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Right-Side Up: It's the End of the World

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CHAPTER ONE

The Theater

 

“Jane Eleanor Hopper!” Max pounded on the door. “If you and Mike are making out in there, I swear to God I’m gonna kill you!” 

El pulled away from her and Mike’s kiss, her hair hitting against her face as she sharply turned to face the door. “Uh-huh,” she called, as Mike giggled, “And how is that any of your business?” 

“You’ve been sucking face in there all day and we have to go!” 

El groaned and turned the radio up. “Never Surrender” was playing on the mixtape Jonathan had taught her how to slap together, and she wasn’t going to let Max ruin everything right now. 

“We’ve got, like, five minutes.” El shrugged. 

Mike laughed, pushing a curl behind his ear- his hair had started to get curly recently, which both he and El thought was the coolest thing they’d ever seen. “Five minutes.” he nodded. 

Max pounded on the door again. “El! El, the boys are gonna explode!” 

“Sorry, can’t hear you!” El called, and Mike happily helped her by holding out his hand and using his powers to turn the volume up even farther. El giggled, and then stared as Mike started to dramatically sing along, grabbing her hands and bouncing on the cot. 

He’d moved into a spare room in the Byers’ house until Nancy could get her temporary custody- even though she was eighteen now, it was apparently taking Owens a while to process the papers or some shit. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard on the Byers- Nancy had taken a job to help support Mike, even though Joyce tried multiple times to refuse her offers of money until Jonathan finally told her, “Mom, there’s no stopping Nancy, just let her take care of her little brother.” Jonathan and Nancy both got jobs at the Hawkins Post as interns, which seemed to be helping things a bit, even with the new mall driving away a lot of the customers at Joyce’s store- a lot of customers, really, so since Hopper was pretty busy breaking up riots and protests, the girls tended to spend all day with the Byers and the boys, which worked out perfect for them. 

The room wasn’t really all Mike’s yet- for his own safety, he rarely went into town, and he didn’t want to bother the Byers by asking for trinkets or decorations. But Will had helped him put some drawings and art on the wall, and he had a corkboard from Nancy that he used to hang pictures and scraps. His favorite books were piled at the end of the cot, and El had made sure to bring him extra blankets and books and stuffed animals that she could smuggle out to him or force on him during holidays. (For his part, he liked to give her little doodles or used books he thought she’d like, which was probably the most adorable thing in the world.) 

“Mike, Mike, stop!” El laughed as Mike continued singing and bouncing. 

“What?” He stopped, cocking his head to the side. “You don’t like it?” 

“No!” 

They heard what sounded like a kick from the door. “El, open it or I’m telling Hopper it wasn’t open three inches!” 

El groaned and turned the radio down. “Hell’s sake, Max, Dad can’t do shit about it!” 

“He and Nancy-” 

“What are they gonna do?” El called, as Mike leaned onto her shoulder, still laughing. “Split us up for a year again? Mike’s got freaking superpowers.” 

“So do these three very impatient boys who wanna see a damn movie! Card games aren’t gonna cut it forever!” 

Mike’s eyes widened. “They’re doing card games out there? El, can we do card games?” 

El leaned over, flicking the radio off. “Sounds like we better head to the theater. Guess we’ll just have to make out in the back row during the exciting bits.” 

“Is that allowed?” Mike asked, shocked that this was a possibility. “Isn’t it against the rules?” 

El grabbed his hand, helping him to his feet. “Something Max taught me, bud; I make my own rules. And speaking of Max, she’s gonna murder us.” 

“I’ll protect you.” Mike said, beaming. 

“We’re coming out!” El shouted at the door. 

“Finally!” Max groaned. “I’ll get the boys!” 

 

“We’re finally moving out, dorks!” Max said, opening the door to Will’s room. 

Will and the boys were spread out on the floor, three cards in the middle of their circle. Lucas cheered and started to get up, until Dustin said, “Wait, wait! One more!” 

“Come on, we finally got Mike and El to move!” Lucas said. 

“We’re almost done!” 

“Steve’s not gonna be on shift forever!” 

“Sure seems like it!” 

“Just hurry up.” Max groaned, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe. 

Will nodded and turned to the cards. He pointed at the one in the center, and Dustin shut his eyes. “That’s…” he thought long and hard, and then said, “Ace of diamonds?” 

“Color?” Lucas asked. 

“Red, dipshit, diamonds are always red.” 

Will flipped over the card, and then he and Dustin cheered as they saw the solitary diamond on the front. 

“Three in a row!” Dustin chanted, and Will joined in after a second. “Three in a row! Three in a row! Three in a row!” 

“Great. We know you can predict playing cards.” Max smiled slightly. “Remind me to have you on my team for poker.” 

“What’s poker?” Lucas asked, narrowing his eyes in confusion. 

“Maybe I can show you later.” Max said, smirking at him. 

“Or you could tell me now.” 

Max took a deep breath, just as El and Mike came out, holding hands. “Alright, are we going or not?” El said. 

“Sure, lovebirds.” Max groaned. “Alright, team. Move out.” 

They turned into the hall, with El and Mike leaning on each others’ arms and giggling as they walked, and Will stuffing extra drawing paper into his jacket pocket, careful not to jostle his headphones- for if the theater got too loud- and Dustin and Lucas bickering over whose turn it was to take out the trash when they got home. 

“Hey, hey, wait!” As they passed the kitchen, Joyce stopped in the doorway, pushing her hair out of her face. “When are you getting back again?” 

“Won’t be later than Mike.” Max said, which caused Mike and Will to burst into laughter; lately, her and El had taken to referring to certain numbers as the boys’ names, which they thought was the funniest thing she’d ever done. “And it’s a safe movie, Ms Byers, I’ve seen it before.” 

“And you’ll stay together?” 

“Of course, Ms Byers.” El said. “Nobody’s getting lost.” 

“You don’t want a chaperone?” 

“Steve’ll be there.” Dustin said. 

“Steve’s nineteen and has never once won a fight.” 

“And I can throw things with my mind.” Mike reminded her. “And Lucas can use light as a projectile weapon.” 

“Boom!” Lucas said. 

Joyce sighed. “Okay. But if you need anything, I’m here, Jonathan and Nancy will be here in about an hour-” 

“We know all the numbers,” Will nodded, “And Hopper’s on duty.” 

“He’s not at that time of night, so you’ll have to either-” 

“Call home or use the walkie.” Lucas nodded. 

“We’ve got this covered, Mom.” Will grinned, giving her a quick hug. “This isn’t the first time we’ve gone out.” 

“I know, but…” Joyce sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “The crowds keep getting bigger, and you’re not even supposed to be seen that much yet.” 

“We won’t be.” El assured her. “The bigger the crowd, the more we blend in. Now we gotta go, or Steve won’t be able to take us to the theater.” 

Joyce sighed. “Alright. You all have fun, okay?” 

“Got it, Ms Byers!” Max nodded, and she grabbed a surprised Lucas’s hand and dragged him towards the door. “Thank you!” 

 

“I don’t see why you don’t bring your own bike.” Lucas said as he chained their transportation to the bikerack, the way El had shown him. 

“Well, I ride with El, and then I can go with you on the way back.” Max shrugged, crossing her arms. “It’s free bike rides.” 

“You can ride a bike, though.” 

“Lucas, sweetie,” El sighed, patting his shoulder, “She likes you.” 

“Max likes all of us.” 

“Jesus Christ, Lucas.” 

“Come on!” Dustin said, tapping his foot and gesturing at the people going inside. “We don’t wanna get split up in the crowd or your Dad and Will’s mom and Nancy are going to kill us!” 

“They won’t kill us.” Will said jovially, sliding his headphones on. “Just El and Max.” 

“I’d rather not die by the hand of an angry parent,” El said, “When I’ve survived goddamn demogorgons. Now, come on, let’s hurry it up.” 

They ran into the mall, grabbing hands and giggling as they pushed past crowds, ducking by people and trying to make their way to the ice cream shop on the lower level. People glared at them on occasion for pushing past or moving too fast, but they didn’t really care until El slid to a sudden stop, pushing the group back. 

“Oh, shit!” El had recognized a face. “I think she saw us!” 

“Who?” Lucas asked. 

“Into the store!” El pushed Mike through the door, and the boys quickly followed. El and Max linked arms, just as Karen Wheeler walked by, hand-in-hand with little Holly, who was holding a dripping ice cream cone. 

“Hello, girls.” Karen said warmly. 

“Hi, Ms Wheeler.” the girls said in unison. “How’s Nancy?” El asked. 

Karen smiled. “She’s fine. How are you?” 

“We’re good.” Max knelt down and waved at the little girl. “Hello, Holly.” She gestured to the ice cream. “Did you see Steve?” 

Holly shook her head. “Robin! She’s not as nice.” 

“Holly, be polite.” Karen chided. 

“You’re doing great at remembering names, Hol.” El complimented. “Max and I are just heading to the movies. You going?” 

“Oh, no, Holly and I are heading home. It’s getting late.” 

“Well, we’ll see you around!” El waved, hoping that wasn’t as obvious a plea for her to leave as it felt. Thankfully, Karen just waved and walked off with her youngest. 

Lucas stumbled out the door once Karen was gone and said, “That store’s weird, they just sell underwear.” 

“Shit.” Max opened the door, and saw with relief that the boys hadn’t wandered far. Dustin and Will walked by her, chatting about something, while Mike, his face quite blank, simply walked over to El and grabbed her hand. 

“Hey. Do you want to say hi?” El asked, glancing back at the disappearing Karen and Holly. 

Mike, refusing to look around, shook his head. “Not yet. I… I still don’t…” 

“It’s okay.” El squeezed his hand. “Not ready, I get it. Let’s go see that movie, huh?” 

“Yeah.” 

After pushing their way down an escalator, they managed to duck into Scoops Ahoy, lit up with a bright fluorescence. The group rushed past the tables, ignoring the occasional glance from other customers, and Dustin ran to the counter and pounded on the bell, ignoring the fact that Robin was standing precisely half a foot from him. 

“Hey, dingus!” Robin called, rolling her eyes, “Your children are here!” 

Steve swung open the back window, saying, “Dustin, Lucas, how many times, you can’t be coming out this much, Will and Mike-” 

Robin started. “Wait, are they actually your kids?” 

“Long story.” Lucas said with a smile, as he grabbed Will’s hand and directed them towards their temporary guardian. 

“Thanks, Robin!” Dustin said cheerily as they ducked into the Staff Only room. 

Steve sighed and moved to the back, opening the back door that led to the maintenance hallways. As the children moved past him, he said, “We will talk about this!” 

“Okay!” Dustin shrugged. 

“And if anybody hears about this-!” 

“We’re dead!” all six of them replied. 

They walked a few feet, and then El pushed open the right door, gave a few quick glances, and said, “All clear!” 

They ran out into the hallway of the mall’s movie theater, and made a beeline for Day of the Dead. “This is way better than buying tickets.” Max grinned. 

“Is it?” asked Lucas, who hadn’t yet had the opportunity to buy a movie ticket. 

“Come on, it’ll be crowded!” El said, as she once again leaned onto Mike’s shoulder. “Do we wanna sit together or not?” 

“Not if you and Mike are gonna be gross!” 

El flipped her off as they raced in, ducking through the aisles and thankfully spotting six empty seats in the middle of a row. 

“Lucas, sit by me!” Max whispered, grabbing his hand. 

Lucas blinked. “Um, okay. Why?” 

“Because I like sitting by you, you’re fun!” 

“So are Will and Dustin-?” 

“Is he serious?” El asked Mike, as they carefully made their way past the other people seated in the row. 

“Lucas is always serious.” Mike informed her. 

“We’ve been dating for six months, he’s gotta pick up on crushes by now.” 

“Not likely.” Mike giggled. 

They found their seats, and Max unfortunately found herself next to Mike and El. She groaned and turned to Lucas, whispering something about how they were gonna be gross the whole time, while Will sat beside Lucas and pulled his headphones down slightly. 

“We missed previews.” Dustin seemed a bit upset. 

“Still made it.” El said, leaning over and shooting him a grin. “See? We weren’t that late, Max.” 

“Shut up.” Max said, pulling out her backpack and passing out drinks they’d smuggled in. 

The movie began, then, with a shot of a woman sitting alone in a white room. The boys’ eyes widened, entranced; no matter how many times the girls had snuck them into a theater, they still found movies on such a huge screen to be the most incredible thing. Probably a side-effect of not having films for twelve years, and then suddenly being tossed into the world and able to see whatever they wanted, whenever they could. 

The woman was staring at a calendar, and just then, the screen flickered. They all groaned as the projector shuttered out behind them, and the lights shut down. Will shoved his headphones back on as everyone started shouting. 

“Another power outage? Can’t Starcourt Mall get its shit together?” Lucas huffed. 

“It’s not gonna be dark for long, is it?” Mike asked, and El quickly shook her head. 

“It’s not the mall, it’s the whole town. Power grid’s been busted for the last month or so.” El explained. “Dad says the rioters like to blame the mall, but it’s just some faulty wiring, it’ll get fixed soon-” 

Just then, the lights and projector flickered back on, and the movie continued. Everyone cheered, and Will lowered his headphones once people stopped clapping. 

Max, meanwhile, felt her face fall. There was something… wrong. She shivered slightly, some sort of tingle spreading over her as the film continued. It wasn’t the movie itself, it was… was it the power outage? She’d never been spooked by power outages before. 

It took her a second to realize how vaguely familiar the shiver was. She’d felt it, all last year, whenever… 

El grabbed her hand. “Hey. You okay?” 

Max jumped, startled, but nodded quickly. “Yeah.” 

“You sure?” 

“Yeah, of course.” Max slowly grabbed her coke, opening the bottle with a fizz. “Shut up. Movie’s starting.” 

El shrugged and leaned over to whisper something in Mike’s ear. And as she did, Max tried her best not to look frightened. Lucas glanced at her worriedly, too, and she really hoped he couldn’t tell exactly why she was freaked out. 

The Mind Flayer is not back, Max. It was just a weird power outage. 

You’re fine. Everything’s fine. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong at all.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO

The Radio

 

“Shit, shit, shit!” 

Mike rubbed his eyes as he walked down the hall, stopping at Jonathan’s door. He could hear Nancy’s muffled voice, shouting something about how they had to hurry the hell up; Mike didn’t remember her saying she was staying over last night. He knew he should probably knock on the door, but, well, he wasn’t very good at that yet, and by the time he remembered that rule had been established he was already pushing the door open. 

“Mike!” Nancy shouted. She had just thrown a dress on, shoving on a belt as she shouted. “What did we say about knocking?” 

“I forgot.” Mike admitted, noticing Jonathan on the other side of the room, also throwing on clothes. “I thought you went home last night.” 

“Yes, well, um. Decided to stay over. Surprise!” Nancy said. She gave him a smile, and continued, “But, unfortunately, we can’t do anything fun right now, because the power outage knocked out Jonathan’s alarm, we forgot to reset it, and if we don’t move we’re gonna be late for work.” 

“You hate work.” Mike said. 

“Work’s not that bad.” Jonathan said, quickly grabbing his camera bag. 

“Maybe for you.” Nancy said bitterly. “They love you.” 

“They love you!” 

“Yeah, as a coffee fetcher.” 

“Look, they’re gonna realize how great a writer you are someday-” 

“Do you want me to throw them across a room?” Mike asked. 

Nancy sighed. “No, but put a pin in that conversation. We gotta go. Tell Will we said ‘hi.’” She leaned over, giving him a kiss on the forehead, and said, “You’re taller than me now, stop it.” 

“I’m taller than everyone, I can’t control it.” 

Nancy laughed. “Alright, I’m going out the window.” 

“Why?” 

“Um, more fun.” 

“Can’t argue there.” 

Mike waved at Jonathan and Nancy, and then walked back to his room, where he’d forgotten his bag. He slung it over his shoulder, returned to the kitchen, and said, “Nancy’s climbing out the window.” 

Joyce sighed, looking up from the table, where Will was drowning his pancakes in syrup. “I wish she wouldn’t. She can just say hello.” 

“Why doesn’t she sleep over with me? My room’s big enough.” Mike said. 

Will giggled, as Joyce very slowly said, “Well, she just… wants to spend time with her boyfriend.” 

Mike nodded as he sat back down. “Like me and El.” 

“...sure.” 

Jonathan ran by, and Joyce jumped to her feet. “Oh, hey, hey! Wait up!” 

Jonathan paused, an apology in his eyes. “No, no, I’ll eat at work-” 

“No, cheek.” she laughed a little as she wiped a lipstick mark off of his face. 

He gave her a nervous smile and said, “Alright, gotta run. See you later.” 

“Alright!” Joyce turned back to the kids. “Will, slow on the syrup.” 

“Yeah, it’s my turn.” Mike took the syrup and immediately dumped it onto his eggs. 

Will glanced up towards where Jonathan disappeared. “Can you make him and Nancy stop being gross? They’re as bad as El and Mike.” 

“Shut up.” 

Joyce smiled a little. “I don’t think you’ll find it gross when you fall in love.” 

Will hesitated, before stabbing at his pancake. “Yeah. Maybe.” 

Mike gave him a curious glance, but kept quiet. 

 

“Now, hold on! Hold on!” 

El groaned and turned around. “Dad, this bag of shit is heavy!” 

“And Steve has to get to work, you don’t want him to be late.” Max added, tying her hair back into a ponytail; she’d recently got more used to tying it up, to keep it out of her face. 

Hopper sighed and gave them all quick looks. “I don’t want you out late in the field.” 

“Dad.” 

“Back to the Byers’ by ten, okay?” 

“Back by Dustin, got it.” Max nodded. “Can we go now?” 

“And El.” Hopper gave her a look. “Three inches.” 

El shot Max a glare, who shrugged an I didn’t tell him! shrug. “Dad, chill, it’s just Mike. What’s he gonna do? Feed me too many eggos?” 

“I trust Mike,” Hopper said, and he put a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “I just don’t want you growing up too fast, okay?” 

“Dad, don’t be weird.” 

They heard a car horn beep from the driveway. “Great, now you pissed off Steve.” Max said. “Thanks, Hop.” 

“Stay safe.” 

“You, too.” El nodded. She and Max ran out the door, running towards the car. 

“Seriously, though, chill with Mike for today, it’s weird.” Max said. 

“You’re just mad cause you wanna date Lucas.” El said. “Seriously, Max, be more direct with your flirting. He was raised in a Lab, he doesn’t pick up on that stuff.” 

Max’s face turned as red as her hair. “I’m not flirting with Lucas. I just like hanging out with him.” 

“Sure.” 

They hopped into the backseat, where Lucas gave them a wave. El slammed her bag onto the ground as Max shut the door, and Steve said, “You know, if I’m late for work, I don’t get money, and Dustin and Lucas don’t get arcade trips.” 

“Sorry.” El huffed. “Dad was being weird about me dating again.” 

“What does that mean?” Dustin asked, as Steve pulled out of the driveway. “Why would he be weird?” 

“Because El’s not a baby anymore and has a boyfriend and keeps sucking face with him.” Max said. 

“Max, I’m going to throw you out the car window.” 

“Do it! I dare you!” 

“No one’s dying in this car while I’m driving!” Steve said. 

“Obviously she wouldn’t die in the car.” Max said. 

“No mutinies or I turn this car around and drop you off at the goddamn grocery store.” 

“I think we’re still banned from that.” Lucas said. 

“Exactly!” 

 

The kids burst into the Byers house just as Joyce was grabbing her things to leave. 

“Hi, Ms Byers!” El waved, running past. “Where’s my boyfriend?” 

“Will’s room.” Joyce said, smiling at the other boys. “They’re both in there. You’ll be alright?” 

“Yep! Be back before dark!” Dustin waved. 

“Won’t fall into any alternate dimensions!” Max added. 

“Call if you need anything.” Joyce nodded. “Have fun!” 

El was already gone, and the boys and Max shared a quick look before ducking into Will’s room. El was, indeed, already sitting beside Mike on the floor, the two of them locked in a kiss. Will was focused intently on his drawing, enough so that he noticed neither them nor the teens entering. 

“El, we talked about this whole ‘being gross’ thing.” Max groaned, averting her eyes to the ground. 

El flipped her off. 

Will finally noticed everyone, sitting up from his doodle of a butterfly. “Did you get it?” 

“Yeah, and we owe Mr Clarke money.” Max said. 

El pulled away from Mike, glaring at her. “We’re borrowing it.” 

“It’s a lot of shit.” 

“He said we can do it so long as we show him. He likes encouraging science, and when we told him the boys had never built a radio-” 

“This is gonna be the shit!” Lucas said. 

“We better get going, then.” Max said. “Come on. You, too, lovebirds.” 

“What, you don’t wanna draw?” Mike asked, eyes wide. 

“This radio’s gonna take some time, now move your ass!” 

“Geez, fine.” El rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to be the dictator.” 

“And you don’t have to be glued to Mike, but there ya are.” 

 

“Max?” Will asked, leaning on Dustin’s shoulder while they walked, “Do we have to go so far?” 

“Do you wanna carry the bag?” 

“I could carry the bag.” Mike volunteered, stretching out his hand. The bag then flew out of Max’s arms, levitating beside them. “Easy.” 

“Mike!” El giggled, though she tried to look stern. “Stop it, somebody could see!” 

“We’re going up a hill, who else is here?” Lucas shrugged. 

“I’ll just-” Mike waved his hand, and the bag flew to the top of the hill, up ahead. 

To Mike and El’s confusion, Max looked a bit annoyed. “Cool. Thanks.” she said blankly, before moving back towards Will to say something about his art. 

El glanced around the field as they finally made their way to the top. It was a bit darker than they’d thought it would be, but that was alright, they could stay out a bit late. It wasn’t as if they had anywhere to be. 

“Isn’t Summer great?” El whispered to Mike, leaning on his shoulder. “No school, so we can hang out all day.” 

“School sucks, you should stop going.” Mike said, fiddling with her hand, running his fingers inbetween hers. 

“I dunno. You might like it. You like learning.” 

“I don’t like crowds and sitting still.” 

“You liked Mr Clarke, when he met you in the store.” 

“Everyone likes Mr Clarke.” 

“He was nice at the Snow Ball.” Dustin remembered. “He told me and Lucas that we looked good.” 

“He was lying.” Max quipped, glancing back at him. 

Dustin flipped her off. “We looked great! Didn’t we, Will?” 

Will bit his lip. “I guess.” 

Dustin’s face fell slightly. “You guess? What does that mean?” 

“I don’t know what’s pretty and what’s not.” Will said quickly. “I mean, with clothes.” 

“I mean, that much is obvious.” Max rolled her eyes and elbowed him. “You still dress like Jonathan.” 

“I like looking like Jonathan.” 

“You like looking like a nerd?” 

“Yeah?” 

“What’s a nerd?” Lucas asked. 

“You all are.” Max said. “And we’re here.” 

They stopped at the top of the hill, where the bag waited, and Max spread out her arms. “Look around, my labrat friends! This is what nature looks like!” 

“I hate nature.” Lucas muttered, flopping onto the grass. “And walking.” 

“Don’t call them lab rats.” El said, leaning her chin onto Mike’s shoulder. 

“It’s alright, it’s funny, and we know she’s not being mean.” Dustin said. “When do we get started on the radio?”  

“Right now!” Max knelt down to unzip the bag. “You know, I haven’t been up here since the mall opened. It’s weird having it in the view. Right, El?” 

“Hm?” El and Mike had sat down beside each other. “Oh, yeah. I guess.” 

Max bit her lip and turned to face the other boys. “El and I would sometimes come up here when Hop needed us out of the house. Play D&D or have a picnic or throw rocks.” 

“Build radios?” Will asked, peering into the bag of supplies. 

“Not really.” Max laughed. “This is new for us, too. Right, El-? Oh, they’re making out again, okay. You boys wanna help me get this up?” 

“Of course!” Dustin beamed, racing forwards and brushing past Will to pull something out; Will backed up slightly, startled. “What’s this do?” 

“Well, that’s part of the legs- no, don’t just- lemme get the instructions Mr Clarke made us first.” She pulled out a slip of paper. “It shouldn’t be hard. Once it’s up, we can try to hack into other radio signals.” 

“To listen to people?” Dustin asked, uncertain. 

“No, no. Just find music that stations around here haven’t got.” Max said. “El and I used to talk about doing this all the time, and now we can. Isn’t that great, Ellie?” 

El didn’t respond, so Lucas said, “How do we start?” 

Max smiled at him and spread out the instructions. “Alright, so- first of all, Mike and El need to get their asses over here.” 

“Fine.” El said, her and Mike finally dragging themselves over. 

“Now,” Max said, “We start with the initial setup.” 

 

Melvad’s was empty again. Joyce had gotten used to this over the last few weeks, and had found new ways to occupy her time, such as fixing up old clothes for Will, or sewing an extra pillow or blanket with spare material. At the moment, she was patching up a shirt when Hopper came in. 

“I’m going to guess,” Joyce said, barely glancing up, “That you’re here to complain about our children again.” 

“I’m not complaining.” 

“They’re spending the day out again, though.” Joyce said. 

“It just worries me. I don’t like them running around without supervision.” 

“They’re fourteen, Hop, what are they gonna do?” 

Hopper smiled a little, leaning against the counter. “Well. You remember the shit we got up to when we were fourteen?” 

Joyce finally looked up, a smile brightening her face. “Okay, but we were idiots, and four out of six of them have superpowers. And two of them can kill any threat without so much as breaking a sweat.” 

Hopper sighed. “It just… you know, feels like El and Max are always gone.” 

“Well, they’re at that independent stage.” Joyce shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. I mean, we always knew this was going to happen with our kids, when they hit that age they wanna try things on their own. It’s part of being a parent.” 

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” 

“So long as you don’t take it out on Mike.” Joyce said. “Because Nancy might kill you.” 

“If she doesn’t kill her bosses first.” 

Joyce bit her lip. Nancy had ranted to her about the sexism she faced in the office once or twice, and she was starting to wonder if it had been appropriate to mention that to Hopper. Of course she made him swear not to bother all the editors of the paper, because she knew if she didn’t he’d burst in guns blazing and find some reason to arrest them all, and that would just cause more trouble for Nancy. She was already doing so much for them, it would be unfair to throw her under the bus like that. 

“Still, Hop, you know what Mike’s been through- what they’ve all been through. It makes sense they’re all a bit…” 

“Feral?” 

“That wasn’t the word I was looking for.” 

“Joyce, Lucas and Dustin still dig through the trash whenever they’re over to try and find ‘useful things,’ and one time I swear to God I saw Mike bark back at a dog.” 

“Oh my God.” Joyce laughed. “Are you serious?” 

“Of course I am. And that’s who El decided to date.” 

“Well, first she decided to hide him in your attic and rescue his friends from a government base, and then she decided to date him.” 

“Don’t remind me.” 

“I feel like you’re going to be reminded for the rest of your life.” Joyce hesitated, and then said, “Look, if it’s really bothering you, talk to them.” 

“It feels like every time I try I just- you’re better at words than me, why don’t you do it?” 

“Cause they’re not my kids.” Joyce said, leaning over the counter. “Listen, why don’t you write down what you’re thinking and use it as, like, a cue card? Get it all out and then you’ll remember-” 

The door swung open, then, a small bell going off. Joyce stood up and said, “Hold on, customer. Be right back!” 

She ran off to the door, smiling jovially at the woman who came in, looking for something for her son’s party. Hopper smiled after Joyce, content for the moment to just watch her. As she grinned, sunlight bouncing off her hair, he couldn’t help thinking how perfect she was. 

 

Max flipped a switch, and grinned as they heard some fuzzy music. “Y’all! I found another channel!” 

It was getting darker, and Lucas kept nervously checking his watch; if they were late back to the Byers’ house, they’d worry everyone. Will and Dustin were spread out on the grass, giggling and pointing towards the stars; Dustin had just gotten an astrology book, and was excitedly pointing out constellations to his friend. 

“I had no idea there were so many stars.” Will muttered. 

“I never would have thought of making shapes out of them.” Dustin said. “Who do you think was the first person to do that?” 

“I don’t know, but sometimes I like seeing things in the sky.” Will said. “Like, there- you said that was the Dragon?” 

“Draco, yeah. After the Latin name.” 

“Well it kinda looks more like… a snake. There aren’t legs, but you can see the head. And that star down there, that could make a tongue.” 

“Hey, you’re right!” 

Lucas sat beside them, pointing up. “Look at those stars.” They followed his finger, as he moved it to point out specific shapes. “It looks like a bear.” 

“Yeah!” Will nodded, sitting up a little. 

“I mean, there’s already a bear constellation.” 

“You mean the one that looks like a pot?” 

Max glanced away from the boys’ conversation, her attention drifting to Mike and El; while he braided flowers into her hair, she was making some kind of grass chain. Max moved over, saying, “Hey, mind if I join in?” 

“Not at all.” El said. She finished her chain and started tying it into a circle. “But we should probably get back soon.” 

“We only barely finished the radio, though.” Max said, starting to tie two stalks of grass together. 

“But it’s getting darker. They’ll freak, you know they will.” 

“We’re probably late.” Mike said, not sounding very concerned. 

Max sighed. “Well, maybe if you guys had been more help it would have been set up faster.” 

“We were helping.” El said. 

“Don’t fight.” Mike said, shrinking back slightly. 

“Sorry.” El turned around, putting her hand on his. She glanced at Max and said, “We can come back later. Maybe tomorrow?” 

Max bit her lip. “Sure.” 

El waited a moment, to see if she would say anything, but after a while, she tried to shrug off the awkwardness, and then put her grass chain on Mike’s head. “Grass crown for the Grass King.” she said. 

“What does a Grass King do?” Mike asked, smiling. 

“He wears grass crowns and carries his Grass Queen back down the hill.” 

“Alright, then.” Mike stood up, and El let out a delighted laugh as he picked her up. 

Max rolled her eyes. “Listen, El, just because your boyfriend is tall-” 

“Race back to the Byers, go!” El shouted, and Mike nodded at Max and took off. 

“Hey, no fair!” Max jumped to her feet. “Player Two, get back here! You have to-” she groaned. “Boys, come on, we’re racing back!” 

