"They made out in the bathroom."
Henry jumped slightly, and jerked his head towards the unexpected voice. He'd nearly made it the entire school day without anybody trying to talk to him about anything more than whether or not they'd had homework or something equally as innocuous. He was almost disappointed. But, he relaxed as he realized who had started keeping pace with him, and even smiled slightly as he turned his eyes forward again.
Barb smiled a little at that, despite the gravity of what she'd just said. Henry liked to think that was his own personal impact.
"Hi, Henry," Barb said, "He left a note in her locker and they made out in the bathroom."
"Uh…" Henry came to a stop in front of his own locker as he thought it over, before he replied honestly, "Gross."
"Right?!" Barb exclaimed, leaning back against the locker next to Henry's, "That's so unsanitary. Also, anyone could walk in on them!"
"I mean, I would hope they locked the door," Henry replied, never slowing his movements as he shoved his books into his backpack, "Did Mundy give us homework? I kind of spaced out at the end there."
"No, he didn't. He probably heard that we were having a test with Kaminsky and decided to give us a break," Barb said, slightly rushed as she pushed past the unimportant topic, "But, who does that? Skips class to go swap spit with some guy in a public bathroom. You know what, I'll tell you who, someone like Carol or Tommy H, not Nancy Wh—."
Henry shut his locker and turned to look Barb dead in the eyes; cutting her off without a single word. There was a moment of silence, and Barb deflated.
"Yeah," she said, her voice low and her eyes on her feet, "I know. You're right."
Henry sighed as he took in Barb's downtrodden body language, and he felt a tug of guilt at his stomach even though he knew it wasn't his fault. Finally, he put his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look up at him and make eye contact.
"You want to come over sometime this weekend?" He offered after a moment, an unwilling smile starting to pull on Barb's lips, "I think I could make some space in my very busy schedule of doing nothing. Plus, I'm not sure if you could tell, but my parents were pretty happy last night that I finally had a girl over to my house."
"You know… I think I noticed that, yeah," Barb replied, truly smiling now.
"Really, you could?" Henry asked sarcastically, turning so he had a hand on Barb's back and could steer them towards the exit, "What gave it away? Was it the excited looks my mom and dad kept exchanging about every 30 seconds? Or my sister's utter disbelief when you sat down at the table? Or-or maybe was it the Beach Boys? Was it the Beach Boys, Barb?"
The giggles that she'd had at the beginning turned into open laughter as Henry's rant drew to a close. He knew he was hamming it up more than he usually would, and that they were attracting more attention than they normally preferred (across the hallway, Ally's eyes flicked between the two of them and her brows raised), but he didn't care. Barb wasn't sad anymore.
"Hey, Barb! Oh."
Henry and Barb turned to see Nancy Wheeler herself come to a sudden halt. Clearly she had seen Barb from down the hall, but hadn't processed exactly what she was doing until she'd tried to get her friend's attention. Nancy smiled sheepishly as she crossed the distance between them, before coming to a stop in front of them; fiddling with her sleeves awkwardly.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt," she said, "I just wanted to talk to Barb about something, but if you two are busy, I can just—."
"It's fine," Barb said with a shrug, one beat of awkward silence before Henry couldn't handle it and he spoke.
"We were just joking around."
"Right," Nancy said, a tad softer than before with a funny look in her eye, "I know you, don't I?"
"This is Henry," Barb quickly replied, almost as if that was a defense to whatever Nancy was thinking, "Henry Sinclair."
"Oh, right," Nancy said, Henry seeing the exact moment it clicked in her brain who he was and bracing himself for that particular small talk, "Your brother, Lucas, he's friends with my brother."
"Yeah," Henry said, unable to keep the lilt of surprise out of his voice, "He hangs out in your basement a lot."
"It's not just that, though. Didn't you come over to my house?" Nancy said, realization dawning on Henry's features.
"Yeah, once, when we were like ten. It was your brother's birthday party; my mom dragged me along because she had to take Lucas."
"We played Sorry inside because we didn't want to run around with the 'little kids,'" Nancy said, laughing as the memories came flooding back to her.
