Lucas and Nancy were sleeping on his shoulders.
Henry didn't blame them, and he didn't mind being used as a pillow. It had been a very long day, and seeing how this small waiting room was dark and nearly silent, it was almost the perfect place to recuperate while they waited.
But, Henry couldn't bring himself to shut his eyes.
He wasn't quite sure what was holding him back from resting like Nancy and Lucas. There were a million thoughts and emotions that could be the culprit; it was almost silly to even try to figure out which was forcing him to stay awake. Could it be the grief that was sinking into his bones? Or the guilt that was choking him? Or maybe it was just the constant stream of consciousness that was bombarding him with all the different things that had gone wrong, and all the ways that was his fault; like how, maybe if he hadn't decided to just leave the kids alone at the school, then Eleven wouldn't be—
Henry sighed softly and looked over to his right shoulder, to Lucas, and he smiled a little despite everything. He was fully out (Henry suspected Nancy was just dozing) and he looked just like he always did. Henry knew, after this whole thing, he wouldn't be the same. None of them would be. And sure, that was another thing keeping Henry awake—an uncertain future to agonize over—but right now, looking down at Lucas's peaceful expression, Henry didn't feel quite so bad.
He still wouldn't sleep, though.
He never really could in the hospital.
Henry swallowed hard and forced his breathing to remain steady as he tried to push those particular thoughts away. The ones he'd been trying to ignore from the moment he stepped into this familiar building. He already had everything from the past week weighing on him, he didn't need to add that on top.
But, it was the truth, wasn't it? He'd slept horribly during his extended stay here at Hawkins' General; only really crashing when he was drugged out of his mind. And, it wasn't just because he was a kid in an alien environment, surrounded by strangers, and in the worst pain he'd ever experienced. If that had been all, he probably would've still slept more than light dozes brought on by exhaustion. In reality, he hadn't been able to sleep for a very different reason; a truth that wouldn't stop rattling around in his brain.
Henry's jaw clenched and he sighed hard through his nose; he really didn't need this right now, not with everything going on. His eyes flitted around the room, trying to find something to distract himself from those thoughts (the ones that were not so different from what he used to have in the hospital room at night as a kid), when they landed on something that more than did the trick. Something that he'd forgotten.
Steve was staring.
He had been for a while. Henry had noticed earlier, not long after Nancy and Lucas had independently decided that he was a great place to catch some sleep, but he'd tried to ignore it. Although, it was possible that his unrelenting gaze was one of the (many) reasons Henry just couldn't seem to relax.
The thing was, if it had been a glare, Henry would've shrugged it off. Let Steve be pissed that Nancy was more comfortable with him than she was with the guy who might not even be her boyfriend anymore. That was nobody's fault but Steve's. Besides, it wasn't like Henry was actually guilty of what Steve would be upset about, so why should he feel bad?
But, Steve didn't seem angry.
He just looked sad.
There was no fire to Steve's expression; there wasn't even that practiced apathy that they'd seen in the alley. He wasn't angry or indignant about what he thought was happening right in front of him, he was just… resigned.
Henry's thoughts were pulled away to Nancy when she readjusted, and he thought nothing of it as one of the hands that had been resting on his arm reached down to entangle their fingers together. Henry squeezed her hand a little, and he felt her grip tighten for a moment in response.
Steve was out of the room before Henry even realized that he'd stood.
Guilt clogged Henry's throat, and it wouldn't disappear no matter how hard he swallowed. He wasn't doing anything wrong, he knew he wasn't, but… But, it didn't feel good to hurt someone like this. Especially someone who'd helped them—saved his life— and was trying to be a better person, and was actually pretty nice, and gentle, and kind, and attractive—
Henry nearly outwardly scoffed at himself; this is where he was at, huh? Putting all of his attention on one problem because this particular one had a pretty (albeit, bruised) face. It was barely even a problem, not compared to everything else. Jonathan and Mrs. Byers were bedside with Will, who still hadn't woken up; Lucas and Dustin might be asleep right now, but it was easy to tell how broken up all the boys were over Eleven; and Hopper—
Suddenly, this room felt a little too small.
Henry unconsciously squirmed in his seat, and it was enough for Nancy to raise her head and look at him with bleary eyes.
"Everything okay?" She asked, her voice so soft that it barely disturbed the silence of the room.
"Um, yeah," Henry replied just as gently, "Just, um, have to use the restroom."
Instead of clocking him on that obvious lie, Nancy's eyes drifted to where Lucas leaned against him.
"Do you want help?" She asked, Henry nodding a little. After a moment of slowly configuring, Nancy helped Henry slowly slide Lucas's head over onto Dustin's shoulder. The pair exchanged small, proud smiles once it was clear he wouldn't wake up, and it was only a little dampened by how every conscious person in the room stared at them.
"Do you want anything from the vending machine?" Henry asked, and after Nancy shook her head, he headed out; ignoring how both Mrs. Wheeler's and Hopper's eyes followed him. One of those was going to lead to an uncomfortable conversation between Nancy and her mom—one that Henry didn't envy, but didn't fear—while the other…
God, he needed a cigarette.
Henry instinctually dug his hands into his pockets, expecting to brush his fingers against the familiar cardboard box, before he remembered that he'd smoked his last one hours ago. Henry mentally cursed at himself—for what exactly, he wasn't sure—and he drudged down the hallways with significantly less of a plan for where he was headed.
Maybe some sugar, maybe that would help right now.
Henry rounded into the main waiting room (not the small one their group had been herded to by the harried nurses), hoping to distract his brain for a little while with something sweet. But, that idea was quickly thrown out the window when he realized he wasn't the only one who'd had it.
At least Steve looked just as shocked to see him.
They stared at each other for a long moment—like neither one of them could comprehend that they'd run into someone they already knew was in the building—before they both followed some instinctive cue and hurriedly turned away. Henry tried to put all of his focus onto the vending machine, like he wasn't uncomfortably aware of Steve standing somewhere behind him, but even so it took him a little too long to put in his quarters and pick out some M&Ms.
Once he'd grabbed his candy, he sent one last awkward look at Steve before he headed back the way he came, even though he had no idea of where he was going to go now. Certainly not back to the waiting room. Maybe he would just hang out in this hallway and give every nurse that walked past him something to gossip about.