“Okay!” Lucas jumped to his feet, excited. “I’m faster than Mike, let’s go!” 

“Um,” Will bit his lip. “I might stay here a bit longer. Stars.” 

Dustin noticed his glance, and said, “I’ll stay with him. Make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.” 

“Okay, but if you don’t meet us at the Byers’ in thirty minutes,” Max said, “Nancy and Hopper are gonna come up here and kill you themselves.” 

Will’s eyes widened, until he realized Max was joking. Lucas waved at him and Dustin and then ran down, grabbing Max’s hand and dragging her after the rapidly disappearing Mike and El. 

Once they were out of earshot, Dustin glanced back at Will and said, “What is it?” Will shook his head. “Come on, it’s okay. You can tell me.” 

Will sat up, shaking his head again. “It’s dumb.” 

“I doubt it.” 

Finally, Will moved over to the radio. “I was… I was hoping we could… try and call Kali. And her gang. I… I worry about them. They’re still out there alone.” 

Dustin watched him silently for a moment, and said, “That’s not dumb.” 

“But they won’t have a radio. I don’t even know where they are. I was just gonna- gonna flip through channels until I-I heard something- this is dumb.” 

“No!” Dustin scooted forwards, his eyes lighting up. “Here. Start flipping through, and I’ll try to force a vision. Maybe it’ll tell me what channel they’re on.” Will shook his head wildly. “Seriously, it’ll be fine. I’m getting better at it! I’ve been practicing when I’m bored, and I’ve been able to predict small things! Sometimes I can get the visions to tell me what I want! Let me try, okay?” 

Will hesitated. “Only if you’re okay-” 

“Of course! Come on, start flipping!” 

Will hesitated. “How- how do I do that?” 

“Shit, I forgot you don’t know… well, just gimme a moment. I’ll see something.” 

Dustin scooted back, sitting cross-legged and gripping his hands together, hmming slightly. Will’s eyes widened, and he fiddled with the grass, watching his friend try to slow his breathing and concentrate. 

After a moment, Dustin’s hands flew to the radio controls, and he started moving very fast, so fast Will blinked in amazement and leaned forwards, trying to pay attention to what he did. 

“Did you see something?” Will asked. 

“Just… a… flash…” Dustin said, very slowly. “Recently I’ve been getting small… flashes… hold on.” 

He landed on a channel, and Will said, “Is it Kali? Wilder? Mick? F-” 

“I don’t know, I just… had a flash…” Dustin leaned back. “Do you hear anything?” 

Will listened, and then slumped. “No.” 

“It- it could’ve been wrong. Or maybe the wrong time. I can try again-” 

Will shook his head. “It’s not your responsibility. Mike and I should’ve- I should’ve figured something better than just running.” 

“You were in a rush. And if you and Mike had arrived any later, we would’ve been Demodog food.” 

“Well, that was mainly Mike. I… I wasn’t useful.” 

Dustin’s eyes widened. “The hell does that mean? We were all useful! We all went into the tunnels and saved Mike!” 

“I-” 

At that moment, they heard a faint voice from the radio.

“What the…” 

Dustin moved back to the controls, adjusting them slightly. “Does that sound familiar?” Will shook his head again. It sounded male, but it didn’t sound like Funshine or Axel. In fact, it sounded like gibberish.

“Didn’t Max pack a recorder?” Dustin asked. Will nodded, and ran to the bag, which she’d forgotten beside them. He brought out the recorder, remembering her saying something about how her and El used to sing into it and maybe they could do group karaoke or something. He brought it to Dustin, who had finally gotten the voice much louder. 

And now that it was clearer, Will understood what the man was saying. He gaped, and turned to Dustin. Almost instinctively, he tapped on the side of the radio, several dots and dashes. 

Dustin nodded. “That’s Russian. Mike knows Russian, right?” 

Will shuddered, tapping out Papa taught him little. Enough? 

“Record it, we’ll see if we can have him translate when we get back.” 

Will handed him the recorder, thinking. He recognized one or two words thrown in- the boys had all been given basic Russian lessons, in case they were “needed undercover”, whatever that meant. But Mike had been given the most, because he could see people. In the Void. At least, they thought so. Mike never paraded his lessons from the Lab around, but Will remembered some of the doctors discussing “classes,” and occasionally Mike muttering words in other languages under his breath while visiting. 

Dustin was recording, so he didn’t want to speak aloud. So instead he waved his hand until Dustin looked at him, and then he tapped on the ground. A simple question: Do you really think this is important? 

Dustin responded very quickly. At least it will be interesting.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE

The Incident at the Pool

 

Dustin and Will returned very late, and Max noticed that though they were trying to say something, they weren’t able to get a word in edgewise over an exhausted-looking Nancy and annoyed-looking Steve lecturing them on splitting up from the others. Finally, Will said something to Dustin about “waiting for him before they talk to Mike”, which piqued her interest quite a bit, but as the drive home was filled with her and El laughing about a package they found in the car that held the ugliest t-shirt they’d ever seen, and Hopper proceeding to (fondly) yell at them about it, and that night she fell asleep quickly, she’d forgotten about the conversation by morning. 

“Okay, so,” Max said, bouncing onto the edge of El’s bed, while her foster sister pulled her hair back into a small ponytail, “I was thinking we go up to the radio, just the two of thus. Catch up with the boys later.” 

El hesitated. “I promised Mike that I’d see him first thing.” 

“Yeah, just call and tell him I wanted to show you something. Then after the radio, I was hoping we could hit the arcade. We haven’t been in forever.” 

El sighed. “Max, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to worry Mike.” 

“You’ve seen him every day for six months on end, El, it won’t kill him if you only see him in the afternoon. You can even pick the place for lunch. Ooh! I know! Let’s go to the mall and get ice cream for lunch and bother the shit out of Steve!” 

“Max, I promised. We don’t break promises.” 

‘You promise every day.” 

“Maybe tomorrow? I can ask Mike-” 

“What is he, your owner?” 

El glared at her. “He happens to be my boyfriend who I don’t want to scare the shit out of.” 

“And I happen to be your best friend and sister.” 

Something about Max’s snap, the glare in her eyes as she spoke, awakened a memory in El, one that made her pause. 

I’m here. I’m here and you left me behind. 

Shit. 

El shut her eyes, blinking back tears, and she turned around and gave a surprised Max a hug. “I’m sorry.” she said. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I thought he was dead. I…” She pulled away. “Look. Maybe we can go to the arcade tomorrow. Let’s just go to the Byers’ right now. See what happens.” 

Max bit her lip. “I… I’ll just go by myself. Maybe stop by the pool. You guys have fun.” 

“What? No-” 

“I’m fine. I’m fourteen, and killed the devil twice.” Max shrugged. “I’ll take the skateboard. Have fun.” 

“But-” 

Max stood up and left, refusing to look back. 

 

“Hey, Mike, do you know a lot of Russian?” Dustin asked. 

Mike glanced up from the sofa, where he was threading together a bracelet for El. “What?” 

Dustin leaned over conspiratorially. “Russian. You speak?” 

Mike gave the boys a quick glance; Lucas was sitting by the window with a book Nancy had lent him, while Will sat on his other side, bouncing and holding something in his hands. 

“No.” 

Dustin’s face flickered. “What?” 

“I mean, I know a bit. But not enough to speak. Just enough to… transmit.” he scrunched up his face. “Why?” 

“Um-” 

The door opened, and El ran in, her bag slinging over her shoulder. “Sorry we’re late! Dad had to make sure that Max had all her stuff packed up and could reach him if-” 

Will paused, sliding something into his pocket. “She’s not here?” 

“She, um, wanted to go to the arcade today.” El said. “If you boys wanna go, I mean…”

“I’d like to go to the Arcade. It’s fun.” Lucas said. 

“Actually, Will and I-” Dustin began. 

“I, um… do you know where… where Nancy’s family will be?” Mike asked. 

El’s face fell. “Mike, really, you should probably talk to them.” 

“No, I’ll… I’ll stay here.” Mike said. He scooted back. “I wanted to show you this thing Jonathan taught me- look!” He held up the almost-finished bracelet. “This is for you! I was thinking we could make these today, it’s super calming!” 

El’s eyes lit up. “That does look like fun-” 

“I think I wanna go see Steve.” Dustin said suddenly, shooting Will a significant look. “Will, you wanna come?” 

Will squirmed uncomfortably. “I can’t go out without a chaperone.” 

“I’m your chaperone.” Dustin said. “I’m allowed out in public, remember? I’m Steve’s baby cousin.” 

El glanced back at the door, and then to the boys. “Feel like it’s a bad idea to split up.” 

“We’ll be fine.” Dustin assured her. “Besides, if Lucas is leaving, we wanna go, too.” 

“Lucas is-” El glanced back, to see that Lucas had already shoved his book into his bag and was getting his shoes on. “Oh. I mean…” She looked to Mike, who was back to his bracelet, his brow furrowed in concentration. “I mean…” she sighed. “Guess we’re… all splitting up today. Okay. Cool. Not worrying at all.” 

 

Joyce looked up as the bell rang, signalling someone had come into the store. She and Hopper were chatting over the counter again while she rung up his recent purchase- just some sparklers for the girls on Independence Day for now. She smiled and waved as Nancy came in, though her smile dropped when she saw Nancy’s serious expression. 

“What’s going on?” she asked. 

“Hey, my bosses think I’m at the doctor’s for ‘girl problems.’” Nancy said, and then she turned to Hopper. “I was hoping you’d be here, I need your help.” 

Hopper and Joyce both stiffened. “What happened?” Hopper asked. 

Nancy paused. “Do you know Ms Driscoll? She called the paper, said there were… there was weird shit going on with the rats in her basement. They’re eating her fertilizer.”

“What?” 

“Eating fertilizer, and Jonathan and I already went, and the rat there is… it’s acting really weird, I think you need to see it.”

“Do you think it’s connected to…?” Hopper asked. 

Nancy paused. “I don’t know. I was hoping the paper would do something but they won’t.” she sighed. “I’m just Nancy Drew to them, except people actually listen to her. I’d do more, but…” she shut her eyes. “Much as I hate to admit it, I need this shitty job.” 

“Honey, if you want to quit-” Joyce said. 

“I’m not letting you handle everything by yourself, Ms Byers.” Nancy said, smiling and putting a hand over the woman’s. “But I… I need you to check it over for me, if you…” her voice trailed off, and she looked down at the floor. “Ms Byers, are those magnets broken?” 

“What?” Joyce followed her gaze, looking at the ground, where some magnets had fallen from the side of the desk. “Oh. I don’t know. Maybe? Do magnets break?” 

Nancy paused, moving over and trying to put the magnet back. It slid to the ground. “One of Holly’s drawings did the same thing…” she muttered. Then she shook her head and turned back. “Nevermind. Can you at least check it out?”

Hopper nodded. “We’ll make sure it’s… nothing to worry about.” 

“Thank you.” Nancy smiled, and then she glanced at the magnets again. “I… I need to get back.” She narrowed her eyes, though, and then said, “Hop, what’s El’s science teacher’s name again?”

 

“Max! Hey, Max!” 

Max stopped her skateboard a moment, kicking it up and looking behind  her, surprised to see Lucas running towards her, waving brightly. 

“Um, hey?” she said. 

“Hi!” Lucas skidded to a stop next to her. “El said you were going to the arcade, I thought we could both go!” 

Max brightened slightly. “Just the two of us?” 

“I wanted the others to come, but-” 

“But they were busy.” Max guessed. “Yeah. Well, I’m going past the pool first. Wanna see how busy it is- if it’s not too bad, maybe we can stop by later. I haven’t been swimming in so long, but I cannot do crowds.” 

Lucas nodded seriously. “Crowds are loud.” 

“And rude.” Max groaned. She smiled, though, as Lucas walked beside her. “Why do you wanna come?” 

“Arcade’s fun. And it’s…” Lucas paused. “It’s nice focusing on a game. It’s very…” 

Max nodded, understanding. “Distracting.” 

Lucas bit his lip. “Yeah. You’re not thinking about… stuff that happened. You’re thinking about-” 

“Saving Princess Daphne.” Max said. “Getting away from the ghosts.” 

“Getting highest-score.” 

“Highscore, Lucas. And you’re not getting the highscore, it’s always gonna be me.” 

“Hmm. We’ll see.” 

“Is that a challenge?” 

“It could be!” 

“Oh, it’s on, stalker!” 

Lucas frowned. “Are you ever gonna let that go?” 

“Never. I’m never gonna let that go.” 

They passed by the pool, glancing through the chain link fence, and Max stopped, looking in. “Shit.” she said. “Crowded again.” 

“Everything seems crowded to me.” Lucas admitted, curiously watching children splash each other, while adults chatted in chairs beside the water. 

Max bit her lip. Sometimes, in how wild they’d been the last few months, it was easy to forget that this truly was Lucas’s first summer of freedom. It was weird; he acted so… well, not normal, but maybe as normal as she and El had been, before all this shit went down. He didn’t know a lot of things, true, but he went out into town with her and El and Dustin, and talked nonstop about a TV show or book he’d recently fallen in love with, and… sometimes she forgot what life had been like for him. She wondered how easy it was for other people to forget what had happened to her, the last two years. Hopefully it was easier for them than it was for her. 

“Do you wanna try going in later?” Max asked. “You haven’t been to the pool before, have you?” 

Lucas shook his head. “I don’t know if I have a swimsuit.” 

“We can find one at the mall, I’m sure. I have some allowance left over from…” she trailed off, looking towards a table in the corner. Several lifeguards were chatting under the shade of a small umbrella, but one, in the corner- who was silently staring in their direction, or maybe into nothingness- seemed… eerily familiar. It was hard to tell from this distance… 

“Max?” 

Max jumped. “Sorry, it’s just… that almost looks like… no, no, he left town.” 

“Who?” Lucas tensed up. “Bad man?” 

“Not… not one of your people.” Max said quickly. “Just…” 

The lifeguard stood, and started walking over. Max found herself completely frozen in place. 

Don’t freak out, Max. You’ve beaten monsters from another dimension. He shouldn’t scare you… it can’t be him. It can’t be… 

But as he got closer, Max saw that he was. 

“Max?” Lucas said again, this time a little frightened. Max could barely glance at him before turning back to the lifeguard, who slowly managed to reach the fence. 

Then carefully, blankly, she said, “Billy.” 

Her stepbrother looked down her, and just as blankly, said, “Max.” 

Lucas tensed. She hadn’t exactly talked to him about Billy much but… he knew enough that he wasn’t a nice man. Max and Billy stared for a moment, and then Max said, “I thought you left town.” 

“Well, my bitch of a Dad still owns the house, and I need a place to crash.” Billy said. “So I’m back for the time being. I see you’re not dead.” 

Max felt a pang. She forgot that he’d thought she was dead. Everyone did. “I… happy to see me?” She really wished there wasn’t that tinge in her voice, that tinge of hope. Did you miss me, Billy? Big brother? 

“Not especially.” he said, without a hint of lying. 

Max felt another pang. “Mom and Neil left to look for you.” 

“Did they tell you that?” Billy scoffed, eyebrow raising. “They ditched you, Max.” 

She suddenly felt cold. Mom wouldn’t… “No.” 

“They didn’t want to deal with a stubborn little bitch who runs away and makes everyone think she’s dead.” 

“No.” 

“They dumped you on the first guy who would take you and left. How does it feel?” 

Lucas reached over and grabbed Max’s hand. “Stop it.” he said. “Stop it, her parents love her, and Hopper and El-” 

“Lucas.” Max shook her head wildly, trying to shush him. 

Billy raised an eyebrow. “Well, well. Who’s this?” 

“Billy.” 

“What are you doing hanging around with this-” 

Max threw her hand in front of Lucas, pushing him back slightly, causing the boy to jump with surprise. “Don’t you dare.” 

Billy leaned over, putting his hand on the chain link fence, and then said in a very quiet voice, “And what do you think you can do to stop me?” 

Max shivered. “Hopper-” 

“Oh, yeah, your… what is he? ‘Temporary Guardian’? You think that makes you safe? The second your bitch of a mother, or Neil, or your crackhead Dad wants you back, they get you back. And you won’t be able to do shit about it.” 

“Stop it.” 

“You know what, Maxine?” Billy said. “I bet if you bother me too much, I could get custody.” 

“Stop it! Shut up!” 

“Leave her alone!” Lucas shouted, and he grabbed Max’s arm to drag her away with one hand, instinctively throwing out his other palm. As he did, a bright flash of light burst forth, flickering out of existence after only a moment. However, the second the light emerged, Billy stumbled back as if he had been struck. He let out a startled snarl and threw his arms over his face, backing into the shadow a nearby shed offered. 

Max jumped. “Billy! Billy, are you okay?” 

He retreated more into the shade, and Max felt something dark- the same thing she’d felt in the movie theater, the same creeping feeling inside. “Billy, what’s wrong?” 

Suddenly, he ran forwards, as if to charge through the fence. Max retreated, dragging Lucas with her, but Billy stopped just by the chain link. He froze, before banging on the chain. Max tried to look over his shoulder towards the pool, but nobody seemed to notice. Nobody was coming to help. 

“Stay away from me, Maxine.” he growled. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from him.” he gave Lucas a glare, and Lucas just glared defiantly back. 

Max opened her mouth to retort, to say something, anything, but instead, she just shut her eyes, spun away, and ran.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR

The Silver Cat Feeds

 

“Hey, Steve.” Dustin leaned over the counter. “Do you know Russian?” 

Steve gave him a look that clearly communicated he was not happy about having this conversation. “Why the hell would I know Russian?” 

“We were hoping you would, because Mike’s too busy being El’s boyfriend to help us.” Will said. 

“I repeat,” Steve said, glancing over their shoulders; thankfully, there weren’t many customers at the moment, “Why the hell would I know Russian?” 

Dustin sighed. “We have a secret Russian message we need to translate, but all we can recognize is ‘cat’, ‘trip’ and ‘meets.’” 

“At least, that’s what we think it is.” Will said. 

Steve gave them a look. “You have a what?” 

“Secret Russian Message.” Dustin said. He held up the tape recorder. “On this. Wanna hear?” 

“No! I mean…” Steve glanced around. “Not in front of everyone! In case you’ve forgotten, people aren’t too fond of Russians at the moment.” 

“We got a dictionary from the library, but it’s hard.” Will said. 

“And why aren’t you going to the cops, then?” 

Will and Dustin exchanged a nervous look. “We, um…” Dustin bit his lip, and then whispered, “You know how we were supposed to… to spy on the russians? When we were… were-” 

“We wanna make sure it’s not something that’ll be… bad for us.” Will looked at Steve, pleading with his eyes. “Can you help?” 

Steve sighed. “Sure. It’s Robin’s shift anyway. Come in the back with me.” 

Will beamed. “Do we get free ice cream?” 

“No. Come on.” 

 

“Nancy, the magnets probably just broke.” Jonathan said again. 

Nancy gave him a look, shutting the car door and shouldering their library books. “I don’t think magnets break.” 

“Pretty sure they can.” 

“We don’t have time to argue about this. If we can’t investigate Ms Driscoll’s rats-” 

“Yeah, because you sent my Mom to talk to her!” 

“And Hopper.” Nancy said. “But my point is, if there’s something going on with the magnets…” She made it up to the door, knocking loudly. “If there’s something going on, we have to make sure it doesn’t… it’s not from the Upside Down.” 

Jonathan froze a second. “Do you… think it could be?” 

Nancy took a deep breath, then glanced at him and grabbed his hand. “I don’t know. El said the Gate affected the magnets the first year it was open- remember? We followed that compass to the lab.” 

“Course I remember. My Mom was kidnapped, my brother was living in my playpen in the woods, and El stole a car.” 

“I just… I want to make sure Mike and the other boys… that they’re safe. And Max-” 

“I know.” Jonathan nodded. “I know, and… if you think this thing could be after Will- is Mr Clarke even home?” 

Nancy impatiently knocked again, then rang the doorbell about six times. 

“Nancy.” 

“This is important.” 

Jonathan sighed. “If it’s not, and you dragged me out here and scared me for nothing-” 

“It’s important, I just…” 

Beside them, they heard a loud metal clanging. They jumped, and turned to see the garage door opening. Nancy and Jonathan stepped out, to see Scott Clarke standing behind the door, smiling. 

“Nancy and Jonathan!” he said brightly. “What brings you here?” 

Nancy paused a moment, so Jonathan quickly said, “We’re having some problems with magnets.” 

 

“Why is Russian so flipping hard?” Dustin groaned, flopping over onto Will’s shoulder. Will stiffened a little. 

“Because it’s an entire shitty-ass new alphabet.” Steve groaned. 

“Play it again.” Will said quietly, and Dustin sat up and rewound the tape. “What did that word sound like?” 

“I don’t know.” Steve sat down, looking at the recording. “But the music playing in the background sounded familiar.” 

“Is that important?” Will asked. 

“It might be!” Steve said. 

At that moment, the door slammed open, and Robin said, “Alright, babysitting time is over, you need to get in there! Holly Wheeler’s here and while her Mom flirts with whoever the hell is outside the kid won’t stop asking me to talk to Cool Stevie and I’m about to lose it.” 

She stopped, turning angrily to the whiteboard, where Will had drawn- very nicely, he might add- the russian alphabet, with translations under it. 

“My board!” Robin shouted. “That was important data, shitbirds!” 

“You were just keeping track of how many girls Steve’s failed to flirt with.” Dustin said. Will shrunk back slightly, staring at the table; he would rather not be noticed or yelled at at the moment. “This is more important.” 

“Yeah? Your dumbass Russian code you recorded?” Robin huffed. The boys jumped. “Yeah, you all are extremely loud. How do you even know these Russians are up to no good?” 

They all stayed silent, so Robin started forwards reaching for the tape. Steve jumped grabbing it back. “Whoa, what are you doing?” 

“I wanna hear it.” Robin said. 

Steve stared at her. “Why?” 

“Cause maybe I can help.” Robin said. “I’m fluent in four languages, you know.” 

“Russian?” Dustin asked, glancing over at Will as he curled up a bit more. 

“Ou-yay, are-yay, umb-day.” Robin said. 

“Ooh.” Steve and Dustin said, looking impressed. 

“That was pig latin, dinguses.” Robin said. Will smiled a little. “But I can speak Spanish and French and Italian and I’ve been in band for twelve years. My ears are little geniuses, trust me.” 

Steve still hesitated, so Robin groaned, sitting on the chair beside Will, not noticing him shrink back. “Come on. You deliver ice cream, my turn to translate. I don’t even want credit, I’m bored.” she paused, and said, “Though I guess you could pay me in telling me why the hell you’ve adopted these kids.” 

“First of all, Will’s not mine.” Steve said. “Second, I legally can’t.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“But, if you think you can translate,” Steve sighed, and then he slowly passed over the tape. “You make sure these two don’t get into any trouble. Which happens a lot.” 

“Will ran away last year.” Dustin said. 

“So did you!” 

Robin blinked. “Every new thing you say just makes me more and more convinced this is some elaborate prank.” 

“God, I wish.” Steve sighed. 

 

“Max! Max, hey!” 

Max was kicking her skateboard as fast as he could, but Lucas wouldn’t take a freaking hint. She guessed that made sense… she shouldn’t be mad at him, he missed so much, she needed to… to… 

“Max!” 

Max turned slightly, and missed a bump in the concrete. She gasped as the board flipped, and she toppled to the ground. She heard Lucas gasp, as she quickly sat up, her hands and knees sparking in pain. 

Lucas caught up, kneeling in front of her. “Max! Are you okay? Are you hurt-?” 

“Leave me alone!” Max snapped, whipping around to glare at him, her hair flying in her face. She immediately felt horrible; his face fell in shock and sadness, and he scooted back from her, stung. 

“Max…” he began. She sat up, wiping tears out of her eyes, and grabbing her board. 

“Piss off.”

“Max-” 

“Just go. I need to be alone.” 

“Who was that?” 

“Don’t go near him!” Max shouted, glaring at him again. “Don’t let him near you, okay?” 

“That was your step-brother? Billy?” 

“Yes, and don’t let him near you! He’ll hurt you!” 

Lucas narrowed his eyes. “I can hurt him.” 

“No!” Her heart quickened. As much as she hated Billy right now, as much pain as she knew he’d caused her… she’d lived with him for so long. He was her brother, as much as she hated to admit it, as much as he denied it and yelled at her and threatened her and… 

“Just leave.” she said. “I wanna go home.” 

“No. No, let’s go to the arcade.” 

“Change of plans. I want to go.” 

“Max, what did he do to you? What was he saying- he can’t take you away, can he?” 

“I don’t want to talk about it!” Max shouted, her face red, tears streaming from her eyes no matter how much she tried to stop them. “Just piss off!” 

Lucas froze a moment, and Max curled up over her knees, burying her head in her legs. He’d go. He’d go and she could go home and… 

She heard him sit beside her. “Let’s go to the arcade still.” he said. “You can forget about this. Save Daphne.” 

She felt another pang in her chest. 

“Or I could… beat you at Dig Dug.” 

She stayed silent for a long, long moment. Then, she said, “There’s no way you’re beating me.” 

“I will.”

She finally sat up, and gave him a small, pained smile. “I could beat you with my eyes closed.” 

“Dare you to do it.” 

“Alright.” she glanced down at the ground. “Alright, okay. But… no talking about him. To me, or anyone. Leave this alone. Okay?” 

“No talking about anything.” Lucas promised, and he stood up, holding out his hand for her. “Just fighting.” 

She laughed a little, and took his hand. “I can live with that.” 

 

Steve, Robin, Dustin and Will stared at the board, and repeated what they’d managed to translate over the entire workday. The mall had completely cleared out, and now it was just them. 

“The week is long.” they read. “The silver cat feeds. When blue meets yellow in the west.” 

They left soon after that, and as Steve closed up the store he said, “Are we sure this is right?” 

“Oh, it’s right.” Robin said. 

“It’s nonsense!” Steve said. 

“It’s not nonsense.” Dustin said, reaching to grab Will’s hand as they walked; Will flinched a little at the sudden contact. “It’s too specific. It’s gotta be a code.” 

“Dustin?” Will muttered. 

“That’s a stretch.” Steve said. 

“Not really.” Robin said. “If the Russians are sending a code, what do you think they’re gonna say? ‘Fire the rocket at noon’?” 

“Dustin.” Will whispered again. 

“Why would anyone say ‘the silver cat feeds’ unless they were trying to mask their message?” 

“Exactly.” Dustin said. 

“And why would anyone want to mask the true meaning of their message unless it was somehow sensitive?” 

Dustin finally noticed Will tugging on his hand, and turned to him just as Robin continued, “We need to translate the rest and see if there’s a pattern.” 

“Maybe Silver Cat’s a meeting place.” Dustin said, as Will tugged again. 

“Or a person.” Robin said. “It’s probably gonna take a super genius to crack it, but- where’s Steve?” 

She turned, to see Steve had stopped at one of the toy horses that kids put a quarter in to ride. She groaned and ran back, saying, “Aren’t you a little old for that?” 

As she left, Will whispered, “What if… Dustin…” 

“What?” Dustin turned to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Slow down, Will. Breathe.” 

Will bit his lip, breathing slow. “Silver cat. Silver cat feeds… what if… Dustin, wasn’t that…” 

“Slow down.” 

“Wasn’t that what…” he blinked back tears. “What they wanted Mike to kill?” 

Dustin froze. A memory flashed in his mind; Mike, sobbing, telling them that he couldn’t kill the kitty, he just couldn’t, but he could kill the guards, he could kill them if they tried to lock him away… and Will shaking, refusing to look Mike in the eye, mumbling something about seeing it happen… 

“Do you think it could be about us?” Dustin said. 

“The week is long… seven days. Maybe there’s a Seven here?” Will whimpered. “And… blue meets yellow- I don’t know what that could mean, but-” 

“If it’s about us, should we tell the others?” 

“Mike and Lucas will just burst in and fight everything.” Will shook his head. “You know how they get when we think something might be… scary. And Mom will never let me out of her sight again. Let’s… let’s figure out what it- it might not be about us-” 

At that moment, they heard a familiar music. 

They turned, seeing Steve kneeling by the toy horse, Robin standing nearby. Slowly, the boys walked over. “What’s this?” Dustin asked, as Will grabbed his arm. 

“Shh!” Steve said. “Shh, listen!’ 

They listened, and then Dustin paled. “Holy shit.” he said. “The music.” 

“It’s the same on the tape.” Steve said. “I knew it, I knew I recognized it from somewhere…” 

Robin looked skeptical. “Maybe they have the same horses in Russia.” 

Steve gestured to the logo. “Indiana Flyer? I don’t think so. This code… didn’t come from Russia.” He turned to look at them, a serious look on his face. “It came from here.” 

Will gripped tighter onto Dustin. 

“Well,” Dustin said, sharing a meaningful look with his fellow experiment, “That doesn’t bode well.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE

Return to the Void

 

“Sorry we’re late!” Joyce said, running in and hanging her coat on the rack. “We had to talk to Ms Driscoll, and-” 

She looked around, surprised to see only four children sitting on the floor. As Hopper walked in after her, Max said, “Everyone else is late, too, you’re fine.” 

“Oh.” Joyce said. “Wh-where’s Will? And-” 

“Will and Dustin are at the mall with Steve.” El explained, her and Mike still braiding bracelets together. “Nancy and Jonathan are somewhere, I don’t know.” 

“Probably making out.” Max said. She was staring very hard at the floor. “I was gonna walk home myself but I walked Lucas home first and El thought-” 

“That you walking home alone has had a precedent for turning out bad.” El said. She glanced cautiously at Max, who still stared at the floor. Lucas was giving her the occasional worried look, too. 

“Well, um…” Joyce tried hard not to look anxious. “I… I suppose that’s alright. It’s just-” 

“Weird we’re not attached to each other?” El said. 

“I didn’t say-” 

“I think,” Hopper said, giving El a careful glance, “We should go home. Joyce, you catch Nancy and Jonathan up on what we found.” 

Joyce nodded. “I-” 

“I need to sleep.” Max stood up quickly, still not looking at anyone. She walked right past Hopper, and out the door. 

