"Why are you up?"
Even though all Lucas could see was the outline of his brother against the moonlight, Henry jumped like he'd been caught doing something wrong.
It was late—late enough that everyone had been asleep for more than a few hours—but when a soft sound from his brother's room had caught Lucas's attention, not only did he find Henry awake, but standing. He was still enough that it was clear that he wasn't just between his bed and maybe the bathroom or something. He was fully conscious, and for a reason.
It suddenly occurred to Lucas that maybe he had caught him doing something wrong.
Thoughts of Henry's possible crime melted away when Lucas saw his older brother grab onto the desk to hold himself up and heard a pained hiss slide past his lips; a side effect of tensing up suddenly like that.
"Are you okay?" Lucas asked, instinctually rushing forward into the dark bedroom with his arms outstretched. But, he was barely out of the doorway when he came to a sudden stop—forced to freeze by the sharp response.
Henry's fierce voice pierced through the silent house and left it oppressively still. It was quiet enough that it didn't disturb anyone else, but the reason it was soft was because any louder likely would've caused everything to shatter into millions of pieces. Lucas looked at his big brother with wide eyes, but didn't say a word. Even if everything in him hadn't stopped due to the shock, he had no idea what to say to that.
He didn't have to break that heavy silence though, because after a few tense seconds, Henry let out a small sigh that did it well enough. Just like that, Lucas could breathe again. The air was still thick, but for a different reason now.
Lucas couldn't see his brother's face, but he recognized that faint sound that had come from him. The one he made when he thought no one else was listening; the one that had regularly followed on Lucas's heels as he was ushered out of his hospital room.
Tired, and frustrated, and miserable.
"Should I get mom?" Lucas finally asked, his voice coming out smaller than he meant it to. Didn't matter, though; he could tell Henry had heard him, and Lucas slowly began to edge towards the door.
Mom always knew what to do. It had always been the truth, but it had gotten easier to see in the past few months. It was mom who figured out what was best when it came to Henry, no matter how he was acting. When he and Erica and dad didn't know how to deal with his moods, mom always stepped in and fixed the problem they couldn't even see. She was the one who could make it all better. Usually, the only one.
Henry's voice wasn't sharp like before, but they cut through Lucas's thoughts like a knife.
There wasn't a hint of hesitation to it. It wasn't the kind of no that kids give when in reality they really do want their mom; it was completely solid. There was no arguing with it. Getting mom was suddenly out of the question.
The seconds continued to tick by in total silence as Lucas reeled and tried to figure out what to do now. He'd thought that this would be out of his hands; that it wouldn't be his responsibility anymore. But, now it was entirely on him. While he couldn't fix this, walking away would be even worse. Lucas couldn't soothingly coax Henry back to bed like their mother could, but he also couldn't just go back to bed and leave Henry alone to—to—
The hand that wasn't braced on the desk lifted up to Henry's mouth, and although Lucas could just catch a glimpse of a small spark in the darkness, it wasn't until he saw a puff of smoke did he realize what was happening.
Henry turned to look at him—he must've made a sound—but Lucas couldn't make out his big brother's expression in the dark. All he could see was the lit cigarette dangling from his fingers against the moonlight, but it was soon stubbed out on the sill and flicked out into the yard.
Henry lingered a little longer by the open window, before he walked away (Lucas unable to ignore his stiff gait) and collapsed down on his bed—the squeak of the springs doing absolutely nothing to ease the tension. For a moment, both Sinclair boys just looked at each other, even though they couldn't really see one another. They were both waiting (or hoping) for the other to break the silence.
"Gonna tell mom and dad?" Henry finally asked, his voice low and heavy with lethargy. It took a few seconds, but Lucas shook his head, only to be met with a sharp snort from across the room.
"Really, I won't," Lucas said, taking a few steps closer.
"Yeah, sure," Henry replied, not sounding like he believed that very much.
"I'm really good at keeping secrets," Lucas insisted, fully crossing the room and standing by the foot of Henry's bed, "I won't tell anyone, okay? I wouldn't… I wouldn't do that."
Again, his voice came out dreadfully small, but maybe that was for the best, because for whatever reason Henry didn't make another doubtful comment. Instead, he just looked at Lucas with a funny expression for a long moment before he hid it in his hands.
"I'm sorry." Henry's voice came out muffled, but also a little wet, and Lucas swallowed hard when he realized what he was hearing, "I know I'm being a dick right now. I know, but I can't…"
"It's okay," Lucas said softly after a few seconds of heavy silence, before he repeated something his mom had always reminded him when Henry wasn't in the room, "You just don't feel good."
