Outsmarting multidimensional physics, it seems, comes at a price. They should've seen this coming, to be honest: things are never that easy.
"Why the fuck are things never that easy?!" Dustin yells, digging around under Eddie's bed for more tapes. "Why can't we ever just— Ah! Wh—!"
He's already recoiling when Eddie pulls him back by his collar. "Yeah, don't go down there."
Dustin scrambles back on his hands, back into the mayhem. With everyone running around, they're probably retracing each other's steps more than they need to be, but what the hell else are they gonna do? God, if only they'd driven out here in Nancy's station wagon, if only Erica had more than her lucky Donna Summer tape in her fanny pack, if only Eddie owned a radio.
"Come on, guys, something!" Steve calls through the space around Nancy's limp body.
Above him—above them all—Nancy hangs like a doll, stuck in the limbo of the gate as her eyes twitch under a milky film, irises only discernible by being a slightly darker murky grey. Her arms are pinned at her waist where the gravity flips, but everything from her hair to the hems of her pants hang loosely in the air.
They're not even sure what happened, why she got stuck, how Vecna got her so quickly, but they're doing the best they can with the information they've got. A song that Nancy likes: that's the goal. Not even a favorite, they'll just take what they can get, and boy , is that a low bar right now.
Even Steve is running around on his own end, hoping maybe Eddie's uncle had some tapes before he came to live there, but having equally no luck. Some part of him is sickly grateful he's on the feet side.
Robin, at least, wouldn't begrudge him that. It's eerie; she's been staying out of the living room for a reason, but every so often she'll accidentally make eye contact with that dangling simulacra of Nancy's face and feel sick to her stomach. Damocles's death mask, every time she glances back, Nancy's eyes are twitching a little faster, her face a little more slack, her arms jerking in place like they want to reach out but can't.
Even if it weren't for this grim portent, they could all feel time running out around them, and the fourth time she almost runs over a freshman, Robin decides to search smarter, not harder.
"Think think think!" She freezes in the middle of the living room, back to Nancy. "No radio, no records. Uh, uh— Oh!"
"What?" Max's head appears over the kitchen counter. "Did you find something?"
"No. We have to—"
Robin starts wracking her mind for what names she saw in that stack of tapes on Nancy's nightstand, if any of them looked more worn out, if there was something out of place amidst the trendy stuff. God, she was just in Nancy's car like two hours ago, for all that it seems like a lifetime ago now. Did she have any duplicates? John Hughes soundtracks, Wilson Phillips—
"Steve!" She shouts up/down/through the gate. "Quick, what's Nancy's favorite Madonna song?"
Steve's face appears in the scant empty space, frantic and sweaty. "What?!"
"Madonna, Madonna, the fucking—" Robin gives up on her wordless gestures and jumps like he'll understand if he can hear her better. "She has a shit ton of Madonna tapes, which one's her favorite?!"
"I don't know, uh—"
"Ugh. Men! Useless!"
Still freaking out, Steve takes a second to pout. "Hey."
"Sorry," she amends, "you're one of the good ones, although you are really not helping the cause right now."
"Fair. Look, I don't know, we don't hang out a lot these days— Oh!" He blurts. "Uh, the, uh, the first one! With the black and white cover, and she's all glowy..."
"Okay." Robin runs back to those assembled, some still searching Eddie's room and some having moved to the hallway, bathroom, kitchen, anywhere. "Does anyone know a song on Madonna's freshman release?"
"What?" Dustin and Lucas ask, but Erica, as usual, remains the most level headed.
"Holiday, Lucky Star, Borderline..."
"Borderline!" Robin throws herself back into the hall backwards, not even the fact that she bounces off both sides of the door frame stopping her. "I know that one!"
When she sprints back to the gate, more of them follow her, which would be less than ideal in normal circumstances, but she's too deep in crisis mode to care about having an audience. Thank god for those summer swimming lessons her mom made her take where the bus driver's chosen radio station was always playing that song.