El bit her lip. “Dad, is this… the whole PTSD thing you mentioned?” 

He took a sharp breath. “Maybe? Or it could just be teen angst. You all get it.” 

“Can we help?” 

Hopper gave her a sad look. “We’ll… have to see. Come on.” 

El hesitantly gave Mike a kiss on the cheek, and then stood up and followed her father out the door. 

When she left, Lucas looked up at Joyce and said, “Can… can Mike and I hang out for a bit? Until Steve comes back.” 

“Of course.” she said, a kind smile on her face. “Of course, I… I’ll jot down my thoughts for Nancy and Jonathan when they get back. You two have fun, okay?” 

Lucas nodded, and held out his hand for Mike. Mike took it, one hand still holding the half-done bracelet, and the two of them headed to the room they’d managed to make for Mike. 

Once Lucas closed the door, he said, “Mike, can you still go into the Void?” 

Mike placed his bracelet beside several others on his desk, and he said, “Yeah. Why? Cause El told me not to spy on her or Max because that’s ‘invasive’ and ‘creepy.’” 

“I need you to spy on Max’s stepbrother.” 

Mike blinked. “Why the hell-” 

Lucas sat on the bed and said, “He was at the pool. Me and Max passed him. He was being really mean to her.” 

Mike’s eyes widened, and he sat beside his friend. “That is scary.” he agreed. “But why do I need to-” 

“I accidentally threw some light at him.” Lucas said. 

“Lucas!” Mike jumped. “You can’t do that, we-” 

“I know, I know, but he acted really weird. He backed up-” 

“Yeah, people do that when light shows up in their face.” 

“But it was… not like that.” Lucas sighed. “It’s hard to explain. Why can’t we have better words?” 

“Because our life used to suck.” Mike said. 

“I just… can you look at Billy? See what he’s doing?” 

Mike paused. “I think so. I… can try?” 

“Do you need a picture? I don’t have one.” 

“I think I saw a picture. When El was showing me her photo album, there was some guy behind Max at the park. Does he have ginger hair and kind-of a beard?” 

“Yeah!” 

“Okay. Okay, if I focus… can you be quiet?” 

Lucas nodded, scooting back. “Good luck.” 

Mike smiled at him, then reached into his pillowcase, where he kept an emergency strip of fabric. He pulled it out, tied it around his eyes, and focused. 

 

Nancy rushed in, saying, “Sorry! Sorry, we’re late, we got caught up with-” 

“That’s alright.” Joyce said, looking up from the table, where she was writing something onto a notepad. She smiled at Jonathan and said, “We, um, have some stuff to go over.” 

“So do we.” Nancy immediately walked over to the fridge, glancing down. “Will’s drawings fell again, huh?” 

“What? Oh.” Joyce looked over, noticing the papers on the floor. “Yes, I- shit, I can-” 

“Watch.” Nancy knelt by the floor, picking up the magnet that had held a paper. She placed it on the fridge, and let go. 

It fell to the floor. 

Joyce narrowed her eyes, watching as Nancy tried it again, and the magnet fell again. 

“The magnets are failing.” Jonathan said, sitting across from her. “So we went to Mr Clarke, and he explained that we have a… an issue.” He straightened up, as Nancy came to sit by them, and said, “See, the magnets would be affected by an unstable electromagnetic field. The Gate, when it was open, created one of those, which is why the compasses pointed towards it.” 

“We didn’t have problems with magnets while the Gate was open.” Joyce said. 

“Which, thankfully, probably means the Gate hasn’t re-opened.” Nancy said. “Unfortunately, there is definitely something going on- and if it’s affecting these magnets, it could be stronger.” 

“There’s gotta be some huge machine.” Jonathan said. “Mr Clarke showed us an AC Device that can simulate the magnetic activity, but he said if- theoretically- this was starting to happen in town, there’d have to be a larger machine causing it. If it reached all across town, it would have to be… hugely powerful.” 

“Like, ‘billions of dollars to run, explosively dangerous’ powerful.” Nancy said, looking excited. 

Joyce’s eyes widened, and she suddenly really wished she had a cigarette. “Do you think it’s something at the Lab?” 

“I don’t know.” Nancy’s face fell a little. “We were planning on telling our bosses and getting this in the paper, but… well, they didn’t believe us about the rats, likely they’ll yell ‘female hysteria’ at me for screaming about magnets.” 

“And if I tell them, more likely than not they’ll tell me to go back to the darkroom and find some way to blame Nancy.” Jonathan squirmed slightly. 

Joyce took a deep breath. “Um. Speaking of the rats-” 

“Did you visit Ms Driscoll?” 

“Yes, me and Hopper stopped by. She was very excited that ‘those nice reporters’ thought to call the police.” 

“And?” Nancy asked. 

Joyce bit her lip. “You said you saw the crazy rat in the cage, right?” 

“Yeah, I got pictures.” Jonathan said, a sinking feeling in his chest. 

Joyce sighed. “Well. It… exploded.” 

The teenagers fell deathly silent. 

“It… what?” Nancy said. 

“We found its remains. Ms Driscoll was…” Joyce took a breath. “A bit unnerved.” 

“I should assume so.” Jonathan said. “What happened to it?” 

“We don’t know.”

Nancy took a deep breath, and then said, “We’re checking out the Lab tomorrow.” 

“Um, we have work.” Jonathan said. 

“We’ll go after work, or play hooky. I’ll say I have girl problems again, you can meet me there.” Nancy said. 

“Nancy-” 

“I’m not letting them mess with Mike’s life again.” Nancy said, very certainly. “Or anyone else’s.” She turned to Joyce. “Is the Chief here?” 

Joyce shook her head. “Max and El had to go home.” 

“Tomorrow, if he stops by your work, can you ask him to check up with Ms Driscoll? Just to make sure she’s alright, see if any rats came back.” Nancy’s eyes were focused, a plan whirring in her brain. “We’ll check out the Lab. Meet you back here in the afternoon to compare notes, to pick up the kids-” 

Almost as if on cue, the door opened, and Dustin and Will ran in. “Mom!” Will cheered, running and giving her a hug. 

Joyce beamed upon seeing her youngest son, and she hugged him back, saying, “Hey! Hey, how was the mall?” 

“It was great! Steve gives us free ice cream, but we’re not supposed to tell anyone!” Will said. 

Dustin smiled at them. “Where are the others?” 

“Um,” Joyce said, “El and Max had to go home early, and Lucas is in Mike’s room.” 

“Okay, cause we better go. We’re gonna be late home and then Steve’ll wake up late and be late to work and we’ll get yelled at.” Dustin said seriously. 

Nancy forced a smile. “Better make sure that doesn’t happen.” 

Dustin ran off, and after a minute, so did Will. 

Jonathan paused. “Should we tell them-” 

“Once we have evidence. No sense worrying them if this is just a coincidence.” Joyce said. 

“A rat blew up and magnets are going nuts and you think it’s a coincidence?” 

“We’ll figure it out, Nancy.” Jonathan assured her. “We always do.” 

Nancy sighed, and then said, “Sooner or later we’re gonna find something out too late.” 

 

It had gotten easier to slip into the Void in the last few months. Truthfully, Mike didn’t even need the blindfold, but it did cut down preparation time by a few minutes. He’d also gotten a bit more used to it. The coldness, the stillness, the blackness. Even the faint feel of water under his feet. 

“I’m in.” he said, then he thought very hard. “Finding Billy.” 

“Be careful.” he heard Lucas say, very distantly. 

“He can’t hurt me.” Mike shrugged. 

He walked a bit in the darkness, focusing very hard on the blurry, hazy memory he had of the photo. Would that be enough to find Max’s stepbrother? 

He thought he heard a noise behind him, and turned to see the image of a car. “There’s a car.” he said aloud, walking towards it, cocking his head. He didn’t see anybody in it. There was a California license plate, and… oh. Shit. There was a giant-ass crack in the window. 

Mike walked around the edge of the car, peering in the windows and doing his best not to touch it; he didn’t want it to vanish, like most things did when he saw them in the Void. He looked up, and realized the trunk was open. That was… strange. 

Carefully, he stepped closer to the trunk, a bit of a chill spreading through him. “Lucas?” he called. “Lucas, there’s… he’s not here, the car’s empty.” There didn’t seem to be anything in the trunk, it was as dark as the rest of the Void… 

Lucas said something, but Mike jumped and turned; there was a figure, crouching several feet away. He could see light red hair- Billy? Hopefully? 

“Hold on.” Mike walked over. What was he doing? He thought he heard another sound, and at first he assumed it was Lucas, but… no. This sounded higher. More muffled. Like a struggling woman. 

Billy said something- it might’ve been “Don’t be afraid,” but Mike wasn’t sure. 

“He’s… on the floor?” Mike said, walking up. “Talking to someone. Who’s not talking back.” 

He kept moving across the wet floor of the Void, starting to feel cold. 

“Max?” Lucas asked, scared. 

“I don’t… think…” Mike moved more, trying to get a better view. He was closer to Billy now, and he could definitely hear fear in the other, muffled voice. Like muffled screams. He knew that sound well; when one of the boys in the Lab got too loud, they’d have a gag stuck in their mouths. It was not pleasant. Clearly someone was gagged. Was Billy trying to help them? Or… 

Before he could move around the figure, Billy slowly stood up. Mike retreated a few steps, confused. The teenager before him was standing very still, almost like a statue. Once again, he tilted his head, trying to look around and see who was on the ground… 

Billy whipped around, staring, dark eyes boring into him. Mike gasped, frozen in place, as Max’s stepbrother kept staring. He couldn’t see him. He was in the Void, he couldn’t see… 

He turned more, now directly facing Mike. And then, slowly, he disappeared in a puff of smoke. 

Mike screamed, and the next thing he knew, he was ripping his blindfold off, gasping for breath and holding back horrified tears. 

“What? What happened?” Lucas leapt forwards, grabbing his hands. “Mike? Are you okay? Are you hurt? What happened?” 

“He saw me.” Mike gasped. 

“What?” 

“He saw me.” Mike shut his eyes. “He saw me and he disappeared. Like… like he didn’t want me to see what he was…” He took a deep breath. “I’m going to hide in the closet.” 

“No, no.” Lucas moved his hands to Mike’s shoulders, holding him down. “You’re not hiding in the closet again, you can’t keep doing that, you’re just reminding yourself of Solitary and making it worse.” 

“I need to calm down.” 

“Then breathe. Like Nancy taught you how to do.” Lucas said. “Breathe. In and out.”

“How could he see me?” 

“I don’t know. I don’t know, but…” Lucas considered. “We’ll find out. Tomorrow, we’ll go out. Find him. You can track him?” 

“In the Void.” Mike shivered. “He… he saw…” 

“Then we’ll start with Max’s old house and go from there.” Lucas said. “Okay? We’ll find out what was going on.” 

“Someone needed help. It- it didn’t sound like Max-” 

“We’ll figure it out. Okay? Breathe.” 

Mike shut his eyes, and breathed in and out. In and out. 

They heard a door open, and Lucas said, “That’ll be my ride. Will you be okay?” 

Mike nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I… oh, shit.” 

“What?” 

Mike looked over at him, startled. “What are we going to tell El?”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIX

The Case of the Missing Lifeguard

 

Will and Dustin decided to go to the mall again. “It was, um, fun. And we get free ice cream.” Will said, not looking anyone in the eye. 

“Are you sure?” Lucas asked. 

“Yeah, it’s always fun to bother Steve.” Dustin said. “See you guys tonight.” 

“Right. See ya.” El looked a bit concerned as the boys left. “Listen, Max-” 

The second the door closed, Lucas said, “Billy’s being scary and we’re gonna run away and track him down and probably interrogate him.” 

Max immediately slammed her hand onto her forehead. “What?” 

El blinked. “Excuse me?” 

“Lucas thought the best way to explain the situation was to be as honest as possible.” Mike said. 

“What about Billy? What?” 

“Lucas!” Max snapped, fury in her eyes. “I told you to leave him alone! And not to tell anyone!” 

“But this is important.” Lucas said, flinching a little; he hadn’t really expected her to be this pissed. 

“Lucas, what did you do?” 

“I just told Mike!” Lucas said. “And he found Billy in the Void and he was being… weird.” 

“I told you to leave it alone!” Max hugged herself. “I can handle this!” 

“Wait, time out.” El interrupted. “Billy’s here?” 

“In town.” Lucas nodded. “We saw him at the pool-” 

“Lucas!” 

“She asked!” 

“Because you brought it up!” 

“Are they fighting?” Mike asked, concerned. “I didn’t mean to-”

“Why is Billy here?” El asked. “Max, is your family back?” 

“No! No, he’s just- he’s just an asshole, okay, we can just ignore him-” 

“We saw him in the Void, and… and he saw me.” Mike said. “We just wanna see what’s going on.” 

“What’s going on is he’s a dick!” Max said. “This isn’t-” 

“Look, Max,” El said carefully, “The boys are… just trying to help.” 

“I don’t need your help!” Max shouted. “And I don’t want you anywhere near-” 

“Look!” El got to her feet, crossing her arms. “Fighting’s not going to solve anything. Boys, what were you going to do?” 

Lucas was staring at Max, shock in his eyes as she glared at the floor. “We… we were hoping to check the house. See if something…” 

“How about that, Max?” El looked to her. “We go to your old house, snoop around a bit, and leave. Be gone in an hour.” 

“No! No, Billy-” 

“Will he be there?” 

“Mike can look.” Lucas suggested. 

Mike shook his head rapidly. “I don’t want him to see me again.” 

“Are you sure he saw you?” 

“Yes.” 

“All the more reason not to go near him.” Max said. 

“No!” Lucas said. “All the more reason to find out what’s happening!” 

“No fighting! Everyone shut up!” El said. “Max, you still have a key to your place somewhere? Look, we’ll just go now. Literally nobody will notice. Worst case scenario, Mike and Lucas can kick his ass. Okay?” 

Max kept her eyes glued to the carpet. Then she spat, “Fine.” 

 

“So we’ve got all the translated shit.” Robin sighed, clicking the pen and staring down at the notecards they’d managed to piece together. “But it’s all gibberish.” 

“It’s not gibberish.” Dustin said, flipping through. “It’s code. We talked about this.” 

“And it’s coming from here.” Will added, sketching a little in his notebook. “Which is, well, very scary.” 

“I’m sorry, who are you again?” Robin said. 

“It’s not important.” Will waved his hand awkwardly. “What’ve we got again?” 

“The week is long,” Robin read, “The silver cat feeds, when blue meets yellow in the west. A trip to China sounds nice, if you tread lightly.” 

“Do any of the words sound like…” Dustin hesitated, and then said, ворота. Gate?” 

“Uh, no.” Robin said. “Why-”

“Maybe we could sneak out and look for Russians.” Dustin suggested. “Steve can take us when he’s on break and it’s your shift, Robin.” 

“Yeah, do you think Russian spies just walk around with t-shirts saying ‘hello, I’m Russian’?” Robin asked. 

“Well…” Dustin bit his lip, glancing at his friend. “Will’s very good at reading people.” 

“No one’s that good.” 

“Uh, you’d be surprised.” 

Robin looked about ready to ask something, but then she stopped and asked something else. “What are you doing, kid?” 

Will flinched. “Just… sketching.” 

“Does it have something to do with the secret Russian messages?” 

Dustin glanced over at Will’s notebook, and then his face paled. Shit. “He just sketches when he’s concentrating.” 

“Well, let’s-” Robin leaned over the table, peering over, and she froze. Will immediately withdrew his notebook, shoving it against his chest, but it was too late. “Were those bodies?” 

Will opened and closed his mouth several times, before turning to Dustin, pleading with his eyes. 

“He’s a little morbid sometimes.” Dustin said, unhelpfully. 

“Kid, why are you-” 

Thankfully, at that moment, Steve walked in. “Robin, it’s your shift. Heads up- if Holly Wheeler shows up, she will ask for a million samples.” 

“I am aware.” Robin sighed. She stood up, and shot Will a concerned look, before heading out. 

“So, what’ve we got?” Steve asked. 

Dustin carefully put a hand on Will’s shoulder and started explaining. Will, meanwhile, slowly lowered the paper and stared down at his drawing. It was from the week two years ago, when they’d escaped. They’d been cornered in the school, and Mike had… he’d protected them. That was what was important. 

If they needed it, Mike could protect them again. If the Lab was here… 

Will shut his eyes, and remembered the year before, when they’d been with Kali, their sister. That man had said that Papa wasn’t gone. Will had gotten mad, and he’d… he’d done something. To his aura. 

Perhaps, if they needed it, he could protect them. 

But, by God, he really hoped it didn’t come to that. 

 

“We’re all going to die.” Max said. 

She hadn’t been back to her old house since they’d finished moving her stuff to the Hopper house, and it didn’t look much better than she remembered. In fact, it looked worse now that she had a different home. 

“Can we go now?” 

“I only just got the door unlocked, Max.” El said. “Come on, nobody’s home. We’ll just be in and out.” 

“Isn’t this illegal? Breaking into someone else’s house?” Max said. 

“First of all, it’s your house.” 

“What, did I buy it?” 

“Second, since when have you given a shit about illegality?” 

Mike sighed and pushed past the arguing girls, stepping into the foyer. “Billy’s room.” he said. “Where?” 

Max let out a loud groan, but she followed him in, trying to ignore Lucas close at her heels, and El kicking the door shut behind them. “Um, if he has the same one, it’s down this way.” 

She crossed her arms, not looking anyone else in the eye as she directed them down a hall. She kicked the door, watching it swing open. “See? It’s not even that messy. We’re fine-” 

Mike went into the room, glancing around with narrowed eyes, trying to find something out of the ordinary. A radio was still blasting some heavy music, but other than that, everything seemed relatively normal; crinkled cans and snackbags were spread across the floor, along with dirty clothes. The dresser held an ashtray and a pack of cigarettes, as well as several magazines. Lucas moved towards a dartboard on the wall, nervously running his hand over the darts that were all pretty close to center. 

Max stalked in, glaring around, while El went towards a drawer, peering in. Upon seeing several rather explicit magazines, El groaned and said, “Gag me with a spoon!” and shut it as fast as she could. 

Lucas went to Max, and said, “Are you mad?”

“How could you tell?” she snapped. 

“You look like me when I’m mad, when I get-” 

“It was a rhetorical question!” 

“What’s a-” 

“Why couldn’t you just leave it alone?” Max turned sharply to him, and he stepped back a little. “I told you to forget it. And if Billy finds out-” 

“Max.” El turned to her, her face falling. “He can’t hurt you anymore. We have Hop, and the boys-” 

“Did he hurt you?” Lucas asked, eyes wide. 

“El!” Max turned on her foster sister, furious. 

The only one not paying attention to the argument was Mike, who wandered his way towards a connecting door. He swung it open with a creak, glancing into a bathroom. He walked in, ignoring the shouts behind him, his eyes fixed on something floating in the bathtub. 

After a moment, El realized he’d gone, and held up her hand to stop Max’s tirade. “Where’s Mike?” 

Max froze a moment, and then whipped around, eyes darting around until her gaze landed on the swinging bathroom door. She pushed past Lucas, flinging the door open and calling, “Mike?” 

Mike knelt by the tub, having pulled back the curtain. Max cautiously approached him from behind, following his intense looks. “What? You find-” 

She stopped as soon as she saw what he did, completely paralyzed, not moving until El and Lucas had already entered to see what was going on. 

Slowly, Mike reached out and touched a floating bag of ice. There were several floating empty bags in the bath, turning the water as cold as possible. 

“What the…” El began. 

“It’s- it’s probably just some kind of exercise thing.” Max stuttered, though her eyes were still fixed on the bags. “Probably for his- his muscles or something, works out like a maniac.” 

Mike didn’t look convinced. He looked up at Max, a suspicious fear in his eyes. El went to the tub, pulling out a bag, shivering slightly with the chill. 

As she did, Lucas turned around, towards the mirror in the back of the room. He glanced down at the drawers, and froze upon seeing a dark red stain on the white wood. He quietly walked over, swinging open the doors behind the stain, finding a trash can that had some kind of awful smell. He grabbed it and pulled it out, and glanced inside. “What’s this?” 

El dropped the icebag back into the bathtub and came over, as Mike and Max turned around. She reached into the can, and pulled out some kind of red fanny pack, labelled Hawkins Lifeguard. She placed it on the sink, and then reached in again and pulled out a whistle, the kind the lifeguards wore when they shouted at kids to stop running. 

It was also stained with blood. 

“That’s- no.” Max shook her head. “No, I know what you’re all thinking and- he probably just spilled some soda on his lifeguard stuff. He works at the pool now, somehow-” 

“And so he just threw it away?” El asked. “If he still- he’s probably there now, he’d have this shit.” 

“He wouldn’t be there now.” Mike said. “It’s raining.” 

“What?” 

Mike pointed upwards, and they indeed heard a soft pitter-patter. “Rain.” 

“Um, yeah, if he’s not at the pool, would that mean he’d come back here?” El asked. 

They looked at each other in horror, and then El grabbed the fanny pack and whistle and said, “Well, if he’s not at the pool, we can at least find out who owns this shit. Come on, squad.” 

“The- no! Hey! Leave it alone!” Max said, but El was already running out of the room, with Lucas and Mike close at her heels. 

Max hesitated a moment, and glanced back at the tub. She wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, obviously, but… 

She slowly reached her hand into the tub, feeling the ice-cold water. 

“He likes it cold.” she whispered to herself, almost as a secret. 

No. No. No. 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN

The Assassin

 

Robin was sitting on the counter, headphones attached to the tape player, muttering to herself. Steve had taken Dustin to go look around the mall for something, and that Will kid was in the backroom, whoever the hell he was. Honestly, at this point, Robin wasn’t sure she should find anything odd. Steve “The Hair” Harrington had custody of at least two fourteen-year-olds, possibly more, two of the kids had brought in a secret Russian message that meant nothing that was somehow recorded in the mall, and one of those boys liked to sketch dead bodies. 

There was a knock on the window behind her. Robin groaned, pulled off her headphones, and slid it open. Will stood on the other side, staring at the ground and looking a bit sheepish. 

“Um, there’s a guy?” he muttered. “With packages.” 

Robin groaned and slid into the backroom, handing the boy the tape recorder and headphones. She went to the backdoor, giving an awkward smile to the man waiting there. “Sorry, co-worker’s little brother needed a place to do homework.” Robin explained, taking the delivery man’s clipboard and signing something. 

Will opened his mouth, probably to correct her, but she just shot him a glare. She handed him the package and said, “Put this on the table, okay?” She turned back with the clipboard, and then found herself freezing. 

The delivery man’s uniform had the company label on it, spelling LYNX. As did his hat. 

He took back the clipboard, and said, “Have a nice day.” 

“Yeah, you, too.” Robin said blankly, and he turned to go. 

Will came back, and then saw what she did; the logo of LYNX transportation; a white cat head. 

No, not white… 

“Silver cat.” Robin muttered. 

Will’s eyes widened. 

“Silver cat.” Robin repeated. 

She turned and ran, and Will quickly followed, sticking close at her heels. Robin threw open the door, rushing out of the swinging doors, breaking past a returning Steve and Dustin, who were arguing about something. “Hey, Robin?” Steve called, turning, just as Will raced to follow her. “Wait, Will!” 

“Will!” Dustin ran after him, and Will slid to a stop beside the food court, where Robin had leapt on a table, spinning around at the different stores. 

“A trip to China sounds nice…” she muttered, and then she pointed up, at an Imperial Panda. “A trip to China sounds nice!” 

Will ran towards her, stopping underneath her table, as she continued to spin, looking at everything she pointed to. She tossed him the notepad of what they’d translated, and she pointed at the Chinese food booth. “A trip to China!” 

“Sounds nice.” Will nodded, staring down at the paper. He read the next line, “If you tread lightly.” 

“If you tread lightly…” Robin repeated, and she spun again, before gesturing up, to Kaufman Shoes. She shut her eyes, hitting her leg, “When… when blue and yellow…” 

“Meet in the west.” Will said with her, watching her continue to whip around, staring across the mall. Finally, she stopped, and pointed at a large clock, underneath a window; the minute hand, a bright yellow, and the hour hand, a dark blue. 

“In the west.” Robin repeated. 

Will dropped the notepad, his mouth opening in shock. 

“Robin! Will!” 

They turned, to see Steve and Dustin finally catch up, looking confused as hell. “What are you doing?” Steve asked, while Dustin quickly ran to Will and threw his arms around him in a quick hug, concerned with how shocked he looked. 

Robin, meanwhile, just smiled, her mind buzzing. “I cracked it.” 

“Cracked what?” 

Robin jumped off the table, her face bright. “I cracked the code.” 

 

The Lab was just as empty as Nancy and Jonathan had assumed, but that didn’t calm their nerves one bit. 

She’d managed to get herself out of work two hours early- it was easy. They were mocking her again, calling her Nancy Drew for trying to bring up the rat story again. Asking her for more coffee. So she simply dropped a coffee mug on Bruce’s stupid lap, grabbed her stomach and said, “I’m so sorry, I’ve been trying to work through the cramps!” And then she had the rest of the day off, like that. She’d gathered their tools, and then met Jonathan in the Hawkins Post parking lot. 

She strode up to the locked gate, peering at it a little in the rain, and then grabbed the metalcutters. As soon as the chain was broken, she and Jonathan pushed their way in; he had his camera tucked tight into the bottom of his bag to keep it from getting wet, in case they needed photographic evidence. Nancy wanted to hope they wouldn’t, but part of her kind of hoped they did. 

She managed to get into the front room, flicking on a flashlight. “Hello, bitches?” she called, stepping across the room, a fury in her chest as she shone her light. Only nine months ago, she’d gone in there with Mike and a gun, and he’d… 

He was never going here again. 

She strode across the room, looking around. “Heard you were doing some bullshit with our magnets!” she shouted. 

No response, but she probably shouldn’t have expected one. She turned, opening her mouth to say something, only to see Jonathan standing in the middle of the room, staring at a spot. She walked over, about to ask what it was, and then she remembered. 

A demodog leaping. Jonathan pushing El out of the way. It almost hit him. It would have, if Lucas hadn’t thrown up his shield. 

She remembered the deer carcass they’d found, while searching for Mike and Lucas in the woods that first year. She tried not to picture what Jonathan would have looked like had the demodog reached its target. She’d seen that enough in nightmares, with Jonathan and Mike and everyone else. She didn’t need to think about it here. 

She put a hand on his arm, and then he relaxed. “Are you okay?” 

“I’m fine.” 

She felt a pang. “Do you want to wait in the car?” 

“I said I’m fine.” 

She hesitated, waiting until he turned to move on, and then they pressed on together. 

They wandered through the halls for what felt like hours, inspecting blinking security cameras and shattered windows. There were still bloodstains on some floors, and claw marks on some walls. Some doors were even halfway off their hinges, probably ripped in the demodog attack and nobody bothered to fix them before abandoning the place. 

Finally, they went down to the place they really, really didn’t want to be. The basement, which once held a sprawling, horrifying gate, was now cold and dirty, with creaky stairs. Nancy went up to the wall, images flashing of Demodogs behind her, and Mike beside her, floating, arms stretched out, blood on his face, fire surrounding them. 

Jonathan stepped next to her, and knocked on the wall. Nothing behind it. 

“Okay, it’s empty.” he sighed, stepping back. “Nothing here, Nance. Let’s go.” 

Nancy kept her palm to the wall, as if expecting it to melt under her fingers. She almost did. Slowly, she turned towards Jonathan, who was watching her, eyes downcast. 

“It’s over.” Jonathan said. 

“It’s…” Nancy tried to say, but she just couldn’t believe it. 

She finally dropped her hand from the wall, turning back to it as if it might change now that she wasn’t touching it. Then she stumbled back, trying to steady her breathing. 

“It’s over.” she repeated, and then she stumbled her way over to a bench, sitting down and gripping the edges until her knuckles went white. “I… God, I’m crazy.” 

“No, no you’re not.” Jonathan said, and he moved over, sitting next to her. “I’m crazier than you are.” 

“No, no you’re not.” Nancy said. “No, you’re not…” she shook her head. “I am. I am… I’m seeing things, aren’t I? The magnets… it’s dumb.” 

Jonathan sighed. “I know I said it was dumb before, but… it’s not. It’s not, not after what happened here. I mean, shit. Nancy, you’re basically raising your little brother. And after the shit that happened before then-”

“I just… I just… it’s not that.” Nancy shook her head. She was feeling strange, like she couldn’t breathe. “It’s not that. I… I almost wanted it to be! I almost wanted shit to be happening, and I’m nuts!” Jonathan was silent. “I… I just… I wanted to be right. To be right and be able to find something, find something so that I… I don’t feel like…” 

“Like what our bosses tell you you are?” 

Nancy shut her eyes tight and nodded. 

Jonathan carefully put a hand over hers, and he said, “You’re not crazy, Nance.” 

“I am. I would rather have all that happen to us again, than be wrong.” 

Jonathan took a deep breath. “You think that’s crazy? Nancy, I… I snuck a lighter into the darkroom.” 

Nancy jumped, turning to him. “That could-” 

“Set all my shit on fire? I know.” Jonathan let out a pained smile. “I know. And I bet our bosses would not like that. But one day I just… I just realized that if one of those things got into the office, I’d be trapped in a small, dark room. And… if it’s a choice between leaving Mom and Will alone after all that, or maybe getting rid of one of those little shits…” he shut his eyes. “You just want to make sure we’re prepared if that all happens again.” 

“So do you.” Nancy took a deep breath. “And if we’re prepared… you don’t have a reason to leave.” 

Jonathan fell completely silent, for what felt like hours, but was likely just about a minute. Then, he whispered, “How’d you find out?” 

“My Mom’s gossip over dinner.” Nancy sighed. “Overheard your Mom talking to a realtor. Does Will know?” 

“No. I only found out because…” he sighed. “She asked if Mike would be able to stay with us if we moved, or if he’d have to go to your parents. She knows he doesn’t want to meet them until he’s ready.” 

Nancy bit her lip. “Yeah. Would… would you leave?” 

