The bleeding had stopped, but it still hurt.
Henry hissed a little as the bandage rubbed wrong across the split skin, but he didn't pull away. He wasn't a child who shied away from necessary but painful things; he could handle a little bit of a sting. Besides, it was nothing compared to how it had felt when the knife had first dragged along his skin. All the adrenaline in the world couldn't distract from that horrible feeling.
Nancy sent him an apologetic look and taped off the end; letting go of his newly wrapped hand without a word.
"Thanks," Henry murmured, flexing his fingers and wincing a little before he looked up at his friends sitting on the couch beside him, "Oh, here…"
He reached out towards Jonathan—his hand hidden in a towel that was now stained dark red with blood—but Nancy beat him to the punch.
"I've got it," she said, a little too casually as she took Jonathan's hand in her own and began to unravel more bandage from the roll. Henry didn't get offended though—didn't even really question it—and instead he just shrugged and sunk back into the couch cushions.
He wasn't stupid; he knew what was happening around him. He knew what was underneath the surface of every interaction between Nancy and Jonathan. But, at the same time, he didn't really care. Even if they weren't surrounded by far more pressing concerns, if this was just a normal day and they were all hanging out together after school to watch a movie, he wouldn't care. It didn't matter. He'd always had a hard time working up much interest in straight people.
Henry entertained the idea of shutting his eyes, but he couldn't quite find it in himself to do it. Maybe it was the anxiety over what was going to happen next, or maybe it was just because he knew that once he did there would be no going back—he'd be out instantly—it didn't really matter. Either way, his eyes stayed open, and he ended up just staring at the Christmas lights that hung above him, listening to the soft sounds of Nancy wrapping Jonathan's hand.
A faint creak made all three of the teenagers tense, and suddenly the weight of the gun resting in Henry's lap felt unbearably heavy.
"It's just the wind," Jonathan said, and Henry felt himself relax back down into the sofa at his soft but sure voice, "Don't worry. My mom, she said the lights speak when it comes."
"Speak?" Nancy asked, her frown audible.
"Blink," Jonathan explained, "Think of them as alarms."
Nancy didn't reply, and Henry had a feeling that his input wasn't exactly wanted right now.
"Is that too tight?" Nancy murmured after a moment.
"No, it's fine," Jonathan replied, stumbling over his words just enough that Henry was able to catch it.
Nancy lingered a little—even though she'd taped down the end of the bandage and her work was done— and it was quiet. The air was thick, but it carried something different from before. It wasn't fear anymore, not really, but still anticipatory. The prospect of something else weighed heavily in the Byers' house.
Something between Nancy and Jonathan.
Henry considered the possibility that they'd forgotten he was here.
It was starting to bother him a little that they were having this whole thing like he wasn't sitting on the other end of the couch. As if he didn't exist. Or at least, didn't count. Like he was a complete nonentity when it came to romance. Again, he didn't really care about straight people, but that didn't mean he was completely detached from it. It didn't make being the only gay one at the party any easier.
But, this is how it always went, wasn't it? This wasn't really a special situation. If a straight guy and girl had to interact for any reason, nine times out of the ten, they'd be making those faces at each other within a week. Barb actually had a theory about it. She was convinced that heterosexual relationships had been built up so much that whenever any straight person in real life found someone even a tiny bit attractive, they'd get it into their heads that they were actually soulmates like in a movie.
Barb had specifically used the terms "straight propaganda" and "delusions of heterosexual grandeur" when she'd explained it to him, and Henry had laughed so hard he'd cried.
She'd nailed it though, hadn't she? Not even three days, and already they were—doing all that. Henry probably could've called it if he'd cared enough to. He definitely would've if there had been anyone to share it with. Rolling your eyes was always more satisfying when someone else got to see it, and making comments under your breath was always funnier when someone else laughed. God, he wished Barb was—
Distantly, Henry heard Jonathan murmur Nancy's name, but it didn't really register.
The dull throb of his hand didn't either.
Everything that surrounded him faded away in the background, like a television turned down low as you drifted off to sleep. But, instead of being welcomed into a comforting rest on the living room couch, all Henry felt in that moment were waves of pain and shame that washed over him in equal measure.
He was so fucking selfish.
It should be that he hurt for Barb, for her family, for everything that they'd lost. And he did, don't get him wrong. The idea of looking either of the Hollands in the eye ever again made his stomach twist. But, that wasn't what really hurt.
He hurt for himself.
Because now… now there was no one to commiserate with when straight people were particularly embarrassing. There was no one to gush about Prince to, only to hear about Sigourney Weaver in return. There was no one to send a look to that said everything.
There was no one like him.
All alone again.
The only gay one at the party.
As quickly as everything around him had vanished, they were forced back to the front and center of his attention. The TV had suddenly been turned up to a blaring volume, and he no longer had the privilege of laying on the couch with his mind a million miles away. For a moment, Henry was certain that this was it—the monster was here, and they had to make their stand.
But, as his hand curled around the gun in his lap, the loud banging sound that had echoed through the house was followed by something that proved him to be very wrong.
"Jonathan?! Are you there, man? It's-It's Steve! Listen, I just want to talk!"
There were cars in front of the Byers' house, and even though the windows were covered up, Steve could make out light coming from inside. So, if no one came to the door and he was left standing on the porch in the November cold, then they were ignoring him.
He knew he probably kind of deserved that, but still. Come on. He was trying.
He listened for a moment, hoping to hear the sound of footsteps, and was sorely disappointed. He couldn't hear a thing. But, he knew they were there—it wasn't like they'd gone for a walk in the dark woods. They were probably being extra quiet so he would think they were gone and would leave.
And, there was a part of him that wanted to just accept that. Pretend like they weren't around and walk away right now, say he'd done the best he could. But, he knew that wouldn't be true, it wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be the kind of person he was trying to be.
Well, they might want him to leave, but it was their turn to be sorely disappointed.
Steve raised his hand to knock again, defiant in the face of opposition (not answering the door), but he didn't make it that far.