A part of Henry wanted to just ignore Steve's voice and keep going on his way. Pretend like he'd never heard him. But, he was raised better than that, so he slowed and turned back the way he'd came. It didn't even matter though, because from the way Steve hurried after him, it was clear that he wasn't going to let him get away.
"Hey," Henry said as he came to a stop in front of him.
"Hey," Steve replied, his eyes flashing around the hall for a moment, like he just realized that he'd jogged in the middle of a hospital, before they landed firmly on Henry, "Listen, I want to talk to you about Nancy."
"Oh, Steve—" Henry started, that familiar uncomfortable sensation in his stomach—the one that always came when someone implied anything about him with a woman—feeling worse than ever.
"No, no, just listen," Steve interrupted, shaking his head and making that strand of hair in the front bounce distractingly; something almost manic about the way he moved, "I was a terrible boyfriend to Nancy, okay? I know that. I was—I am the worst—"
"Steve," Henry heard himself protest.
"Let me finish," Steve replied, pushing on like he'd never been interrupted, "I am the worst. But, Nancy's not. Nancy's nice and smart and great, and-and… You're great too. So, if there's something going on, it's okay. I'm not going to try to get in the way. You two…"
Steve's voice gave out before he could finish and his eyes dropped down to the ground. All that wound up energy was suddenly gone, like that unspoken sentence had sucked it out of him and left behind someone who was a lot less sure of himself. But, before Henry could say anything, Steve shook his head a little, took a deep breath, and looked him right in the eye.
"You two will be good together."
It was quiet for a moment, Henry completely taken aback by that outburst of genuine emotion from Steve. Despite everything Steve had done today, Henry hadn't seen that coming. Maybe he wouldn't try to pick a fight, but Henry had been expecting him to at least spin a sob story to make him feel bad about being with Nancy. Try to engage him in some sort of "bro code" that Henry never really believed in. Steve hadn't, though; hadn't tried to hold him accountable for something Henry hadn't even done. Instead…
Instead he'd tried to do the right thing, even though it hurt.
And Henry knew that it did.
Steve hadn't looked away this whole time, and Henry was able to see everything in his vulnerable expression. He was sad, and resigned, and most of all, trying so hard. Stevewas trying to be good. Stevewas doing what he thought would make him and Nancy happy. Steve was putting his happiness before his own. Steve was looking up at him with expressive dark brown eyes. Steve was… Steve…
Steve thought he was great.
"It's not like that," Henry burst out, "With me and Nancy, it's not like that."
It was quiet for a long moment, and Henry inwardly winced at himself. What he'd said was alright, honestly, and he didn't think he could've come up with anything much better if he was given an hour to mull it over. But, the way the words tumbled out of his mouth like they couldn't get out fast enough made his cheeks heat up, and he tried to convince himself he'd gotten it out quick because he didn't want Steve to feel bad any longer than necessary. Not for any otherreasons.
Steve hardly seemed to notice the desperate way Henry had said it, or how embarrassed it made him after the fact. Instead, he just stared at him; looking more and more baffled as the seconds ticked by.
"Are you sure?" He finally asked, sounding like he was legitimately wondering if Henry was just mistaken or confused or something.
"Um, yeah, I'm-I'm sure," Henry replied, not entirely certain of what to say to that.
Steve didn't reply right away again, but this time instead of looking confused, he put his hands on his hips with a funny look on his face. It had drifted far away from puzzlement, and had become… bitchy?
"Okay, I'm trying to do the right thing, so it's kind of rude to act like I'm stupid. I'm not, okay? Yeah, I was wrong in the alley, but you and Nancy were just basically cuddling, so, you know, the jazz is up, man. I know. And-And that's fine, alright? I get it. You're all cool and nice and brave, so fine, Nancy likes you and not me. Whatever. Just don't lie to my face about it. I'm stepping aside and taking the high road, you dick; the least you can do is own up to the fact that you and Nancy have something instead of insulting me like I don't have eyes, and if you don't wipe that smirk off your face, Sinclair, I will knock it off for you."
Henry's amused smile didn't budge, and actually grew at the threat.
He hadn't meant to start grinning during the rant, but it'd just happened. And it wasn't entirely because Steve had complimented him while he was mad (although, hearing about how great you are while the person is spitting it out felt weird), but because…
He liked Steve.
Not just Steve when he'd saved him from the Demogorgon or had been so gentle and nice when he'd wrapped his hand; he'd already known he'd liked that. But, right now, listening to Steve's righteous little outburst, he realized that he liked this part too. He liked this indignant prep. It was funny, and Henry thought he'd liked to see this more, especially if his wrath wasn't pointed at him.
Not to say he would want to stoke the flames anymore and see what he did, though.
That's why, before his temper flared even further, Henry moved in a little closer with a soft smile that was nearly indulgent. Steve's grouchy expression disappeared almost instantaneously, although Henry wasn't certain what he'd done to make that happen, let alone what about his reaction had made Steve's eyes get so wide.
"Steve," Henry said, his voice soothing, if maybe a tad condescending, "Why would I lie about this? Like you said, you're giving me the go ahead, but I'm still telling you that there's nothing there. It's not like that. Nancy's my friend, just like Jonathan."
Steve kept looking at him with those big eyes, like he hadn't said anything at all, and Henry wondered if maybe he'd broken him somehow, although he had no idea what he'd done. It was only after Henry raised his eyebrows that he stopped staring—blinking hard and dropping his gaze down to his feet—and it seemed that then his words registered.
Steve's brow furrowed while his eyes jumped around the room, and it was quiet for a moment as the two boys stood together, with Henry having nothing to look at but Steve's bewildered expression. What he'd just said was probably more than enough to convince him, but in that moment, Henry couldn't stop himself from making sure that Steve felt completely better.
"Even if Nancy was completely, madly in love with me—which, she isn't—I wouldn't be with her," he said, and when Steve's dark brown eyes snapped to his with such a myriad of emotions in them, Henry's mind suddenly had a hard time focusing on the words coming out of his mouth "I-I don't see her like that, okay? So, um, you never-never have to worry about it. It's not like—I'm not competing with Nancy."
It was quiet for a moment, and Steve didn't break eye contact for even a second, although this wasn't the wide-eyed stare from before. He just kept looking at him, probably weighing what he'd said, and Henry didn't break it because he didn't want to seem like a liar. Nothing to do with the possibility that he might not be able to tear himself away.