Henry's hands dropped away from his face and revealed how tears clung to his eyelashes. But, that wasn't what hurt, not really. That wasn't what made Lucas's chest feel tight. What did was the look on his face. It wasn't scrunched up from crying, or even very sad, he just looked resigned. Like he was absolutely miserable, and that he accepted it.
"Yeah," Henry murmured, although he didn't sound like he agreed very much with what Lucas had said.
It was quiet for a moment, to the point that Lucas wondered if this was Henry's way of telling him to leave. But, instead of finally just telling him to go away, Henry reached out and patted on his bed; a silent invitation. One that Lucas accepted with his legs crisscrossed on top of the duvet.
Still, neither said anything for a little while. Lucas had thought that maybe Henry wanted to tell him something—it seemed like it from the way he'd asked him to sit and the odd shine in his eyes—but the silence stretched on and he didn't seem any closer to actually spitting it out. All at once, Lucas felt the responsibility of saying something weigh on him, and he searched for anything that might make that awful look on his big brother's face disappear.
"It's—It's not so bad, you know. Smoking," he murmured, his gaze dropping down to his socks the moment Henry's eyes landed on him, "I mean, dad does it, and mom used to, so…"
Lucas's voice petered off, and his words felt startlingly inadequate once they were actually out in the air. But, he didn't know why. Sure, that wasn't an entirely inspired pep talk, but that didn't explain why it felt so wrong. Why it felt like he was trying to fix something without even knowing what the problem was.
"But, I won't tell them," he continued in a valiant effort to get this to work, "You can trust me."
Henry sat up.
It was so sudden that it actually made Lucas jerk back in shock before he realized what had happened. He looked up at his brother with wide eyes, mostly surprised that he'd managed to get up from lying on the bed so quickly without a single hint of pain on his features.
Either Henry didn't notice or didn't care, because he didn't comment on Lucas's expression. Instead, he spoke quickly, as if the words couldn't get out of him fast enough, and with a voice low enough that no one other than Lucas could've heard.
"I'm going to tell you a secret and you can't tell anyone. Not your friends, not Erica, not mom and dad. Okay?"
Lucas straightened up a little at his brother's urgent tone, and nodded hurriedly.
"Okay," he said, leaning closer before he repeated himself, "You can trust me."
And, for the first time since Lucas had caught him smoking by the window, Henry smiled.
"I know, bud."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Henry stopped in his tracks—turning away from the house and back towards the car with a small frown. He'd thought that they'd all been heading inside the Byers', but now that he looked he saw that Lucas hadn't budged from the spot of dirt he stepped out of the car onto.
"What?" Henry asked, his brow furrowing as he tried to figure out what his brother was talking about.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Lucas repeated, sending Henry a funny look, "About Barb, and Nancy, and Will."
Henry knew his brother better than anyone else, and he could tell when he was finally saying something that he'd been thinking about for at least a little while. This wasn't like the confused bombardment during the drive between the junkyard and the Byers' house. And sure, Henry had answered those questions the best he could (although half the time the answers just led to more questions), but this was different. More important.
Henry sighed, and glanced away from his brother and out towards the dark woods as he thought it over. He wasn't sure why. He hadn't thought about it until now. He hadn't questioned why he never even considered telling Lucas what was happening, even though he knew that he would've believed him.
But, now that he was thinking about it, it was blatantly obvious why.
"I thought it would make things worse."
Lucas's expression screwed up into something sour, and Henry realized that in his eagerness to tell the truth, he hadn't really thought about how it would sound. Lucas's posture hunched and he moved to barrel past him without a word.
"Wait, wait," Henry said, grabbing his shoulders and stopping him from storming into the house, "I didn't mean it like that."
"Well, what did you mean it like?" Lucas replied with a harsh tone and a glare that was clearly a desperate attempt to cover up the hurt in his eyes. Henry sighed again, but didn't look away this time. Instead, he crouched down to Lucas's height, and realized with a sharp tug in his stomach that his little brother was almost too big for him to do this and be at eye level anymore.
"I didn't tell you what was happening because I didn't want you to get hurt," Henry said simply, "On top of everything else, I didn't want to also be worrying about something happening to you."
"I'm not a baby," Lucas replied with a petulant lilt, "I could've helped."
"I know," Henry said, his calm tone a sharp contrast to Lucas's ire, "But, after everything with Will, after his funeral, I just… I thought if I kept all of this away from you, then you would be safe, and you wouldn't…"
Henry's voice trailed off, but he could see in his expression that Lucas knew what he'd meant. That the hurt and anger was starting to dissipate.
