When she wakes, she’s forgotten. Forgotten yesterday’s horrors like they were nothing. Lyrics to a song she’s heard just once or the extra credit question on her history test. Her awareness is confined to this room she’s in, this place, and this morning. She registers only that the soft fibres of Jonathan’s shirt are against her cheek, that the drowsy tempo of his chest’s motion corresponds to her own, and that the sky his window blinds hint at is dark, not yet dawning.
The connection she has to him is richer than what she’s known and draws strength from its naturalness. It makes no demands of her and has made her happy like nothing else does.
He understands her spirit and shares her tendencies, her fears. He knows what stirs her and can tell when she’s plotting something, when the anger kindling within her entreats for revenge. He also senses when she gets too caught up in her plans, and her vibrant resolve edges on dangerous. If she doesn’t perceive the danger, then chances are he’ll end up helping her face it.
He’ll always side with her.
Especially now that they’re finished avoiding each other. Now that she’s been met with the quiet passion he harbors for her. It’s either irresistible in itself or transfixes her because it comes from him.
But the year has been hostile. For months, each day has been too similar to its grim antecedent, and they’ve all bled together in her memories. She wakes up later than she should and eats nothing for breakfast and wastes time applying makeup and fails to wear enough layers for the cold and cannot concentrate on her schoolwork and cannot talk to her boyfriend and cannot stop her nightmares and honestly cannot remember why life should be loved when it’s this hard and she’s this numb.
Routines have always crazed her, a little.
And he’s given her a new choice, a choice to forgive herself. Explore his raw magnetism and indulge in his sincerity which she’s always admired. To get close to him the way she’s wanted, take control, and get a real grip on their relationship.
She picks her head up from his broad chest and moves closer, letting her hand skate over his abdomen before resting it on his heart. Its beat is unsteady. Fast. Is he awake?
Face flushed, she runs her thumb over the tiny circle of wetted fabric where she had drooled on him. He inhales deeply through his nose, vaguely moves his hand on her hip.
She stretches her neck to look at him, unsure. Everything is hazy in the dark blue glow of his bedroom, but she can see him a little bit. The blurred edges of him. It’s like it’s the middle of the night. They got home so late, and there were a ton of issues to take care of, and they were all waiting up for Eleven and Hopper. She fell asleep only a few hours ago.
But she wasn’t turning in without him.
“Uh, I, um...hey,” she stammers through the silence, frozen with her elbow holding her up and her palm still on his chest.
He’s staring at the ceiling, she can tell. He doesn’t look at her.
“Hey,” he says. It’s a throaty sound but still soft. There’s something there, in his voice—agitation and stiffness—like he’s not comfortable with her here. That can’t be right.
“You’re not sleeping.”
He tilts his head to the right, away from her, fingers releasing the hem of her shirt.
She rocks forward, dropping more of her weight on him as she quits balancing on her arm. “You should sleep. If you don’t, it’ll make things worse, okay?” There’s a pause, then: “Jonathan?”
“Don’t you think I'm trying?” he says. A sharp question that is made gentler only through his whisper. Her fingers curl, lightly scratching his shirt as she leans back a few inches. He gives a regretful sigh. “I’m trying,” he repeats sotto voce.
“Oh.” She knows she shouldn’t try to fix this. Her brother wasn’t diseased with some sort of monster lodging in his body less than 24 hours ago. She lies down fully again and starts, “It’s not one of those things you can just erase, is it?”
“No, no, I keep picturing it,” he reveals urgently, “I’m still having to stand there, watching him like that when he’s...not like that anymore. He’s not sick, because of you. I didn’t know what to do, Nancy. I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay. It’s Will, and you were scared for him. You were, so was I, but he’s not my family. It was easier for me to think.”
Finally, he looks down at her in the dark, nose brushing the top of her head. As her hair, a mess of fallen out curls, is moved around, several strands fall in her eyes, tickling her skin. She can’t repress her smile.
“Hey, we should...we probably need to talk.”
“About this,” he says carefully.
“You-you know what.”
She smiles again, fine joy warming the blood in her veins, lining her insides with fuzzy restfulness. “Oh, that.”
He’s giving off nervous energy in waves, so she prompts him. “Okay. What is it?”
“I need to ask you something.”
She chews her lip, more warmth diffusing into her bloodstream as she anticipates every word. Yet, she doesn’t know where he’s going with this. “Come on, what?”
“After yesterday, what do you feel?”
The question is striking in its concision. No stuttering or pausing or mumbling or anything she would deem Jonathan-esque.
So she deliberates for a moment. “Well, after yesterday? I would say...relieved.”
“Because. I don’t know, I’ve felt really trapped recently. Since last winter, everything’s all felt so fake, to me. But now we have proof against those bastards from the lab, and now,” she drags her nose along his collarbone, “this. It’s a relief.”
“What about you?”
“I am,” he tenses and untenses his shoulders beneath her weight, “happy, sometimes.”
“Okay,” she laughs lightly.