But, after a moment, a smile started to pull on Steve's lips, and Henry felt himself start to as well. Even though Henry had just felt like he needed to say everything he could to make sure that Steve was convinced, now he didn't feel like he needed to say a single word. Steve understood.
"For Nancy," Steve said offhandedly.
"What?" Henry asked, his brow furrowing a little as he wondered if he'd missed something.
"You said 'competing with Nancy,'" Steve explained casually, not in the least bit concerned by what he was saying, "You meant 'for Nancy.'"
It was quiet for a second longer than it should've been.
"Oh. Right," Henry said, his words stilted, his smile stiff, and he waited just a little too long before continuing again, "It-It's been a long day. My prepositions are a little off."
Steve nodded like it was nothing more than that—like he hadn't even noticed how strangely he'd responded—before he leaned against the hallway wall, sent him a thoughtful look, and did the one thing that Henry hoped and prayed for; moved on without a second thought.
"You're really friends with Nancy and Jonathan?" He asked, "Like, it wasn't just working together or whatever?"
"I mean," Henry said, more than happy to latch onto this other somewhat uncomfortable topic to get away from the really dangerous area, "I don't know, I hope so. I like them."
"She likes you too," Steve said, smiling a little, like he was happy he could admit that without having to face anything painful, "And, if anyone can make Creepy Byers crack, it's you."
Henry thoughtlessly reached out and lightly smacked him on the arm before he could really think about it. But, Steve just chuckled, so he figured he hadn't crossed any lines. He offered him some M&Ms just to be safe, though.
Steve took a handful with a small smile, and it was quiet for a moment as the pair shared the candy. The hospital was far from busy at this time of night, and instead of thinking about how familiar the sounds of the nurses shuffling around the sleepy building were, Henry let his mind wander.
It was impossible to sit in silence and not find himself returning to reruns of what he'd survived tonight. Somehow though, it wasn't the memory of the monster that was making him feel worse by the second, but rather everything else. Of course, that wasn't that surprising; the Demogorgon was just one of many things that had happened today.
Did he walk out on his mom just this morning?
God, his mom.
He needed to call her, he needed to make sure that she knew that he and Lucas were alright, but he also needed her to know that they wouldn't be coming home until there was news on Will. He also needed to talk to Lucas, really talk to Lucas, and he needed to make sure he was doing okay after everything he'd gone through. He needed to talk to all the kids, and he needed to talk to Nancy, and he needed to talk to Jonathan, and he needed to talk to—
Fuck, he needed to smoke a cigarette.
Henry was pulled out of his thoughts by Steve's muttered words, and he wondered if he'd somehow known that he was spiraling. But, when he turned to ask Steve what he'd meant by that, he found that he was desperately trying to catch an M&M in his mouth before it could fall to the ground. Henry couldn't help the small laugh that passed his lips, and Steve only looked a little embarrassed about what he'd been caught doing. He just laughed a little too, and Henry felt a small rush of affection in his chest when he did.
"I think we probably could've been friends if you didn't avoid me."
He'd barely even registered it when Steve had said it—in his defense, Steve had said a lot of things in that moment, and he was just desperate to get him to go away—but now he had a chance to think about it. A chance to realize that his attempts to stay away from Steve hadn't been as nearly subtle as he'd thought they were.
He'd just assumed that Steve wouldn't notice, or that he wouldn't care even if he did. Why would he care about a guy he didn't even know? He didn't have the hookups (alcohol or otherwise), he didn't throw parties, he wasn't on the basketball team, and he never even did anything that interesting. He really had nothing to offer Steve.
Unless, maybe, he wasn't looking for all that stuff.
Henry felt a sinking in his stomach as the realization hit him; he may have passed judgement a little too harshly. In his defense, the whole "King Steve" thing and the fact that he hung out with Tommy H and Carol really did make Steve seem like a complete jackass. But, just the same, Henry had assumed that Steve was lessthan what he was, and had been cold because of it, and… That wasn't fair. Steve at least deserved to know why he'd stayed away; it clearly bothered him.
And, maybe it was because Henry hadn't had a goodnight's rest in what felt like a decade, or because of the way the past week had changed him, or even just because Steve was there, but Henry figured that there was no time like the present.
"I avoided you because I thought you were a giant douchebag."
Okay, that was definitely because of the lack of sleep.
"… What?" Steve replied with his mouth full of M&Ms, like he couldn't quite believe what he'd just heard. Henry could feel the confidence that he'd felt not moments ago begin to slip away under Steve's bewildered gaze, but he knew he couldn't stop now
"I didn't mean that, I…" Henry paused, trying to gather his thoughts before he winced a little, "Okay, I meant that, but I'm not saying that you are a douchebag, just that I thought you were."
It was quiet for a moment, with the only sounds being the breathing of the two boys and the distant sound of nurses.
"I don't…" Steve trailed off, his brow scrunched, and Henry sighed a little before he turned to face him dead-on.
"Back at the Byers', you said you didn't understand why I avoided you," he explained, clarity starting to dawn on Steve's expression, "And, I just thought… the way everyone talked about you, and the fact that you hung out with Tommy H and Carol, I just… I never saw a point in..."
It was Henry's turn to trail off, because now he was starting to feel bad about this. Saying it so plainly made him realize how mean it was; how he'd just written off Steve without a second thought. Hadn't given him a single chance all of high school. Hadn't given a single chance to the guy who'd saved his life tonight.
Steve didn't even have to say a real word to turn feeling kind of bad into full-fledged guilt. All it had taken was the soft sound spoken on the exhale for Henry to understand exactly how he felt in that moment; exactly how Henry had made him feel.
"I don't think that anymore, though," Henry said, his words rushing out of him as he desperately tried to raise Steve's spirits, "It's-I was assuming without ever just finding out for myself, and now I know I was wrong, so… So, I'm sorry."
It was quiet again, and Henry was surprised by how tense he was as he waited for Steve's response. His expression was unreadable, and there wasn't anything about his mannerisms that might give away what he was thinking right now, so Henry had no choice but to wait and see what he had to say. His fingers twisted against one another and he resisted the urge to reach into his pocket for the box he knew wasn't even there.