"Okay, okay, okay." Robin takes a deep breath, then starts singing straight up as loud as she can. "Bum. BA bum. Badada dum, dadadum, dadadum. Bum. Badadabum. Badada DA dadum."
Eddie, still searching, finally turns around as she tries to do the drum fill. "What are you doing?"
"Borderline!" Erica snipes back, waving for him to cut it out.
"Yeah, but the instrumental part?" Steve interjects.
"I can't remember the words out of context! I need the whole thing to— Just trust me," Robin shouts back, then counts herself back into the rhythm she's been keeping in her head and sings, "Something in the way you love me won't let me leave. Bada baba badada."
"I don't wanna be your prisoner so baby, won't you set me free," Erica joins in, though she leaves the synth sting to Robin.
"Stop, uh." Shit. Maybe that bus driver should've played it more.
"Playing with my heart," Max reluctantly supplies.
Robin recovers and points at her triumphantly. "Finish what you start!"
"When you make my love come down," Steve adds. He's squinting up at Nancy, whose fingers only he can see are twitching. "Shit, I think it's working."
On the other side, though, they see her face move minutely. "It is!"
"If you want me, let me know," all four of them sing together as Robin waves her arms at the others, trying to get them to join in with at least the tune. "Baby, let it show. Honey, don't you fool around."
As the music crosses the gate, something happens. The light of it pulses faintly, then stronger as the lights of the trailer start to move too, dimming when the gate gets brighter and vice versa—and leaning towards the latter the louder they sing.
"Just! Try to understand!"
Soon enough, everyone is crowded around the mattress on the one side, Steve staring up/down at them on the other. The brighter the trailer gets, the clearer Nancy's eyes seem to be, and who knows if it's wishful thinking or not, but maybe, just maybe, if they believe hard enough, the difference doesn't matter.
Robin is the only one on the landing pad, arms out vaguely like she's trying to be ready to catch Nancy should she come tumbling down.
"I've given ALL I can," she sing-says emphatically, "cuz you've got the best of me!"
"I can't believe a Madonna singalong is happening in my living room," Eddie mutters faintly before he stomps over and gives up, copping to knowing the words. To save Wheeler's life. "Borderline!"
"Feels like I'm going to lose my mind," Dustin sings as he pulls him into the circle by the sleeve. They're all in this now, whether they know the words or not.
"You just keep on pushing my love over the borderline."
"Borderline. Feels like I've already lost my mind," Steve sings, but he's right there with the rest of them on the other side.
"Does anyone know the second verse?" Max asks while they're finishing the chorus. Robin, singing the keyboard part again to stall, gives her a panicked shake of the head, but Erica takes over, apparently a Madonna connoisseur.
"Figure how to get her down!" She hisses between lines. Thankfully, Dustin does the synth bit this time and she jumps back in smoothly. "When you hold me in your arms, you love me til I just can't see."
"Like an angel," Robin whispers hysterically before lurching into action and up onto the tiptoes of her boots.
Nancy's head is hovering a few feet still above their heads, but when the lights on the Earth side surge for a long enough time they can see that she's started to move, bobbing in and out of the gate as the momentum of her occasional twitches carries in the zero gravity grey area.
"Is it actually working?" Steve asks, helpless on the other side. He also has his arms at the ready so they're prepared no matter which way she might fall.
"I can't tell from this angle with all the lights!" Robin starts waving around the room, at the others, hands opening and closing and frantic for something to grab onto. "Give me a boost, find me a chair, something, just get me up there!"
Lucas and Eddie immediately peel off to brace their arms together as a platform to give Robin a boost. Max and Dustin are left to do wordless backup (with the occasional guessed rhyme) for Erica, and sure, they're not Madonna, but they're putting their frazzled hearts and souls into it, a passion that makes their inadvertent three part harmony tolerable.
"Stop driving me away."