He could hear something. It wasn't someone coming closer though, or even just somebody moving around in the house.
It was the faintest sound of a voice.
For a moment, Steve thought he might've imagined it. That his head injury was getting to him. But no, that was definitely the sound of whispers. The louder kind, probably an argument.
Yeah, he might be outside, but Steve recognized the sound of a hiss fight behind closed doors; he'd been hearing them for as long as he could remember.
The whispering stopped, and it was quiet long enough that he considered knocking again. But, before he could raise his hand to do just that, the sound of quick footsteps just barely reached his ears, and Steve barely had a chance to prepare himself for coming face-to-face with Jonathan Byers before the door swung open and he came face-to-face with someone decidedly not Jonathan Byers.
"Hey, Steve," Henry said, "You need to leave."
Henry Sinclair, standing there, like nothing was wrong.
Like he hadn't been the last person Steve had expected to see when the door opened.
Like he hadn't been the exact person Steve had been looking for all day.
Maybe he should've expected this. Or, at least realized that there was a really good chance of Henry being with Jonathan (they were friends, after all). But, he hadn't, and now here he was; staring at Henry without reservation, unable to register what he'd said as his gaze met steady dark brown eyes.
"Henry. Hi," Steve replied, before his brain finally kicked into gear, "Wait. What?"
"You really need to leave," Henry reiterated, and now that Steve was shocked out of his stupor, he realized that the face that he'd been staring at was screwed up into a nervous expression; those dark eyes he just been caught up in were jumping around like something was wrong.
But, Steve didn't know what. He couldn't tell why Henry was all fidgety. It wasn't like there was anything around him that might cause any prob—
"I'm not trying to start anything!" Steve exclaimed, defending himself against what Henry wasn't saying, but was definitely thinking, "That's not—I'm—I messed up! Okay? I messed up, and… I want to make it right."
Steve didn't expect for that to make everything all better, but he thought they might make things a little less bad. Might make Henry… Not smile, but maybe stop looking quite so worried.
It didn't work.
Henry's expression didn't shift into something more open, and he didn't say anything that might point to him at least starting to understand why Steve was standing outside the Byers' house right now. Hell, he didn't even look less upset. Instead, Henry's brow furrowed and he frowned a little, like Steve had just presented him with a problem he wasn't sure of how to fix.
And somehow, just like that, Steve's original plan went out the window.
Yeah, sure, he'd still apologize to Jonathan when he got the chance, but right now all he wanted to do was whatever it took to get Henry to stop looking at him like that.
"You were right," Steve blurted out, and it should be embarrassing to admit this, he knew it should be, but the floodgates were open and he couldn't stop. Not after it made Henry look confused instead of anything else. Not after the day he'd had.
"Everything you said in the alley was right, and it's kind of freaking me out because I don't know how you knew all that shit, but you did and now I'm trying to be better because I don't want to be that guy you were talking about, and it's fucking hard, man, I basically dumped my two best friends because you were right about them making me miserable, and I still don't understand how you knew that because you've always stayed away from me, which is another thing I don't understand because I don't think I ever did anything to piss you off before today, I'm cool, we got along fine in Nancy's garage, I think we probably could've been friends if you didn't avoid me, but none of that actually matters, because I'm trying to tell you that I'm sorry."
Henry blinked once.
Then a second time.
And Steve's cheeks began to burn.
Maybe it was actually a good thing Henry never really talked to him before yesterday, because clearly this guy did something to him.
Henry's lips parted slightly and Steve felt himself tense up in response; hoping that whatever came out of his mouth just wasn't that mean. That he didn't just laugh in his face. But, he didn't do anything like that. In fact, he barely said anything at all; Henry pulled in a deep breath and only just began to speak on the exhale.
"Steve…" He said, his eyes shutting and Steve watching as confusion and concern all dripped away and was replaced with exhaustion. Henry looked absolutely exhausted. It was more than enough to distract Steve from the funny feeling that shot through his chest when he heard his own name, and instead he found himself desperately wracking his brain, trying to figure out what he'd done to make him so tired.
Henry put his hand out to lean against the doorframe, almost like he couldn't stay upright if he didn't have any support, but just as quickly he drew back and swore under his breath. For a moment, it was like Steve wasn't even there. Henry's focus abruptly shifted—the kind of tunnel vision that came from sudden pain—and Steve followed his gaze down to his hand.
For the first time since Henry had opened the door, Steve noticed the bandage.
"Hey, what happened to your hand?" Steve asked, and even though there had been nothing but casual concern, that quickly changed when he saw his reaction.
Henry's eyes widened, and as a panicked look took over his face, he moved like he was going to hide his hand behind his back. Like he thought Steve would forget what he'd seen once it was out of sight. Or, maybe he was just hoping once he wasn't directly looking at the wrapped up hand, he'd stop caring. Which was absolutely ridiculous; he really should've known that this desperate attempt wouldn't work.
Like, he really thought that he'd even let him get that far?
Steve could hear Henry's breath catch in his throat, but he didn't let go of his wrist. Instead, he held on tight and tilted his hand a little bit to get a better look at the damage.
"You're bleeding," Steve said, clearly concerned as he took in the red stain on the material covering his palm.
"It's nothing, I'm fine," Henry replied, the words rushing out of him so quickly that Steve's eyes were drawn back up to his face.
He was in Henry's personal space now—it must've happened when he'd caught his wrist—and Steve could see all the ways his body was giving away whatever was in his head right now. He could see how Henry's eyes jumped around, completely unwilling to meet his; how his breath was picking up incrementally, like he was slowly panicking more and more; and how he pulled back a little, like he didn't want Steve to see any of it.
He was nervous.
No, no, that wasn't right.
Henry was scared.
Henry was scared and he was trying to hide it from Steve and…
And, it finally occurred to Steve that Henry's strange behavior wasn't just because of him.
"What's wrong?" Steve asked without hesitation, studying his face and trying to find the answer in his expression.
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong," Henry replied unconvincingly, tugging a little in an attempt to pull his hand away. Steve's grip only tightened, although never enough to hurt.