"Clearly I was wrong." Henry's voice came back stronger than before, and now there was a small, wry smile on his face, "You and your friends can get into trouble perfectly fine without my help."
Lucas giggled softly, and Henry's smile widened. That was enough; the Sinclair boys were back to normal. Or, at least, they were as normal as they could be right now. Maybe as normal as they ever would be after all this.
"You know, you could've told me," Henry pointed out after a moment, a quirked eyebrow cluing Lucas in that he wasn't actually that upset about it.
"How was I supposed to explain it?" Lucas replied, throwing his arms up a little, "We found a girl in the woods when we were looking for Will and she can move things with her mind?!"
"Well, how was I supposed to explain my thing?" Henry countered, his smile only growing, "I'm going monster hunting with Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers?"
"Alright, alright," Lucas said, shaking his head a little, "Let's agree: next time, we just tell each other the truth from the start."
"Next time?!" Henry replied, straightening up to his feet and putting his hands on hips with an amused expression, "What do you mean 'next time?'"
"In general!" Lucas replied, frustrated in the way only his older brother could get him, "In general, let's just tell each other the truth!"
Henry threw his head back and laughed at the way those words had come flying out of his brother's mouth, and even though Lucas rolled his eyes, a smile found its way onto his expression. Instead of teasing him anymore (and he knew he could get him riled to the point of kicking his shin), Henry grinned and stuck his hand out to shake.
Barb, The Upside Down, Eleven, Barb, Demogorgon, Barb, the Bath, Barb, Will, Barb, Barb, Barb, Barb—
Henry's mind ran wild with the highlights of the past half hour on repeat. He'd thought he'd heard it all when Hopper and Joyce had told them what they'd been up to, but the boys had come in and blown it all away.
How the hell had the Wheelers not noticed a whole other person living in their basement?
It was overwhelming, and he would think it was bordering on insanity if he hadn't seen that creature with his own two eyes, but… it was also sort of a relief. Because, even though everything was nearly unfathomable, it was so much easier to understand when you had the full story. He and Nancy and Jonathan had their own pieces, Hopper and Joyce had supplied some more, and then the boys had finished it all off; the puzzle was complete, and now he could see the picture.
Fresh air helped too.
The Byers' front porch creaked under Henry's shoes and the cool wind gently rustled his collar. He took a moment to just breath—trying to get everything in his brain in order before what came next—and it was only interrupted when he spotted the boys struggling to carry a lump of a kiddie pool to Hopper's car. Henry smiled as he watched them stumble and snap at one another; it was almost like a normal day. Like he'd looked out the window into his backyard and saw the group trying to coordinate something and failing. But, before he could take too much comfort in the sight, he realized that it wasn't like a normal day; there were only three boys.
There would be four again. Henry just knew it.
The Byers' porch groaned, but this time it wasn't because of Henry. He'd thought he was alone, but seemingly he was wrong. It was an easy mistake to make though, seeing how dark it was, and how small she was.
Henry didn't know what he'd expected when Hopper and Joyce had explained to him and the others about the girl that the government was trying to get back, the girl with powers, but it definitely wasn't her. Her borrowed pink dress was grimy, and her shaved head meant that there was no way of mistaking her for just another kid who'd gotten into the mud, but…
Mike swore and Henry looked up to see that two of the boys had stumbled to the ground; Lucas cussing out the others as he held up the kiddie pool completely by himself. Henry almost laughed.
Henry's gaze snapped to her and, sure enough, there was the ghost of laughter on her features. She'd been watching the same mishap, and her attention stayed on the three boys with shining eyes that made his chest ache. Not out of sympathy for the girl who'd been through so much, though. But, guilt for how he'd been willfully ignoring the truth; far too focused on Barb.
Eleven was just another kid.
She was just a kid, and no w…
"You know, no one would blame you if you didn't do this."
Eleven jumped, looked up at him with wide eyes—she hadn't noticed him standing there—and Henry smiled in the hope that would be enough to keep from scaring her any more than he already had. None of the tension disappeared, but she also didn't go running, so he figured he might as well keep going.
"If you don't want to do this, you can say so," he offered, and watched as understanding lit up in Eleven's eyes, only to be overshadowed by confusion just as quickly. Like she finally understood the words coming out of his mouth, but not what he was saying.
"Will," she replied, her voice soft, "Barbara."
The guilt that had tightened his chest settled in his stomach, and he looked away from Eleven as he sighed.
"Still…" He murmured after a moment, before taking a few steps forward and plopping down the porch steps. It felt good to sit, even though he hadn't been on his feet all day. He was just… he was tired.