With a lurch, Robin is face to face with Nancy's slack gaze. It's even more eerie up close: it's apparent, then, that it's not just her eyes that are greyed out but her entire face. You forgot, when you were in there, how unsettling the constant stuff in the air of the Upside Down was, but back in the real world it was too creepy to ignore. Nancy's hair is coated in it, spongy clumps caught in her curls, and Robin spends a few fruitless, thoughtless seconds trying to comb it out.
She drops a hand back onto Eddie's head to brace herself against the wobble as Dustin tries, "I just wanna say — Stay."
"There's something I've just got to say," Erica corrects.
"What's going on there, guys, talk to me," Steve stutters through the gate. "Where are we at?"
"Yeah, I'm— One sec." For some reason, it feels important to do this first: to work free the clip in Nancy's hair and pin back the hair that's fallen off her forehead. For when she came back down, so she didn't get all that crap in her eyes. "What color are Nancy's eyes?"
"Blue," Steve and (for some reason) Dustin answer in unison.
"Just checking," Robin replies. "Yeah, okay, unless I'm imagining things, I think they're clearing up. Nancy? Hey Nance, can you hear me? Nancy?"
She'd swear Nancy's eyes get a bit clearer with every repetition of her name.
"Nancy!" Steve calls up. "Come on, Nancy, come back to us."
It's a last ditch effort, but Robin finds herself singing along somewhat desperately with the weirdly apt line, "I've given all I can."
Suddenly a spasm wracks through Nancy's face and Robin, who had both hands on the sides of said face, is jerked to the ground, falling in a heap on top of Eddie and Lucas.
The other kids keep singing, but Steve yells.
"What the hell was that?!"
"Shit," Robin says, trying to disentangle and elbowing someone in the process. "I think she— Sorry!"
"Ow!" Eddie rolls off onto the floor but gets up soon enough, though he stays guarding his stomach. "Watch out."
"My mom says I have abnormally pointy elbows."
"Yeah. Those things should be classified as deadly weapons."
"Right." Robin tips her face up to meet Steve's frantic eyes. "She twitched. Hard. I think she's... I think the music is allowing her to wiggle herself loose?"
"We're running out of song here, gang," Erica calls out.
"Drag it out!"
They're back in the chorus, so Erica leaves Max and Dustin in charge to level her with a raised eyebrow. "Even the album edit won't be enough a cappella!"
Lucas has stayed on the floor since their fall, completely lost. "What does that mean? How long do we have?"
"Well, they skipped the whole instrumental bridge that goes on for a really long time," Robin says, "so technically it should already be over, but then it's basically the whole song again with a different verse, so—"
"Borderline!" Erica cuts her off with a glare. "Feels like I'm going to lose my mind."
"Right," Robin says, then joins back in, "You just keep on pushing my love..."
"Over the borderline."
Finally, Lucas lurches upright. "That's it!"
"What's it?" Steve yells. "Seriously, quit leaving me out of the loop!"
"Steve, can you reach Nancy's feet?"
As he dictates, Lucas is running around, dragging a chair over to the side of the mattress that faces Nancy. "Robin, you get up there and start singing to her face again. The next time she twitches, Steve, you push her feet, and me and Eddie will wait to catch her."
"If you get in while she's less stuck," Dustin breaks off from the chorale to finish, "the momentum will carry her through. Steve, get higher. Lift with your legs!"
"Wait, wait, wait... Oh, you've gotta be kidding me!" Steve shouts as he runs off to find his own copy of that chair to stand on. "The answer is the literal lyrics?"
"Do what the woman says, Harrington!" Robin replies as she hops up, stretching up onto her toes to get level with Nancy's ears for maximum impact. "Keep pushing over the borderline."
He shakes his head and does the same, close enough now that, even with all the ruckus, Robin can hear him mutter, "Unreal."