"Wait…" Henry putting his head on his forehead and shutting his eyes as he tried to sort through fuzzy (given their close proximity to the more traumatic ones) childhood memories, "Tell me if I'm misremembering, but wasn't Jonathan Byers there too? He played with us."
"He was!" Nancy replied, just as surprised, "I think he won!"
"That's so weird," Henry said, maybe a little more thoughtfully than someone normally would in these circumstances, but he wasn't alone.
"I remember having a lot of fun," Nancy murmured, her words tilting almost as if it was a question. One that Henry heard loud and clear, but already knew the answer to.
"Oh, didn't you want to say something to Barb?" Henry asked, feeling a little bad that he'd left her out of the conversation for so long; he was supposed to be her line of defense against any bad feelings her best friend might cause, and here he was, chatting with Nancy like there was nothing wrong. Luckily, his words snapped Nancy out of her thoughts, and she smiled.
"Alright, I'll leave you to it." Henry turned his attention back to Barb, where it should be, "Come by whenever you want."
"Right, see you later," Barb said, ever so slightly nervous as she shot a glance towards Nancy. Henry was already walking away when he waved, feeling a little bit guilty that he was leaving Barb to deal with Nancy's questions on her own, but also a little relieved.
As he pushed the doors to the school open and headed out to the parking lot, his mind was a million miles away. Yeah, he understood the question Nancy had been asking herself, it had occurred to him in the moment too: if they'd had so much fun that day, why hadn't they stayed friends? But, it hadn't taken more than a millisecond of thought for him to figure out the answer to that one.
Nancy Wheeler was a good girl extraordinaire. She was smart, modest, came from a good family, never went to parties, and every other thing that came from that role. The closest she'd done to toeing out of line was dating a particular player of both basketball and women. But, although he'd never tell Barb, Henry didn't doubt Nancy's ability to make him settle down in the suburbs with her for the rest of their lives.
Jonathan Byers, on the other hand, couldn't be more different. People called him a freak, and treated him like one too. Which was pretty awful, but there was no denying he was different from the rest. He had no friends, but unlike Henry, he just withdrew. And, while most people would chalk that up to his "freakish" nature, Henry had heard more than enough from his mother about the Byers' home situation to know that the pressure to keep their family from falling completely apart was heavily on Jonathan's shoulders.
Then there was Henry.
Henry was Henry, and that was enough to set him apart from the other two.
While for a brief moment their paths had intersected in the Wheeler's living room (before Nancy fell into line, before Jonathan became a complete social pariah, and before… before), there was no denying the people that they had each become. Very different people.
And, for the life of him, Henry couldn't comprehend a situation that would bring them together the way an older kids' alliance against younger ones had. At least, not one that would ever happen.
For the second time today, Henry jumped, only to turn and see a teenage girl trying to catch his attention.
"Oh, hey Lisa," he said, his awkwardness dissipating as she neared and he caught sight of her concerned expression, "What's up?"
"Um," Lisa Wells started, like she usually did when she had to say something to Henry. If anyone asked, she was 100% over him, but sometimes she still felt the flutters of attraction and the sting of rejection when she looked at him, "So, my brother, he goes to middle school. And, um, he saw your brother get called into the principal's office."
Henry tipped his head slightly as he thought about it. That was out of character for Lucas, he was a good kid. But, at the same time, Henry didn't doubt his brother and his friends' ability to get into some shenanigans. Probably nothing.
"And, um…" Lisa continued, pulling Henry's attention back to her, "He said that he saw the Chief in there too."
Henry's fingers twitched towards his pocket and he cursed under his breath; he'd thought it would be better if he left his backpack in his car, but now all he wanted was a loose one that he'd thrown in there for emergencies.
As another group of children hurried past him, Henry figured it was actually probably a good thing.
He settled on biting his nails.
For what seemed the millionth time in the eight minutes he'd been waiting, Henry threw a glance across the hallway at the frosted glass that read Principal Russel Coleman in dark lettering. He knew that on the other side of that door were his brother and the Chief of Police, he just didn't know why. And that was way scarier than he'd like to admit.
Finally, finally, after what felt like years of waiting, the door swung open and out filed the familiar preteen boys. Although it was a little selfish, Henry couldn't help but feel relieved when he realized that Mike and Dustin had also been in there.