“I… I don’t know.” Jonathan squeezed her hand. “I don’t want to leave you, or anyone else. I’ve only ever known this town, and after everything we’ve all been through together… nobody else gets it. But-” 

“I understand.” Nancy shut her eyes. “You don’t feel safe here.” 

“You don’t, either.” he observed. 

They sat in silence for a bit, and then Nancy said, “Maybe we could all move to a farm.”

Jonathan froze, and then laughed. “A what?” 

Nancy cracked a smile. “A farm. We just take everyone who knows about the Upside Down and shove them in a farm, and we don’t have to deal with small-town shit or other dimensions. We just raise horses and sheep.” 

Jonathan laughed some more. “Oh, because you’d be happy on a farm.” 

“Maybe I would.” Nancy said. 

“Nance, you can’t keep your nose out of trouble. What kind of story could you dig up at a farm?” 

“I’m sure with six kids running around, four of which have superpowers,” Nancy said, “We could come up with something.” 

“You know what? Only if we get a panic room. In case the world blows up cause we’re not in Hawkins to stop it.” 

“Okay, but the only food there is eggos. Only thing Mike’ll eat.” 

They laughed at that for a little bit, and then Nancy stood and held out her hand for her boyfriend. “Come on, let’s go get the kids. They’ll need to get up bright and early to feed the pigs.” 

“I thought we were raising sheep.”

“We can raise whatever we want.”

Still laughing, Jonathan stood, and they made their way to the ground floor, walking slowly, shining their lights around as they still giggled a bit to each other. 

Then Nancy heard some kind of smash, and she stopped. 

“Hold on.” she said, and turned and started to walk. 

“Nancy!” Jonathan called, but then she started to run. 

There was something. She heard something. 

“Nancy!” 

She ran into a hall, and reached into her bag, whipping out one of the tools she’d managed to grab- a small gun, one she’d gotten from Hopper. 

Her parents didn’t know she had it, kept tucked away in a drawer when it wasn’t in her bag. Pretty much nobody knew she had it. But she’d told Hopper she wasn’t about to take any chances, and he understood. 

She kicked open the door to a room at the far end of the building, with tall, glass walls, showing the pouring rain outside. She stepped in, holding out the gun, and calling, “Alright, which son of a bitch is here this time?” 

There seemed to be no one there, but she’d heard something. She knew it. She wasn’t crazy, she wasn’t… 

“Lab worker?” she called. “Unethical science shit? Or is it some bastard from the other dimension? Cause we shut your Gate before, and we’ll sure as shit do it again!” 

“Nancy!” she could hear Jonathan call from a hallway or so away. “Nancy, wait-” 

At that moment, she felt a rough hand grab her arm- far more rough than Jonathan would ever be- and yank her back. She let out a frustrated shout and whipped the gun around, only to feel it knocked from her hand as she was thrown to the floor. 

She felt a gun barrel pressed to her head, and a low voice whisper, in a thick accent of some kind- she couldn’t identify it right now, her ears were ringing with the sudden hit- “What was that about the other dimension, little miss?” 

Nancy felt a shiver, and tried to send out a kick. Come on, Nancy, you can throw a guy off of you… 

There was a gunshot, and for a second, Nancy feared that her attacker had shot her; but, no, she didn’t feel any pain in the head- in fact, the gun barrel had flung up, as another shot rang out. Nancy heard a gasp, and looked up, shocked, to see that Jonathan had run in and grabbed her gun from wherever this man had tossed it. 

“Nancy!” Jonathan shouted, and Nancy managed to look up, seeing her attacker- some towering, square-faced man- pointing a gun directly at her boyfriend. “Nancy, go-” 

Nancy sent out another kick, distracting the attacker enough that he missed Jonathan, who started running forwards. The attacker simply got up, lifted Nancy, and threw her into a wall. Her ears rang again, and she felt some kind of punch to the back, before another gunshot and a thud. 

No… 

She finally managed to turn, to see Jonathan knocked to the floor- thankfully no blood around him, but the gun had skidded again. Nancy stumbled forwards, only for the man to grab her arm, twisting it around and throwing her to the wall again. 

“Stay away, little girl.” he hissed. “If you know what’s good for you.” 

And he threw her to the wall again, and the world went black.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHT

The Normalcy is Gone

 

Max was still moping as they raced towards the pool. They’d stopped back at the Byers’ to grab raincoats, and she’d been unable to convince them to drop the whole thing. And now they were back at the pool, and she was pulling on El’s sleeve, saying, “Listen, he’s probably here, we’ll come back after it closes-” 

“Then no one will be here.” El said. “But there might be some people left over as it closes, so we should ask who this belongs to.” She held up the fanny pack and bloody whistle. 

“God, why didn’t you clean that?” 

“It could be evidence.” 

“We’re already in the rain, you might as well-” 

“Please stop fighting.” Mike cried, and the girls shut up. The boys were trailing a little behind them, and the two of them had been even quieter than usual. 

Max usually didn’t hope that people were upset- except on occasions when she was very mad at Billy and she hoped he felt her pain, but she hadn’t felt that way since before the Upside Down- but right now she really hoped the boys realized what a stupid plan this was and were going to suggest they leave. Maybe if there were three of them against El, she would turn back. If El wouldn’t listen to Max, no matter how much she knew about Billy, maybe she’d listen to her stupid boyfriend. 

They reached the pool, and were just in time to see people start heading out. They ran up towards the front desk, past some disgruntled people in swimsuits waiting for rides home, and El said, “Excuse me?”

A manager and a lifeguard girl, flipping through magazines, glanced up at them, and the man recited boredly, “No one in the water until thirty minutes after the last strike. Don’t try and argue with me. If you wanna get electrocuted, go climb a tree.” 

Lucas gave the man a glare, grabbing Mike’s arm. “Nobody should want to get electrocuted.” 

Max stared hard at the ground, as El said, “We’re not here to swim. We found this.” She pulled out the fanny pack and whistle, placing it on the counter. “Does it belong to anybody here?” 

The man, again, barely glanced up. The woman, sitting on the counter, was the one who answered. “Yeah, that’s Heather’s. We’ll get it back to her.” 

Mike gave her a glare. “We could give it back to her.” 

The manager, once again, looked dismissive. “You could. Except she’s not here. Bailed on me today.” 

The kids gave each other terrified glances. The manager looked back to his book, and then back up. “What? You kids want a reward or something?” 

“No, we…” El bit her lip. “Just wanted to help.” 

Mike turned and wandered towards a wall, cocking his head to the side, and Max grabbed El’s arm. “Come on, let’s go.” 

The lifeguard peered at her. “Hey, kid. Do I know you?” 

Max’s eyes flared with panic. “No! No, El, come on, let’s-” 

“Mike?” Lucas asked, turning. 

Behind them, Mike was at a wall that held photographs of all the employees. As the others came over, he traced the edge of a photograph of a teenage girl, marked Heather. 

Then, once he was sure nobody was looking, he ripped the photo off. 

“I can find her.” he said. 

“Mike-” Max began. 

“Locker rooms’ll be empty. Let’s go.” El said. 

They ran off, and Max felt her heart sink into her stomach. 

 

Mike sat on the ground, Lucas’s bandana around his eyes, and the picture of Heather in front of him. Max leaned against the lockers of the boys’ locker room, really hoping that nobody came in and spotted the girls, but then again, nobody was here anyway… nobody… God, this was a horrible plan. She felt like throwing up. Maybe she should duck into a stall and puke. Not like the others would notice. Lucas glanced at her every now and again, sure, as he walked around the locker room and turned on all the showers to drown out noise, but El’s eyes were glued to Mike. Just like always. 

Just like always, Max was being left behind. 

 

Within moments, Mike was in the Void. He could see only a white mailbox, which he stepped towards, fear in his stomach. He hadn’t liked at all when Billy had seen him in the Void, he’d never… the last time someone had seen him in the Void, it had been the Demogorgon. 

But it wasn’t like Max’s brother was a Demogorgon… right? 

He finally got close enough to see a 1438 underneath the box. He slowly rubbed his hand against the metal, feeling only cold. 

Then, out of a puff of smoke, a door appeared. 

“Red door.” he said carefully. “Red door.” 

For a moment, he considered leaving then. They had an address, they could send El’s Dad there. Hopper was a police officer, he could check it out for them. They didn’t have to do anything. 

They hadn’t been doing anything for six months. Six long, perfect months. He could hold El’s hand and draw with Will and go to the mall with Lucas and Dustin. None of them were separate, none of them were hiding, and none of them were being forced into testing rooms or solitary confinement or alternate dimensions. Nancy wasn’t leaving him alone, and his only concern was making sure he didn’t meet his Mom before he was ready- which, fair, could be considered a pretty big concern, but not in the context of everything else in his life. She barely went out anyway, so it wasn’t like he had to hide forever. He could be in town, he could go in the woods and on the hills, he could do stupid shit. 

He and El could have stupid couple fights and make up a day later, and they both cherished that; he knew that. A few months ago, after they’d “broken up” over her neglecting to tell him something or other, and they got back together when she came back with flowers Max had helped her pick out, she’d leaned on his shoulder while the others played Monopoly, and said, “It’s nice being normal. Having a normal relationship. Getting to hang out with you without the world ending.” 

Hell, he and the boys could have stupid fights, too. In the Lab, they could only see each other when Dustin signalled they could sneak around, meet in a room for a spare few minutes, test together. So that Papa would love them. So that they would make everyone proud. They had to treasure every second of the only love they could get in their lives, there was no room for petty arguments. But now Lucas could flip him off for talking on and on about The Princess Bride, and Dustin could annoy the shit out of Mike to see what would get him to get so mad the popcorn would fly. Even Will, who was always kind and quiet and sensitive, would sometimes let slip something teasing, something he never would have dared to say in the Lab, even if he spoke back then. 

And Mike loved it. There was no treehouse, there was no Lab, there were no woods or gang hideouts or places to hide, or people to hide from. Nobody was out to hurt him just for existing. Nobody was out to destroy his world. The adults could handle it. He could just… go back. 

But he remembered the sounds of muffled screaming, just as he started to turn. The soft cries, as Billy stood over something. Billy’s eyes. 

Whether Mike liked it or not, Billy saw him, and wanted to hurt him. Mike hadn’t seen that look, felt that hatred, in months. But it was here now. And he couldn’t just leave. Especially because Billy was hurting someone else. He couldn’t sit back while someone else was hurt. 

It didn’t matter what he had to do, so long as he helped. 

He walked forwards and pushed open the door. Behind it was only a white bathtub, a few feet away. Mike took a deep breath and pressed on, calling, “Heather?” 

She won’t be able to hear me. 

Please, don’t let her hear me.

Mike made his way to the tub, and felt tears start to flow as the horror set in, and he saw the ice piled inside. Nothing but ice. 

Cold. Cold. He likes it cold… 

At that moment, something burst from the ice water. Mike gasped, freezing over in terror, as Heather, still in her lifeguard uniform, her hair a mess, her eyes red and wide in horror, shot up before him. She was gasping for air, gripping to the edge of the tub, a sob in her throat. 

She sat up, and turned, and saw Mike. She saw him, too. People were seeing him. 

“Help me.” she gasped, and then she fell back into the tub, as if being pulled. 

Mike screamed and leapt forwards, trying to grasp her hands, but he fell through the tub, watching as it turned to smoke around him. Something splashed on him, and his wet hair clung to his face, freezing his shirt, spraying into his mouth. He was on all fours, staring into the blackness, and beneath him, he could see Heather falling. 

She was underneath him, pummeling beneath the damp floor of the void, reaching, begging. Her form was wavering, as if she was underwater, though there was no water to be seen, as if she was being ripped apart slowly. Mike reached, trying to break through the invisible barrier, a scream coming from his throat, calling her name, reaching and struggling. 

“Heather!” 

Heather was growing darker, and wavier, and then she was gone, and so were her screams.

 

Mike ripped his blindfold off, still screaming. 

“Mike!” El was at his side, grabbing his shoulders, trying to calm him. “Mike! What happened? What happened?” 

Mike was gasping, staring around, as if he didn’t know where he was. Lucas was suddenly there, too, and he waved his hand to brighten the room, in case that would help. 

Max, meanwhile, thought she recognized that look, and she felt terror grip her. 

She pushed herself forwards, and she grabbed Mike’s shoulders until he finally met her eyes. “Mike! Mike!” As soon as he turned to her, she said, “What did he do? Mike, did you see him? What did he-” 

Mike slowly reached up, touching his bleeding nose, and then he just shook his head and collapsed onto Lucas’s shoulder, still gasping for air. 

Max carefully got to her feet, shaking, and then she turned on El. “We have to go back to the Byers’.” 

“No.” Mike gasped. “No, Heather… she… she needs help…” 

“Then we call Hop!” Max shouted. “We’re getting the hell out of this shit-” 

“Max, if Mike thinks we can-” 

Max snapped, “El, I don’t give a shit!” And then, her mind made up, she said, “Good luck with your suicide mission!” 

She turned, starting to run. But she only got to the door of the locker room, throwing it open to the pouring rain, before El caught up, grabbing her hand. 

“Max, wait!” 

“No!” Max yanked her arm back, whipping around, stumbling back so she was just outside. 

El stepped out with her, letting the door swing shut. “Max, listen, Mike-” 

“I don’t care!” Max screamed. “I don’t care what Mike saw or what he thinks my brother was doing or what happened to us last year or the year before that! I don’t want this bullshit again! I’m done!” 

El’s eyes widened in horror, as if she was also reliving the fight in the gym. “Max, listen, I know you- you and Billy didn’t- but if it’s really something dangerous-” 

“Then I want out!” Max shouted. “I don’t care if the world ends anymore, El, I want this shit to be over!” 

“Max-” 

“You don’t know, Jane!” Max spat. “You didn’t get possessed and exorcised! You didn’t get abandoned!” 

“Max!” 

“You didn’t fall into hell! You didn’t almost get killed by that thing!” 

“Max, listen-” 

“I’m not listening!” Max threw her hands to her ears. “Even before that shit, your Dad loved you! You didn’t have to deal with a brother who only sometimes likes you for eight years! You didn’t have a mother who only cared about you if you did the right shit!” 

El gasped, stepping back, and then she dared to say, “I don’t have a Mom at all!” 

“But you have a Dad!” Max screamed. “You have a Dad who wasn’t living in California and didn’t bother to care after his Zoomer came back to life! You don’t have a Stepdad who beats the shit out of everything and everyone-!” 

El froze. Max had never mentioned that before. She’d never wanted to. But she did now. She needed El to feel everything she did. 

“Your Dad didn’t- didn’t make your brother think that was the only way he could act.” Max gasped as tears started flowing down her face. “You didn’t have to think that maybe… maybe if you were… if you weren’t a problem, your brother would realize it wasn’t okay, and he’d… he’d act like before… but it won’t happen because your parents abandoned you and your brother wants you dead and the world wants you dead, and… and I don’t care anymore! I don’t care if it blows up tomorrow! I just want out!” 

And at that, she turned and fled into the rain. 

El tried one more time to call after her, but Max just turned and shouted, 

“Fuck off, Jane!”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER NINE

When Blue Meets Yellow

 

Joyce hugged herself as they got out of the squad car, the rain pouring down on them. “Is there a reason you brought me here instead of one of your deputies?” 

Hopper shut the car door, sighing as they walked up to the front porch. “This isn’t an ‘official’ police investigation, Joyce.” 

“So you bring a civilian into it?” 

Hopper gave her a careful look, as they stepped onto the porch. “You weren’t this upset last visit.” 

“We’re going to be late home, the kids’ll be worried.” 

Hopper sighed. “They were fine yesterday.” 

“Every day’s different.” Joyce hugged herself. “The smallest thing can change a day from good to bad. We could get back there and they’re all fine, or we could get back there and Will’s locked himself up in his room again. I just… don’t like being away for long.” 

Hopper paused outside Ms Driscoll’s door, and gave a small nod. “Honestly… I know the girls don’t want me to worry, but everytime Max decides to walk somewhere alone, or El is home alone…” 

“And with this… magnets and rats thing…” Joyce sighed, as they reached the door. She knocked, and waited a moment. “It’s just… it’s like this’ll keep happening in Hawkins over and over.” 

Hopper opened his mouth to ask something, but just as he brought up the courage, Joyce knocked again and said, “She’s taking a while.” She knocked once more, narrowing her eyes in concern. “Ms Driscoll?” she called. “It’s us again, we have some… questions?” No answer. “Do you think she’s out?” 

“She’s an eighty year old woman, and it’s pouring.” Hopper said. “Where else would she be?” 

Joyce paused, and then she tried the door. It swung open, unlocked. 

“Well, shit.” she said. 

Hopper carefully pushed her a little behind him, and stepped inside. “Joyce, stay behind me.” 

“Well…” Joyce sighed, as they stepped inside. “This isn’t the scariest thing that’s happened, is it?” 

Hopper shot her a glare, and she shot him an I’m trying to lighten the mood because, due to our streak of luck, we’re likely about to die look. 

A roar of thunder sounded and Joyce called, “Ms Driscoll?” 

“Ms Driscoll, it’s Chief Jim Hopper!” 

They turned a bend into another room, and the two heard her clock ticking, almost as if it was getting louder and louder. Joyce was the one who spotted the cellar door swinging open, and she stepped forward, glancing down the stairs. “Ms Driscoll?” 

“Joyce! Joyce, don’t just go down there!” 

“Then come down with m-” 

Joyce reached the bottom of the stairs, and instantly shut up, because she felt like the wind was knocked out of her. 

Ms Driscoll was there, eating fertilizer. 

The first thing Joyce was able to say, as Hopper rushed down after her, was “Fuck.” 

 

“What do we do about Max?” 

El and Mike were leaning on each other, one distraught and the other exhausted and distraught, so Lucas felt like that meant he was in charge for the moment. He stood in front of them, bouncing his leg and trying not to panic. They’d heard muffled yelling, and then El just said Max ran off before collapsing beside Mike. It wasn’t much to go on, and considering what had happened the last time she ran off on her own… 

“I…” El shuddered. “I… I know she doesn’t want to see me- see us- right now, so we- and we need to find Heather- but- what happens if she’s alone? Maybe we should split up.” 

“No.” Lucas shook his head, before sitting beside El and reaching out to put a hand on her knee. “No, no splitting up. If… if we do something, we do it together.” 

“But Max is alone.” 

Lucas shut his eyes, remembering the arcade day. He hadn’t let her go alone… and then he’d messed up, he’d made her mad at him, because they were dealing with this ‘Billy’ thing… 

“Where would she go?” 

“I- the arcade?” El guessed, trying to think. “The park? Her…” her eyes widened and she shivered. “The Cabin.” 

“Where she got exorcized?” 

“She… she might…” El bit her lip. 

Lucas turned towards Mike, moving his hand to his knee instead. “Mike? Where was Heather?” 

Mike shut his eyes, still crying, but he said, “There was a house. Red door. 1438.” 

Lucas turned to El. “Do you know where that is? You know Hawkins.” 

El considered. “I think that sounds like this one house we used to avoid trick-or-treating, cause the whole street was full of stuck-up…” she shut her eyes and shivered. 

“Is it close? To the Cabin?” 

“Uh, close enough to the woods-” 

“Then we can do both.” Lucas said. “Give Max some time to herself, and then go get her.” 

“I don’t…” 

“We need to know what’s wrong with Heather,” Lucas said, moving his hand back to her, “But we need to help Max. We can do both, right? And we don’t even have to split up.” El finally nodded, and Lucas smiled a little, trying to encourage them. “See? We can figure it out. Like we always do.” 

“Like… like we always do.” El nodded. She squeezed Mike’s hand, and then reluctantly let it go, glancing at the ground. “Like we always do. If we bike over now, we should make it in a few minutes.” 

 

“Mom will kill us.” Will signed to Dustin. 

Dustin glanced at him and signed back, “We’ll make an excuse. Think of one.” 

They’d learned sign language only a little after the Gate’s closure; Max had become worried about what would happen if she couldn’t make noise and thus couldn’t use morse code, but still needed to communicate, and Dustin had dug into the library to find sign language books. It wasn’t ideal, considering they had nobody fluent in sign language to practice with and so they weren’t entirely sure they had it right, but at least they had some basics down to shoot at each other- simple conversation, some names, and useful words like gate, monster, control and run. It was very useful when they couldn’t use morse, or when they were, for instance, on a roof in the pouring rain trying to spy on Russians. 

Honestly, Will and Dustin had expected that they’d never have to spy on Russian agents again, once they’d escaped the Lab. But here they were, and Robin had only brought two raincoats, so Dustin gave one to Will as he and Steve tried to look through the rain, soaking them wet. Dustin peered through his binoculars- a Christmas gift from El and Max- and Robin called, “Look for Imperial Panda and Koffman’s Shoes!” 

Dustin finally managed to focus his vision, and he said, “With whistling guy! On the wheels!” 

“Stroller?” Will guessed. 

“Cart.” Steve said. “What do you think’s in there?” 

“Chemical weapons?” Robin shrugged. 

Dustin and Will shared an uneasy glance, and then Dustin looked through the binoculars again, and said, “Oh, Steve, they have a shitton of guns.” 

“So we bring in Mike?” Will asked. 

“No, no, we’re not bringing in Mike to fight guys with guns.” Steve said. “Way too much of a stressor.” 

“That’s your main problem with that plan?” Robin gaped. 

“Hold on.” Dustin looked closer. “The guard just used a keycard to unlock a big door.” 

“What’s in that?” Robin asked. 

“More boxes.” 

“Let me see it.” Steve grabbed the binoculars, but Dustin pulled back. 

“No! No, I’m good-” 

“Don’t fight!” Will said. 

“Let me see!” 

“Steve, just let me-” 

Will threw his hands over his ears, just as Steve and Dustin dropped the binoculars, and they clanged against the roof. 

“Shit!” Steve shouted, and he, Robin and Dustin whipped around, ducking under the wall. Dustin noticed Will hadn’t yet moved- perhaps due to his hands blocking the sound, and he grabbed his hand, dragging him down with them as they heard shouts from beneath. Terrified for a moment that they’d been spotted, Dustin gripped onto Will’s arm, burying his head in his shoulder. 

Will, for his part, shut his eyes and tried to think. If the guards made it to the roof and cornered them… Mike and Lucas had the offensive powers, and they were probably still at home with El and Max. Steve and Robin didn’t have weapons, and none of them were very good at fighting- well, maybe Robin could be, but Will really had no idea what she could and couldn’t do. 

If worse came to worst… 

Will usually didn’t try to remember that time in Chicago, when they were in the apartment. He loved Kali, and Wilder, and all the gang, and he missed the hell out of them, but… but… 

“Papa is gone! Papa is gone! No! No! No! No!” 

He’d screamed, and thrown out his hand, and the aura around that man, that man that had hurt Kali and Mike and was telling him he wasn’t safe anymore, that the other experiments weren’t safe anymore, and had never been, that everything was crumbling… that man had screamed. His aura had shrunk, collapsing in on itself, and Will had done it, Will had done something to his… his life, his spirit, his soul. He was hurting him, killing him, all with a flick of the wrist. 

It was horrifying. He couldn’t do it, he couldn’t even think of doing it. 

But if those people came up, with their guns, and tried to hurt Robin, and Steve, and Dustin… his Dustin… his friends… 

He remembered when Mike had been willing to kill Ray, for hurting Kali, for scaring Will, and only barely stopped. That had terrified him. It still did. But it sunk in right there, that if that yelling got closer, if push came to shove… 

“We gotta run.” Will felt a hand on his shoulder- Steve’s hand, as the older boy shook him. “Hurry, go.” 

Will opened his eyes, glancing over, just in time to see Dustin’s face go a bit red as he released his friend’s arm. Steve and Robin pulled them up and pushed them to the door that led to the staircase, rushing them down. As they ran, still sopping wet, Robin said, “Well, we found our Russians!” 

“We have to get those packages. See what’s in them.” Dustin said, glancing back at Steve. 

“How about we figure that out when there aren’t angry spies trying to find the source of that noise?” Robin said, and pushed them all ahead a bit faster. 

 

Joyce bounced her leg as she stood at the phone, nerves flaring inside her. 

Answer. Answer, answer, answer… 

Finally, she heard a click, and then her oldest son’s voice. “Hello?” 

“Jonathan!” 

“Mom? Mom, we-” 

“Jonathan, there’s an emergency, I can’t be home. We’re- we’re at the hospital-” 

“The hospital?” 

“Neither of us are hurt! Me and Hopper are fine! But we’re- listen, we’re investigating something-” 

“Mom!” 

“We’ll be home late, tell Will-” 

“Mom, Nancy’s hurt!” 

Joyce froze. “What?” 

There was a bit of a pause, and then Jonathan sighed and said, “Considering our history, this is probably connected but, well, we almost got murdered today. When can you get back?” 

Joyce shut her eyes, and then said, “Hold on a minute.” She covered part of the phone, turned towards Hopper, who was talking to someone at the desk, and called, “Hop!” When he turned, she said, “Yeah, it’s happening again.” 

“Goddamnit.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TEN

The Cabin Wreck

 

Mike clung to El on the back of her bike, Lucas trailing close behind them, as she directed them towards the place he’d seen Heather. He shook slightly as the rain poured, but somehow felt worse when El parked the bike and started to help him get off. 

Lucas carefully grabbed his hand, and Mike took a deep breath as they passed the mailbox. They reached the door, and Mike focused a moment, shutting his eyes and trying to keep himself calm, reminding himself that nothing would turn to smoke this time, that he had to keep going, and protect everyone. He had to stop being scared, he had to help. 

You can do this. You can do this. You can still save them. 

He cocked his head to the side, watching the doorknob twist, and the door swing open. El and Lucas both gave him nervous looks, and he managed to push his fear down, settle his face into a blank look, and step into the house. 

It seemed like a pretty normal home at first; green walls on which hung portraits, nice carpeting, though the lighting was low. Mike thought it looked a little nice, but honestly the small halls and dimness made him feel a bit suffocated. He glanced back at Lucas, who came in after him, and Lucas nodded and cocked his head, letting the room light up a little more. Mike grabbed onto El’s hand, as she said, “I suggest we follow the music.” 

Mike flinched; he hadn’t even realized there was a radio playing in the other room- pretty loud, too, he must have just been so focused on the small space… 

He glanced at the pictures in the hall as they walked- quite a lot of Heather, which was not making him feel great. Flashes of her dropping down, down, down into the Void filled his head as he looked from picture to picture. 

“This is her house?” El asked. 

Mike focused his eyes on a family picture, and his sight landed on her father, someone who looked a bit familiar, though he couldn’t be certain from where. For someone of Mike’s background, that was not a good feeling. 

“Do we know…?” Mike pointed at the picture, but to his relief, Lucas glanced at it and shook his head. 

About then, they heard a loud peal of laughter, and the children jumped. Carefully, they made their way towards the music, and Mike quickly adjusted himself so he was in front of El and Lucas, in case he needed to throw or block something. He supposed Lucas’s shields would be better for that, but… well, he wanted to make sure he was ready for anything. Especially in this dark place.

Slowly, they moved to an open doorway, and Mike paused, confusion flashing across his face. El quickly grabbed Lucas’s hand, too, as they glanced in.

Billy was sitting at a dinner table, inbetween Heather’s parents. He’d said something that made her mother laugh hysterically, while her father smiled, sipping from a wine glass. A full dinner was set in front of them, the strong smell wafting towards the children; Lucas, a bit overwhelmed, struggled not to look rude and cover his nose- it wasn’t a bad smell, but strong smells always made him feel horrible. 

Billy noticed them first, and looked up, his smile slipping only slightly. As the adults turned, suddenly growing bewildered, he said, “El.” 

El froze a moment, as if trying to figure out if she should look guilty or angry. She stared at him, trying to put into perspective everything she knew about him from seeing him most of her life, as well as what Max had spilled- Max, fuck. 

“We- we don’t mean to intrude.” she said quickly. “We tried knocking but the- the storm. You probably didn’t hear it… the door was open and we wanted to- to make sure-”

“Make sure everything’s okay.” Lucas finished, his eyes boring into the teenager.

Billy turned his gaze to him, and something flashed behind his eyes. “Oh, I know you.” he smiled again, and he had a strange tone in his voice Mike couldn’t pinpoint, “You’re Max’s other little friend.” 

Lucas bristled, and Mike knew instantly he was going to do something stupid, so he squeezed El’s hand, and she said, “We were- wondering if she was here. With… you.” It wasn’t a great excuse, but it was good enough. “She told us she’d meet us at the pool. But… we can go check the arcade, I’m sure she’s fine…” 

“I’m sorry, who are these kids dripping over my living room right now?” Heather’s father said, almost jokingly. 

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Billy grinned, putting down a fork and standing up. El flinched, but he said, “Don, Janet, these are my baby sister Maxine’s best friends.” 

“Oh!” Janet looked excited. 

Don looked a bit concerned, as Billy started to walk to the children. “Is this the Maxine who-”

“Went missing a while back? Yes, horrible time. We were distraught.” Billy moved to the kids. “Where did you say she was?”

“Probably the Arcade.” El flinched, realizing quite quickly it would be a bad idea to tell Billy where they actually thought she might be. “Or- or the Mall with our other friends-” 

“Well,” Billy clapped his hands, and then started gesturing, “This is Little El, and- your name is Lucas, right?” 

Lucas glared at him, and curtly nodded. 

Billy then turned to Mike, and Mike stared up at his face, which was frozen in a smile that did not look convincing, one that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “And… I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know your name.”

Mike narrowed his eyes. “Where is she?” 

As Billy spoke again, a fake concern on his face, Mike finally recognized his tone of voice. Patronizing. Like Papa when he thought Mike couldn’t understand something. “Where is who?” 

“I’m sorry!” They heard a call, and turned, in shock, to see Heather walk through from the kitchen, a bounce in her step as she carried a tray of cookies. “They’re a little burnt-”

Lucas and Mike froze, and El gaped, as Billy gestured to the girl and said, “Heather! Meet my little sister’s little friends. Lucas, Ellie, and… I’m sorry, I did not catch your name.” 

