid didn’t like frozen dinners. He could eat at his house if he wanted. 

But the bags under Mike’s eyes reminded Hopper of why the kid never liked to go home. He wondered briefly if Karen and Ted were still fighting or if they were going to separate, or if they were going to try and fix their marriage. 

Half way though dinner he found his answer was none of the above. According to Mike they are in a silent fight. No more yelling, but no more talking either.

“It’s like they pretend the other person doesn’t exist. I don’t know how they do it.” Mike mumbled, poking at his frozen mac n cheese. “It would kill me not to try and fix things.”

“Did you compromise with your Dad?” El asked. 

Mike nodded, “Sort of. We did talk. But...I don’t think we’re ever going to see eye to eye. At least I apologized though. I needed to do that.” 

Hopper sighed, and shifted in his chair. “Do you want to... look, I have work...if you want to stay here...I mean, you can not sleep near El at all...but what I’m really trying to say is...well you know...I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? What are you sorry for?”

Hopper puffed out some air. “For ruffing you up that night. I was so worried about El, that I didn’t even think about -“

“ - Hopper.” Mike cut him off firmly. “It’s okay. I was never mad at you. You saved my life from that lab. Trust me, I’ve forgiven you.”

Hopper smiled softly. He leaned forward and ruffled his hair. “Good.” 

At least he still felt needed and wanted in Hawkins. He still had a family, he just wanted Joyce to be a part of it too. 

“So Mike can stay the night!” Eleven shouted. “Yay!”

“Wait a second.” Hopper began, but both kids gave him two large puppy dog eyes. 

“I don’t like being alone.” El whispered. 

“Me neither.” Mike said, trying to hide his sly smile. 

“Absolutely not.”

“Pleaaaaase.” 

Hopper groaned. Being a father again did not always have it’s advantages. 

“Fine. But I mean it, no funny stuff. If I catch you in her room Wheeler, I’m going to ruff you up for real.” 

“No.” Eleven said simply, her dimples standing out on her cheeks. 

“If anything crazy happens, call me.”

“Oh you mean like some crazy man making ominous threats outside our window?”

“Yes. Exactly like that.” 

Mike and El chuckled. “We’ll call you.” 

Chapter Text

Mike and Eleven were huddled in her bed with a bunch of pillows and blankets in between them. 

“Thanks for being with me.” Eleven smiled up at Mike. 

The young boy was facing her, blushing slightly. “I like keeping you company.”

“Company?”

“Yeah... being with you.” Mike clarified. 

Eleven squeezed a pillow to her chest, trying not to squeal. “Mike? Did you mean it when you said you promised you would never hurt me.”

He nodded without hesitation. “Absolutely. I would never ever try and hurt you. If I do, you need to tell me and we’ll talk okay?”

“Okay.” She hummed, closing her eyes gently. “Mike?” She whispered. 

“Yeah?”

“Do you still dream about the bad men?”

Mike sat up, biting his lip. “Yeah. Sometimes.”

“I do too.” Eleven admitted softly. “It’s okay to be scared?” 

It was a question, Mike could hear it in her voice. “Yeah, it’s totally okay to be scared.”

El smiled. She grabbed his hand, “It’s okay to be scared.”

A wave of confusion covered his face and then it dawned on him. For a second he laughed. “Thanks El. But I’m okay. I know it’s okay for me to be scared and have nightmares, but it’s still...embarrassing I guess.”

“Embarrassing?”

“Um...that’s hard to explain. It’s like this feeling of awkwardness but shame at the same time. You feel silly or foolish. Are you recognizing any of these words?”

“Yes. But why are nightmares silly?”

Mike sighed. Sometimes he struggled to communicate with Eleven. But that wasn’t true. He understood almost everything she was thinking, and she could see it on his face when he was upset. They read each other well. But when Mike tries to explain himself he finds it difficult. 

“Well nightmares aren’t silly. But it’s the being scared of a dream that is silly. Like, the dream can’t hurt me, so why am I scared?”

“The storm can’t hurt me either, but I was still scared.” Eleven whispered, her mind flashing back to the night of the storm. 

Mike sighed. “Yeah. See. It’s silly right?”

Eleven nodded. “But I wasn’t afraid of the storm. I was afraid of what the bad men had done to me. The storm just remembered for me.”

“The storm reminded you of the bad men.”

“Yes.” Eleven clarified. 

“So... it’s not silly,” Mike continued, “because your scared of a memory, not the storm.”

“And you are scared of a memory, not a dream.” 

“But memories can’t hurt you either.” Mike said softly. 

“But someone already hurt us before.” 

Mike smirked. “El you’re so deep sometimes.”

“Deep?”

Mike shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. We should get some sleep.”

“Okay.” She grabbed his hand, “I’ll be here if you wake up and need company.”

“Thanks El.” Mike leaned forward and planted a kiss to her forehead. “I’m here for you too.”

Mike and El fell asleep together to the sound of soft falling rain. 

_______________________________________________

Deep within the Hawkins Laboratory, and guard salutes to the new leader of the special unit, Mr. Kyle. 

“At ease, gentlemen. Tomorrow we are going to continue to make sure this mess truly gets cleaned up, and no one else has to get hurt in the process.”

“See you tomorrow, Sir.” Most of the employees said it in unison. As soon as the door to the lab closed, one guard said goodbye to his friends and went to the closed gate. He stared at it with wondrous eyes. A twitch through his body, cause him to spasm and grab at his ear just in time to see black goo on his hands. 

A dangerous smirk crossed his face, as he looked back at the gate. 

“It worked, sir. The ones that were not possessed can be turned into your loyal servants by the virus. We don’t have to kill them all. We just have to find a way to turn them all so they can work for you. Of course, we’ll have to kill the Byers boy, because he is immune to the virus, but other than that we are set. You can find a new host now.”