Henry straightened up as they were ushered out of the room by Coleman and a cop, with the familiar large man rounding out the back of the group. Henry made eye contact with him for a split-second before he dropped his gaze to the ground; familiar discomfort coursing through his body. Henry could see in his peripheral how his mouth opened—undoubtedly to say something about his presence that would probably be a little too blunt for comfort—before someone beat him to the punch.
Lucas was confused, all of the kids were, and rightfully so. Henry didn't make a habit of showing up in the hallways of Hawkins Middle. In his opinion, he'd had more than his fair share of time here, and he shouldn't have to spend any more in this dreary building. So, clearly these were outstanding circumstances.
"Hey, Bud," Henry said as he forced a smile, trying to keep his spirits up, at least for appearances.
"What are you doing here?' Lucas asked, crossing the distance between them.
"Heard that the Chief was talking to you, thought I'd come check," he said casually, before his voice lowered for only Lucas to hear and any carelessness disappeared, "Everything alright?"
Lucas nodded, and Henry felt some of his nerves dissipate, but when he opened his mouth to give a real answer, he was cut off by a familiar gruff voice that all but commanded his attention.
"Joyce Byers came into the station this morning," Chief Jim Hopper said, Henry meeting his eyes even though that was one of the last things he wanted to do, "She can't find her son."
The ride home from school that day was markedly different than the drive to.
For starters, there were four people in the car rather than just one, because when the Chief of Police asks you to ferry three preteens home so they wouldn't have a chance to start playing detective, you did it. Now, instead of that idyllic quiet only disturbed by the soft sound of the radio, the Oldsmobile was filled with endless chatter. But, more notable that the noise was the fact that Henry had not been blessed with the lightheartedness from earlier, and instead wordlessly frowned as he drove through Hawkins.
"Maybe he was kidnapped by some Russian spies and—." Dustin's theory was clearly far from over when he was cut off.
"Why would Russian spies want to kidnap Will?" Lucas demanded, leaning over Mike so Dustin could see the full majesty of his incredulous expression.
"I'm getting there, let me finish!" Dustin replied, muttering something profane under his breath before continuing, "Maybe Russian spies kidnapped Will, and are interrogating him for information on the United States right now."
"What could Will know that the Russians don't?" Mike asked, abandoning his mediator role to join the side of disbelief, "He's just a kid!"
"Or maybe brainwashing him into becoming an informant for the Russians!" Dustin countered, "No one would ever expect an American kid to be a spy!"
"Yeah, because a kid can't find out important stuff!" Lucas replied, "Do you think the Russians are trying to figure out who Stacey Campbell has a crush on?"
"Will's small! He could fit into some tight spaces!"
"What tight spaces?! The vents at school?! So the Russians can find where Phyllis stores the chocolate pudding?!"
"Henry, what do you think happened to Will?!" Mike all but yelled, clearly trying to get this conversation back on track. It sort of worked, the car fell silent as all three of the boys stopped talking; curious what an older and more experienced (in comparison) person would have to say. But, as the seconds ticked on, it became obvious that Henry wouldn't be answering any time soon.
"Henry?" Lucas asked, tapping on his older brother's shoulder. Henry turned his head towards the boys in the back, and they realized he hadn't been ignoring him, he just hadn't heard the question, "What do you think happened to Will?"
"Oh." The sound Henry made seemed involuntary, but the tone was enough for the boys to realize that what he thought was not nearly as exciting or fun as Russian spies, "Well, um, I hope he just got lost or ran off."
"Will wouldn't run away," Mike replied, serious now. Henry sighed and nodded.
"Yeah, I know."
The car was quiet again, but only for a moment before Lucas put his arms against the back of the front seats and rested his chin on top.
"Are you okay?" He asked, frowning not unlike how Henry had been moments earlier.
"Yeah," Henry said, glancing at his brother before plastering on a smile and giving a much more convincing answer, "Yeah, of course. Cops just make me nervous, you know that."
"Even the Chief?" Dustin interjected, just as terrible at reading the room as ever, "Wasn't he the one who—?"