Henry turned to look up at Eleven with what he hoped was an open expression before he reached out and patted the spot next to him. He did it almost without thinking about it, and only after did he remember that Eleven might not know what the gesture meant. He didn't have to worry, though; she sat down beside him after a moment, and it was quiet.
"This Bath thing…" Henry finally said, breaking the silence with a slow voice, "You don't like it, do you?"
At first, Eleven looked at him without saying anything. But, after a few seconds, she shook her head and Henry let loose a breath from somewhere very deep inside of him.
He'd known. Of course he'd known. From the moment Eleven had uttered the words, Henry had known that whatever that thing was, she didn't like it. That it scared her. But, maybe he'd tried to ignore that, because he was too caught up in finding Barb.
There was no ignoring it now.
"I want to get Will and Barb back too, but…" Henry sighed, feeling Eleven's eyes trained on him before he even looked at her, "God, you're just a kid."
"I want to help," Eleven replied, her voice still soft, but a little firmer now. She meant it, and Henry didn't doubt that she was going to. It made him smile, but he knew that his expression was far from happy.
"I know," he said, feeling a little sadder with each second spent looking at the little girl beside him, "I'm just worried about you, kid."
"I'm strong," Eleven said, the simple truth that no one could deny.
"Yeah, you are," Henry replied, "But, you shouldn't be."
Eleven met his eyes with her own steady gaze, and it was quiet between the pair as they studied each other. She was going to do it, she was always going to do it, they both knew that. But, this conversation wasn't useless. Because, even though Eleven would soon be facing something Henry couldn't even begin to comprehend, a small smile began to pull at her lips.
"Let's go!" Hopper's voice boomed across the yard and grabbed everyone's attention. With the moment between the two of them over, Henry got to his feet; digging in his pocket for his keys and getting back into gear.
"Alright," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Who's riding with me?"
Henry saw movement in his peripheral, and when he turned he found Eleven hesitantly raising her hand. He raised his eyebrows—he hadn't been expecting her to actually want to—but he also felt his face soften into a smile. And this time, he knew his expression wasn't so sad.
It was wiped off his face when he turned away from Eleven though, and was replaced with baffled surprise.
"I, um," Henry stumbled a little over his words as he took in how everyone but Joyce and Hopper had their hands in the air, "I can only fit five other people in my car."
"God, Dustin, get your elbow out of my ribs," Mike whined, jamming his own elbow into his friend's side.
"Move your knee," Dustin countered, knocking his knee against Mike's thigh in retaliation.
"Alright! Alright! Knock it off!" Henry interrupted the bickering as he swung his car in front of the gym doors, "We're here!"
Seven people spilled out of Henry's Cutlass and into the school parking lot; three teenagers coming from the front, and four kids out of the backseat. As they all got on their feet and stretched out a little, Hopper's truck pulled into the spot next to them and the two adults joined them on the pavement.
"Fill up the pool, get the kid whatever she needs," Hopper said, his voice effortlessly authoritative as he got right down to business and popped his trunk, "Henry and I'll get the salt."
It was said with such certainty that it didn't register at first. But, that quick moment passed, and Henry straightened up a little as he realized what Hopper meant.
Once Henry had won the argument about coming along, it had been painfully silent between them during the drive to the junkyard. The air had become heavy with everything that had been said before. It hadn't been fun, but there had been relief in their nerves, funny enough. Both had been too worried about finding the kids to care too much about the other.
After that, things had been a whirlwind of the boys demanding answers, the explanations at the Byers' house, and preparing for the Bath. Every moment Henry shared with Hopper had been filled with noise and distraction and, most of all, other people. It was hard to dwell on what happened in Hopper's office when they had a million other things to think about and everyone was pulling them in separate directions. Besides, it wasn't like Henry wanted to talk about it, and for the first time ever, it seemed like Hopper was on the same page.
"I'll help you with the salt," Jonathan cut in, his voice a little jumpy as his eyes flashed between Henry and the Chief. Affection surged through Henry, and he looked at Jonathan with eyes that he hoped conveyed how much he appreciated it.
"No, help your mom," Hopper replied evenly, casually destroying any hope Henry had and not even sparing him a glance, "C'mon, we don't have all night."
Henry knew his expression had warped into something close to terror when he glanced over at his friends, but all Nancy and Jonathan could offer were helpless looks in return. He didn't know what he expected from them, but it was clear that it wouldn't matter what they said; this was happening whether he wanted it to or not. And he really didn't.
Hopper cleared his throat pointedly and the next thing Henry knew, he was following after him.
It was silent as they trekked across the school grounds to the shed where the salt was kept, but it wasn't the small blessing that Henry expected. Instead he only felt more anxious; the anticipation of whatever Hopper planned to throw at him might be worse than what it actually was (not that he would know, since he wouldn't just say it).
