When Steve sees Eleven again, he wants to cry. I held you as a baby. He wants to say. I'm so glad you're alive, sticks in the back of his throat. His mouth goes dry as he holds back, I left you there. With him. So many years have passed, but that one regret sticks in the back of his head no matter what he does.
He can't believe that his little sister is right there. He also can't believe that his little sister looks like a greaser, but he saves that revelation for another time. Little Eleven, she doesn't look much younger than he was when he escaped. He must have only been a couple of years older than she is now. Nancy had briefly told him about her when they were still together, but she didn't know much other than that she lived in their basement and had superpowers. Steve feels like he’s been punched in the gut when he learns she was living in the house of the girl he dated. He hasn’t seen any of his siblings in years, and it was easier and less painful to assume they all died and hopefully took Brenner with them. He knows that isn’t true, no matter how much he tries to avoid the Hawkins Power and Light facility, it’s a small town. Every time he drives past, his hands tighten on the steering wheel so hard he’s scared one day he’ll break his hand.
Looking at the kid he hasn't seen in what feels like another lifetime, he has to Stop just so he can catch his breath. Her hair is curly and grown out, reaffirming that she's not back there anymore. If she's anything like him, he guesses she'll never get her hair cut again.
He’s glad everything is Stopped, mostly because now he’s thinking of his last day in the Lab; of the white walls towering over him, of the adrenaline that was running through his whole body.
Seven wasn't cooperating that day. Stubborn, they had called him. Insolent. Those were words he knew well; he couldn't go a week without being called some variation. He wasn't as much of a fighter as the others, especially Eight; but he was old enough to know that everything about the lab and the men was bad. He saw a lot more than most of the others did. They could all do special, important things; Eight could make anyone see anything she wanted, Nine could see things that were going to happen before they happened, and Seven could Stop time. As long as he cleaned up the blood from his nose and went back to the exact same spot he was before he Stopped, then they never knew that he had even used his power.
But Seven had been practicing something else, he had learned that he could stop time in specific areas, he could create his own pocket of time that stood still while the rest of the world moved. It was difficult to do, especially the smaller the area was. And he had hidden it, from Brenner and the scientists. But he got caught.
He had made Brenner angry when he was found out. And making him angry had made the guards come after Seven. And that's how it started when they moved forward, and Seven’s back hit the wall, and there were five men, bad men, that crowded around him, there was nowhere to run. The men grabbed at him. Their fists bunched into his clothes, held onto his arms and his shoulders. They pulled him, dragging him across the room, toward his room, toward another day where he would be stuck in the Lab, where he would continue being an experiment until he died. The thought terrified him more than the idea of leaving, not knowing what was behind the barbed wire fence that surrounded the Lab.
Seven kicked at the men, screamed until his throat and lungs burned. He tried to Stop, to freeze everything in place, but it just kept flickering, Stopping and Starting again, he couldn't hold it in place for more than a few seconds at a time. He needed to calm down, but their grips were too tight, their nails were digging into his skin, and Seven’s heart was steadily working its way out of his ribcage and into his throat.
If he could calm down and concentrate, he could get some leverage. A few weeks before, he had been practicing stopping smaller and smaller areas. A guard had come in and grabbed him, telling him that Seven was needed, but he didn’t want to go. Stubborn.
Later, the guard had been found dead, they called it natural causes. Seven didn’t know what that meant, but he knew it wasn’t true.
Seven had been angry and so scared. The guard had been angry and Seven's blood stained his knuckles. Seven had been practicing the new aspect of his powers. He had Stopped one of the scientist's watches, without them noticing, and they complained about how slow it was the whole day. He had done other things like that too, but nothing like he did then, at that moment Seven had focused on the way his face stung, and the man standing over him.
"Weirdest fucking thing." A guard had told another a couple of days after. "Simultaneous organ failure. Bastard's body just shut down. He was a healthy SOB, too."
Seven had been angry and scared. And with the hands clenched around his arms, and the elbow hooked around his neck, dragging him; choking him, he feels that same mixture of anger and fear settle in his body. He desperately reaches for that same feeling. It's not so different from Stopping time altogether, it's more the particular focus of one area that made it an elusive part of what he could do.
The man whose arm is cutting off Seven's air goes limp, his body hitting the floor quickly, his organs going out of sync with the rest of his body. The other men soon follow, and Seven found himself unrestrained. He wipes the dripping blood from his nose and runs. The alarms start blaring, and doors start shutting and locking with lockdown going into effect. Seven keeps trying to Stop everything so he can just run, so he can get out of the lab and all the bad men in it. But it keeps flickering, so he just runs and saves his energy.