Dustin yelped at the slap Lucas landed on his head and—less obviously, but still worth noting—the elbow Mike shoved into his stomach.
"What the Hell?!" Dustin exclaimed, glaring at his two best friends.
"Alright, Henderson residence," Henry said, cutting off the fight before it really got started. Dustin muttered something under his breath as stumbled out of the car; huffily fixing his clothes.
"You guys suck!" He yelled, slamming the door shut and stomping towards his house. The two boys in the back were unresponsive to their friend's antics, but Henry smiled slightly as he rolled down the window and stuck his head out.
"Dustin!" He said, getting the kid's attention, "Your bike!"
Dustin almost seemed to twitch before stomping back over to the car and opening the trunk to get his bike from the heap. After a moment of struggling, he got it free and he slammed the trunk before stomping up the driveway again.
The grumpy kid turned towards him expectantly, but this time Henry said nothing, and just blew him a kiss. The two boys in the backseat erupted into laughter as Dustin rolled his eyes and disappeared into his garage. When Henry pulled out of the driveway and headed towards their next stop, Mike and Lucas were still giggling.
By the time Mike had been dropped off, the conversation had steered away from Henry and back on the proper track: Will's disappearance. The two boys had thrown around more than a few ridiculous theories about what could've happened to Will, and neither of them seemed to put much weight into them, even when it was coming out of their own mouths. Even so, after Mike climbed out of the car and retrieved his bike, he'd called back at Lucas.
"We'll talk more about this later!"
Lucas said something back confirming it as Mike started to walk up to his house; Henry driving away as soon as it was clear he would get inside okay.
The space Lucas's friends had occupied with their bodies and voices was empty now, and the car fell silent for a moment. Henry looked out the window with his mind more on the past half hour and less on the road. He hadn't been lying, cops did make him nervous, but a certain cop had a way of making him shut down faster than any other. Hell, even just thinking about it—thinking about what Dustin had almost blurted out—had his jaw clenching and his hands tightening around the steering wheel. His eyes flashed towards his backpack on the passenger seat as the urge hit him.
"What do you think happened to Will?"
If Lucas's words hadn't been enough to wake Henry out of his reverie, him clambering into the front seat certainly did.
"We're two minutes from the house," Henry protested, aiming a swat at his brother as Lucas kicked his backpack onto the floor and plopped into the front seat.
"Seriously, man," Lucas said, leveling Henry with that look that meant he wouldn't be able to dance his way around this anymore. Henry hated that he could do that, but it was better that Lucas had this power rather than anyone else.
Finally, after a moment, he sighed and sent his little brother a sideways look.
"Will's… small. And-and sensitive, and delicate, and I know what the kids at your school say about him. Hell, I remember what his dad said about him. It's not a secret. Fucking Lonnie Byers told anyone who would listen that he thought his son was…" Henry took a deep breath, and he threw a look out the window—maybe to collect his thoughts, maybe to hide his expression—before he continued, "It just makes me nervous."
The car was silent as Henry's words sank in. He hadn't wanted to admit it out loud, but it was the truth, and although his stomach twisted in anxiety for the missing kid, it was nice to not be the only one weighed down with those thoughts.
"You think someone did something to him?" Lucas asked, his voice much smaller than before, and Henry felt a stab of guilt for making his poor brother have to think about this too.
"I just think it's a possibility," Henry said, switching gears into reassuring, "Way more likely that he got lost in the woods or something. But, I am worried that maybe I'm the only one thinking that. That the police haven't considered it."
"You could go tell them," Lucas said, Henry sending him a look, "I bet they'd listen to you, or maybe if you went and talked to the Chief—."
"Oh, look. We're home."
Henry's deadpanned voice cut off Lucas's suggestion, and before he could continue, Henry had grabbed his backpack and gotten out of the car; effectively ending any conversation.
By the time the clock read 7:30, Henry was knee-deep in studying. Kaminsky tests were a bitch, and even if he thought he had a handle on the material, he was making absolutely sure that he wouldn't get tripped up by his own confidence.
His mind was full of nothing but science text and random facts that he knew he would forget the moment the semester ended when there was a knock on the door, pulling him out of his thoughts.