"Did someone do this to you?" He asked, his mind racing with all the horrible possibilities—all the people that might've done this to him—and ugly heat started to curl in his chest.
"What? No," Henry said, pulling again, this time a little harder. Steve still didn't let go.
"Then what happened?" He demanded. This time, Henry didn't have a reply. He didn't have an answer to Steve's question, even though he was certain that there was one. Instead, he worried his lower lip between his teeth for a moment before finally saying—
"Steve, you need to leave."
—and pulling his arm back one last time.
Steve didn't let go. Not right away. When he heard those words, he straightened up a little; his eyes widening, but his shoulders going back as well. Because, all at once, the truth of the matter became very apparent.
Henry was trying to get rid of him because he was scared for him.
That anger in Steve's chest started to shift into something different. Still hot, still indignant, but now… Now there was something that Steve didn't recognize, even though he should've—he'd felt it just a few days ago, and he'd known what it was then.
This time, when Henry tried to yank his hand away, rather than just using his stronger arms to keep him there like he had been doing before, Steve used the movement to pull him towards the house; barging inside, ready to face whatever was hurting Henry.
Ready to break another camera.
Even though he'd enthusiastically stormed in, he wasn't sure what he was expecting to find. Honestly, he hadn't really thought about what he was doing beyond "figure out what's scaring Henry and make it stop." But, now that he was actually confronting what Henry had been trying to keep from him, he realized that whatever this was, it was a whole lot more complicated than he'd expected.
"Nancy?" Steve said, his eyes equally as wide as hers, "What—?"
His gaze danced around the room, and he felt his breath come in shorter bursts as he took in the house he now stood in. The fact that Nancy and Jonathan were there looking at him with thinly veiled terror somehow took a backseat to what surrounded him.
Christmas lights. That's what he noticed first. There were strands and strands of Christmas lights hanging haphazardly from the ceiling. And sure, maybe he could chalk that one up to the Byers family being weird, but that wasn't all. That wasn't what was really concerning.
That was reserved for the matching bandages on their hands. The smell of gasoline that wafted through the house. The bat with nails in it.
"You need to leave," Jonathan stepped in, a lot more demanding than Henry had been—trying to push him back towards the door, "I'm not asking, I'm telling."
Steve stumbled over his words, but he didn't let Jonathan shove him back outside. He planted his feet firmly on the ground as his attention jumped around the room; trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and how he could stop it. Because, he didn't need a clear idea (or really any idea) of what was happening here to know that something was very, very wrong.
"You need to leave!"
Nancy's voice cut through all the noise (i.e. Steve's own panicky demands for answers), but it wasn't really her words that made everything stop. If that's all she'd done, Steve would've had no problem ignoring it until someone gave him answers. But, that wasn't all. Because, now he wasn't being pushed by the door by Jonathan, now he was completely on his own.
Opposite of a gun.
"Whoa, whoa!" He yelled, his eyes wide at his girlfriend (or ex, depending on how you looked at things) pointed a gun at him. He desperately looked over Jonathan, who had hopped right out of the way, and hoped that he'd find him at least looking as lost as he was. And sure, he was surprised, but not confused.
"Steve, I'm sorry," Nancy said, her voice coming out thick through the tears, "But, I'm going to give you to the count of three to get out."
Steve's jaw dropped, but before he could reply, before he could talk some sense into Nancy, he suddenly wasn't staring down a barrel anymore. Not because Nancy had come to her senses and dropped it though, but because something had come in between.
Or, more accurately, someone.
"Henry, move," Nancy demanded, sounding more exasperated than anything else, like Henry was just walking slow in front of her in the halls, and not standing in front of her target.
"Nancy, I know you didn't get any safety lessons, and that's kind of my fault, but you're really not supposed to point a gun at someone unless you're planning on killing them," Henry said, his voice steady, even though one small move from Nancy and...
And, just like that, it was clear that he was back to being the man he was before.
He wasn't nervous like he had been at the door. He was standing tall, and spoke with words so strong that they were impossible to ignore. This was the guy who had gotten Steve's attention in the alley, who had so easily rattled him to the core, and it was this guy who made his chest swoop now.
Also, he'd stepped in front of a gun for him, so that… that was pretty cool.
Nancy sighed harshly, and Steve could see from over Henry's shoulder that she'd lowered her gun back down towards the floor. He wasn't sure if that was because she was listening to what he'd had to say, or if she just didn't want to point a gun at Henry, but either way, Steve would take it. He didn't have a gun in his direction anymore, and that was good enough for him. Now, he just needed—
"I'll get him out of here," Henry reassured Nancy, as if he wasn't standing right here behind him, and Steve straightened up a little with his hands on his hips.
"I'm not leaving until someone tells me what the hell is going on," he snapped, which might not be the smartest thing to say right now, but was the truth.
Henry swung around—standing a little closer than he might've in a normal situation—and stared steadily at him, so very unlike the way he'd avoided him at the door.
At that moment, Steve realized that he had to look up to meet his eyes.
"Yes, you are," Henry replied simply, his tone leaving no room to argue.
Steve didn't think there was anything to really be worried about from Henry. Really, he didn't. He didn't think Henry would ever hurt him or point a gun at him or anything. So, with that in mind, he should feel fine right now. He shouldn't be worried about being forced out of this house before he got answers to what horrible things were happening here.
There was definitely something about how Henry was acting right now that made him think he really ought to do what he said.
Steve shoved it all down, and did his best to ignore the way his body was trying to tell him to leave. Because, that's what this was. The knot in his stomach, the lightheaded feeling, the heat all over, classic fight or fright. But, he knew he needed to ignore that, ignore the way those dark, dark eyes were focused on him, and get them to explain what was going on.
"I—" Was as far as Steve got in his response—although it definitely would have made Henry the one with legs that felt like jelly—before their attention was called away from one another.
"Guys…" Jonathan said, his voice trailing off—engrossed in something that Steve had been too distracted by Henry to notice.
The lights were flashing.