He's small, and he's always hated it before, but now it helps him be slippery; to dodge and duck past men and their bullets. There were a few close calls, but by the time he gets close to an exit, the men are far behind him. It didn't give him a lot of time, though, he could hear the stomping of their boots coming closer. Seven's heart hammering in time to the sound.
Seven frantically felt around the edges of the large door, looking for any kind of release switch to turn off the lockdown mechanism. Six had told him about release switches once, but he hadn't been talking about any doors that lead to outside of the lab, Seven wished he had listened closer to Six when they were talking, maybe then he could have helped with their ill-fated escape attempt. Seven and Nine had figured that Six must have been planning it for weeks, maybe even months. Seven had been planning for the last ten minutes. And the more he checked of the door and the area around it, the louder the stomping got, and the closer the men came, and the more Seven was sure he was going to follow too closely in Six's footsteps.
He had still found no evidence of any switch or latch around the door when the men caught up to him, there were double the normal amount that was usually sent after runners; though he had only personally seen two escape attempts in his life, Six and Nine. Nine had gotten out, Six had not.
Seven scanned the line of the men coming toward him and he prepared to have to fight his way through, he had conserved as much energy as he could, but then he saw Eight.
If there was ever a fighter, it would be Eight. He would've thought out of any of them, the first one to escape would've been her. Too bad Six had beat her to the punch, but maybe that was better for her; considering Six had gotten shot the minute he got to the fence. Either way, Eight saw it as her mission to piss off any person in authority in any way she could. Which was why it wasn't overly surprising to see with them, a guard's arm holding her firmly next to him as he marched forward.
Seven closed his eyes and concentrated on Stopping. He figured there wasn’t gonna be a better time, and he needed to find another way out.
Thankfully, he managed to hold it, time freezing the men and everything else around them. He walked toward Eight and pulled her into timelessness with him. It wasn't hard to pull different people and objects into the timeless, but he was very selective with what he did pull in. It was another part of his power he had hidden from them, but it was a much easier thing to hide. Seven had pulled in Eight once before when she had snuck into a part of the lab that was off-limits; he hadn’t known what she was doing there, but he had Stopped so that she could get out without someone noticing anyway.
“Leaving?” Eight said, stumbling a bit due to suddenly gaining her momentum back.
“Yes.” Seven had replied, prying the man’s fingers away from her arm so she could move around. The action would most likely at least sprain the man’s fingers, given how roughly Seven had to pull; when time returned, the added momentum wouldn’t be fun.
“Thanks,” Eight rubbed her arm. “Good luck.” She said, but her tone was hesitant.
“What?” Seven asked, not knowing Eight to be the kind of person to hold back on saying something. The opposite, in fact.
“I’ll help you.” She started, “Make it look like you got out somehow. Hide in one of the search trucks; they’ll get you past the gate.”
“Eight, come with me.” He begs, not knowing what to do or where to go if he gets out. Having Eight with him would make things so much easier, and he wouldn’t be so alone.
“You need to go, Seven.” She says impatiently, “You can’t hold this for much longer, and you can’t keep pulling me in, you’ll exhaust yourself. I’ll get out someday, but right now, you have the chance to. Take it.”
He nods, the blood was fully running from his nose, and he knew he couldn’t hold it for much longer. Seven looks at Eight one last time, before taking off into a sprint toward the garage. The garage was an off-limits area, but Seven knew where it was. He used to Stop and sit in the front seat of the trucks, he would pretend to drive, turning his hands on the steering wheel and playing with the buttons, they didn’t do anything because everything was Stopped, but he found it fun anyway.
The trucks were lined up meticulously, and there were men frozen in time, littered around the area. Seven ran toward a truck at the end of the line, pushing the back open, he climbed in, closing the door behind him. He wiped the blood that was still dripping from his nose, and crawled under a seat, curling into the smallest ball he possibly could. He let out a breath as he let time fall back into place; and waited for what felt like hours before the truck finally started up. It peeled out of the garage, taking a sharp turn before slowing down on the residential streets of Hawkins. Seven was sure that at any moment, they would find him crushed underneath the seat and he would be taken back, but that moment never came.
Instead, the truck finally stopped at the edge of the town, they all got out of the truck, radioing to the others that they hadn’t found anything. Seven figured there wouldn’t be a better time to leave, so he Stopped, already feeling faint from using it again so soon. He slipped out from his hiding spot and got out of the truck. There was a large sign that read “Now leaving Hawkins.”
Seven was tempted to go that direction, but it was a long stretch of road, and he would be walking. He didn’t trust that he could Stop for long enough to get out of sight. So, he decided to duck into the large forest that surrounded the area. He would wait for their search to give up, and then he would find some way to leave Hawkins, to get as far away from the Lab as he could.
Walking among the trees, Seven smiled. He was free.