"Come in!" He called, leaning back in his chair to get a good look at who was entering his room, "Hey, Mom."
"Hi," Judith Sinclair replied with a small smile, "Is this what you're going to be doing for the night?"
Henry looked down at the mass of notes, flashcards, and textbooks on his desk before looking back up at his mom.
"I mean, yeah?" He said, frowning "Do you think I should be doing something else?"
Mrs. Sinclair laughed and shook her head.
"No, no, I was just wondering if you could keep an eye on your siblings while your father and I are out," she said, crossing the room so she could place a hand on Henry's shoulder.
"Yeah, no problem," he replied with a smile, "Where are you going?"
It was subtle, but Henry knew his mother well enough to see it; how her expression turned down slightly.
"We volunteered to help with the search party," she said softly, "It felt like the least we could do."
Henry nodded in understanding before he reached up and gently put his hand on top of his mom's. He knew what she was thinking about; how close it was to their family. It was quiet for a moment between them before Mrs. Sinclair straightened up and gave her son a squeeze on the shoulder.
"We won't be back until late, around eleven, so make sure they get to bed on time," she said as she walked towards the door, Henry humming an affirmative, "Oh, and keep an eye on Lucas… I'm worried about him."
"I've got it, Mom," Henry replied, as sure as ever, and Mrs. Sinclair smiled in thanks. She didn't know why she worried—she could always count on her son.
It was about two hours later when Henry shut his textbook and stretched. He'd been bent over his desk since his parents had left—with only brief bathroom and snack breaks—and his body did not appreciate it. Finally, he stood up, hearing his joints pop, and he headed out of his room and to the stairs; stopping halfway and leaning to see his sister sat a little too close to the TV.
"Okay, Erica, bedtime!" He called.
"Nope, I already let you stay up later than usual," Henry said seriously, although he did crack a smile at his younger sister's overdramatic whining, "C'mon."
Erica muttered under her breath, but she turned off the TV and walked over to the stairs; sticking her tongue out at Henry as she passed him. All it really did was make him smile wider, though.
"Where's Lucas?" Henry asked as he followed her up the stairs, Erica rolling her eyes.
"Probably in his room, talking to his nerd friends on his nerd phone."
"Hey," Henry said, a gentle warning to his tone, "Brush your teeth and get to bed."
"Fine," Erica said loftily before disappearing into the bathroom. Henry snorted, used to her attitude, before he rounded on his brother's shut door. Earlier, the three boys had been talking about Will's disappearance flippantly, but Henry wondered if Lucas's feelings had changed now that it was dark and Will was still missing. Or, he thought, maybe Lucas's feelings had changed because of what he'd said in the car earlier today. If it was his fault for putting dark thoughts about Will's whereabouts in Lucas's head. Finally, Henry decided to just bite the bullet.
"Hey, Bud, you still up?" He asked, softly knocking on the door. Henry considered just walking away when there was no response, but his worry won out and he opened the door.
Instead of finding his brother asleep, or even that he wasn't in his room, Henry found Lucas looking supremely caught out.
From the shoes, to the coat, to the backpack, it wasn't hard for Henry to piece together what he was planning on doing. And clearly Lucas knew it.
It was quiet for a moment as Henry processed what he was seeing and Lucas scrambled for an excuse that he knew his big brother wouldn't buy. But, before an embarrassing lie could slip past his lips, Henry spoke with a low voice.
"Your friends meeting you?"
"… Yeah," Lucas said, instead of spitting out something half-baked. Henry nodded slightly in response and again, it was quiet. This time though, it was broken by a soft sigh.
"Mom and Dad are going to be back around eleven, and you know they'll come check on you," Henry said matter-of-factly, "So… you better be back by then."
Disbelief took over Lucas's expression, but that was the only part of him that changed. He didn't even look towards the door, as if he thought he'd misheard and that Henry hadn't actually just given him the okay.
"Don't give me a chance to change my mind," Henry finally said, laughing slightly. Only then did Lucas move; his lips pulling into a grin as he grabbed his bag and headed towards the stairs, "Hey."
Henry's voice froze him in his tracks, and Lucas slowly turned, almost as if he thought he'd taken too long and Henry really had second thoughts. But, instead of ordering him to put his pajamas on and go to bed, Henry just smiled ruefully.