This job was mindless, and without anything to distract him from the fact that he was now alone with the man who knew far too much about him, Henry felt a growing sense of panic. But, even though the atmosphere hung heavier and heavier around the pair as they broke into the shed and got to work, it was still quiet except for the occasional instruction from the Chief.
It wasn't until they were in the middle of loading bags of salt onto a cart did either of them say anything other than what was necessary to the job, but Hopper spoke with such quick nonchalance that it didn't even stick out.
"You were swimming."
It took a moment for it to hit, but Henry paused with a bag of salt in his hands and frowned when it did. Was he missing something? Was he supposed to know what Hopper was talking about? Could he put together the meaning through context clues?
"What?" He finally replied, when it became clear that he had no way of figuring out what the hell that was even supposed to refer to.
"You were swimming," Hopper repeated, holding out a bag of salt and forcing Henry to drop his down onto the cart so he could take it, "In the Quarry, before I got to you—you were swimming."
Again, the seconds that ticked by after Hopper spoke were silent. But, this time it wasn't because of confusion. Or, maybe it was a little, but that feeling was easily drowned out by a strange mounting tension. It wasn't like before—it wasn't the simple expectation of confrontation, or even confrontation itself—it was something else entirely. Something still anticipatory, but also something far scarier.
"What?" Henry said again, only now his voice was much different, much quieter. Hopper dropped a bag of salt into his arms, but once Henry put it onto the cart and turned back towards him, there wasn't another ready for him. Instead, he found Hopper looking him dead-on.
"I don't think I could've pulled you out if you hadn't been."
The two men stared at each other for a moment as what Hopper was saying slowly started to wash over Henry, and he realized what that tension was. He'd been anticipating something alright—anticipating everything he'd tried to ignore being pushed right into the open. Anticipating being forced to consider what Hopper was presenting him, even though he'd rather be doing anything else.
Anticipation of having to face the facts.
Before he could say anything (although, who the hell knows what he even would say), or really think about it too hard, Hopper was moving past him and grabbing the cart to push it towards the gym.
"Come on," he said, like the past minute hadn't happened at all, "Maybe they've gotten the pool up."
And, even though everything in him had been turned upside down by one simple sentence, Henry followed after him without a word; vague memories of icy water sending a chill up his spine.
It probably should have concerned Henry how easy it was to quickly push what had happened between him and Hopper down, but he couldn't help but feel like it was a blessing. Maybe it was because of years of practice repressing things, or maybe just the current situation. Either way, it was for the best. His attention needed to be on right now, not ancient history. It needed to be on the lukewarm water in front of him, not the freezing one in his memory. On the scared kid now, and not the scared kid then.
If not for his friends, then for his own sanity.
Eleven laid back in the water, and Henry took a deep breath—trying to calm his nerves. He felt almost sick with anxiety and it had taken all of his willpower to force an encouraging smile on his face for Eleven before she'd put her mask on. Although, he wasn't entirely sure why he felt so bad. Was it fear for Eleven? Or of what she would find?
Or was it because of an odd feeling that was sinking in his gut?
A feeling that was almost like… finality?
Eleven's voice was so quiet, nearly a whisper, but in the silence of the empty gym, it was impossible to miss.
Henry's breath caught in his throat, and Nancy's hand slipped into his.
For a moment, everything was still, but that quickly passed. The lights above them flashed again, and Eleven's breathing began to pick up; Henry's stomach twisting into knots. He didn't want to admit it, he wanted to squash this thought all the way down until it was like he'd never even had it, but he couldn't. He couldn't ignore it.
Something was wrong.
"What's going on?" Nancy asked, and when she got nothing useful in response, she leaned closer to the pool; her hand never leaving Henry's, "Is Barb okay? Is she okay?!"
Nancy's quickly panicking voice reflected how Henry felt, but he didn't say anything. He couldn't find it in himself. A cold terror had tied his tongue.
Instead, he reached out with the hand that wasn't in Nancy's.
Everyone around him tensed, and he knew he probably shouldn't be doing this—that it might ruin the delicate set-up—but he couldn't stop himself. It was an instinct, a habit. It was what he always did when one of the kids was upset.
Nothing changed when Henry took Eleven's hand in his.
She didn't snap out of the state she was in, the lights continued to flicker above them, and her breathing still came in short bursts. But, it was impossible to ignore that it was only a few moments after Henry's hand found hers that she was speaking again. Maybe it was a coincidence. Or, maybe it wasn't. It didn't matter, because somehow Eleven found it in herself to say the next two words.