Henry swore under his breath, and it was suddenly like Steve wasn't there anymore. None of them paid him any attention, and instead went back-to-back and started yelling at each other about things that Steve really didn't understand. Steve couldn't even get himself to be annoyed about being ignored, because they were worked up about something. Something was wrong,and it really didn't feel good to be the only one who didn't know what.
But, that wouldn't last long.
Because he finally found out exactly why they were all so scared.
Why Henry was scared.
"What the hell is that?!" Steve exclaimed, stumbling back and watching with horrified eyes as a piece of the ceiling fell away and-and—
Something came through it.
None of them answered him. None of them even seemed to hear him. This was the most scared he had ever been in his life, and no one cared. Instead, they all focused on that-that thing. But, they weren't freaking out, not like he was. They weren't—They weren't surprised. They were facing this thing like they knew what they were doing. They…
They were shooting at it.
And, sure, it wasn't doing much, but Nancy and Henry were shooting at this thing like this was normal. Like they were meant to do this. They only stopped when Jonathan grabbed Nancy to pull her down the hallway, and she grasped Henry's hand to tug him along after her.
If this was anything else, if this was a bear, Steve would've followed right after them—he would've had enough survival instincts to get out of here. But, this… this was something else entirely, and he found himself frozen in place; knowing he was about to be left alone with this monster, but unable to do anything about it.
It was Henry's turn to catch his wrist.
It took a moment for his body to get with the program, and he stumbled after him; practically being held up by how he was being pulled along.
"Jump!" Henry yelled, and Steve did as he said without even thinking about it; only realizing after the fact that he'd just hopped over a bear trap.
Then, they were slamming a door behind them, and Steve really hoped that hiding in this bedroom wasn't their plan. Because whatever that thing was, it could get in here easily, he just knew it. In fact, he was pretty certain that nothing could stop that monster, and they were going to all end up dead. This was going to be how Steve Harrington ended; torn to shreds by a horrifying creature in the fucking Byers' house. Mrs. Byers was going to get home and find four dead teenagers like at the end of a slasher. God, what had he done to get here? He'd just been trying to be a better person, how was this fair? He was going to die. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh—
It wasn't until Henry spun around to face him did he realize he'd been saying that last part out loud.
Steve's mouth snapped shut, and watched with wide eyes as Henry turned his back to him and pointed a gun at the door. The other three didn't seem to be scared like he was. They were tense, like they were waiting for something, but not anything bad. Or, it was bad, but it was also something that had to happen.
The seconds stretched on in silence, and even though he thanked god that that thing hadn't come barreling in here, it was clear that something was wrong. Steve didn't know what was supposed to happen, but he could tell just from the look on their faces that it wasn't going the way that they'd hoped.
Nancy reached for the doorknob, and Steve froze; his voice failing him, even though everything in him wanted to scream at her to not. The other boys didn't say a word—didn't even seem too worried about what she was doing—and instead they followed after her as she stepped out of the room. After a moment of weighing his options, Steve decided that being alone in here was much worse than being with the others out there, and he staggered after them.
They crept into the Byers' front room, and even though he knew he had far less understanding of what was going on right now, Steve realized what had happened at the same time as the other three.
The house was empty.
That thing was gone.
Nancy, Henry, and Jonathan were all exchanging looks that Steve couldn't begin to comprehend. Because, they should be happy that thing was gone. Actually, they should be freaking the fuck out because what the hell was that, but Steve would accept relief. The monster was gone and they were alive; they'd gotten lucky. But, they weren't relieved. They were frowning and muttering and…
And, after everything that had just happened—everything that had happened since he'd seen Nancy, Jonathan, and Henry stalking down the alley towards him—that was what made Steve finally snap.
"This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy, This Is Crazy, This Is Crazy!"
Steve ran over to the phone and grabbed the handheld—going to dial 911 even though he had no idea what he'd say ("Come quick, there's a monster in the walls!"). But, before he could even hit the first digit, it was torn out of his grip and thrown across the room.
"What are you doing?" Steve demanded, his words stumbling out of him and sounding less forceful and more pleading, "Are you insane?"
"It's going to come back," Nancy hissed in response, "So you need to leave. Right Now."
Steve looked down at the mild-mannered girl who had coyly rebuffed his advances in favor of studying not a week ago, and saw a woman with fire in her eyes holding a gun like she was meant to. She was utterly ruthless, with none of the gentleness that he'd grown used to. His face ached and reminded him of how just a few hours ago he'd been watching Tommy spray paint the Hawk with those horrible words, and how just a few minutes ago he'd been at the door apologizing to a man he barely even knew.
What the hell happened to them? What the hell was happening? What had made everything turn upside down?
Henry's voice wasn't harsh like it had been earlier, but just from looking at him, it was clear he wasn't close to the giggling teen in the garage. But, he wasn't the rival in the alley either, or even the nervous guy in the doorway. He looked tired, painfully tired. But, he stood tall just the same, with an expression that was far more determined than Steve could ever imagine feeling in this situation.
But, there was something else.
There was something there, something that Steve didn't recognize. He could see it in his eyes, and hear it in the way he spoke, but he couldn't quite place it.
"Just go," Henry said.
And, maybe it was because of everything that had just happened, or because there was something about Henry that made him listen, but Steve felt himself stagger out of the house without even thinking about it.
The outdoor air was a slap in the face that Steve hadn't expected, but all it really did was make him pick up the pace. Being inside with others had been bad enough, but being out here by himself in the dark? This was torture, and there wasn't even a threat.
That you can see.
Steve's keys slipped through his fingers and hit the ground.
He scrambled to pick them up, and in the time it took for him to retrieve them and jam them into the lock, the lights in the house began to flash again. Steve paused with his hand on the door; ready to leave before something stopped him. Nothing physical, nothing reached out and grabbed him, but his feet stayed planted on the ground as if someone had just caught his wrist.
He realized what he'd seen in Henry.