Mike stared at Heather, his eyes boring into her, trying to find something wrong, trying to see if she would send him some kind of SOS. Max had used Morse Code last year, but Heather wasn’t tapping, and her hands were holding a tray, so she couldn’t sign anything. Maybe he should play it safe and see what would happen. He turned back to Billy, scanning him carefully, and then he said, very slowly and clearly, “Mike.”

“Mike.” Billy pointed at him, and then his voice went low. “Now, what is it you were saying about looking for someone?” His voice turned patronizing again. “Is it Max? Do you think she’s here?” 

“No, no.” El stuttered, grabbing Mike’s arm. “We just- well, you see- sorry about Mike, he’s new in town and doesn’t understand how- how to ask things, you know?” 

“I know how to ask things.” Mike whispered. 

El glanced around the room, and then put on an innocent smile. “We’re so sorry to intrude. The people at the pool said Heather didn’t show up today- and you either, Billy, and we got worried. That’s why we thought Max was here! She might’ve… come to… check…” 

“Oh!” Billy grinned and went over to Heather, who smiled over at them, a look on her face that matched Billy’s voice. “Oh, well, don’t worry, children. This is all a big misunderstanding.” He looked to Mike again, very carefully. “Heather wasn’t feeling so hot today, so we thought we’d take the day off to nurse her back to health. But you’re feeling just fine, aren’t you, Heather?”

“Just fine.” Heather repeated, “I’m feeling so much better!” 

Mike paused. He turned his eyes to Heather’s father, still trying to place how he knew him. 

“Do you kids want a cookie?” Heather asked, holding out the tray. “They’re still warm.” 

Mike glanced around the room, and his eyes landed on a copy of the Hawkins Post, and it suddenly clicked. Him and Will scanning the paper, trying to see if Nancy had anything published yet and hadn’t told them. 

“Don Holloway.” he pointed at Heather’s father, without thinking. “You’re Nancy’s boss.” 

El stiffened, and Don paused a moment, confused. Then he laughed. “Nancy! Oh, little Nancy Drew! I’m sorry, are you her… brother?” 

“Cousin. From out of town.” El said quickly, as Mike’s eyes shifted to a glare. “Sorry, he’s not good with people. We should really go- find Max. Make sure she doesn’t get lost in the woods again, am I right, Billy?” 

He glanced between them. “Should I come with you?” 

“No, no! It’ll be fine. We’ll just. Let you know!” El started pushing Mike back. “Let’s head ou- Lucas, come on.” 

Lucas was watching Heather, just as Mike had, trying to wait for her to betray discomfort. But eventually, he did turn to go, and El quickly pushed Mike to follow. 

They heard laughter behind them, and Billy say, “I’m sorry, they’re a little odd. I’m so glad they have Maxine to hang out with-” 

“Were we wrong?” Lucas asked, pushing them through and re-dimming the lights as they moved back to the door. “She seemed happy.” 

El shook her head. “Something seems very wrong. I’ve seen Billy put on a charming face for adults but there was something… different there.” She shut her eyes. “We need to find Max.” 

“Cabin?” 

“We’ll check the Cabin, yeah. And if she’s not there-” 

“I’ll trace her.” Mike said. 

“Mike, you don’t want to overuse-” 

“I’ll trace her.” Mike said stubbornly, and he glanced over his shoulder. 

Though Billy was far behind them, he still felt as if the teenager was watching them.

 

This is stupid, this is stupid, I’m stupid, I’m so stupid… 

Max curled up on the cabin floor. She’d raced there, not thinking of anywhere else she could go. She didn’t know if there was. Everything would be closed from the rain, going home meant El would find her faster, going to… to her old house… 

She hugged herself and leaned against the wall, glancing around. The Cabin was still mostly empty from last year- they hadn’t cleaned much since the whole “exorcism” thing. Except… 

She got to her feet, stumbling as she walked, her mind far away. She wandered into a small side-room, peering inside. Her and El used to play there as kids, and she could still see little marks on the wall from their crayons, some toys scattered into the corner, a few papers here or there. She stepped inside, running a hand over a small, dented sofa. When she’d been in the Upside Down, it had been much more destroyed, but she’d found that it still had been nice to curl up in. Nice to hide. She wondered if Hop still had guns hidden somewhere under the floorboards. She used to never think about those. 

She looked up, and her eyes fell on a record player in the corner. She choked back a cry, then; it was on a small table, with discs for music stacked beneath it. She knew all those records, her and El had brought them here for when they hung out. To have background music when they couldn’t think of stuff to talk about, to have something for dance parties… 

She slowly pulled a record out, and placed it on the player, almost unconsciously. She lowered the handle, and listened as the music began. 

“Sweet dreams are made of this…” she mouthed the words along with the singer. “Who am I to disagree?” 

She groaned and pulled the arm back, ripping the record off and tossing it over her shoulder. She didn’t want that one, she’d been interrogated to that song. Not a great memory. She put another record on, starting to feel her heart beat a little faster. 

“Took my love and took it down… I climbed a mountain and I turned around…” 

El had sung that. When they met. 

She tossed the record again, to the other side of the room. She didn’t want to listen to that either. 

She placed a third record down, and glared as it played on, as if music wasn’t what she’d wanted to come out of it. 

“Why does the sun go on shining? Why does the sea rush to shore?” 

Max shut her eyes, and felt something flow back to her, and her eyes began to water. Her Stepdad had been so mad that day. Billy had done something stupid, she couldn’t even remember what. He’d been so mad and Billy had tried to fight back, and that made it worse. Her Mom had left only a few seconds in, to make dinner and pretend she didn’t know what was happening. Her Mom never acknowledged what was happening, not even when she was alone with Max. Max remembered when she was younger, and felt so alone, she used to scream into her pillows, wondering if her mother even cared.

“Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? Cause you don’t love me anymore…”

Max had stayed, though, trying not to watch, but also trying to think of something. She’d been feeling worse and worse for Billy, no matter how many times he’d snapped at her, and he hadn’t even been that mean to her that day- he’d shown her how to play basketball. Was that what Neil had been mad about? Did he not think Max should be- no, no, she’d skinned her knee. That was it. Billy had gotten her a bandaid so she was fine, and they’d kept playing, and Billy cheered when she got a goal, but then when their parents got home Neil had seen the bandaid-

“Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above?” 

She started yelling, thinking maybe she could clear it up. It wasn’t Billy’s fault, she was just playing too rough… Neil told her to stay out of it, Billy told her to stay out of it, but she’d run forwards and… 

“Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when I lost your love…” 

She’d stood between them. She hadn’t known why. Sometimes she hated Billy, hated him so much, but she thought she might hate Neil more, and maybe that’s why. Maybe it was because it wasn’t actually Billy’s fault. Maybe she’d been living with Billy so long she just didn’t want him to get hurt. Maybe she actually liked him once in a while. So she’d thrown herself between them, thinking Neil wouldn’t hurt her. 

“I wake up in the morning and I wonder, why everything’s the same as it was…” 

She thought wrong. 

“I can’t understand, no, I can’t understand… how life goes on the way it does…”

She’d run. As soon as she could get away, she’d bolted. Raced out and run straight to Hopper’s house. El let her in, and she pretended not to notice her tears. Hopper pretended not to notice, either. They went to the Cabin, and Hopper played this song, this song, and they’d had hot chocolate, and El braided her hair, and they talked about DnD. Max had failed to braid El’s hair, which had been even shorter than it was now, but they’d managed to have a costume party with whatever clothes they found lying around. 

“Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry?” 

She doubted El would have a costume party with her now. El was “all grown up.” She had other friends, she had a boyfriend, she had a family who liked her. No matter how much Max pretended El was her sister and Hopper was her Dad, he only had temporary custody. Billy was right. Anyone could come and take her away whenever they wanted. She didn’t even really have the boys- they were fun, she liked them, she liked drawing with Will and joking with Dustin and… and the Arcade with Lucas… but… but they all had these shared experiences. They did so much together. Max was lost and then possessed, and she didn’t want to feel like the new girl. Even with El there- her El, her best friend- she was the new girl. 

“Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said…” 

Max took the record off the player. 

“Stupid.” she said. 

And she smashed it over her knee. 

She tossed the pieces, then ran and grabbed the first record she’d tossed, which had dented a little against the wall. She threw it to the ground and stomped. “Stupid.” Then she ran to the third, breaking it apart in her hands. “So stupid.” 

She didn’t even really know what she was doing. She ran to the record player, pushing it over, listening to the crash. She threw papers around, kicked at the walls, tore at the wood, screamed. She ran to the other rooms, overturning furniture, tossing boxes, throwing and kicking. Sometimes she kicked through rotting wooden walls, and rain poured in. Sometimes she smashed floorboards, and ran, leaving holes in the ground. 

She ripped open a storage closet, tossing boxes. “Stupid!” as a box of photos flew over her head. “Stupid! Fuck!” A box of old clothes, old DnD figures. “Stupid! So stu-” 

She reached back, and pulled something out, and froze. 

Her skateboard. 

It was her old skateboard, she thought she’d gotten rid of that. El had gotten her a new one when she’d gotten back from… from the Upside Down… 

This was the skateboard. The one she’d ridden while being chased. The one Hopper found in the woods. He kept it in here, when she’d gotten her new one. 

She lifted it, and then repeated, “Stupid.” 

And she smashed it. 

It took her a while. And then she was standing over the broken skateboard, pieces of wood and wheels beneath her. 

There. It was gone. The stupid, stupid baby shit was gone. There! She was grown up now, she didn’t need El, or Hopper, or Lucas, or Nancy, or Will or Dustin or Mike. She just… she was alone and that was… that was fine… 

She started to cry again, and that’s when she felt something. 

Just as the tears flowed down her cheeks, she felt her stomach sink, and her body tense, and she felt that creeping, dark shadow inside of her. A frost. A quaking foreboding, a blackness spreading. Inside her. 

She dropped to her knees as she realized what it was. 

It took a few minutes for the Cabin door to open. “Max? Max!” El distantly called. 

Footsteps behind her. Racing, hurrying. They slid to a stop before they could reach her vision, and there were a few gasps. “Max?” El asked. 

“Max, are you okay?” Lucas asked. “What happened?” 

Max realized she’d been staring at the floorboards for so long. So long. With that feeling still spreading. 

She slowly stood, her knees shaking, and turned around. “He’s back.” 

“What?” Lucas asked, stepping forwards, concern written on his face. El was looking around the cabin, shocked and worried about the state of it. Mike, meanwhile, had realized what she meant. He was staring at her, horrified. 

“The Shadow. The Mind Flayer.” Max said, and then she started crying again. “He’s back.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Party Planning

 

“Yes, yes.” Joyce nodded. She was on the phone again, while Jonathan sat on the sofa beside Nancy, who they’d laid out. Hopper was telling him what he remembered about emergency first aid, but Nancy was still unconscious. They’d be fine, probably. Probably. 

“Are you sure? And if you wanna drop Lucas off-” 

“Yes, yes, it’s fine. He might wanna spend the night.” Steve had called, saying that Dustin and Will were planning some sort of surprise and wanted to spend the night at his place. She was fine with that, because she trusted Steve and Dustin and really didn’t want to have to explain this all to Will. Hopefully they’d have it figured out tomorrow when he got back. 

“We’ll call you-” 

“If there’s anything, yes.” Joyce nodded. “Just make sure he doesn’t leave the house? Yeah. Yeah, okay, I’ll see you tomorrow- afternoon? He’ll want to go to the mall, I’m sure- yes, that’ll work. Okay, tell him I love him and to stay safe. Alright, bye.” 

She hung up and moved back, pushing books aside to sit on the table. “Okay, recap again. Ms Driscoll is eating fertilizer and we got her to the hospital, and you call us-” 

“Because we went to check out the Lab,” Jonathan said, “And got attacked.” 

“What do you remember about the guy?” Hopper asked. 

“Is this official police stuff?” Jonathan asked nervously. “Or ‘We destroyed an alternate dimension last year’ stuff?” 

“Do you think it’s actually related to that?” Joyce asked. 

“I…” Jonathan paused. “I think he said something to Nancy. She’d been yelling about the other world and I- I think that’s why he attacked her. But… but I don’t know, I got there later… are we sure she’s okay?” 

“She’ll wake up soon.” Hopper said. “I-” 

They heard the door open down the hall, and within a few seconds, El ran in, saying, “Guys, we have an emergen- what the fuck happened to Nancy?” 

Joyce turned, startled, and her terror grew more when she saw the children. Lucas had an arm around Max, who looked about ready to collapse, and even he had a fear behind his eyes. Mike was shaking, and when he saw Nancy, he let out a cry and raced forwards to her side, kneeling by the couch and throwing his hands over hers. All of them were soaking wet and looked very, very, scared. 

“Did you say emergency?” Hopper asked. 

“What’s going on?” El asked, looking between them all. “Nancy’s unconscious- what’s-” 

“What’s going on with you?” Jonathan asked. “You all look like you’ve seen ghosts.” 

“Not really.” Max shivered. 

Lucas took a breath, and then walked in with Max, sitting down on the floor. “It’s all happening again, isn’t it?” he asked. 

“What is?” Joyce turned to him. 

“What keeps happening to us since we’ve been out.” Lucas said. “We have some calm, and then things happen to everyone, and then the world ends.” 

“Well, not everyone.” El said nervously, helping Mike into a chair. “Dustin and Will are- where are they?” 

“They’re sleeping over at Steve’s.” Joyce said quickly. “Lucas, Steve said I can drop you off if you don’t want to sleep over he-” 

“The Mind Flayer’s back.” Max said. 

Everyone fell dead silent. 

“And we’re fucked.” Max completed, before dropping her head onto Lucas’s shoulder. 

“Language.” Hopper said instinctively. 

Max, in turn, flipped him off, and El said. “Why don’t you guys start, and we’ll move around to the return of all our nightmares?”

“First thing’s first,” Hopper said, looking around. “Are you all okay?” 

“As we can be.” El shivered, giving her father a nod. 

“What about Nancy?” Mike asked. “Is she okay?” 

“She’s just unconscious. She should be awake soon.” Hopper said quickly. “She’s already been drifting in and out. We- Jonathan?” 

“We, um, went to investigate the Lab.” Jonathan sighed. “Some weird shit’s been going on with the magnetic fields around town, and we thought there might be something, but the place is still deserted. But someone came out and attacked Nancy. I… he had some kind of an accent, but I suck at identifying those-” 

Mike narrowed his eyes. “I’ll hurt them. Whoever hurt her.” 

“Mike, listen-” 

“I can do it.” 

“Mike.” Jonathan leaned forwards and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Calm down. We’ll figure this out when she wakes up.” He glanced over at his Mom and said, “And, uh, well-” 

“Rats are eating fertilizer,” Joyce sighed, “And so was Ms Driscoll, one of the women in town. We just rushed her to the hospital. Clearly something’s… going on.” 

“It is.” Max nodded. 

“Billy’s back in town.” El said, giving Max an apologetic look. 

Hopper turned sharply to her. “The Hargroves-” 

“No, just Billy.” El sighed. “He scared Max so Mike looked him up in the Void and saw him hurting someone. We tracked her today, her name’s Heather, and we found her at her house, she seemed fine, Billy was there with her and her parents- but they were weird-” 

“Heather Holloway?” Jonathan asked. 

Mike nodded grimly. “Her Dad’s the ‘shit boss.’ He sucks.” 

“Yeah, we can discuss that later.” El said gently. “While that was happening, Max… Max-” 

“I felt the Mind Flayer.” Max said numbly. “He’s back. I don’t know anything else, but he’s here.” 

Joyce narrowed her eyes, letting this information circle in her head. “Billy’s acting weird, so are Heather, Ms Driscoll, and the rats. The Mind Flayer is back. Someone attacked Nancy when she mentioned the other dimension.” 

“So. I think we can conclude that the Mind Flayer is fucking with the town again.” El said. 

“Are we allowed to say ‘fuck’ now?” Lucas asked, glancing over. 

“Nobody fucking cares.” El waved him off. 

“But he can’t have gotten back.” Jonathan said. “Mike closed the Gate.” 

“I did.” Mike nodded, looking around at the others. “It’s closed, we’re safe.” 

Max slowly stood, and walked over to the table, grabbing a scattered stack of papers. She looked at them, almost regretfully, and said, “We’re not safe.” 

“Max-” 

“I’ve been feeling him back for a while.” Max said. She walked over to the table, and picked up a spare paper, flipping it over in her hands, staring down with wide eyes. “But I… I don’t think I wanted to believe it. The first time I felt it was in the theater, when the power went out. Then when Billy was freaked out by the light. Then tonight, in the Cabin.”

Hopper and Joyce shared a concerned look, and Hopper leaned forwards. “What does it feel like?” 

Max considered. “You know that feeling when you’re on a rollercoaster, and you drop?” 

“Yeah.” El nodded. 

“Yes.” Jonathan said. 

“No.” Lucas and Mike both shook their heads. 

Max glanced at the boys, and then said, “It’s like… everything inside you is falling at once. But… this is worse. Your body gets cold and you can’t… you can’t breathe. I’ve felt it before. Whenever he was close. When he was going to hurt someone. Or me.” 

“Max…” Mike bit his lip. “I closed the Gate?” 

“What if he didn’t leave?” Max turned to him, and then her voice broke. “What if we locked him out here with us?” 

Mike froze a moment, and then slowly sank onto the ground and curled up. 

“But we got it out of you.” Joyce said, reaching over and putting a hand on Max’s shoulder. 

“Maybe…” Max slammed the paper on the ground, and then reached around, finding a stray crayon. She drew fast, sketching a dark shape. “This is him, right? That day in the field, part of him attached to me.” She swiped her hand across the paper, and held it up so they could see the black mark. “You got it out, and Mike closed the Gate. But the part that was in me- what if it didn’t make it to the Gate? What if it’s still on this side?” 

She flipped the paper over, and hit it with her hand. A small black handprint was left. 

“It’s been growing.” she said, her eyes focused downwards while everyone stared at her. “Gaining power. And now it’s strong enough to attack.” 

“But the demodogs died when Mike closed the Gate.” Jonathan pointed out. 

“If the brain dies, the body dies.” Hopper added. 

“Well, I don’t fucking know! I just know he’s back.” Max said, finally glancing up. “He’s still here.” 

“And if he’s still here-” Joyce began. 

“He’ll want a new host.” Lucas said. 

Max shut her eyes tight, and then Mike said, “Would this host… be able to see me in the Void?” 

El shuddered, and Max said, “Maybe. Wh-” Her eyes widened, and she looked to Mike with fear. “Oh, fuck.” 

“Okay. Everyone calm down.” Hopper held up his hands, and they quickly turned to him. “We need a game plan. Firstly, we need to know who attacked Nancy.” 

“Why-” Max began. 

“If they attacked her for knowing about the Upside Down,” Hopper said, thinking hard, “They know something about the Upside Down and don’t want that information spreading. And here’s something else- the brain dies the body dies, we just said that, right? But if someone knows about the Upside Down, and there’s magnetic incidents in Hawkins-” 

Joyce realized what he was saying. “You think someone’s opened another Gate?” 

“It may not be open yet.” Hopper said. “Mike, they tried to have you open it, right?” 

“I did open it.” 

“But you saw the Demogorgon in the Void before it opened, and then-” 

“The wall cracked.” Mike remembered. 

“Maybe they opened something,” Hopper said, “That’s letting the Mind Flayer reach the part of itself still here.” 

“It’s possessing something- doing something.” Lucas said. 

“Heather could be possessed.” Max suggested. 

Mike said, his eyes going wide. “That’s when she fell into the Void.” 

“When she what?” Joyce asked. 

“But she didn’t look possessed.” El said. 

“Neither did I.” Max shivered. “It shuts off sometimes. Like… he only takes over when he needs to.” 

Lucas paused, and then said, “Billy?” 

Max stiffened, and Mike said, “That would… make sense. Why he could see me in the Void.” 

“Why he freaked out when my light hit him.” Lucas said. 

“No.” Max shook her head. “No, I don’t think-” 

“There’s gotta be some way to tell.” El narrowed her eyes. 

“Well,” Joyce paused, “When we exorcised Max, we used heat.” 

“I’m pretty sure grabbing a teenager to exorcise him is illegal.” Hopper said. 

“How would you know?” El shot back, sitting on the arm of the sofa. 

“I’m a cop?” 

“Is there somewhere we could have plausible deniability?” Jonathan asked. 

“Oh my God.” Hopper put his head in his hands. 

“Don’t the guys have a sauna at the pool?” Joyce asked. 

“And Billy works there.” El nodded. “Wouldn’t be hard be lock him in.” 

“Um?” Max hugged herself and glanced up. “I really don’t-” 

“Yeah, again, illegal.” Hopper said. 

“Oh, please,” El groaned, “As if you care.” 

“I have a job to do.” 

“Since when have you given a shit when there’s other-dimensional threats? Come on, we won’t kill him. Probably.” 

“Probably?” Max said. 

“I wanna kill him.” Lucas said. 

“And your Stepdad.” El added. “How much of your family do we have to kill, again, Max?” 

“Please, don’t.” Max said. 

“No, we’re gonna.” El assured her. “We can trap Billy in the Sauna- tomorrow night, before he leaves the pool. In the meantime, we can help you track the guy who attacked Nancy.” 

“I think the best way to do that,” Jonathan muttered, “Is to wait for her to wake up.” 

They all cautiously turned to the unconscious Nancy. She didn’t look that bad, thankfully- almost as if she was asleep. Mike put his hands over hers again, and Joyce said, “How about we all plan when Nancy wakes up? You kids should get some sleep. It… it sounds like you’ve had quite a day.” 

“No.” Lucas shook his head. “We wanna talk to Nancy.” 

“It could be a while.” Joyce said cautiously. “And… you all really should get some sleep. We can call you when Nancy’s awake.” 

El paused, and then said, “Can we sleep in here? So we’re here when she gets up.” 

“Please?” Mike turned around, pleading with his eyes. “She’s my sister.” 

Hopper and Joyce shared a look, and then Hopper sighed, “Kid, now you’re just manipulating us.” 

“Is it working?” 

“Kinda.” Joyce admitted. She glanced at Jonathan. “Can you show the kids where the extra blankets and pillows are? I can- shit, what should we tell Steve, Dustin and Will?” 

“We can inform them after we kick Billy’s ass.” El said. 

“Can you stop saying that?” Max said, staring at the ground. 

El paused, and then said, “Don’t worry, Max. We’ll protect you. Right boys?” 

Lucas nodded very quickly, reaching out and grabbing Max’s hand. Mike nodded, too, though he quickly turned back to Nancy. Jonathan paused and said, “Alright. Let’s go get your stuff.” 

As he stood up, and El, Max and Lucas followed him out, Joyce and Hopper carefully stepped away from Mike and Nancy on the couch. When they were far enough away, Joyce looked over at him and said, “Well. It’s happening again.” 

Hopper shut his eyes tight, clenching his fists. “Yep.” 

“What do we do?” 

He took a deep breath. “I don’t know. But… but we’ve beaten this twice before. What’s one more time?” 

“‘What’s one more time’ is ‘last time we had to set Max on fire.’” 

“That won’t happen again.” Hopper said, glancing towards the hall his daughters had disappeared into. “None of our kids are going to get possessed by that thing again. We just need to make sure it knows we mean business. It needs to get the hell out of our town and leave us alone.” 

Joyce wrung her hands and nodded. “I just… hope Will stays safe. We’ll catch them all up when Steve drops the boys off tomorrow. Unless… should we call them? This seems like an emergency.” 

“I mean, they’re just at the mall.” Hopper said. “What could happen to them there?” 

“So much.” 

“I mean, from the Upside Down.” 

“Still…” she shut her eyes. “I mean, they’re probably asleep now. We should… just get back to the others.” 

“Yeah.” Hopper reached out, squeezing her hand. “Don’t worry. We’ll fix this.” 

She sighed, smiling slightly. “Yeah. We’ll fix it.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWELVE

The Scoops Troop Braincell belongs to Erica and she’s in Chicago

 

Nancy finally stirred early in the morning. Her head felt very, very fuzzy- and it really hurt. It was like a hangover… shit, she hadn’t forgotten Mike in the treehouse again, had she? No… no, Mike lived with the- with the Byers- was she in the Byers’ house? 

“She’s awake!” that was Mike. Mike was there? 

She tried to sit up, and just then, felt her stomach churn. She let out a cry, and suddenly she felt a hand on her back, and Joyce saying, “Okay, okay, stay calm. Jonathan, do you- thank you.” 

“I-” Nancy began. 

Someone shoved a bowl under her, and she blinked- had the Byers’ house always been this bright? “She’s gonna throw up?” that sounded like El. 

“Is that normal?” Lucas? 

Nancy opened her mouth, and then leaned over and puked into the bowl. When she was done, Joyce’s hands pressed her back onto the couch, saying, “Lay down. Lay down.” 

Nancy blinked and finally focused her vision, realizing she was looking over at Joyce and Jonathan. Jonathan was kneeling by her, holding out some pills and a glass of water. “Here, Hopper says these’ll help.” 

What was that? Some kinda hangover cure? Nancy took the pills, still feeling a bit stuffy and crowded and confused… when had she gotten drunk? She’d been trying to avoid alcohol since the job- 

“Shit, we’re gonna be late…” she muttered. 

“Fuck the newspaper.” Jonathan said. “We almost died again.” 

We almost… Shit! She felt another splitting headache as everything came rushing back to her- the lab, the assassin… 

“Yeah, we got more important shit to worry about.” came El’s voice. Nancy finally managed to sit up a little and observe her surroundings; she was in the Byers’ living room, but there were blankets and pillows piled around. Max was pulling herself up out of a sleeping bag, rubbing her eyes, her hair a mess. El was sitting on the edge of the table, with Lucas beside her, glancing back at Max every now and again. Mike was kneeling by the edge of the couch, watching her with wide eyes, and Hopper was coming back from the kitchen, saying something to El that made her nod, before he went to Max, quietly explaining something to her. 

“Wha… what’s going on?” Nancy muttered, glancing around. 

“Um… lots.” Lucas said. “So much stuff is going on.” 

“Where do we start?” El said. 

“Can we start with the guy who tried to kill us and work around from there?” Jonathan said. 

Nancy flinched a little, the light still hurting her eyes a little. “The guy? We… he… Jonathan, how did…?” 

“Don’t freak out.” Jonathan said carefully, reaching out to help her sit up a little more. “I got you back here, and- well, everyone kinda crowded around. Except Steve, Dustin and Will, they went back to the mall. Something about Christmas gifts.” 

“It’s July.” El said confusedly. 

“Nancy,” Joyce reached over, putting a comforting hand on Nancy’s shoulder, “What’s the last thing you remember?” 

“Some… thug?” Nancy said, glancing as Hopper and Max made their way over, Max still yawning slightly. “Attacked me. I… I was yelling about the- the Upside Down and he didn’t like that. Said to stay away- shit-” 

She started to get up, and Joyce pushed her back; Jonathan sat beside her and put an arm around her. “No, no. You need to rest.” 

“There’s some fuck out there trying to… kill us?” Nancy groaned. “He’s gotta know about the Upside Down… and the monsters…” 

“Uh, yeah. We’re dealing with the monsters today, don’t worry.” El said. 

“Yeah, don’t be scared!” Mike said quickly, leaping onto the couch, bouncing a bit on the cushions before smiling over at her. “We’re taking care of it!” 

Nancy stared at him for a very long time. “Taking care of what now?” 

“Shit.” El said. 

“Did you guys-” Max paused to yawn, leaning on Hopper’s arm, “-not tell her yet?” 

“Um.” El clasped her hands together. “How do we-” 

“Mind Flayer’s back,” Lucas said, “And we’re gonna set Billy on fire.” 

Nancy shut her eyes and groaned. “Of course. Of course this is what’s happening.” 

“Okay, listen.” Joyce held up her hands. “Listen, one thing at a time.” 

“Upside Down’s back.” Nancy said. “And I got knocked out by some bitchass-” 

“Nancy,” Hopper moved over towards her, as Max went to sit by Lucas and El, “Do you remember what this guy looked like?” 

“Didn’t get a great look.” Nancy said. “Jonathan?” 

“Very in shadow, but he was big.” Jonathan said carefully. “And he had some kind of accent-” 

“Russian.” Nancy sighed. 

“What?” Jonathan jumped. 

“Russian accent, I think. Unless my mind’s all jumbled.” Nancy sighed. 

Mike leaned over, putting his hands on her knee and waiting until she glanced over at him. “Do you want me to find him for you?” 

“No.” Nancy sighed. “You don’t have a picture.” 

“And,” El said cautiously, “You’ve been finding a lot of people recently. Don’t want to exhaust yourself.” 

“I’ll hurt him.” Mike said sternly. “For hurting Nancy.” 

“Okay, not necessary at the moment.” Nancy said. “I’ll shoot him if he shows up again.” 

“Hopefully he doesn’t.” Max said. 

“Hopefully he does so I can shoot him.” Nancy retorted. 

“Russian does not sound good.” Hopper sighed. “Which means our theory of ‘maybe it was just another lab guy’ is out.” 

“Yeah, the Lab did not like the Russians.” Lucas nodded. “Kept telling us they were evil and trying to take over the world.” 

“Pretty sure America is also trying to do that.” Max said. 

“Can we not do this first thing in the morning?” El sighed. 

“Is there anything you got?” Hopper said. 

Nancy paused. “I don’t…” 

“I mean, I got a bit of his license plate.” Jonathan said. He shut his eyes, trying to remember. “Couldn’t get a good picture, but it started with an 87… uh…” 

“Wait, back up.” Joyce said. “What do you mean license plate? You didn’t mention that.” 

“Was a bit preoccupied.” Jonathan said defensively. “First by Nancy being knocked out and then by ‘Mind Flayer’s back and possessing people.’” 

“And what?” Nancy asked. 

“Back to the license plate.” Hopper sighed. “If you only know a bit of it, the state agency isn’t gonna be any help. It’ll take weeks before they find a match-” 

“Weeks?” Joyce asked. 

“And what are the odds that this guy registers a car under his own name?” 

“It wasn’t a car.” Jonathan said. 

Hopper paused, as if something lit in his mind. “What do you mean it wasn’t a car?” 