Words that caused the teenager that was all but made of cracks to finally shatter.
It was the perfect weather to have the window rolled down, and Henry was going to take advantage of it. It had been so hot all summer, and it was going to get cold fast, but he knew he'd have to tough it out no matter the temperature. It was only polite to his passenger.
Just like how it was only polite to give her space.
The air whipping past the windows and the wheels on asphalt were the only sounds that kept the car from complete silence. It wasn't that out of the ordinary for them—they weren't the type of people that needed to fill every second with noise. But, it wasn't comfortably quiet, like it usually was when the pair went for a drive; there was a heavy tension in the warm air.
The Cutlass flew past a simple brown sign that Henry didn't even have to look at to know exactly what it said.
Come Again Soon
"Good Riddance," Henry thought to himself, even though he knew he'd be seeing the Welcome to Hawkins sign within an hour. Didn't matter, none of it did when they got out of that town. He realized that maybe, one day, he might see the leaving sign, but not the welcome one. It was such a distant hope though, that he tried not to think about it. It was worth it just to be out for a little while.
Speaking of which, they were out of Hawkins, which meant…
"What does she see in him?"
There it was.
She was nothing if not reliable.
Henry didn't ask, he didn't have to. He knew what she was talking about; he'd known what was getting her heated from the moment she sat down in the passenger seat with stiffness in her shoulders. Instead, he let a few seconds pass by in silence as he raised his cigarette to his lips and mulled over his response.
"Is this a rhetorical question?" Henry finally asked, tapping his cigarette slightly so the ash fell into the street, "Or do you actually want an answer?"
Henry looked over at the girl beside him with an open expression, and only turned away when he needed to blow smoke out the window.
Barb looked tired.
That wasn't anything new, she was a long-suffering person by nature. And when she got upset, it really came out in her expression. But, still. He could tell it was worse than usual. Henry couldn't exactly blame her—she had every right. The whole situation was frustrating him and he wasn't even the one in it.
She lolled her head back onto the seat and groaned and, alright, that was a little dramatic.
"Actual question," Barb finally said, her eyes squeezed shut, "I want to know what it is about Steve Harrington."
"Well…" Henry said thoughtfully, "He's hot."
Barb cracked an eye open to glare at him.
"You know I don't even like the guy," he said, putting the hand holding the cigarette up defensively, "I'm just saying, objectively, as a person who is attracted to men, Steve Harrington: really fucking hot."
"Gross," Barb replied, but her lips pulled up at the corners. Henry didn't comment on it, he knew why—he knew how good it felt. How warm it made you feel inside to hear someone else talk about it so openly.
"It's not just that, though," Henry allowed, Barb's head lifting off the seat a little with a spark of interest in her eyes, "I mean, I don't think Nancy would be losing her mind over him if that was all it was. She doesn't seem like the type."
"I never thought she was the type to go for stupid, popular jocks at all," Barb countered, with a tone that was a little more biting than maybe necessary. Henry didn't hold it against her, he knew it wasn't directed towards him. He just pushed on, trying to give an answer that might help her understand why anyone would fall for a guy like Harrington.
"Steve's… charismatic," Henry finally landed on, "Even though he's an idiot and can be a real jerk sometimes, he's likeable enough that people will overlook it. That's why girls are into him."
"Not me," Barb countered, Henry glancing at her with an expression that all but said come on, man, "Not you."
"Steve Harrington's going to have to do a hell of a lot better than some smooth talking and fluffy hair to get me to like him," Henry replied, coaxing a small chuckle out of Barb.
It was quiet again, but it wasn't like last time. It wasn't heavy; it was softer around the edges. Familiar, but in a nice way. The wind still whipped past and the wheels still turned over the pavement. The sun was on Henry's skin, the air gently blew past him, and he was hit with the emotion you only get when you know this'll be the last real warmth you'll feel for a very long time.
"Henry," Barb said, her soft voice interrupting the silence only slightly, "Can you promise me something?"
"Whatever you want," Henry replied, painfully genuine, and Barb sighed in a way that seemed almost involuntary.
"Don't fall in love with your best friend," she murmured.
"Well, that's not a hard one to keep," Henry said casually.
"Oh?" Barb replied, raising an eyebrow even while her lips turned upwards again, "Why's that?"
Henry glanced over at her, with his own near smile playing on his lips, and the cigarette slipped from between his fingers and hit the road without any fanfare.
"You're my best friend, dummy."
"You wouldn't happen to have a cigarette?"
Nancy's voice was quiet, but rang in the silent hallway. It was so easy to hear how her words wavered, and the way tears clogged every syllable when they echoed in the still air.