"Well, I mean…" Steve said slowly, "I am a douchebag, so…"
He looked up and smiled, and Henry heard himself chuckle a little, probably more out of relief than anything. It was small, but a bit of the weight on him was lifted, and after the day—the week—he'd had, that was more than enough to make him feel worlds better.
"I'm sorry too," Steve said suddenly, trying to be nice, but ruining the moment just the same, "For what I said in the alley."
"I always took you for a queer."
Everything Henry had pushed away was suddenly forced into the spotlight, and the relief that he'd been soaking up was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
For one split-second, he thought that Steve was talking about that; talking about when he'd spat that awful word. But, just as quickly, Henry remembered that Steve hadn't even said it to him. That had been completely pointed at Jonathan. In fact, what had actually cut deep were things that Steve probably would never even think of apologizing to Henry about. Not unless he knew some stuff that made him queasy to even think about.
"… I think you probably need to apologize to Jonathan and Nancy more than me," Henry settled on, feeling more than a little uncomfortable now.
He was kind of hoping Steve would just drop it. It wasn't like he was ever going to be able to actually apologize, so Henry would rather just ignore the whole thing. To be honest, he might've even forgotten all about it after everything that had happened today if Steve hadn't brought it back up.
Besides, even if he knew enough about Henry that he could apologize, that didn't mean he would. A guy like Steve would probably think that what he'd said was warranted. He'd probably laugh at him, or sneer in disgust, or-or… Or just say it again.
God, Steve, why'd you have to ruin everything?
And, yeah it was stupid to be upset about this. Stupid to be mad that Steve had brought up something so he could apologize. But, honestly Henry didn't care about being stupid right now. He was coming off of the hardest day of his life, during the hardest week of his life. He'd just like to revel in having a cute guy be nice to him, and not think about how that guy had said something really awful and would probably do it again if he knew the truth, okay? Sue him. What little relief Henry had been able to find was gone now. He could be a little annoyed.
"I guess…" Steve murmured, not knowing that the person sitting next to him was getting more heated by the second. It was quiet for a bit, and Henry figured that he'd dropped the topic altogether. Although the damage was already done, and he couldn't see himself getting past this again, Henry appreciated that he'd just shut up about it. If he'd kept talking, he might've snapped.
But, as soon as Henry had decided that Steve had let it go, he leveled Henry with a look more thoughtful than he could ever recall seeing on his face.
"I still feel like I owe you one," Steve said, like he himself didn't quite understand what he was saying.
And, although that wasn't nearly enough to make Henry not irritated, he didn't feel like he was on the brink of ripping his head off either. He was more curious now; Steve's expression was so unfamiliar that Henry couldn't help but wonder what was going on underneath. Instead of saying anything—in case it came out snippy—he just tilted his head, and that seemed to be enough encouragement.
"I don't know why. I mean, don't get me wrong, I know I was a dick, but I just…" Steve looked away for a moment before he sighed a little like he was frustrated with himself and turned his attention wholly onto Henry, "I feel like I did something really bad to you. I don't know what, but I… I'm sorry. Really. I'm really, really sorry. I won't do it again."
It was quiet for a long moment as what Steve said sunk in; as the genuine words echoed in their heads.
As Henry grappled with the realization that Steve knew somehow.
Not about him being gay, no, but Steve definitely knew something, or else he would've never apologized like that. He never would've realized that he needed to apologize. So, somehow, Steve had picked up on some vibe or context clue and put things together enough to understand that he'd hurt him.
"How…" Henry's voice gave out, and he realized something himself; asking this would only back him further into the corner. Because, if he admitted that Steve had done something really bad, well, Steve might just want to know whatit was.
Thankfully, there was something else that he could ask.
"How can you not do it again if you don't know what it was?"
Steve made a face, like he hadn't really considered that, and it was quiet for a few seconds as he tried to figure out an answer.
"I'll just be super nice to you forever, I guess," he finally said, shrugging a little, "Just in case."
That shocked a laugh out of Henry, and Steve smiled; clearly very proud that he'd gotten that reaction. But, even so, Henry could see in his eyes that he was still being genuine. He wasn't being flippant, he… he meant it. He meant every word he said, no matter how impossible his promises were. No matter that he had no idea what he even was promising. Or, who he was making it too. And…
Henry couldn't help but forgive him for everything.
He didn't tell him that, but he didn't have to. He just smiled, and he knew that was enough. He knew that Steve understood. He knew that Steve realized that things between them were different now, that they weren't the same kids that ignored each other in the halls, and that… That when he looked at him, he didn't see King Steve. Not anymore.
To be honest, at this second, Henry looked at him and wasn't quite sure he could trust himself with words.
He didn't mind that so much, though; sometimes it was nice to just stop and enjoy a pretty face, without speaking messing it all up. Or, he might justify it that way after the fact, because right now his mind was pretty much empty.
Thankfully, before it could stretch on too long and leave him feeling embarrassed, something else caught his eye.
Steve turned and the two boys watched Jonathan hurry down the hallway, headed in the direction of the waiting room. They exchanged a look—both wondering the same thing— but neither could bring themselves to ask; probably because they were too scared to hear the answer. But, Jonathan replied without them ever having to say a word.
Although, the look on his face honestly should've been enough.
Once Jonathan had rushed past them, Henry's and Steve's eyes fell on each other again. They were still smiling, but it was different from before. Before, they'd just been happy that they were on good terms with one another. This happiness though, this was something else entirely. This was completely unadulterated, and all-encompassing. A kind of happiness that only happened once in a while.
Neither of them mentioned it, but they both thought it was a good look on the other.
Before either of them could say anything (although, who knows what they would've said), Jonathan was heading back the way he came, only this time accompanied by three boys whose energy levels were far too high for this time of night. As the kids scurried past with bright eyes and excitement at a nearly unreachable height, Henry caught an almost indulgent look on Steve's face. It wasn't an expression he'd expected Steve Harrington to wear when he looked at children, but Henry supposed he should stop expecting anything of Steve; he kept proving him wrong.
It was nice to see, just the same.
Steve turned back to him, smiled—opened and unencumbered by any guilt or sadness (if only for little while)—and Henry felt his insides warm and turn soft. He couldn't even get mad at himself for it; I mean, who wouldn't feel like this with someone so cute was looking at them like that?
But, that expression slipped away before Henry could really bask in it, and was replaced with something gloomy and uncertain and pained.