“No, not like that. I mean that, even after a day like today, I still have something to, I still, um, nevermind...”
“I like you, too, Jonathan.”
Hope fizzing under her skin, she harvests the moment in her memories. She’ll want to think about it when she gets home.
God, her mom might kill her for being gone all weekend.
Wait, if the weekend is over then—
“Oh, my God, it’s Monday,” she blurts out.
She could go on for hours about how wildly unfair it is that they are now expected to be students again and not...whatever they were this weekend: victims, fighters, investigators, etcetera. She is vastly thankful she is alive to go to her classes, but it’s not like she’s interested in them.
“I didn’t realize. Are you skipping today?” she asks.
“It’s not skipping,” he tells her and begins to push himself to a sitting position, “but yeah.”
A weight bears down on her heart as he takes them out of their well made embrace. “You’re getting up?”
“It’s nearly 6:30.” He flips on the lamp.
She uses one of her arms to help herself up. “It’s not even sunrise,” she counters, combing through a tangled chunk of her hair. “I don’t wanna leave yet.”
“You need to go home now or you’ll be late for first hour.”
His eyes look into hers with their raw shimmer of honesty, suffering, and fatigue, but that’s not all; she discerns some faith there, too. Under his eyes, thin creases indicate how little they’ve slept the past few days. (Last night, it was worth it.) She studies his small nose, his regularly sharp jaw that is currently softened. I love you, she wants to say. She wants to hear him say it, too. But for now, it’s enough to entertain the feeling.
“Oh,” she watches him approach the door, “Then you’ll drive me home? I mean, you don’t have to. If you think you should stay, that’s fine, but if you want to?”
He’s standing in the door frame, about to get her clean clothes from the line outside. “I do.”
She is left to blush in private as he goes into the hall. His confession having enthralled every part of her, she runs through it in her mind once again. For him, so distrusting and reticent, to describe to her that she has given him happiness in this period of torture they live in is nothing short of an absolute miracle. All she knows is she’s doing something very right.
“Sorry they’re not all the way dry,” he apologizes when he comes back, handing over her folded outfit from before.
She’s sitting with her legs crossed in the center of the mattress, the sheets gathered around her. She takes the clothes slowly and assures him it’s okay. As he adjusts something on the alarm clock (probably turn off the ring set to sound at 6:30 that they won’t need) she walks on her knees to the edge of the bed and climbs off. “Thank you for letting me sleep over. I just...hope I didn’t add to any of the stress of last night.”
His eyelids fall closed a few times, and he turns to her with a pensive look. “Stress?” he echoes. “I told you,” he starts wearily and observes the ground, “you saved us. Seriously, you saved us.”
“You keep saying that.”
“Yes, and we’re...it’s never gonna be even with us. Ever. Don’t thank me for yesterday.”
When he speaks of her so gratefully and passionately, she can’t stop herself from feeling strong. Knowing she means something to him means everything to her.
She can actually feel her worth now, coating her like sweat, and she’s done seeking acceptance from those who can’t detect it. Jonathan does. He reminds her of it. Whenever it’s being consumed in the shadows, he sheds light there, and she has the freedom again to do as she wants without guilt. She has value.
“Don’t say it like that,” she warns.
He turns to her. “Say it like what?”
“Even, things being even. There is no getting even.”
“That’s what I said,” he states, puzzled.
She’s pretty sure he’s just pretending to mess with the clock now. “No, I mean there’s no need to keep score.”
He hesitates for a second and looks off to the side, rubs at the corner of his eye with the heel of his hand briefly. She can see he’s thinking. “There is when you do something like what you did.”
“No,” she steps between him and the nightstand, “not...with us.”
That does the trick. Quickly, he leans in nice and close, holding her hips. Her small gasp is ignored as their mouths push gently on each other, getting reacquainted. No longer is she embarrassed for missing this so bad. Her chest falling, she grabs onto his shoulders. Her skin stings pleasantly. He covers her lips with his, she feels his teeth scrape her tongue softly, and it’s all so refreshing.
He never knew a relationship between two people could change for the better in such a small measure of time.
He never knew he would be able to trust someone like her like this.
She has so fiercely defied his beliefs about what’s in store for him.
“Hey, Nancy,” Hopper knocks twice on the door and opens it, “you need to…”
The chief’s commanding volume jerks them back to reality. Jonathan has stepped away, staring at him like he’s never seen the man before.
“Uhhh,” he stalls. Can’t stop looking from the bed to them to the bed again. “Get changed, okay? I gotta drive you and Mike home.”
She bites her tongue to sober herself, tightly clutching the pair of clothes he’d returned to her. “Yes, of course. Right. I’ll just...change.”
He nods slowly, then addresses Jonathan with a “don’t help her too much.” As he withdraws to the hallway, it’s as if this were the new normal.
She figures it should be.
Maybe that’s why she keeps his sweater on to wear to school; it will make her day a little better, inquisition from Carol (or her family) and all.