"Promise," Lucas replied, the two brothers smiling at each other for a moment more before he turned and left.
The front door opened and closed and the house grew quiet, Henry sighing before he headed back to his room. He knew he wouldn't be getting to sleep anytime soon.
Henry had been right: he hadn't even thought of getting to bed. At the moment, he was trying to study more for the test he had in less than twelve hours, but the words on the page ran together into a garble he couldn't even begin to comprehend. He shouldn't be studying, shouldn't even be trying—his mind was too preoccupied with all the terrible things that could be happening to his brother and his friends at this very moment.
A part of him wondered why the hell he'd let Lucas go. If a volunteer search group of adults couldn't do it, no way in hell three preteens stood a chance. At best, all the boys would find were mild cases of hypothermia going off of the weather, at worst… Well, maybe they'd find exactly what happened to Will.
He'd been counting on safety in numbers when he'd let Lucas go—thinking that his friends would have his back. And sure, they would, but did it really matter when they were children? They really couldn't do much if things went south, and instead of telling all of them to go home and forget about it, Henry had signed off on it. Practically shoved Lucas out the door.
How dumb was he? Did he want his brother and his friends to get hurt? He'd driven them home after school because the Chief had all but ordered him to, what was the response going to be when Hopper found out that he'd given them the go ahead to do exactly what he'd told them not to? Why'd he do that?!
The pencil that Henry had been nervously twisting in his fingers stilled, and without prompting, his eyes drifted down to the bottom shelf of his desk. For a moment, he just looked at it, not wanting to give in, before he sighed and reached over to reveal the jumbled contents. Over the years, he'd used this drawer as a catch-all, so much that he wasn't entirely certain what was in here anymore.
Except for one thing.
The one thing he knew for certain, because he remembered putting it in there and shutting the drawer with finality. Like, if he didn't look at it, he wouldn't ever have to think about that time of his life again.
The moment his fingers brushed against the rough construction paper, he knew he'd found it. As he slid it out from under everything else in the drawer, he couldn't help but look away; putting off the inevitable just a little bit longer. But, he finally had it in front of him, and there was no escaping it any longer.
HENRY SINCLAIR: THE INDESTRUCTIBLE TEEN!
Henry let out a shaky chuckle, more due to relief than humor, and he smiled as something bittersweet bloomed in his chest. It was just as he remembered it; the juvenile block lettering at the top, the wobbly—but still impressive—illustration of himself standing tall with a superhero's cape flowing from his shoulders, and the small message in the bottom right corner.
"i hope you get better fast! 3 will byers"
The sound of the backdoor opening jerked Henry out of his memory, and he quickly shoved the card back in the drawer before hopping down the stairs. Although he played it cool, Henry breathed a sigh of relief as he finally laid eyes on Lucas, seemingly unscathed.
Lucas screeched and nearly fell flat on his ass, if it weren't for his arms flinging out and catching Henry's. His older brother set him upright and chuckled with a hint of concern in his eyes.
"Someone's on edge," he observed.
"Yeah," Lucas said before forcing out laughter that left Henry more suspicious than anything else.
"Something wrong?" Henry asked, Lucas swallowing hard.
For a moment it was quiet as the two brothers engaged in what could only be described as a stare-off, before Lucas painted a ridiculous smile on his features and Henry withdrew.
"Okay…" Henry mumbled before speaking up, "Well, go get ready for bed, then. I don't want Mom and Dad to know that I even let you stay up this late."
Lucas nodded before hurrying upstairs while Henry watched him with a furrowed brow. He followed soon after, at a much more leisurely pace, and was just in time to see Lucas as he crossed the hallway—now in his pajamas—and slammed the bathroom door behind him. Henry frowned at the door for a moment, but said nothing, and instead continued on his path to his own room; idly scooping up his notes up off his desk and shoving them into his backpack as he listened to the sink running.
Too soon after Lucas had entered the bathroom (Henry really should get on him to brush his teeth longer), he was walking back to his room. For a moment, Henry lingered in his own room—not wanting to make it seem like he was waiting to pounce on him—before he headed over next door, catching Lucas just as he slid under the covers.