As his mind raced with everything that had just happened, everything that he'd just been through, it aligned with what he'd heard in Henry's voice, and it suddenly all made sense. He knew why Henry had been so sure when he'd sent him away; why Henry had tried to keep him out of the house altogether; why Henry had tried so hard to lie about his hand.
He was trying to protect him.
That was the only explanation that made sense. A nasty part of Steve—the part that was always miserable—wanted to think it was because he personally didn't want him there, or he thought Steve would mess up whatever awful plan they had. But, if that were the case then…
Then Henry never would've stepped between him and the gun.
Steve didn't think he was special—anyone could've pulled up to the Byers' house and Henry would've done the exact same thing—but the realization still hit him like a freight train. Henry was trying to keep him from getting hurt. He hadn't convinced him to leave because he hated him, or needed him out of the way, or… or…
Henry had told him to leave because he was trying to keep him safe, not because he thought that they could handle what was happening right now.
Steve looked up to the house again, and suddenly the feelings of fear and panic that had been pushing him to get into his car and go far away from here were overridden with something different. Something that made him slam the door shut without ever sliding inside. Something that had been driving Henry from the moment he'd told him to leave.
Something that had surged in Steve when he saw the cut on Henry's hand.
Henry's hand throbbed, but that didn't stop him from gripping his gun impossibly tight. He barely even noticed the pain as he spun in circles and searched frantically for what he knew was coming.
Each moment that passed without anything changing except for the lights just made the anticipation grow worse and worse. Between the flickers of the Christmas lights—when the house was dark—Henry could feel his heart in his throat; always expecting for the light to return only for the Demogorgon to be looming over him.
"Where is it?" Nancy called out, the panic clear in her voice.
"I don't know!" Jonathan replied, and although he had nothing to add, Henry pressed against them a little bit, just for the reminder that he had two people watching his back right now.
The room went dark again, and Henry's pulse seemed to echo in his own head.
Nancy's sharp cry sent sharp stabs of fear through Henry, and he whirled around in time to see the monster rise up behind Jonathan before sending him crashing to the ground—his bat clattering against the floor. For a moment, all Henry could do was watch in horror as the creature crouched over his friend; half-expecting to see Jonathan get torn apart by those horrible teeth.
It took gunshots ringing through the air to remind him that he wasn't a helpless bystander.
"Go to Hell, You Son of a Bitch!" Nancy shouted, spurred on by righteous rage.
If intentions equaled action, then the Demogorgon would've been dead from the moment Nancy had turned her venomous glare onto it. But, that wasn't the way the world worked, and not even bullets seemed to have any effect on the monster. All it had done was take the attention off of Jonathan and turn it onto her. A good thing, until the click of the gun reached Henry's ears and it was clear that there were no more rounds to fire.
At least, no more for Nancy to fire.
Without thinking—without considering what the consequences might be—Henry did the only thing that could stop the monster from attacking Nancy.
He brought all of its attention to himself.
He accomplished his goal, he kept the monster from hurting his friend, but each time he fired the gun, it felt like another nail in his own casket. He wasn't stupid enough to think that his bullets would work when Nancy's didn't, but god he'd hoped.
Finally, the dreaded clicking sound reached his ears, and when his back hit the wall he realized that he'd stupidly boxed himself in. There was nowhere to run, and now he had absolutely no way of defending himself. The Demogorgon loomed over him, and Henry was unable to see anything other than the thing that had murdered his best friend.
The thing that was going to murder him.
A part of him accepted that this was it; the universe was finally finishing what he'd started four years ago. He wouldn't have jumped off the Quarry in the first place if there wasn't a part of him that was willing to die. But, it was so much smaller than he remembered it. Almost like it wasn't there at all. He barely even noticed it; it was drowned out by the rest.
He didn't want to die.
That realization was a little belated, seeing how he was pretty sure that was about to happen.
Henry winced back and held his arms up over his face in one last ditch attempt to protect himself, even though he was certain it wouldn't make a difference. His body tensed; getting ready for whatever horrible thing that was about to happen.
But, instead of the creature's claws digging into his skin or its teeth sinking into his chest, Henry heard a series of sounds that didn't quite match what he'd been expecting.
A dull thunk, a screeching cry, and an astonished exclamation from Nancy.
Henry lowered his hands in time to see Steve (King Steve. The Hair Harrington. The biggest douchebag to ever walk the halls of Hawkins High. The guy who fumbled with croquet sets) Harrington slam the nailed bat into the side of the monster for a second time.
Henry stayed with his back flat against the wall; watching with wide eyes as Steve did far more damage with the bat than he and Nancy had with their guns. It wasn't like he was beating him to death, but the monster squealed every time he hit it, and Henry was close enough to see how Steve had to really pull to dislodge the nails.
Less than five minutes ago, Steve had tripped over his own feet trying to get out of this house.
"It's in the trap!"
All at once, Henry was brought back to reality, and he dug in his pocket for his red lighter; pausing for only a moment by Steve's side before he threw the light onto the carpet and watched the monster go up in flames.
The pair jerked back at the high pitched sounds coming from the creature, but neither one looked away from the horrific scene they'd created. Henry didn't think of himself as a violent or sadistic person. In fact, he was certain that everyone in his life (that hadn't spent the last few days with him) could agree that he was a complete nonthreat; too sweet to even listen to the stories of local hunters.
But, right now? Watching that thing writhe in agony?
All he felt was twisted satisfaction.
That one's for you, Barb.
"Get out of the way!"
Henry and Steve stumbled back as Jonathan pushed his way in and used the extinguisher; all of them coughing harshly as the room flooded with chemicals and smoke. Henry tried to cover his mouth with his sleeve as he peered down the hallway, but it was difficult to see much of anything now that the fire was out.
Except for the fact that the monster was no longer in the trap.
"Is it…?" Nancy didn't even finish her question as the four of them slowly creeped closer to where the Demogorgon had been burning just moments earlier.
"It has to be dead," Jonathan said simply, although he didn't sound so sure. Henry wanted to believe what he'd said, but he wasn't convinced either. He knew that he and his friends were all thinking the same thing; if there was anything that could survive being set on fire like that, it was that monster.