Henry didn't even have to turn to see to know that Nancy was walking down the hall.
She didn't glance at the pair, either completely occupied with whatever she was doing or specifically ignoring them, and she headed the way the boys had. Steve's expression stayed dejected even once she was out of sight, and Henry felt his own anxieties begin to twist in his gut at the sight, which somehow weren't even limited to feeling weird about getting gooey about Steve Harrington.
"Steve…" Henry started, searching for something that could reassure him, or at the very least lift his spirits a little. But, that all went out the window when his eyes landed on something behind him.
Only this time, she walked past the sliding doors and right outside.
And, no matter how pretty a face Steve had, Henry's focus was off of him entirely now. His best friend acting strange was more than enough to fully capture his attention, and immediately any plans for what he was going to do next were wiped away, and replaced with figuring out what was wrong with Nancy. He didn't even really acknowledge Steve as he left; trailing after Nancy without saying a word. But, Steve followed him just the same.
The night air was a slap in the face, and Henry was forced to take a moment the second he stepped outside. He was struck by how calm and cool the night was, with no traces of what had happened, of what was happening. It was just like any other night in Hawkins. Just like the night he'd sent Barb off after dinner and Lucas had come home to share a Coke with him in the garage. The night before Will didn't come to school. The night before all of this started.
But, he wasn't alone in his garage, working on his car, and he didn't have the luxury of the peace the rest of Hawkins shared. He was at a hospital, trying to make sense of what he'd gone through in the past week—trying to make sense of what he'd lost.
The only consolation was that he wasn't alone.
Nancy was sitting on the steps a few feet away, her back to him and her knees pulled up to her chest, and there was nothing in the world Henry wanted more than to join her.
He wanted to plop down right next to her on the steps, and he wanted to face this with the one other person who might get how he was feeling right now. He didn't know if it would make him feel better, or if it would cheer Nancy up at all either, but if he sat with her then neither one would be doing this by themselves.
Henry knew how much it sucked to be alone; how everything hurt a thousand times worse when you were the only one feeling it. He didn't want to do it, not again, and he didn't want Nancy to have to go through that either. They didn't have to though, because they could face this together, and it wasn't like anyone else—
Steve was looking at him like he was waiting for something.
Henry had been so tied up in his thoughts that he'd forgotten that he wasn't the only one who'd hurried out the hospital doors. Steve was here too, he'd seen the exact same thing, and he must've realized that Nancy was upset just like he had. But, he didn't look like he was thinking about sitting with her, like he was about to get involved. Instead, his expression was like…
Like he was waiting for Henry to.
It didn't matter that he was her boyfriend (maybe) or that he cared about her, Steve had just… just assumed that Henry would be the one who'd talk to her. That he wouldn't be the one who took the wheel on this.
And, a part of Henry wanted to believe that was because Steve was just a stupid guy who didn't want to deal with a woman when she was upset, and was hoping to shove this responsibility off onto someone else. That would be easy to swallow, because it meant that all Henry had to do now was roll his eyes at macho sensibilities and then forget all about it once he joined his friend.
But, he knew better.
Even if they hadn't gone through everything they had together, even if they hadn't had the conversation that they did in the hall just now, Henry would know that wasn't the reason Steve expected him to talk to her. One look in his eyes and the truth was undeniable;
He thought it was for the best.
Steve hadn't thought that he should be the one to reach out to Nancy, because he wasn't trying to use this moment to make himself look better, or even make himself feel better. He didn't care about what he could get out of this, he just wanted what was best for her. He wanted Nancy to feel better and maybe… maybe he wanted Henry to feel better too. He thought the best way to make that happen was for the pair of them to be together, and for him to take a step back.
No matter how badly he wanted to talk to her.
Henry nearly swore out loud when the realization hit him. He didn't want to admit it to himself; he didn't want to deal with this information. But, unfortunately it was the truth. Steve did want to reach out to Nancy, but he wanted what was best for others more than he wanted what was best for himself. He was willing to put other peoples' happiness over his own, and of course that meant…
Henry's stomach dropped as he realized exactly what that meant.
Steve smiled a little, oblivious to the inner turmoil of his companion, and Henry swallowed around the lump in his throat before forcing himself to do what he so badly didn't want.
He sent Steve a significant look and jerked his head towards Nancy.
It took a moment for the meaning to become clear, but Steve's eyes widened when he finally realized, like he couldn't believe what Henry was nonverbally telling him. He glanced towards Nancy—desperately trying to grasp what was happening—before he turned back to Henry; still shocked, but now uncertain as well. He didn't think he could do this, he thought he'd mess this up, and Henry...
Henry didn't want this, but still found it in himself to smile.
That was enough. No matter how hard he had to work to make it happen, or the internal battle that waged inside of him, that small smile was somehow enough. Steve straightened up a little, and even though he still looked nervous, he seemed a lot more determined than before.
This time, when he turned to Nancy, he didn't look back.
And Henry was gone before Steve even sat down.
He wasn't sure where he was going, but he knew he couldn't stay here; Henry heading down the ramp and around the side of the building. He considered going back inside, but he realized all that had to offer was a waiting room full of few people he didn't particularly want to be around. The people he did want to be around, however… Well, they had more important things to do right now.
Henry didn't blame them, not at all. Jonathan and Lucas and the rest of the boys were all excited to be with Will, and Steve and Nancy were having a necessary moment alone. He could let them all be; it wasn't like they needed him for anything.
The only person that might want him there was Nancy, but that would only be if Steve was the type of person who'd try to take advantage of her emotional state. And Henry had known from the moment he'd looked at Steve that all he wanted was for Nancy to feel better. Not to make the chances of being forgiven higher, or to absolve himself from guilt, just to make her happy, because he cared that much.
Must be nice to have a guy who felt that way about you.
God, this was stupid. He was at the hospital right now for a child that had been attacked by a monster and saved from some terrible version of our world. In the grand scheme of things, getting sad about not having a boyfriend was ridiculous. He knew that, he knew that, so why didn't he feel any better?
Maybe it was because he had no one to talk to about it.
Okay, that wasn't completely true. He could tell Lucas or Jonathan or Nancy some heavily edited version, but… They wouldn't understand. They wouldn't understand how it felt to be like him and to want something like that so badly. It wasn't like a boy wanting a girlfriend or a girl wanting a boyfriend, this was different. He knew he wasn't going to get it, he knew he probably never would, and it hurt to think about.