"Fresh out," Henry replied, and he didn't even have it in him to wince at the way his voice sounded.
"Figures," Nancy snorted bitterly.
It was quiet again between the two of them. They sat a little bit apart, both with their backs to the tiger mural on the wall near the main entrance; Nancy with her knees tucked up to her chest, and Henry slumping with his legs sprawled outwards.
It was funny. He'd spent so much time in this building; he could make his way around it with his eyes closed. He knew where the good water fountains were and the best corner to face in the boys' locker room. But, right now, it all felt so alien. Like he'd never stepped foot in this place before. Like he'd unknowingly gone to the other side—to the Upside Down.
His head hit the concrete behind him with a thud.
Maybe he should've known. Maybe he should've been preparing himself for this inevitability from the moment Nancy Wheeler came to his desk that morning asking him if he'd heard from Barb. Maybe…
Maybe there'd been a turning point somewhere and he'd missed it.
He should've gotten out of bed and gone to Harrington's that night.
He should've just sucked it up and went to Hopper the moment he realized that something was wrong.
He should've looked for her when he and Nancy went to the Upside Down.
He should've done something right.
Maybe things would be different if he had. Maybe it wouldn't have been too late. Maybe Barb wouldn't be…
There were a million things that Henry could've done, should've done, but he hadn't. And here he was: sitting on the floor of his school's gym, having to face the consequences of his fucking inaction.
He wanted his mom.
He wanted his mom to tell him what he needed to do; to figure out what was best. He wanted her to step in and fix the problem like she always did. To make it all better. To make it all go back to normal. Because that's what he really wanted. He wanted normal.
He wanted to go home, he wanted to be in his own bed, he wanted to sleep without worrying about what might be in the darkness, he wanted to wake up tomorrow and for everything to be back to the way that it was, he wanted—he wanted—
He wanted Will Byers to make it out of the Upside Down alive.
Henry's head lifted up off the wall as the realization hit him.
All of those things, he wanted them so badly, but none of them compared to that. He wanted Will to be safe more than anything. More than he wanted to go home, more than he wanted to not be scared, and more than he wanted his—
He could go home right now—he knew he could, no one would hold it against him—and he could try to ignore that any of this had ever happened.
He could keep sitting on the floor of this gym he hated so fucking much and just wait like everyone expected him to.
Maybe there were a million things that Henry could've done, should've done, that might've changed things—might've saved Barb—but they were all in the past. There was no going back and changing what he'd done, no matter how badly he wanted to. He'd missed all his chances with Barb; he'd missed the moment where he could've turned the tide, and it was far too late now. But, something had just become obvious:
There was also a turning point for Will, and he was in it.
"Will's still alive in there," Henry heard himself say before he could even really think about it—just knowing in his heart that now was the time. Nancy looked over at him, tears still hanging in her eyes, but just as engaged as she always was.
"Hopper and Joyce are going to try to get him out," she replied softly, even though they'd been sitting side-by-side when the pair had stalked outside with Jonathan at their heels.
"I know, but…"
I can't sit back again.
"The monster," Nancy said simply, her voice quiet as she put words to the fears that were swirling inside of Henry. He nodded, and the pair held each other's gazes for a moment; Nancy wearing an emotion on her face that Henry recognized in himself.
The front doors squeaked when they opened, but neither of the two teens sitting on the ground acknowledged it with their eyes or their words. Instead, they both scooted outwards from each other a little bit, and Jonathan settled down between them. It was quiet for a moment, Henry unsure of how to explain everything he'd realized and shared with Nancy in the past few minutes to someone who wasn't there for it.
"We have to go back to the station," Nancy finally said, and Henry knew how Jonathan's expression wrinkled when he turned to look at her, even though he couldn't see it.
"What?" He asked softly.
"To get our stuff," Henry expanded, pulling Jonathan's attention to him now, "From the surplus store."
"You still want to try the plan?" Jonathan said, his voice bordering on disbelieving. Henry looked back at him with eyes that he prayed expressed what he couldn't with his words. Maybe it worked, because something in Jonathan's expression changed a little after a second of eye contact. Not a whole lot, just enough for Henry to catch. But, even if that wasn't enough, Nancy surely would be.
"Your mom and Hopper are walking in there like bait," she murmured, the boys looking away from one another and turning to her, "That thing is still in there, and we can't just sit here and let it get them too."
Nancy's eyes caught on Henry's and just from looking at each other, they both saw everything they needed to. They were in the exact same place; they agreed completely on what they had to do. They knew that this was the only course of action for them.
But, it wasn't just that. It wasn't just conviction that they shared. It was also fear.