The Christmas light above them flicked on.
Henry's breath caught his throat and, without even thinking, he reached out and grabbed Steve's arm.
He might've been embarrassed—pulled back and pretended like he'd never done that—if it weren't for the fact that the lights continued to click on, and his stomach filled with dread as all the horrible possibilities of what was happening popped into his head. There were far more pressing things than the unfortunate fact that Henry's instinctive reaction to sudden fear was to find the nearest strong man and hold on tight.
It had nothing to do with the fact that Steve responded by putting a comforting hand on his arm.
There was no time to really think about that though, because the lights didn't stop. But, it wasn't like before—they weren't flashing violently—they were just… turning on. Gradual, and in a relatively straight line; they weren't like the monster's frantic alarm at all.
They came closer, and the four teens stumbled back a little. But, just as quickly, they went back the way they came. Almost like someone (the Demogorgon? Not thinking clearly because of pain? Scared of them? Dying from the burns?) was thinking better of coming down this way and had decided to leave. Henry's hand slid off of Steve's arm as something became clear very suddenly; this was different.
Without consulting with one another, or even really exchanging looks, the teens began to slowly creep after the path of lights.
As they followed, none of them said a word. They were all holding their breaths, waiting to see what would happen. Waiting to see if this situation would suddenly change. Waiting for the lights to start to flash again.
Waiting for the monster.
Despite everything that they'd just gone through, Jonathan's soft voice seemed to drill directly into Henry's head. He never would've been able to guess on his own, but Henry knew that he was right. In this moment, there was no way that Jonathan could be wrong.
The house was bright for someone very different from the Demogorgon.
The lights paused in its movement for a moment—just long enough to make Henry wonder if they'd stopped permanently—before they continued on their path; eventually running out of bulbs to illuminate. The four of them hurried outside to the porch, and made it just in time to see the lamppost flicker before it was gone.
"Where's it going?" Nancy murmured; Jonathan's answer soft, but confident.
"I don't think that's the monster."
His words hung heavily in the air, and it was quiet for a long moment.
All Henry could think about was the two people who were both farther away than they ever had been, and had just been standing right next to them. He wondered if he'd ever actually see them again, or if the last look he'd ever have was the quick one as they left the school. If the Byers' family would be reunited, or if Jonathan would be the last one standing. If they'd succeed, or if they'd all just end up in the same place as Barb.
If the last words he'd ever exchange with Hopper would be...
The ones he'd barely been able to comprehend.
"What… What else could it be?"
Henry, Nancy, and Jonathan turned slowly and Steve didn't even have the awareness to look self-conscious. For a moment, they stared at him, and he stared back, like he didn't understand why they were looking at him like that in the first place. None of them said anything, and the three teens in the know turned their attention to each other—all of them thinking the same thing.
Henry had a flashback to fifteen minutes ago; to the argument about who would answer the door.
Jonathan and Nancy had ganged up on him—gone on about how he was the only one who wouldn't cause the biggest problem on sight—and this time they didn't have that luxury. It wasn't like they had any rational reason to shove this off on him this time around. Hell, he'd dealt with Steve on the Byers' front porch; he should be completely released from responsibility.
Honestly, Nancy should do it. She was the one with any sort of connection to Steve, and since this whole thing had ripped their relationship apart, it would make sense for her to be the one that explained. Yeah, Nancy was the one for this job, Nancy was the one who should explain, Nancy…
Henry sighed, and he looked down at the blood seeping through on his left hand.
"Grab me the bandages," he said simply, turning his attention back to his two friends with a significant look. They both nodded, relief in their eyes, and Henry could see how the tension in Nancy's shoulders lessened just a little bit; she'd probably been thinking the same thing that he had. They headed inside, but Henry didn't follow. Instead, he turned away from the door and smiled grimly at Steve.
"Let's sit down."
The swinging bench creaked ominously as the two boys lowered their weight onto it, but the chain didn't snap, so neither one really paid much attention to it. The bat was leaning against the porch railing, close enough that it could be grabbed at a moment's notice. It wouldn't be surprising if that thing came tearing through the wall, looking for revenge; who cared if the others were acting like they were in the clear right now?
Of course, they could know something he didn't. That wouldn't exactly be out of left field.
Steve glanced sideways at Henry, who was grimacing at the bloody bandage on his hand, and felt his stomach twist into knots. He wasn't stupid, he knew why the other two had gone inside. Why they'd sat down on this swinging porch bench together. He knew what was coming next.
But, he also knew it wasn't just that. For him, at least; it wasn't just the anticipation of whatever this conversation was about to be, what Henry was going to tell him. It was something else too. Something more personal.
God, three days ago, the best he could offer about Henry Sinclair was that "he seemed like a nice guy."
Now? Now that Henry had stepped between him and a gun? Now that he'd kept a monster from clawing Henry apart?
The Byers' door squeaked and both of them tensed—their eyes jerking up in time to see Nancy stepping out of the house. Steve felt his heart in his throat as he watched her cross the distance between them. There was a tornado of emotions when he saw his-his, well, one-time girlfriend. Shame, confusion, and maybe a little bit of fear all mixed up inside of him, and he couldn't find a single thing to say.
Maybe that was a good thing though, since Nancy didn't even glance at him. Instead, she looked at Henry with an unnatural amount of focus, and Steve wasn't sure if that was because she was trying really hard to not acknowledge him or… or if there was a different reason for why she only paid attention to Henry.
"Here," Nancy said, not only passing him a towel and a roll of bandages, but also managing to work up a small smile for him.
"Thanks, Nance," Henry murmured and, even though it wasn't very happy, he did his best to smile back.
The familiarity of it all made Steve's chest ache, and it occurred to him that, while everything he'd done in the alley had been one giant mistake, thinking that something was going on between Nancy and Henry was probably the closet he'd come to being right.