Barb would understand.
Of course she would, she'd experienced the same thing. Hell, she'd also looked at Steve and Nancy and felt exactly what Henry was feeling right now. Well, not quite, because it wasn't like Henry was in love with Steve or anything, he was just a nice looking representation of what he wanted. And that was all. Just that.
Barb still would've teased him about it though, wouldn't have let him off the hook. They'd be walking around this building and she'd be reminding him of how he'd said Steve could never get him to like him, or they'd be in the waiting room and she'd be bemoaning his bad taste, or—or—
He wanted Barb. He wanted his best friend. He wanted to get teased, he wanted to make fun of straight people, he wanted to commiserate over wanting someone special. He wanted the one person in all of Hawkins who understood him. And, instead he…
He was alone.
Just like before.
"Slipping out before anybody notices?"
Henry came to a grinding halt at that unexpected voice. Although he wasn't exactly removed from society, he really hadn't been expecting to bump into anyone while he hung around the hospital at this time of night. And, even if he had, he would've thought they would be strangers who'd look right past him. Not someone who'd notice him. Not someone who'd acknowledge him.
He was standing at the top of the concrete steps to Henry's left—having clearly just exited from the side door— and he zipped up his coat just as casually as he'd spoken. It was clear from the hat that was firmly on his head and his body language that he wasn't just stepping out for a quick smoke.
"No," Henry replied, sending him a look, "But, I think you might be."
Hopper snorted, but there was the ghost of a smirk that let Henry know he wasn't far off. He hopped down the steps with a little more spring in his step than most men his age, and dug in his pocket in a movement that was intimately familiar to Henry. Hopper reached the sidewalk as he popped one between his teeth, and the moment his boot touched the concrete, he was swinging around to face Henry; still nonchalant as he reached out and offered what was in his hand.
Unlike the Chief, Henry was too surprised to play it cool. Looking back on it, he would wish that he'd casually accepted one like this was something that happened every day. But, he hesitated instead; looking at the familiar carton with wide eyes. He'd never had an adult give him a cigarette, let alone unprompted.
Let alone Hopper.
But, even though his brain stalled for a second, he soon reached out and took one from the box; muttering his thanks as he placed it between his teeth. He patted his pockets briefly, before he saw Hopper flip a lighter open and—after only a moment of uncertainty—he leaned in a little closer to let him light it.
Instead of the sweet rush of relief the first pull usually gave him, all Henry felt was a burn on his throat that was so harsh that he had to yank the cigarette out of his mouth.
"What the fuck?" He exclaimed through his coughs, looking down and seeing under the streetlight what made this cigarette between his fingers so different from the ones he usually smoked, "Are these unfiltered?!"
It took a few more chest-rattling coughs for him to start to feel back to normal, but even while he was busy trying to not die, Henry had enough presence of mind to know that he was expecting either some gruff comment or complete silence in response. But, instead of what was so predictable, he heard something he never had before in his life
It was low, nothing more than a few chuckles, but it was there just the same. A sound that was so unfamiliar that Henry didn't fully understand what it was until he looked over and found that the normally dour expression of the police chief had been replaced with a smile.
"Not my fault you're a pussy," Hopper replied once he'd stopped coughing, clearly so severely amused that Henry couldn't even find it in himself to be annoyed by that. Besides, it was obvious he wasn't trying to be mean or anything; he was just teasing.
Hopper was teasing.
This night couldn't get any weirder if it tried.
Henry smiled a little, not entirely sure what he could possibly say in response, before he raised the cigarette to his lips—a little more cautious this time—and managed to take a puff without feeling like he needed to hack up a lung. He leaned back against the metal railing as he let the nicotine enter his system, and watched as their smoke curled in the cool air together for just a moment before it dissipated into the darkness of Hawkins. The seconds ticked by in silence, and Henry felt himself slowly begin to settle.
"How're you doing, Kid?"
Being called that by Hopper triggered some automatic distaste in Henry, but he pushed that all away. He was only just starting to feel better, and he didn't want to throw it all away just to be unnecessarily prickly. Besides, he didn't even want to. Usually, there was a part of him that always wanted to snarl and shriek when Hopper was around. But, right now? After everything Hopper had done to bring Will back? After everything Hopper had done to help Henry get the boys somewhere safe? After everything Hopper had s—
He didn't want to be prickly.
So instead, he focused on the words themselves, the genuine note of concern behind them, and he searched for an answer that wouldn't be a lie. Because it would be a lie to say he was fine. He couldn't even tell that lie to himself, and he'd convinced himself that he was fine more times than he could count. He wasn't fine, he knew that.
But, he also knew he wasn't not fine. Sure, he felt like his life was falling apart at the seams, but he was keeping it together. He was handling everything that had been thrown at him. He was dealing with everything that he'd survived. He was getting by. He was managing. He was…
Hopper snapped to look at him, and Henry couldn't help but be a little surprised himself. He wasn't sure when he'd become capable of casually speaking about that horrible experience with the man he couldn't help but see as one of the main causes, but evidently that had happened at some point. Maybe it was because that wasn't the worst thing he'd lived through now, and he had more than enough fresh reasons to feel awful.
Maybe he didn't really see Hopper like that anymore.
Because now Henry found that it wasn't hard to make eye contact. He could look right at Hopper without that inner push to avert his eyes. He could smoke a cigarette with him and not feel like he needed to do everything he could to get out of this situation. He could… He could talk to him. He could talk to him without feeling like he needed to run away.
He'd never been able to do that before.
After a moment of silence as that word hung in the air, Hopper snorted a little and turned his attention back out towards the parking lot.
"Best any of us can do," he offered, taking a deep drag from his cigarette and letting it go quiet again.
And, maybe that would be it. The two of them would smoke their cigarettes and go their separate ways, without either of them saying another word to one another. That could feasibly happen, especially after the night they'd both had.
But, Henry had just realized that, for the first time in his life, he could say something to Hopper. He could do the one thing that had terrified him for years. And sure, it could've been that he was just so tired and lonely that he was willing to turn to anyone at this point, but he knew that wasn't the case. He knew that things had changed. He knew that he had changed.
The kid who'd told his mom he was never going to see Hopper again was gone, but Henry wasn't entirely sure who was left.