"All of your homework is done, right?" Henry asked, knowing he should've made sure of that before he let Lucas go traipsing through the woods on a school night. But, Lucas nodded, and it was quiet between the two brothers for a moment, before Henry cleared his throat, "Okay. Goodnight."
"We didn't find him."
Henry was halfway out the door when that quiet voice called his attention back. Lucas was still in bed, but only now did he notice how tightly he was enveloped in his blankets, and how he seemed smaller than Henry could remember him looking in quite a while.
"Yeah, I didn't think so, Bud," he finally replied gently, his movements slow as he crossed the room to sit down on the side of Lucas's bed. Now that there wasn't a room's length distance between them, Henry could clearly see the expression on his younger brother's face; could clearly see that he was feeling lost, more lost than Henry thought a kid should be.
"Hey," he said, grabbing Lucas's attention, "You know, no matter what happens, it's going to be okay."
"But, Will—." Lucas started, sitting up on his elbows.
"I didn't say it was going to be easy, or that it wasn't going to suck, but…" Henry interrupted, before trailing off and adopting a wry smile, "Take it from Hawkins's patron saint of misery: it'll be okay. You've got Dustin and Mike. They're going through the exact same stuff as you, that makes it easier, trust me."
"Is that why you let me go?" Lucas asked, Henry dropping his head and smiling; he hadn't been the only one wondering why the hell he'd given the okay, "Because I was with my friends?"
"Yeah, that was part of it," he confirmed, "And… I'd do the same thing if I were you."
Lucas nodded, but his expression didn't change. He looked just as lost as before, and Henry frowned. Time to get serious.
"Will is really lucky to have friends like you guys, you know that right?" He said, piquing Lucas's attention with that one, "I mean, most people don't have one friend who'd do what you did tonight, let alone three."
"But, we didn't find him," Lucas pointed out.
"Yeah, I know, but you tried. And I know you'll keep trying, and that you won't stop until you do."
"But, what if we waste too much time focused on—focused on other things and we don't find him before…?" The rest of Lucas's sentence went unsaid, but Henry heard it, loud and clear. He put his hands on Lucas's shoulders and looked him dead in the eye.
"Then you'll have to go through that, but it won't be your fault. None of this will ever be on you."
Lucas broke eye contact and Henry knew that he didn't accept what he'd said. His expression was just as conflicted and lost as ever, only this time Henry noticed something he hadn't before. Something that took him a few moments to place.
And in that moment, Henry couldn't help but wonder if maybe the reason his words weren't helping was because he didn't have the full story.
"You know… If there's something you're not telling me—."
"What? No, no. I mean, why-why wouldn't I tell you?" Lucas tripped over himself ask he spoke, and Henry's frown deepened at how adamant he was.
"Okay, well, if there was. If. If," Henry said when Lucas opened his mouth to interrupt, probably to insist that there wasn't anything, "You know you can trust me, right?"
"Yeah, of course," he replied flippantly, Henry sending him a look that made him pay attention.
"Seriously, Lucas. If there's anything, if there's ever anything, you can tell me. Alright? I've got your back, and there's nothing that could ever change that."
Lucas was quiet; he'd dropped his eyes to his comforter the moment he'd seen the intense emotion in Henry's eyes, and he hadn't raised them since. Instead, he pulled on a stray thread as Henry's words hung in the air. Finally, he spoke, slow and labored.
"Would… Would you still have my back if…? If I said you're the biggest loser alive?"
Lucas looked up with that familiar spark in his eyes and Henry felt his own smile return. Sure, it was an obvious subject change, but Henry couldn't bring himself to care. He knew that he'd gotten through to him.
Maybe Lucas was hiding something, and maybe that something was why he had been jumpy and had looked so lost and guilty. Or, maybe not. Maybe this was all just something Henry's anxiety and paranoia had cooked up. Maybe the only thing that was weighing on Lucas was his missing friend. Either way, Lucas knew that he was in his corner, no matter what, and that was enough for Henry.
"I mean, it's pushing it," Henry said, grinning, "It's definitely pushing it."
This time, when there was a lull in the conversation, it was because of laughter rather than silence.