Fear that they would have to do this with just the two of them.
"What about the kids?" Jonathan's voice was quiet, and there was no tell to it. This could be that he was going along with their plan and was now turning to logistics, but it could also be his way of worming out of it. Neither one knew.
"If we can get it to come to us…" Nancy gave him a significant look, "They're safer here."
"And…" Henry started, his voice low as his mind replayed the summary of the last few days that the boys had given him, "And it seems like they can get along just fine without us."
Nancy snorted softly, and Henry could see on both of his friends' faces that his words had been a little bit more truthful than they were expecting. But, he knew they didn't mind. They never did.
It was quiet again as Jonathan mulled it over. Nancy and Henry knew that this wasn't something they could push, this wasn't even something they should be asking of him. In a better world, they would leave him be as he worried about his mother and his brother. But, this wasn't that world, and they couldn't leave him out of this. They couldn't do it without him.
Jonathan pushed himself up off the floor without a word, with both of his friends' eyes following him, before he turned and held out both his hands to haul them up to their feet.
"You think we can do this?" Jonathan asked as the three of them headed towards the doors, their shoulders brushing up against one another's.
Henry glanced at Nancy, and found her already looking at him. Again, they didn't need to say anything—they knew they were thinking the same thing. Only this time, there was nothing comforting about it.
"We have to try," Nancy finally said, looking to Jonathan. He didn't reply, but clearly it was enough, because he was the first one to step outside.
Henry was the last one through the doors, following on the heels of his two best friends, with the thought he knew he'd shared with Nancy ringing in his ears:
I don't know if the three of us are enough.
Steve was starting to realize that he wasn't very brave.
He'd never really thought about it before. He'd never really had a reason to. But, he was pretty sure that if anyone had ever asked him if he thought he was brave, his answer would've been yes. He was Steve Harrington—King Steve— how could he not be brave?
But, now that he was thinking about it, he couldn't really come up with any proof. Sure, he'd told off Tommy H and Carol, but how many times had he swallowed down those exact words? More than he could count. He'd spent years watching them treat people like garbage and he'd never said a thing. Even though he knew it was wrong. Even though he knew that he should.
He couldn't even say that he'd finally worked up the courage, because he hadn't. He never would've done it if he hadn't gotten a push. If there hadn't been a perfect storm. It had taken Nancy's hurt eyes to make him feel guilty, and Jonathan's punches to shorten his temper, and—
Steve was also starting to realize that Henry Sinclair was everything he wasn't.
If it was any other day, maybe he could've fudged it a little. He could say that he was brave because he was on the basketball team, and got into fights, and snuck into girls' rooms when their parents were downstairs. But, that didn't work when you saw someone being actually brave.
Henry had told him off without even hesitating. He'd just walked right up and said what he wanted. Steve never thought someone (who didn't have like, a pink heart medal or whatever) could be that brave, let alone Henry Sinclair; the guy he'd passed by in the school halls for his entire life. He hadn't been scared of them, even though he knew they all hated him; he hadn't second-guessed his words, even though they'd glared and scoffed; and… and he hadn't been mean, even though they were all mean to him.
Henry had gone up to three people that hated him and said what needed to be said without flinching.
And Steve couldn't even bring himself to turn the keys in the ignition.
He didn't want to do this.
When finding Henry was a bust, he'd come up with a plan to fix things. If he couldn't talk to Henry first, then he would just try and do it himself and hope that he approved when he finally found him. For starters, he got rid of that horrible graffiti. That was obvious, and relatively easy, and he'd felt sick to his stomach the whole time he did it. But, he'd done it. All that remained were his red stained hands.
Step 2 wasn't so easy, but it was equally as obvious.
He really didn't want to do this.
Steve's head fell back onto the seat and he groaned a little.
He was doing it again; putting off doing the right thing. Sure, cleaning the marquee was a good start, but he couldn't pretend like he hadn't been stalling a little bit; that he hadn't decided on doing that first because it meant delaying the inevitable just a little bit longer. Because now—now he had no excuse. The graffiti was gone and he was still sitting in his car.
God, he really, really didn't want to do this.
Steve turned the key in the ignition.
He didn't want to do this. It was honestly the last thing he wanted to do. But, it was either this or go back to being King Steve, back to the guy that went along with Tommy and Carol no matter how bad they acted, the guy that Henry Sinclair had easily destroyed in just a few short sentences. He didn't want to be that person, he didn't want to hurt Nancy, or fight with Jonathan, or… or have Henry hate him.
He wanted to be better, and the only way he could do that was to go to the scariest place on the planet:
Jonathan Byers' house.