"It doesn't feel over," Henry said, looking down at the cigarette between his fingers, "It feels like something's going to happen and we'll be right back to where we were."
Hopper's casual response was enough to pull Henry's eyes up, and he found that the Chief was still looking out at the dark parking lot in front of them.
"We all grow old and die without ever seeing anything like what we've seen tonight again, and it still won't be over," Hopper said, "This isn't a sitcom, Kid. Everything doesn't get wrapped up in a neat bow at the end. This part is going to stay forever, even though we keep going."
Hopper's words, although blunt, were clearly not meant to hurt. He was just telling him the simple truth. He wasn't trying to make things worse, but he wasn't pretending like what they were facing was anything less than what it was.
It hurt to hear, just the same.
It hurt because Henry had known. He'd known this from the start. He'd just… He didn't want to acknowledge the painful truth. He didn't want to deal with the fact that this was something he'd never truly be free from. That this was something that would follow him for the rest of his life.
"It'll get easier, though," Hopper said, his voice cutting through the silence, although it was a lot less harsh. Henry looked up and found that he was already looking at him, his expression less even now, and more sympathetic. Like he knew what he'd been thinking, and like… like he was trying to comfort him, "With time."
That didn't make Henry feel better, not the way Hopper had intended. That wasn't his fault though, he couldn't have known how those words made Henry's chest tighten and his stomach twist. Because, it wasn't really those words that did it.
It was the fact that Hopper didn't even need to tell him that in the first place.
"Yeah, I…" Henry cleared his throat, the truth clogging his throat, "I know."
It was quiet again, only this time it wasn't so easy. The air was heavy now with the implications of what he'd just said. Hopper was too smart a man to not understand what that meant. And sure, he'd sort of broached the topic already, but it wasn't like now. That had just been a sideways comment, and it hadn't gone anywhere. But now… now they were to the place that Henry dreaded. He could feel it, he knew what was coming.
"We don't have to talk about it."
Henry's words were rushed in his desperation to cut Hopper off, but he didn't even care how he sounded. If obvious panic was what it took to get this to stop, then oh well. He'd be pathetic if that meant Hopper understood that this wasn't something that he wanted to get into. Not now, not ever.
"I know, I know. I get it, I do, I just…" Hopper said, and even though he was doing the exact thing he didn't want, his voice was calm and low, and Henry couldn't help but feel soothed slightly as Hopper turned to face him, "I gotta know, Kid. Do I need to worry?"
Hopper's gaze was intense, but it wasn't intimidating, not in the way it could be. He wasn't angry, or upset, or even critical. He was… he was just concerned. What Henry had accidentally spat at him a few hours ago had only made Hopper worry. In some ways, it was a relief—Henry didn't have to face judgement or deal with being reprimanded—but it still made him uncomfortable.
He would've much rather spent the rest of his life never acknowledging this than having the conversation that he'd been terrified of since the first time he opened his eyes in the hospital room four years ago.
"No, I… It's fine," Henry muttered, before clearing his throat and speaking again; his voice a little bit stronger now, "I'm fine."
Despite that, Hopper's gaze held steady, and he maintained eye contact for a few quiet moments. Henry could see in Hopper's stare that he was looking for any sign that what he'd said was a lie. A sign that Henry wasn't fine, that he did need to worry about him, that he…
Henry wasn't sure what Hopper would do if he thought he was lying. Would he tell his parents? Arrest him so he could keep an eye on him, if just for the night? Or maybe he would turn right around and head back into the hospital to have him put under one of those watches. Henry knew that the only thing that would accomplish would be making him want to kill himself more, but who knew what Hopper would think was best. It honestly didn't matter, though; Henry knew there wasn't any sign of a lie.
There wasn't a lie.
Because, after everything that had happened in the Byers' house, after everything that had happened this past week, he knew that he didn't want to die.
Hopper knew that too now. He'd seen it in his expression. He must've, because he nodded a little and the concern on his features slowly began to melt away. Whatever he'd seen in Henry had been enough to convince him.
"Okay," Hopper murmured, before he spoke a little louder, a little more pointed, "Okay?"
That wasn't an empty question. His tone was too pointed and his look too significant, for that to be rhetorical. He was legitimately asking, and he wanted a real answer. Not just a hollow reassurance that everybody gave one another. He was giving Henry a chance to say no, to tell him if he wasn't okay, to…
To let him help if he needed it.
But, at the same time, he was giving Henry a chance to say yes. To tell him he wasokay and end this conversation once and for all. Close this chapter that the pair of them had been stuck in for four years together, and do what Henry hadn't been able to until now.
Henry's voice was strong and sure, and Hopper nodded once.
After a moment, they both turned their eyes back out towards the hospital parking lot, and the pair was silent; smoking their cigarettes and reveling in the first moment of calm they'd had in quite some time.
Neither one apologized, because neither one needed to hear it.
It had been quiet for a while, both men absorbed with their own thoughts, when a sleek, black car caught their attention. It was slowly making its way towards them, and although it was hard to get a good look at it against the darkness, Henry had more than enough experience with cars to know when one wasn't normal. When one wasn't owned by an average person.
"I think your ride's here," Henry said casually, looking over at Hopper. He seemed a little surprised; not by the car—he'd probably come out here expecting it—but by the fact that Henry had been perceptive enough to understand what was happening right now. But, that didn't trip him up, or even distract him.
"Go inside, Kid," Hopper said with a grim frown, "Your friends are probably looking for you by now."
Henry decided it wasn't worth it to point out that everyone was way too preoccupied to care about what he was doing, and instead he just nodded and threw what remained of his cigarette down to the pavement.
"Good luck," he offered as he turned towards the side door; lingering just long enough to see Hopper nod and smile a little bit before he hopped up the steps.
Henry was at the top of the stairs when Hopper called his name, and he turned to see that the Chief was looking up to where he was standing with an expression that was open and genuine, despite what was undoubtedly a government car about to whisk him away.
"A lot of people in there care about you, Kid. Find them."
Henry didn't quite understand how someone he'd pushed away for years could be so certain of that.
He only managed a small nod, but that was enough to satisfy Hopper. He ducked into the car, and Henry stayed on the small porch long enough to watch it pull out and disappear into the dark night. Once the car was out of sight, he took one last deep breath and pulled the door open; stepping back into the hospital with Hopper's words ringing in his ears.