“It was a motorcycle. Or motorbike or something.” 

Hopper narrowed his eyes, and then said, “Big guy, motorcycle…” he sighed and put his head in his hands. 

“Whazzup, Dad? You know this guy?” El asked. 

He turned to her. “You remember when I had to go to the Mayor’s to talk about the protests around the Mall?” 

“Yeah, and you got that dumbass hawaiian shirt.” Max said. 

“What?” Joyce asked, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. 

“There was this guy there…” Hopper paused. “Joyce, I think we’re gonna have to interrogate the mayor.” 

Joyce sighed. “Okay, I’ll get my coat.” 

“Uh, we’re gonna have to set up the sauna.” El said. 

“The what?” Nancy said. 

“We’re gonna burn Billy in the sauna until we find out if he’s possessed or not.” El said. 

“Okay, someone really needs to catch me up.” Nancy said. 

“You think this is bad,” Jonathan said, “Wait til Steve brings the boys back. We’re gonna have to dump all of this again.” 

“Why aren’t they back now?” 

“They wanted to go to the mall.” 

“This seems important.” 

“Yeah, so give them a break until we figure out what’s going on.” El said. 

“Are you gonna be okay?” Mike asked, putting a hand on Nancy’s shoulder. 

“Yeah.” Nancy nodded. Already her head was clearing up, and that determination was setting in. “Yeah, and I’m gonna go with Hopper to find this guy.” 

“I don’t think I can allow that.” Hopper said. 

“I don’t think you can stop me.” Nancy said. “Besides, looks like we’re skipping work today anyway.” 

“Okay, so we’ll go set up the Sauna, and meet up here when we’ve got our results.” El said. 

Joyce paused. “Uh, no. No, you kids aren’t doing that on your own-” 

Max sighed. “Okay, so, first off, are we really doing the sauna thing?” 

“Yes.” El nodded. 

“Alright.” she said. “First, we’re gonna have to do this on our own. Nancy’s going with Hopper, and Jonathan’s going to go with her to make sure she doesn’t do anything too stupid.” 

“That’s fair.” Nancy sighed.

“And Ms Byers, you already said you’re going with Hop,” Max said, “And even if you weren’t, now your son’s going. So you all have to go, and if we don’t test for possession as soon as possible, it could be too late. We need to be certain now, or we’re fucked.” she looked over at El. “I get all off that?” 

“Think so.” El said. 

“Besides.” Lucas assured Joyce, smiling over at her, “I have shields and shards and Mike can throw things with his mind.” 

“We’ll be okay.” Mike paused, then looked over at Nancy. “Unless you need me with you?” 

“I think I’ll be fine once someone tells me what’s happening.” Nancy said. 

“I don’t like you kids facing a monster on your own.” Hopper said. 

“Potential monster.” Max corrected quickly. 

“We set the tunnels on fire last year.” Lucas reminded him. “And survived.” 

“And besides,” Mike said, before running a hand over the bracelet he wore to cover his wrist, “We’ve survived worse.” 

 

“Alright, so,” Robin sat on the table in the break room, spreading out the blueprints, “It is fascinating what twenty bucks will get you at the county recorder’s office.” 

“Holy shit, Rob.” Steve glanced over at her, shocked, “What the hell?” 

“Hey, we’re taking down secret agents.” Robin shrugged. “We’re gonna go all out.” 

“I like it.” Dustin said, leaning forwards. “What is it?” 

“Blueprints of the entire mall.” Robin explained. 

Will leaned over, tracing lines, his artist’s mind working overtime. He’d really only just woken up; he’d passed out as soon as they got back to Steve’s place and he flopped on a mattress, and only barely woke up enough for Dustin to drag him to the bathroom to freshen up before heading back. But now that his mind was working, excitement was starting to bubble inside him. “If that’s the entrance… we’re here.” 

“That’s right, Will!” Robin nodded. She pointed to a square, quite a ways away from them. “And this is where we wanna get.” 

“I don’t really see a way in.” Steve said. 

“There’s not,” Robin reached down and pulled back the paper on top, revealing a second on the bottom. “If we’re talking about doors.” 

Dustin leaned down to inspect, and then he guessed, “Air ducts?” 

“Exactly!” Robin raced over to the corner of the breakroom, grabbing a marker from under her whiteboard. “Turns out? This secret room needs air just like any other room. And these air ducts,” she returned, and drew a line from their room to the secret room, “Lead all the way here.”

Steve looked it over. ‘That’s mostly a straight line, looks like.” 

“Little squiggly at the end.” Will pointed out. “But not hard directions to memorize.” 

It took only a little while for Steve to find a ladder and screwdriver in a nearby supply closet, and he climbed up, unscrewing the ventilation cover from the air duct. “He handed the lid to Dustin and said, “Flashlight?” Will held out a flashlight, which Steve swapped for the screwdriver. “Thank you.” 

He shone the light in, and his face fell a little. “Yeah, kids, I don’t know if either of you could fit in here. It’s super tight.” 

“I could try. I’m stretchy.” Dustin volunteered. 

Will narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “Not that stretchy. Think you’d get stuck pretty fast, the entrance is a bit less wide than you.” Dustin and Steve gave him a confused glance, and he shrugged. “I’m good with measuring by sight.” 

“We went through the air ducts fine in the-” Dustin stopped, shooting a glance at Robin. “When we were kids.” 

“Well,” Will sighed, “We’re not kids anymore, are we?” 

“Could you fit?” Dustin asked. “You were pretty good at squeezing through sewers a few months back.” 

“What was that?” Robin asked, glaring pointedly at Steve. 

“Okay, honestly,” Steve said, “I don’t know what they’re on about either.” 

“We were finding garden gnomes,” Will waved his hand, “But I don’t think I can make it. I’ve grown a bit since then.” 

“A lot.” Dustin said. “You shot up, like, a foot. You’re taller than your Mom now.” 

“Everyone’s taller than Ms Byers.” Steve shrugged. 

“You’re Ms Byers’s kid?” Robin asked. 

“The point is,” Will said, “I don’t think either of us could fit.” He sighed. “I wish Wilder was here. She totally would’ve been able to fit.” 

“I’m sorry, who’s Wilder?” Robin asked. 

“Oh, Erica.” Will shrugged. “She was in my gang in Chicago.” 

“In your what?” 

“Well, unless one of us can shrink or find a tiny person,” Steve shrugged, stepping off the ladder, “This is a dead end.” 

They heard the service bell ring, and Steve turned, glancing out the breakroom window. “It’s Ms Wheeler and Holly, I can get it-” 

“Holly?” Dustin said, eyes widening. 

“Yeah, you know, Nancy’s little-” Steve froze, realizing what Dustin was saying. “No.” 

“Yes.” Dustin nodded. “She’s small.” 

“She’s four.” 

“I was already doing tests when I was four, she just has to crawl through a maze.” Will shrugged. 

“Doing what?” Robin said, before shaking her head. “Listen, I’m with Steve, a four year old seems a bit risky.” 

“Hold on a moment, let me get them ice cream.” Steve sighed. “We will discuss this later.” 

He walked out of the break room, smiling. “Ahoy! Sorry that took so long.” 

Karen Wheeler smiled over at him. “It’s no trouble, we don’t have to be home for a while.” 

“Chocolate, please, Mr Stevie.” Holly said brightly. 

Steve smiled at her. “Anything for you, Ms Wheeler?” 

“No, thank you.” 

“How’s Nancy?” 

“Uh,” Karen paused a moment, thinking. “Oh, she called me earlier, said she was going to work late. So I guess that means she’s doing okay.” she sighed. “It’s a bit of an issue, though, I was hoping she could watch Holly tonight.” 

Steve shut his eyes a moment, taking a breath. “Oh? Are you going somewhere?” 

“Mama and Daddy are goin on a date.” Holly informed him. 

“Well, we were,” Karen sighed, “But we’re going to need a sitter for Holly if Nancy’s working late.” 

Steve stole a glance though the window to the breakroom. He saw Will and Dustin, shooting him looks. 

He sighed and said, “I mean. Well… how would Holly like to see the backroom of Scoops Ahoy?” 

God, this is the worst idea ever.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Kidnapping the Mayor

 

“Do you think it’s going well?” Nancy asked. 

Her and Jonathan sat in waiting room chairs, while Joyce leaned against the desk, saying something boring to the mayor’s receptionist, Candace something-or-other, who seemed very unnerved that Hopper had just barged past them and left her with three people to annoy her during the workday. 

“Um…” Jonathan guessed. “Sure.” 

Nancy sighed, and then said, “I’m gonna listen in. Make sure nobody notices.” 

“Wha- Nance!” 

Nancy stood up, going to the door, and Jonathan sighed and walked over to his Mom, joining in the conversation and standing in just such a way that the receptionist wouldn’t see Nancy. 

She reached for a sidetable, where a few drinking glasses were kept- probably for office parties- and she grabbed one and put it against the door, leaning her ear against it. She had to strain to hear, but she finally caught the end of one of Hopper’s sentences. 

“-ringing any bells?” 

“Uh…” she heard the mayor laugh, a bit awkwardly. “I don’t think so.” 

“Really?” came Hopper’s voice. “Cause he was just here two days ago. This was right before I saw you.” 

“Oh!” a snap of fingers. “You know what?” 

“What?” 

“Could be the maintenance guy.” 

“Maintenance guy?” 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, can’t remember his name… oh, Gary or John or something. Candace’ll have his name on file. We’ve had trouble with the plumbing. Clogged toilets and…” another laugh. “Sinks with minds of their own.” 

“You meeting with a lot of plumbers, Larry?” Nancy flinched at the sound of Hopper’s voice. It sounded very dark, very cold. She hadn’t known him to speak to anyone like that. 

Mayor Kline must have noticed this too. “Excuse me?” 

“This guy, when I saw him, he was coming out of your office.” 

“Okay, well, I don’t remember that. I shake a lot of hands, you know?” 

Silence for a moment. Nancy glanced back to make sure Jonathan and Joyce were still keeping Candace busy, and then she heard Hopper say, in a very low tone, so low she had to strain her ears to hear, “Do you remember when I caught you out in the hideaway with all that powder all over your nose?” 

Another awkward laugh. “Aw, geez.” 

“Do you remember?” 

“Oh, Jim, come on, man.” 

A bit louder. “Do you remember when my boys found you and Candace going at it like a couple of bunnies in the back of your cadillac? Do you remember that? Does your wife remember that?” 

Then Kline’s voice went just as cold. “You… you really wanna play this game?” 

“Not a game, Lar.” 

“Okay. You remember those pills you used to swallow like candy? When you first got the job here- I don’t recall, did you have a prescription for those?” 

Oh, fuck. Nancy hadn’t expected that. 

“And with a little girl at home, too. What would’ve happened if she found those before you stopped?” 

Oh, fuck. 

“Don’t bring her into this.” 

“Oh, speaking of kids at home, how long was the other kid supposed to stay with you? Doesn’t she have parents somewhere?” 

Nancy shut her eyes. Fuck, fuck, fuck… 

“Oh, that’s right, they left town. Never did find out why, did we? And her… father, in California hasn’t sent for her? Now, I don’t know about you, Hopper, but I think if people realized she wasn’t supposed to stay with you so long, they might wonder why she’s at your place with no supervision.” 

FUCK, he did not just- 

“Then again, a lot of new kids been popping up recently. Real interesting, isn’t it? Where’d Byers find her kid again? Or is it kids? I’m a bit unclear on that.” 

Nancy considered, for a moment, lowering the glass, breaking it on the ground, and using the shards to rip Kline’s insides out. 

“The stories you could get from all that, wow. Could make some real headlines. One call to Tom at the Post and you’re done, buddy. You’re gone.” 

Son of a- of course Tom Holloway was buddy-buddy with the mayor. Of fucking course. 

“Oh, and please, don’t give me that dead daughter sob story, cause I just don’t care. Clearly you don’t anymore, either, cause you’ve gotten a replacement for her.” 

Oh, that’s it.

Nancy stood up, sliding the glass back on the table. She reached for the door, planning to throw it open and kick the mayor in the fucking face- she really didn’t care about how much trouble she’d be in afterwards, she just knew she wanted him dead right now, and the most holding back she could do was grievous physical injury. 

But as she attempted to turn the handle, she realized it was locked. And just as she tried the handle again, she heard a shout and a loud thud against the door. 

The others heard it too- Joyce, Jonathan and Candace jumped to attention, whipping around to stare at the door. Jonathan’s eyes darted to Nancy, and she gave him a shrug, as if to say, I didn’t do anything. 

She heard, muffled yet very close behind the door, “My nose! You broke my goddamn nose!” 

“And your friend almost killed a friend of mine last night, so I’d say we’re still not even!” 

“Larry?” Candace stood, moving to the door; Nancy considered jumping to block her, and then considered whether or not that’d be suspicious, and if it was worth trying to avoid suspicions at this point, and by the time she decided she should probably punch someone, Candace was already trying the doorknob and also finding it locked. 

They could hear more muffled shouts from behind the door, and after a moment, Candace worriedly moved to her desk, as fast as she could in heels, and reached for the phone. To Nancy’s surprise, Joyce, quick as a whip, reached forwards and ripped a wire out of the phone, knocking it dead. 

“Who you calling?” she asked incredulously, as Candace and Jonathan stared at her in shock. “The police?” 

At that, Jonathan moved to the door to the hall, hitting the lock. 

“Well, what do you expect me to do?” Candace hissed. “Obviously that brute of a man-” 

“He’s doing way less than I would’ve done had I been in there.” Nancy informed her. “So consider Mr Mayor lucky that I’m locked out here with you.” 

“What’d they say?” Jonathan asked, deciding to ignore the panicking secretary for a moment. 

“Asshole’s threatening the kids.” 

A fire lit in Joyce’s eyes. “I’m going to kill him myself.” 

“Excuse me?” Candace gasped. 

“Viva la Revolución.” Jonathan nodded. 

“Ms Byers, are the kids still at the pool?” 

“Should be.” Joyce sighed. “If they run off, I swear to God-” 

“And Dustin and Will are with Steve, so they’re fine.” Jonathan said. 

Nancy paused a second. “Hey, Jonathan, you think we’re getting fired for not showing up to work today?” 

Jonathan groaned. “God, I didn’t even think of that- we’re fucked-” 

“No, don’t be like that, I just wanna know how much I can beat the shit outta Holloway.” 

“Why-?” 

The door suddenly swung open, and Nancy leapt back as Mayor Kline was pushed out, almost hitting the wall. Hopper stepped out, a stone cold glare in his eyes as he grabbed Kline’s arms and hoised him up towards the door. 

“Larry?” Candace gaped as Jonathan quickly ran to unlock and open the door. 

“Oh, he just bumped his head.” Hopper said, dragging the man out and smiling uncaringly at the secretary. “Just a little boo-boo, right, Lar?” 

“Oh, I see we’re going.” Nancy said, following closely behind Hopper and glaring at the mayor. 

Joyce looked back at Candace, said, “Have a nice day!” and closed the door behind them. 

As they walked down the hall, Jonathan said, “I feel like the car’s gonna be crowded. And we’re gonna get arrested.” 

“Like this is the worst thing we’ve done.” Nancy sighed. 

 

“And look at this, Jonathan,” Nancy spread out her arms in the foyer, almost tripping on an expensive-looking rug, “We get to see the mayor’s house! Isn’t this so much better than work?” 

“Nancy, are you taking this seriously?” Hopper sighed, as he pushed the captive mayor up the stairs. 

“I am lightening the mood because I’m terrified, Hop.” Nancy said, without dropping the smile on her face. 

“What are we doing here again?” Jonathan asked, taking Nancy’s hand and leading her up the stairs. 

“The Goon who attacked you two works for Starcourt,” Joyce recapped, “Which bought up a shitton of land. Kline’s got papers here.” 

“Cool. Major conspiracy bust.” Nancy said. “And we get to piss off the guy who said- what did he say about our kids again, Hop?” 

“Nancy, please.” Hopper sighed, once they reached the upper floor. “Let’s just get these papers and then we can all forget this happened.” 

“Maybe you will.” Nancy snorted, running her hand over the polished railing. 

“Why are they here, again?” Kline asked, glaring back at the entourage. 

“We’re a package deal.” Joyce shrugged, glancing back to make sure Jonathan and Nancy were still following. 

“Yeah, there’d be more of us if they weren’t all busy saving the world and/or eating way too much ice cream.” Jonathan mentioned. 

Kline groaned, before leading them into a large bedroom that was probably bigger than the Byers’ living room and kitchen combined. He swiftly unlocked a safe on the wall, pulling out a file that he passed to Hopper, before sitting down on a chair and groaning, head in his hands. 

“Alright, so,” Hopper said, flipping open the file, “What exactly are we lookin’ at?” 

Kline sighed, as Nancy and Jonathan quickly ran to Hopper’s side and began flipping through the papers. “Land deeds, transfers of property.” 

“So your buddies at Starcourt,” Hopper said, as Joyce joined them, “Suddenly start buying up all this property. They tell you why?” 

“I told you, they don’t tell me anything.” 

“Yeah, they’re just using you, we get that.” Nancy said, as Hopper closed up the file. 

“What I’m not getting, personally,” Jonathan said, as Hopper passed the file over to Joyce, “Is why you have a bunch of land deeds in a safe in your bedroom. Seems a bit-” 

“Paranoid?” Nancy interrupted. 

“Was gonna say ‘overprotective.’” 

“Yeah, that works.” Nancy glanced over towards Joyce, who was flipping through the deeds with that look of concentration on her face. 

“You kids wouldn’t get it.” Kline said, giving them a stern look, a tinge of fear in his voice. “These people. They’re bad news.” 

“So is this blackmail?” Nancy asked. 

“Protection.” 

“Protection.” Hopper echoed. 

Joyce interrupted with a quick, “Hold on a second,” and she turned and started into the hall. Without hesitation, Nancy and Jonathan followed, watching as she flipped through the papers and walked towards a large city map, hung on the wall of the hallway. Once Hopper came out, glancing back quickly into the room to make sure the mayor wasn’t going anywhere, Joyce pointed up. 

“These places that have been bought out- Hess Farm, Henry’s Place… they’re all here.” She spread her hands around an area in the corner of town. “Look, they’re all here. They’re all in Southeast Hawkins, right near Jordan Lake.”

“I’m not following.” Nancy admitted. 

“What else is near Jordan Lake?” Joyce prompted. 

Hopper’s eyes widened. “The power plant.” 

“Four nights ago, there was that power outage.” Jonathan recalled. “They’ve been happening all the time, but the one four nights ago- the day after that-” 

“The magnets fell.” Nancy nodded. 

“Mr Clarke said a machine needed to make the magnets fall like that would take a massive amount of power.” Jonathan said. 

“This machine does exist.” Nancy realized. “And we didn’t find it at the Lab-” 

“Because it wasn’t at the Lab.” Jonathan said. 

“It was at one of these properties.” Joyce said. “They’re hiding something over here, and all we have to do is track it down.” 

“Holy shit, Mom.” Jonathan said, leaning against the wall. “How did you get that so fast?” 

Joyce shrugged, and Hopper smiled a little. “Why don’t you forget about sales and come work at the Hawkins PD?” 

Joyce laughed, closing the file again and passing it back to him. “And have to look at your face every day? I don’t think so.” 

“Also if the mayor tells anyone what just went down, you’re probably toast.” Nancy said. Then she narrowed her eyes. “Wait. Did we leave him alone?” 

They heard some kind of muffled shuffling, and a little groan. “Larry!” Hopper took off running, back towards the room. 

Nancy sighed. “Okay, it’s the kids’ turn to be smart, I guess, cause we just completely forgot we took a politician captive.” 

“We’re gonna be in a lot of shit for this.” Jonathan sighed. 

“So much shit.” Nancy nodded. 

“Eh, we’ll be fine.” Joyce waved her hand. “I mean, I think we will. We’ve got… connections.” 

“I dunno if the government guys-” 

They heard another shout from Hopper, and Nancy said, “We should help him, right?” 

“Yeah.” Joyce sighed.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The Sauna Test

 

“He seems normal.” Max said. 

They’d hidden themselves behind a parked car, and they were using some binoculars to spy on Billy, who recently had started his shift. They didn’t honestly know when his shift was, so they’d had to wait in awkward silence for quite some time. 

“Normal?” El glanced over at her. “How many times have you seen him with a shirt on?” 

Indeed, Billy was seated underneath an umbrella, wearing some sort of robe and slurping from a slushie cup. Not his usual look. 

“Okay, I’ll admit, it’s a little odd.” Max shrugged. 

“It’s super odd.” El shot back. “He was in a tub of ice, the Mind Flayer likes it cold.” 

Mike bit his lip, considering. “Do we have the list of everything we’ll need?” 

“Yeah.” El nodded. “You and me are gonna go get half the supplies from the storage closet- we’re gonna have to break in, cause there’s a lock, so you’re gonna do that with your powers- if you’re okay with that.” Mike nodded. “Max, you and Lucas get the rest from the back shed, the one with all the rakes and shit. Should be unlocked, unless the pool staff suddenly gives a shit. They might have chains of some kind to lock up the fence, we’re gonna definitely need those.” 

Max hesitantly nodded, and then Lucas said, “Should we split up?” 

“We’ll get everything together, and we should have it ready by the time the pool closes.” El said. She gestured her head and said, “Let’s move out.” 

 

Lucas waved his hand, letting more light slide into the shed. He looked around, grabbing a staff. “This should be wide enough to block the door.” he said. “What do you think?” 

“Uh, yeah.” Max nodded, walking into the shed and running her hand over the wall. “Sounds good.” 

Lucas took a deep breath, then slowly put the rod down and turned. “Max, you’re not happy.” 

“Did you expect me to be?” she sighed. She paused, still staring at the wall, and then she turned to Lucas, crossing her arms. “Look, even if he wasn’t my stepbrother, and he was just some asshole, this is a… a dick move. I know what it’s like to get exercised, I know what it’s like to be on fire, to feel so hot you think you’re gonna explode… and that’s without the Mind Flayer inside you, trying to take control, screaming, trying to kill…” she shook her head. “And we’re just… doing it. And it’s like nobody even cares. El knows what it’s like because she was there when I was screaming and thrashing and I- I nearly killed her, and she doesn’t care- nobody cares-” 

“I care.” Lucas said quietly. He walked over and grabbed her hands. “I care, I’m sorry. We just… don’t want-” 

“Want the Mind Flayer running around Hawkins.” Max finished. “I know.” 

“And I know he scares you.” Lucas noticed Max glance away, and he said, “I… know what it’s like when someone you’re supposed to love scares you.” 

She bit her lip. “No offense, Lucas, but it’s not like Billy was experimenting on me.” 

“But he hurt you.” 

It wasn’t just him. “But he’s still- I’ve lived with him since I was six. And it’s not all bad. I think he cares, in his own fucked up way.” 

“He was threatening you.” Lucas said. “I saw that.” 

The image of Billy behind the fence flashed in Max’s mind, and then the image of when he saw Lucas. Max narrowed her eyes and said, “He was threatening you, too.” 

“I can take care of myself.” 

“And so can I.” Max said. She slowly released Lucas’s hands, a determination settling on her face. She turned, and then walked to a shelf, pulling down the chains El had guessed would be there. She weighed them in her hands, thinking of thrashing against the ropes binding her to the chair, screaming and flashing the lights… 

“These’ll work.” 

 

Mike picked up the mannequin, smiling. “You know, when I first saw these, I freaked out.” 

El smiled, looking over the cleaning supplies also in the shed; she didn’t think they’d need these. “I bet.” 

“They were in a store window and I thought they were people are first.” he recalled. “But really weird-looking. Then I saw they didn’t move and realized they were fake people.” He giggled, and bounced the mannequin in his arms. Then, after a second, he tossed it into the air and stepped back, waving his hands and watching it float around. “I bet I can make it look like it’s walking! That’ll really freak Billy out!” 

El flinched a little. “Uh… maybe not?” 

Mike paused, letting the mannequin drop to the floor. “What?” 

She sighed, picking up the figure. “Listen… yesterday, when you kept using your powers, and you went into the Void, and… and Heather disappeared and you came out of that…” she shivered. “Listen, Mike, it was scary. I… I think you might be using your powers too much. Like, what if she’d pulled you down with her?” 

Mike blinked at her, confused. “That didn’t happen.” 

“But it could have. What would we have done if you got possessed or lost or hurt?” 

“I could fight. I am fighting.” 

“Mike, you’re not listening to me!” 

He narrowed his eyes, as if trying to figure out if she was insulting him or not. “I’m just trying to protect you! Protect everyone!” 

“But we can protect you, too!” 

“No, you can’t! Not like I can!” 

“We’re your friends, Mike! I’m your girlfriend! Nancy’s your sister and Ms Byers is basically your Mom-” 

“I don’t have a Mom!” Mike shouted, and El jumped back. “She had another baby and forgot about me! And it doesn’t matter because I don’t care! I don’t care!” 

“Mike-” 

“I closed the Gate and that didn’t work, but I can do it again! I will do it again!” 

“You could have died the first time! You could die again!” 

“Well, it’s not like it’ll matter!” 

Both Mike and El completely froze over. 

There was a long silence, as they just stared at each other, El with horror in her eyes, Mike with instant regret. 

“Mike…” El said quietly. “You don’t think you matter?” 

Mike shut his eyes, and then said, “We should set up.” 

“Mike, wait-” 

Mike opened the door, shaking slightly. El reached out, grabbing his arm. “Mike, I’m sorry. I- I’m just worried about you. I don’t want you getting hurt. You do matter, Mike. You matter to me, and to the boys, and Nancy and Ms Byers and- and everyone. Mike, we need to talk about this-” 

“We can talk,” Mike shrugged his hand out of El’s, and started down the path, “When the Mind Flayer is dead.” 

 

They finally got everything ready as the pool closed. Thankfully, Billy was the last one there; their plan, if he hadn’t been, would’ve been to pretend there was an emergency and everyone needed to leave, but El was glad they didn’t have to do that, as none of them could think of anything really plausible. The children waited, with two walkie-talkies, one in case they needed to call the adults for backup, one for the plan. El sighed, glancing around the group. Max was gripping tight to Lucas’s hand, glaring at the ground, while Lucas looked up, preparing to mess with the lights if need be. Mike was gripping their second walkie-talkie as if it was his lifeblood. Slowly, El put a hand on his shoulder and said, “If you’re ready, let’s go.” 

He nodded, and waved his hand, letting the pool door swing open and shut. 

They heard a distant call of Billy’s disinterested voice. “Pool’s closed.” 

Mike flicked his head, and the door shut again. 

“Hey!” They heard a locker slam, and then a much more frightening shout. “Did you hear me?” 

At the sound, Max started to shake, and she slid back. El, startled, ran to her and wrapped her arms around her in a hug. Lucas and Mike started, too, but before they could move, they heard Billy slam on the door, from a few locker halls away. “Pool is closed!” 

Mike shut his eyes and waved his hand a few more times, slamming a door or two. Then Lucas threw out his palm, and the lights went off in the hall Billy was in; they could see the bulbs immediately fizz out, as if they’d never been lit. Max buried her head in El’s shoulder, as Mike grabbed the walkie-talkie, shut his eyes, and called, “Billy…” 

There didn’t seem to be a response, so after a moment, Mike called again. “Billy!” 

“Who’s there!” came a taunting reply. Max reached out and dragged Lucas to join her and El in the hug, as they heard another door slam. Mike paused, and then laughed into the walkie-talkie- that had been their plan, they had to keep going… 

“Billy! Billy!” he laughed some more. “Billy! Come and find me!” 

They heard a dark voice, a bit too close for comfort. “I find you, it is your funeral.” 

Mike leaned back so that El could pull him into the hug, but he continued laughing, as if nothing mattered. He was good at hiding his emotions, he’d been trained for this. “Come and get me! Come on!” 

At that, he waved his hand, and let a locker room door open and shut. Billy would be heading that way, so he’d see it. He’d know. 

They heard Billy burst through, and Mike tried again. “Billy!” he laughed. 

They heard a low, “Got you.” And then a dark, loud laugh that sent chills down their spines, Billy’s hands clapping together with glee. 

Max shook some more, and angered, Mike hit the button and said, “Come and get me you piece of shit!” 

The sauna door flung open. 

Billy stared inside, at the mannequin, dressed in a lifeguard shirt and set up to look as if it was a person standing inside. Billy was frozen a moment, and then he stomped forwards, grabbing the mannequin and lifting it up, hitting the ceiling. 

“Hey.” 

Billy looked down at the shirt pocket, where the other walkie-talkie was stored. 

“Behind you.” 

Billy turned, just in time to see Mike standing in the doorway. He dropped the walkie-talkie and said, “Hi.” 

Then he simply moved his head up in a nod, and Billy flew into the wall, crashing against it with a thud. He hit it so hard that part of the wall paint crumbled, shards of yellow falling to the floor with him. 

“Now!” came El’s yell, and the other kids rushed in, Max in the back. Mike waved his hand, watching the door shut right as Billy leapt up, yelling with fury. Lucas shoved a rod against the door handle, and Max knelt down, wrapping the chains as fast as she could. As soon as she got it locked, the children leapt back, standing behind Mike, who wiped his nose on his sleeve and stared over at the window to the sauna. 

Billy was pounding against the door, screaming. The chains shook, but the door did not budge. After a moment or two, he stopped pushing, and instead looked through the window at the gathered children. His eyes passed from El, who was giving him a dark glare, to Mike, an anger flitting across Billy’s face as he spotted the boy. He then looked to Lucas, eyes widening in a slow realization, and then he turned to look to Max. 

Max stood at the edge, breathing slow, her eyes hardening as she looked at her stepbrother behind the glass. Billy, however, smiled very slowly, and said, “Max.” 

Max stared right back at him, and then said, “Do it.” 

Without hesitation, El raced towards the side of the sauna, grabbing the temperature dial and turning it all the way up. 

It was a slow build, the heat rising in the sauna. But as it grew, Billy started to pound on the door. “Max! Max! Let me out of here!” 

The children stood together, staring. Lucas grabbed Max’s hand for some form of comfort, and El backed up beside Mike, no remorse in her eyes as she watched ahead. 