He didn't doubt that Henry had been telling the truth when he said that they hadn't slept together. He'd been right from the start, from the moment he'd really met him in the garage; Henry wasn't that type of person. Steve really doubted he'd make a move on a girl who had a boyfriend, let alone sleep with her. But, that didn't mean that there wasn't something there. Maybe not actions, but feelings. The kind that undoubtedly went both ways, because…
Because how could Nancy not return them?
Steve couldn't even get himself to be angry about it, all he could think was "Yeah, that's fair."
"So…" Henry said, pulling him back to the present—the one where Nancy had gone back inside and it was just the two of them again, "You probably have some questions."
"Yeah," Steve replied, his voice coming out high pitched and strained, "Yeah, I have some."
Henry met his eyes, and at the very least looked a little embarrassed about what he'd just said.
"Right," he said lowly, and he turned his attention to where he was unwrapping his hand, "Well, I guess… I guess just go for it, then."
A million questions rattled around in Steve's head; so many that he didn't even know where to start. As he tried to pick one, his gaze drifted down, just in time to watch the last of the bloodied bandage pull away and reveal a slash across Henry's palm.
The gears shifted.
"What the hell was that thing?" "Why were you three even fighting it?" and "What the fuck is going on?" all faded into the background, in favor of the question that popped into his brain right then.
"What happened to your hand?"
Henry's head jerked up and Steve could see that had caught him by surprise. He'd probably been expecting one of those other questions—the ones about the monster or about what the hell was happening—and not something so low stakes, but so… personal.
It was Steve's turn to be a little embarrassed.
Luckily, Henry looked back to the slice on his hand quickly enough that he didn't see the heat color his features, and Steve was spared at least a little bit of discomfort. Henry grabbed the towel and the two of them winced in sync when he pressed it down against the cut. Steve never considered himself a very squeamish person, but that… he was starting to not regret asking that question, because he'd really like to know who exactly had done that to Henry.
"I did it with a kitchen knife."
Steve's eyes snapped up, unable to process what Henry had just said oh so casually. The desire to ring the neck of whoever decided to start waving around something sharp disappeared, and was replaced with unease sinking in his gut. No matter how he racked his brains, he couldn't think of a single thing Henry could say that would be a good explanation for why he'd done that.
"What?" Steve had meant for that to come out different, for it to be a demand for an explanation, but his voice came out far too weak to accomplish that.
"Blood attracts that thing, like a shark," Henry answered, still not speaking with an appropriate level of seriousness. Although, this time Steve would've actually preferred if it was less serious, because then it would've been the sick joke that it should be.
"You wanted it to come here?" Steve asked, unable to keep shock out of his voice, "Why?"
Henry finally looked up again and met his eye, and Steve got to see an indecipherable whirlwind of emotions in his eyes. The moment didn't last long before he turned back down to his hand, and Steve didn't have the time to even begin to figure out what he'd seen in his expression before Henry spoke and just confused him even more.
"That's kind of a long story."
Steve watched as he pulled the towel away from the cut—the bleeding had stopped for the time being—and began to wrap it in a clean bandage. His attention never strayed, and if Steve didn't know any better, he'd think that Henry had just forgotten that he was sitting here next to him. Forgotten everything they'd just gone through together. Forgotten all the questions he was supposed to be—
Henry didn't want to do this.
Once the thought occurred to Steve, everything that was happening suddenly made sense. For whatever reason, he didn't want to explain everything, and he was hoping that ignoring him would make it all go away. Maybe he didn't even realize he was doing it, but he was. Henry was shying away from him, trying to block him out, and it was all because of whatever strange things that had happened before Steve came knocking on the door.
The things that Steve needed to know.
Without thinking about it, Steve grabbed Henry's injured hand and pulled it closer; taking over the job of wrapping without saying a word.
It was quiet for a moment, and Steve looked up to see Henry wearing a befuddled expression, like he couldn't comprehend what was happening right now. Which was pretty funny; he took monsters coming through the walls in stride, but not Steve clumsily helping him. His fingers twitched a little, but he didn't pull back—he didn't pull away.
"Should—" Henry's voice gave out a little and he cleared his throat before he spoke again, "Should I just start from the beginning?"
That caught Steve off guard, enough that he stopped poorly bandaging Henry's hand for a moment. But, he didn't let go, not even when he answered.
"Yeah," He said, squeezing Henry's hand so gently that any softer he might've missed it, "From the beginning."
Henry took a deep breath, but he didn't look away. Not only did his focus stay on Steve, but he caught the ghost of a smile pass over Henry's lips. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared, but it was enough for something to settle in Steve. For him to feel like maybe he'd finally done right by Henry.
"It started with Will."
Steve's hands were surprisingly gentle as he wrapped his hand, although he moved way slower than strictly necessary. Henry guessed that was because his mind was less focused on dressing his wound and more on the story he was telling, and he couldn't exactly get mad at him for that.
Also, he probably didn't know what he was doing.
Just the same, Henry hadn't expected for Steve Harrington—the douchebag from school, the dork from the garage, and the hero from just a little bit ago—to be quite so soft. He was going to ignore how that made him feel all warm and fluttery, just like how he ignored the thrill he felt at the memory of Steve saving him from the monster.
That was for his own good.
Henry told the story as best he could. Now that the floodgates were open, they were impossible to stop; he wanted Steve to know what had happened. He wanted him to understand what they'd gone through in the past few days. He found himself telling him everything he remembered, everything he knew that would be hard to believe. Everything that had brought the pair of them to this porch swing together.
Steve was pretty quiet throughout, listening with his brow furrowed, and when he did interrupt it was to ask a question; ones that Henry always answered honestly. The only time Henry thought he actually might've lost him was when the conversation turned to Eleven. He'd thought he'd been joking, and had gotten annoyed ("I know I've been a real dick to you lately, but that doesn't make it right to act like an ass right now, Henry."). But, once Henry had pointed out he had no reason to lie, Steve had gone quiet for the rest of the story.
His hands never got any rougher—not even when he was mad.
"And then you showed up."
After talking for what felt like hours, it was almost odd that it was so quiet. They were saved from complete silence only by the rustling of leaves, and even though Henry knew it was just because of the cool wind, he still felt anxiety twist in his gut as his mind supplied an answer for just why those trees were moving.