For a second, in the midst of all of this, Robin and Steve stand on the same chair in opposite directions and stare at each other in silence as they realize the, uh, resonances of what they're about to do, one of them singing a love (well, ish) song to the other's ex while he tries to shove her limp body through a portal as respectfully as possible. Eddie and Lucas are still trying to position themselves as best they can as Dustin ducks in and out of them, throwing sofa cushions and anything soft looking onto the mattress just in case, singing the whole time like a maniac. Like bookends on their parallel universe parallel chairs, Robin and Steve meet eyes across Nancy's limp body and silently swear not to make this awkward for anyone involved.
Then Eddie shouts, "Go!" and there's no more time to think.
"Look what your love has done to me," Robin jumps into the song at. She still meets Steve's eyes awkwardly, but then Nancy twitches and he grabs her by the calves and pushes and—
"Oh shit!" Someone shouts.
Robin hops on her toes, careful not to fall off the chair. "Come on, baby, set me free!"
It's actually fucking working. Nancy's head dips in Robin's field of vision before rebounding back, a little clearer, a little more human colored, with every pass. Her hands hover around Nancy's face, not wanting to touch her lest the whole thing fall apart but still needing to do something .
"You cause me so much pain," Erica sings.
"I think I'm going insane," Robin says a little hysterically. "What does it take to make you SEE, come ON."
Another push as Nancy starts to blink, the last of the film still clinging to her eyes but fading with each flutter of clumped lashes. It's the third or fourth time they've sung this chorus, and their voices are confident, the words clear even through the sharp clicks and fizzes of the lights going wild around them, and they all feel the surge as finally, finally—
"I got her, I got her!"
As soon as Nancy lands in Lucas and Eddie's arms, Robin is leaping off the chair and pulling her to the side so Steve can climb through. The kids follow until they're all sprawled on the floor, Nancy's shoulders digging into Robin's sides at an awkward angle as she shakes again, her eyes still wide open but now clearly blue.
"Nancy?" Robin asks, trying to shake her into focus as gently as possible. "Are you in there? Nance?"
Steve doesn't even bother standing, just rolls over until they're all huddled in the corner, the silence now ringing with only Nancy's panting to fill it. It's only when she gasps and lurches up in Robin's lap that the rest of them finally breathe too.
"Oh thank god," Eddie says in the background, collapsing even further where he'd been kneeling on the floor until his forehead touches the carpet. "Man, I cannot have another dead prom queen in my living room."
Nancy starts trying to say something, throat rasping. While Max runs off to get a water bottle, she rasps, "Re— Really?"
"What?" Steve and Robin ask in unison.
"'Really' what?" Dustin asks.
Nancy pushes herself up weakly before letting Robin actually help her sit up so she can take a sip of the water Max hands her.
That sip turns into her tipping back half the bottle, long enough Robin and Steve start to get antsy again, before she clarifies, "B... Borderline? That's what you picked?"
Steve sighs and collapses against the nearest wall as Robin bursts into laughter. Eventually, Nancy props herself up, shooting first Robin, then Steve, then all of them a grateful look.
"Okay..." She sighs, going to push back her bangs only to find them already out of the way. Though she doesn't let it faze her, a faint smile sneaks onto her face before she's back in tactical mode. "From now on, everyone carries a tape of their favorite album on them. Just in case."
Erica shakes her head wisely as she and Max both say, "Way ahead of you."
"In the meantime, we gotta get the hell out of here. There's..." She shudders like there's a coldness coming from deep inside her, feeling winter concrete under her hands even though she knows she's touching carpet. "There are things I have to fill you in on. Just not here."
"That's why I put you in charge," Robin says with a slow nod. When Nancy glances back at her, she feels her face soften unconsciously in response. "Glad to have you back, fearless leader."
"Glad to be back."
"Less glad to have Madonna stuck in my head the rest of the night," Eddie says. "But in the grand scheme of things, it could be worse."
Everyone agrees and with that, ventures back into the night, though they're all humming the whole doubled-up bike ride back to the Wheelers' basement.