Billy pounded again, and demanded, “Let me out!” 

Max kept staring, breathing slow, trying not to react, not to feel bad, not to let him see her pity him. 

He looked through, his breath slowing, and he said, “You kids. You think this is funny?” 

Mike and Lucas glanced to each other, both having the same concern on their faces. 

“You think this is some kind of sick prank, huh?” 

El watched him, cocking her head slightly to the side, an anger almost matching his flowing through her. 

At that look, Billy spat on to the glass, shouting, “You little shits think this is funny?” 

El slowly looked to Max, trying to shoot her an encouraging, it’ll be fine look. Max matched her look with a blank stare. 

“Let me out of here! Let me go!” 

He hit the door, and it trembled. The children jumped, and Mike pushed the others back instinctively. 

“Open the door! Open the goddamn door!” 

He let out a scream, and then fell down, dropping out of sight of the window. El looked to the thermometer on the wall, and announced, “We’re at 220. That’s as high as it’ll go.” 

She backed up a bit more, as Mike watched the door. They could hear what sounded like sick laughter from behind it, and Lucas muttered, “What do we do if it’s the Mind Flayer?” 

“Kill it.” Mike muttered. 

“And if it’s Billy?” 

Nobody said anything. Slowly, Max stepped closer to the door, listening closer to the laughter. It didn’t sound right. 

“It’s not my fault…” 

Her heart plummeted to the floor. He wasn’t laughing. He was crying. 

She stepped forwards again, ignoring El and Lucas calling for her to stop. 

“It’s not my fault… it’s not my fault, Max, I promise…” 

Max raced forwards, peering through the window, and starting to shake again when she saw Billy. He was curled up against the bench, sweating and sobbing as the heat rose. He looked… weak. 

“It’s not my fault…” 

He looked up, and Max slowly said, “What’s not your fault, Billy?” 

He sat up, still crying, his hair pressed against his face, stuck by the sweat and tears. He pressed his hands together, and his voice dropped to a whimper. “I’ve done things, Max. B-bad things, but I didn’t mean to!” 

Max could hear the others approach behind her, but she kept her eyes on her stepbrother in the sauna. 

Then Billy leaned forwards and said, “He made me do it.” 

A dark thought clouded Max’s mind, one reminding her of the dark that had been there before. No. “Who made you do it?” she asked, knowing the answer. 

He shook again, and then gasped, as if he was forcing the words out of his mouth, “Kinda looks like a shadow.” 

El reached out and grabbed Mike’s arm. Lucas stepped forwards, also grabbing Mike’s hand, but reaching out to try and grab Max, who was just a bit farther away. She didn’t turn. 

“Like a big shadow. Please, Max…” 

Max took a deep breath, pushing back memories of screaming against ropes, of being held back in a hospital bed… “What did he make you do?” 

“It’s not my fault, okay! Max, please…” He collapsed against the bench, grabbing onto the wood with one hand as he trembled. 

Another memory pushed itself to Max’s head- it wasn’t my fault, Dad. It wasn’t my fault. 

“Please, believe me, Max, it’s not my fault… I tried to stop him, okay Max, please…” 

Max felt tears spring to her eyes. Over the last two years, she thought she’d never cry because of Billy again. But here she was, watching him sweat in the heat and cling to the bench, and he begged, “Please believe me, Max, please believe me…” 

More tears slid down her face, and Max pressed her palm to the glass, almost as if she could reach out and touch her stepbrother’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be okay.” she vowed. “Billy, it’s gonna be okay. I know it’s hard, but-” 

He was gasping something, falling more against the bench, and Max failed to see him reach underneath it. 

“It’s gonna be okay, we want to help you… We want to help you, okay? You just have to talk to us-” 

And then she felt that feeling again. That dark swirling, the anticipation of a drop. The call that the shadow was awake. 

No, no… 

“Max?” El noticed her apprehension. 

Max shrugged her off, and said, “I believe you, Billy, we can fix this together, okay? I need you trust me.” 

“Max.” now Lucas spoke. She hadn’t realized she’d been shaking. “Max, get away from the door.” 

Just then, Max felt a terrible lurch, and she leapt away just as Billy threw himself at the door, a shard from the wall crumbling in his hands. He burst through the window, and Max screamed as glass shattered around her. Mike pushed the others back, and Max trembled and retreated, tears starting to stream even more. 

Billy let out a roar, his head and arm barely reaching through the window, the shard still in his hand. “Let me out you bitch!” he shouted, his voice contorted with rage. “Let me out! I’ll fucking gut you!” 

He dropped the shard and slung his hand down, knocking at the pole that held the door. Lucas immediately raced forwards, leaping in front of Max, and he shut his eyes, letting just a tiny bit of darkness spread around him. One shard formed of the light around him, and shot right at Billy’s head. Billy stumbled back, screaming with the heat, and Lucas dragged Max behind the group. Mike reached forwards, lifting some shards of broken glass with his mind as Max started to sob, but just then, the lights fizzed out. Lucas jumped forwards to wave them on, but then the lights flickered on of their own accord- and then off again. 

The lights started to flicker faster, and El grabbed onto Mike and Lucas, dragging them back even farther from the door. They could hear some kind of retching from inside the sauna, but their eyes were now on the lights. Max shook and said, through her tears, “He’s angry. He’s mad that we found him…” 

They heard another roar, and could see some kind of shadow behind the window of the sauna. And then Billy turned and hit against the door again, and they could see flashes- black against his skin, in his eyes, around his face. Black that they recognized. Max whimpered as Mike pushed them back farther, lifting shards with his mind, as Billy continued to throw himself against the door. The chains shook under the pressure, almost breaking. 

“He can’t break those, can he?” El muttered. 

“No…” Max shook her head. 

“Stay back.” Mike said, and he lifted the shards of glass, pushing them into a defensive wall in front of them. 

The door pounded more, the chains creaking and groaning. “We need it to be hotter…” Max muttered. “It needs to get out of him before-” 

The door burst open as the chains flew away, and Billy fell to the ground. The children screamed, and Mike froze a moment, as if wondering whether or not to attack. However, as Billy stood, they saw that they were right; black shot up his arms, surrounding his skin and darkening his face. 

The Mind Flayer had, indeed, found a new host. 

He met eyes with Mike, who glared back at him. There was a recognition in that black, and Mike knew that the Mind Flayer remembered him. Knew who he was. Remembered the Gate. 

And was pissed. 

Mike shouted and threw his hand, and the glass shards dove into Billy. Max screamed, and then screamed again when the Billy shouted and threw his hand to rip the shards out, as if they didn’t affect him at all. Mike turned to the edge of the gym room, spotting a weight, and quickly waved his hand to lift it, throwing it at Billy to hold him against the wall. El gasped, and Mike grunted as Billy pushed against the weight. Mike shut his eyes, holding back tears of frustration, as he let the weight dig into the wall, trying to hold back the angry host. Billy’s arms darkened as he pushed the weight, and Mike started to breathe slowly, struggling much more than he thought he would. 

“Billy, just stop!” Max screamed, once again starting to cry. “Stop fighting!” 

Billy did not. 

With a scream, Billy pushed forwards more, the weight pulling away from him. Mike stumbled back, a pain spreading through his body, and exhaustion causing him to collapse, just as the weight flew off from the wall, and Billy forced it away, barely missing Mike’s head as it clattered. El pulled Lucas and Max out of the way, and then screamed as Billy leapt forwards, grabbing Mike’s hair and using it to yank him up onto his knees. He turned, staring straight at Max, and then put another hand on Mike’s neck. 

“No!” Lucas started forwards, but Max yanked him back as Billy stood. Lucas, shaking, tried to close his eyes, trying to darken and make shards, but Mike’s shouts kept him much too distracted. 

Mike’s screams, however, were cut off as Billy lifted him into the air, without looking like he was giving an inch of effort. Mike started hitting and kicking, shouting as best he could while being unable to breathe. He managed to gasp out a “No!” but Billy just lifted him higher, and Mike felt his nosebleed fall down his face as he struggled to breathe again. Billy just stared at him with cold, dark, dead eyes. 

And then there was a scream, and Billy fell. 

Freed, Mike toppled to the ground, gasping and struggling on the floor, feeling his hands scramble against the cold tile, trying to find something to pull himself up. He turned his head up just in time to see El standing over Billy on the ground, holding the pipe in her hands, spitting fire. 

“Go to hell, you piece of shit!” 

She lifted the pipe, trying to bring it down again, but Billy whipped around, grabbing it and yanking it out of El’s hands. Mike tried to get up, but he still was barely breathing, shaking, his arms feeling weak… 

El stepped back, and Billy stood up, tossing the pipe away. He stepped forwards, as El retreated a bit, her face suddenly dropping as she realized how much shit she was in. 

“Go!” Lucas ran in front of El, throwing an arm in front of her and then throwing another out, finally summoning a shield. Billy stood outside of it, looking blankly, and then he slowly turned towards Max, who was running for the pipe. 

“No!” El yelled, and Lucas’s face fell in terror. 

Billy turned, stepping to Max, who looked over, her eyes falling on him. “Billy, fight it!” she pled, still trying to run back for the weapon. “And you piece of Mind Flayer shit- you can’t have me, you can’t have my stepbrother, and you can’t-” 

She slipped and fell, crashing to the ground, and as Lucas dropped the shield to try to run to her, Billy stepped over her, his eyes lost in the shadow. 

And just as he threw out his hand, he froze. 

And then he was lifted into the air, shock clearly showing as he dropped his mouth open. 

Max, El and Lucas turned, to see that Mike had crawled into a kneeling position, and had both his hands out, blood now streaming down from his face, as he lifted Billy into the air. He started to scream, just as Billy shouted, trying to fight against the telekinetic energy that was holding him in the air. 

Mike stumbled to his feet, still holding his arms out and still shouting, watching Billy start flying up. Max stumbled away and ran to Lucas and El, grabbing their arms, as Mike circled around Billy and watching as he turned, as if held on a string. Mike managed to make his way over to stand before the others, grunting and gasping with his focus entirely on the possessed teenager in front of him. Billy was staring at him, coated in sweat and tears and starting to spit. He shouted, and then Mike let out the loudest scream the others had ever heard from him. 

Mike pushed, and Billy was sent flying, crashing through the brick wall of the pool building. He fell into the grass with a burst of smoke and falling material, and with that, Mike collapsed. 

Lucas and Max leapt back in shock, staring at the wall, but El reached forwards, managing to grab the exhausted Mike as he fell. They both dropped, sliding against the wall, and as they fell against the floor, El wrapped her arms around him, dragging him closer to her, and he reached back and grabbed her face, sobs starting to burst from him. He shook, his strength completely sapped, and he cried against her as he trembled under the flashing lights. El started to cry as well, clinging to him, leaning against him even as blood and tears covered his face. 

Slowly, Max and Lucas looked to Mike, wanting to hug him, too, but their eyes both flickered to the wall. They walked over, looking through, to see a figure racing away into the night. 

They stared for only a moment, before they turned and ran back to El and Mike.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Secret Lairs

 

“Are we there yet?” Nancy asked. 

“We’ll get there when we get there.” Hopper said. 

Nancy groaned and flopped onto Jonathan’s shoulder. “Babe, tell your parents to drive faster.” 

“No, no, Hopper’s-” Joyce began. 

“Don’t-” Hopper started. 

“Oh, shut up.” Nancy said. 

“Nance, we can’t break the speed limit.” Jonathan said patiently. 

“But Hop’s a cop and he just beat up the mayor. We should be able to do what we want.” 

“I’m worried about your morality right now.” 

“Eh, we’ll deal with that later.” Nancy sighed, before glancing out the backseat window. “It’s getting dark. If we don’t get back- what if the kids need help?” 

“We get that, Nance, trust me. We’re going as fast as we dare.” Joyce assured her. 

“We’ve just got one more stop.” Jonathan added. “The… Hess Farm, right?” 

Joyce nodded. “We’re almost there, don’t worry.” 

Jonathan hesitated, glancing between everyone in the car. “What if we find something there?” 

“Then we’ll deal with it.” Nancy said. 

Jonathan took a deep breath. “What if we don’t?” 

They fell silent, and remained that way until Hopper parked the car, and remarked, “Well. Looks like somebody’s home.” 

A truck was beside them, marked in large letters with LYNX. “What’s that?” Nancy asked, peering over Jonathan’s shoulder to see. 

“I think it’s a delivery service?” Jonathan guessed. 

“Then why don’t we see a delivery guy?” 

“Son of a-” 

 

“Okay, Holly, here’s what you have to do to find the treasure.” Steve said, looking about as uncomfortable as he felt- fortunately, Holly didn’t notice. 

Dustin and Will were way less uncomfortable than the older teens at this plan, but they’d managed to convince Holly that they had a treasure hunt, but she was the only one who could go through the tunnels; however, if she got lost, it was game over. Then, when they were done, they were just going to wait in the parking lot for her Mommy to pick her up! She was very excited to play the game- Steve was very much not. 

“We’re directing you through these radios.” Steve said, “So you don’t have to memorize anything. But every time you come to a fork- that’s when there are two or more paths- you call us and ask us which one to take. If you get hopelessly lost, find the nearest exit and tell us where you are, and we’ll pick you up. If you get scared of the small space-” 

“‘m not.” Holly assured him, giggling. “I’m plenty brave!” 

Steve took a deep breath. “Yeah, but also, you’re four-” 

“Five.” she held up five fingers. 

“See? She’s five. Practically a grown up.” Dustin said, smiling at Holly as she giggled. 

“When I was five, I was already undergoing testing.” Will said. “Fun fact, that’s when I stopped speaking.” 

“Not a fun fact, Will.” Steve said. “Fun facts make you feel better.” 

“What does he mean, ‘when he stopped talking?’” Robin asked. 

“Trauma.” Will replied, repeating a word he’d heard his Mom use. 

“Not making me feel better about sending Holly through the vents, Will!” 

“I’s okay, Steve!” Holly beamed, bouncing a little. “Nancy and I have adventures lots! She helped me climb a tree, and I helped her climb in the window and didn’t tell anyone!” 

Steve bit his lip. “Ah. Okay. Um, in that case, why don’t we keep our scavenger hunt secret for a bit, too?” 

“Got it!” Holly made a motion akin to zipping her lips. 

“Okay, you’ve got a helmet me and Will slapped together.” Dustin grinned, handing it to her. “Should fit, lemme strap it on. It’s got a flashlight on top so you can see.” 

“And take this.” Will handed her the Russian dictionary. “When you get to the treasure room, drop it first to make sure there are no booby traps.” 

“Robin’s going to help you up, and the rest of us will be waiting, watching your dropoff point to make sure pirates aren’t there.” Steve said. “Are you sure? We can always just sit back here and eat ice cream.” 

“I wanna find treasure!” Holly nodded. 

Steve sighed and said, “Just be careful. And if you hear someone who’s not us-” 

“I know, Mr Steve, can I go now?” 

“...okay. Okay, Robin, you help her up, we’ll meet you on the roof.” 

Robin shot him a thumbs up before kneeling by Holly to make sure her helmet was on right. Steve held the door open for Dustin and Will, who were whispering to each other as they walked out. 

As soon as the door slammed shut, Steve said, “Did we just kidnap Nancy’s little sister?” 

“Pfft, she’ll be fine.” Dustin said. “We’re on the radio for her.” 

“She’s five.” 

“No,” Dustin shrugged, “I think Five was that kid they made me hang out with who could change emotions.” 

“That was Three.” Will said. 

Steve started. “Wait, there are more of you?” 

Will’s face fell quite a bit, and Dustin quickly linked their arms, in some form of comfort, before blinking back his own tears and turning back to Steve. “Not, um… not anymore.” 

It was just them now. Lucas, Dustin, Mike, Will, Kali- wherever she was- and nobody else. 

Right? 

 

“Did you hear that?” Joyce whispered. 

Hopper and Nancy shone flashlights around the Hess farm, which was supposedly abandoned- however, Nancy was kneeling by an ashtray, looking at the still-smoldering cigarettes. Someone had been here very recently. Hopper also had a gun in his hands, and Nancy had one in her belt. Jonathan was sticking close to his Mom, though at the moment he was running a hand over a shelf, curiously sweeping aside the dust. 

And just as Joyce asked, they all indeed heard the same sound- very vibrant, but with a dark echo. Like something was starting up. As the sound flared, a dim lightbulb overheard flickered. 

“Goddamnit.” Jonathan muttered. 

Hopper stood up straighter, and passed his flashlight to Jonathan. “You three stay behind me. We’ll follow it to the source.” 

Suspecting they didn’t have time to argue, Nancy nodded, though as they followed Hopper, she passed her light to Joyce and reached over towards the handle of her gun, just in case. 

They passed several rooms, but the sound seemed to reverberate across the walls. Just when it got louder, they stepped into another room, and found it had dimmed. 

“Where is that coming from?” Hopper whispered. 

Joyce stepped back behind the group, and glanced around the room they’d just left- an empty bedroom, recently cleared, with only a mattress on a blank bed. She knelt towards the bottom, shining her light towards something- an air vent, right at the edge of the wood. 

She crouched down and put her ear against the floor, just as the sound started up again. There it was- much, much louder. 

“It’s below us.” she whispered to the others. 

As they turned back, her eyes flickered to the vent, to see some kind of red light shine behind it. 

“Oh…” she whispered. 

She gestured to the bed, and Hopper nodded, the two of them grabbing the edges and lifting it up, placing it against the wall. Underneath was a large, rectangular hole, a staircase leading down to a wooden floor. They all glanced at each other, and then Hopper went down first, Nancy at his heels and pulling out her weapon. Jonathan and Joyce quickly followed suite, and they descended into a relatively normal hall. However, once Hopper turned to the left, shining his light, they saw the red glow, and some kind of machinery, the kind that did not look like it belonged beneath a farm. 

Jonathan held up a hand to silence them, and then gestured towards one of the larger machines- behind it, they could hear low, indistinguishable mumbles. 

“Hey, dipshits!” Hopper shouted, running forwards. 

“Oh, okay, fuck subtlety, I guess.” Nancy muttered, running after him. 

On the side, two men looked over at him, a bit shocked and blinking in the flashlights now shining in their eyes. They stood up, as Hopper said, “Hawkins PD, hands in the air.” 

They didn’t make any movements, simply staring in befuddlement. 

“Don’t make me say it again!” 

One of the men turned to the other, and started speaking rapidly, in a language they were unfamiliar with. Joyce and Nancy shared a confused look, while Jonathan swore under his breath. 

“Do…” Nancy stepped forwards, lowering her gun slightly, “Do you speak English?” 

One of the men stepped behind the other, who started to speak, though still in another language, his tone suggesting he was trying to explain something. 

“We can’t understand you!” Hopper said. 

The man pointed to himself, continuing to speak. “We don’t understand!” Hopper continued, but the man seemed as unable to understand them as they him. 

Then Joyce grabbed Hopper’s shoulder, shouting, “Shut up!” They all quieted, and she pointed up. Above them, they could hear thundering footsteps, slowly walking towards the opening. 

“Shit.” Nancy said. 

 

“Holly, can you hear us?” Steve asked. 

“Uh-huh!” came the light voice at the other end of the radio. “Like I could last time!” 

“Steve, stop checking in on her.” Dustin said, peering off the roof. “She’ll be fine.” 

The door to the stairwell opened, and Robin stepped out, asking, “What’s up?” 

“Holly’s doing great.” Will said, showing her the blueprints under him, where he was tracking her progress with a red marker. “She’s just got a turn or two and then she’s there- so long as she didn’t get lost.” 

“Oh, God, don’t say that.” Steve put his head in his hands. 

Robin took his walkie-talkie, just as they heard a buzz. “Right or left?” 

“Tell her she goes right.” Will said. 

“Right.” Robin said. “You know which way right is, right?” 

“Yeah, the one that doesn’t look like an L when you hold up your hands.” 

Dustin held up his hands, making an L shape with both. “Oh, hey, she’s right.” 

“This was a horrid idea.” Steve groaned. 

“You keep saying that, but she’s doing great.” Dustin said. “Honestly, I didn’t even know my way through vents at this age.” 

Steve banged his head against the edge of the roof. 

“I think I found it!” came Holly’s voice. “I see the boxes!” 

“Good! Good girl!” Robin said quickly, as Will sat up and nodded that Holly had likely found her way there. “Do you see anyone there? Anyone at all?” 

“No. I’s empty.” 

Dustin took the walkie, and said, “Push the book against the grate to pop it open, then drop on the ground to check for traps. Then climb down to open the door for us.” 

“Gotcha!” Holly said. 

There was another pause as she turned off her radio to push the grate, and Will said, “Should we go down to meet her?” 

Dustin moved to help him fold up the blueprints, and he said, “No, wait until she has the door open. We need to make sure nobody else is coming.” 

“Once the door’s open, we run down as fast as we can.” Robin said. 

“And then we get some incriminating shit outta there and figure out what’s going on.” Steve said.  

Will and Dustin shared another glance, and Will said, “What if what’s going on… affects us?” 

“How?” Robin rolled her eyes, but Steve also shot them a worried look. 

“Look,” he said, “Whatever happens-” 

A radio buzz sounded. “I jus’ move the panel and press the open button?” 

“Yes!” Steve took the walkie. “Very carefully.” 

“Hold on. I have to climb on a box.” 

“Be careful.” 

“I’m good. I can climb good!” 

Steve groaned and passed the walkie to Dustin, who slid it into his bag, along with the folded blueprints. “Jesus.” 

They heard a clang, and Steve and Robin breathed sighs of relief as the garage door opened up. Holly slid off a box and ran to the front, shooting a thumbs-up and jumping up and down with glee. 

“We found it!” she squealed. 

 

Nancy knelt beside Jonathan and Joyce, as well as one of the men who’d been in the basement- Hopper had moved very fast, stuffing tape over the mouths of both of them and around the wrist of the second as a sort-of cuff, while the first was handcuffed beside them. One of them was beside the machine, in more-or-less open view, while they guarded theirs, and Hopper waited behind another machine for their intruder to step through. She held out her gun, waiting, just in case… 

“Don’t move!” Hopper shouted, and Nancy tensed, positioning herself in front of the Byers, starting to feel her heart pound in her chest. “Drop the gun! Drop it!” She didn’t hear any gunshots, so Hopper must have the man at gunpoint, but from the sound of Hopper’s frustration, the intruder wasn’t putting down his weapon. 

“You understand what I’m saying, big guy?” 

Nancy held her breath, glancing down at her weapon to make sure it was ready to fire. 

“Drop! The Weapon!” 

“Or what?” Nancy froze, shutting her eyes as the man spoke. It was definitely the same man from the lab. Jonathan reached out to put a hand on her arm. “You going to shoot me?” 

“Good. So you do understand what I’m saying, huh?” 

Joyce moved over to the man they had handcuffed to a pipe, looking him over quickly. He didn’t seem injured, just very confused. 

“Yeah, if you don’t put that thing away, I’m gonna blow some daylight into that thick skull of yours!” 

“No, you won’t do that.” 

“Why’s that?” 

“Cause you’re a policeman. Policemen have rules.” 

Nancy muttered under her breath, “Yeah, but I don’t,” and started to stand up. 

Jonathan moved his hand to her shoulder and pushed her back down. “Nancy, no.” 

“Why not? I’ll just go over there and shoot his fucking face off.” 

“Nancy, Hopper’s got it under con-” 

A gunshot went off, bouncing against the metallic floor, and they heard shouts of a struggle, and someone being slammed into the wall. 

“Or maybe not.” Jonathan sighed. “But Nancy-” 

“Too late, I’m going to kill someone.” Nancy said, standing back up. “You two stay here, I’ll be right back to deal with that guy.” 

Before she could move, they saw Hopper’s gun slide across the floor, landing near them. “Son of a-” Nancy began. 

Joyce grabbed the weapon, flipping it over in her hands, as they heard machine gun fire, bullets hitting against the ceiling. “Yeah, you’re not going out there.” Jonathan said. “You’re gonna get shot.” 

“I shoot him first, no big deal.” 

“Nancy.” 

“Hopper needs this.” Joyce said, holding up the gun. 

“Then throw it at him.” Nancy said. “Or, just shoot the guy yourself.” 

“I can’t shoot.” 

“Then throw.” 

The machine gun fire stopped, and they heard a clatter as the gun slid across the floor. There were more shouts and thumps, and Joyce finally said, “Alright, I’m gonna throw him the gun.” 

“Good.” 

Joyce leaned out from the machine, shouting, “Hopper!” He looked up from the ground, where he and his assailant had fallen. She threw the gun, and they watched as it soared completely over Hopper, skidding into the wall. 

“Wow.” Nancy said. 

“Uh, nice try?” Jonathan said. 

“Son of a bitch.” Joyce muttered. 

“Okay, my turn.” Nancy said, finally pulling away from Jonathan and stepping out with her gun. Just then, she saw that the Russian intruder ha leaned over, grabbing Hopper’s gun, and she immediately turned and pushed Jonathan and Joyce back, as Hopper ran to them, ducking behind the machine for cover as gunfire blasted. 

“We are so fucked!” Jonathan shouted. 

“We are not fucked!” Hopper said. He raced to the man and undid the cuff connecting him to the pipes, before slamming it on his own wrist. “He’s coming with us, everybody run!” 

“I think he ran out of bullets, let me try to shoot him!” Nancy said. 

“God, fuck, Nancy, just run with us!” Hopper said. 

“Okay, damn!” 

They raced for the stairs just as the machine gun fire started up again. Joyce shouted and pushed the teenagers ahead of her, though Nancy turned and fired a few shots towards the source of the gunfire before they reached the upper floor. Even as they shut the bed back over the entrance, though, they could still see bullets pouring through, shattering the mattress and sending pieces flying into the air. Hopper grabbed a nearby bookshelf, knocking it over onto the bed, before shouting, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” 

They raced out of the house, Nancy moving herself to the rear of the group in case the intruder should follow them. As they ran into the yard, Hopper tossed Joyce the keys and said, “Joyce! Drive!” He then turned to the teenagers and said, “You’re in charge of Smirnoff here in the backseat!” 

“Why do we have to be in charge of the prisoner?” Nancy whined. 

“Because I said so, now get back there!” Hopper undid his handcuff and said, “And one of you cuff to him for the drive.” 

“Not it.” Nancy said. Jonathan groaned. 

“Kids, we are running from an assassin with a machine gun!” Joyce reminded them. 

“How is this worse than last year?” Nancy shrugged, before throwing open the car door. “Let’s move out.” 

 

Steve pulled the edge of a pocketknife across the tape atop one of the boxes marked for Imperial Panda, narrowing his eyes. He passed the knife back to Dustin, before opening it to see a large, metallic box. There was some kind of handle on top, so he simply reached down, twisting it to the side and pulling it open. 

There was some kind of hiss as a bit of steam burst out, and Steve dropped the lid onto the ground. Inside the box were four cannisters, stuck into the metal and topped with similar handles. 

“That’s definitely not Chinese food.” Steve said. “Okay, everyone step back, in case what’s in here is radioactive or something.” 

Robin stepped back, and Holly obediently moved a few paces, though she seemed to be getting a bit bored of the game and was now playing with her pigtail. Dustin and Will, meanwhile, stayed near Steve. 

“Boys, seriously?” Steve said. 

“We’ll be fine, probably.” Will said. 

“We have a better chance at survival than you.” Dustin pointed out. 

Steve groaned, but said, “Okay,” before reaching down and turning the handle of one of the cannisters, pulling it out for them all to see. It was a long tube, inside of which was some bubbling, green liquid. 

“What the hell?” Steve muttered. 

“What is that?” Robin asked. 

Before anyone could guess, there was a metallic clanging, and the room shook. 

“Uh, was that just me,” Dustin asked, “Or did the room move?” 

“Oh no.” Steve shoved the cannister back into the box. 

The room trembled again, and he ran to Holly, picking her up and taking off for the door. 

“Steve?” Will asked. 

The room shook again, and just as Steve feared, the doors started to slide shut. He wasn’t quite there yet, so he leaned down and carefully threw Holly, watching her slide under the closing panel and land on the concrete. 

“Steve?” she called, as Steve raced for the door, just as it slammed shut. 

“Holly, listen!” he shouted. “We’ll be right out, tell your parents we’re just closing up, okay? Wait for them in the parking lot- don’t go with anyone but your parents, you understand?” 

“What the fuck?” Robin ran for the door, pounding on it. “Where’s the button- Dustin, press the open button!” 

“Are you okay?” Holly asked worriedly. 

“We’ll be fine! Just… dealing with the pirates!” Steve said quickly, and then he thought of something. “Holly, listen to me- tell Nancy we have a Code Red, okay? At the mall. Code Red at the Mall.” 

“Code Red?” 

Dustin ran for the button panel, pressing onto the Open button. “It’s not working.” he said. 

“What do you mean it’s not working?” Robin said. 

“Holly, can you remember that?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Okay,” Steve said, “Now go wait for your parents. Be safe, okay? We’ll be right out.” 

Will shook slightly, and he stumbled into a corner, sitting on a box, and hugging himself. “Dustin?” he called. 

Dustin, who was incessantly pressing the open button, turned, eyes widening. “Will?” 

“Something’s wrong.” Will squeezed his eyes shut. “Do you feel it?” 

Dustin ran to him, sitting beside him and wrapping an arm around him. “Will, calm down, buddy, it’s okay-” 

“What the fuck is happening?” Robin asked. 

And all at once, Dustin understood what Will had meant- because at that moment, he felt flashes. Flashes of the future. 

Vents, bright lights, tunnels, metal. A door pounding behind him. Shouting- from all of them. Screaming. Some kind of pain, in the arm- was it his arm? Will’s? Someone else’s? Being chased, electricity sparking in front of him, and… falling… 

“We’re gonna drop!” he shouted, grabbing onto Will, who had already started screaming. 

“What?” Robin shouted. 

Steve grabbed Robin’s hand, dragging her over to the corner, before protectively throwing his arms over both of the boys. All Robin could do was join the huddle as another metal door slammed over the one that had just closed. 

And with that, the room fell. 