He hardly paid attention to what he was doing, his mind somewhere else as he made his way down the halls. It was only when he was almost there did he realize that he'd been heading back towards the waiting room. Last he checked, only the Wheelers were in there, but maybe Nancy and Steve had come in from the cold too. Besides, he was tired of standing, so he might as well go where he knew there were chairs.
It wasn't ideal, but hey, where else was he going to go?
As Henry turned the last corner, he expected to face down another empty corridor lined with closed doors just like every other hallway in this hospital. The only difference would be that he'd duck into one of the rooms himself before shutting the door and putting everything back to the status quo.
But, the hallway wasn't empty.
Jonathan's face lit up the moment he saw him.
"There you are!" he exclaimed, rushing towards Henry with an upbeat energy that he'd never seen from the usually reserved man before. He guessed it made sense seeing how his brother was back and safe, but it was still surprising, "I've been looking for you."
Before Henry could ask him what he was talking about, Jonathan slipped his hand into his, and although he was gentle since he was using his wrapped up hand, he tugged him down the hall with a grip that didn't leave any room to argue. Henry stumbled at first, but he quickly found his feet and followed after him, mostly because he didn't have much of a choice.
"Where are we going?" He asked, jogging just a little so he could be beside Jonathan as they hurried down the hospital halls.
"To see Will."
Jonathan said it so simply, as if it was the obvious answer, that it didn't even register in Henry's mind at first. By the time he realized what Jonathan had told him, Henry didn't have a chance to say anything about it because they were rounding the corner and into a hospital room.
The moment they set foot inside, the room exploded with the sound of excited chatter. The three boys hurried forward and grabbed onto Henry with three sets of small but very strong hands; pulling him deeper inside whether he wanted to or not.
"We were trapped and we thought we were going to die and then—"
"He went into the woods with your brother and Nancy looking for the Demogorgon and—"
"He had a gun! He would've shot someone—"
"He told us not to go into the woods and he was so scary that Dustin called him sir."
"I did not!"
"Okay, okay, guys," Jonathan said, laughing a little, "Let him be, don't overwhelm him."
Henry wasn't entirely certain who he was talking about there, but it worked to get the boys to calm down a bit. They let go of his arms and dispersed a little, but they never really moved away from the central hub; what everyone was orbiting.
Henry suddenly understood the face his mother had made every time she'd gone into his hospital room.
The face she thought he'd never noticed. The face that hurt to look at, because of how badly she hurt underneath. The face that was almost always covered by a warm mask that was so convincing that he sometimes wondered if he'd imagined it in the first place.
And Henry was nothing if not his mother's son.
"Hey, Will," Henry said, soft and sweet, "How're you feeling, Bud?"
Despite his obvious frailty and exhaustion, Will smiled just as wide as he would any other day. He lit up like Henry had said something surprising or special, and Joyce's eyes watered while her shaky smile grew at the sight of her son's expression.
"Better," he said, Henry chuckling a little.
"I bet," he replied, and the pair smiled at one another like they were sharing a secret.
"Here, Honey, sit down," Joyce said, Henry's eyes widening as she pushed a chair towards him.
"Oh, I don't want to-to bother you guys," he said, "I'll go—"
"Don't be silly," Joyce replied with a small wet laugh, looking at Henry as if he was crazy to even suggest such a thing.
But, that wasn't what convinced him to sit down. If the only person insisting that he stay was Joyce, it would be very tempting, but he'd assume she was just trying to be nice to the kid that had kept an eye on her oldest son during all of this. That he wasn't actually wanted beyond some feeling of obligation.
What did convince him was the small voice coming from the hospital bed.
Will's eyes were wide and hopeful as he looked up at him, like he wanted what he was asking for so badly, and it was more than enough to make Henry give in to what he wanted to do anyway.
He sat down in the uncomfortable chair, and Will's expression brightened up again, like what he'd done had made him happier than anyone could imagine, and Henry couldn't stop himself from the sunny smile he gave back.
Will's eyes widened a little before dropping down to the bedspread, but Henry didn't notice; Jonathan had leaned against the back of his chair, and he'd looked up to share a smile with his friend. But, despite the fact that his brother had just unknowingly saved him from some embarrassment, Will stole Henry's attention back as soon as he could.
"Um, you had-have a gun?" Will asked, his voice wobbling as he asked the question. Henry opened his mouth to respond, his brain working fast to try to figure out how to explain what he'd done in a way that didn't sound insane, but he wasn't even able to get a single syllable out.
"Dude, Henry was so badass!" Dustin exploded.
"I wish you could've seen it!" Mike added.
"He stole it!" Lucas finished.
And that was more than enough to get the boys going; telling Will everything that Henry had gone through as best they could with their own incomplete knowledge. Henry let it happen, with a smile permanently affixed, and he alternated between watching the boys' animated storytelling and looking at Will's expression. He was enthralled, and his excitement grew as the boys went on and on, no matter how tired he actually was.
Henry knew that this wasn't how it would always be.
Henry knew that this moment, this happiness, wasn't going to last.
Hopper was right. It wasn't over. Everything they'd lived through, everything Will had survived, wasn't going to leave so easily. This was the type of stuff that stayed. The type that stuck to you for the rest of your life.
The cut on their hands would heal, but the scar would never completely fade.
But, it didn't matter.
Well, it did. It mattered that Henry would have to look Mr. and Mrs. Holland in the eyes after this like he hadn't failed to save their daughter. It mattered that none of them would ever feel the same about the woods, or the dark, or that stretch of road where Cornwallis and Kerley met. It mattered that Will was going to have to cope with what happened to him for the rest of his life. It mattered that Henry would have to live without the one person who…
But, it didn't matter that this moment was going to end.
It didn't matter that this happiness would eventually run out, because Henry knew that it wouldn't be gone forever.
Yeah, they had a rough road up ahead, but it was all of them. Maybe Henry would never be able to keep guilt from welling up inside him when he saw the Hollands, but at least he knew that Nancy would always understand. Maybe none of them would ever be able to experience certain things without leftover fear striking them, but at least they were all in it together. And, maybe Henry wasn't going to have the person he'd connected with so deeply, but…
But, in this moment—in this beautiful, fleeting moment—he looked at Will and…
Henry didn't feel quite so alone.