But, maybe it wasn't just what could be lurking in the dark that was making him nervous. Maybe it was because each second that passed, Steve's silence felt more and more damning.
Steve reached down to grab the tape off the bench so he could secure the bandage; he'd finished wrapping Henry's hand.
He didn't let go.
"What about Barb?"
Henry didn't pull his hand back, even though he'd just been wondering if maybe he should before he gave away something about himself to Steve Harrington, but now all thoughts had been wiped out of his head. He couldn't think of a single thing, those words that had just been said rang in his head over and over.
And Steve just kept going.
"You said Eleven found Will, and that Mrs. Byers and the Chief are going to get him," he expanded, looking up to meet Henry's eyes, "What about Barb?"
It was quiet for a long, long moment.
He hadn't told him.
He hadn't told Steve the reason he and Nancy had been so determined to kill the monster.
He hadn't even realized that he hadn't told him.
Henry felt guilt curl in his stomach, and the familiar pain washed over him once again as he was forced to remember what had happened earlier tonight. He knew in his heart that the reason he hadn't said a single word about what Eleven had found in the Bath wasn't because he'd forgotten, rather because his mind had been trying to protect itself from that experience, but he still felt the shame of someone who'd neglected to honor their best friend's memory.
As all this sunk in, Henry didn't look away. He was frozen in place, staring at Steve. He got to see hurt darken Henry's features. He got to see tears well up in his eyes.
He got to see in Henry's expression what had happened to Barb.
Steve's face dropped, and that was enough to wake Henry from his catatonic state. He looked away quickly, and pulled his hand away just as fast. While he tried to blink away the sting in his eyes, he could hear a shaky breath come from beside him.
"Henry…" Steve said, remorse and pain and sympathy all mixing up together, and all of it hurt to hear, "I am so sorry. I…"
His voice sort of just gave out, although Henry didn't know if that was because he didn't know what to say, or because the reality of the situation had really hit him. Either way, he didn't say anything else, and it was quiet between the two boys for a little bit. Henry didn't even notice the rustling of the tree this time around. He was far too wrapped up in his own spiraling thoughts and the horrible feeling in his stomach.
Finally, he cleared his throat and stood up; turning to look at Steve, whose expression was open and only made Henry feel worse. He couldn't imagine how Steve felt knowing that the beginning of the end had started right in his backyard.
He tried not to think about it, he tried not to think about any of it. Instead, he focused on one thing: he'd done it. He'd told Steve the whole story. That was finally over.
"Ready to go inside?" Henry asked simply. Steve nodded mutely after a second, and he stood up as well; the two of them heading into the Byers' house, and neither of them feeling very good.
"Steve," Nancy said the moment they crossed the threshold, sounding surprised. Henry wasn't sure what she expected—maybe she'd thought he'd make a run for it as soon as he got the truth—but he suddenly remembered everything that had transpired between these two. Everything that had happened in the alley, and everything that had happened before the alley.
On top of all the pain—physical and emotional—Henry got to feel bad for a new reason.
He shouldn't have felt all nice when Steve had wrapped his hand, or when he saved him from the Demogorgon. Even though it wasn't anything other than passing pleasure that came when he got attention from a cute boy, the fact that he was Nancy's boyfriend (ex or not) meant that even thinking about it was bad friendship etiquette.
God, if Barb knew he was getting all silly over Steve Harrington, she would—
No, no. Not right now.
"Hey, Nance," Steve replied, his rough but hesitant voice keeping Henry from going down that path again. It was pretty clear that he had no idea where he stood right now and, to be fair, Henry had spent the past few days with Nancy, and even he didn't know what was going to happen between her and Steve.
Jonathan looked between the two of them with a funny expression, and even though Henry was feeling like garbage, he still found it in himself to roll his eyes.
Henry really wanted to slip away. He didn't want to be here for this, no matter if it was a reconciliation or a break up. Besides, it would just be right to leave these two alone to work out their shit. Who wanted to do all this while your two friends awkwardly stood at the fringes? And, more importantly, what two friends wanted to awkwardly stand at the fringes while a couple had important conversations about their relationship? Henry turned to Jonathan, about to ask him if he'd like to join him in his room, far away from this festering hormone-fueled nightmare.
The sharp sound of a ringing phone shattered the silence before he could.
All four of them jumped and spun to face the handheld that rested on the floor where Nancy had tossed it. None of them made a move to get it, all of them remembering just what had happened when Joyce answered the phone in this house. All of them wondering what horrible thing had come calling.
The phone continued to ring, and Henry was all but certain that it would stop before any of them breathed again.
Then, just like that, Steve crossed the room and scooped up the phone.
"Byers' Residence, Steve Harrington speaking."
Henry might've laughed at his casual tone, but he couldn't find it in himself to feel any humor in this moment. Instead, he watched Steve's frown deepen as the voice on the other end spoke inaudibly.
"Yeah, he's right here," he said, holding the phone out to Jonathan, "It's the hospital."
Jonathan's eyes widened and he hurriedly took the phone from Steve; pressing it to his ear with a little too much force.
"Hello?" He asked, his voice coming out fast, "This-This is Jonathan Byers."
It was quiet again as all of them watched Jonathan's expression morph into utter shock. Henry's stomach twisted in knots as he considered all the things he could be hearing right now—all the things that could've gone wrong—and how none of them measured up to the way Jonathan looked right now.
It was none of those things.
He knew it before Jonathan hung up. Before Jonathan hurriedly threw an explanation at them while he stalked out of his house. Before they all piled into the Cutlass and sped down the road.
He knew it from the way Jonathan whispered one word.
I implore you to find ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement if you aren't already. It might seem like this story has faded from the headlines, but it's very much ongoing and we should all be doing everything we can to help. Here's the Black Lives Matter Carrd so you can find ways to get involved: blacklivesmatters. carrd. co (without the spaces: this website wouldn't let me post it as a link for some reason).