 

Joyce drove as fast as she could. The intruder had managed to escape just as they were driving away, and they had a few bullet dents and a shattered back window to prove it. As they moved down the road, Hopper muttered to himself, trying to figure something out. However, after what had to be an hour or two, he got a buzz on his walkie-talkie. 

“Oh for fuck’s-” he muttered. He picked it up and said, “This better be good news.” 

“Not really, Chief.” 

Everyone flinched at the sound of the voice of one of the other officers- Powell? Had Hopper been found out? “What?” 

“You know how you wanted updates on that Driscoll woman in the hospital?” 

Hopper shut his eyes, and said, “Joyce, pull the car over. I feel like we’re going to need to plan some shit.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The Squads get Split Up

 

“So, let’s get this straight.” Nancy sighed, leaning over the trunk of the squad car. “Ms Driscoll had a weird-ass seizure last night that the doctors don’t get-” 

“What time was it?” Jonathan asked. 

“Around 9:00.” Hopper said. 

“When do you think the kids started setting Billy on fire?” Jonathan asked. 

Joyce shut her eyes. “Oh, son of a bitch.” 

The man handcuffed to Jonathan said something, and Nancy said, “Please, sir, not now.” 

Joyce glanced up at the rising sun over the horizon and said, “Someone needs to get back to the kids. But we can’t very well take him along.” she gestured to the man, who seemed more confused than upset at this situation. 

“Do we know anyone who speaks Russian? Maybe we can get information out of him.” Jonathan asked. 

“Mike knows a little, but not enough to translate.” Nancy sighed. 

“Besides, taking Smirnoff over here to the superpowered kids is a bad idea for what should be obvious reasons.” Hopper groaned. 

Joyce paused, considering, and then said, “What about Murray? Would Murray know Russian?” 

“Who?” Jonathan asked. 

“A guy we leaked information with last year.” Hopper said. “I think he does, actually.” 

“So we go to Murray?” 

“But we need to go back to the kids.” Jonathan said. “They’re probably freaked.” 

Hopper paused, and then said, “I’ll go back to the kids. The rest of you go to Murray.” 

“What?” Joyce jumped. 

“That assassin guy knows I’m after him, he saw me.” Hopper said. “Likely, he’ll follow me-” 

“So you’re going to lead him to the kids?” 

“So we want to keep him away from the scientist we can get information from.” 

“Well, you’re not going back to the kids alone if you think you’re gonna be tailed.” Joyce said. 

“Absolutely not.” Nancy agreed. 

“But we can’t take him back, either!” 

“So,” Jonathan held up his hand, trying to gather everyone’s attention. “We need to split Hopper and him up. Nobody should be going anywhere alone, though- Mom, tell us how to get to this Murray guy, we’ll take him.” 

“What? You’re-” 

“Nobody will think to tail two teenagers.” Jonathan said. “And Nancy’s the one with the working gun right now. You need to get back and check on the kids. You figure this out, we’ll figure out what’s going on with him,” he gestured to the man cuffed to him, “And we’ll call you from that guy’s house.” 

Hopper sighed, then turned to Nancy and Jonathan. “Murray’s… a bit paranoid. When you get there, tell him you’re with us and you need help.” 

“I just…” Joyce paused, glancing between them all. 

Nancy sighed, and put a hand on her shoulder. “Ms Byers, we’ve gotta stop this as soon as possible, before it can get… bad.” 

“Mom, you go with the Chief.” Jonathan said. “And make sure the kids are okay, right?” 

Joyce shut her eyes, and then nodded. “Yeah.” then she sighed. “We’re going to have to explain so much to Will.” 

 

Will was squished in the middle of everyone’s hug for only a few moments, before they all realized they were going to fall if they didn’t grab something. Robin grabbed onto the shelves, while Steve was flung unto a corner of the room. Dustin managed to push his way to the panel, where he gripped a handle to keep himself steady and frantically pressed several buttons. Will, for his part, managed to grab onto a box and hug it as if it was his lifeline. Everyone was screaming around him, which did not help his feelings of panic.

“We’re going down!” 

“Yeah, no shit, Harrington!” 

“Push the button!”

“I’m trying!” 

Will clung to the box and let out a cry, wishing he had his headphones with him. Everyone was shouting and things were falling and there was a rushing sound outside the walls and… 

They came to a sudden stop, and everyone, thrown off-balance, fell. Steve and Robin shouted, while Dustin managed to scramble to his feet first and check on Will- who realized holding onto a box hadn’t been the best idea, as it fell on him. Dustin helped lift it off, quickly checking over Will as he did. 

“Is everyone okay?” Robin asked, in a very dazed tone. 

Steve jumped up, his voice breaking as he shouted. “Yeah, I’m great, now that I know the Russians can design elevators!” He raced to the button panel, trying himself to press anything to open it. 

“We’ve clearly established that those buttons don’t work!” Robin shouted. 

“They’re buttons, they have to do something!” 

“Yeah, but only if we have a keycard!” 

“What?” 

Robin moved over, pointing to a switch beside the door, with a red light above it. “It’s an electronic lock, like the ones outside. Without it, it won’t operate. Meaning-” 

“We’re stuck in here.” Dustin said. 

Will’s eyes widened, and he grabbed onto Dustin’s arm. “Mom’s gonna freak. Jonathan’s gonna freak. The kids-” 

“Lucas!” Dustin froze. “Steve, Lucas is gonna- but, no, he’s with the others, they’ll be fine, right?” 

“Sure!” Steve shouted. “But we won’t be, if we’re dead in a Russian elevator!” 

Dustin hesitated, and then pointed up. “What if we climbed out?” He gestured to a darkened panel in the ceiling, one with a handle against it. 

Steve carefully moved over, climbing up and switching it, and then throwing the panel open and saying, “Don’t think that’ll work. We are in a very long, very railing-less elevator shaft, so unless one of you can climb up with your teeth, we’re in trouble.” 

“I wish we brought Mike.” Dustin groaned, sitting on a box. “He could’ve lifted us out.” 

“How?” Robin spat. 

“It doesn’t matter.” Will shivered, hugging himself and looking around. “We need to find a way out. Dustin, can you-” 

“On it.” Dustin nodded, curling up. “I’ll try to force something, but the stress might take a while.” 

“Force what?” Robin groaned in frustration, running her hands through her hair. “What goddamn shit are you talking about? Are you Jedi or something?” 

“Or something,” Dustin said, at the same time Will said, “That’s more Mike.” 

“How have you survived the nondisclosure this long, boys?” Steve sighed, putting his head in his hands. 

“Luck.” Dustin guessed. “Now shut up, I’ll focus.” 

“And I’ll…” Will took a deep breath. God, he wished he had a more useful power. “Try to think of something.” 

 

“Here.” Lucas sat on the sink, helping Mike wipe the blood from his face. He wondered for a minute if he’d actually hit his head while falling, the red stream seemed to never end. “I got you.” 

“Thanks.” Mike nodded numbly, staring at himself in the mirror. He had that haunted, distant look in his eyes that meant his mind was in a darker place, and the struggle home and restless attempts at sleep while waiting for the adults to get back hadn’t helped. 

“Hey.” Lucas put a hand on his shoulder, then, carefully, started tapping onto the sink, like when they were talking to Will on a nonverbal day. Are you hurt? 

Mike sighed, then tapped a response. Not badly. Been worse. 

You sure? 

Been worse. 

Lucas shuddered, and then tapped, When? He knew it was a bit intrusive to ask, but if he knew what was worse, he could have a reasonable guess as to how much pain he was in at the moment. 

Mike considered, and then said, “You saw that, I think. You were passing by when I was tired from all-day testing and got…” he shut his eyes, and tapped out, stubborn. Got the electricity. 

Lucas flinched, knowing the incident Mike was referring to. He’d only passed by very quickly, and the guards hadn’t let him turn back, but he’d heard Mike shouting, and then screaming, and then crying, and saw a flash through a window of him curled up… 

Lucas had been hit with the cattle prod a few times, too, so he knew that feeling, and it was hell. At least… Mike wasn’t feeling that at the moment. 

He returned his palm to Mike’s shoulder and said, “At least it’s not that. Next time, I’ll fight him.” 

Mike shook his head. 

“I will. I’ve got light.” Lucas waved his hand to brighten the room, as if Mike could have somehow forgotten. “He doesn’t like light and heat.” 

“I don’t want him knowing what you can do.” 

“We’ve got to stop him, Mike.” Lucas said. “I’ll protect you, I promise.” 

“I have to protect you.” Mike shook his head, putting a hand atop Lucas’s. “I’m the protector.” 

Lucas shook his head. “No. You’re Mike. And you’re our brother, and we protect each other.” 

Mike sighed, glancing down. “But I have to help.” 

“We can help you, too, you know. It’s not all up to you. It’s all of us.” Lucas said. He leaned over, and said, “And we all need to stick together. We all stopped the world ending last time, so we need to be together to do it again.” 

Mike smiled a little, and then tapped, Why are you so grown up? 

Lucas grinned back at him, and tapped, Guess I’m the big brother. 

“I’m taller, though.” Mike said aloud, and they both started to laugh. 

 

“Hey.” El said. 

“Hey.” Max said back. 

They were sitting on opposite ends of the couch, staring into nothing. Neither of them had a very good sleep the night before, and now the boys were in the bathroom cleaning up, and they weren’t sure what to do.

El twirled her hair with a finger, before shutting her eyes and saying, “I’m sorry.” 

Max jumped. “What?” 

“I’m sorry.” she said, before clasping her hands together. “You were right. I’ve been spending too much time with one person-” 

“No, you were right.” Max sighed. “You thought he and the boys were dead, you have every right to spend time with them.” 

“And I should also be spending time with you. And I totally disregarded your feelings, you were scared-” 

“We all are.” 

“But we straight-up decided to investigate and nuke your shitty stepbrother without thinking about how you’d feel.” El sighed. “We got too caught up in… in getting this done quickly that we didn’t think about you.” 

“But we do need to get this done!” Max turned to her. “The sooner the shadow’s out of Billy, the sooner we kill it.” 

El shook her head. “No. No, Max, we need to figure something out. Better than last time. I mean, we got it out of you and it just went right to Billy. It’ll find another host if we don’t sit down and figure something out.” 

Max shut her eyes. “We will figure it out. Before it can kill anyone else.” 

El shivered. “You think it killed Heather?” 

“I think it did something to her.” 

El hesitated, before reaching over and grabbing Max’s hand. “I really am sorry, Max. And after this is all over, we’ll find time for just the two of us, okay? Arcade days. Girls’ days out. Mall shopping. No boys, no superpowers, just us.” 

Max glanced down at El’s hand on hers, and nodded. “Yeah. But… you know, it’s not all bad. I like the boys.” 

“Yeah.” El smirked a little. Then, she glanced down and said, “No more secrets between us, okay?” 

Max didn’t respond a moment. 

“I’ll start.” El said. “Um… I almost jumped off a cliff once.” 

“What?” Max turned to her, surprised. 

“Uh… yeah. Wasn’t my choice.” El blinked back tears. “It was… while you were gone. Troy was pissed at us for the peeing-his-pants incident and caught me with Will. He would’ve- if I hadn’t-” she wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “Mike saved me. He and Lucas found us.” she took a breath. “Wow. I haven’t… told anyone that. Since it happened.” 

“Not even Hop?” 

“He’d freak. Probably arrest Troy.” she laughed a little. “Mike broke his arm, so he got punished.” 

“Wow.” 

El considered. “Uh… Mike and I made out in the blanket fort last sleepover.” 

“I knew it.” 

They laughed a little at that, and then El narrowed her eyes. “Trying to think of more secrets.” 

“You’re criminally honest, El, I’m surprised you had two.” 

“Well, friends don’t lie.” 

Max sighed. “They don’t.” After a pause, she spat out, “You know how I… kinda like Lucas?” 

“I knew it!” 

“Shut up.” her face fell a bit, and El realized something was really bothering her.

She squeezed her hand, and said, “Okay. Go on.” 

“I… there’s another person, I… during school, I think I had a crush on. And…” she squeezed her eyes shut, so that she wouldn’t cry, or see El. “I realized it, last day, when we did the yearbook signing thing, and… and it’s been eating me up all Summer. Hell, maybe that’s why I’ve been… so pissed. So angry all the time.” she shook. “I don’t want to be angry. Like him, like them…” 

El released her hand, and put her arm around her. “You’re not. No matter how mad you are, you are never like Billy or your asshole of a stepfather, okay? Because you don’t take your fury out on someone weaker than you.” 

“I…” Max glanced over at her. “I said so many horrible things to you, and-” 

“And you were frustrated. It happens to everyone.” El said. “We all snap. But you know you- you hurt someone, and you’re trying to make it better. By apologizing, and helping. Did they ever do that?” Max shook her head. “No matter what scares you, you come out on top, Mayfield.” 

Unable to hold back her tears anymore, Max nodded, her ponytail, still messy from the night, bouncing against her head. El wrapped her arm tighter around her, and then smiled a little. “So. Who’s this other guy you like? Do I have to beat him up?” 

Max’s face fell even more, and she stared very hard at the table as she shook her head. 

“Well, talk to me. It can’t be that bad.” 

Max bit her lip, and then said, “Do you remember when you told me Jennifer Hayes was crying at my funeral?” 

“Yeah.” El’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What’s that got to do with this?” 

Silence. 

El got it. “Oh.” 

“Oh.” Max nodded. 

More silence. 

“Neil would’ve killed me.” Max’s voice shook, but all she could think to do was keep talking. “If he found out. And I’m not exaggerating. I think… I think Billy would, too, even though I… I think I like boys, too, I like Lucas, I… I really like Lucas, but… but it was graduation day, and we were signing yearbooks, and Jennifer Hayes came over and told me she always thought my skateboard was cool and maybe I could show her tricks sometime and- and she signed my book and her handwriting is so much prettier than mine and- and my heart just felt like… like it was light and flying and her smile was so pretty and as soon as she turned around and- and her hair bounced I just. I just knew what was happening and I… I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I…” 

El leaned over, and pulled Max into the tightest hug she could. And without thinking, Max hugged her back, burying her head in El’s shoulder and letting the tears flow. 

“I think,” El said slowly, “That it’s way better that you like Jennifer Hayes, because if you’d said you liked Stacy, I think I would’ve disowned you.” 

Max froze a moment, and then burst out laughing. “Oh my God. Never.” 

“She’s such a bitch.” 

“Such a bitch.” 

El leaned her head on Max’s shoulder, and said, “So we’re in agreement? No Stacy.” 

“No Stacy and no Troy.” 

“Ew, no. Did you ever hear he pissed his pants?” 

Max laughed, and then cried some more, and El kept holding her until the bathroom door opened, and they slowly pulled apart, smiling at Lucas and Mike, who walked out, clinging to each other. 

“Hey.” Max waved. 

“Hey.” Lucas said. Then he glanced at the door. “Nobody yet?” 

El shook her head. “Not even Steve and the boys.” 

“I could… look for them.” Mike said. 

“No.” El said stubbornly. “You’re exhausted as it is.” 

“We need to know where they are.” Mike said, as he and Lucas sat on the edge of the couch. 

“We need a plan.” 

At that, the door opened. They all jumped, and Lucas leapt to his feet, instinctively summoning a shield around them. 

Hopper and Joyce both raced in, eyes wide and terrified. Once they laid eyes on the exhausted, scared kids behind a shield, Joyce put a hand over her mouth and stepped back. Hopper took a deep breath, and then said, “So I guess it didn’t go too well?” 

“Dad!” El shouted. Lucas dropped his shield, and her and Max flung themselves off the couch, running to him and almost knocking him over in a hug. He embraced them back, but after a moment, El pulled away, noticing scrapes on his face. “Are you hurt? What happened?” 

“Why are you so late?” Max asked. 

“Where’s Will?” Joyce asked. 

They all froze. 

“Um.” Mike said. “I can. Find out. Right now.” 

“He’s not here?” 

“Nobody came back last night.” El said. “We were scared you all died or something.” 

“Nobody’s died yet.” Hopper said. 

“Where’s Nancy?” Mike asked. 

“And Jonathan?” Lucas added. 

Joyce sighed. “Okay. Time out. I feel like we all need to compare notes- and then figure out where the fuck the others are.” 

“I’ll do that.” Mike scooted back, already grabbing Lucas’s bandana to use as a blindfold. 

“Mike-” El began. 

“Let me find Will and Dustin and Steve.” Mike told her. “I can do it.” 

“As for the rest of us,” Hopper said, putting his arms around his daughters, “What in the hell is going on?”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Robin is “this” close to snapping

 

Will sat cross-legged on a box, humming to himself. Robin was leaning against another, bored out of her mind. Dustin and Steve were arguing at the top about something- Dustin had been trying to use the walkie to communicate with anyone, but nobody seemed to be near a radio. 

“Hey, kid.” Robin said. 

Will opened one eye. “Yeah?” 

“Be honest.” Robin said. “Are we doomed?” 

“Not likely.” Will sighed. “We’ve gotten out of worse scrapes. The spies will be here for the boxes eventually anyway, so we won’t starve.” 

“Fucking great.” Robin groaned. 

Dustin slid back into the enclosed space. “Nobody’s answering. I think the signal is dead.” 

“We’re dead.” Robin said. 

“Not yet.” Dustin said. “Will, how are you doing?” 

“Okay.” Will said. “Have you seen anything?” 

Dustin shook his head. “It has to be morning by now. Maybe I can focus. Steve’s going to try the radio.” 

“Good id-” Will paused, a weird feeling in his chest. He hesitated before shutting his eyes. “Hold on a moment.” 

“Okay.” Dustin nodded, sitting beside him. 

Will hesitated, and then said, “I think Mike’s trying to reach us.” 

“Fucking what?” Robin said. 

“Shh.” Dustin held up a hand to shush her. “Is he here?” 

“I’m not sure.” Will took a deep breath. “I just… feel him. It’s… hard to explain.” 

“Try?” 

Will hesitated, and then started tapping furiously, too busy concentrating on the feeling to talk. Like he’s behind me, and I can tell it’s him, because he’s walking or breathing or doing something that gives it away. But he’s not behind me and I don’t hear anything, I just… feel it. Sense. 

Dustin nodded, tapping, Okay. Try to talk to him? I’ll go check on Steve. 

Be careful. 

You too. 

Dustin hesitated, and then gave Will a quick hand-pat before moving back. “Robin, keep an eye on Will and don’t say anything.” 

“Wh-what is wrong with you all?” 

“So much.” 

Will shut his eyes, still focusing. After a second, the feeling grew ever-so-slightly more intense, like Mike was beside him. “Mike?” he said carefully. He suddenly felt a jolt of fear. “I can’t see you,” he said, “But I think you’re here. Is that you?” The fear went away. “I think I can feel you. Are you okay?” He couldn’t feel much, a bit of relief maybe. Mike must be worried about them. “You can track us, right? So you can find us. Can you find us right now?” A bit of fear again. “It’s okay. Don’t push. We still have some stuff to solve. I mean, the doors will open eventually.” A lot of fear. “We’re not in the Lab, Mike. We’re okay- mainly. Dustin and I can take care of ourselves for a little bit. I won’t lie, we are in a bit of trouble, but it doesn’t seem to be monster-related.” Disbelief. “I don’t think it is. Maybe check up on me in a few hours to make sure? I hope I’ll feel you again.” 

“Kid?” Robin sounded a bit worried, but Will waved her off. 

“Keep tracking us if you can. But if you feel something dangerous, track that first.” Fear. “We’re okay. We have Steve. And we have…” he took a deep breath. “Me. We have me. You… saw what I can do to auras.” More fear. “I can protect us. Worry about yourself.” he clenched his fist. “I have a feeling, from your fear, you ran into some trouble.” Resignation. “Yeah? Then take care of it. I love you, okay? We’re going to get out soon. Catch us when you can.” 

And just like that, the feeling was gone, and Will was alone in the elevator with Robin. 

He flickered open his eyes, and said, “Mike’s busy right now, but he’ll come pick us up.” 

Robin was staring at him with a puzzling look on her face- something akin to shock, Will thought. Eventually, she crept over to the panel and said quietly, “Steve? I think your kid cracked.” 

“Fuckin- what did he do?” Steve swung down, followed quickly by Dustin, who ran over. 

“Will! Is he coming?” Dustin asked. He paused, then, and said, “Your nose is bleeding.” 

“Is-” Will reached up, indeed feeling the blood, and then he blinked and realized he had slipped into auras again. Dustin’s was just as swirly as ever, rushing over him like a stream, but with a cute little twirl at the edges, tinted a light blue. Steve’s was a more calming blue, though it was spiking a lot more than usual, probably due to his panic. Robin’s he hadn’t seen before, but he was pleased to note that it was another calming shade, pretty light, though every now and again a darker blue flickered through the glow. Will didn’t have much use for aura-reading now, so he didn’t keep up his study of it, but he guessed that she could have some negative thoughts filtering through. 

“Don’t be sad, Robin.” he said carefully. “We’re getting out, and you’re a very good person.” 

“Whaaaat the fuck?” Robin said. “Steve, your kid cracked.” 

“Okay, he’s not my kid, he’s the Byers’.” Steve said. “Second, Will, what’s up?” 

Will wiped his nose on his sleeve, and said, “First, you should calm down. And Dustin-” he turned, and cocked his head in confusion. While Dustin looked at him, every now and again his aura got a faint, pinkish edge. Usually that’d alarm him- red was a very bad sign- but this pink seemed a bit different. “Are you okay?” 

“Uh, yeah.” More pink, though it faded a little when Dustin glanced away. “What’d Mike say?” 

“You contacted Mike?” Steve asked. 

“He found me. In the Void.” Will nodded, wiping his nose again. “He seems worried, I think they ran into trouble.” 

“Oh, of course.” Steve sighed, putting his head in his hands. “Of course they did, because we always run into different shit all the time.” 

“But he’ll come get us.” Will said. “He just has to deal with the other thing first. I think. He might come after us first because he’s Mike, but I should hope he believed me when I said it would be okay.” 

“The hell do you mean ‘it would be okay’?” Robin shouted. “And what the fuck are you talking about? Steve, what is your kid on? What kind of drugs are you giving them?” 

“Hey!” Dustin said. “We haven’t been drugged in at least two years.” 

“Yeah!” Will nodded. “No more- what was it called, Steve?” 

“LSD.” 

“Yeah! No more of that shit!” Dustin cheered. 

“Oooh my God.” Robin slapped her forehead. “I’m trapped in a Russian elevator with insane people.” 

“We’re not insane!” Dustin said. 

“Will thinks he- what? Telepathically communicated with his buddy?” 

“Um.” Steve took a breath, before turning to the boys. “Yeah, I think it’s about time we tell her.” 

“Tell me fucking what, Harrington?” 

The boys hesitantly glanced to each other. Will slowly reached out to grab Dustin’s hand again- oh, there was that pink. He hoped that wasn’t too bad- and he nodded. 

“Uh, how do I put this?” Steve clapped his hands together. 

“Lucas usually uses brutal honesty.” Dustin said. 

“Right.” Steve said, before turning to Robin. “The boys were kidnapped as infants by the US government due to being in utero while their parents were going through drug-induced experiments, which gave them superpowers. They escaped two years ago and we’ve only just gotten clearance to let them into public.” 

“And there’s another dimension we fought.” Dustin added. 

Robin stared for a good, long while, before repeating, “I’m trapped. In a Russian elevator. With insane people!” 

“No, we can prove it!” Steve said. “We- fuck, this would be easier with Lucas or Mike.”

“Mike makes things float and Lucas changes lights and makes shields.” Dustin explained. 

“I can see aura.” Will said quickly. “And you have a very nice one!” 

“The powers cause nosebleeds.” Dustin said, gesturing to Will’s. “My power is future sight but I have trouble focusing it when I’m stressed.” 

“He predicts real good stuff sometimes.” Steve said supportively. 

“And Lucas and I live with Steve because I love him.” Dustin said. 

“Also I’m nineteen and could sign temporary guardianship papers until the government tracks down your family.” Steve said. 

Dustin blinked at him. “But you’re my family.” 

“Not a good time to be cute, Dustin, we’re trying not to blow Robin’s mind.” 

“I think he should keep being cute.” Will said. “It’s nice.” 

Dustin jumped. “What?” 

“Time out.” Robin said. “Time out, time out, time out…” she sat down on a box and said, “Son of a… what the actual shit are you all talking about?” 

“We can start from the beginning.” Dustin said. “So, like, when we were born-” 

“Oh my God.” Steve said. 

“Stop.” Will threw up a hand, silencing them. “Do you hear that?” 

They paused, and then Robin ran to the door, pressing her head against it to listen. Then she turned and said, “Well, inmates, we’ve got company.” 

“Shit.” Steve said. 

“Okay, everyone, get on top of the elevator.” Dustin suggested, jumping up. 

“Good thinking.” Will complimented, blinking and trying to turn off his aura-sight. But much like Dustin, stress wasn’t a good way to control his powers, so this did nothing. 

“Grab one of those green things.” Steve suggested, running to a box. “For evidence.” 

“And don’t go fucking insane while someone’s in here.” Robin said. 

“We’re not crazy.” Will informed her, before jumping up to the hatch and swinging himself up. 

“Not currently.” Dustin nodded, swinging up after him. 

 

Mike ripped off the blindfold, and said, “So. They’re… I’m not entirely sure, honestly?” 

“But you found them. You were trying to talk to Will.” Joyce said. “We heard you say some things.” 

He glanced around. Lucas sat on the arm of the couch, watching him closely, while El sat beside him, reaching for the tissue box on the table to hand to him. Max and Hopper were sitting on the floor, with her leaning against his shoulder and looking very concerned, while Joyce sat on the edge of the table, watching him and bouncing her leg, incredibly nervous. 

Mike considered how to phrase this. Joyce was very protective of Will, and with good reason. “He couldn’t see me.” he began, shooting El a grateful smile as she handed him a tissue. “But he could sense me. It’s probably part of his aura magic. He could feel that I was looking for him.” 

“So he knew you were there?” Hopper asked. 

“Did he say anything?” Joyce asked. 

“Um…” Mike bounced his leg, thinking over his words. “He’s still with Dustin and Steve. They’re investigating something together. He’d like us to pick them up, but he also said it’s not related to the Upside Down, as far as they’re aware. So he said we should check on that first and then find them.” 

“I feel like we should probably find them first.” Max said. 

“Uh, yeah.” Joyce said. 

“Okay, listen, I’m as stressed about this as the rest of you,” El leaned forwards, clasping her hands together, “But things to consider-” 

“Will is alone somewhere doing something dangerous, with Dustin and Steve.” Lucas said. 

“Okay, yes. That’s on one side.” El admitted. “On the other, though- it seems to be safe enough that Will can take a few minutes to focus his powers to have a chill conversation with Mike. Much better than what we’ve been dealing with.” 

“El!” Joyce said. “I’m not leaving them alone when they’ve been out all night-” 

“If they don’t think it’s Upside Down related,” El said, “Then it’s much less immediately dangerous than what we’ve got going on.” 

“And, um,” Mike bounced his leg a bit faster, “Will can- can defend them, if need be.” 

“Fucking how?” Max asked. 

Mike hesitated, his eyes darting from Max to Lucas to El to Joyce. “Um… it’s kinda personal? But he’s-” 

Joyce sighed and nodded. “The aura thing he did in Chicago?” Mike jumped. “He mentioned a little of it, but said he didn’t think he could do it again.” 

“He… just told me he can.” Mike said. “If things go south. And he suggested I check in on him every now and again.” 

“Mike, you’re exhausting yourself.” El said. 

“I’m fine.” 

“I still think we should find them.” Joyce said. “Will-” 

Mike reached over, grabbing her hand. “Can take care of himself.” he smiled a little. “He’s not a little kid anymore. He’s strong.” 

Joyce took a deep breath, and Hopper said, “Joyce, if you want, I can take-” 

“No. No splitting up.” Joyce said. “We’re not splitting up more than we already have.” she turned back to Mike and said, “You’re sure they’re okay?” 

Okay enough. “I’m sure they’re fine.” 

 

“Ready?” Will signed to Dustin. 

Dustin nodded and shot him a thumbs-up, as they watched Steve, who was crouched by the entrance to the elevator. He held up a finger for them to be silent, as he peered below. The men had simply taken crates out, pushing them onto some kind of motorized cart, and it looked like they were almost done. Robin held their jar of green whatever, which was about to become very useful. 

The men left and the door started to close again. Steve signalled, and they leapt down, with Robin throwing Steve the container. He grabbed it and rushed, managing to slam it under the doorway, jamming it enough that there was a gap they could slip through. 

“Go, go, go!” Steve whisper-shouted, as Robin pushed the boys ahead of her. Will slid out first, before holding his hands out to help Dustin get out of the way of the door. The container started to shake as Robin escaped, and Steve only barely managed to clear the area before the door slammed, hard, onto the container. It exploded, and the green stuff burst out. As they watched, it hit the floor, melting it away and simmering with a light steam. 

“Holy shit.” Steve said, staring down at the acid. 

“That’s… pretty bad.” Robin nodded. 

Dustin was the first one to turn and survey their surroundings, and he said, fairly quickly, “Holy mother of God.” 

Behind them was a sprawling, metallic passageway, lit with blue fluorescent light that made their eyes hurt. It seemed to go on forever- at least, much farther than they could see. 

“Remind me why we couldn’t stay in the elevator again.” Robin sighed. 

“Then when they send us up,” Steve reminded her, shutting his eyes and running a hand through his hair, “The Russians with giant guns loading the crates find us.” 

“So how do we find a way out here?” Will asked. 

Dustin considered. “I can try to force a vision.” 

“Dustin,” Will put a hand on his arm, “If you couldn’t do it in there, you won’t be able to do it while we’re walking.” 

“Walking?” 

“Yeah, dumbass,” Steve said fondly, “Where else are we supposed to go?” 

Steve moved out first, and Robin hesitantly patted both boys on the shoulders, pushing them ahead of her. “Let’s move.” she murmured, glancing back at the acid with a tinge of fear. 

Once they started to move, Dustin said, “So, uh. About the superpowers-” 

“Please stop talking.” Robin sighed. 

“Okay!”